We are over a week into September, and if you haven’t seen a picture of someone in a flannel shirt or sporting their first PSL* of the season, are you even breathing?
Tired of summer’s bold and sticky attitude, wanting cool, crisp air, and all the muted color schemes, hardcore autumnophiles pulled out their cute sweaters and drove through Starbucks on September 1st, proclaiming the oncoming fall season no matter what the thermometer said. Others politely waited until after Labor Day before purchasing white fairytale pumpkins and eggplant-colored mums to place outside their front door. Some might still be waiting for September 22nd and the autumn equinox.
Despite the variance of start dates, the general public typically doesn’t fight the onslaught of fall decorations as much as the no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving protesters. Fall seems generally welcome; in many areas, the coolness lends itself to long days and evenings outdoors without the need for ridiculous layers of clothing. Fall foods tend to be full-bodied and flavorful, celebrating bountiful harvests before plants go dormant.
To be honest, fall is something I’ve only experienced in my adult life. I grew up on an island 1,375.30 miles north of the equator (which is pretty close), where fall meant that the sunset usually happened closer to 6:30 instead of 7:15, and the weather changed from 87 and sunny to 85 with a chance of rain.
And this past week my friends in Denver skipped autumn and went straight from “summer” (on Monday the high was above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) to “winter” when they woke up to big flakes of falling snow.
What are your feelings about fall? Are you sipping a PSL while reading this in your flannel, or are you mourning the fresh tomatoes and days at the pool of summer that summer brings? A dear friend of mine (ok, ok, fine, a podcaster that I listen to a lot) says of seasons: “be content where you are. Lean into what’s happening around you, and don’t assume how you live now is how you’ll live forever” (Kendra Adachi, The Lazy Genius Way). Regardless of how we feel about a season, we have to live through it.
As we move into a new season I am reflecting on the words of King Solomon and the classic “seasons” chapter:
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 ESV)
A Time for Everything
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing**;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.
My three fall takeaways:
Recognize this season – What is happening around me right now? What is beyond my control? How can I live despite the challenges?
2. Rejoice in the good things of earth that God has given (even if it’s as simple as an apple cider donut).
3. Remember that the beauties of earth point to greater joy ahead where the sorrows will be no more.
*Pumpkin Spice Latte – the token emblem of fall in America for many (international friends, please enlighten me as to your thoughts on this)
When I was in my early 20’s, I spent two weeks in the heart of Mexico–Cuernivaca–for an immersion course as part of my graduate studies.
It was a formative trip for me in several ways. On a surface level, I had never traveled internationally with strangers before, and I realized the tremendous value of being able to walk through new experiences with people you love! On a deeper level, I treasured the slice of knowledge I gained about the culture and history of Mexico, including the long-storied relationship between them and the United States. I learned about the economic troubles, the civil unrest in its history, the seclusion and poverty of life in the rural areas, and the influence of American culture into the far corners of their land.
I remember clearly an old woman who came to speak (through a translator) to us eager-eyed grad students one evening. Although she had never been afforded the chance to pursue a formal education, this woman wowed us with her poise, her wisdom and her faith. She was a person who was not defined by her circumstances. She taught me more that evening than my professors would the entire trip.
I saw the hand of God that night, as he worked through that woman to reveal some misunderstandings I held about the world around me (however faulty and subconscious they were). I was rocked a bit. The construct of white, middle-class America came screaming down all around me. The individuals I met during that trip put faces to the suffering and injustice in our world, and they changed my mind and heart for good.
It was God’s grace that opened my eyes to my blind spots during those two weeks. I grew in understanding, compassion and love. He was in the process of changing me to be more like him.
As we look to 2020, we are experiencing many new things. We see people close to us suffering from a disease for which we don’t have access to the cure, we see neighbors struggling to make ends meet, we see acts of hatred based on skin color or profession… and it rocks us.
Let this be a good thing. Let this be a good thing that we are rocked. Let our hearts and minds be open to what the Lord wants to do in the rocking. Our world has been rocked this year, and some of the constructs we had are falling down all around us. Let us be eager to learn in this season.
What blindspots might God be revealing? What false assumptions were we unknowingly holding on to as truths? What does God want to cultivate in us?
May it be more compassion, more empathy, more understanding, and more love. Let us grow in those things to our brothers and sisters here and around the world.
“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
I have a friend that leaves me text messages that make me laugh out loud.
I have a friend that says things so profoundly that I want to record every word she speaks.
I have a friend that always remembers my birthday and is able to mail a card at the exact moment so it will arrive on my actual day of birth.
I have a friend that makes the most incredible cupcakes. They melt in your mouth and are the envy of all the bakers in our town.
I have a friend that reads more books than seems humanly possible. She is quick to recommend the perfect book for the situation I am in.
I have a friend who’s husband was unfaithful but she found another love and is now enjoying a new marriage and a new lease on life.
I have a friend who is battling cancer – one of the really tough ones – in a pandemic.
I have a friend who’s son is taking a gap year between high school and college.
I have a friend who’s daughter is staying home to do online school.
I have a friend who just moved her son into a dorm.
I have a friend who is planning her daughters wedding for the 3rd date since they were first engaged.
I have a friend who’s decided to home school her children this year.
I have a friend that is angry she is being forced to wear a mask in public.
I have a friend that has sick parents and she is angry at all those who choose to not wear masks in public.
I have a friend that just lost her battle with a malignant brain tumor.
I have a friend wondering how she will keep her class of kindergartners socially distant.
I have a friend who is experiencing back issues due to 12 hours of sitting at her home office chair for the last 5 months.
I have friends hoping for refunds for their Big 10 football season tickets.
I have a friend that believes there should be stricter regulation on sanitizing in her childs schoool before she allows her children to return.
I have a friend that is concerned that too much bleach on her daughters skin due to increased sanitizing efforts will reduce the germs necessary in our systems to create stronger immunity.
I have a friend the believes our family wasn’t being safe when we attended our daughters high school graduation with a couple hundred other parents.
I have friends that believe we were extreme because we chose to wear masks at the above mentioned graduation ceremony.
I have friends that will vote democrat and belive they have picked the best candidate
I have friends that will vote republican and believe they have picked the best candidate.
I have a friend that has posted hateful comments about their friends on social media.
I have friends that are believing this season will result in positive change for the future.
I have friends that are paralyzed by fear.
I have friends that are looking at each challenge as one in which they can see God provide in miraculous ways.
I have friends that are doubting God’s ability to bring any hope for our future.
I have a friend whose son just married another man.
I have a friend that wouldn’t have attended the wedding of my other friend.
I have a friend who just had her best year ever in her business.
I have a friend who is questioning her ability to lead and is contemplating ending her 20 year career.
I have a friend whose plane ticket home – to Hong Kong – just got cancelled.
I have a friend looking forward to her 14 day quarantine on her military base in Japan after 4 months in the US.
Oh my list of friends. They wouldn’t all want to be invited to the same party. Some that used to be close have now drifted due to too much time away from each other. Some are closer as they rally behind their belief system and what they currently deem “Right.” Some share many of my same beliefs and some just a few.
As I think through my list one thing becomes clear. The battle to maintain my relationships with these people is real. Every day I could make a list of ways I could be offended or ways I have possibly offended others. I question every post and every picture I share on social media with the simple motivation of giving a glimpse into what I am currently grateful for. It seems as if it is impossible to work, relate or play with anyone who isn’t 100% on the same page as us. This makes me sad, discouraged and dare I say it – apathetic. This digression to “not caring” about people – even our friends- is one of the most dangerous currents we can allow to take us away.
As I look at the fire pit sitting quietly in my back yard, waiting for cooler weather before a fire is lit, I remember the friends that have gathered around it since the summer of 2016. Many of these people are mentioned in my list above. They gathered and met others for the first time. They were open to connection despite their differences that showed up on their election ballots or their religious affiliations. The goal of our backyard campfires was connection and community and creation of both. These evenings under the stars brought laughter and healing. Stories were shared and bridges were built. Some nights the conversation was lively and others were quieter as we just sat side by side united by the orange and yellow glow of the flames in the center of our circle.
Oh…. it seems high time for some fire building. Some gathering of friends that have let the embers of their relationship grow cold. We need to tighten our circle – to look to the master fire builder – as our source of hope and answers. In John chapter 21 we see Jesus – freshly risen from his death tomb – standing on a beach next to a fire he has prepared. He calls his people, he encourages them to sit and eat. They are weary, they are worn, they are hungry. They have been up all night working, fishing. They are diverse. They are human. They are you. They are me. They are flawed and sinful and a mess. This man, this savior … he invites them in. He is inviting you and all your friends…
Welcome New Friend to the fire Haley Steinbauer. I met Haley via my son. They became friends their first day of their freshman year of college. I am deeply grateful for the wisdom shared by this young woman. May you be encouraged as you ride the waves of her personal journey to a closer walk with the Lord.
TO FORGET WOULD BE UNGRATEFUL
You know, I’ve been struggling to write about what happened on March 10th, 2020 for multiple reasons. For one, I don’t want to sound like I am boasting in my suffering.
Even calling it “suffering,” seems like an overreaction. I didn’t even die. No one died. It is painful to remember. It brings back feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiousness, and hopelessness. Part of me wants to move on, not make a huge deal about it, and forget. But I’ve realized that I can’tforget, and I shouldn’t forget.
Alan Redpath in ‘Victorious Christian Living’ writes,
“Sometimes in the course of human experience it is good to sit down and reflect on what has been conquered by the grace of God. Not boastfully, but with a humble and grateful heart, to survey the years that have gone and to go over the pages of memory carefully to recall where the grace of God has triumphed, so that we will be able to look into His face and say,
“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
God did something marvelous, extraordinary, and miraculous, and to forget would be ungrateful. I NEED and WANT to recognize his grace. For once in my life I have a memory where God screamed,
“I’ve got you my child. Trust me, Hayley. I am all-powerful and all-knowing.”
That is what I have always wanted – a sign, a mighty voice from above, anything that would show/prove to me that God is real. I have always struggled with trusting God in all areas of my life. I believe and I know that Jesus came, died, and rose for my sins (it’s been grilled into me my entire life), but I absolutely suck at trusting Him. I have come to realize that trust and faith are two sides of the same coin.
How can we have faith in something we don’t absolutely trust? How can I expect God to act in my life if I don’t trust Him?
I’m a thinker, so in my head I hand over my future, my relationships, and my worries into God’s care. But the moment doubt, feelings of insecurity, fear, or uncertainty creep in, I run away from the source of discomfort to a place where I can feel in control again. The problem with having faith in Jesus but no trust is you aren’t seeing His spirit at work and that means you aren’t growing. You are constantly wearing a mask to avoid fear. As Max Lucado says in his book Fearless,
“When fear fills our life, safety becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the risk-free life.” In the end, “The worship of safety emasculates greatness.” (p. 10).
It is when you believe that the King and Creator of the universe – the God who “shapes the future…and controls the sun, moon, and stars” – is for you, that fear loses (Isaiah 45:11-12).
To know Jesus, is to know the source of strength.
What happened over spring break opened my eyes to His power and showed me the importance of truly trusting in Him, even when fear strives to take me over. God is a Father who delivers, provides, and strengthens His children, especially in the deepest of waters. To forget is to let the devil win.
It was a day much like any other. I woke up, immediately
hit snooze, eventually dragged myself to breakfast and got
ready for the day. The plan was to take Jacob’s parents’
small, green jon-boat to the boat dock by St. Augustine; he
would go fishing while RJ and I read books. I was just
starting to read RJ’s book, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and she
picked a juicy romance novel.
We drove to the marina, unloaded the boat, and
navigated the inlet until we found a bridge to anchor
ourselves under. For two hours I was in introvert heaven. It
was a cloudy day, but it was still warm with a slight breeze. I
was enjoying my book while eating Chex Mix and listening
to country music. It was everything I wanted for my spring
break – relaxation, time to read, and the ocean.
About two hours elapsed when Jacob saw two dolphins
poke above the water. We watched in wonder as they
rhythmically glided above the surface and then dived back
down into the dark blue water. RJ was in awe. Dolphins are
her favorite animal. We decided to try to get a closer look, so
we steered in their general direction. Having been satisfied
with our dolphin escapades, Jacob asked if we wanted to go
see the inlet. RJ and I replied,
“Sure. Sounds like fun.”
My hair was flowing in the wind, the air smelled like salt,
and the country music filled my ears. It was pure bliss. We
zoomed out into the wide expanse of the inlet, past the first
buoy, and towards the opening. The water started to get
rougher. Instead of a smooth glide over the water, our small
john-boat was smacking the waves. I remember thinking,
“Ok, it is a little rougher, but Jacob has got us. He has done this
before. Nothing could possibly go wrong.”
The waves grew higher and the wind blew stronger as
we drove farther and farther out of the inlet. My heart
started to quicken slightly, but I forced myself to trust Jacob.
Jacob turned the boat a little bit and a wave slapped against
the boat spilling some water onto RJ who was in the front..
She squealed and Jacob laughed.
He decided to turn the boat around toward the marina,
and we started to go towards the waves from our wake. A
wave from behind propelled us forward and a wave from
our wake started barreling toward us. I remember having to
hold onto my seat so I wouldn’t slide forward as the tip of
the boat went straight into the wave. The water
automatically filled our small boat, taking all our possessions
with it. RJ screamed and Jacob yelled that we needed to
jump. His face is printed in my memory. His frozen
expression resembled someone who was caught mid-sneeze
and was angry at the same time. I held back my desire to
laugh because I knew that it was an expression of fear.
Oddly, I wasn’t afraid. The cold water was a jolt, but I
managed to keep my book and phone above water. In my
mind, it wasn’t really happening. We capsized—no biggy.
I was a sailing counselor the summer before and we
capsized our boats for the fun of it. Sure, it was different this
time because none of us were wearing life jackets, RJ
couldn’t swim, and a lake is a little different from the ocean,
but everything would turn out just fine. I could figure it out;
I always have been able to figure out a conflict or problem
on my own.
Whenever I think about worst-case scenarios, I can trust
myself. Worst case scenario, if I flunk out of school, need a
break, or need time to explore my options; I have my lovely
family to support me. If my house burns down, we have
home insurance. No lives are lost, no biggy. But this time I
had no fallbacks, no long list of options to comfort me that
all would be fine. I had two options: swim or die. No other
options. No rescue boat or time to think and pick the next
best step. I had to fight the waves and the current or never
see my family again. Never graduate from college. Never kiss
a boy. Never tell people about Jesus.
So, I started to swim. I didn’t even think about trying to
flip the boat, staying with the boat, or trying to grab
lifejackets. It seems so foolish to me now. There probably
was a smarter option, but something inside of me said that I
needed to swim.
The first couple of minutes I struggled to make
headway. I felt the current quickly sucking me away from the
shoreline. Every free-style stroke seemed useless. I felt like I
was running on a treadmill, using all my energy and still
staying in the exact same spot.
I knew from stories that the best way to escape a current
was to swim parallel to shore, so I fought the waves and
started to propel myself forward. I looked back and could no
longer see the boat. I could see RJ struggling to keep her
head above water. I yelled to Jacob,
“Stay with RJ. I’m going
to swim to shore.” I knew that there was no way RJ would
make it to shore. We were so far out that you could see
figures on the shoreline but couldn’t distinguish if they were
male or female. I remember screaming for help, but I knew
it was a waste of time.
It’s interesting that in a boat or on the beach, waves
seem peaceful and benign, but when you are in the water
and the only way to keep from drowning is your legs and
arms, the waves take a different form. You are at the mercy
of the strong, powerful, menacing water, unable to see the
horizon or what is lurking under you. You feel small,
powerless, helpless and alone.
Long after tossing my book I eventually let go of my
phone. It was too much effort to hold onto. When all you
have set before you is life or death, there is no need for a
phone. When faced with what seems like an insurmountable,
terrifying situation, all you have is God. So I stripped my
flannel and tried to take off my heavy shoes.
I started to grasp the seriousness of my situation. I
wasn’t getting closer to shore. I was quickly getting sucked
out of the inlet. My arms and legs were tired. I wanted to
take a break, but I knew that I had no other option. The
shoreline was my lifeline. If I didn’t keep swimming, I would
just keep getting swept out until eventually there would be
no shoreline to swim towards. I had to save my friends. I
didn’t want to die, so I pleaded with God. I said,
“Lord, give me strength. I need your strength, because I am tired,
and I don’t know if I can keep going. I don’t want to die. I have
so much I still need to do. If you deliver me and I survive, I will do
whatever you want. I will change my major, hop on a plane and
become a missionary, marry a nice farm boy, whatever you want.
I’m done fighting. Help me. Help me.”
As I kept swimming, I started to imagine the worst-case
scenario. I thought about what would happen if I failed to
reach shore. I pictured myself spending my last moments
alive alone in the wide expanse of the dark ocean, unable to
see land, floating on my back until I got so exhausted that I
drowned. I pictured the phone call to my parents. I
envisioned RJ struggling to stay above water and eventually
failing. What would happen to Jacob and RJ’s families? I’ve
never had a situation where trusting in God was the only
This worse-case scenario was real and hopelessly
terrifying because it was completely in God’s hands. This is
what I struggle to put into words and explain to people. My
life was in His hands; it was completely out of my control. I had no
scapegoat, no second option where I could swoop in and
save myself. In complete and utter hopelessness, the only
thing I could do was turn to God and ask for help. It was
the first time I completely trusted in Him. All I could do was
pray and plead.
As time went by, God started to answer my prayer. I
escaped the current and swimming became four times easier.
The shoreline was within reach. The waves were still high
enough that I had to dive under each one to keep from
getting taken over, but I was just thankful that I was finally
moving. Just keep going. Just keep going. You can do it, I told myself.
Eventually, I swam until I realized that I could touch the
bottom. I was dazed, unable to be relieved until I knew my
friends were also safe. So, the instant I stood up, I tried to
run. I needed to find help. It felt like I had been swimming
for a long time and I knew RJ would not be able to last for
much longer. The water was about at my hips. I felt
lightheaded, and my legs felt like Jell-O. I fell over in the
water and had to catch myself. I ran onto the beach and
looked in both directions to find the nearest person. The
current carried me to the very end of the beachy peninsula
and there were very few people in site.
Then, I noticed people to my right. I started to run in
that direction as I saw a rescue boat come flying from the
mouth of the inlet. They glided across the water out towards
the last buoy in the inlet. For a moment the boat began to
search with little luck. I started to cry because I thought my
friends had drowned. I had failed. I was picturing what life
would be like without my hilariously joyful best friend and
roommate by my side and without my frustratingly, caring,
and stubborn friend Jacob. I cried out loud to God, Please,
Lord. Please, Lord. They can’t be dead. No, Lord.
The moment I stopped my prayer, the boat stopped. I
couldn’t see anyone getting on or off the boat, so I was
uncertain if they were found dead or alive.
I noticed a four-wheeler with four Coast Guard workers
only a couple of meters away. I took off my clunky shoes
and ran over to them. I was sobbing and asking if they had
found my friends. They told me my friends were safe and
asked if I was the third person. A wave of relief flowed over
They set me down in the four-wheeler with a blanket
and Gatorade, and I sobbed. I rarely cry in front of people,
but I couldn’t hold it in. I cried so hard I was shaking
(actually, the shaking could have been from the fact that the water was
60 degrees or that I swam for 25-30 minutes, but even so I was shaken
I couldn’t stop smiling. All my anxiety, fear, and worry
were replaced with gratefulness, don’t-care-who-knows-it
joy. I was laughing and crying and praising God. I’ve never
been more joyful in my life. We were all alive. They put me in
an SUV with a nice man who drove me back to the marina.
As we made the 25-minute drive, the entire experience
started to feel surreal. Did it actually happen? I was just
fighting for my life in the ocean and now I am sitting in this
warm car learning about this nice Coast Guard’s family
history. I couldn’t help but feel like I was a completely
different person from the girl that was gawking at dolphins
an hour earlier. I wanted so desperately to cry and call my
parents to tell them I loved them. I wanted to process the
experience and figure out how I could uphold the promise I
made to God in the water: I will do whatever you want, if you help
me. But I chose to put on a brave face and be strong. I
decided to process later once I had the time, space, and
THE CURRENT OF GOD’S GRACE
When we met at the marina, I hugged Jacob and RJ and
we drove back home. We processed the rest of the day and,
to be perfectly honest, I am still processing.
I want to remember that hopelessness and how God
delivered us along with the joy that followed. I want to
remember how my relationship with God matters above all
earthly possessions and how I need to trust him with the
little and big things.
The experience has taught me to be brave and has
inspired me to live more courageously. Fear no longer is a
major roadblock because I have experienced the power of
God. I know what real fear looks like and how MY God can
overcome it. If I can survive that fear, nothing should stop
me from doing His will. I think this is true for everyone.
We shouldn’t just trust him when we have no other
options. Even when everyday life is uncertain and small fears
swarm us, we have a God who is unstirred by the waves for,
“If He is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). And, boy,
is God for us! He is given to us. He took on our flesh and
blood to die for us and so to save us. And as He died to save
us, so He lives to provide for us.
I am just extremely grateful and in awe of how God
provided for us on March 10th. We didn’t get eaten by sharks
or sucked down into an even stronger rip current. I was in
great shape because of my half-marathon training, and RJ
was in good shape because she had started lifting three
months prior. Even so, if Jacob and I had switched roles, RJ
may not have survived because I wouldn’t have been able to
give her breaks with my body size.
If a couple on the shore hadn’t seen us swimming, the
rescue boats may have been dispatched too late to rescue
Jacob and RJ. If the waves had been higher or wilder, I don’t
know if I would have survived. All in all His goodness is
shown through his providence that day.
His grace abounds in the deepest of waters.
This experience has taught me to live more courageously. That’s why I support ATLAS; a ministry helping people meet their emotional and spiritual needs whilst finding joy in the journey of discovering their unique potential in Christ. ATLAS is a mentor based, prayer driven personal development service whose goal is to help individuals and families attain truth, love, and self-control through the power and love of Jesus Christ. ATLAS is a free, safe, and confidential place wherepeople can be heard, encouraged and prayed over.
It was just a quick blurb that came across the computer screen, and I only heard it by accident. My boys were finishing up a youtube video and at the end, with no explanation or reason, a voice came through the speaker saying, “Be the kind of parent you want to be.”
Uh, yeah… that seems to go without saying.
But my brain caught that trite little phrase and played it on repeat… as I was driving the car… as I was washing dishes… as I was checking my phone… as my kids played loudly in the living room. I was bothered by it.
Of course I was being the kind of parent I wanted to be, right? Right?? As I was drawn more to my phone than my kids, I wondered. As I noticed how I hadn’t really snuggled with my five-year-old all day, I cringed. As I chose the easy road over the better road, I doubted.
You see, sometimes, I forget what it takes to be the kind of [fill in the blank] person I want to be.
I need regular check-ins to reorient my character. Those typically need to come from something outside of myself—a book, a friend, a podcast. These things encourage me, “Yes, you’re on the right path!” and challenge me, “Have you ever thought about doing it THIS way?” So often I get this “character reorienting” naturally from people around me—those people I run into every week. In fact, in-the-flesh people are often the BEST way for this to happen in my life. (Left to myself, I often gravitate toward podcasts, publications and perspectives that don’t differ too much from my own.) However, I can’t control what kind of guy is in front of me at the ice cream shop, and I can’t “subscribe” to a certain type of mom that hangs out at the park after school. People are unpredictable and unpolished; they make me learn differently, think on my feet, and evaluate my own character and actions. But, hello! I am just not running into as many people these days as I used to… at least not here in CA where we are still very much under COVID restrictions.
So, it took a random voice on a youtube video to knock me back a bit and reevaluate whether my actions and my goals aligned.
Apart from that fluke youtube quote, my biggest “external reorienter” during this time has been the Creator of this world. His perspective is way different from mine, i.e. much, much bigger. As I read his words in the Bible, he challenges and encourages me. He has reminded me of my humble state before his sovereign power. He has shown me areas where I have been ignoring things he is passionate about. He has been revealing his holiness and my sinfulness.
But unlike a podcast or a youtube video or even another mom at the park, God doesn’t just leave me to reorient on my own. He shows me how. And the how ALWAYS comes back to Jesus. Because of Jesus, I do not need to prove myself to God. Jesus has given his perfectly-oriented life for my own disoriented one. It is his life in me that is my reorientation! Without Jesus, I would never be truly reoriented, living constantly aware that I am unable to be the parent/friend/spouse/daughter that I want to be. But through Jesus, my reorientation is perfected and kept permanently before God. #ohthankheaven
If you struggling to find that “outside” voice that sees the world differently than you do, will you allow God to reorient you this week? Try opening up a Bible and believing that his words are true. He loves you, and he wants to reorient you for good!
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2
If you are confused by the large number of rice cookers present, then you will probably be surprised when the potluck runs out of sticky rice later.
If you are a rice enthusiast, then you might want a scoop of both sticky rice and fried rice.
If you see a deli-size container of what might look like chunky salsa, you’ve probably stumbled upon some poke (poh kay) (but unless you’re one of the first people in line, it might just be an empty container).
If raw fish freaks you out (and I won’t spend too much time convincing you so that I don’t have to share) then you might be more interested in some spaghetti.
If you are surprised to see hot dogs in the spaghetti, don’t worry, that’s normal.
If you like hot dogs, then you’ll probably enjoy a nori-wrapped spam musubi.
If the musubi reminds you of sushi and you’re looking for something with a little heat, look on the tray from Genki Sushi for spicy tuna rolls and get some wasabi to go with it.
If your mouth is on fire from the spicy tuna, you might want to go back for some dessert.
If you like healthy desserts, you probably will scoop a helping of mango, pineapple, or papaya.
If you want something both refreshing and fun to look at, then also scoop up a few lychee or dragonfruit.
If you have a helping of fresh island fruit, you might want some mochi to go with it.
If you want something deep fried, you will probably grab a Sata Andagi or Malasada (just make sure they’re hot).
If you’ve finished your plate, then you’ll probably want some POG to wash it down.
If you’re full, but just noticed another table full of vibrant purple Okinawan sweet potatoes, a box of pizza (hopefully with garlic balls from Big Kahuna), and shoyu chicken, then you’ll probably want to be invited to another potluck.
Author’s Note: This list represents only a small portion of the vast culinary culture of Hawai’i — many fantastic cultures and foods were not mentioned. I have tried, and eaten, all of these foods at various potlucks in Hawai’i, and as a self-identified foodie, I believe we can find some of the best connection and appreciation for others by eating together.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:11
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8
If you know anything about shoes, or sandals, or Birkenstock sandals…. you know that they don’t cost $35. You know they cost much more the $35. More like $135.
If you don’t know, now you do.
Well…. as I was happily scrolling through my Instagram… which is currently full of my young friends pregnancy and baby posts… I saw the ad. (side note: I scroll instagram to see my young friends posts, I scroll facebook to see my middle aged friends post . It’s a thing for sure) This ad told me I could purchase Birkenstock sandals for $35 if I just swiped up. As simple as that. It caught my attention. I had been thinking about purchasing some slip on sandals. Not only had I considered Birkenstocks I had also considered a fun color of Birkenstocks and the Birkenstocks in this particular ad…. they were red. RED. (another side note: Red shoes are one of the keys to happiness in my life. )
So guess what. In a matter of 60 seconds I had swiped up, clicked on the red shoes, clicked on my size, clicked on the payment info tab, clicked on the address update tab, clicked purchase, clicked send….and just like that – I was the proud owner of a pair of beautiful, red, slip on sandals. I took a screen shot of the sandals and sent it to my daughter, wanting to share in the victory of my deal of the day. We just love a good deal. I could just feel the soft leather and perfectly formed toe holds. I could see them sitting next to the front door after having taken my dog for a walk, wearing my new red sandals. Yes… they were mine.
Well…. not yet.
You see the sandals haven’t actually arrived…..
I can’t even remember the company that sponsored these, hopefully legitimate, red Birkenstocks. I didn’t print a receipt. I didn’t check the validity of the website. Nope. I did nothing to prove that I was making a wise decision. So, I sit on my porch and wait expectantly for the fed ex guy, the ups man or the mailman to bring my beautiful red shoes. In the day of Amazon Prime and the delivery of internet orders arriving in what feels like minutes of ordering… 3 weeks is feeling like an eternity.
There are several reasons why I know I made this decision. First, if you are familiar with the enneagram – I am a 7 wing 8. This simply means I am overly optimistic, hate to think about hard things and can be spontaneous when it comes to jumping into fun things. Details feel bothersome when I just want to GO. I don’t need much evidence to Prove that what I want to do is right. I just want to believe the best and live accordingly. Second, and the real purpose behind this post is that I feel deep down, in a world that feels out of control… I’m longing for easy, I’m longing for normal, I’m longing for fun, I’m longing for carefree, I’m longing for the days when the biggest worry I had was if my red sandals would actually make it to my door.
But, as you are well aware, it is not.
And that is actually a really good thing.
Over the last 4 months I have made every attempt to gain some type of footing on the ground of a world that feels like it is experiencing a perpetual earth quake. Every single thing has been shaken.
I have two of every baby shower, wedding and graduation announcement hanging in my kitchen. Who would have thought when planning a wedding that the line item on the budget page would say, INVITATIONS X 2??
I threw away the spring schedule of my daughters high school sports season and I just threw away the schedule for her college. I threw away the concert tickets to two of my favorite groups. I cancelled plane tickets to several summer events. Nothing… not one thing that I had attached my hope , my joy, my personal happiness has stayed standing. Not one thing. Every prediction I made has been wrong.
In my world where I live for joy filled events – I have lost all proof that my happiness can continue. Every plan I make will be cancelled… why even try??
So I pop on Instagram and buy a pair of $35 shoes – with the hopes that I can reclaim some of the joy lost in the tumult of 2020.
Oh…. but wait. This shaking, the chronic disruptions of life…they have left some evidence behind. The proof is there for me. And it is there for you. And it is, He, is waiting for us to see it.
As I have navigated this season I have been reminded time and time again that my hope cannot, nor should it have ever, been put in the things of this world. I can certainly enjoy them, celebrate them, look forward to them, but when they become the focus of my hope, I have turned them into an idol. And oh how my idols have been revealed as they each have been taken away.
And one thing remains……
Jesus. Waiting to PROVE that he his enough. Waiting to FLOOD our lives with evidence that HIS PEACE is real and true and practical and available and not dictated my circumstances. He left his peace with us when he returned from heaven. ” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.” John 14:27. and “I have told you these things so that IN ME you may have peace. In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart I have over come the world.” John 16:33 It’s a thing, a real thing that we can boldly demand because he said we could. “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb. 4:16
I have put this promise to the test so many times in my life. One of my favorite, GOD IS LEGIT, stories comes form January of 2018. I had just finished a glorious week with my fellow business owners at a conference in Atlanta. Its always a week of fantastic education, inspiration and girlfriend time. As I was literally rolling my suitcase out of my hotel room my phone buzzed with these words:
“Your flight has been cancelled.” CANCELLED. Not delayed, not switched to another. CANCELLED. And I wasn’t the only one. The 1 inch of snow that Atlanta had experienced the night before shut down the city. A fact that us northerners just cannot comprehend. What unfolded over the next 6 hours was nothing short of crazy. I had NEVER seen an airport so crowded – with lines looping over the entire building. No one knew what was going on but everyone thought they had the right solution and were happy to share it, loudly. ( hmm…. feels a lot like 2020). I was tired and just wanted to get home.
And… it was in that moment that I demanded PROOF.
I clearly remember standing in the line that stretched to eternity, purse in one hand, suitcase touching the other as I rolled it slowing to who knows where. I prayed one simple pray.
“GOD, prove it.”
Prove your peace.
Prove your power.
Prove your provision.
and you know what?
He 100% did.
Not one thing changed about my circumstances but everything changed about my heart. And when your heart changes your vision changes too.
Instead of seeing lines of strangers I saw lines of humans. I noticed an acquaintance and her husband a few feet away. We started chatting. We spoke of our fantastic week and the hilarity of our current situation. We left our line to drag our luggage through the airport. We squeezed into a restaurant and ate food, and shared stories. We made our way to a terminal full of friends from our town all rescheduled on a red eye flight. I love the picture of the group of us choosing to see the fun and find the true peace in our situation.
GOD showed up and he proved himself to me. I have evidence. Evidence I need now on a daily basis. DO you?
Do you have proof from your daily life that God is real. I mean really REAL. Not just a thing you say you believe and then show it by faithfully showing up to church on Sunday and saying your prayers before dinner. Not just a habit and a community you’ve joined because thats what you’ve been told is right. No – do you have FOR REAL EVIDENCE in your life that God loves you and shows up in the craziest of ways?
Guess what. It’s the perfect time to ask. In our upside down world where every plan is tentative. In a painful world where we fear turning on the news because we dread another tragic death of those thought less then. In a time when hard things happen to good people. It’s time.
And God is waiting.
He is waiting to flood your crazy with his comfort.
He is waiting to shine is light on your life.
He is waiting to PROVE himself worthy of all of our hope. The answer to all of our questions.
And he promises his joy will far exceed any and all earthly objects we desire…
even more the a good deal on some cute Red sandals.
You are almost here! Your dad and I cannot wait to hold you in our arms, to kiss your sweet cheeks, to count your fingers and toes. You, my love, are a miracle: Nine months ago you didn’t exist at all, and now you are flesh and bone and brain and heart and soul. We thank the Lord for you every day!
While you’ve been growing safe and secure inside my belly, the world out here has undergone some seismic shifts marked by much fear and tragedy. I want to tell you about the past few months while they are fresh in my mind because I believe that God is working through these events to do important work in our hearts. My prayer is that what He is teaching us now creates a wave of lasting change that will make your generation more loving and more thoughtful than mine.
In late January, when I was just beginning to feel your tiny flutters and kicks inside me, we started to hear news about people in China and other parts of Asia falling ill and dying from a mysterious respiratory virus with many different names: “The Coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” “SARS-CoV-2.” When the virus reached the United States, our President and several media outlets referred to it as the “Chinese Flu,” which may or may not have contributed a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the weeks and months that followed.
This is something I need you to know, my sweet son: Words have power. We can wield them “like swords” (Prov. 12:18) or apply them like balm that brings “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov. 16:24).
By early March, as your eyes began to perceive light and your ears process sound, the virus had spread to almost every state, including Missouri. We worried for you. No one seemed to know anything about how COVID-19 might affect pregnant women or unborn babies or newborns. There was no research – how could there be? We heard conflicting information about the virus from the media, government, and health experts.
The death toll climbed, the illness primarily affecting the most vulnerable among us: the elderly, the sick, the immunocompromised, and our Black brothers and sisters, who are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of white people due to poor access to healthcare and other preexisting conditions related to living in poverty. Hospitals became overcrowded, and doctors and nurses begged people to stay home to avoid further spread.
Restaurants and shops closed their doors, playgrounds were taped off, schools and churches moved online. We stopped seeing our friends and tried to keep a safe distance away from your Grammy and Grandpa to avoid getting them sick. Your Aunt Paige and Uncle Ryan pushed back their wedding, we moved your baby shower online, our friends and family members who’d planned to visit us canceled their flights, your dad was no longer allowed to come to our prenatal appointments.
The entire world was put on pause.
That’s when videos began to circulate that showed two white men gunning down Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was on an afternoon jog in a suburb in Georgia. Even though the local police had seen the video, no charges were filed against Ahmaud’s killers. A few weeks later, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by police officers as she slept on her couch inside her home in Louisville, Kentucky. A few weeks after that, another video surfaced – this one showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, for almost nine minutes while he repeatedly said, “I can’t breath” and twice called out for his mother.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protestors of all colors, faiths, and political leanings flooded streets all over our country (and the world) to demand justice for Ahmaud, Breonna, and George, but also to speak out against the systemic oppression that has plagued black Americans since they were brought to these shores as slaves. In some cases, protests have turned violent: businesses looted and burned, officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds.
It’s easy to get nostalgic about the time before COVID-19, to wish that we could all just “go back to the way things were” or “return to business as usual.”
But the reason I’m telling you all of this is because I truly don’t think God wants us to “go back to the way things were.” We know that it is through exactly these kinds of tragic circumstances – when life feel most confusing and painful and hopeless – that God so often does his most important work within us. Instead of wishing away the year 2020, maybe we should stop for a second and ask, “God: What are you trying to teach me here?”
For your dad and me, COVID-19 has led us to reflect upon what Jesus really means when he tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
By the time you’re old enough to read this, you will probably have heard the parable of The Good Samaritan countless times. The story is so good, though, that it bears repeating here:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The true neighbor in this parable, of course, is the one who stops – the one who presses pause on his busy life in order to see and serve the dying man in the road. This parable is often retold as a reminder that to love your neighbor means to care for the weak, sick, and the vulnerable.
But it’s important to note that this parable is also very much about race.
In Jesus’ time, Jews and Samaritans (two separate ethnic groups) despised one another. The lawyer who questions Jesus hopes that he can “love his neighbor” by caring solely for other Jews, but Jesus uses this story to flip the lawyer’s worldview entirely. Not only does Jesus command that love for our neighbors should transcend racial boundaries, but by making the Samaritan the hero of the story, he also challenges negative stereotypes about Samaritans.
When I read through this parable in light of the racial unrest embroiling our own nation, I can’t help but feel deeply convicted.
Because long before we knew the names Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, back during our pre-COVID state of “normal,” we did know the names Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and so many others. Your dad and I have also known for a long time that racial disparities exist across nearly all systems in our society: criminal justice, healthcare, education, and economic.
Yet we’ve rarely stopped and paused our lives long enough actually do anything about any of it. Over and over again, we have been like the priest and the Levite: We see the man dying in the street, and over and over we choose to “pass by on the other side.” Because it’s so much easier and cleaner and more comfortable to avoid looking at the problem altogether than it is to stop and actually do something about it.
With COVID-19 has come much pain and suffering. The economy has grinded to a halt, people are out of work, and over 480,000 people have lost their lives. But even within these horrible circumstances, God is at work. Collectively as a nation, we’ve been forced to slow down, and it seems we are finally paying attention to the dying man in the street.
Because of global protests and vocal public outrage at the deaths of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George, police departments across the country have already begun reforming their policies and our President has signed an executive order to ban law enforcement from using chokeholds. More than ever before in the history of this country, white people are listeningto their Black brothers and sisters, educating themselves on the deep-rooted causes of systemic racism, and seeking solutions.
The other day, someone I know to be a strong Christian posted this image on his Facebook page (side note: I sincerely hope Facebook is a thing of the past by the time you’re able to read this):
The words on this image trouble me for several reasons, but I find the last line particularly disturbing coming from someone who I know to be a follower of Christ: “If you choose to see evil, then evil is all you will see.”
My sweet son, if we choose to NOT see evil, then we are just like the priest and the Levite who “pass by on the other side.” Even more importantly, if we choose NOT to see evil, then we have no need for Jesus.
You are about to enter broken world full of poor and miserable sinners. None of us are immune, especially when it comes to the sin of racism, which has been with us since Biblical times and which, like all sins, will be with us until Jesus comes again. We all need the grace and pardon that only Christ gives through his death and resurrection.
My prayer for our nation is that when the pandemic and protests are over, when we all resume the hustle of “normal” life, that we keep working to love those who are unlike us and work to eradicate injustice. My prayer for the Church is that we help lead the charge.
And my prayer for you, my son, is that you refuse to look away from the brokenness of this world, that you refuse to be like the priest and the Levite who “pass by on the other side” because it’s more convenient and comfortable to do so. I pray that, like the Samaritan, you go out of your way to love and serve those who are crying out for help, especially those who are different from you – something that I fail at continuously.
I pray, too, that in the midst of this world’s worst trials and tribulations, you see God at work and know that “in all things [he] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
For New Year’s 2019, I made a resolution and mostly kept it. Hold your applause. I have always, always been a New Year’s Resolution person. I think they are worth making and I take them seriously, and that is one of the few things in life I will fight you on. In December 2018, I realized that I had stopped exercising almost completely. I had just finished a busy first semester of graduate school, and I was feeling a little sluggish and not myself. My days were almost always full, and exercise felt less urgent than academic deadlines and less appealing than watching New Girl on my laptop in bed, so it got swept under the rug. It’s not that I didn’t want, somewhere deep inside of me, to exercise; it’s not that I didn’t believe that exercising was a good choice to make for my life. It’s just that, most days, my best intentions couldn’t quite overcome the external pressure of school and my personal desire to be relaxed and comfortable as often as possible.
So: New Year’s Resolution 2019 was an exercise resolution. I wish, for the sake of keeping things interesting, it was something more original – but there you have it. I’ve failed to keep plenty of New Year’s Resolutions before, but I was serious about this one. I knew that since my days were busy (and working out is hard, especially when your muscles have been on vacation for the last few months), I needed some infrastructure if this was ever going to catch on. After I wrote, “work out 4x / week” on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, I got myself organized.
First, and because I had just finished a semester of having my head stuffed with psychology, I made up an operational definition for working out. I decided what I was going to consider “exercise”. I set my bar low and attainable. Any amount of time doing something exercise-y above and beyond what I normally did in a day would be called “exercise”.
I try not to give out too much unsolicited advice, but I’ll hit you with this one because I think it’s important: sticker charts. They are for children and they are also for anyone who needs to get something done. I wanted to work out 4 times each week for all of 2019, so I printed out monthly calendars for all of 2019. Actually, I made the calendars myself so they would look nice hanging on my wall all year. I wrote specific motivational thoughts on each month. I bought the perfect sheet of tiny, shiny star stickers, and on the way home from the store I told myself that I could stick a star to the number of every day of the month that I exercised.
Throughout the year, I brought the star stickers and calendar pages with me everywhere. They hung where I could see them from my bed in one room, and then I moved them to a spot above my desk when I moved houses. I folded them and stuck them in my bag when I traveled. I kept sticking stars on every number of day that I exercised, and I cannot stress enough the power the stickers had to get me to do a couple squats when I didn’t want to.
Although a lot of my exercising can be attributed to the sticker chart, my friend Amelia deserves some credit as well. We both signed up for a research study at our university for the month of February. For the study, we were forced to exercise four times every week, with a group of other research participants, while being supervised by the person conducting the study. What I’m saying is, we would have had to actively run away and hide from these people (especially the girl whose dissertation depended on our data) in order to not exercise during that time. February was covered. When the study was over, we kept meeting up to exercise together. It’s a lot harder to walk right past the gym without going in when you know there’s someone in there waiting for you.
For me, resolutions and good intentions get all their power from practical, everyday routines and disciplines, from planning ahead and accountability. I don’t think I’ve ever had a feeling or conviction strong enough to keep me doing something challenging for the long haul.
Right now, we are in a couple of weeks where many of us are making resolutions. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd brought a long-standing problem of systemic racism to public consciousness, and so we’ve seen marches and protests, we’ve read countless social media posts and news articles about what we should and should not do and what’s really the right way to solve systemic and individual racism. And because of it, many people want to do something. I am the exact opposite of an expert on all of this. I am not a voice who should be telling anyone what’s the right, best, moral, etc. thing to do right now. I do, however, know that a lot of us want to start doing new things now that we weren’t doing before, and I think I know a little bit about how to rig your life so you keep showing up and doing something.
I am a resolution optimist. I support new intentions: to read books, have hard conversations, become informed, effect change in our workplaces, self-reflect, and all the other things that matter that we want to start (or continue) doing. However, I think that we may be easily lost or sidetracked unless we approach the new things we want to add to our lives with effort and intention.
Adding new practices to our lives will take effort. Things will come up that seem more pressing and important, and things will come up that seem easier and more fun. When that happens, I think that the plans and routines and accountability that we have created ahead of time will be what keep us going, more than our good intentions or the way we feel right now, as we resolve to do things.
So, some more unsolicited advice and just about my only helpful thoughts right now: I think I, and anyone like me, might need sticker charts, to meet up with a friend weekly to talk about what we’re reading, to click and drag a block of time on Google Calendar called “self-reflection activity” or “listen to podcast” the week before. Whatever it is you and I feel compelled to do, I think using our desire to act to make a plan for how we’re going to keep doing a new thing one month, six months, and several years from now could be the right move. Feeling convicted and moved to action in this moment is, I believe, good and right – but let’s not stop there. Do whatever silly, extra, scheduled, detailed thing it takes to keep you going. (And you make a sticker chart, now or ever, PLEASE send me a picture!)
As our family arrived at the baseball field for Louisa’s game (5th grade, mixed teams, machine pitch), we quickly made our way toward her teammates in their “Orioles” uniforms. Looking around for an opposing team, we saw only a few players in uniforms of another color. As it became more and more apparent that the other side would not have enough players to field a team, some of the Orioles were excited that they might get a win without even having to play, but I knew Louisa would be disappointed. She liked to win, but not by forfeit. Louisa preferred to be victorious after a hard-fought battle.
The coaches, meanwhile, had put their heads together and pointed out that there were enough total kids to field two teams so a game could be played. They proposed that four of our team play for the opponents. Everyone was quickly in agreement, so our coach glanced around, named off four players, and—as luck would have it—Louisa was chosen to play for the other side.
I groaned to myself as I anticipated her response. Louisa had loved sports all her life, from the moment she dribbled her first rubber basketball around the store and shot it into my shopping cart or tucked one little leg under another and slid with foot extended into an imaginary base in our living room. She was fascinated by the equipment, enjoyed learning the rules, practiced the skills for hours, was intrigued by the strategy. But as much as all of those consumed her interest, Louisa thrived on being part of a team. From an early age she was heavily invested in her team, whichever group that might be, and whichever sport she might be playing.
And–just as I anticipated–happiness at getting to play turned to agony at the thought of playing for the opponent. The coaches completed the arrangements while we all waited, and Louisa stewed. I knew how difficult it would be for her to play competitively in this situation. It would be a mortal internal battle the entire game.
Finally, as the other team headed to the outfield for the first inning, and the Orioles prepared to bat, I walked up to the coach to explain why my daughter seemed stuck in her tracks somewhere along the first base line, and I asked if he could possibly choose someone else to play for the other team. He was not particularly sympathetic or understanding, just shrugged and asked the team if anyone else wanted to switch sides. In no time he had a volunteer and Louisa joined the Orioles in the dugout. She wasn’t proud. She seemed emotionally spent. But her sense of which team she belonged to was intact.
“Whose side are you on?” We are fond of asking this question, especially if we ourselves identify strongly with one side. It is how we identify people with whom we can form alliances or against whom we will do battle. We ask, and we expect an answer so we can assess others’ loyalty to causes, values, beliefs, or actions. Even when people don’t express strong convictions, we are bold to demand that they choose a side, or we look for markers to help us decide where their loyalties must fall. It’s important to know who sees things our way–who we can count on in a fight.
There is no shortage right now of motive and opportunity to ask the question, “Whose side are you on?” We are in a world of hurt, literally and figuratively, and within our nation that hurt has intensified in the last two weeks. Dividing lines are everywhere. For months we have engaged in debate about the COVID-19 pandemic, ways to control the spread of this virus, or the best treatment for those who have contracted it. What could be a unified battle against a global disease has broken into all manner of factions, generating anger and judgment and hateful speech and actions.
“Whose side are you on?” is an even more emotional question as we address the recent killings, injustices, and evidence of racism in our country and the pain they have brought to millions. Protests, peaceful or violent, have led in some cases to greater dialog and in other cases to greater division as we debate the many aspects of this sinful condition and the best ways to address it.
As if the crises themselves are not enough, battle lines are quickly drawn in this election year as we analyze the action, reaction, or inaction of our leaders. At every level of elected government, and among our fellow citizens, we ask the questions and look for the evidence that will help us know who is on which side for this fight.
One of the more fascinating scenes from the Biblical account of the fall of Jericho is an encounter that takes place just prior to the battle, described in the last verses of Joshua 5. Joshua is approaching the city of Jericho when he sees a man with a drawn sword standing in front of him. Joshua approaches the man and asks him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” the man replies. “But as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
“Neither.” Neither! Here’s a guy, a soldier—a warrior apparently, with his sword drawn and ready for battle, yet he does not declare a side. He simply identifies himself and his purpose–“As commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
What does Joshua do next? The passage tells us, “Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
That’s it. Joshua, the faithful leader of God’s people, does not respond in anger or frustration, or even in fear, but with humility. He falls on his face in reverence and asks for the message that the commander of the Lord’s army must surely have for him, the leader of God’s people. The instructions he receives are the same ones that Moses heard when God called him to lead his people out of Egypt….”Take off your sandals. You are standing on holy ground.” You are in God’s presence and He has work for you to do.
Suddenly, “Whose side are you on?” or “Are you for us or for our enemies?” are meaningless questions. Joshua gets the message. Rather than being consumed with knowing who falls into his camp, and who falls in the camp of his enemies, his question changes: “What message does God have for me?” and—perhaps–Am I in HIS camp? Am I prepared to fight the battles He gives me to fight, according to His battle plan.
Being on the Lord’s side changes my understanding of human divisions. It also changes the way I look at God. If I am going to recognize God as God, then He is not mine to try to manipulate, but I am His to lead and use. Following Joshua’s humble example, I am inclined to fall face down in reverence and ask, “What message does my lord have for his servant” and then I pray I am ready to listen for whatever direction I may receive.
God’s moves and my part in them may well be something completely different from what I would do, just as marching around Jericho for seven days was not the way Joshua normally would fight a battle. What God asks of me may even cause me discomfort and stress, but I am not a lone warrior. God does not fight battles according to human-defined sides but at the same time He DOES do battle. Jesus life, death, and resurrection were all part of his battle over sin, fought out of tremendous, sacrificial love, and I must recognize that He fought that battle for every single person on this earth. The battle for salvation has been won, yet He continues to do battle for us against the evils of this world.
Whatever the earthly battle lines, I would like to have the same unwavering desire to be on God’s side, the same strong sense of being on his team, that Louisa had as an “Oriole” on that baseball field long ago. With wisdom from His spirit, compelled by his love and reflecting his boundless grace, I want to be willing and prepared also to fight on God’s side–for every single soul, every person on this earth.