Breaking the Clutter Cycle

I love to have all the things in my home neatly organized. It gives me happiness beyond belief to open a closet door and see carefully sorted clothing hanging neatly on the rod or perfectly folded towels and sheets. Whether or not you share my peculiar affection for organization, you no doubt feel happier and more peaceful when your home is tidy and in order. In fact, research reveals the benefits of cleanliness and organization run through many facets of life, including mental healthphysical well-beingability to sleep well, and even productivity and on-the-job success

I know firsthand how hard it is to get things done when you’re surrounded by clutter. Given my prior neat-freak confession, you might find it surprising that for many years I struggled with keeping things tidy. In fact, for quite a while, ours was not an orderly home despite my best intentions. I was in an endless cycle of declutter – organize – clean – declutter – organize – clean. There was always just too much stuff. And the more stuff there was, the more I had to work at managing it. I felt drained by it all. Every little task took longer than it should have. I began to realize that I was wasting an enormous amount of time rummaging through stacks of paper, sorting toys, and cleaning things that really didn’t add any value to my life. 

We’ve all seen the television shows, blog posts, and Pinterest pins that show how to declutter and organize our living quarters. But if you’re like me, the problem lies not in the actual process of decluttering, but in the reality of maintaining that state throughout the months and years moving forward. It has taken me a while to discover these rules for keeping my home tidy after the declutter process. Hopefully they can be of help to you as well!

Rule 1: Don’t Just Declutter

One of the first things I learned about why I kept falling into this cycle is that if I have a shelf or cabinet that is half empty, I’m going to keep collecting things to fill up that empty space. It might be that I fall to the temptation to go buy things to put in that space, or it might just become a catch-all for random odds and ends that find their way into the house. Either way, my house becomes more filled with things that I don’t need and that then require my future effort in cleaning, sorting, and probably eventually eliminating. Instead, I’ve realized it’s easier not to have that shelf at all than to go through the process of organizing and decluttering it time and time again, not to mention time spent dusting and polishing. And here’s a plus! Bookshelves, cabinets, and other furniture sell great at yard sales or on local Buy, Sell, Trade sites.

OK, here’s how to do it. Once you’ve purged all the toys, paper piles, picture frames, and tchotchkes from any given room, take a look and see which spaces in that room can be consolidated. Could the remaining items on that bookshelf in the corner be tucked neatly away inside that cabinet over there? Or could they be relocated to another area of the house? Maybe now is a good time to reconsider why you held on to those few items. Are they necessary for the proper functioning of your home or family life? Do they make you happy on some level? This then brings me to my second point . . .  

Rule 2: Consider the Happiness Factor

When I first married my husband, I had four bookshelves, each filled with books I had collected mostly during college. I loved my books. I really loved my books. But as I moved into a new stage of life, I certainly didn’t need most of these books. After moving four times in two years, I began looking through my hefty collection with a critical eye: which of these books would be useful in the future, and which brought me joy? If a book didn’t fall under either of those categories, it didn’t deserve a place on the shelf and it definitely didn’t deserve a place in the next set of moving boxes. Once I began to pare down my book collection, I realized the extra stress managing so many books had caused. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t lay awake at night with anxiety about my books. I did, however, spend a lot of time dusting those book cases. And because I’m a chronic rearranger, I spent too much time trying to figure out the best places for those bookshelves and the best organization for the books themselves. 

Maybe books are not your thing. Maybe for you it’s knickknacks on your mantel or magazines on the coffee table. Whatever the item is you’re contemplating, consider the happiness factor. Does that vase, picture, mug, chair, or pillow bring you happiness (or add to your quality of life) or is it simply one more thing to clean and clean around? Are you holding on to that stamp collection your grandfather left you out of a sense of duty, or does it genuinely make you smile every time you see it? Just because your beloved family member cherished an item doesn’t mean you must. If it doesn’t serve a purpose and causes you any feeling other than happiness, it might be time to part with it. 

Rule 3: Realize Helpful Necessary

Case in point: kitchen gadgets! The first time I realized there was a gadget designed to dice an onion and save my eyes from watering, I knew I had to have it. And for about a month, I used that chopper relentlessly. Over the years, I collected lots of other kitchen gadgets with similar uses: slicers, mincers, shredders, all designed to save time cutting. Today, they’re all gone from my kitchen. I pull out my trusty chef’s knife and cutting board, spend a few minutes slicing, dicing, and mincing whatever we’ll need for dinner and for snacks for the next day, and then I just have two simple tools to clean and put away when I’m done. This has greatly simplified not only the items in my kitchen arsenal, but the process of prepping food as well. As an added bonus, less cluttered drawers and cabinets allow you to find what you’re looking for more quickly.

I’d venture to say that most kitchens have an assortment of gadgets and small appliances that could be eliminated if we just went back to the basics, but to what other areas of the house could this be applied? From my experience, this can relate to just about every part of life that requires any sort of tools. How about cleaning supplies? A broom, mop, vacuum, scrub brush and bucket, some microfiber cloths, and a few simple cleaning products are all most houses need for a good cleaning. Take a look at your toolbox. Do you really need five levels, seven hammers, and that grabber tool you always forget you have when you could actually use it? The answer might be yes to some of those if you’re an avid DIYer, but if not, consider the time and space required to organize and store all those tools you will likely never use. Ask yourself: If the situation arises in which I could use that tool, is there anything else I own that could do the job just as well (even if it takes an extra minute or two)? Now what about your beauty supply stash? yard equipment? office supplies? Even your pantry contents can be examined and assessed in this light! 

Inventors and advertisers spend a lot of time and energy thinking of products and how to market them to make us think life will be simpler with their newest must-haves, but having more stuff to manage doesn’t make life simpler. If you do stumble across a product that seems like a real time saver, think about which item(s) you already have that could be replaced by that new product. Are you ready and willing to give up those items, or is the new product simply going to add to them? If you’ve been living happily without it, chances are you can continue to live happily without it. 

And speaking of living without things . . . 

Rule 4: Beware the Organizers

Believe me, I know just how tempting that isle in Target is with all those cute baskets and bins and organizers. And I’ll admit, for my own good, I completely avoid Ikea these days. What is it about organizational products that makes them so attractive? Honestly, I think they trick our minds in much the same way as get rich quick schemes or snake oil potions. It seems so simple! Buy this product and all that clutter will be a thing of the past. In actuality, though, it still takes extra time and energy to keep things organized, even when you have personalized bins and embroidered totes. 

If you’re tempted to buy an organizational solution, consider the source of the organizational problem. In this stage of life, the biggest clutter headache for me is our playroom. There’s just no getting around the fact that kids can’t manage the number of toys in the typical American household. In our home, toys become a source of stress for the kids and for me when there are more toys than they can manage to keep put away on their own. And because we live in a consumerist society, our children today end up receiving so much stuff throughout the year from birthdays, holidays, and those “just because” gifts from the grandparents.

Rather than fighting the toy battle over and over again, think about how many toys your kids can manage on their own. Does your five-year-old really have the skills and patience to sort those toys into both of the 16-cube organizers in the living room? If you have an attic, basement, or other out-of-sight space for storage, think about separating toys into two groups, then cycling toys in and out of the play space every few months. Your kids will be very excited to have “new” toys, and they will be much more successful tidying up after themselves.

Does the bathroom counter chaos cause your clutter headache? Consider whether that over-the-toilet cabinet will help manage the mess more than simply editing out unnecessary products. Maybe your mess stress is in the utility room. Will new cabinets and shelving simply be an invitation to accumulate more duplicate cleaning products? When it comes to storage spaces and organizing products, the old adage is often true: less is more. And it’s always cheaper too!

Change Your Home, Change Your Life

If you need more evidence to be convinced of the need for limiting and eliminating some of your possessions, head to your local library to check out a copy of Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors by a group of researchers from UCLA. You can also take a peek at some of their findings in their corresponding YouTube episodes

Thanks to the abundant research conducted over the past 20 years, we all know we can lead healthier, happier lives when our homes are clean and our stuff is manageable. Not only is clutter elimination a life-changing skill for you and me to conquer, it is also beneficial for our children. Just like every other skill, it takes practice and determination to master it, a life-long commitment to maintain it, but it is well worth the effort once we’ve finally broken the clutter cycle and freed up time, energy, and even financial resources to pursue the parts of life that truly bring us joy. 

Now, please excuse me as I’m off to mark things for our yard sale.

Sources and Linked Content:

Arnold, Jeanne E., et al. Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors. UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2017. 

Boyles, Salynn. “Want to Sleep Better? Make Your Bed.” MedicineNet, 26 January 2011, Accessed 11 May 2021.

Dunifon, Rachel, Greg J. Duncan, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. 2001. “As Ye Sweep, So Shall Ye Reap.”American Economic Review, 91 (2): 150-154, Accessed 11 May 2021.

Latham, Saundra. 22 Home Organization Products That Are a Complete Waste of Money. 10 May 2018, Accessed 11 May 2021

Saxbe, Darby E, and Rena Repetti. “No place like home: home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol.” Personality & social psychology bulletin vol. 36,1 (2010): 71-81. doi:10.1177/0146167209352864

“Tidier Homes, Fitter Bodies?: IU News Room: Indiana University.”, 2012, Accessed 11 May 2021

Legacy of Light

Many years ago, I sat on the end of my bed with my mom asking her questions about what I had been hearing at church. She opened a Bible and patiently answered my questions by pointing me to the words of truth found in its pages. That night I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I still remember the feeling. It really wasn’t like any other moment in my life – a mixture of joy, peace, and an unforgettable sense of awe and gratitude flooded over me as I went to bed that night. I am forever grateful to my mom for her patience and love and faithfulness in that moment and as she has continued to teach me how to walk in faith ever since.

Another day years later, I sat looking at my grandpa’s Bible with its well-worn pages and protruding sticky tabs. It was opened to what I’m sure was one of its most often read books, Romans. Its translucent pages were peppered with careful underlines marking key verses. My grandpa was a humble servant of Christ who spent his life pointing others to Jesus. My dad fondly recalls growing up watching his father mentor and disciple young people, using that same Bible to lead soul after soul through verses outlining their need for a Savior and the one and only path to salvation. Grandpa carried that Bible with him and was always prepared to share his faith. 

Upon my grandpa’s death, many people shared with our family their personal testimonies of how Grandpa’s ministry, love, and friendship helped grow their faith and shape their lives. He was no famous evangelist. He just loved Jesus and loved others. With the power of God alive in him and an unassuming gentleness and kindness that put everyone at ease, he forever changed the world through his faithful words and actions. 

My grandpa is certainly not the only ardent believer in my family tree. I am blessed to be surrounded by a legacy of faith. As an adult, I have come to realize what an exceptional thing that is. When I was young, I took for granted the faith of my family, the abundance of Bibles and Christian literature at my disposal, and the constant hum of song and prayer that became the soundtrack for much of my childhood. I thought it was the norm, not the exception. I realize more and more just how exceptional it was. 

Today my desire is to help others experience what I did growing up. Perhaps you are reading this today and haven’t ever held an heirloom family Bible. Maybe your family tree isn’t filled with pastors and preachers. You might have no idea what it means to find forgiveness and joy in Jesus. If that’s you, I’d like to share with you the same four verses that Grandpa would share with you if he were here.  

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

Grandpa would start with the bad news first: none of us are good enough to live up to God’s standards of holiness. Bad as this may be, it is crucial to understanding the Good News of Jesus. Unless we realize our sin and how entirely we are divided from God because of it, we can’t fully accept our need of a Savior. To grasp the vastness of the divide between us and God, we have to start by recognizing who God is. 

Read John’s description of God and its implication: “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:5-6 NASB). God is Light. He is holy and blameless and unconditionally just. Sin is darkness. It cannot endure the Light, and Light will always cast out the darkness.

2. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23 (NASB)

The second verse my grandpa would turn to underscores the calamity we find ourselves in apart from God. It makes little difference to know that we’re sinful if we don’t also realize the result of our sin. Sin = death. It’s that simple. We all sin, therefore we all will die. It’s not how God intended life for His creation, but it’s the inevitable result of our selfishness and pride. It is inevitable, that is, without God. In His infinite mercy, God has provided us a path to salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This salvation grants us access to an abundant, hope-filled life and an everlasting spiritual union with God. 

When we accept God’s gift, physical death is no longer seen as the end but as the beginning. The darkness of this world – the fear, the pain, the tragedy, and chaos – are all overwhelmed and overtaken by the Light of Christ. See again what John has to say: “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7 NASB). The radiant light of God’s holiness eradicates the darkness. Light will always cast out dark.

3. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1:12 (NASB)

Here I think Grandpa would point out two important things. First, all are welcome – “As many as received Him!” Secondly, salvation requires belief. This is spelled out a little further in Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (NASB). To confess Jesus as Lord and believe in His name is to acknowledge our own sinfulness, Jesus’ deity, and the perfect goodness and sacrificial love of God born out in His plan of salvation. 

Jesus states plainly in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (NIV). A few chapters later in John 12:46, Jesus repeats his claim: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (NIV). As children of God, our darkness has forever been replaced by His Light.  

4. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him. Revelation 3:20a (NASB)

The final verse my Grandpa would open to is this personal invitation. Jesus is calling you. He’s knocking for you. He wants a relationship with you. Will you answer His call and accept His free gift? Here’s His promise to you today: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9 ESV). 

I don’t know where you’ve come from in this world or how you’ve happened to arrive at this blog today. But I know it was by divine appointment. Hear His voice speaking in the words of these verses. The Bible says Jesus is the Living Word of God. These verses may have been written a couple thousand years ago, but there is nothing ancient about their words. They are the words of Jesus spoken to your heart today. 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26 (NASB)

If you would like to accept Christ’s free gift of salvation today but aren’t sure how, all it takes is a simple prayer from a repentant heart. There are no special words you must use. The state of your heart matters much more than the articulation of your words. 

Dear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I confess this to You now. I know because of my sin I am separated from You. I believe Your words, that You are the only way to salvation and everlasting life. I ask You, Lord, to forgive me of my sins and be my Savior. I submit my life to Your authority. You are the truth, and I rejoice in the new life You have given me. Thank you, Jesus! Amen.

Get Up

Last week brought one of those surprises you hope you never get. My stomach had been upset off and on for a while, but I had assumed it was related to diet, maybe a developing food intolerance. The pain had come and gone and hadn’t disrupted life badly enough for me to talk to any doctor about it yet. Then last week happened. Starting Wednesday afternoon, the pain steadily increased. Seeing me doubled over in tears on the floor Thursday night convinced my husband he needed to get me to the ER pronto. A few tests later, the culprit was exposed: a badly inflamed, stone-filled gallbladder. Fast-forward three days through an unexpectedly complicated surgery and subsequent procedure, I finally made it home from the hospital. Thankfully I’ve been recovering well ever since, looking forward to getting life back to normal.

As I have focused on resting and healing my physical body this week, I couldn’t help but pause when I opened my Bible the other day and happened to see the story “The Healing at the Pool” in John chapter 5. I have read this compassionate story of healing so many times; it’s one of my favorites. It still surprises me how the Holy Spirit can teach me something new and striking from such familiar verses. And how He brings my attention to them at just the right time.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

John 5: 2-9 (NIV)

The lesson He had for me today was in the unexpectedness of this unsought healing. Christ walked this earth for 33 short years. I don’t believe a single thing he did was by accident. Every moment was preordained. Every word and action held significance and illuminated truth for us. He didn’t accidentally stumble across the pool called Bethesda. He didn’t pick an invalid at random. He had a plan and a purpose. He knew this forgotten, hopeless man was there desperately longing for healing, and He went to him specifically. 

But while Christ foreknew of this predestined meeting, the crippled man did not. He was lost in his miserable despair. He was not seeking out Christ. In fact, what little hope he may have held on to was misplaced. He thought the pool could heal him. He desperately wanted to be healed. But he couldn’t do what was necessary on his own to acquire the healing. 

Then Christ appeared. Given the man’s response to Jesus, he apparently did not know with whom he spoke. He never asked Jesus to help him. Think about that for a moment. Christ showed up in this man’s life uninvited. Offered healing unrequested. Granted forgiveness in whole. He didn’t sit off to the side and wait for the man to approach or call out to Him. He didn’t send his disciples to fetch him. Jesus Himself went. He sought out this man specifically. He initiated the entire encounter.

What part did the man play in this story? He did all he had to do: he followed the directions Jesus gave him: “Get up!” It was that simple. The man stood up, picked up his mat, and walked! How great is the love of Jesus that He meets us where we are when we don’t even know we need Him, shows us the way to spiritual healing, and offers us an absolute reconciliation with God. All we have to do is follow another famous directive found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me.” 

There are so many intrinsic truths nestled in the full story of this man’s healing. Through the supernatural greatness of this act of healing and the timing of the event, Christ once again attested to His divinity. In verse 21, we learn that life itself comes from Christ. We see that Jesus has been granted the “authority to judge” (verse 27). But the truth I needed to be reminded of this week is revealed in the unexpected, unsolicited, unconditional love and compassion the man found in Christ. 

Physical healing is nice. Spiritual healing is vital. As I continue to rest my body and pray for physical healing, I renew my thanksgiving to the Savior who revealed Himself to me, pursued me, offered me His love, granted me His pardon, and atoned me with His blood. He has already made me whole and granted me perfect healing. Regardless of my physical state, I am made new in Him.

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 (ESV)

If you are reading this blog, Jesus has already initiated His encounter with you. Maybe you have followed His command and received His healing. Or maybe you’re still considering your response. Will you come to Him and accept His healing? He’s already done all the work. He sought you out and found you. He paid the price for your healing. All you have to do is accept it. It’s time to get up and live.

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

John 3:16 (NIV)

Find out more here!

The Daughter Whom Jesus Loves

I wholeheartedly believe that every word in the Bible is the true, inspired word of God and that each verse holds importance in the life of the believer, yet I can’t help but feel a particular pull time and again to the Gospel of John. I make a point to read through the book at least once in the month or so leading up to Easter. It’s a habit formed a few years back that has really helped focus my mind and my thoughts during this holy season. 

This year, I hope to read through it three times with a different intent with each reading. I just finished the first last night. I read about a chapter a day over the last few weeks. Next, I plan to read it straight through in a day or two, the way I might read a good novel. I’d like to think through some of the themes that make this gospel unique and pay particular attention to the author’s voice and perspective in a quicker read. Lastly, I plan to take it verse by verse or passage by passage, spending time in mindful, Biblical meditation, pondering the words of Christ.  

As I wrapped up the first reading yesterday, something hit me. I have always found it unexpected that the author refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I guess it struck me as a little boastful in a way, though I never thought that about the apostle himself, only this peculiar moniker. In thinking of the close-knit group of disciples, who must have had a strong brotherly bond, it seemed strange that John would repeatedly refer to the Teacher’s special love for him and not the others. It would be like me referring to myself as “the child my father loves” in the same sentence in which I simply mention my other siblings by name – strange to say the least! 

All of a sudden last night, however, I saw this description in a whole new light. Christ’s love for us is so unexpected, unwarranted, and undeserved – it makes sense that John, who no doubt had an even more profound understanding of this after seeing Jesus’ perfect life and gruesome death, would be in a state of perpetual wonder that the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator would love him enough to die for him. Perhaps he simply couldn’t mention himself without talking about the love of Christ. 

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. 

John 15:9 (NIV)

John started both his gospel account and his first epistle focusing on the eternality of Jesus, quite definitively putting to rest any question about Christ’s deity. He also focused a great deal on the fellowship of the trinity, of Christ with His believers, and of the believers with each other. John knew without any doubt whatsoever that he had witnessed the perfect life, the atoning death, and the authenticating resurrection of the One and Only Son of God. He also knew that true life was only gained through relationship with Christ, which flows entirely from His love for us.

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

John 3:16 (NIV)

The realization that the God of all creation, the One who was and is and is to come, loved this disciple enough to die a horrific death on the cross, must have been overwhelming. No wonder he saw himself not as John, but as someone dearly loved by Christ!

Just as soon as I grabbed hold of this thought last night, I realized the implication of this to me personally. We talk a lot about our identity in Christ in today’s church. I’ve never thought about that applying to my name. I am not just Kim. I am not just a generic “me.” I am the daughter whom Jesus loves.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

I John 3:1a (NIV)

How would it change my perspective on things if I thought of myself in such terms? What happens if I apply that when I journal or pray? How would my faith change? How would my thoughts and actions change? Instead of being mired in worry and self-doubt, in guilt and regret, maybe I would move forward with confidence not just as a woman named Kim, but as the daughter whom Jesus loves. 

As I continue to read and meditate on Christ’s words in the coming weeks, I want to remember this identity. I am a child loved by Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator, Redeemer, and Death Defeater. So are you, my friend! The Bible says that God IS love. What better way to see ourselves than as the object of His great love! 

John went to great lengths in his writing to prove Christ’s authority, power, and love for us. In the first few verses of his first epistle, we see why: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (I John 1:4 NIV). This is a close echo to the words of Christ found in John 15:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (NIV). We must understand and accept Jesus’ deity, His redemption, and His love for us if we ever want to experience true joy. If you’re wondering about any of these things, a great place to start discovering Christ is the gospel of John and the book of I John. There’s no better time than right now to discover the truth of who Christ is and the depth of His love for you.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments comments below or email me through the blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:7-11 (NIV)

Letting Go

I am a dreamer. Or at least, I was a dreamer. This year seems to have had a singular focus of ripping away every last one of my dreams. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic at the moment, but that is how I feel today!

In the past I’ve often been discouraged when the plans I had for my life were derailed or when the great expectations I created for a situation failed to happen. I’m sure I’m not the only one to experience this disappointment on a whole new level in 2020. Discouragement isn’t even a valid word for this. Melancholy. Despair. Depression even. Those are much more apt. 

The last few days have been particularly hard. I’m sure it’s partly the coming election, partly the monotony and loneliness of life in a pandemic, and partly the weight of financial stress right now. It’s all collided into a perfect storm of fear, anger, and sadness. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of looking on the bright side until recently (at least, I’ve tried really hard!). Now I’m having a difficult time seeing anything but the gloom. My mind continues to inform me that this too will pass, but my heart is struggling to see past the deluge of sorrow. 

As it so often happens, though, God knew just how to reach me in the midst of this storm. I’ve been reading through I Kings and just recently came upon one of my favorite parts of the Old Testament – the stories of Elijah. Today’s reading brought me to God’s great performance on Mount Carmel (chapter 18). Elijah must have been feeling pretty good after God’s magnificent display and his subsequent victory over the false prophets. The drought ended, the people saw God’s goodness and might, and the wicked King Ahab showed signs of possible spiritual restoration. 

But just as a new day seemed to be dawning in Israel, Ahab’s infamous wife Jezebel issued a death warrant for God’s anointed prophet. Elijah fled into the wilderness where he hoped to meet his end. In I Kings 19:4, he proclaimed: “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” He’s at the end of his rope! He feels he can’t take any more disappointment. This isn’t what he expected after God’s great triumph. He doesn’t understand what else is to be accomplished, and he feels completely and utterly alone. 

Twice during this pessimistic period in the wilderness God asks him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Twice he answers: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Can you identify with Elijah’s emotions here? Isolated, despondent, feeling entirely doomed. Though I can’t equate my current circumstances to the prophet’s, I can certainly relate to his feelings. And I doubt it’s much of a risk to suppose there are others out there also feeling alone and disheartened today. 

Elijah’s life did not end with this episode in the wilderness. God still had much more planned for him. Think of all Elijah would have missed out on if God had granted his request to take his life. Most notably, he would have missed out on one of the most intriguing departures from this world recorded in scripture! (See II Kings 2 for that amazing story!)

Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel…

I Kings 19:18 (NKJV)

Instead of granting his request, God revealed to Elijah what was previously unknown to him: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (I Kings 19:18) God also informed Elijah that He had much more work for him to do, including anointing two future kings and his spiritual successor, Elisha. His life was still precious and still important. 

If you are feeling disappointed and discouraged this morning, please know that God views your life as precious. You are and always will be important. We can never see more than what is revealed to us in the moment. Or in other words, we don’t know what we don’t know! I am certain that God has more in store for your life than what you see and know today.

Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

One last thing stuck out to me as I was reading today. The notes in my study Bible (Nelson Study Bible, NKJV, 1997) include an interesting comment on verse 18: “Although in each generation there are great spiritual leaders who do the work of God, there is a community of God among everyday people whose lives are not spectacular but who live faithfully for God.” I often feel disheartened that my life is not “spectacular” in my own estimation. Today God reminded me that just like those 7,000 mentioned in I Kings 19, I have a role to play in His family and in His will for this earth if I just live faithfully for Him. What a privilege that is to be one among the community of God! 

I know without a doubt that my dreams for my life are nothing compared to the plans God has for me. And I know this is true for every one of His followers. He is the Author of all good things. I don’t believe God causes our pain and suffering in this life – that is all brought on by Satan, our own sin, and chaos that comes with a fallen world. I do believe, however, that when we face the reality of shattered dreams and broken hearts, God will sustain us and will work to bring about His good and perfect will in the end. That is the foundation of my unbreakable joy today and every day.

I leave you with the first few lines of Lauren Daigle’s song “Trust in You:”

Letting go of every single dream

I lay each one down at Your feet

Every moment of my wandering

Never changes what You see

Songwriters: Lauren Daigle / Paul Marbury / Michael Farren
Trust In You lyrics © DistroKid, Essential Music Publishing

What dream is God asking you to let go today? Letting go is not the same as giving up. It just means we’re trusting Him, believing in His goodness, and that we truly mean it when we say “I want what you want, Lord, and nothing less.”

Refining My Perspective

What words would you use to describe 2020? I’m sure we can all come up with some colorful descriptors for this year. Unusual, unforeseen, unprecedented, unimaginable, uncomfortable. Certainly unforgettable.  

There are lots of articles and posts filling our news feeds these days with truly awful stories and statistics. I have come to realize that my healthiest option is to stay off social media and news sites as much as possible right now. It’s difficult if not impossible to determine truth and keep a positive outlook. Now, granted, we can’t just live in a shell, hiding from the reality of the pain and problems all around us. But I do believe we should be purposeful about how we view those things in order to keep a proper perspective. 

Perspective is a word I have thought about a lot in 2020. This bizarre mashup of a global pandemic, social unrest, and national political turmoil has required that I constantly check my perspective of things. It’s easy to get sucked in to whatever rhetoric is being shouted loudest at the moment. The difficulty is in keeping focused on the things that truly matter and maintaining the right perspective.

As a follower of Christ, my perspective is hopefully primarily shaped by my faith and by what I read in the Bible, and secondarily by my life experiences. Spiritually speaking, none of us here on earth have perfect vision, even those of us who have walked with Christ for decades. We all see the world through different lenses. Some of our lenses are smudged with flawed theology, some are warped with bitterness, some are thick with immaturity. Some are cracked and some are soot-covered. Some of our lenses give us inadequate depth perception so we focus too much on things in the moment or too much in the future or the past. 

With such flaws in my own vision, I often wonder how I can ever hope to have a good perspective in times like this. I know the simple answer is by staying in prayer, keeping focused on Christ, and meditating on His word. What I’ve come to learn – and mostly accept – in this year of 2020, though, is that I will not always have a perfect perspective every moment of every day. There will be times when I lose perspective and the current virtual learning struggle with my child will seem completely overwhelming. There may be times when a news story or post by a close friend makes me question my firm convictions. There may be times when financial stresses leave me worried about the future. And there may be times when sickness or injury cause me to question God’s goodness. 

These moments of skewed perspective, though, do not define me or my faith. On the contrary, they grow my faith. Every one of these moments that I live through and emerge from clarifies my earthly vision a little more. And not a single one of these moments comes to me without Christ allowing it. He is using them to refine me, to focus my vision, to sharpen my perspective. As Malachi writes:

He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.

Malachi 3:3 NASB

So today, in the midst of juggling work at home and virtual learning, while I pray for a job for my husband and a vaccine for this virus, I will be thankful to God for the hard times He allows. I will pray that He continues to teach me to filter my thoughts through the truth of His word. And I will rejoice that through it all He is purifying my vision little by little, day by day, difficult moment by difficult moment.

Have you also struggled with perspective lately? How is Christ sharpening your focus today? How can you actively participate in this process? What will you gain from a truer perspective?

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Isaiah 26:3 NLT

Another New Normal

No matter what news show you watch right now or what friend you talk to, the term “new normal” seems to be on everyone’s lips. 

At times there’s fear associated with these words. What will our new normal be like this fall? Will the kids still be elearning? (Please, God, no!) Will the stock market bounce back? Will jobs return? 

Other times there’s hope and optimism. We are adaptable! We are resilient! We can figure this out! 

Sometimes there’s anger. We don’t need a new normal – we need to get back to our old normal! 

I started thinking about this term the other day, and it’s been bouncing around in my brain ever since. I’ll admit, I’ve gone back and forth between all those emotions. But as the fear and anger and chaos start to creep into my thoughts, there are other words I begin to hear as well, words that are far more true and worthy of my attention. 

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 

John 14:27 NKJV

These are the words of Jesus as He is preparing his disciples for His death and resurrection. He knew they would soon be facing a period of intense turmoil, followed by a radical transformation in their lives and the world at large. Before long they would find themselves in an unexpected new normal.

Let’s be real – the new normal they were facing was a much bigger change than wearing face masks and staying 6 feet away from others. It was even bigger than losing a loved one or a job. 

They would be coming to grips first with the violent death of their beloved Teacher, then with the reality that He had the power to raise Himself to life again. Not to mention the internal change that would come with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Their new normal would involve starting the largest spiritual movement the world has ever known. They would face death and persecution from their government and their former religious leaders. 

In the moments depicted in John 14, Jesus knew all of this was in store for His friends. How did He go about preparing them? He described the peace they would find in Him, peace that was “not as the world gives.” He assured them this isn’t your everyday run-of-the-mill peace. It’s not that post-yoga class zen or the calmness that comes from listening to your favorite music; it’s not even the stillness you find when out alone in nature. 

The peace Christ promised His followers is a peace that cannot be found apart from Him. Because of this supernatural peace, they would be able to accept, endure, and rise to meet the changes and the challenges that lay ahead in their new normal. 

Jesus’ words from 2,000 years ago are a reminder today that as Christians we already have everything we need in order to face our new normal, whatever that might be. This peace that He gives us passes all understanding. It’s powerful. It’s permanent. It’s not affected by pandemics, plagues, or politics. 

Look at how Luke ends his account of Jesus’ life. After His ascension into Heaven, Christ’s disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joyand were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.” (Luke 24:52b-53)

Jesus had told them what was to come, had given them a glimpse of the hardships and persecutions they would face (John 15:20-21). They knew the dangers of promoting a new religion in the age of the Roman Empire and in contradiction to the Jewish authorities. Yet they were neither afraid nor angry at what was to come. They were joyful. 

Let’s hold on to these verses in the weeks and months ahead as we see our way of life change. While some will face this new normal with fear and anger, we can choose to hold onto the peace that comes from Christ alone, the peace that gives us this unbreakable joy. 

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

John 16:33 (NKJV)

If you’d like to know more about Jesus and the peace that He promises, please comment below or contact me through social media. I would love to talk with you! 

Do you have any thoughts on this “new normal” everyone is talking about? What times in the past have you had to face a new normal? 

The Day the Toilet Paper Disappeared

I was a bit distracted from the news that week. We welcomed a foster daughter (let’s call her T) into our home 6 days prior, with the thought it would likely be a longer-term placement. She was having a hard time, missing her mom and her home, so most of my attention had been fixed on her. That Thursday, I went to church where I work in childcare one morning a week. T enjoyed her first day in the pre-K class before we met friends at the park for a picnic. Every moment was still full of firsts for T, but she was handling it all like a champ. I had realized by this point the best remedy for moments of sadness were a long hug and some soft words of comfort. If given her moment to grieve, she’d bounce right back to that sweet smile soon enough. 

Prior to T’s arrival, I had closely followed the coronavirus crisis in China, praying diligently for the safety of my ESL students on the other side of the world. I knew it was starting to spread globally, but it still seemed a long way away from our little town in South Carolina. I remember, though, my co-workers that Thursday morning talking about the virus and my friend and I at the park discussing whether or not we should be concerned. There were so many other things taking up space in my mind that the growing alarm around me still didn’t fully register. 

Half-way through our picnic and playtime, I got a text I wasn’t expecting. T would be leaving us that day, going to live with a family member (so we were told). I had a million questions and no answers. My mind started racing with all the things I needed to do. We quickly put away our lunches and headed home to start packing. After picking up my boys at school, the kids enjoyed a few more minutes playing together outside before it was time to say goodbye. 

It was around 3:00 when we said goodbye and I gave her one last hug. My husband unfortunately was unable to get home from work that quickly. When he did get home, our conversation focused, of course, on the events of the day. He held me as I cried. We talked with our boys and walked with them through some of their feelings. 

Yet even in sadness and pain, other parts of life have a way of marching on as they always have. Since Friday is my typical grocery day, my husband mentioned we were running low on toilet paper, then said he thought he’d seen something about toilet paper on Facebook that day. I said I saw a joke about someone running low on toilet paper too. Weird, huh? 

One comment led to another, which led to another. Eventually out of curiosity and rising concern, we each headed to our phones. Sure enough, social media was full of dire news that toilet paper shelves were bare. I can’t begin to explain my confusion and disbelief in that moment. Nor do I think I need to, because surely this is a shared experience we all have in common!

Perhaps this wasn’t quite as shocking to some who had been engaged in the developing news story all week. For me, it felt like my feet had been kicked out from under my already shaky legs. I stared at my husband: “Do you think I need to go to Walmart tonight? Or can it wait till tomorrow?” Back and forth we went for twenty valuable minutes. Finally, I decided to push past my emotional exhaustion and hit the store that night. An hour later, after stopping at multiple stores, I headed home empty handed.

My husband, who is ever resourceful, entirely stubborn, and petrified of the thought of no toilet paper, didn’t rest that night until he had secured us a 60-count box of toilet paper on Amazon – even though it cost three times what it should have. I’ve never been so grateful for his maddening persistence!

By the end of the day, as we lay in bed not knowing what the days and weeks to come would hold, my husband and I prayed for peace and safety, as we so often do, for our family, for our foster kids (past and future), and for the world. We grieved, we worshipped, and we looked ahead with hope. Now, eight weeks later, as our state cautiously emerges from lockdown, I am reminded of the day that started it all: the day the toilet paper disappeared. I know my response today should be the same as it was then. I will take a moment to grieve for what’s been lost. I will worship in gratitude. I will look ahead to the future with hope. I will continue to pray for the peace and safety of us all.

The Sound of Her Silence

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? I have two really – the book of John, full of so many of Jesus’ words, and the book of Ruth, with its beautifully woven love story. The Bible is full of stories involving marriage and family, but few give such detail of love and devotion as the story of Ruth. I’ve always been a sucker for romance, so this book is one I’ve returned to over and over again. In addition to the love story, however, Ruth is chocked full of Biblical qualities to learn from: courage, compassion, faithfulness, friendship, sacrifice, the list goes on. And then there is the unmistakable and powerful analogy between Boaz and Christ, our one true Redeemer. With so many lessons this book can teach us, I never fail to learn something new from its pages. 

Reading Ruth today, however, my mind focused for the first time not on Ruth or Boaz, but on Naomi. Ruth’s mother-in-law is a central character in the story. As a younger, dewy-eyed reader, however, I passed right over her and focused on the younger heroine. Perhaps because we’re living in a time of pandemic, recession, and grocery shortages or perhaps because of my more matronly age now, whatever the reason, today Naomi’s character took on a new significance in the story.

As she returns to her hometown penniless and destitute, having lost her husband, her children, and all normalcy of life, Naomi feels as if she has been afflicted by God Himself. She does not rejoice for the one constant God has given her (Ruth). On the contrary, she claims she has been emptied, there is nothing good left in her life. The text does not tell us she prays for a change in circumstance or looks to God for rescue. As I read of her return to Bethlehem, I see a depressed Naomi who cannot see past her plight. She seems to have lost all hope.

Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth 1:5b NIV

Ruth is Naomi’s faithful daughter-in-law; she refuses to leave Naomi even when given her blessing to do so. Though we have no insight into Ruth’s faith in God prior to the start of her journey with Naomi, from her avowal in chapter 1 verses 16-17 and her actions following we see a woman who willingly left her people, her religion, her family, and her customs in order to stay with Naomi as she returned to herpeople, herreligion, herfamily, andher customs. Ruth showed an intense commitment to Naomi and this new way of life. Yet Naomi’s response to this is surprisingly silent. After Ruth’s beautiful, poetic response in verses 16-17, we read “When [Naomi] saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.” 

But Ruth said “Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”

Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV

After they arrived in Bethlehem, it is Ruth, a foreigner unfamiliar with the local customs, who first suggests going to glean in the barley fields. Naomi’s response? “Go, my daughter.” At least she responded with words that time! Naomi and Ruth are in survival mode, subsisting off other people’s leftovers. Naomi knows the people of Bethlehem, knows the customs and laws, yet we see no indication that she is formulating any plans for their future.  

As I read through these first couple of chapters in Ruth today, Naomi’s relative silence is what speaks the loudest to me. I can’t help but draw parallels to our current situation. Many have reacted to this pandemic with prayers, cries for help, and social media posts. But others, myself included, have reacted with relative silence. That’s what my depression does: it silences me. 

There have been moments these last two months when I have found myself unable to speak or pray or cry or even write. Thankfully, for the most part, these have just been moments. I realize for others, this is a more prolonged response. That’s why I think the story of Naomi is so important right now. 

We can look at the short book of Ruth as a whole and see past Naomi’s silent season. In these four concise chapters, we see a story from beginning to end. We see her loss and pain, her silent depression, and her eventual restoration. Since we don’t have the ability to see our current crisis from beginning to end, I see the book of Ruth as a reminder that every loss can be restored, every desperate cry satisfied, every need accomplished, every fear dispelled.

In my small group last night, we talked about hope (specifically the hope of His callingas mentioned in Ephesians 1:18). We discussed how the hope we find in Christ is different from hoping that our team wins the game or even hoping that the scourge of COVID-19 ends quickly. Secular sources often define hope as an optimistic desire for a positive outcome. The biblical definition, however, would read more like this: a confident expectationthat God’s promises are true. It involves trusting rather than wishing.  

Although I have lately been struggling in my silence, today I choose to cling to my Hope. Though I feel sadness and pain, today I choose to meditate on God’s promises, training my mind to hope, rather than despair. I acknowledge this doesn’t mean every moment will be happy, but every moment can be rooted in my faith and trust in the One who has never let me down, the One who redeemed Naomi and Ruth and who I know has already redeemed us as well. 

Oh Lord, thank You for the story of Naomi and Ruth. Thank You for opening my eyes today to the dynamic character of Naomi, to her growth and restoration. As your people struggle through the death and destruction facing our world today, help us cling to the hope to which you have called us. Grow your people through this difficult time and restore to us in the end all that has been lost. Our hope is in You alone. Amen.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.

Ephesians 1:18-19 NKJV

Peace in Pandemic

Do you have this same terrible torn-apart feeling that I have at the moment, caused by constantly clashing thoughts, feelings, facts, and opinions? Talk about cognitive dissonance! I feel a need to stay connected to what is happening, to be in prayer for those suffering around the world, to be able to pray specifically for our leaders. Yet every time I turn on the TV or click that social media icon, I’m thrown into this violent pendulum of speculation and accusation. From every corner of debate, we’re hearing bullish voices of panic screaming – on one side “We’re all going to die! If you leave your house you have blood on your hands!” on the other side “The government is stripping away our rights! So long to democratic freedoms!” 

It’s hard to know what to think or even believe about this pandemic. And it’s really hard to keep any kind of perspective on what’s happening. That’s when it is most important to seek out what God has to say about times like these. Today, I stumbled across Psalm 4.

1Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.

How long, O you sons of men,
Will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness
And seek falsehood? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The Lord will hear when I call to Him.

Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
And put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say,
“Who will show us any good?”
Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 8, NKJV

Verse 1 says “You have relieved me in my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” Distressed is a good description of us today, isn’t it? So many people around the world are crying out to God to relieve our distress over this virus. We hope that He hears us. We pray for His mercy. We believe His righteousness. 

Even so, we still seek worthlessness and falsehood. Most of what we’ve heard on the news or seen on social media for the last two months has been proven false or overblown or underblown, yet we still tune in or scroll on soaking in more disinformation and deception.  

Those of us who have a true relationship with God knowHe hears us, and we trustin His righteousness. We should be much more focused on Him in this moment than on what mere humans are saying, even if those who hold MDs and PHDs by their names. 

Look at verse 4; this is the verse that first caught my eye here! David says to “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” Y’all, that is the actual scripture right there, and it’s so timely it feels like it could have been written this morning. About all we can do right now is meditate on our bed! We can’t go to the yoga studio or the park, but we can go sit on our bed…again. And this time we will put away our phones, turn off the TV, and sit in silence. We will be purposeful to ignore the distractions and anxieties we are holed up with, and we will focus on our Rescuer, the One who put that gladness in our hearts. Then we will lie in peace, knowing that He makes us dwell in safety. 

If this sounds totally foreign to you, maybe today’s the day for you to start seeking God. A great place to start is by downloading the YouVersion Bible app and reading through the gospel of John. Seek Him and Christ promises you will find Him. Then you too can discover this peace even in times of pandemic. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8