Choice Words: Why Choice Matters When it Comes to Love.

I heard something last month (the month that in the last five years has undergone a cultural name change from June to Pride) that shook me deeply because it was fundamentally and experientially incorrect.  Someone said:

“You don’t choose who you love.”

My mind and heart in that instant both rose in defiance of this idea, an idea that has been gaining popularity in recent years.  I knew instantly that it was a dangerous notion, and a concept that can have detrimental effects on the younger generation, and thoroughly confuse those of us who know better.

An internet search on the word “choice” in regard to feeling proves to be even more confusing.  There are a myriad of theories of how choice factors into love.  But the popular opinion now amidst the LGBTQ community and their supporters, is that one has no control over who they love, that they are at the mercy of their feelings, that they cannot reign over their thoughts or behaviors.  It is unclear whether they really believe this or if it is something that they grab onto because it gives them a sense of affirmation and peace.

And to a degree, I get it.  If one does not know Christ, does not have a renewed mind and heart as is promised in the scriptures, (Romans 12:2, Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 24:7) then what else does a person have to rely on but their own emotions?  What else could possibly guide them than their feelings and their misguided heart?

But even by society’s definition and standards, this reasoning begins to crumble in other scenarios. 

 First, what do these same people have to use as a defense for adultery if it’s true that one doesn’t choose who they love?  I would argue that people still have a delineated moral line that cannot be crossed when it comes to cheating.  Regardless of your sexual orientation or preference or relationship status or religion, most people agree that cheating is wrong.  It hurts people; it breaks hearts, it destroys marriages and families, it creates deep wounds in children that color their perspective and darken their view of love, it ruins friendships and brings division even in the workplace.  It is clear in these circumstances that there is some expectation that you hold fast to your commitments, that you can’t just follow your feelings and use the excuse that you couldn’t help it when you’re unfaithful.

Second, this same group of progressives will be the first to use “choice” as the foundation of their argument when supporting abortion as a right.  Once a woman becomes pregnant by her choice to have sex (in all cases except 1% according to research by the Guttmacher Institute), she champions choice when deciding to end her baby’s life because it is inconvenient for her.  She has allies in virtually every corner telling her that choice is king.  But in this arena, choice is definitely not loving, because love here would require sacrifice, inconvenience, and hardship.  The mention of irresistible, unstoppable love is nowhere to be found in defense of the unborn child.

Yet sacrificial love and choice is the intrinsic essence of the Gospel, the very basis of Christianity.  And this is why Christians must learn to see love and choice through a biblical lens, to memorize God’s definitions of the words.  In studying the scriptures, one finds that it is an irrefutable fact that God’s love for us was both a feeling AND a choice–a feeling because He Himself IS love perfected and he created us out of an overflow of love, and a choice because we were unlovable.  After the fall, each one of us was born into sin and on a rebellious track to destruction until God in His mercy chose to save us through the most painful, sacrifical choice imaginable.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Romans 5:8

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

John 6:44

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Deuteronomy 14:2

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

1 Peter 2:9

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Even if the sacred truth and mystery of God’s grace and choice were not clearly spelled out for me throughout the Bible, I would learn the daily reality of choice in love from my own marriage.  Initially, feelings, attraction, and similarities drew me and my husband together, but it wasn’t long before we had our first fight, then our second, then faced enough repeated difficulties in our 15 years of marriage that have shown me that loving him, being loving toward him, is a daily choice.  Some days the choice is as easy as breathing, but other days it takes my commitment to Jesus alone to keep me from walking out the door. 

And a few years ago, during a season of temptation,when my feelings were pulling me away emotionally and mentally from my husband, I had to recognize the very dangerous reality of what following my carnal desires would do to my marriage, my children, my parents, siblings, friendships and community. Blindly bowing to my whim would have been foolish and destructive, and no one would have believed that I lacked the self control or wisdom to make a better decision. Daily, I chose to quote scripture, pray, deny those feelings and chose instead the life that God had gifted me, one that glorified Him and not myself.

It’s on these days that I have to know the Word, to listen to the Holy Spirit remind me of the sacrificial love that God demonstrated for me, a love I could never earn or deserve–to understand that I don’t even deserve my husband’s devoted and imperfect love, and that it is his choice to love me as well. 

And I’m so grateful that he chose me and continues to choose me every day.  Because for all the times that my feelings try to lie to me, on those lackluster or boring days, there are just as many, nay more, days that I am overwhelmed with love and joy and gratitude for the person I get to choose to love.  And that’s when I can’t imagine feeling any other way.  

Grayson and the Grosses: Stories and lessons from our maiden camper Christmas voyage across America.

A couple of years ago Bryan and I were planning an adult trip to California with friends, which was going to include a good bit of driving from San Francisco to Sonoma to Tahoe. My husband briefly suggested that we rent an RV, to which one of our friends replied, “I am NOT going on a vacation which requires the toilet to travel with us.” This was a good two years prior to COVID, after which all travel stopped for months, and then timidly restarted with severe limitations and changes.

The first couple of forays we had into the changed landscape of travel in a COVID-stricken world revealed that the “service” aspect of travel no longer exists, at least for now. The little niceties that you take for granted even at Holiday Inn–people making your bed, replacing your towels, free coffee, extra hand soaps and shampoos, aren’t part of the deal anymore, but here’s the catch, you’re still paying the same price. We haven’t quite figured out if the travel/hospitality industry is really paralyzed by fear that they’re going to transmit or contract COVID, or if they’ve realized that they can still get paid for doing much less work.

Either way, pulling a toilet with you and having all your preferred comforts along for the ride no longer sounded as low brow, because at least you’re going somewhere. In fact, it started sounding quite convenient and adventurous. Which is why when my husband and I looked at our December calendar, (at a journey that started falling together in chunks from North Carolina to Colorado and back with multiple stops along the way) a camper-trailer seemed like the only way to go.

We started researching with a week to spare before we needed to leave, and our list of requirements narrowed the field significantly. Our camper had to be light enough to be pulled by an F-150, but new enough that it would be attractive to other RVers should we decide to rent it and have a low likelihood of major repair needed in the near future. It needed to have sleeping quarters for a family of five, lots of storage, to be able to handle freezing temps, and be within our budget (always the hard part).

We settled on the Keystone Outback Ultralite, and because my husband is a master at finding the very best deal possible, we were able to snag a 2021 OU that had been returned to a dealership in Mississippi and was now available for much less because the first owners had gotten a divorce. And Mississippi just happened to be the second stop on our voyage–it was meant to be.

The combined camping experience between me and Bryan until December included multiple backpacking trips in the US and Europe, car camping at state parks with our kids, and a couple of years with a rugged pop-out, tent camper we’d purchased in Germany. I didn’t expect to feel any differently about our new vessel than I did about any other camp setup, but I was quite surprised by the excitement and anticipation that swept over me the first time I stepped into Grayson, which is what I named our camper.

Hello Grayson!

I saw her as our ship, our literal home on the road, our cozy nest, our opportunity. In a year when at times I felt the walls of my home closing around me as events were cancelled one after the other, here was our key, our safe place to base ourselves as we explored, got away and adventured. And she is so lovely–gray barnwood interior, plush leather recliners and bench seats, a flat-screen TV and hidden pantry with loads of space, goose-neck faucet and roomy shower.

After stocking her full of supplies I’d ordered and sent to my sister’s house in Biloxi, and a couple of Walmart runs later, we flipped open the brand new Good Sam camping catalog that we’d acquired with our membership at Camping World and pointed ourselves westward toward our ultimate destination of Grand Junction, Colorado where we were meeting my in-laws for Christmas.

What We Learned About Camping/RVing

Since our first experience with a camper was during COVID, we have no basis of comparison for our trip versus what it is like to RV during “normal” times. I imagine that a lot of the nuances of actually driving, running, operating a camper are similar to what others know, but I also suspect the novelties and amenities of camping, being in a community of campers, and the proximity you can have to other people in your same demographic, has been significantly diminished by COVID, like everything else.

I now know that we were very ambitious with our first trip–not only did we do this during COVID, we did it for a month during winter, during Christmas, when you have to pack the bulkiest clothing into the most limited space for an extended period of time. We had multiple events/occasions to consider: a wedding in Alabama, virtual school, Christmas and skiing in Colorado. So it wasn’t just clothes we were stuffing into every possible crevice of Grayson–there were laptops, notebooks, folders, gifts, skis, boots, helmets. It was cold everywhere we went, so we spent very little time outside and had to give each other a lot of grace and get very creative with our little space.

We learned that we suddenly noticed campers everywhere–mini campers, travel trailers, fifth wheels and luxurious RV’s— more and more the farther west we drove. We learned that pulling a travel trailer drastically altered the quality of our ride, so we began to notice and remember which states have the smoothest roads, and realized that we didn’t really want to be on them for more than three hours if we could help it. A rough stretch of asphalt meant our daughter needed Dramamine (and may mean that we need a bigger truck) and almost always meant that I found snacks and spices scattered across the floor of the pantry when we’d reached our stop for the night. We learned about winterizing hoses at night so that our water lines didn’t freeze and break, that for off-the-grid-camping you need a big jug of water with which to wash, flush and brush.

We discovered the intimacy and shivering closeness of private lunches of soups cooked over our gas stove-top, or sandwiches of cold-cuts, as the five of us squished and huddled onto our bench seat dinette. We figured out how to time our showers in an RV in winter to about seven minutes before the hot water is gone. We found out how to latch the doors properly so they didn’t slide off track during a long drive, the importance of bins and storage racks, precisely in which order to flush your gray and black water, how to take wide turns into a gas station, which gas stations refill your propane, and on and on. We bounced back and forth between phone hot-spots and public WiFi for work and school.

We grew as a family. Because the chores were novel in Grayson, the kids found it fun to help with washing and drying dishes, sweeping and mopping the floor, and helping Daddy with connecting and disconnecting hoses and cords. Everyone had a part to play to keep the ship running smoothly so that we could continue on our voyage. When the time came for us to do real life, we turned Grayson into a mobile schoolhouse/office for virtual school meetings and conference calls. As has been true with my children through most of COVID, the more challenges we’ve thrown at them, the more adjustments we’ve made, the more flexible and positive they’ve become, and the month on the road with Grayson highlighted this beautifully. They settled into camper life and our mini routines with ease and optimism. Bryan and I found our routines as well–gazing at whatever new surroundings were outside our window in the morning with steaming mugs of coffee warming our fingers; or curling up in the two recliners with our nightcaps after the kids went to bed, while we watched whatever channels we could get over the air and hung our feet over our plug-in heater/fake fireplace.

What We Learned About America

She truly is beautiful. We covered 13 states in our journey from North Carolina to Colorado and back, and I spent most of it just staring at our shifting and changing landscape, marveling at how many different climates and features and land forms decorate this vast country. The Rocky Mountains are often touted as being majestic, but just as majestic to me were the rugged mesas and deserts of New Mexico and Utah. My mind couldn’t comprehend the extension of land stretching out in front of me as we drove through the flat lands of Texas and Kansas. I kept thinking, surely this is the type of thing that was so eerie to early explorers when they wondered whether they would fall off the edge of the world. The sunsets out west just seemed bigger, grander and more colorful than what I experience at home when the sky is segmented by trees. The cities, new and bustling, always gave me little bit of nervous excitement as I wondered if we were actually going to make it through the traffic with our extra length. The arches and towers of rock jutting from the ground and canyon walls were startling and intimidating–until my kids started trying to figure out which animals or mythical creatures they resembled.

Just as noteworthy though, were the people we encountered. Although sitting in our homes and looking at the news we all are led to believe that Americans are disconnected, that we’ve changed for the worst, that we’ve lost the openness, the spirit and the drive we’re known for, I did not find that to be the case. From Alabama to Mississippi, to Texas, to New Mexico, to Utah and Colorado and Kansas and Illinois and Tennessee, we found people smiling, living, enjoying. In RV parks and state parks and homes across the nation we found people willing to share their stories of their days on the road. People congratulated us and encouraged us in our new venture, promising great memories in store. We experienced true blessings when our truck almost stranded us in New Mexico and a Ford dealership went above and beyond to help us two days before Christmas.

Mile after mile, my mind conjured up images of pioneers migrating, discovering, settling, building, persevering–images that I’ve never seen firsthand, images way before my time. But it was here on this land that dreams were pursued and captured and achieved, because America is a land of go-getters and doers. A land of seekers and adventurers–people who never give up.

It was a relief for me to see as our family pursued this, one of our own dreams in the midst of a nightmare, that the pioneer spirit has never left America. Why would we think that it left us in 2020? No challenge has ever deprived us of that spirit, and it won’t succumb to COVID either. The desires to create, innovate and cultivate, to build and inspire and connect are modern adaptations of those pioneer ways that live on in us, that thrive on community, and our American community is strong. It hearkens back to the days that we built it. In 2021, I pray and hope that we keep pushing, that we not allow the rumors to convince us what is true until we have gone and seen for ourselves…that there is always more beyond our horizons. Let us never give up.

Sheltering in Peace–5 Weeks in Puerto Rico

Like so many other people, we had Spring and Summer plans that were dashed within the first week of COVID. I tried to keep my complaining at bay, knowing that people all over the globe were dealing with canceled vacations, tournaments, weddings, graduations, even very sadly, funerals. I think all of us believed this would be very temporary, that we’d be in the full swing of things, surely, by the Fall.

Summer passed serenely for us–full of local hikes, afternoons at our community pool, plenty of TV and a few restorative, short trips to the beach and the mountains and the tentative hope that COVID conditions were improving. And whether or not I believed all the hype, or agreed with the regulations in place to manage the health crisis, it impacted my life and my family’s life whether I liked it or not, and we found ourselves making daily choices not just about our actions, but about our mindset and perspective. The choices were more deliberate and important when my husband lost his corporate job due to a company-wide resource action that terminated 30-40% of its workforce and the school year began, and we were all under one roof, all day from Monday-Friday, clamoring for any quiet spot with good WiFi where everyone could concentrate and focus on their Google Meets or web conferences.

Every day was a practice in focusing on the Lord, of asking and even begging Him to remind me that the world was bigger than what was going on inside my postage stamp of reality. I woke up earlier and earlier to find moments of silence in the darkness before my family woke to hear from Him, to ask for a new perspective that would remind me that His kingdom depended far more on His faithfulness than my feelings of drudgery day to day, the growing sense of despair and hopelessness that this was never going to end, that I’d be shut off from normalcy, from having hope for community and peace in our country again as the social and political scene seemed to be deteriorating by the day. And then I daily repented of thumbing my nose in God’s face to think that my wonderful life could ever be described as drudgery, that I could ever be so ungrateful as to entertain the thought that there isn’t hope. (Sometimes repentance is a one-time surrender and the Lord turns your heart inside out, hiding you from the sin that wants to entangle you. But sometimes, repentance is a regular practice–a daily surrender of your incorrect thinking). In these moments, my husband was a great inspiration to me, as he never lost a step in stewarding his role as provider, and he did it with patience, temerity, and wisdom–trusting in the skills, connections and experience he’d built over time and in God’s proven good provision for us over the years. His hard work and demonstration of putting one foot in front of the other, showed me that he was believing there were better things ahead.

In mid-August, with the start of a school year unlike any other, Bryan and I were talking about the unique set of circumstances we had in this COVID season–all of us being home, we realized that we could really be “home” anywhere, as long as we had good WiFi, stayed within the US and relatively close to the Eastern time zone so that the kids could join their live instructions during the week. By this time, the free hours to think (away from a regular job) had spawned a new business idea that Bryan was ready to develop. His business partners and developers were located in Puerto Rico, which conveniently checked off all our boxes, and my head began swimming with visions of beaches and sunshine and crashing waves–potential moments of natural therapy after a long day of screen time (for the kids), and managing screen time (for me).

Plans were made the way they usually are in our home–me dreaming, scheming and voicing my preferences; Bryan taking the reigns and booking things with a speed and efficiency that would take me a week to implement. We took COVID tests, we set up management for our AirBnBs while we were gone, we packed and arranged rides to the airport (which wasn’t scary at all—pretty empty and pretty easy place to avoid crowds these days. But it allows you to get a peak into people’s varying degrees of COVID freak-out). We arrived at said airport two hours before our scheduled flight only to find out it was delayed and spent 10 hours there before we finally left, arriving in Puerto Rico at 4:30 in the morning on the following day–dead tired with three kids in tow who started falling asleep sitting straight up on a bench as they watched the sun rise in a rental car parking lot.

Approximately 6am in Puerto Rico–been awake for 24 hours.

The weeks following unfolded much like that–full of surprises and schedules and plans that fluctuated from day to day. The constants through it all were my family, the ocean, the sunshine, and the Lord. People came in and out of our lives in those five weeks in Puerto Rico, and it was no small realization to me what a blessing it was that during a time when the world is so closed off from each other, when we are being told to distance, to scatter, the God-given desire to encounter each other and build relationships is still a need for most people. Whether it was the surf instructor two doors down, the single guys on my husband’s business development team, the new families we met in the elite ex-pat community of Dorado, or the local pastor and his wife at the church we decided to try one Sunday, we found people eager to connect and share community. It was a relief to me to see that need alive in a place the media would have me believe is inaccessible.

What may seem like an opposition to those statements above, is that I also rediscovered the importance of disconnecting for my relational health. I spent so many hours staring out at the ocean–pondering its power, the way it beckons, the way it makes one feel small and insignificant but at the same time fills you with gratitude to be a part of creation and witness the beauty of the natural world around you. I have no idea how much time I actually sat there in a Tommy Bahama chair over the course of five weeks, gazing at the surf and breaking waves, observing sea turtles, not talking to anyone except my children, soaking in the simplicity and power of God’s presence. But I do know that every second, every minute was essential for my peace. This world tells us everything is so dependent on us and our decisions and that there can be no peace, when our Savior has told us just the opposite.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I believe in those moments, He was speaking that to me, reminding me that tapping into His peace, which is always present, requires my being still. And seeing the waves and the sea life behave according to their design, reminded me and encouraged me as God alone is the maker, the sustainer and the protector of life, and there is actually very little that depends upon my action or inaction in this world where He is the ultimate authority. He holds it all together. As I silently pondered the mysteries and unknowns of the expansive and deep ocean before me, I sensed His Spirit bringing closure to some of my own struggles with sin, and temptation to put my temporal desires first, to get lost in sinful despair, to have my whims satisfied. I consciously released the stress over unknowns to Him.

The ocean throws its surf and spray violently onto shore over and over again, never tiring, but always leaving behind treasures, little gifts scattered across the sand that are only visible if we’re patiently searching for them. We must remain intentionally patient to find the best shells, the tiny crabs and mollusks that want to run and hide from threats to their environment. Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents. Underneath all the efforts usually lie memories and experiences that remind us that there is reward in seeking community, in claiming peace, much like the reward of a handful of colorful and unique shells after walking the shore.

Finding treasure

Leaving Puerto Rico was bittersweet–to be pulled from a place that served as our escape for five weeks to return to normal life was difficult for us all. We came back with tan skin and blonder hair. My children picked up some Spanish phrases, they learned names of new foods and came to expect a Reggaeton beat as the soundtrack of the day. They gained a knowledge of the ocean and marine life that had not existed before we’d arrived in Puerto Rico. Although our daily life schedule had not changed while away, we pared our essential activities down to school, work, play, basic errands, and simple interactions with the people around us. I began to realize that our lives in Puerto Rico were really the same as our lives back in North Carolina–just with a tropical setting, different people with the same needs and concerns, and ultimately minor cultural differences. Understanding this prepared me for how I could transfer this posture of peace, this sense of gratitude for something so special, back to my home state and see it as special again, and not as drudgery.

Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents.

Christians know that the Lord does not intend for us to live in despondent isolation, but to pour into each other, to enter into difficult places at difficult times with eagerness and compassion. That is why the COVID crisis has been so damaging to humanity–resulting in record numbers of divorces and addictions and depression and weight gain and suicide, because we cannot live without connection, without hope for community.

So my desire is that the being still, the opportunity to shelter in the absence of noise and worry and fear, the peace and hope that God grew in me in Puerto Rico, will bloom gratitude as I remember the way the earth, water and sky bore witness to His presence and faithfulness every day. I pray that, no matter how the unknowns batter me in the next year, however many times I am knocked into the sand, I will remember to look around for treasure in the moments and community scattered around me. I am grateful this year for the answered prayer of knowing, the balance of understanding, that there always are forces and stories much larger than my square of property that are infinitely impacted by circumstances that I may or may not see, currents roiling and churning under the surface. But even though those things may be huge and beyond my ability, your ability to control, we can look for the treasures in the midst and reach out to take hold of them.


Whose You Are: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Whose You Are: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People

“Why do bad things happen to good people?  That only happened once, and He volunteered.” R.C. Sproul

A Tale of Two Pavements

In both scenarios, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I felt utterly alone.  In both scenarios I’d watched a man drive away and leave me stranded.  One held a gun to my head and forced me to comply with his fantasies, then left me lying facedown, crumpled on the ground, literally naked in the middle of the night in a dark cul-de-sac.

“Get out.  Face down on the ground.  Don’t move.”  

I watched my own car leave without me with a stranger in the driver’s seat, it’s taillights fading, and with them went my dignity and security.

The other had bewitching blue eyes, said toxic things I already believed about myself, but they seemed like poison coming from someone who months earlier had claimed to love me and had seduced me with promises of forever.  He left me standing upright, emotionally crumpled, feeling naked in the middle of the day in a mall parking lot.  I watched his tailights fade along with my dreams of happiness and wholeness.

“I could never marry someone like you.  No one will ever want you.”

Individually, these men played a part in robbing me of hope, of joy, of freedom, and it would be easy to blame them alone.  It would be simple to cast them as villains from those moments on, carrying anger with me for the rest of my life.  It would be understandable to pin my problems on men, to see myself imprisoned in my gender and needing to fight an endless battle against “them.”

But there was so much more built into these fleeting moments when I was reminded of my humanity and stared abuse and rejection in the face.  There was a cosmic, spiritual battle raging for my soul that culminated in these years, that I couldn’t see through the pain.  There were moments I almost succumbed to it entirely, nights when I heard voices telling me it all wasn’t worth it.  There was an enemy lying to me–he was bent on destroying me, thought by thought.

But in the days and years that followed my assault and the rejection of the man I thought would finally rescue me from my loneliness,  I would learn that there was one Father, one God-Man, one Lover, one Savior and Redeemer who could reframe my perspective and restore my hope.  There was Him–the ultimate, victorious, loving, righteous, holy, just, tender, faithful Him.  I would learn that my brokenness was a necessary step in recognizing His everything.  As time went on, I would even hear myself say that what happened to me–all the hurt, threats, ridicule and anguish wasn’t that bad.  How could I possibly say that, that something I would never wish on my biggest rival wasn’t that bad?

The Idol of Pain

When something horrible happens to us, we tend to think of ourselves as innocent and undeserving of tragedy or injustice.  And on a human level, that may be true.  None of us like to see people hurting or treated unfairly, or to be the ones receiving unfair treatment.  This is what creates empathy, concern, action that seeks to make things better, improve conditions, fight for justice.

But to maintain that perspective and not see ourselves as God sees us keeps us feeling sorry for ourselves and separates people by degrees of oppression.  It even sets us up to compare ourselves to others, to judge whether someone else’s pain measures up to ours to the point that we make too little or too much of each other’s problems.  We begin to worship our pain, our struggle, our testimony.   

But worst of all, it assigns expectations of God that are not Biblical, that do not even acknowledge Him as our sovereign Lord who has holy purposes for our pain.   Sure, He is our Savior, but that is not all He is.  Yes, He loves us, but His love is an outpouring of His holiness and His character, not our winsomeness (because truthfully we’re not winsome).  He rescues us, but it’s for His glory alone, not for our blessing.

These misunderstandings of who God is and who we are have been passed through culture for far too long.  They are beginning to erode the traditional Gospel and build up an insidious, me-centered faith that reduces Jesus deity and elevates our importance.  We stop observing God in His Word, seeing Who He is and how He behaves and jump to reinterpreting and twisting the Word to fit our lives.  Thinking this way, we start to believe that all of our struggles are accidents, an anomaly in the mythical, prosperous Christian life instead of seeing them as a privilege and means of reflecting God’s perfection, glory and sufficiency.

We regularly hear the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I think we only ask this question because we have an incorrect view of God and of ourselves.  

Alisa Childers says, “Jesus offers us true joy and peace, but only after we realize that we are not the center of our own lives.”

It is with this in mind that I would like to drill down to some basic truths, taken straight from scripture, about Who God is, who we are without Jesus, and who He says we are when we worship Him as Lord:

Who God is:

-”…God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” (John 1:5)

-”For who is God besides the Lord?  And who is the Rock except our God?” (2 Samuel 22:32)

-”Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him. For God is our refuge.” (Psalms 62:8)

-”Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

-”To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

-”For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

-”Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

-”God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

-”…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Matthew 11:27)

Who we are apart from salvation in Christ:

-”I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

-”We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

-”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

-”If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

-”In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit…” (Ephesians 4:22)

-”…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8;8)

-”Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)

-”Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

-”And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)

-”The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Who we are if Jesus is our Lord and Savior:

-”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-”For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

-”You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable through God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

–”And you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:10)

–”Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

All of the truths above are reasons that I don’t have to worship my worst moments, why I instead worship the One who rescued me and set me on the path to the Promised Land. It’s why I can actually look back on my worst nightmares and be grateful for them, because the Lord used them to show me the true state of my despair and my need for a new heart. It’s why I can actually say that my hardest times are not about me and that I am okay with occasional injustice or ill treatment or heartache–because I was never a good person, and I deserved far worse than what I got. Every breath of fresh air, every moment of peace and stability and joy is a gift of grace. And that makes me all the more grateful.

“For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Life in the Time of COVID

The virus circulating the globe has been a source of unity and disparity, depending on who you ask.  For every voice that tries to put a positive spin on what’s happening in the world, there are five more that make it their mission to tell you that we are prisoners of this disease, that there is no hope of ever returning to normal, that those of us who are “privileged” have no idea what it is to struggle during a pandemic.

I have no interest in fighting to be the loudest or most relevant voice.  But I do have my own experience to catalog, and plenty of questions–in fact, I’ve had questions throughout the entire month that myself and my fellow North Carolinians have been told to “stay home.”  My questions have come and gone, some have remained the same and some have evolved.  Today, our state is no closer to “normal” than we hoped we would be when we were first told to stay put, but I now realize that a complete return to the way things were, the normal I knew before COVID, would be a mental, emotional and spiritual step back for me.

I’ve been asking myself what I’ve learned through this?  I’ve asked my husband, family members and friends the same.  I even asked my children what they’ve enjoyed about this time, what they’ve missed?  Through this experience, the questions that keep coming to my mind are ones that I can’t readily answer.  I believe they are questions that God has been waiting to lay upon my heart during a time when I was quiet enough, still enough, to listen.

Do I really trust Him?  Do I rush to find information and solutions that will assuage my concerns and satisfy my mind instead of practicing the art of waiting?  Am I humble enough to truly accept that I can’t fix it all, know it all, be fulfilled at all times?  Am I ready to see that without the extraneous events, errands and lists in my life, I’m left with a void that only He can fill?  Do I understand how to practice joy in Christ, to make choices to live an abundant life when the rest of the world is telling me to mourn? Do I know how to communicate the joy and peace of Jesus to a lost world that is hurting and searching for answers themselves?

I have learned through the reality of COVID that these questions will continue to sit with me, although they will likely be pushed into the recesses of my mind if I allow my life to resume the same hectic pace as before.

So I don’t write to communicate that I have all the answers or know whether we’ll see a return to the comforts of the days before COVID.  But I know what I and my family have seen to be true for us.

My husband and I chose early on to limit virus discussion to 5 minutes per day, to only check the news in the mornings after waking and at night before going to bed, solely to get the most recent information and anything pertinent to our local community.  We did this because the first few days that COVID was a headline, we devoured every article, and the result was more arguing and worrying, less joy and contentment.  We knew we couldn’t survive this shutdown with a constant flow of despair and conflicting information pouring into our hearts and minds.

We understood that there were rules and laws we would need to follow as citizens, but we also know there was tremendous societal pressure to behave a certain way based on fears of the unknown.  Both my husband and I have been victims of tragedies–he lost both parents suddenly with no warning; I was abducted and raped at 21.  We are no strangers to terrible things happening without warning.  Because of these events, and our witnessing Jesus sustain and redeem us through grief, we’ve made conscious choices not to live fearful lives.

Notice I did not say that we never fear–I said that we don’t LIVE fearfully, big difference.  When fear and uncertainty come, which they regularly do, I make decisions based on prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, logic, common sense and love for others.

The way that played out with COVID was that we spoke to our loved ones, the people around us who we’d be missing the most time with during this quarantine.  Instead of telling them how to behave, what choices to make, we asked them how they felt about their exposure to the virus, where they stood on social distancing.  Instead of assuming motivations and judging hearts, we simply told people we loved them and wanted to see them, and gave them the freedom to say yes or no.  The wide range of responses has been encouraging just in the heart of concern that we see people have for each other.

For those buckling down–web chats brought a convenience and connection that brightened our slower days.  For those willing to stop by and chat in the front yard, smiles and chatter were a taste of community.  Still, there were others who considered quality time worth the risk, who came over for 6-feet apart cocktail hours in the backyard, or cookouts in great weather when the kids could run and play–and with these friends, the time together was life giving and almost seemed unaltered.

I don’t want to forget the way this experience has improved my focus on the Lord’s voice and my family’s focus on each other.  My husband and I have had so many evenings to have real conversations instead of a run-down about what’s happening tomorrow.  Healthy relatives have come to visit with no pressure to return to something urgent. With no school or work open, and travel at an affordable low, we’ve had the flexibility with remote learning to take school and work on the road, renting a beach house as a getaway for spring break.  After a rough return to intensive sibling time, my children are getting along better and creating more imaginative games for each other than I’ve seen since last summer.  I’ve made stupid TikTok dance challenge videos with my kids.  We’ve tackled some home remodeling and organization projects that have been on our list since we’ve moved in.  I’ve discovered a fresh love of running, learned how to sew, read classic Tolstoy, and improved my guitar playing.

Will this virus ever really go away?  Will I be sitting in a crowded restaurant in a month?  Will I be able to get a pedicure for Mother’s Day?  Will our economy be able to recover from the ravages of the virus?  Will small businesses survive the shutdown?  Are the case models accurate?  Did China lie to everyone?

I have no answers, and I probably never will.  And honestly that’s okay with me, because despite all the medical, scientific and political information out there, you and I were never meant to have all the answers.  But we were designed and meant to know the One who does, and He is always good no matter the mystery.  I am so glad that I answer to Him.