My 2021 To Be Read (TBR) list is looking rather festive, how about yours?
I’ve got fiction and nonfiction, personal development and biographies, and even a couple of books about writing. I realize that last one will seem exciting for some of you and extremely redundant for others, akin to metacognition – thinking about thinking. I purchased several with birthday/Christmas money at the end of last year, and have acquired several more via Audible and mommy-daughter dates to Barnes & Noble with my girl, our favorite!
I’ve wanted to incorporate some book reviews for my readers, just in case you wonder what I’m injecting into my brain lately, and also in the case that you’d like to do the same or avoid it.
Late in 2020, I read Heroes and Monsters by Josh James Riebock (2012, Baker Books) and absolutely devoured it, it was so delicious! Five stars, highly recommend.
Why? I’ll narrow it down to three reasons, though they are countless. (Pray forgive my writing today, I’ve been listening to Jane Austen, Dear Reader.)
Riebock’s depiction of Jesus, whom he calls Jack throughout the book. It’s not only the re-naming of Him, though I thought that brilliant, it was the way he described Jesus as a friend in the room. “Josh sat next to so-and-so” for example. And it really made me re-think how I talk to Him and treat Him. I’m reminded not to merely talk about Him, but directly TO Him, because … well, because I can. Do I need another reason?
Brutal vulnerability bordering on self-debasement. No holier-than-thou in this author’s tone to be found, he draws the reader to her own self-reflection and candor. If there’s one thing I love about a writer of memoirs, it’s the balance between character (as in personal, not fictional) development and transparency. And for memoirs to feel relatable and realistic, the author must master the telling of both.
Illustrations. I know, “how unexpected” you’re thinking, but it’s true. I truly admired and appreciated throughout the creativity and novelty of Derek Geer’s illustrations that helped to tell the story Reibock was weaving. Apparently, I’m not too old to enjoy an illustrated book!
As a brief summary, in case you’d like to check it out, Heroes and Monsters tells the life story of the author, from childhood, and how his faith was found, lost, rediscovered, and strengthened. It’s probably all of our stories, if we think hard enough about it. The ways in which Jesus makes Himself real to us, individually, uniquely, strangely, in curiosity and wonder and pain and healing, and it’s all so lovely, now isn’t it? Riebock explains his difficult childhood when he was exposed to alcoholism and hoarding, an even more difficult adolescence and still more troubled young adulthood, with instances of Jesus reaching through the trials to reveal His love and guidance in the form of imaginary monsters and apartment-invading cows.
Here’s one passage I truly enjoyed, a conversation with Jack:
“I want you to let me love you. I want you to give me every part of you, the good and the bad, the exciting parts and the shameful parts, the things that you can’t wait to wake up to and the things that keep you up at night. I want all of you.”
“Kind of demanding, don’t you think? All of me?”
“And you think I deserve less than that?”
… “Intimacy isn’t fair. … Intimacy is about what’s real. Sometimes the difference between intimacy and unfairness is simply a matter of perspective.”
“I guess so.”
– Heroes and Monsters by Josh James Riebock
So, now, I’d love to hear from you? What’s on your 2021 TBR list, and have you read Heroes and Monsters yet? If not, do you think you’d like to after reading my review?
And oh by the way, could you do me a quick favor? I promise it only takes 30 seconds. Would you please subscribe by putting your email into the box? That helps ME communicate well with my readers, as well as gain standing in the writing industry, and it helps YOU catch all of my fun words. Thanks!
So, yeah. I’m working on my next book. Technically, I started it several years ago, and it has morphed since then. Let’s be real, it’s still morphing.
So goes the publishing journey. In a minute I’m actually going to ask for your help, Dear Reader.
In regard to the topic/genre (Spiritual Growth), I have a bone to pick.
Note to self: look up the etymology of the phrase “bone to pick.”
Many of the authors I read take the approach of a counselor to a reader who is broken and in need of compassion. Which is very often needed, welcomed, and result in may books purchased. There’s plenty of brokenness right now, and people need a lot of compassionate counseling. I get it. I’ve been there. I absolutely do not disagree.
But, let’s be real: we’re not ALL going through a season of severe brokenness and need a counselor. Yes, we all experience brokenness at one time or other, and in our seasons of grief and trauma and pain, we require extreme measures of gentleness. I’m immensely grateful for many authors who have written in this tone, and that I’ve had the privilege to read over the years. I have treasured the tone of several authors like Ann Voskamp and Max Lucado when I’ve been in seasons of anxiety, grief, or depression.
But in many seasons of life when I’m recovering and getting put back together, and in seasons when I haven’t yet hit that next patch of pain, I have enjoyed books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Generous Justice by Timothy Keller that step on my toes a little bit. In these seasons, I want to work hard and get stronger so that I can be fit and ready for that next crisis. Fit for God’s Army. Fit for serving others.
Someone quoted Beth Moore to me yesterday saying something along the lines of, we’ve got to take off our high-heeled peep toes and put on our hiking boots, because it’s time to do some climbing! (Said with her best southern belle twang.)
And herein lies the tone of my next book. It’s all about fitness; it’s about spiritual fitness.
If we’re honest, we put so much focus into getting our bodies into shape. We diet and we train and we go to the gym, or at least get gym memberships. We stretch and walk and run and crunch. We have Apps that count calories and track our steps and calculate our weight loss.
Got your boots on? I’m about to do some stepping on those pretty little toes:
Are we taking this much care of our spiritual growth?
Are we pursuing God’s source of spiritual strength and solid faith? Are we disciplined in our becoming more like Jesus Christ?
I ask the mirror these questions. I see the bulging belly of a 42 year old woman who has borne two children and whose hormones are doing numbers on this metabolism. I see the attempts of squats and yoga and dumbbells and cardio with yo-yo results. I’m not killing myself to get in shape, but I’m not “letting myself go” either.
But, more importantly, do I see a spirit more like His? Do I see a belief in His love stronger than ever? Do I see His gifts working through me for the benefit of others and for God’s glorification? Do I see the trained muscles that are like chiseled Scripture, hidden in my heart?
A physical trainer can’t lose the weight for you. But they can tell you what to eat for your body type and show you the exercises that need to be practiced and repeated in multiple sets. Similarly, I can’t make anyone’s spirit fit for God’s Kingdom by writing a book. But I can give you the tools from the Bible and practices to get strong, and I can cheer you on. I can tell you what it takes to stay accountable to making progress and moving toward the sanctification of your soul.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
As I’m working on this first draft, I’m in need of a few “test readers” so that I can see what’s landing, what’s needed, and so that I can strike the right tone as I’m offering this spiritual training.
Would you be willing to help me? I need to interview between 5 and 15 people as a part of my research as I’m writing and querying agents. This would be a phone interview (or Zoom) and would last about 15-20 minutes about spiritual fitness and faith disciplines such as Bible reading, Sabbath rhythm, confession, meditation, and more. If you’re willing to help with this, would you click the button below to let me know?
One metaphor I keep coming back to is found in 2 Timothy 2:20-21, and I’ll paraphrase:
In God’s kitchen, we are his dishes, useful for a variety of His needs and desires. Some are every-day plastic cereal bowls. Others are ornate vases to hold and water precious table flowers. Some are plain stainless steel butter knives and others are crafted precision cleavers. We’ll all get utilized for the purpose of the Master at one point or other, but He’s not going to serve a feast on the Corelle dishes when He could use the good china. Be the good china. Be ready for God to use you in whatever special, unique, powerful, influential, worship-filled way He needs and desires for you. Cooperate with His shaping of you and don’t resist His hands when the Potter works you from pounded clay to spun finery. Do not be like the plastic ware, easily broken and too fragile for important use. Be strong and able, beautiful and useful. This is your purpose for the Creator.
What will be said of you? How will you be remembered by your family and your community? How would you LIKE to be remembered? What impact do you want to leave? I’ll probably be remembered as the dorky clumsy nerd, because I’m literally dropping and breaking things all the time and once tripped on nothing but air and broke my foot bone.
Today we’re going to talk about a man who I will argue was remembered as Judah’s greatest king. I’m not talking about David, Solomon, or even Hezekiah, though we often think of them first. However, when you read the accounts closely in 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, you’ll see that there’s only ONE king who followed God with unmatched zealous devotion, and that is Josiah. He’s remembered as the youngest king, but listen to how the historian recalls his legacy:
2 Kings 23:25 says, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.”
When I read this verse about 15 years ago, it leapt off the page and made me wonder, “What was it about Josiah that made God (through the historian) say that? And a second question rose up in my mind, What impact did his devotion have on the nation, God’s people, and even on me?”
And then I did what any normal person with deep questions would do, I wrote a novel! (haha)
I hope these words and the words in that novel will do one thing: point you to the hope in God’s Word.
Let’s begin with a quick review of what was going on at that time, so we can give some context to our understanding. So, after God’s people had escaped Egypt under the leadership of Moses God gave them a gift. He didn’t have to do this, but he spelled it out in black and white what it took to worship Him and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, like He always intended.
God gave this to Moses in the form of the 10 commandments and the Law, as we read in the book of Deuteronomy. It was an extensive list of what God wanted from His people when it came to holiness, a beautiful display of what it took to reciprocate His generous and miraculous love. Think of it this way: when you fell in love with your husband or your boyfriend or if you’re single when you eventually fall in love, it is a GRACIOUS GIFT that you give him to lay out in plain detail HOW he can and should love you back. It’s not demanding or even bratty, if you say it kindly and have loving intentions. It would actually be unloving to be unclear about what you want, yet expect him to love you in those ways. “This is how I want to be touched. These are the kinds of gifts I like. These are the kinds of words that make me feel loved. These are the kinds of things that will feel unloving and harsh. Please do them very rarely. These are the things that will actually demonstrate that you don’t love me. Never do them at all.” AmIright? (haha)
And so, when we see this beautiful God who moves mountains to save us and who gives us hope for eternity, we long to know what we can do to reciprocate that love, don’t we? We ache to know the ways He wants to be worshiped and adored. He doesn’t HAVE to tell us, you know. It is by Grace that He clues us in and gives us detailed instructions in His Word about WHAT we do and HOW we do it that will make Him feel loved and appreciated, like when your life is a living sacrifice with such a pleasing aroma that it puts a satisfied smile on His face.
And so, after this gift of the Law was given, Moses leads them in the wilderness for 40 years so they can learn to trust God and take Him at his word, and then his successor Joshua leads God’s kids into the Promised Land, where they take over, dispelling the other pagan people with explicit instructions that under no circumstances were they to even THINK about worshipping their gods in the process.
And once the battles are fought and the land is seized, God’s people are ruled by a series of Judges, or moral leaders (not priests for they had the Levites, and not politicians, for they hadn’t needed them yet). It’s during this time that we see the beginning of a slippery slope of sin creep in and the people began to do the exact opposite of what God had instructed in the Law. So, in an attempt to get things back on track, God’s kids asked for a politician to lead them so they would feel safe at their borders, and God granted their wish and set them up with a King, then a series of Kings, who would struggle to do what the people wanted and occasionally one would try to do what God wanted.
Most of them would fail at both, as all politicians always do (haha). I’m just teasing. I’d be a horrible politician, and I know most of them are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. Eventually, the kingdom split into two – Israel in the North and Judah in the south, and it wasn’t long until Israel was overtaken by the world power of that time, Assyria. Only Judah remained: a small kingdom of God’s people who were torn between their heritage of serving Jehovah and the outside influence of paganism and evil.
One king, Manassah, was particularly evil. He invited the influence of foreign idolatry into the nation of Judah, setting up numerous shrines, high places of idolatry on hills and mountains, and building temples to every god imaginable. He ruled in Judah for 55 years, a very long reign for that period, and it was only at the end that he repented, and while God forgave him personally, the poison of sin and evil had permeated the entire nation. Remember that list that God had provided that told them all of the ways to love Him? They had betrayed every single one. The temple was in ruins, idolatry was practiced far more than Yahwism, or the worship of Yahweh, even in the Temple Solomon had built for Him. Cult prostitutes had begun to practice and even LIVE in the place once meant for the presence of God alone, and people were burning their children alive as sacrifice to the god Molech. Shameful heathen orgies happened under asherah poles on every hillside, and every command God had given had been disregarded and forgotten. And all of the copies of the book of the Law itself had been destroyed or lost.
Manasseh’s heir was a man named Amon who reigned for only two years before he was assassinated, and then his son was appointed to take over when he was only 8 years old. This is our King Josiah. The one who was arguably the greatest King, and he started young. Don’t let anyone say that young people can’t be influential or great. Young people make some of the greatest contributions to the church and our society and we ought to stand up for them instead of holding them back for the sake of their youth.
I know second-graders can be difficult, but they just might change the world.
It was in his youth, when he was just 16 that Josiah discovered God. We aren’t told HOW he found Jehovah or what made Him seek out the one true God, but one clue we have is that in that same or following year, his first son by his second wife, Hamutal, was born. This means he probably met her around the same time that he was discovering God, and I can’t help but think that she may have had something to do with that discovery and his subsequent passionate devotion to God.
Why do I make this jump, you ask? Well, it’s my theory that beside every good man is a great woman. And the same goes the other way with the genders, of course. Just as the opposite is often true and a godless spouse can lead you even further into evil. Think of Ahab’s evil matched with his wife Jezebel. And I find it hard to conclude that the profound impact Josiah made happened with a wayward or contemptuous wife at his side. Many of you have a similar experience that I do in that your spouse either introduced you to God, or has shown you a deeper understanding of Him over the years. When Kris and I met, I was 17 and he was 19. I was not yet following Christ, though I had some knowledge of God. It was Kris and still is who showed me God’s extravagant grace and power, and I do believe that my faith that has grown over the years has influenced his devotion to God in a positive way as well. I could be wrong about Hamutal, but I just might also be right. Think about the great influencers in your life– do they have a faith-filled, supportive spouse by their side? Chances are, they do. Not because that’s necessary, but because it’s helpful, and even if you look back to Adam and Eve, it was a model God used from the beginning.
So, with all of that as our backdrop, let’s get back to what made King Josiah great, and what that has to do with us today…
Here are five actions Josiah took that led to a legacy of zealous devotion:
1.His devotion to God. King Joe purified the entire nation of Judah of idols by burning them, destroying the shrines, demolishing the temples, and deposing the leaders of all of these false religions. And he personally led and supervised all of this. Himself. He didn’t just send his generals or his lords or his governors on an errand. Granted, he could have sent others to perform this purification, but he went with them and ensured that it was completed, just as God directed. If we want to follow in his example of greatness, we must take inventory of the idols that press in to influence us and we have to be determined to knock down every one, not bow down to any. Sometimes we look around and think the world has never been more evil than this, and in many ways it is true. But when was the last time you saw a child sacrificed in a fire where you live? The truth is, today’s idols are just as evil, but possibly more easily disguised. An idol is anything at the center of your heart, whatever robs Jesus of your full adoration, worship, and attention. A few examples (and these aren’t always idols, but they CAN become idols if we are not careful): television shows/movies or actors, the pursuit and love of money or stuff, ourselves (self care can turn into self worship when staying alive or staying fit is all we find ourselves thinking about), politicians or politics, home decorating, drugs or alcohol, and any worship of a created thing like the sun or stars or animals. Every so often, we must take inventory of our lives, asking God to reveal any idols we may be holding in our hearts. And like Josiah, we must be diligent to knock down every one, and refuse to bow down to any. I’m not pretending to be perfect at this. Just when I think I’ve got my idols demolished, another one pops up! Not only did Josiah destroy the idols, he defiled the altars by burning human bones on them so they could never be used again.
“Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech.”
-2 Kings 23:10
And maybe you need to not only knock down that idol, but defile it so you’re never tempted to worship it again. Maybe you give away all of your raunchy romance books, delete a phone number or an app, cancel your cable, or pour out your wine. A pastor-friend of mine had to do this last one. Not because she thought it was a sin to have a glass of wine, but because it had become too important—an idol. She found herself thinking about her nightly nightcap throughout the day, craving it when she was stressed, turning to the bottle for relief instead of to God, and He graciously reminded her that it wasn’t in His plan for her to live like that. What idols might God be asking you to knock over and defile in the same way?
2. He went out of his way to honor the Passover Celebration—the most important of all Hebrew festivals to honor the Lord. Strangely, in my research of the kings, I found no other king who did this as directed by God. Solomon had a major consecration of the Temple, but it wasn’t for Passover, and Hezekiah came close, but he had to honor it in the wrong month because they were not prepared.
There had not been a Passover celebration like that since the time when the judges ruled in Israel, nor throughout all the years of the kings of Israel and Judah.
2 Kings 22:22
There are things in your life that you will do better than anyone before or after you and that will honor the Lord. Maybe you paint, maybe you sing, maybe you host the poor in your home, maybe you give extravagantly, maybe you study the Bible and discover hidden truths in the pages there. The Lord called me to write a book 10 years ago, and I’d never done such a thing. “Write a book, they say. It will be fun, they say” (haha). I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel, but I wrote it as if He was going to be my only reader. It took me about 5 years, and then for about 5 more years it sat on my computer collecting virtual dust. One day about a year and half ago the Lord whispered to my heart, “what have you done with that gift I gave you? Have you been a good steward of it?” The answer was a contrite but resounding No. And I had to work to learn how to self-publish and promote it so that readers could find it. So that He could bless who He wanted to bless with the story He gave me. Josiah’s passover required thousands of animal sacrifices and diligence to follow the ceremonial liturgy of it. It seems strange and boring to us today, but it would have been the most important day in his entire life—that Passover day that compared to no other. It was costly, and yet, it seems the only thing on his mind was how to best honor the Lord. With the thing or things that you do exceptionally well, how can you serve the Lord with some extravagant love?
3.His restoration of the Temple, which had fallen into disrepair over the years, and even housed a number of idols and pagan prostitutes. Think of that atrocity: the disgrace God’s people had allowed to come to His Temple—the very place His presence was supposed to dwell and meet with the priests under the most consecrated of circumstances. Nope. Josiah realized the shame God’s temple had fallen into and this too moved Him to action, even before the book of the Law was found in it. It was DURING the temple repairs that it was found, before he knew what it was supposed to look like in its original plans for glory. He restored the gold, tapestries, curtains, pillars, altar, and removed all of the filth and idols that had been brought in from foreigner gods and even Johovah’s own kids. If we extrapolate this to today and take Josiah’s zealous devotion as our example, our modern-day temple is our body. Granted, many people have made a religion of fitness, but that’s not exactly the same thing as caring for your body as one would care for the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
– 1 Corinthians 6: 18-20.
We’re not doing this for the sake of vanity, attention, or a business scheme. We must honor our bodies as God’s temple by sanctifying it for holiness. What do you allow into your mind and body that is not holy? Is it something you watch or read or listen to? Is it food you know is destroying you? Do you regularly cleanse and consecrate your body and mind with the Word of God? Do you allow worldly influences to defile your temple? What would it look like if you honored and restored your body like Josiah honored and restored the Temple? Again, I’m not pretending to be great at this either. Josiah is an inspiration to me because just when I think I’ve got this whole sanctification thing down pat, God brings more conviction into my life about a new thing, or an old temptation comes back onto my scene. My temple needs constant upkeep, cleansing, and repairs, and I’m thankful for God’s patience in this process.
4. His love of and obedience to the Law, when it was found. You remember this part, don’t you, when the book of Deuteronomy was found as they were doing Temple renovations? He tore his robes and wept as the book was read aloud and Josiah realized the nation’s deep-seated disobedience. Despite the purification he had already done by eradicating the idols, he knew two things: their hearts weren’t in it and they had previously strayed so far. They had broken God’s covenant for generations, and he understood the doom they faced because of it, now that he heard it read line by line. He knew they had broken God’s heart when they broke His Law, and he feared for his life and the lives of his subjects.
“When the king heard what was written in the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. hen he gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for all the remnant of Israel and Judah. Inquire about the words written in the scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord. We have not been doing everything this scroll says we must do.”
– 2 Chronicles 34:19-21
And even now in this time of Grace, I wonder if a bit of this deep repentance is sometimes necessary when God convicts us. Because like us, Josiah was on the right track. And yet the awareness of grieving the Spirit deeply grieved him as well. And some of you might experience this one day too—a conviction that wrecks you, and ultimately moves you toward practicing godliness like you never knew possible. Holiness like you can’t imagine. Becoming profoundly more like Christ. Repentance, like the Law described in the Bible as a GIFT. Repentance is a gift. Are you thankful for this kind of gift too?
5. His love for his subjects. He cared for the broken and needy, and included everyone in the reading of the Law and the Dedication of the nation to obeying the Lord. He left none of his subjects out of this blessing, not even the poorest peasants.
“But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king! Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.But he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him.He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him.Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the Lord.“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty! You murder the innocent, oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.”
– Jeremiah 22:15-17
It was not his own consecration and reform that Josiah cared about. He wanted revival for everyone in Judah and even Israel. He saw to it that ALL of the cities and towns were cleansed of idolatry and sorcery. He invited the ENTIRE NATION to Jerusalem to hear the book of the Law after it was found. He invited EVERYONE to repent and obey in a last-ditch effort to stave off the punishment he knew was coming, and would come to his own sons – exile, slavery, and being conquered. So what would it look like to follow that zealous example today? How might you fight for justice on behalf of the poor and needy? “Isn’t that what it means to know God?” How can we be sure our hearts and actions are turned away from greed and dishonesty in every aspect of our being? How can we take action to fight against those who murder the innocent, oppress the poor and govern with ruthlessness? How can we make sure that we are remembered for a generous response to those we influence and those around our world, and not an influence that takes advantage of these people?
Two things I enjoy doing are jail ministry and outreach to victims of human trafficking. Your passions or cause might be different. God will lead you to make a difference in the lives of those who need Him, and He will also make a path for you to do just that.
If you haven’t yet read Consuming Fire, can I invite you to check it out? It’s even available on Kindle, so you can get started reading about King Josiah and His queen Hamutal today for only $4.99! One of my readers said:
“Couldn’t put it down … I love historical biblical fiction and this one is probably the best I’ve read so far”
If you HAVE read it, could you do me a quick favor right now and share this post or your recommendation to at least one friend via text or message right now (before you forget, like I tend to do)? I’d also appreciate your subscription to my newsletter, since that will help me when it comes to publishing more books in the future!
I called my mom yesterday to check in. We’ve been texting but I wanted to hear her voice and have a longer conversation because, well, everyone still needs her mom. Even when you’re 41. And maybe she needed me. But probably not as much. (Call your mom if she’s still on this earth, friends. That’s a message that will never be wrong. It’s the little things.)
She catches me up on her life – back a few days from a trip to Phoenix for some sun and some friends. And who would have known that the world would change while she was away? It was stressful to fly home because of the fear of germs, but she’s brave and was armed with alcohol wipes and essential oils, and most of the people were nice. The only ones who were not kind were those who looked at her wiping as if she was being ridiculous, but the waitress was sweet at the gate where she had some lunch and a glass of wine. “I like your style, Girl! I did already disinfect that table, honey, but you go ahead and wipe it down again. You do you, and I’ll be here when you’re finished.” That was comforting. But why? Why would it be COMFORTING just that someone waited patiently while she was wiping her table off in a public place? I do that all of the time when I go out – not just during a pandemic. But yes, that kind and patient waitress was comforting because she didn’t look at my mom like she was ridiculous. It’s the little things.
On the first leg of her flight her meditation had been feeling the “sphere of protection” and she had visions of swirls of the Holy Spirit around her in protection like a bubble or an egg as she tells me. She goes on and on to explain this to me, and of course I believe her. God is always with us, and I’m comforted. It’s the little things.
And as she’s trusting God, she’s also wiping everything down with her alcohol wipes. “Believing God for protection and ALSO doing my part.” And the lady in the security line was so rude–hurrying people along, being harsh and impatient. “You can move up now. Go in that line. Move along, let’s go, let’s go!” Even though there weren’t THAT many people even in line.
(As she tells me about the rude TSA lady, the defensive hairs on the back of my neck are standing up and “I will cut you if you bully my mom” rises up in my mouth, but my mom can hold her own, with the Holy Spirit. She’s tiny but fierce, and don’t cross her.)
But my mom needed some extra time to wipe off the things she needed to touch and had touched, so she looked back at the lady in determination. Suddenly something over her shoulder swooshed and the lady stepped back in shock and was silenced. My mom kept moving at her own careful pace, surrounded in her Holy Spirit egg. It’s the little things.
And then she fills me in about how she’s coping with work. Or should I say with losing work. She’s a hairdresser and an artist and the governors just told hair salons (among other businesses) to close in order to prevent the spread of the disease. She knew it was coming, and logically sees that it is right. We’re trying to stop a plague, here, people. Some clients had already graciously cancelled, but every cancellation represents another bill that might go unpaid, so it’s stressful, even while logical. Unemployment insurance isn’t guaranteed for the self-employed, gig-worker, or contract worker. I get it, and I’m there too.
The cancellations pile up, followed by the bills and who isn’t counting?
Though she knows it’s the right thing to do, it’s also hard, so she finishes her last day of seeing clients and some are NOT very gracious. One guy rolls his eyes when she wipes off his credit card. Another guy rants about how people are going too far and this is just going to blow over soon and she fights not to roll her own eyes behind his back while she’s snipping. (Be nice and watch what you say to your hairdresser, people. What’s to say they won’t stab you in the neck and hide your body in the tanning bed? Nothing.)
And at the end of that, she’s got to get the necessities from the store so she can hunker down, and she heads to Trader Joe’s. She’s picking up the things she needs, mindful that she can’t afford unlimited supplies and food, but she does need a good amount to last, and also mindful that cancelled hair appointments the day before mean less in the grocery budget. (Grocery shopping is my most stressful chore for this reason. We need enough, but is there enough money to pay for the enough food? Gives me anxiety just thinking about it.)
So, she’s paying at the register and I can picture her handing over the money. Money that’s gotta last because who knows when it’s coming again? And the guy at the register smiles and asks, “How are you today?” His smile is genuine. His words are not just a greeting. She ventures an honest answer. “Well, I’m not really doing very well.” And he stops. Looks at her. Sees her. There are people behind her, but he’s not concerned. He’s not rushed. She’s the only one he’s thinking about right now. “Oh no, why not?”
And my mom LOSES IT.
All that pent up anxiety and stress and trying to do her part to wipe everything and wash her hands and close the barber shop and get ready for social distancing comes spilling out of her eyes and spilling out of her mouth. To this complete stranger in the Trader Joe’s. He’s maybe 20 years old and he just listens to her kindly. Nothing more, nothing less. (I’m crying as she talks into the phone, brushing the tears away fast and straining to listen over my sniveling.)
She probably got her change and thanked him quickly for listening before driving her cart to the car to load, and she may not see him again soon, or ever.
She thinks he was an angel. For caring enough to ask, and listening enough to care. I’m slowing down here, and you should too.
S l o w y o u r e y e s t o r e a d t h i s c a r e f u l l y.
It’s the little things, my friends. You are the angel someone needs today.
When this is over, we’re going to know things we didn’t know before. Living through a pandemic is going to teach us things we didn’t understand before. They seem like little things, but they are HUGE:
Patience is kind.
Clear communication is a gift.
Cleaning up before and after yourself is an act of goodness for the health of others.
Meditation breeds sanity.
Tolerance is loving.
Smiles are like medicine.
Seeing someone, really seeing them is valuing them.
Asking if people are okay, and caring what they say is meaningful.
And listening is honoring. A true treasure, given in a time of need. We all need to be heard.
When this is over, we are going to know how to slow down, how to step out of the traffic and truly care for others. When this is over a hug from a friend is really going to mean something special, and a handshake is really going to be a gift. A kiss on the cheek is really going to be a treasure. And caring about others is really going to be a priority.
It’s the little things, my Friend. The little things.
Drop a comment: what little things are you feeling, seeing, learning in all of this?
Whether you’re trapped by anxiety, addiction, abuse, shame, or besetting sin, hear me now: you CAN be free for good. The One who made the stars allowed His Son to be killed and resurrected to buy your freedom, if you’ll have it.
If you’ll live it.
But what is this IF, and upon what is this freedom contingent?
Make no mistake, God is faithful. His son is the chain-breaker. His freedom is absolute.
The IF depends on you, on me. IF we ask Him to break our chains and tear down our prison walls, He will. IF we receive the healing freedom he offers in those strong and faithful hands, our freedom will be complete.
Have you ever thought of the alternative? What if you didn’t take the freedom and instead you stayed in your prison cell, though the walls were broken down? What if you left His gift of freedom there in His hands, never receiving it, never living it? What if you refused to believe the impossible with faith?
It is possible to live in your bondage, if you choose that. You can cling to those chains of idolatry and anxiety and fear and doubt and addiction and unforgiveness, holding them around you like a blanket, though they are loosed.
You can choose to receive His gift of freedom with gratitude and walk free indeed. The hard work is done by Christ alone, and all you need to do is cooperate with His freedom path for your life. Take up your cross, which is an easy burden and a light yoke He bears with you.
Leave behind that shame-filled jail and truly live.
Many laws do NOT belong to Christ, but one that surely must be followed is the law of loving someone so much that you’re willing to carry their burdens.
Sometimes we’re looking for righteousness and it’s right in front of us. Sitting across the table. Sleeping in the room down the hall. Sitting in the cubicle next to ours. The opportunity to bear the burdens of these each others is so close you can touch it. And when you carry these heavy weights: the sadness, the stress, the grief, the pain, the hurt — you fulfill Jesus’s law. You keep His rule — the rule of Love.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
Are you searching for some way that you can honor God? Do you long to return the extravagant love He pours so freely on you? Open your eyes to the person closest to you with the heaviest burden, walk alongside her in the journey, and carry some of that load for her.
The law of Christ is the law of loving one another. Go and fulfill it today.
“Abnormal glandular cells – favor dysplasia,” she said. Have fun Googling that one.
About a month ago I had an abnormal pap smear after not going to the GYN for several years. Don’t judge – it just didn’t seem important. The kids are important. The church is important. Putting food on the table and gas in the car – now those are important. But not a regular trip to put my feet in the cold, metal stirrups.
Until the results came back abnormal and I had to see a specialist to get some samples to biopsy.
And then the thing becomes important. REALLY important.
So I went for the procedure and I did not like it. I did not like the poking or scraping or clipping or the long straw-like thing that really hurt the worst. I did not like it, Sam I am. The doctor and nurse were patient and gentle, and as kind as could be in a painful and stressful time. They even said my anxiety-calming and relaxing oils smelled good when they walked in the room.
And then the week of waiting. Each day I build back up my faith and every day the fear crawls back down my spine. What if…
But I’ve never lived in what ifs – I live in even ifs, and so I began to prepare.
Even if it’s bad, I’ll get through it. I’ll fight.
And we don’t tell the kids (read, teenagers) until the night before the call, but they shake afraid with wide eyes at the table and then cry in the shower.
Yesterday I didn’t accomplish much. I bought groceries – healthy food without hormones or toxins or hormone disruptors – just in case. But my mind was distracted, wondering if I’d get the call. THAT call.
So when the nurse called today to say – No – your pathology came back normal and all of the samples were the same – benign … it WAS a relief. It was thankful joy and and huge weight off my shoulders. And I could think again and be productive again, and breathe again.
So, what did worry do? Nothing. Nothing good, that is.
It seems so silly now – just a false alarm. But I know the other side of that coin. It could have just as easily been the worst of news, and we could just have easily been crying tears of sorrow as tears of relief.
It really did seem like doom. Too many signs (four, to be exact) in my mind pointed toward the conclusion that SOMETHING would be malignant. And so the benign-ness of it all is actually today’s shock.
And what did prayer do? It brought peace. Heck, maybe it even brought healing. Maybe there WAS something abnormal but my body and my God and my oils fought it back. I suppose I’ll never know.
And one of the kids texts back, “I knew it would be okay” and the other texts back that she’s crying a little in relief, and I’m just proud and thankful for their faith and love. They’re teenagers and they’re rude sometimes, but they love me and they make me proud.
My Guy – he breathes deep and sighs hard and releases this tightness he’s been holding so he can hold it together and be strong for all of us even while his worst fear was looming.
I was clinging to a few things over the past week, and even though my news is good and the fear has stopped creeping down my spine for now, I think they’re things I need to keep clinging to. And so I’ll write them so I remember them and I’ll make sure never to forget.
1. He surrounds me closer than any threat. Surrounded is a popular worship song right now, and years later when I hear it, it will remind me of how the Spirit was closer than the fear – closer than death or life – closer than even my Breath and He was faithful. My battle is not against flesh or even in flesh – and it’s fought with praise and thanksgiving – my only and best weapons.
2. I am not promised tomorrow with anyone, so I need to look them in the eye, give them what I have, and love them with all I’ve got.
3. I will take care of my body as if my life depends on it – because, gosh darnit, it DOES! I’ve got all of the natural remedies I need and I CAN choose the best food, regular exercise, better sleep, and reduced toxins – so I WILL. Lower the risk by proactive self-care. And teach my kids the same.
4. Do all of the things. No, I don’t mean that. I just mean act in such a way that I’ll have no regrets at the end of this week, the end of this month, this year, and this life. Kiss my husband often, even in public. Hug my teenagers daily. Speak every encouragement and mute every slander. Thank God for every gift. Sing out every praise, never letting any rock do what I ought.
5. Believe. In God – that’s easy for me, if I’m honest. Faith and Belief are like my super-powers, and even through this scare, I never doubted God. There wasn’t a shred of a question whether He would hold me or work anything and everything for good. But – even more – in people. I want to and need to believe in humanity, in friends, in church family, and in my support system. I kept this to just a few people over the past month because I just didn’t trust anyone else with the weight of it, and I didn’t want anyone to be burdened with unnecessary worry. Through telling a few more people and now in telling all of you I’m realizing that worry wasn’t a burden I should have borne alone. That it maybe hurt you that you didn’t know I was facing this for the past month. And I’m sorry. This scare has taught me that I CAN believe in others more than I tend to. And I want to, so I’m committing to. Despite the disappointment I’ve faced in people who’ve let me down and betrayed my trust over the past several years, I know that if anything holds me back, it’s my lack of belief in people. Not just any people – people I need to trust deeply. I need more of them and I need to invest deeper trust.
I know so many others who haven’t gotten good news. I write this with sensitivity to your heart, Dear One. May the Lord heal you and comfort you and bring you and your loved ones peace like no one else offers.
And I could have just as easily been that one too.