Maybe it’s just me, but this is the first year that I have seen a public wide recognition of just how hard the Christmas season can be.
Hard for grievers who are experiencing their many “firsts” without their loved one.
Hard for the people who aren’t close with their immediate family.
Hard for the people who maybe don’t have an unlimited budget to spend on their kids for Christmas.
Hard for people with anxiety who’s change in routine is detrimental to their mental health.
Whatever your hard may be, I think this may just be the year to step into the season knowing that you are seen, and heard in your pain.
If you know me, then you know I fall under a couple of the above categories when it comes to the Christmas season. I’m not a scrooge by any means, but Christmas is NOT my favorite holiday, and I feel like as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten worse. I don’t thrive in the busyness of the season, I miss loved ones, and feel for my friends who have lost loved ones. It’s a pretty overwhelming season.
However, this year I have been pleasantly surprised with all the empathy and compassion pouring out, not necessarily to me, but to people I know that need it, and here’s what I learned.
Christmas was never supposed to be about all the things that make me or you anxious. Christmas isn’t about the hustle of the holidays, or the frantic shopping, or chaotic social calendar. In fact, Christmas exists because God knew we would feel this way. No matter what the season. Christmas is about Joy, and Hope, and Peace and Love even when it doesn't feel like it. It’s we who have hollowed out the true meaning of Christmas with our (read also: my) lists and expectations.
Do you think Mary thought it was easy traveling across the desert 9 months pregnant? Do you think she had peace or joy when it came to delivering her baby in a stable? There’s no way. But did she feel love and joy when her baby boy was born? Overwhelmingly so.
Because that’s the point, Christmas doesn’t come for those who want the best parties, or gifts. Jesus was born so that when we think that there is no peace or joy left in the world, He’s proof that there is.
Even if you’ve been cast out like Mary was from her family, for conceiving a child before she was married. Even if you feel lost like Joseph trying to navigate how to raise a family when you have nothing. Even if you're confused like the wisemen were when they received the prophecy. Jesus came anyway.
He came in the middle of the worst, in the confusion and the chaos. He was born anyway and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.
As we reflect on the year behind us, it’s been a long haul. I feel it, and most people I talk to feel it too. It’s dark and cold out. It feels like things just can’t get worse, and then another headline pops up on your phone. You’re not sure what the next year will bring, but guess what?
Baby Jesus was born for you, for this reason. To bring Peace, Joy, and Hope, but most importantly Love.
“ I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
How lucky are we that we know how the story ends. Mary and Joseph sure didn’t, but we do. And that my friends is the true Christmas miracle.
Can you believe we are nearing the end of 2021? It feels like I just wrote Read in 2020.
Nevertheless, it's time to review some books! To be honest, most of the books I read this year were winners so I'm not going to bother sorting best to worst, because the differences would be between tenths of a points and as a personal policy, I don't do math. So instead, enjoy this year's list in alphabetical order by title!
The countdown has begun.
We are almost one year into my walk with grief and losing Koda, and I have to admit it’s not the one year anniversary date that’s looming over my head, but rather the days leading up to it.
You see, that was the hardest part after the loss, looking back and realizing 3 weeks before we were playing with pumpkins in the yard, 10 days before he was taunting a gardener snake in the driveway, and one day before we had the best cuddle session we’d ever had right before bed… and I had no idea… we were counting down.
The months after have been a blur. Truly, it feels like a different life, a different person, and my time with Koda was all just a dream. And then, when I'm not on guard, that's when I am forcefully reminded of just how precious and fragile life is after a friend of mine experienced their own gutting loss.
And so continues the never ending walk with grief. Again, I find myself waking up to that familiar ache in my gut and crusty corners of my eyes. I feel the waves, ever changing in intensity and speed. I lace up my shoes and do the only thing I know how. I grab the dogs and we walk the river. My grief, and now theirs, racing through my mind. I remember how unbearable the first day is, and even more so, the first night. I play familiar hymns trying to find comfort in the music. And I think of the verses and scriptures and sayings I knew before loss. The kinds of verses that are supposed to prepare you for hard seasons. The kind you have in your back pocket and pull out when you need them.
“Remember, when you thought you couldn’t and you did? Now is the time to channel that energy,”
“You don’t understand yet the meaning of what I am doing, but soon it will be clear to you, “
“If it’s not good, God’s not done,”
And I don’t know if that would be enough for me after loss again…
I don't know if it’s enough now.
But He nudges my soul, and says “but it was.”
It was enough, and in fact, it’s the only reason I’m writing this today. Scriptural truth and worshipping Him is what put me to sleep when I couldn’t, it’s what got me in the shower when I was laying on the bathroom floor, and it’s what keeps me going right now as I write this. Because of time and space behind me to reflect on the goodness of God that is always running after me.
It’s easy to wonder, “what’s even the point?” When the news broke, I wanted to give up. I wanted to pull loved one close to me and lock them in my house. For good. There are no guarantees in life, unless you give in and always play it safe. But there is no redemption in loss, no sense of purpose. There is only my God creating beauty from ashes. And I am grateful.
So instead of giving up and giving in, I sit closer to my husband on the couch than I normally would. The dogs get daily walks no matter the weather. I notice things in my friends and community and burn them in my mind because we are all living a countdown. Leave the bed unmade if it means a cup of coffee with someone you love instead. Sit down and watch the movie instead of doing the dishes. Who cares if the house is a mess if it’s a mess made with love.
There will never be enough time. Not for anything. Not for love, family or friends, or new experiences, but there is always room to love deeper, hug harder, and linger longer, and that’s all I can offer in hope that when my countdown is run out, I hear “Well done, good and faithful one.”
The Garden Isle. The oldest island. Kauai.
Luke & I were long over due for a true vacation (aren’t we all) and after COVID ruined our original trip dates in February, we were thrilled to see cheap airline tickets for April.
We had done a TON of research on what to expect when we got there. After emailing their tourism department, our Air BNB host, getting our negative COVID test, and providing appropriate travel documents, we were set!
We really weren't sure what to expect when we landed. The Island opened back up to tourists April 5th and we landed the 8th! I hate when people say it can go one of two ways, and then list the literal only two options, but that’s what I’m about to do. Anyways, we figured people would either be thrilled to see tourists again, or they would be down right disgusted, but in all honesty, everyone we interacted with was 100% pleasant. It was actually the travelers who caused the most headaches, from not knowing there were covid regulations, to not having the appropriate documentation, Guys, just know if you’re traveling, the airlines hate enforcing the rules as much as we hate having to follow them. Let's all just cut each other a break.
After passing our COVID customs, & waiting 2 hours for our rental ( A 2020 Camero!! We love when people mistake us for honeymooners), we arrived at our airbnb. Which was a studio apartment in a condominium hosted by the Aston.
Nothing makes a person more hungry for real food than traveling for 13 hours. Luke and I are infamous for the following rookie mistake, picking a super swanky restaurant after we land that's overpriced and not that great, and this time is no different. We end up at a resort restaurant called Hukilau Lanai. We complete the lost traveler look with my still- wet-from- the-shower- hair, and Luke's wrinkled khakis to be greeted with a "Do you have a reservation?” Which we of course, do not. She replies "Luckily, we have one last table we can squeeze you in.” Which, was a lie.
I order a way too expensive salad, Luke orders a very boujee version of Poke (you’ll hear me reference this a lot, it’s like a Hawaiian version of sushi. It’s raw tuna with differs flavor options over a bed of rice) and we leave just thankful we had a nice atmosphere and real food to rest up before the next day.
One of the main attractions in Kauai is Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast line. So we make this our first priority. It was a foggy morning but after we waited out the rain, we were able to hike the Napali Coastline. It was one of the harder hikes I have ever done, but with the best views I have ever seen. It's not technically a certified hike, but someone cut the fence and everyone hikes it. It's one of those hikes where one step off the trail has you rolling down the left side of the canyon or the right side.
We ate at Koeke Lodge which was my favorite restaurant of the trip! It was a log cabin in the middle of the mountains in Hawaii! They were even playing country music. A very very cool atmosphere with good food and an even better coffee menu.
We started the morning off with a 5 mile hike on Ship Wreck Shore. It was a long walk along the southern coast line through two beaches, a golf course and some lava rock. By day two I am already in love with the island. There's a sense of adventure everywhere you go, with room to think on the hikes because there isn't anyone around.
Our second hike of the day is Wailua falls. It was a short but intense hike filled with a lot of adrenaline. We were quite literally using ropes to repell down the hills so that we could get to the bottom of this huge waterfall. Luke eventually got to swim in said waterfall, while I watched from the shore because I am not a good swimmer. The hike was short, but we couldn't get ourselves to leave. It was one of those places that you couldn't bear to leave because you knew you might never see it again in your lifetime.
This was our North Shore day. Jet lag finally caught up to us. I was so unbelievably tired on our way to the north shore. I could hardly keep my eyes open. We got skunked 3 times that day. The lighthouse we wanted to visit was closed. The trail we wanted to do required a permit that had just been introduced. Then 2 of the beaches we wanted to hang out on got rained out. We ended up grabbing a bite to eat ,BBQ for Luke & an açaí bowl for me, and headed back to the east shore to be in the sun.
Today was the first day I did not feel like I was in paradise. The weather just did NOT cooperate. The sun would be out & then duck behind the clouds, actually making it quite chilly.
Luckily, the day redeemed itself with a dip in the hot tub and a nap by the pool. We cleaned up and went to the Princeville night market. There were lots of local vendors & I got 2 really cool rings. (One of which, the ocean claimed the next day, and we had to go back and buy a new one).
At last, we tried to decide on dinner. Let me just say, food has NOT been easy to find this trip. We have had 1 great meal, but it was expensive. So far thats the norm. Expensive sub par food. Luke says it's because of Covid. I think it's because of Island time. Which has been so hard to get used to. They take their Sunday's seriously.
Theres not much 8 hours of sleep cant fix! We wake up feeling energized, and decide to take on Ho' oop-i (who-oop-ee) falls. Kauai is so unique in that it feels like we took 4 different trips. You can hike mountains, coastlines,- today a true rainforest. We were the first ones on the trail & had the falls entirely to ourselves. Luke tried out a rope swing & I hang back 2 film.We head back to our condo to beach bum before our dinner cruise.
Im not one for excursions. I think they are overpriced and tacky. However, we booked a "Romantic Dinner cruise" for this trip because it's the only way to see the Napali Cliffs at large. Plus, I've never been on a Catamaran, so when in Rome right?
Anyways, our "Romantic Dinner Cruise" ends ups being more like an episode of "The Office" called "Booze Cruise." While Luke & I had a fantastic time, we would not call our experience "romantic". There were lots of kids running around-below deck and the same amount of adults seasick below. It’s the ocean people, not Lake Havasu, take a Dramamine.
Our captain is hilarious and shares some really interesting facts about the island.
We even saw whales! Like a lot, which was a complete surprise. The Napali cliffs are breath taking & magnificent, and you realize how deep Hawaiian & Polynesian culture runs. Dinner was local popular items served takeout style, plastic utensils included, and deserts was a chocolate chip cookie. (Again, Expedia's concept of the word "romantic" is loose at best.)
The deckhands pass around champagne to toast the evening and the captain ends the night with, I'm not kidding, the cupid shuffle.
We make lemonade out of the night, and enjoyed ourselves.
Jet lag strikes again and we spend the morning on our beach outside our condo, and as unbiased as I can be, I'd like to say this is because we have the best beach on the island.
This is where we make our next mistake. We wait this long into our trip to get Hawaiian ice. No, it is not just a snow cone. Its a flavor packed, creamy, delicious treat with a sauce that I will be dreaming about for weeks to come. So. good.
We end up getting take out from the market down the street, mostly because of connivence, and spend the evening souvenir shopping.
We spend the last day pretending that it isn't. We end up back on the north shore at Queens Bath a coastal swimming hole that you couldn't pay me to swim in because the ocean doesn't give a crap about you.
We beach bum harder than we did the entire trip because check out is at 11am and our flight leaves at 10:30 pm. We shower at the beach, eat grocery store poke and change in gas station bathroom.
All in all, it was an amazing trip, t we cant wait to go back. Heres the best & worst from our trip.
Im not going to lie. Food was hard. Nothing really opens until 11am & everything closes by 8:00. Most places want reservations, but have the weirdest hours to try 2 call to get them. All of the "easy" places are touristy, EXPENSIVE, and with limited menus. It's actually easier to just cook for yourself than deal with that. Also the sun goes down at 7:30 pm. So if you're looking for nightlife, Kauai is not the place for you.
Being in Kauai truly felt like being in a foreign country with all the comforts & familiarity of the U.S. I have never truly felt like I was in the rainforest until now.
Luke put it best when he said "There are more untouched and undeveloped parts of Kauai than there are touched" and thats kind of the point I think.
We never saw more than 10 people on our beaches. Never more than 10 people on our hikes-We always found parking. There is NO ONE around. Is this because of Covid (maybe? But I also think it's just that way.)
The sheer beauty of the island takes the cake. I truly had to pry myself away from every location we went to because I couldn't stand the thought that my eyes might never see a more beautiful sight in my life.
I never felt like the mountains were missing something until now. Where else in the world can you hike hard in the morning and beach bum all afternoon.
We can't wait to go back some day!
Everybody hates the thaw, myself included.
You know, the part of winter where the last of the snow starts to melt, and it’s muddy, and mucky, and you do everything you can to convince yourself that it’s a balmy spring day out and that 40 degrees really isn’t that cold. Because if you can do that, you can get through the last sliver of winter in anticipation for the warmth and sunshine that spring really brings.
Well, I’m one of those people, trying to convince myself that it is in fact warm enough to take our puppy, Bear, on our first walks outside. We like to go along the Boyer outside of town. It’s a river that runs through two parallel dams. On the right, are the hills, and on the left are open corn fields. It’s wide open space, where it’s quiet and with minimal traffic, or anyone else on the trail really. It’s one of my favorite spots. But in preparation for going there, I know I have to bring a towel, and a change of socks and shoes. Bear will need a bath when we get home, and so will I, along with my tennis shoes. Nevertheless, it’s all worth it to be outside in the fresh air with Bear after, what feels like, an eternal season of winter.
So we come inside, I strip down my wet socks and sweatshirts. I ignore the mud on my coat for now, and get Bear in the tub. It’s nice to have this sort of routine again.
We lost Koda just 4 months ago, at the very beginning of winter. It’s hard to believe it hasn’t been that long, because to me, it feels like a lifetime ago since I’ve seen him. It feels like a different version of me too. Grief has a funny way of shaping the lense in which we view life through.
Which is something I’ve been wrestling with these past few months. The first battle was accepting how upset I was at the loss of Koda, a dog. So many people face much greater adversities in this life, cancer, the loss of a spouse, or a child. There're a million things in this life that can go wrong, and do. In fact, just 3 days after losing Koda, I had said to Luke, “If the worst thing that ever happens to us, is that we lose a family pet, then we are extremely lucky people.” But that doesn't change the formula of the equation, which is loss = loss, and loss, or pain, isn’t a rate of value for how we measure or add up to other people’s experiences, but instead how we relate to them.
So here I am, in the middle of it, in what feels like the longest winter of my life. I was listening to a song the other day called “Gratitude,” by Brandon Lake, and the lyrics go like this.
“All my words fall short. I’ve got nothing new,
And that’s how it felt, and still feels, some days, is that all I have is a hallelujah. Some days it’s easier to sing joyfully, and other days it’s barely a whisper. When we first lost Koda, for the first few days anyways, my only goal was to make sure I took a shower. That was all I could manage. I’ve made huge strides since then, but I’ll still get choked up when I look at the window and he’s not sitting there anymore. I make sure to stop when I see a dog on the road now, and I won’t drive away until I know they are out of harm's way. But more importantly than that, when Bear sits on my lap covered in mud after our first walk of the spring, I don’t even flinch, because I’d do anything to have Koda tracking mud in the house again.
Luke said to me the other night, “If we didn’t lose Koda, we would never have gotten Bear, and I love Bear so much too,” and I responded with, “It’s not that simple to me,” because it’s not. It’s like learning to live in a constant tension of being grateful for what I have while also being grateful for what I had, and if anyone has tips on how to walk that tightrope, please, flood my inbox.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Inside Out,” at the very end when all of Riley’s memories are blue, for sadness, and yellow, for happiness at the same time, that’s probably the easiest way to explain what it’s like moving on after loss.
I always thought I’d be ready for something like this. I love sitting in melancholy. I love sad movies, sad music, sad books. I tried to prepare myself even. I followed people on social media who have lost spouses, or parents, or siblings, or their own children, because I thought that if I at least could see people dealing with their loss, while I wasn’t, I’d have some sort of tool box to pull out when it happened to me. I’m not the naive type, but was I hopeful that my wonderful marriage, adorable dog, and white picket fence lifestyle was going to last longer than it did? You bet, but did I also know that no one gets out of this life without some bruised knees and scars? Also yes.
I’m slowly learning that the only way out is through. Bruised knees, blurry eyes, and heart wide open. Kind of like the thaw. It’s mucky, and dirty, and nobody wants to get out there and walk through it, but something about the possibility of warm weather and sunshine being on the other side, keeps us putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a cold and bitter season, but it’s exactly that. Only a season. Just like spring will fade into summer, and summer into fall, and fall into winter. Seasons change, love remains. It’s only through the winter, not around it or by blazing through it, can we relish in the sunshine that spring brings.
So I’ll leave you with this, my daily reminder from the aforementioned song,
“Come on my soul, oh don’t you get shy on me,
I never thought I'd have to write about this, but here we go.
Last week, we lost our sweet Koda Bear in a tragic accident in front of our home. He did not suffer, and we did not have to make any impossible decisions, but neither of those factors really make this any less difficult to process.
If you know me or my husband, you know that Koda was truly our first child. We welcomed him into our life just two short months after being married, and were so excited that he would meet our family, and future family. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would only get two short years with him.
If you met him, you loved him. If you saw videos and pictures of him, you loved him. He was just that kind of dog. Every morning, he woke up with a literal smile on his face, and I can almost guarantee that if he could talk, he would have been saying "I'M ALIVE!!! IT'S A GREAT DAY TO BE ALIVE!!" And he lived every day to its fullest. He went 110% one hundred percent of the time. He fetched frisbee until he couldn't breathe, ran as fast as he could everywhere he went, played all day long, and heck, he even loved pooping. And at night, he was the most content to lay at our feet and just be near the people he loved the most.
Koda was special, and right now you might be saying, "Well, all dogs are special," but no. Koda was something else, and if you want to argue with me, I have 500+ photos and videos of him to prove you wrong. I have never in all my life seen a dog with so much energy, personality, and most of all love.
So here I sit, asking the age old question, why do the good ones go too soon? I'm sorry to tell you, I don't have the answer. I probably never will, because in every single scenario, I would rather have my best friend back than sit here and try to find meaning and purpose in the senseless loss that we are facing.
But God promises, time and time again, that He works all things together for our good, that there is a plan and purpose for our suffering, and that bottom line, He loves us. And that's where I'm at, clinging to that flag pole of hope in the middle of a hurricane. So here goes nothing.
Live big. Every day with Koda was an adventure. Taking a walk outside? That was his best day ever. Driving to go get coffee? Run as fast as you can to get to the car. Is someone coming over to the house? Be so excited you pee your pants. (Well maybe not literally, but he did have this thing where he'd pee when he got too excited which was every time someone came to our house, so just go with the analogy.) If there is anything that gives my mind some peace at night, it's knowing that in 2 years, he saw more and had more experiences than some dogs have in a whole lifetime. He saw the corn rows of Iowa, the lakes of Minnesota, and rode shot gun with me everywhere we went because he didn't want to miss anything by sitting in the back seat.
Protect the ones you love most
At his core, Koda was a herding dog, and I'm pretty sure he thought we were his flock of sheep. I knew the mail was here every day because he would go absolutely ballistic when the mailman would walk toward our house. There were times I thought he was going to actually break through the window to make sure that no harm would come to us should the mailman pose (what he thought) was a potential threat. At my in-laws, he ran their three acre perimeter every night barking as loud as he could to make sure that all of Iowa knew he was on patrol. He even went so far as to killing crickets and flies in the house with his paws to make sure any nuisance was taken care of. We were his people, and we wasn't going to let anything happen to us.
LOVE WHAT MATTERS
Koda had many nicknames: Koda Bear, Koda Bear Squares, Mister Stinky, Koda Bear Circles, Buddy, Sweetie Sweetie, Big Man, the Stink, and Gentle Giant. Many of those nicknames, our friends and family gave him, because they loved him just as much as we did. He was so loved, because you knew how much he loved you back. He liked to give hugs, even though he pushed you away (personal space was not his speciality). He would quite literally, shut my laptop in the middle of the work day if he thought he wasn't getting enough attention. Sometimes, he would even knock Luke's phone out of his hand. If he thought you were mad at him, he would throw himself on you to say sorry, and occasionally, sneak in a french kiss when he was trying to apologize. He checked in on his people every day, always forcing himself into a room if you shut the door on him, it really didn't matter what you did because he knew how to open them, so that he could be with you. He hated the game hide and seek because he couldn't understand why you would want to run away from him. We were his whole world, and there was never a shadow of a doubt how he felt about us, or how we felt about him.
I don't think there's purpose in dying, and, frankly, don't think it's time yet for me to find purpose in the loss of my best friend, because right now it's still too hard to see the forrest through the trees, so all I can really do is honor his little life with some hope, even if it's only a little sliver.
While I'm clinging to God's love and his promises even when I don't feel like it, I know one thing. Koda lived with absolutely zero regrets. There is nothing that he didn't get to do, and because of that I can tell myself that even if his life was only two years, he absolutely got the most out of them. No question about it.
So tell people you love them, tell your dogs, cats, snakes, lizards and hamsters how special they are to you. Don't wait, because this kind of stuff happens on Thursday after a coffee run. Live big. Love bigger.
I was sitting in my reading chair last night picking Luke's brain for the umpteenth time on how we could spend the evening, and we settled on ordering the game "Battleship" from Amazon, when Luke said to me, "We can order it, but it probably will get here when this quarantine is over."
Just hours before that, I was talking to a co-worker about the possibility of school not starting back up in August again like normal, and hours before that conversation, I had read an articled titled, "No Concerts Until 2021."
Each of these scenarios playing out in my head with a big shrug and a deep sigh of "I don't know."
And I think, this may be the answer you've been looking for.
There is absolutely no way for us to know how this is going to end.
It's fascinating to me that someone out there has made a prediction that is probably correct, but I can tell you that person is not me, and I'd be willing to put money down that it isn't your next door neighbor who has been prophesying his prediction on Facebook for the third time this week.
What will happen in the foreseeable future? Will the economy come roaring back to life in the next two months? Or, will this continue on for the remainder of 2020? We don't know.
In general? Will the outside of my house be done by the end of August? In the past it's been, "Will I be able to graduate in three years? When will Luke propose? When will I be able to buy my first house? Where will my first job be? I didn't know the answers then either.
And serendipitously enough, those things all worked out for me in the end.
The ability to throw your hands up in the air and say "I don't know," while scary at first, is really a very freeing solution.
Besides, I've never read a good story where the ending was spoiled right at the beginning.
When it comes down to it, whether I'm trying to predict the end of a pandemic or the weather, all I'm really trying to do is create a false sense of reality where I am calling the shots by shouting them into the universe.
All we want is control, whether it's real or not, and by trying to predict the future, all we are really trying to do is guess the outcome so we feel like we have something to plan for.
If there's two things that uncertainty proves, it proves that we need something bigger than ourselves, and we need faith. How do you think Jonah felt sitting in his uncertainty in the stomach of a whale? Or Noah, when he and his family had been on an arc in the middle of nowhere for 40 days? Or Moses when a literal sea was split wide open and he was expected to lead thousands through it? Or Mary and the disciples as they waited for Day 3?
Need I go on?
Uncertainty and doubt, are really just an auditorium for faith to take centerstage.
Jonah cries out to God, and is delivered. Noah rides out the storm. Moses ends up doing that and so much more. And Mary and the disciples, well, you know how that one ends.
"Faith shows the reality of what we hope for and is the evidence of things we cannot see. " Hebrews 11:1
Is your faith in the doctors and nurses who are tirelessly working to bring us a cure? Is it in government officials who are making recommendations every day? Is it in yourself and trying to do everything you possibly can to control the outcome of your current situation?
Or is it in the One who promises time and time and time again that He will work everything together for good wether you know the ending or not.
At the end of the day, all doctors, government officials, moms & dads, all they are is human. That's it. So while we can believe in them and support them, they will never give us the peace we all are looking for right now. The peace that comes to rule you heart.
So here's what I do know, in the end I don't know and you don't know, and that's okay.
There's a quote from a book where a woman falls deathly ill, and as she's about to to take her last breath a vision of Jesus appears to her, heals her, and says the following...
All will be well.
All will be well.
And all manners of things will be well.
At least for us, we are going on week four of social distancing, or quarantining, or the new normal, or whatever buzz word you want to call this season. I've been hesitant to use this kind of language in the last couple of posts, but I feel like I'm moving through the stage of grief called acceptance. Where I feel like the rest of the general population is saying, "Okay, now what.
Make the most of these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand instead what the Lord wants you to do. Ephesians 5:15
These evil days, and that is a direct quote (NLT). What the verse above doesn't say is that these evil days are not an excuse to waste away, in fact is says the opposite and I'll get to that in a minute.
The truth of the matter is, it would be easy to act thoughtlessly. To think that yours, and my, actions during this time won't have consequences, and I think that we will either come out the other side of this as more evolved, or less evolved in whatever practices we have instilled during this time.
So I'm challenging myself, and you, to think about the second half of the verse.
Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit singing songs and hymns... Giving thanks for everything.
Imagine this, we emerge from this crazy and confusing season with a greater sense of peace, prayer and self awareness. We appreciate one another as human beings who are in their very nature supposed to be social, and, I'm just getting a sense that, we are at this point of the processing of our grief for the time being that we can, hopefully, begin to actively accept what's going on and try to make the best of a very crummy situation.
And before I go any further, I want to have a disclaimer that says the rest of this blog is NOT supposed to take away from the fact that this has been a really difficult time. This is hard, and sad, and scary, and confusing, and anything that you may be feeling right now. For example, I wrote this piece originally on Thursday, and today is Saturday as I'm getting it on my blog, and it will be Sunday by the time you're reading this, and over the course of just those 4 days my mood has been all over the place, from "God is good and I am good," to, "If I don't leave this house in the next thirty minutes, I'm going to officially lose it," so the next chunk of this blog is how I've been dealing when I can, and I challenge you to lean in with me because feelings aren't always the truth, and to avoid escapist behaviors such as drinking, self isolating, eating food that is not good for you, or things of that nature, and here's how.
1. Start your day out in prayer, or at the very least, silence.
Do not start your day by looking at your phone or social media. For me, this means deleting the apps off my phone before I go to bed, and re-downloading them AFTER I've had some quiet time in the morning. If you're looking for a way to get started, here's what I've been doing.
-pick a book of the bible and start at chapter 1, and read it once all the way through.
- Read it through a second time, underlining what sticks out to you.
-Write down word for word the verses you just underlined, and how it can apply to your life today.
-Pray over those verses.
2. Create a gratitude ritual
Whether this is in the morning, nighttime, afternoon, whether you write it down or say it out-loud, just try to come up with a list of things you're grateful for, big and small. Perhaps even share it with others! I feel like this is self explanatory.
3. Exercise or go on a walk, or two, or three, or four ;)
In reality, fear and anxiety are a signal to the body, not the mind, that something is wrong, and by moving our bodies we can take some of those warning signals and work them out without them every having to go to our heads for a chance to overthink.
4. Do one thing you enjoy, or would like to start enjoying.
For me this has been reading, for you it might be cross stitching, for my brother it has been learning a rubix cube. It can be literally anything, preferably not digital. If you're looking for a place to start, here are some of my most favorite and habit forming books.
"God Has a Name" John Mark Comer
"The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry" John Mark Comer
"Unseen" Sarah Haggerty
"Everybody Always" Bob Goff
I've also found myself writing more in the past 4 weeks than I have in the past two years! Write letters, send cards!
5. Find a relational touchpoint
In other words, talk to someone everyday, whether that's your #quarentinecrew or someone on the phone. May I also point out that there has never been a better time to find a church! With most locations streaming, you could check out multiple locations in just one day, or try a new one each week! Then when this is all said and done, go!
6. Limit screen time, news and media intake, and escapism behaviors
Enough said. Notice this said "limit," not delete all together.
My main point through this whole thing is that this time is NOT meant to be a punishment from God, or anyone really. Each time disease is mentioned in the New Testament Jesus saves and He heals! Does God bring illness and disease as punishment in the Old Testament? Yes, but we don't live in the Old Testament anymore. That's why Jesus came!!
Keep in mind, I'm not perfect at this. No one is, but these are just some of the things I've been trying to make this time a little less disheartening. Consider it Joy, that we have been given a choice on how we live our days, because we do not have to live in a season of captivity.
Awake O Sleeper,
Will you choose to take the easy way out this season, or will you find a way to make the most of these evil days, big or small steps by just choosing to wake up.
***If you're looking for a physical tool to help keep you accountable to the above six steps, I encourage you to click here to see the inspiration for this blog.
You want to know my biggest pet peeve?
It's being interrupted. I can't stand being in the middle of something and then pulled in a different direction whether that's in my words or my actions. I don't like it when I'm listening to my favorite song and someone interrupts it with their own interjection. Heck, I don't like it if I see the text bubble pop up before I'm done typing my own message.
I don't know what it is about them, but I don't handle them well. My ears get warm, my face turns red, and my hands get a little sweaty. Usually, I have a snippy comment locked loaded and ready to pull the trigger post interruption.
Then last week as I'm listening to my favorite podcast on a walk the host says something that stops me dead in my tracks.
"The true version of yourself is who you are when you get interrupted. "
I laughed out loud and asked myself, 'Am I really a hot headed, short tempered, quick to speak... uh oh. '
If you would ask my endearing husband what top three words he would use to describe me, I can guarantee you that missing from that list would be patient, level headed, or even tempered. (You're off the hook for that one hunny, it's called self awareness.) In my justification of trying to decide who in the world likes being interrupted, I came to one conclusion, and his name is Jesus.
In Luke 5 Jesus is teaching to a crowd in a building when 2 men literally crawl through the ceiling to get to him and ask for help.
How about that moms, you're enjoying your morning coffee when your children bust through dry wall just to get to you. I bet it feels like that sometimes.
Or in Mark 5, Jesus spends the morning healing a demon possessed man only to set out on a boat to go to the other side of a lake, to be greeted by yet another crowd hoping to gain something from him.
Ever feel like you put out one fire just to move on to the next one?
Last one, and I'm sure you've heard this, but when Jesus fed 5,000 you've been missing part of the story.
Verse 30 of Mark 5
"The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat."
Spoiler alert: They do not get to rest.
The rest of the story goes on to say that while they are sneaking off to said quiet place, they get recognized and the disciples look to Jesus and ask what the heck they are supposed to do with all these people. Jesus's response.
"You feed them."
This is hilarious. You have 12 grown men, who are servants to Jesus. Who come back so pleased with themselves for the teaching they've done all day. Jesus finally lets them off the hook for their lunch break, and just as they are about to start eating, they look up and Jesus gives them a little "ahem."
Jesus saw the huge crowd and he did not turn away, he did not get angry, he did not ask them to leave, instead "he had compassion on them," and told the disciples to get busy, and the rest is history.
Jesus got interrupted all. the. time.
He healed, he taught, and he fed. He had compassion.
Interruptions in Jesus's life were not getting in the way of anything. In fact, he used them as opportunity. Some of his biggest and most well known miracles are a result of him being interrupted by someone.
The true version of yourself is who you are when you're interrupted.
Do my words heal after being interrupted?
Do I bring value to the conversation after being interrupted?
Do I feed others with a life giving presence after being interrupted?
Am I Jesus?
No, no, no, and definitely not no, not even close.
But could I try a little harder?
I sure could.
Right now, all of us are experiencing a major interruption. Some of our lives are completely on hold, our plans have been put on pause, and any sense of a schedule has been thrown out the window. It's like Jesus tapped you on the shoulder and said "Ahem?"
In His world, whether the interruption was small, or something like being expected to feed 5,000 people, Jesus taught. He healed, and he fed them with compassion.
So, who are you when you get interrupted?
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-4
Sounds insensitive doesn it?
I thought so too.
Each morning as I’ve been combing through scriptures and sermons, all I hear is the word, ‘Joy,” and it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel natural, it doesn't even feel good at this point. How in earth can I be joyful in a time like this.
But it’s all I hear.
As I’m going through Phillipians, Paul is writing to his congregation from a jail cell. I don’t know all of the context, but I know he’s been there for a while, and I know it’s not like the prisons we have today. Think cave, wet, minimal food, if any, and guards with no expectations to keep you alive.
And all he can talk about is joy.
I kind of feel like I’m in a jail cell lately, this is not a difficult metaphor to relate too. The last public place I was in was 15 days ago. I go to the grocery store every 10 days, and that’s about it. You’re probably sitting in the same boat.
It’s hard to find joy in these circumstances, and yet sitting from a true prison, it’s all Paul has.
Paul doesn’t have Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, he doesn’t have books, podcasts, a family, puzzles, board games, food, a pet, he has nothing.
So why joy? Why am I even opening this can of worms?
Because Joy is an act of resistance.
Gratitude is an act of resistance.
Anxiety, fear, anger, they are all valid, but they will get you nowhere, especially in times like these.
So I say again,
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”
Because in joy, we find the peace and presence of God
“Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus giving thanks through him to God the father. Colossians 3:19
Or maybe here is one you’ve heard before. “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything,”
Here’s the part that always gets overlooked.
“Tell God what you need, and THANK him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6
Joy and gratitude as resistance is NOT an act of indifference. Or ignorance. Or just plain insanity.
Instead, you mix the three of them together. That’s right. Anxiety, Joy and Gratitude all sit hand and hand.
Anxiety is a kind of grasping for control of what we do not have in the future. Gratitude is giving thanks for what we do have in the present.
Read it again.
We are not in control of any of this. We must stop creating outcomes we have no control over.
All we know is that today we are okay.
So joy and gratitude as resistance puts you in the present. Because today we are not in prison.
We are in our homes. We are hopefully warm and dry. Currently, I’m sitting next to my husband. Today I plan on starting a new book. Maybe we will cook something together. My dog Koda and I took a lovely walk in the early Saturday morning gloom. And for today that’s enough.
And tomorrow it will be enough again.
So fellow readers, I will leave you with this.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10”
Consider it joy, and watch the narrative change.
To express, explain, and exclaim the lessons life continually throws at me, and my take on how to deal.