Priorities

Open Doors

Acts 16:25-28

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Well, we’ve been quarantined for awhile now, and much of Texas has gotten restless. So restless, in fact, that as of Friday, May 1, many restrictions have been lifted here (with the exception of a few guidelines regarding capacity and whatnot). But for our family, I can’t say that much has changed—if anything. It can be hard to put into words exactly why this is. But I just listened to a sermon that I think will help.

Long story short, Paul and Silas had been flogged and beaten and thrown into jail for delivering a woman from an evil spirit (no good deed goes unpunished, right?). And as any of us would (not) do when wrongfully accused and detained, they spent the night singing hymns. But they were interrupted by a huge earthquake that shook the prison’s foundations and flung the doors wide open.

Now, the obvious thing to do with this fortuitous freedom would be to flee. That would have been the fair thing to do, as they were being wrongfully imprisoned in the first place. It would have been the convenient thing to do, because they could have gotten back about their mission more quickly. It would have been the comfortable thing to do; I mean, who wants to be sitting in a nasty, stinky prison full of God knows what kind of vermin. But they didn’t flee…why?

Because of the jailer. He had already been threatened with his life should anything happen to the prisoners, and to avoid this, he was all ready to take his own life instead. So one way or another, he was going to die. And worse, he was going to die without Jesus. We know this because when he found out that the prisoners were still there, and that they had willingly given up their freedom to save his life, he “fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30). Ultimately, he and his entire family were saved and baptized, and were filled with joy.

Paul and Silas could have chosen to act in their own self-interest. But they didn’t. They followed their own advice: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). And that’s my reason, too. If one person, or one family, has an opportunity to live one more day—a day that may by God’s grace be the day of their salvation—because of what I do with my freedom, then who am I to be behindhand?

And look, I fully recognize that staying home is a privilege that is not afforded everyone. Some are essential workers and have been fighting on the front lines for the rest of us this whole time. And now that other industries are opening back up, I realize that some who have been struggling to make ends meet finally have the opportunity to begin providing for their families again. Still others are probably being forced to go back to work, against their will, for fear of losing their jobs.

But I can’t help but feel (and see the evidence around me) that this is not the case for everyone. That sermon I mentioned, it highlighted the point that Paul and Silas both had and took the opportunity to choose a better story, and a better outcome—a better YES, if you will. When this is all said and done, I have hope that my temporary disappointments, struggles, and sacrifices will have amounted to a better story—and “a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17)!

Be well. Be safe.

Spirit of Sound Mind

Who am I to be weighing in on the global debate surrounding the Coronavirus?

  • True, I’m a doctor—but the philosophical kind.
  • I’m also a mother of two who takes pride in the value of “building up immunity” by allowing contact with the germs and dirt of this world.
  • And I’m a planner who has therefore thought of contingency plans for a range of crises, including those of pandemic proportions.
  • I’m a Christ-follower, and one who’s been chomping at the bit to get to heaven…like, my whole life…as in, I have to remind myself regularly that “to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)…as in, I believe so strongly that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11) that I felt it necessary to start a blog about it. I. LONG. FOR. HEAVEN. PERIOD. I also firmly believe that God is forever on His throne—and that includes now, today, and in the months from now. All that is to say, I have no cause or inclination toward fear or anxiety over the thought of death as a result of this virus.

So I suppose it could be argued that I have no business at all throwing my two cents in on the topic.

BUT….and this is a big but…

Between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon of this past week, over the span of 24 hours, I experienced a drastic shift in perspective about the so-called “Christian” response to this virus.

It’s based on the ideas that we should be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves,” (Matthew 10:16), that we should “look to the interests of others, and not only ourselves,” (Philippians 2:4), and that “God has given us a spirit of sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7), to name a few. But again, I’m NOT an epidemiologist. I’m NOT a virologist. I’m NOT a public health expert. So take what I have with a grain of salt…but hopefully with a grain of light, as well.

A couple of days ago, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t quite get it. I felt like maybe we were all overreacting just a bit. I mean, I wasn’t out licking subway polls, but I thought, “Of course I’ll go to church,” and, “Gosh, I really want to see the ‘I Still Believe,’ movie coming out next week.” But a few things intervened that caused me to begin wrestling with those thoughts.

First of all, I saw the responses of my friends living literally all over the world—Italy, Poland, France, Australia…they were responses of proactive caution, not panic or hysteria, but also not complacency or (God forbid) arrogance. I also saw the responses of the epidemiologists—yes, plural epidemiologists—that I know personally, and read the accounts they shared about how responding earlier as opposed to later might well shorten the length of time that we need to take these more severe measures. Doing so might also keep health care facilities from becoming too overwhelmed to provide needed care for those who become very ill, and by extension may save lives. And finally, I saw the responses of my friends who were adopting the attitude that all of the closures and cancellations we’re now facing are somehow tantamount to “extra vacation.” Well, at that I felt like I was looking into a mirror at my own calloused heart—and I didn’t like what I saw. I was disgusted—not with them, but with myself—and praise God, I was repentant.

Of course, we Christians have freedom from fear—but does that mean we should flaunt it? Does it mean we should cavalierly take others’ lives and eternities’ into our own hands by hastening their suffering, or their deaths? “By no means!”, in the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 6:2). If even one life or one soul can be saved by our actions, then isn’t that worth the inconvenience that comes from a little bit of social distancing and a few (okay, a lot of) changed plans?

You see, when my epidemiologist friends warn that school closures do not equal additional vacation, that this is not the time to visit the zoo, the museum, the park, the movie theater…not the time to have block parties or social gatherings of any size…I want to believe them. They are the experts, after all. Their math is far more reliable than mine will EVER be (says the qualitative researcher who only dabbles in statistics when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary). We MUST heed their warnings. We can’t wait to act until there’s “at least one confirmed case locally.” By then, it will be too late. Besides, if we stand with Moses in praying that God would “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” (Psalm 90: 10-12), and recognize that their entirety is but a handbreadth (Psalm 39:5), then what’s a few weeks of “lost time”?

Please don’t get me wrong, I applaud the Christians of the early Church, who according to Dionysius,

“showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and
ministering to them in Christ….Many, in nursing and curing others,
transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…”

And rest assured, if and when the local healthcare facilities call on laypersons to start doing field triage, I will be the first one to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of my neighbors. However, it seems that for the moment, the better part of wisdom and godliness is to help keep that demand under control in the first place, by practicing prudence (aka social distancing).

Certainly, as in Esther’s day, should we fail to act, “relief and deliverance…will arise from another place.” But who knows? Perhaps we have been brought to this place, to our positions, “for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Lord, let not one death from this virus be on our hands—be it directly or indirectly. Guide us in your ways and give us YOUR wisdom. Amen.

 

Social Director

I wear a lot of hats throughout the day: Christ follower, wife, mother, professor, blogger, friend, and so many more. But this fall, I’ve been inducted into a new role—social director for one little girl who has, over the course of her nearly four years, grown accustomed to having a big brother around 24/7 for her entertainment. Well, big brother started all-day kindergarten this year, about two weeks before pre-school started for little sis. Even since her school started, she and I have had a lot of one-on-one time, both before and after school. On top of that, she had her tonsils out a couple of weeks ago, necessitating a week off from school. So, needless to say, we’ve spent a LOT of time together over the past couple of months.

And unlike her self-sufficient, independent older brother, Miss Laredo refuses to entertain herself. “What can we do?” is her common inquiry. She usually has some ideas, but they all require two of us (at least in her mind). So we have played a lot of games, read a lot of books, and painted a lot of pictures. While I cherish the quality time together, I confess that I have often felt guilty and stressed over the other duties that I’ve had to set aside, and anxious about when I might be able to catch up. And yet, I’m reminded (as I often am) of Psalm 39:5, which states, “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” James 4:14 further asks, “What is your life? It is just a vapor, appearing for a little while, and then vanishing.”

So these moments, when I sit with my little girl and make memories that will hopefully last a lifetime, I try to remember the truth about what matters most in this life, and the brevity of it all. And I try to choose her. After all, a day will likely come when she dreads the thought of hanging out with her mom. Still, though, I have to admit that I’m thankful for today—a Saturday—when Tijge is here to fill in as social director and give me a much needed break.

Here’s to you and to the memories YOU will make today with the loved ones who are longing to make those memories with you.

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Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

Abide

John 15:4-5
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Last weekend, I hopped between two different local sites for this year’s IF:Gathering. This worldwide livestream event allows women of God to gather, to find encouragement, and to be challenged to a deeper and closer—a more active—walk with Jesus. The premise? IF we believed that Jesus is real, IF we believed that God is who He says He is, IF we believed that the Bible is true, then what? What would that mean for our thoughts, words, actions, and relationships?

And each year, we come away with a token of God’s personal challenge to us. This year, we each received a domino, on which we were invited to write one word—one word representing something the Holy Spirit is calling us to “fall into” this year, in prayerful hope of an amazing chain reaction among God’s people across the globe.

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By the end of the weekend, my word was pretty clear: ABIDE. Abide in the Word, and in prayer, and in Christ’s presence. I can recall a time in my life when morning quiet time was a staple in my day. But then I let it slip for a bit. First it was because I was studying for comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation. Then it was because I was a new mom, sleep deprived and exhausted. Then it was because my second child came out with no intention of sleeping through the night—at least not until she was 18 months old. Then it was my part-time teaching job. Now the kids are 4 ½ and 3, and are still keeping us up at night, and my commitment to that quiet time is still sketchy.

I’ve made all kinds of excuses—being there for my kids is my calling in this season; my students are my mission field right now, and they take so much of my time and attention; my gift is encouragement, and so and so needs encouragement right now; there are only so many minutes in the day…blah, blah, blah. And truthfully, none of that has changed.

Still, the time has come to be more deliberate about spending time in the Word daily. After all, I spend so much time praying for direction, guidance, and clarity—but perhaps it’s in that abiding that God wants to speak the answers to those prayers.

How about you? What is God calling YOU to fall into during this season?

What’s Good for the Heart

Psalm 46:10a
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Luke 12:34
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The kids and I spend a lot of time walking near our house. It’s practically a year-round activity for us. Gotta love the Texas weather, right? And it’s really my primary mode of exercise. Honestly, I haven’t been to the gym since Tijge was born—almost four years ago! So, you can probably imagine that we walk at a pretty good clip and we try not to make too many stops. I need to keep my heart rate up if I’m going to get a good cardio workout.

But today, as we near Valentine’s Day, I’m reflecting on one walk in particular—one we took last spring. It was a beautiful day, so we set out on a 4-mile loop. But about halfway through, I stopped dead in my tracks. A particular scene caught my eye and I had to stop for a couple of photos.SSPX0047

I know this phone photo doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea. And I got the message: Stop. Take in the beauty that I’ve created for you to enjoy. Don’t be in such a hurry. Stop. R-E-L-A-X. (Go Pack Go. 🙂 )

Then, around the 3-mile mark, we passed Duke and Jake’s house. They are two dogs that the kids adore, but that are always fenced in. Well, at one point, I’d left a little note in their mailbox for their ‘mom,’ commenting on how the kids would love to meet the dogs someday. And she actually called me! She said that, sure, the kids could meet the dogs sometime and that we should text her the next time we passed by and saw her car in the driveway. Well, wouldn’t you know it? She was home. So we stopped again. We visited for a while and made some new friends. Tijge played with the dogs, but also on the playground, in the dirt, with the shovel….and he loved it.

As we left and headed home, I briefly considered how much of a ‘waste’ this walk had been, in terms of physical fitness. But then I realized that these moments, these memories, are what’s truly good for the heart.

Bring Your Friends

Mark 2:2-5 

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Tijge’s Sunday school lesson last week focused on Mark 2:2-5, and the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus. For days afterward, Tijge asked us questions about the story. Why couldn’t they use the door? Why did he have bad muscles? Why was the house crowded? Why did he need a mat? Over and over he would ask, trying to understand the story. He even built a diorama of the scene using various toys around the house. It was interesting to see how, even for a three and a half-year old, this story is compelling.

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When teachers speak on this passage, they typically speak of Jesus; or of the crowds; or of the paralytic. But once I heard a message that focused on the four friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus, and the teacher challenged audience members to be the kinds of friends that would do the same.

Awhile back, I considered this passage in light of Ecclesiastes 3:11. You see, sometimes I get so caught up in MY journey that I forget about those around me. But we should live not just with a focus on ourselves and our eternal destiny, but also on others. If God has set eternity in the hearts of ALL men, then we should seek to help others recognize and follow that longing in their own hearts; and in so doing, bring as many others with us as possible—to the cross, to Jesus, and to heaven.

And so I ask: Am I that kind of friend? Are you?

 

Honor

1 Peter 5:5
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

It’s New Year’s Day. Florida State has just suffered a humiliating loss to Oregon. Then the announcer comes on the air stating that 70% of the FSU players headed straight for the locker room without congratulating their opponents. I was appalled. I was glad to see that Jameis Winston was one of those who remained and accepted defeat with dignity. That is what I would expect from a team leader and Heisman Award winner.

In the aftermath of this disappointing scene, I’ve read several excuses for the players’ swift departure from the field. I read somewhere, for instance, that the players on both teams were asked prior to the game to exit the field quickly after the game, in order to allow for the trophy presentation. But as a coach or a player, I personally would have refused the request. And since 30% of the team chose to stay, it seems that would have been an option for the other 70%.

I read an interesting perspective by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel (January 2), wherein he wrote: “Good grief, this isn’t Little League Baseball where it’s traditional for teams to form a line and shake hands.” But I have to disagree. Is there typically a physical line-up? Maybe not. But in my experience watching college football, there’s usually kind of a mosh-pit style gathering at midfield, where players from both sides do shake hands and congratulate one another. And you know what? Even if Mike’s right and this practice isn’t as common as the rest of us think, maybe it SHOULD be.

Sportsmanship should be the hallmark of college athletics—along with any other athletics, for that matter. It demonstrates honor and humility, both of which are great character traits that should be instilled in athletes through their participation in sports. So how do we instill those traits when things like this happen? Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind for me, in relation to this particular instance:

  • If I’m in a leadership position with the Seminoles (a coach, a team captain), I’m standing at the tunnel directing players back on to the field to congratulate the victors on a game well played.
  • If I miss the players there, I’m going into the locker room and sending them back out.
  • If I’m a coach, and players refuse to demonstrate sportsmanship, I’m going to bench them. They won’t play again until they write a sincere letter of apology to the opposing team.
  • As a coach, I’m writing a public letter apologizing to the other team and to the fans on behalf of my players and promising to do whatever it takes to rectify the problem.

But I think we should be starting earlier, when kids are playing at a “little league” level. So I have some plans for how I will encourage sportsmanship for my own kids when they start to get involved in sports or other competitive pursuits:

  • I’ll be a positive role model to my kids by not making sports out to be more important than they are. I will foster a “winning isn’t everything” attitude. I won’t fight with the referees or the coaches or the other parents in the stands.
  • If my kids refuse to shake an opponent’s hand or congratulate them, if they act like “sore losers,” they’ll be grounded. And they won’t play again until they write a letter of apology to each and every member of the opposing team.

So who’s with me? Let’s make sure that our athletes are known for their sportsmanship, and the level of honor they display while playing the game.Lj Baseball Helmet 1

Higher Aspirations

There was a popular song that got a lot of attention last year. I heard it for the first, second, and third times on various morning shows on which the band (The Wanted) was performing. And it was catchy. It was. I bought it, I listen to it, and often I sing along. But if I really listen to the lyrics, I find myself challenged. They read:

 “When my time is over, lying in my grave
Written on my tombstone, I want it to say,
‘This man was a legend, a legend of his time.
When he was at a party, the party never died.’”

Really? You want that to be your legacy? That you were the life of the party? I feel like we can do better. We can hope for more. We can aspire to more. If I could choose what I would be remembered for, the list would look something like this:

 

  • Loving God
  • Loving my family
  • Serving others
  • Inspiring others
  • Caring for and giving to those in need
  • Forgiving those who have wronged me
  • Making a difference in people’s lives

 

I could go on, but it would take a long time for me to get far enough on the list that I would add “being the life of the party” to it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have a purpose on this earth. And I think that for each of us, that purpose is big and meaningful. It will look different for you than it will for me. And sometimes, each of us may feel unsure about what that purpose is. But I think that, if we are going to find that purpose, we need to have higher aspirations than the world has for us. We must refuse to settle for anything less than our life’s calling. With New Year’s upon us, now is a great time to reflect on what having higher aspirations might look like for YOU. And then make your resolutions accordingly. I know I will.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For today’s post, I’m digging back into my files for a memory—one that I originally wrote about in February of this year. If you were reading my posts via Facebook before I officially launched my blog, you may have read this one. I was reminded of the post recently when Laredo joined me on the couch one night to reenact the scene. So I wanted to take a look back at what I’d written all those months ago. And I want to give you a glimpse into that same memory….

 Psalm 139:14

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

 At almost 15 months old, Laredo still seldom sleeps through the night. And often, when she gets up for her mid-night snack, she will lay on the couch with me for the next few hours (if not the rest of the night). I miss the extra sleep, but I cherish the time together.

The other night as Chris handed her to me, through the dark I saw her huge smile, and her arms outstretched toward me, eagerly and excitedly. It felt good to know that she wanted to be with me, near me. And then, as we were lying there, her on my chest, she did something she hasn’t ever done before. With her tiny and delicate little fingers, she started playing with some folds of skin on my neck that I had never realized were there. My first instinct was one of insecurity. Should I be adding this to my list of personal imperfections?

I quickly realized that this response could easily rob me of the joy and contentment brought by her presence with me in that moment. She wasn’t trying to point out ‘flaws.’ She doesn’t even understand that it’s a flaw. It reminds me of how, when I was young, I would sit on the laps of my parents and grandparents and use my fingers to trace the veins in their hands and arms—which became more pronounced as they got older. But they didn’t respond self-consciously; they embraced the time spent together.

And now, it’s my turn to set that example of self-acceptance for my little girl. Whether she becomes a young lady who despises, obsesses over, accepts, or embraces her physical features will depend largely on the example I set for her. In turn, I will greatly influence her confidence, as well as her actions and attitudes toward the imperfections of others. I confess, I have a long way to go, but on that night, I chose to embrace the moment, and the little girl in my arms.

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