Sorting Through the Mess: A Thoughtful Perspective on the Division in America

You know how you feel in December when you pull out the boxes of Christmas decorations and attempt to sort out a million different strands of hopelessly tangled lights? As my husband says, it’s enough to make a Christian want to cuss!

Yeah, that’s how my heart feels right now. 

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. The Media. Riots. Police officers. Pandemic. Politics. To mask or not to mask. 

So many things twisted together, all tangled up in a great big mess.

I am hesitant to even write about it because I’m not sure I can do justice to such important issues. While I know some of my thoughts may not be popular and I’m okay with that, I desperately want to avoid being misunderstood or causing pain to friends who are fearful or grieving. 

And yet, writing is how I best process my thoughts. I am sharing only in the hopes that it will give voice to some of your own thoughts, too, and help untangle this mess in your heart just a little bit.

My first thought is to recognize it is both possible and acceptable to feel multiple emotions at one time.

The sun can shine while it’s storming. People can laugh while they’re crying. You can respect and admire a friend, yet disagree with their perspective. We can deeply love our children and want them to leave us alone, all at the same time. 

I feel sickened by the video of George Floyd. I am angry at the police officers involved, both the one who killed him and those who stood by watching. I feel compassion for so many friends who fear for the lives of their husbands and sons, simply because they were born with black skin. I also fear for the majority of our law-enforcement who constantly place themselves in danger in order to protect lives, and are now in further personal danger because of the horrible choices of some who share their badge.

I grieve for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and I sympathize with those who are at risk and afraid, as well as those who have lost their jobs and their businesses. At the same time, I recognize the deception and manipulation on display from every side- disguised as protection, of all things- protection of health, of rights, of the vulnerable, of businesses. Sure, there is truth in all of it, but those seeds of truth are being twisted into whatever happens to benefit the “twister” the most. It frustrates and exhausts me. 

As humans, we are not always sure what to do with conflicting emotions. So often we tend to focus on one and ignore the others because it just seems easier that way. 

But I have found that in life, the easier way is rarely the best way.

However, this is our instinct- to focus on one emotion, in ourselves or in those we view as opposing us, because then we are able to react. More than anything, our difficult feelings hate to be contained and cry out for action. It is much easier to projectile vomit our pain and opinions onto others than to process it amidst the quieter, seemingly contradicting voices in our heads. And when we hyper-focus on one emotion, we tend to lose perspective; we lose sight of our friendships, we lose sight of how God is working, and eventually, we lose our hope.

Setting aside the strand of conflicting emotions, I reach into the tangled mess of lights and pull out another thought: how easily we are manipulated by the power of suggestion. 

I recently saw an article which illustrated this perfectly. It was written by a photographer who was showing how easily we are misled by what we see (and I would suggest hear, feel, etc.). The author used a series of side-by-side photos taken of the exact same images from the exact same angles, but using different lenses. It was truly fascinating! In one photo, it was obvious people were standing several feet apart from one another on a sidewalk, but with the other lens, they appeared to be almost touching.  Another photo showed people spread out all across a park, while the same image using the other lens made it look like they were gathered together in a crowd. The dichotomy continued, image after image. The crazy thing was, if you only saw one photo, you would swear it was reality. No one would be able to convince you differently; we trust our senses so completely. 

The power of suggestion is so much stronger than we realize.

I believe Satan is using this tool to divide us now more than ever. Each of us sees things so clearly from our own perspective that there is no room for anyone to give us a different view of the same image. We forget we all view reality through our own specific lens, and that someone else’s lens is not necessarily wrong- it’s just not the whole picture. 

And neither is ours. 

The truth is only found in the absence of lenses, which often rests in the eyes of God alone. Our best hope is to recognize our own lens and compare our differing perspectives with others in hopes of getting a little closer to the truth. 

I will be honest- I am easily led by my emotions.  Those of you who know me now may not believe that, but if you knew me in my high school and college years, this does not surprise you. My instinct is to react on emotion, but having learned this about myself over the years, I try to be intentional about pausing.  Giving myself time to calm down, gather information, and process different perspectives enables me to respond more helpfully to a situation rather than just react on emotion. It gives me time to employ “critical thinking,” which can be defined as follows:

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

  • understand the logical connections between ideas
  • identify, construct and evaluate arguments
  • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • solve problems systematically
  • identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  • reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values

Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.”

https://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php

Critical thinking looks past the headlines, past our emotions, and past our desire to blame someone and validate our opinion. It seeks the TRUTH, even at our own expense. 

And honestly, that’s not something we value much in America any more.

No, it is easier for us to look at school shootings and decide the problem is, say, too many guns. But if we research it further, we would find that areas with the tightest gun control have some of the most shootings. And while gun laws may certainly be part of the answer, by focusing on that alone we miss so many other pieces of the puzzle, like mental health issues, bullying, family dynamics, and the desensitizing of violent video games.

It is easier to look at the problems in education and blame it all, perhaps, on the curriculum. Obviously, we’ve seen through Common Core (and No Child Left Behind, and standardized testing, and…) that focusing blame on just one area does not fix the problem. Meanwhile, we ignore the lack of resources for teachers, the abundance of paperwork, the impact of home-life on student performance, the rapid integration of non-English speaking students, and discipline and behavior challenges in the classroom. 

It is easy to look at the Coronavirus and decide sheltering in place and mask wearing are the only viable solutions. But doing so ignores the devastating impact of job losses, deaths from other factors due to not seeking medical attention, increases in suicides, rampant child abuse, addiction relapses, and the fact that cloth and surgical masks provide almost zero protection for anyone from air-borne viruses like COVID-19 (bacteria, other germs, yes, but not viruses. If you can breathe through the mask without a filter, you are exhaling and inhaling the virus right through it.) The answer, therefore, is simply not as easy as it seems. By ignoring other factors, we may actually be making the problem worse.

And it is easy to look at various acts of racism and blame policemen or a corrupt justice system or the history of racism in our country. And while all of those may certainly be part of the problem, there are other factors- some very difficult to discuss and address- that greatly affect the issue. I had a black pastor friend tell me years ago that racism in America will never get better until the black community takes responsibility for the ways they contribute to the problem and quit both blaming the “white man” and expecting him to fix everything. Those same words out of my mouth would mean very little, but his sentiment has since been echoed by other other black friends as well (all my age or older). These wise and compassionate leaders have a front row seat and valuable perspectives, but they do not offer easy solutions, so their voices are rarely heard.

Please hear me- this in no way removes responsibility from the people who have committed horrible or foolish crimes. And it does not negate that there are major changes that should be made to various systems in America, particularly in certain areas. 

Instead, I am implying that as long as we ignore our contradicting voices, as long as we are easily persuaded by the power of suggestion, if we continue to react on emotion instead of thinking critically and engaging all aspects of a certain issue, it will be very difficult for us as a society to make any kind of lasting change.

And the enemy loves this. 

Satan loves to distract us and deceive us and divide us. He loves to whisper to us about our rights, about vengeance. He loves to make generalizations and cast blame and stoke anger. And if he can keep us busy fighting each other, he doesn’t have to worry about us fighting him.

But there is One who is greater.

He weeps at the senseless violence and the loss of life. He alone has the right to number our days, and He alone has the right to render vengeance (Romans 12:19). Truth comes not from our leaders or our emotions or the media, but from the Lord. He comforts the broken-hearted and gives wisdom to those who ask. Oh, how we need You, Jesus!

He is the last strand I pull from the tangled mess today

The knots are still there; they are twisted together in too many places and cannot be sorted out all in one day. But when this strand is pulled out and plugged in, it casts Light on all the others and makes the sorting out a bit easier. I wish He brought easy answers, but unfortunately that is not the case.

Instead, He brings His Presence. 

He steps into the chaos of our tangled up issues and conflicting emotions and speaks peace. 

He embraces us in our fear and grief and whispers comfort. 

He sees us in our division and anger and brings hope.

I do not have answers, friends, for all that is happening in our world right now. But I know that the easy way, the obvious way, the emotional way is rarely the best way.

And so I pray… 

“God, grant us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Memorial Day: Embracing the Freedom to Remember

It’s Memorial Day. 

For most of us, that means a day off of work, yummy food on the grill, and quality time with family, preferably near water of some sort- a pool, a lake, or an ocean.

I wonder how many people actually pause the celebrations in order to reflect and remember?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in an Air Force family gave me a much larger worldview than many people have. While I didn’t enjoy uprooting from my friends every other year to move to yet another “home,” there are many aspects of the military life I am grateful for today. One of the many virtues my “brat-life” gave me is an appreciation of freedom.

We often hear it said, “Freedom isn’t free,” and it’s true. But even after 9-11, I’m not sure most of us really grasp the dangers constantly lurking in the shadows, and the efforts required to keep them at bay.

Freedom looks different when you live on a military base overseas where cars are routinely checked for explosives and “bomb threat drills” are commonplace at school. 

Freedom looks different when a family member is gone for months at a time (or more), missing milestones and everyday life, while stepping into harm’s way on a daily basis for the benefit of others. 

Freedom looks different when those family members finally come home, but they are different, changed. The price they pay continues through their emotional isolation, struggling marriages, and continual nightmares. 

And freedom looks different when someone’s parent, brother, sister, or friend doesn’t make it home at all. When they pay the ultimate price.

Friends, freedom definitely comes at a high cost. What makes it even more valuable is those who are paying that price have chosen to do so. We live in a country with a voluntary military (as opposed to mandatory required service), so these men and women willingly sign up to defend us and protect our nation’s ideals, both here and around the world. They do so knowing what is expected of them and what possible outcomes lie ahead. But they believe in freedom, protection, and liberty enough to answer the call.

Theirs is a call of courage, of commitment, of sacrifice. 

Over the past few months, we have been reminded just how many freedoms we enjoy daily that we often take for granted. Education, employment, and entertainment, to name a few… so many things that many people in the world will never have access to.  The loss of those things has been felt tremendously in recent days. Perhaps now we have a greater understanding and appreciation of our freedom.

So today, as we enjoy the many liberties we so often take for granted in this great nation, let’s take a few minutes to remember those who sacrificed so much to ensure these freedoms. Let’s treasure these moments with our families, and remember those who have an empty seat at their table today. 

And let’s try to live in a manner worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.

“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13

When Life Gives You More Than You Bargained For

Have you ever gotten something you’ve hoped for, something you’ve wanted for a long time, only to realize it’s a lot more than you bargained for?

Well, my husband recently bought some chickens.

SIXTEEN CHICKENS, to be exact.

Actually, he didn’t really buy the chickens; his company bought some property and the chickens came along with it.

Did I mention there are 16 chickens?!!

Now, I’m not going to lie… I was super excited. I have wanted chickens for YEARS and now my dream was finally coming true! Do you have any idea how many eggs our family goes through in a week? I transitioned to buying the “5 dozen Eggs” box from Costco about a year ago when my boys learned how to cook eggs by themselves. Having our own chickens seems like the perfect solution!

But there’s a problem.

Our neighborhood covenants do not allow us to have chickens. Oh, and the property where the chickens currently reside? It’s two hours south, on the other side of Atlanta from our home. 

Yeah, that might be a challenge. 

Sometimes something we really want ends up being a bit more than we bargained for.

When I was a senior in college, I got a car- a used Chevy Cavalier. It was silver and beautiful and all mine! I was so excited. And while it got me where I needed to go, we soon discovered there was a tiny hole in the oil tank which required me to refill it with oil every month or so, or I would ruin the engine. 

Growing up, I always dreamed of marrying my handsome “prince” and living happily ever after, only to get married and find out marriage is actually more about denying yourself and doing everything in your power to make the other person happy.

It took us several years to have a baby, and after all the longing, I couldn’t wait to hold a little one in my arms. We were so happy when the Lord blessed us with Sarah! But it didn’t take long to realize that gaining a new addition also involved loooooong days, sleepless nights, and changing and sacrificing so much of how I was used to living my life.

The first house we bought had four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and I was in love with the yellow walls and the Berber carpet. We budgeted for new furniture, only to watch all the extras add up- rugs, shower curtains, appliances, a lawn mower… not to mention all the unexpected expenses when something broke down or needed replacing. It was a rude awakening!

I could keep going, but you get the point. 

So often the things we long for bring with them way more than what we bargained for. 

In 1 Samuel Chapter 8, the nation of Israel tells Samuel they are longing to be led by a king, just like all the nations around them. God orders Samuel to “warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (v. 9) Samuel tries to explain to them that while they want a king to lead them in battle, it will bring a whole lot more than what they are expecting

But the people insist, so the Lord answers, “Listen to them and give them a king.” 

The Israelites end up with King Saul, who, though he starts off as the king they so desired, eventually disobeys the Lord, goes mad from jealousy of David, and loses the favor of God. He ends up being way more than they bargained for, and not in a good way.

Fast forward many years and the Israelites are longing for a Messiah. As in previous times, they are expecting one who will defend their cause and lead them in battle, making them the envy of the nations around them. 

Instead, they get Jesus.

He did not lead them in battle or make them the envy of the nations around them. Instead, He led them in love. He forgave their sins. He laid down His life for them- not in battle, but on the cross, ushering in a new covenant with a promise of eternity.

In Jesus, they got way more than what they bargained for.

But in the best way.

“The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect.” –Jim Elliot

Are you longing for something and growing weary of waiting? Or are you in the midst of something and finding it more than you bargained for? Maybe you got that new job, but didn’t expect it to be so hard/easy or boring/challenging. Maybe you wanted more time with your family, but didn’t realize how much patience it would require. Maybe, like Peter, you are stepping out in faith towards a dream and feeling overwhelmed by the size of the waves and the force of the wind. 

In times like these, I find myself asking if what I’m pursuing is truly God’s will or simply my own selfish desires. When I’m honest, the answer usually comes pretty quickly. 

And if I am pursuing the Lord’s will, then I must believe that whatever comes with it, even the hard stuff, is “good, acceptable, and perfect,” and will “work together for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 12:2, 8:28) If it’s not God’s will, I need to find a way to let it go.

Now, back to the chickens…

Eli bonding with his favorite chicken, “Tina”

We are still determining what to do with them. Is it God’s will for us to keep them? Time will tell. They definitely came with some challenges!

But they also came with eggs...

A little more than we bargained for!

Pandemic Roots: Are Your True Colors Showing?

Well, friends, we’ve reached that point in the pandemic in which our true colors are beginning to show… 

It’s a little embarrassing.

It turns out some of us are not quite the shimmering blondes (or brunettes) people thought we were. Others of us are perhaps a little, well, grayer than we appeared in March. Let’s just say there are definitely no “Pantene commercial locks” flipping around our shoulders right now! 

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, there is a steady demarcation line working its way down our scalp, slowly revealing our true colors to the world. 

And y’all, these roots aren’t pretty.

If you’re like me, you might be hiding them under a hat or pulling your hair into a ponytail, hoping no one will notice. I’ve even been spending time outside, hoping the sun will lighten them up a little and make them blend in better. 

Are you having any luck?

Yeah, me neither.

Or maybe you’re like some of my friends who have decided to take this opportunity to boldly show their true selves to the world. Instead of covering up those roots, they are putting them on display, vowing to no longer conform to societal beauty standards, but to be their own person, gray hair and all! 

I admire them, I really do. 

But it turns out I’m not that brave.

Maybe if I had that real pretty silvery gray hair, I would consider it, but I don’t. No, my roots are kind of a muddy-blonde-infused-with-clumps-of-mousey-gray color. I’m not sure they even sell shades like this in a bottle, because it is not exactly the look people are clamoring for. 

“Ladies, spread a little ‘dirt gray’ on your hair and get that ‘still-stuck-in-quarantine look’ in no time!”

Yeah, not really a hot seller.

I have never really considered myself a vain person. I mean, I barely wear make-up, I detest clothes shopping, and my boys think I’m dressing “fancy” when I put on a pair of jeans. So it has kind of surprised me to realize how much it bothers me to have other people noticing my roots. And they are noticing! 

Which got me thinking…

I’ve realized the longer we remain enclosed together within the boundaries of our home, my hair is not the only thing showing its true colors

It’s definitely easier to point it out in those around me, but it’s been happening enough now that I can’t deny what is evident in my own heart. Some of the “roots” growing out of me during this unusual, uncomfortable time, like my hair, are also not so pretty. 

Selfishness. Laziness. Impatience. Gluttony.

And I am not the only one. This break from our normal routine is revealing many of our heart-roots: 

As a nation, we have seen hoarding and arguing, disagreements and name-calling, all over things as silly as toilet paper.  We have found ourselves resistant to surrendering our individual “rights” for the well-being of others. We have found a way to make even a virus political, opting for divisiveness and slander when there are such great opportunities for generosity and compassion.

Our “busy-ness” has been stripped away, and we have found not just empty schedules, but also empty hearts, revealing idols we didn’t even know we had. We miss our entertainment… perhaps we hadn’t realized until it disappeared just how much time and money we spend on those “extra” things.

Families are gathered around the dinner table every night, which is unusual in many homes. We have been given the gift of time together, and yet, often we find ourselves choosing the numbing comfort of the digital world over investing in our spouses, our children.  It’s just easier; after all, Netflix doesn’t talk back, and our Facebook friends like everything we say!

Misdirected worship. Laziness. Selfishness. Pride. 

Thankfully, these traits are sneaking out only at the roots- most of our lives are dominated by our better virtues. Someone must look closely to see these unsightly “grays”. However, the more time that passes, the more these traits become evident…

Unless we do something about them.

Just like with my hair, my initial instinct is to hide them. Cover them up, pretend they’re not there, and no one will notice, right? Only, roots have a way of continuing to grow until they can no longer be hidden.

Then what?

Well, I could just accept that they reveal who I really I am inside, and put them on display for everyone to see. After all, if this is the real me, I should be okay with that and so should you, right? This is just the way God made me. 

But it isn’t really. I know that, and so do you. 

While I am all for being genuine, there is no value in pursuing the worst version of myself. Just because the roots are there doesn’t mean that is all that’s there. 

Do we let weeds continue to grow in a garden? If so, after awhile they will choke out the real plants and take over the entire space. But  the weeds weren’t planted there by the gardener. So, when people look at the garden, they aren’t actually seeing a true reflection of what the garden was intended to be, but something it became on its own.

I don’t want to hide my roots, but I also don’t want to wear them proudly, embracing a tainted version of myself. So then, what’s a girl to do?

When I go to the hair salon, I ask my stylist to help me be the best version of myself. I don’t want to leave looking exactly the same, nor do I want to look totally different. I still want to be me- just better! So she looks at my hair, my skin, and my roots. She points out the mousey grays (thanks for that) and the uneven bangs, and then she begins to work her magic. Somehow she is able to blend them all together, adding highlights and shades of my real hair color, transforming it into something new.

Something real. Still me, but better. 

So I find myself bringing these heart-roots to Jesus. I don’t want to ignore them, and I don’t want to embrace them. I want to name them, learn from them, and then allow Him to transform them. By adding Light and Truth, He can blend impulsiveness into boldness and change greed into generosity. He can add shades of patience and kindness and humility, transforming my whole character into something better. 

Still real, still me, but better.

More like Jesus.

Unforgettable Quotes: Lessons I Learned from “Free Burma Rangers”

Photo from website: Freeburmarangers.org

Have you ever heard someone say something and it really stuck with you? It’s as though those words implant themselves in your brain and swirl around for a bit, before finally circling their way down to your heart?

Well, that happened to me this weekend. 

The week before the Coronavirus hit the “pause button” on life, several friends posted about a movie that was going to be in theaters for only two nights. It was a documentary about a missionary family who has spent the past 20+ years serving the people of Burma, as well as some additional time bringing food and medical aid to Iraq and Sudan. My friends were raving about the movie, but we were busy preparing for our teen drama production the following week, and I knew there was no way I could see it. Missionary movies are my jam, y’all! To say I was bummed is an understatement.

Fast forward six weeks, and I was thrilled to find out Lifeway was going to live-stream the movie on their Facebook page! 

So, on Friday night I put our boys to bed a little early, grabbed a blanket and some tea, and sat down with my computer to watch “Free Burma Rangers.”

Wow.

If you know me, it is not often that I am speechless, but this movie left me without any words at all. Dave Eubanks has a unique calling from God as a missionary soldier, and he and his family live out every verse in the Bible about laying down your life for others in ways you and I cannot even begin to imagine. 

This is not a great movie; It is a powerful movie. It is difficult to watch (definitely not recommended for children), and yet I could not turn away. It is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, all at the same time. You may need some tissues. 

And you may never be the same after you watch it.

I don’t want to share any spoilers, so that’s all I’m going to say about it. However, I did want to share a few quotes from the movie that impacted me and have been floating around in my head ever since. 

(I actually typed these up in my Notes app as I watched because they hit me so strongly.  I tried to dictate them as accurately as possible; any misquoting is completely unintentional and hopefully still conveys the same sentiment.)

1. “Go to the sound of the guns, go to the sound of need, and trust God to show you how to help.”

Wow. Am I the person who runs towards danger and need, or am I the one who runs away from it? Lord, help me trust You enough to run towards it.

2.  “Vengeance looks a lot like justice, but it is driven by hate. They both start in the same place- an injustice occurs. However, one response is done in a spirit of love, the other a spirit of hate. It’s not our job to bring vengeance or justice… we are simply to obey Jesus (in a spirit of love).” 

Think about that for awhile. When I watched Dave Eubank process this truth (God’s answer to his prayer for what clearly seemed like justice but in reality was vengeance) and then willingly submit, I was floored. Lord, help me listen and obey like that.

3. “Be bold in the things of Jesus and humble in the things of yourself.” 

I think I often get this backwards. Lord, change me!

4. “And so I prayed: Lord, what do I do, no matter what it costs?” 

And in this moment, what God was asking would cost him everything. Yet, this was his prayer. Lord, help me be that faithful!

5. “When bad things happen, I dare not complain. I believe where there is suffering, God is there. He will show us the way to go.” 

This quote was actually from one of Dave’s fellow Burma Rangers, his right-hand man and close friend. Lord, help me have eyes to see You in the midst of suffering. Help me look for You instead of complaining.

6. “Surrendering is saying YES… saying yes to all the good things God wants for you…” 

(…even, and especially, when they look different than what you expect). YES!! THIS!!

So often we think of surrendering as giving something up. How willing would we be to loosen our grip and let go if we realized that in saying “no” to ourselves, we are really saying “yes” to God’s best? Lord, help me surrender my desires and say “Yes!” to all you have for me!

This last point is a recurring theme for me lately, so you’ll probably be hearing about it quite a bit. But for now, I wanted to share these thoughts with you and encourage you to watch “Free Burma Rangers” if you get a chance. It is streaming right now HERE for free.

If you watch it, let me know what you think!

What are some movies or quotes that have made an impact on you? I’d love for you to share them!