Coping, or Overcoming?

It’s easy to lose your mojo. It’s summer…when we normally downshift anyway. But more than that, we are weary of life with masks and distancing and non-stop news of the heart-breaking injustice, violence and loss in our cities. The stock market goes up and our hopes rise, only to plummet again.

To make matters worse, our election-aggravated culture war is starting to ramp up for five long months of political assault on our hearts. Hopes of returning to an economic or daily “normal” are sinking and for many a feeling of low to high-grade anxiety is settling in. Or perhaps a roller coaster of both.

There is much talk of how to cope. That is not what this post is about. Coping with all the issues mentioned above carries the idea that we are using strategies and methods to merely survive. Riding the roller coaster of news, events and emotions, but managing our fear and anxiety enough to stay on the rails and not launch into the abyss or crash at the bottom.

But interestingly, the word “cope” is not used in the Bible.

Virus, Floyd, Riots, the 1-2-3 Punch: Choosing Not to Fear

Floyd protest NYC

Proverbs 4:23  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

How is your heart today? Seared by that slow-motion, snuff-film video? Rattled by the riots?  On top of the virus threat that lurks out there as we begin to venture out, don’t they feel like a 1-2-3 gut punch?

My heart is grieved and angry over that video.  And I’ve been ambushed by fear several times in the last few days. Maybe you have too.

If you read my April 7th post, you may remember that because I fell into such roller coastery-into the abyss-lie awake at night fear during unemployment and the Great ’08 Recession, I determined to choose to trust God during this pandemic. He has been so faithful to me. I’ve wanted to honor him with my wholehearted trust.

In April I wrote, “Suddenly, like many of you, our finances have taken a huge hit. The world has turned upside down. I miss my church. My crowd. So many people and things from my normal life…But this time, by God’s grace, I have doubled down on a proper lament: turning to God, bringing him my complaint, boldly asking for help and choosing to trust him.”

By God’s grace, as I’ve faced fiery-darts of fear and worry from the Enemy these last two and a half months, I’ve been able to hold fast to him. And then last Thursday came along.

Ambushed in Re-entry

My state, South Carolina, is opening up. For the first time in eleven weeks I popped into my car to run multiple errands—to the doctor’s office for lab tests, to Talbots to return some online purchases, and, since my three-month stash of meds was running low, to Walmart and Publix to pick up prescriptions.

I am not prone to be a fearful person and I enjoy driving, so it felt freeing to be out of the house, zipping around in my car. Almost…yes, almost normal. Then I arrived at the doctor’s office where I was greeted in the lobby by several healthcare professionals wearing masks.

First I was interrogated about my risk of exposure to Covid. Then a temperature gun was aimed at my head. Well…okay…but then the elevator. I loaded up with two other people. Then two more boarded right before the door closed. I backed into a far corner. Even though we were all masked, I suddenly felt fearful. Visions of New Yorkers catching Covid in elevators danced in my head. I got in for my blood draw, got out and nobody got hurt. I think. Back in the parking garage I quickly unhooked my mask from my hot, moist face and breathed deeply.

At age 68 and with 40 years of lab tests for rheumatoid arthritis under my belt, I hardly bat an eye at doctors’ offices and needle pricks. But this new routine creeped me out. The dark shadow of the corona virus transformed a welcome release from isolation at home into an armed maneuver into hostile territory.

From the Talbots parking lot I called in, and an associate, masked and gloved, soon came out to take my clothing items and receipts back in the store. She said she would send me an e-receipt for my refund. I watched her head back into the store, holding my purchases way out in front of her. It was very convenient. It was absolutely no fun.

Heading into Walmart, I passed a masked woman who was picking up and inspecting every ear of corn in the bin. I was perceiving everything through the lens of threat and contamination. Back in the car I popped open the hand sanitizer for the third time and headed for home.

Somehow that ride up the elevator had completely drained me of any “spirit of power, love and self-discipline.”  I spent the afternoon in a spirit of fear. Not panic. But the unsettled, high-alert feeling of living on defense, surrounded by invisible enemies, and not feeling at home in my own community. My hopes of returning to normalcy took a big hit that day. This is no way to live, I thought. How long before we return to a real normal?

Floyd’s suffocation and the “mad as hell” response

Thursday evening I watched the ceaseless coverage of “that video” on cable news. That knee on George’s neck. The callous, pitiless, stare of arrogant police power right in the camera. The breaking point. People pouring into the 3rd Precinct Police Station in Minneapolis. Setting fires. Burning it down. People in Columbus, Ohio breaking the windows in Ohio’s capitol building and heading inside. In New York City more fires and the desecration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral with messages of BLM and “F—.“

Throughout the weekend…A fire was set at St John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House, a historic church where many presidents have worshipped. 50 Secret Service agents were wounded. Genuine outrage over the police killing an unarmed black man became muddied with other messages brought in from airports and buses ferrying outsiders to add to the chaos. Voices in the cameras threatened, “We’re going to burn the city centers and then we’re coming for the suburbs.” Police found pallets of bricks strategically located for protesters’ use. Pages of instructions on how to inflict maximum damage with minimal detection.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”–Yeats, “The Second Coming”

We “tremble for our country.” And yet…dozens of times God commands us in his Word, “Do not fear.” “Do not fear anything frightening.” “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” “Do not fear. Only believe.”

what God commands he will enable us to do. We can choose not to fear. How? “Only believe.” It sounds so simplistic. Believe what? We all know that “Aslan is not a tame lion.” That people who follow Jesus do get hurt. Stoned. Torched. Crucified.

Believe that…

“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:18 

“…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.  Psalm 139:16 

Death is not the end. It is a door. And when the days that were written for you and me come down to the final one, the Lord Jesus is the only one who can slip the key in the lock, open the door and bring us home. We can choose to believe that until that final day we are immortal.

Believe that…

“You hem me in behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” Psalm 23:4-5

The Hebrew for “hem me in” conveys the picture of a dense protective hedge. God surrounds us with his hedge of protection and nothing gets through it without his permission. For each thing he allows through it, he shields us from thousands of others. The car that miraculously didn’t hit us. The food or money or insurance that arrives just in time. Every day we wake up virus free.

Not only does he lay his protective “hand” on us there, we can choose to believe he is present with us. He will never leave us. He gives us abundance of provision, even in the presence of danger and enemies. Even if he allows the virus…we still suffer under his protection and in his presence.

Fear not! and believe…

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   Isaiah 41:10 

In the elevator…in the store…re-entering our world…watching the injustice, riots, looting and fires on TV…we choose not to be swept up in fear, but turn our hearts to God believing he will give us everything we need to overcome this temptation to fear. We ask him for his strength and help. We have a “confident, alert expectation that he will do what he has said he will do (Eugene Peterson).” He *will* strengthen and help us. And we *will* have the joy of partnering with him in his transforming work in our lives.

Fear not! and pray…

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-6 

Over the last few days I have been reminded and challenged to pray. By John Piper who has lived in Minneapolis for decades and has written a post on “The Sorrows of Minneapolis” that has deeply calmed and encouraged me. I have enjoyed reading and praying it in sections, adding my own words.

Anne Graham Lotz whom, I believe, has a prophetic, world-wide vision of how God is at work, has also written a big, bold, expansive, confident prayer for our nation to Turn to Jesus and invited women (and men) across America to pray with her. Sunday evening–thousands of us across different time zones, lifted our requests for our hurting people up to the God of all comfort. We prayed for justice. We prayed for peace.

These prayers restore my soul. They drain away my anxiety. The longer we pray over this crisis the more our heavenly Father truly erases our fear.

It’s not enough to know these promises. We must believe they are more true than science or 2+2=4, or even our own perception. God is really with us. Helping us. Protecting us. Taking away our anxiety. With him as our loving, gracious shepherd we have all that we need. As philosopher Dallas Willard has famously said, “This world is a perfectly safe place for us.”

Yes. I just need to remember it…when I step in the elevator…when injustice sweeps away precious black lives…when Antifa starts burning my city…when the lady in Walmart picks up every piece of corn in the bin…

Is your heart afraid? So was David’s. In Psalm 56 he wrote, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” But then, surprisingly, in Psalm 56 he also wrote, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

David proclaims his trust. But in the next breath, a fiery dart of fear hits. When virus and injustice and “anarchy is loosed” as it is right now the darts inevitably find us. “When I am afraid.” Our hearts can turn on a dime. David stops and remembers, he looks up and chooses to believe again. May God guard our hearts with his presence and promises. And turn our fears into prayers of trust. “I shall not be afraid.”

“The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

New book challenges and equips us to reach out and love well

We all have them. That short stack of books that have profoundly impacted our lives. Changed not only our understanding but the way we live. To my short stack I’m adding Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

I’ve read several books on “hospitality.” But none have reached as deeply into the way I think about and practice hospitality as her discussion of it as the overflow of table fellowship and caregiving. Rosaria and her husband’s daily schedule radically incorporates preparing extra food, engaging with neighbors, and filling their guest room as a way to make “strangers into neighbors, and neighbors into the family of God.” Rosaria: “This transition…does not happen naturally but only with intent and grit and sacrifice and God’s blessing.”

In today’s culture that is so profoundly fractured by our great divide in beliefs and values, this is God’s way to bridge the divide. And she speaks directly to the saving grace of hospitality in our postmodern culture.

Thanksgiving, Black Friday Whiplash and 3 Ways to Cultivate Contentment

Oh the irony: we give thanks and bask in the contented glow of food and family, only to wake up and launch into Black-Friday–the starting gun for fulfilling long Christmas lists on short budgets. ‘Tis the season of discontent.

Family gatherings may mean hours of navigating broken relationships and difficult people. Or the aching absence of those we love. Holiday festivities constantly invite us to measure our looks, dress, domiciles and social skills against others far more gifted or well-endowed.

It’s the perfect time to read or refresh our reading of Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts. I read her book seven years ago and it changed me. Ann describes herself as a “woman who speaks one language, the language of the fall—discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.”

But she took a dare to list 1000 gifts in her everyday experience. In the midst of piles of dirty laundry, piles of dirty dishes, squabbles among six children and her husband’s concern over the viability of their farm in the great recession, Ann began to train her eyes to see God’s gifts and record them on her blog.

This Thanksgiving I give thanks for Ann’s book, and in the Christmas season ahead I’m refocusing on three deep insights that have radically altered my life and will prepare our hearts for a Christmas of contentment and joy.

World-weary? “All Things New” torches our hope

The ultimate fix for culture wars and chaos, pain and loss

You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”

And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”

Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.

Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…

Want to watch women laughing, learning and cooking together?

(the perfect primer for holiday cooking)

Take a peek at our Apples of Gold power point below. Based on the invitation (in Titus 2) for older women to mentor younger women in kindness, loving their husbands and children, hospitality and other big issues, we gathered for 7 weeks this fall for cooking lessons and Bible Study.

Liisa and Judi, our cooking mentors taught us how to make everything from pulled pork to cheesecake, how to choose olive oils and knives and whip up a perfect mug of frothy coffee. Then, after Bible study and discussion, they served up the yummy lunchtime results of their labors–the perfect setting for going deeper on our topics.

A Window on the World of C.S. Lewis

Photo journal of his places and spaces in Oxford and Cambridge

Just returned from Oxford where part of the delight was seeing where C. S. Lewis lived, worked and loved. In spite of his superior skills in reasoning, writing and history, Lewis struggled to gain entrance to the great Oxford University. He was pitiful at math.

The central Oxford landmark, The Radcliffe Camera (left, 1749, part of the Bodleian Library), and All Souls College (right).

A Mother’s Day Prayer for Women Who Love to Learn and Go Deep

For every thinking Mom who lives in the daily tension between reading Ferdinand the Bull and Philip Yancey, wiping noses and writing articles , running carpool and managing projects, this prayer’s for you:

May you know God’s pleasure as you read widely and think deeply.

Like Eric Liddel, the British Olympic runner who famously said, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run,” may you sense his pleasure when you exercise the intellectual gifts he has given you.

Perhaps you didn’t love school or even make the honor roll. But you love to read and could spend your entire Saturday with a book. Maybe the older you became, the sturdier your reading list grew. Picking up Lewis, Schaeffer or Willard, Tolstoy, MacDonald, or Sayers was like sitting down to a rich banquet.

If you are a Christian woman who loves to think deeply about big ideas, the rich symbolism of metaphors, the cogency of well-reasoned arguments, may you celebrate this gift. It’s part of your beauty.

Every Easter in the Prison Visitation Room

Carol Kent’s “Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners”

While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.

I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”

What we cannot even imagine about Jesus’ supernatural suffering in Gethsemane

The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.

Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.

His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture:

4 Ways Lent Can Give You Far More than You Give Up

Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.

Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.

If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus. 

What to Give Your Introverted/Extroverted Valentine

My husband of forty+ years and I share a love for hospitality, reading and movies, of watching football, and serving God in his church. We are both thinkers more than feelers, strong personalities who enjoy Getting Things Done and closure. In other ways we are not so similar.

Jack loves details and data. I’m the big picture girl. Nowhere he’d rather relax than in the mountains—hunting fishing, hiking. Me, I love museums, conferences, the ballet. But the difference that makes the most difference: He is more the introvert while I am a tiny bit more extroverted. Here are some ways we’ve learned to give to each other across the great personality divide.

Christmas at the Cove Disrupted: When a Christmas-hug concert becomes fall-on-your-knees worship

When we first signed up for the Christmas concerts at Billy Graham’s Asheville, North Carolina retreat center, we expected a weekend of beauty and gorgeous music by some of the Kingdom’s finest artists. What we didn’t expect was how God used major disruption to turn one evening into a rare, deep worship event.

Annie Moses Band

The Best Antidote to Summertime Boredom and Distraction

Summer gives us an opportunity to slow down. “The livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin,’” and all that. Without so many activities on the calendar we have more time to take trips, watch TV or kick back with friends or a good book. We all need seasons of restoration, but the cultural pull towards having fun and lazing around can make room for boredom and distraction to settle in like a fog.

In a Culture of Never Enough, a Culture at War–The Secret of Contentment

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Contentment and I have a troubled history. Many reasons: physical limitations, a vivid imagination, a propensity to live in the future… In addition, our culture of More and Better torches our desires with the gasoline of glossy mags, dark theaters, Facebook vacation pictures, clothes we’ll never need for a life we’ll never live…

Election year aggravates our struggles. Each side is spending billions to cast their vision of the better life we’ll live once they are elected. Between now and November we will be subjected to an endless parade of speeches, promises, ads, polls and robocalls designed to inflate our expectations so we will vote for change. It’s all even more frustrating if we are disappointed with the options for change.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need” (Eph 4:11-12). I used to read those verses and think, “Good for you, Paul. I wish.” I still think that sometimes. But I am further into contentment recovery. Maybe I’ve even learned a little of the secret of contentment.

Celebrating Father’s Day with a Difficult Dad

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I know my Dad loved me and always wanted the best for me. He never, ever abused me. But as I grew older, when it came to nurturing a heart to heart relationship, he just wasn’t that into me.

When I was still small enough to sit in his lap he would read to me. And he would swing me in a big swing he made for me. For a season he made up wonderful bedtime stories about Broussard the Dragon who, when Dad lost interest, died tragically in a cave in. When I was older he would play the chess-like board game Camelot with me. (And usually slaughter me.)

But pretty much every night after dinner my petroleum engineer dad preferred to spend his time tinkering in his electronics shop. I could go out and talk to him in the garage, and he would explain to me how his gadgets worked, but I was the one who needed to find my way into his world.

In his defense, my dad came from a family of thinkers, not feelers. He lost his dad when he was 13. For whatever reasons he didn’t seem to know how to find his way into my world. 

6 Reasons Why Chick Fil A got Orlando right (and how many Muslims and Christians can do better)

Chick Fil A Sign+Rembrandt 2

Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal”

 

As soon as reports surfaced about Sunday’s massacre in a gay nightclub, suspicious fingers began pointing to Christian haters. Even after it was reported that the shooter had dedicated his kill to the Islamic State. What grieved me even more was talking to Christians who condemned the killings, but acknowledged they didn’t feel a great sense of compassion on the gay victims because, after all, look what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Thankfully, Chick-fil-A in Orlando rolled up its sleeves, fired up its grills and showed our terribly divided culture how to follow Jesus in such a tragedy. On a day when they normally close their doors and give their employees time off to go to church, they were serving their great food to first responders and  blood donors lined up to honor the victims.

Here are 6 reasons why Chick-fil-A got it right and how many Muslims and Christians can do better:

How Donald Trump (and all of us) Can Write a Better Story. With his campaign. With his life.

love-superhero-on-urban-city-background_fyAzLiOu_LImagine going to a Captain America movie where Steve Rogers is being sued. Regardless of the merits, which are never clear, he has reason to suspect the judge is biased and is treating his case unfairly. So the Avengers spend the entire movie plotting his demise.

They use their special powers to investigate the judge. Finally, they use their celebrity to stage a huge reveal: the judge’s grandfather was German and a member of Hydra. The judge is a member of a local German legal community. On that community’s website they found a link to a group sympathetic to Hydra.

Even though the judge has put away many German drug cartel leaders, even though there is absolutely no evidence in his record that he has ever favored Germans in his courtroom, Rogers insists, “He’s a German. And he’s Hydra. We still fight Hydra. We still fight some Germans. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”

The end.

We don’t find out how the judge rules on the court case. It doesn’t matter. The outcome would be so politicized that the verdict would be irrelevant. Captain America wins again.

What would you think of the movie? What’s wrong with it and why does it matter?

Ageing with less fear…more anticipation

AgingAt an author’s retreat a few years ago Liz Curtis Higgs grabbed several of us and said, “Come on, let’s take a picture of the Silver Foxes together.” In today’s culture that worships youth, her proud ownership of her silvering hair infected all of us. I’ve never thought of mine quite the same. While ageing is a fact, our attitude determines how we experience it.  And more and more of us are experiencing it.

Experiencecorps.org reports that by 2030 the number of Americans age 55 and older will reach 107.6 million (31 percent of the population). Americans reaching age 65 today have an average life expectancy of an additional 17.9 years (19.2 years for females and 16.3 years for males).

This generation of retirees can anticipate far more from their fourth-quarter than previous generations. They will be the healthiest, longest lived, best educated, most affluent seniors in history. According to a survey conducted for Civic Ventures, 59 percent of older Americans see retirement as “a time to be active and involved, to start new activities, and to set new goals.”

20 Ways to Reach out and Build Warm-Weather Relational Connections

(in a world that constantly divides)

Brunch tableWeary of the way our culture wars are dividing us? Maybe you long to be used as a person of more influence for good right in your community. Perhaps you’ve often thought about reaching out to people in your neighborhood and building more bridges of friendship. Maybe you long to share the good news of forgiveness and hope in Jesus but you find yourself stuck in your Christian bubble.

With the warmer spring weather and a little creativity we can take practical steps in our own homes and neighborhoods to build relationships up in a world that tends to tear them down. Whether it’s casual and messy or organized and lovely we can shift our focus away from the macro problems to micro solutions. Here are 20 suggestions to stir the pot and help you think more intentionally about doing something good. Taking a little risk:

1. Stay outside in the front yard longer, sit on the porch, let the kids play. Maybe even invite passersby to stop for a snack or refreshment.
2. Throw some shrimp on the barbie and have people over. Or grill hamburgers. For something new, Google a different recipe. Or, rather than lunch or dinner, invite others over for brunch. Food shared within a circle of faces warms and disarms, gets below the surface and opens up discussions of deeper thoughts and needs.
3. Pray that God would enlarge your heart for these relationships, that you would see people as the Lord Jesus sees them. That he would give you the strength (and sometimes the courage) to move beyond the default to TV and social media to connect with real people.