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