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!

My April Book Stack

I really thought I would have a huge book stack to show you for April with all this time on my hands, but as often happens, much of that time has been filled in other ways. On top of that, our library has been closed due to COVID restrictions, which means my reading options have been limited to what I have on hand…

So, friends, here is what I’ve been reading this month and some thoughts about each book!

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, was recommended to me awhile back by my friend, Will, who thought I would love it. He was right! Ed Catmull is the co-founder and retired President of Pixar animation (creators of Toy Story, Incredibles, Up, and more), and his book is filled with tremendous wisdom. While I found myself getting lost in the tech talk at times, the struggle was worth it. This book is especially beneficial to those in the creative arts field, but should be read by CEO’s and moms alike- anyone who manages or is part of a team. His insights on creating an environment conducive to creativity and open discussion, expecting (and even celebrating) failure, and watching for weak areas are just a few of the many takeaways in this book. I highly recommend it!

The Prince Warrior Series by Priscilla Shirer was not on my reading list for this year. However, our youngest son was given the first book for his birthday, and he enjoyed it so much, I ordered the next two for his Easter gift. I have been reading them ahead of him so we can talk about them, and they are great books! They fall in the Christian fiction/fantasy genre for middle readers, and are great for upper elementary through middle school. The story follows a group of middle school boys and girls (and one younger brother) on their journey through a portal into the unseen world of Ahoratos. There they claim their titles as Prince/Princess Warriors and earn various pieces of armor while listening to their Guide and fighting the enemy. These books are full of action and adventure, and will be loved by both boys and girls. Priscilla Shirer also has a children’s Bible Study, “Unseen: The Armor of God for Kids,” and a 365 day “Unseen” devotional, which make great companions to this series.

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte. I just happened to pick this YA fantasy book up from the Library right before it closed, and it was an enjoyable read. The murder mystery plot and intriguing characters drew me in quickly, and the unexpected twist at the end, while a little underdeveloped, was still interesting. The world-building was reminiscent of Divergent, which was kind of fun. As with most YA novels these days, there was a semi-prominent LGBTQ theme, just FYI. Overall, it was a good book, but not one I would necessarily recommend or read again.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot. For those of you who don’t know, Elisabeth Elliot is my all time favorite author. She has mentored and discipled me through her writing since my college days, and her books strongly influence my faith and my writing. This was not my first time reading Be Still My Soul, but it was still just as impactful. This book is about suffering well (she defines suffering simply as “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have”), about accepting our circumstances as within the will of the Father, and allowing them to shape us more and more into His likeness. If you are pursuing a life lived in full surrender to Jesus, this book (and any of Elisabeth Elliot’s books, really) need to be on your nightstand.

Well, that’s what I’ve been reading this month. I’m going to have to order some books if the library doesn’t open back up soon, so let me know if you have any suggestions! What’s on your nightstand?

Somewhere In Between

I went for a walk the other night, right at dusk. It was still light outside when I left my house. The air was warm and the sky was a beautiful, bright blue. As I neared the halfway point, the sun was dropping behind the trees, shining through in glimpses of pink and gold. By the time I returned home, it was not yet dark outside, but the sky was shadowed. It lingered in that place of twilight- no longer day, but not yet night…. somewhere in between.

That is where I find myself today as I write, and where I imagine many of you find yourselves as well.

After a month of social distancing and sheltering in place, the doors are slowly beginning to open and we are all holding our breath.

How is this stepping forward supposed to go? Do we fling open the gates and rush out, arms open wide like Maria in the Sound of Music? Or do we approach it with caution- cracking the door open just a smidge and peeking out, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s out there waiting for us?

To be honest, I am somewhere in between.

I have embraced this time with my family, because I know how fleeting time is and how much I will miss these days. I am grateful for this pause, for this time at home together, especially before our oldest daughter goes off to college. Sure, I have a few regrets, things I wish we had done differently, but overall it has been a gift- one we have opened every day. 

Still, I miss my freedom, and I miss my friends. As much as I love my family, a lunch date with my girlfriends has never sounded so good!  The chance to laugh, to catch up, to just be together- that would be a gift, too. 

And yet, it seems like it’s all happening so fast; a little too much, too soon, maybe. Our communities seem so fragile, as though a gust of wind (or a huff and a puff) might just blow the whole house down. 

And then what?

So if I’m honest, I’m feeling a little grateful, a little excited, and a little scared, all at the same time.

That sounds about right for the in between.

I find myself looking back at our life before the Coronavirus pushed the pause button. With a family of six, it’s bound to be busy, but it was too busy. I filled my time with a lot of good things, but over the past few weeks I have realized some of those good things have been crowding out some of the best things. When the restrictions are lifted and the busy-bus revs back to life, there are things I’m looking forward to, but there are also several things I need to let go of, even if it’s hard. 

I find myself listening now, in this space in between. Listening to my heart, to my family, and to the Lord. As I experienced on my walk the other night, there is a shifting taking place in my soul. One season is ending, and a new one is beginning. I am on the edge right now of something new God is doing; He is turning my gaze away from the past and out towards the future. I have used this time, this in between, to dig into His Word and listen for His voice. “Behold, I make all things new!” He declares. I am ready.

And I find myself looking forward to whatever lies ahead. Like the Israelites overlooking the Promised Land or the disciples eating breakfast on the beach with the risen Christ, I can’t help wondering what comes next. I don’t know exactly where He is leading, but I know He will lead me and that’s enough. I choose obedience.

 What about you, friend? Do you also find yourself somewhere in between? 

Let me encourage you to:

LOOK BACK… What should you hold onto and what should you let go of?

LISTEN NOW… What haven’t you missed from the daily rush, and what are you most grateful for in this pause? What is God whispering to your heart?

LOOK FORWARD… What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?

If you let Him, Jesus will meet you somewhere in between.

14 Fun Ways to Use Plastic Eggs to Entertain (and Educate) Your Kids

I know most of us are still at home with our kids as we continue social distancing and “crisis-schooling.” And if your house is anything like mine, you probably have plenty of plastic eggs in a variety of colors littering the floor, counter, and anywhere else they may have landed. What in the world do you do with them now that Easter is over?

Well, one of the things that makes learning so fun in a school classroom is learning centers. These are areas where teachers are able to get creative by taking basic learning concepts and teaching them as a game or activity instead of in worksheet form. When we were homeschooling, I found this was a wonderful way to reinforce concepts we were learning that otherwise felt redundant or boring. Who wants to force their kids to repeat their math facts one more time? But make them into a game and suddenly my kids were begging for more!

So I thought I’d share a few ideas from our homeschooling days of ways you can use those colorful plastic eggs after Easter as part of your “crisis-schooling”- or maybe just to keep the little people in your house busy for awhile. (And if your little people have turned into big people, I have a few ideas for teens, too, so skip to the end!)

Preschool:

  • Color Sort: Start with mismatched eggs and have children match each top with its correct bottom and tell you the color.
  • Big A, Little a: Use a sharpie to write an upper case letter (A) on the top and a lower case letter (a) on the bottom of an egg. Repeat with different letters. Use mismatched eggs so they are matching the letters, not the colors. Take the eggs apart and let them match away!
  • Number Matching: Use a sharpie or stickers to write a number (3) on the bottom of an egg and the appropriate number of dots/marks/etc. (***) on the top of an egg. Mismatched colors are best for this one, too. Take the eggs apart and have them match the numbers with the same number of dots.
  • Noise Makers: Now, you may not like me much after this one, but little ones love to shake things and make lots of noise, so this is the perfect combination! Fill eggs with different hard items such as rice, beans, sand, cereal, and rocks, and then glue or tape them shut. Have kids try to guess what’s inside them and/or use them as musical instruments!
  • Activity Egg Hunt: (See below; last item in Elementary)

Elementary:

  • Easter Egg Math: Write the equation on one half of the egg (4×2=) and the answer on the other (8). Mismatched eggs work best so they are actually doing the math and not just matching colors. This works well with all ages because you can do adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, and even fractions- whatever your child needs to work on!
  • Easter Egg Word Families: This is a great game for beginning readers. Google a list of simple rhyming words or word families such as “rat, mat, sat, fat” and “sock, rock, lock, clock.” Then use a sharpie to write the ending sound (“at” or “ock”) on the top half of the egg and the beginning sounds (“r, m, s, f” or “s, r, l, cl”) spaced evenly around the bottom half of the egg, so that when the two halves are connected they form a word. Then show your child how to twist the egg to form different words. 
  • Easter Egg Letter Scramble: I wish I had known about this activity when my kids were younger. I found the idea at hangingaroundinprimary.com and it looks so fun! Use Scrabble tiles (or cut out individual letters on squares of paper) to form words, then put all the letters for each word inside an egg. Set a timer and see how quickly your child can unscramble all the words. You can do this with sight words, spelling words, Easter-themed words, etc.
  • Easter Egg Compound Words: Write two words that form a compound word on each half of an egg (butter fly, rain bow, race car, base ball, fire works, moon light, sun shine, etc) so they will make one word when put together. Mix up the tops and bottoms, and have children attempt to form the correct words (and laugh at the new words they create).
  • Easter Egg Contractions: Write different contractions on individual slips of paper (won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, hasn’t, she’ll, etc) and then write the two combining words on each half of the egg so they line up together. Have kids locate the correct slip of paper and put it in the corresponding egg.
  • Activity Egg Hunt: We have done multiple variations of this game and it will keep your littles entertained for days! Write various activities on slips of paper and put them inside the eggs before you hide them. When children find an egg, they open it up and do what it says, then either put the egg in their basket or leave the egg there for others to find (if there’s more than one child hunting eggs). If children are too little to read, they can bring their paper to you or you can put pictures in the eggs instead of words, or even team them up with an older sibling. Activities can range from physical tasks like jumping jacks, sit ups, and shooting baskets, to singing silly songs, telling a joke, or acting like an animal. Check out Aliceandlois.com for a free printable of ideas for younger children. And keep reading for some ideas for the whole family!

Tweens/Teens/Whole Family:

  • Work-out Egg Hunt: If you have been eating a few too many cookies the past few weeks like I have, or if your work-out routine (what’s that? Lol!) is getting a little predictable these days, this might be a fun way to shake it up! Fill each egg with a slip of paper containing different circuit training activities, such as 20 sit ups, 50 jumping jacks, 30 squats, 20 lunges, 20 burpees, etc. and hide the eggs around the house or yard. As you find each egg, open it and do the activity. Leave the eggs for someone else to find and either keep count of the eggs or do as many as you can in 15 minutes.
  • Photo/Video Egg Hunt: There are lots of ways to be creative with this one, so use your imagination! You can hide the eggs and have your kids take pics of all the eggs they can find in a certain amount of time, or you can fill each egg with a photo or video task, such as “Do a self-timer pic of yourself doing something crazy,” “Make a Tik-Tok (if your kids don’t have tik-tok, they can make a pretend one),” “Do a slow-motion video of yourself doing a trick shot,” or “Video yourself reciting your favorite Bible verse while hanging upside down from the couch.” If your teens are not into social media, try something like “Video yourself shooting 5 baskets in a row,” “Video yourself singing the chorus of a Hamilton song,” or “Make a video reciting the Periodic table” (hey, some kids might find that fun… Mine would rebel!)- fill in the blanks with whatever your kids are interested in. Then look at the photos and videos together afterwards as a family!
  • Smartphone Clue Hunt: This is a really cool idea I found over at blog.bitsofeverything.com!  She has printable bar codes you can cut out and scan which will lead your teens on a clue hunt to different places around your yard. If some of the clues don’t fit at your house, no worries- just leave them out! She also has printable clues in case the technology gives you trouble. Hop on over to her website to find everything you need, and read through the comments for some additional ideas (like adding a golden egg with Chick-fil-a gift cards or how to adapt and make your own barcodes to scan)!  

So, that’s just a few ideas to keep your family busy and the eggs off the floor! Feel free to share any other ideas you come up with!

Let’s Celebrate Easter Like Never Before. Oh, wait…

Friends, it finally dawned on our kids last weekend that we would not be able to go to church this Sunday. 

“Wait, you mean we’ll be stuck at home on EASTER SUNDAY?? Mom, it won’t be Easter if we’re not at church! That’s never happened before! This is not okay. We have to do something…”

If you know me well, you can imagine how excited I was about seizing this teachable moment. My girls say I have a “small group leader voice” that I use in moments like this…  umm, whatever. But if I do, I’m sure I pulled it out for this one!

“Well, guys,” I said (probably in my SGL voice), “that’s not exactly true. What are we really celebrating on Easter? Think back to what happened that first Easter morning…”

  • Where do we find the disciples? (hint: They weren’t at the temple, where they?)
  • Where do we find Mary? (hint again: Sshh! She wasn’t at the temple either.)
  • And where do we find Jesus? (okay, so they got the point!)

The reality is we have never had a better opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus more authentically than this year. After all, the first Easter happened outside in a garden and inside a living room and wherever else people happened to be when they heard the good news. The life-changing news.

“I have seen the Lord!”

Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw the Lord?

I mean, when you truly realized what Jesus had done for you- that He loved you enough to die for you, suffered unspeakable pain and loss for you- and not because you and I were worthy, but because we are worth it to Him?

I was a teenager when someone shared with me that I wasn’t here by accident; that God created me and loved me and had a purpose for my life. For the first time I began to understand how much Jesus willingly went through for me and what it cost Him. It still overwhelms me to think anyone could love me that much!

And then I found out the rest of the story… He is alive! He rose from the dead, appeared to a bunch of people, and went up to heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit here to live within us and guide us. Wow. 

He didn’t just love us in the past, but He loves us now, and He wants to love us forever!

That’s pretty good news! And it changed me.

Friends, have you seen the Lord? I mean, really seen Him? Have you seen Him working in your life, changing your heart, guiding you in wisdom, transforming your perspective, bringing beauty from ashes? When you do, it changes everything.

He changes everything.

So this Easter, as we gather in our homes with our children, let’s make the most of this opportunity to tell them the Good news. Let’s not just read them a story from a Book (although we should!), but also share the truth of a God who is alive today, who loves them unconditionally and is active in their life. Let’s help them connect the dots between His story and their story, so they too can tell others, “ I have seen the Lord!”

********************

Easter 2012

In case you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few things the Heath Fam is planning to do over the next few days to celebrate Easter and Holy Week at home:

(Btw, you should know I always have A LOT of ideas… and we usually only do about 20% of them! But I figure 20% is better than 0%, right? #winning)

  • Talk about what was important enough for Jesus to do and say in His last week of life.
  • Thursday morning: Read/discuss how Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13:3-17) and think of ways our family can serve others, then do it- make cards, give to the Food Pantry, etc.
  • Thursday evening: Remember why they were celebrating Passover Feast (read about Moses and the plagues from a Children’s Bible or watch The Prince of Egypt) and make the connection between Passover & Easter, then read Mark 14:12-26 and take Holy Communion together. Maybe take the kids outside to pray, as Jesus did, for God’s Will to be done here on earth, even when it comes at great cost to us.
  • Friday evening: Recount the events following the Last Supper leading up to Jesus’ death. Maybe watch a reenactment from a Jesus movie? We are hoping to do an informal Good Friday service with our kids using readings from the events preceding the crucifixion and Jesus’ last words from the cross. If we do, I’ll try to video it and share it on Facebook in case it’s helpful to some of you. *Editing to add a link to an on-line Good Friday Service with Chris Tomlin and Max Lucado!
  • Saturday: Discuss how sometimes God is silent and it feels like He’s not working, but it’s only because we can’t see what is happening behind the scenes…
  • Sunday: Time to celebrate!! Lots of ideas:
  • Wake the kids up with some jammin’ praise music!
  • Read about that first Easter morning when Jesus appeared to His friends. 
  • Worship online with our church family (First Redeemer) and… possibly have a cul-de-sac worship service with everyone in their own driveways.
  • For littles, use Resurrection Eggs or make resurrection rolls. 
  • Download The Chosen series and/or watch the Jesus movie from Sights & Sounds theatre.

Your celebration can be simple or extravagant; do whatever works for your family. And feel free to share more ideas in the comments! But don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate Easter like never before. Oh wait…

Palm Sunday Reflections

Where was I as You entered the city?

Was I walking near You 

while the people shouted Your name?

Was I leading the donkey 

or walking beside You,

Feeling important

because those who had gathered

finally knew who You really were?

This was what we’d been waiting for!

“Hail King Jesus, Son of David!”

Or was I in the crowd

among those who were cheering,

Swept up in the excitement,

the emotion of the day?

I think He’s the one…” we whispered,

laying our cloaks down before You,

recalling the rumors, the stories, the hope…

Hosanna! Hosanna! 

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

We waved our branches and sang Your praise,

and then…

went on our way.

Or perhaps I was standing apart from the crowd,

wearing my robe of importance,

hiding my envy beneath a veil of self righteousness

Unwilling to bow and quick to accuse.

Teacher, rebuke them!” 

I said condescendingly,

threatened by how Your humble sovereignty

revealed my arrogant soul.

You looked at me and laughed, 

knowing nothing could silence Creation’s praise 

in the Presence of the Creator!

Lord, if I’m honest, I see myself in each of them:

The sincere, yet self-seeking, destined to flee disciple

The self-serving, easily swayed crowd

The self-righteous, “better than thou” Pharisee…

Oh, forgive me, Jesus!

Rid me of all these “selves”

which might hinder me 

from recognizing, revering, and remaining with You.

Make me willing to lay down my life

and take up my cross

to follow You.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” -Matthew 16:24 (NIV)