The 50-Gallon Jug of Water

Photo by Abhishek Saini from pexels.com

She carries a 50-gallon jug of water with her. Although I’m unsure when she started doing this, it’s safe to assume it has been for years, if not decades. In all reality, it was awaiting her the day she was born.

It’s not a role she wanted. Who would want such a burden to bear? Nonetheless, it was passed onto her, and she has had no other option but to carry it.

We met nearly two years ago when she started taking care of my son at church. I was somewhat aware of the water jug at the time, but I didn’t think too much about it. It’s not something you just ask about, so I put any thoughts of it to the back of my mind and instead focused on what good care she was giving my son.

Several months later, we attended the birthday party for a mutual friend and had a real conversation for perhaps the first time. She mentioned to me that she was attending a new church now, which left me feeling disappointed. Nonetheless, we exchanged numbers and promised each other we’d hang out. It took a few more months, but we finally did and discovered that we had more in common than we could have imagined.

My son got sick a few short months after that, and our family life got turned upside down. But she was there for me throughout that time. She came over once a week to keep me company when I couldn’t get out for Liam’s sake. I probably would have sunk into depression had it not been for those weekly visits. Our afternoon get-togethers helped to alleviate the loneliness during that season of life.

After many months of weekly visits, my thoughts about the water jug started to resurface, and I wanted to ask her questions about it but second-guessed myself. Would I only be bringing up a conversation that was too painful to talk about? Would I unintentionally say something offensive or ignorant and only add to the weight of her already overflowing jug? As a result, I said nothing. As it was, we had so much to talk about anyway. We deeply connected on several areas of life, so we enjoyed talking about those topics instead. Besides, she probably knew that I cared about her and her struggles. We had shared so many of our struggles with each other as it was. Surely, she knew I cared.

But then Dallas happened, and I could no longer keep silent.

As we added ingredients to a mixing bowl for the dessert we were making one afternoon, I asked her about it. How was she feeling in light of this tragedy? What were her thoughts?

In response, she gently took me by the hand and helped me to wade into the waters from where her jug had been filled. We didn’t enter far. She no doubt knew I didn’t know how to swim in this river. But we got our feet wet as she expressed her heart to me about these issues, and I listened with empathy and gratefulness that she had trusted me enough to share. This whole experience was a baby step for me, but it was a good first step that I envisioned would lead to many more.

A half a year later, news of what had happened in Brunswick, Georgia reached our doors, and I found myself acquiring my own water jug by that time. It wasn’t very weighty in comparison to that of my friend’s. Just a gallon at most. But it was one I had acquired as an emotional response to hers in knowing that all these events were only adding to her already overflowing jug.

I walked around my house that week, feeling exhausted by the weight of my own jug. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. I just wanted to make it all go away. And all I could think about, as I carried my one-gallon jug around, was how heavy her jug must be and how much of a part of her life it was. This was her life. It had always been.

I thought to make a care package for her. It was nothing ornate or incredibly special since the pandemic was in place and my ability to get to the store was limited. Nonetheless, I did the best I could and hoped it would show her how much I cared.

As I drove to her place the next morning, I called her to confirm she’d be home when I dropped the present off at her door.

She told me how sweet it was of me to give her a gift and how she should really be doing something for me since it was Mother’s Day.

The words gushed out of my mouth as I explained to her why I wanted to give her this care package. I told her about my newly acquired water jug and how I was grieving over the heaviness of her own as I carried around my lighter burden. And once again, all I could think about was how this was her life and had always been.

She cried, and so did I. And after dropping off the package on her porch that day, I drove away asking God to comfort her heart and to show me how I could love her well in the midst of so much wrong in this world. I wanted to help bring about real change, and I needed God to show me how.

I wish I could say that carrying my gallon jug alongside my friend has been a means of bearing her burden, but I don’t think it is. And even as her other friends have come alongside her and carried their own gallon water jugs in solidarity, I don’t think these acts have diminished her load. How can the weight of the water be made less, after all, when the water doesn’t cease to keep being poured into her jug?

Still, I hope she finds comfort as we walk beside her and express our concern and desire for a better future for her and others who share her same path.

I imagine a day where she and many others like her will lead the way up a grassy knoll. They will lead, and those of us with smaller-sized jugs will follow. And then, in one sweeping motion, we will all pour out our water and shatter our jugs once and for all with shouts of joy and triumph.

And as these shouts of celebration reverberate on that hill and saturate the sky, the walls will crumble to the ground. Every stone and brick of hatred, racism, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, and injustice will fall down and break to pieces, never to be built up again.

But until God brings that day to fruition, let us “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).

On This Side of the Fence

I took a picture of my son looking into a soccer field through metal bars about a week ago, and my heart aches every time I look at it. It sums up so much of what I have been feeling recently. I’m sure many of you can relate. We’re on one side of the fence, looking toward the future and hoping it will someday involve green grass and blue skies again. But we’re still on this side of the fence. We’re still in the barrenness of this season, wondering how and when we’ll get to the other side. Perhaps we even wonder if we ever will.

I have been part of an online book study with a couple of friends for several months, and it has been so timely for this season of life. Ironically, we started it before the first coronavirus outbreak in China (yes, that’s how long ago we started it). God knew full well how much we’d need to be reading this book in the months to follow, and I can see how He was graciously preparing us in advance through it. It’s a book by Priscilla Shirer called One in a Million. In it, she talks about what it looks like to traverse the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.

One of the chapters talks about how God provides oases for us in our wilderness journey to refresh us along the way. As a result of reading this chapter, I have been praying nearly every day that God will refresh me in this season of life. I’m weary, and I get discouraged, disheartened, and sometimes feel like I can no longer endure. But I see different ways in which God has been answering that prayer. I see Him bringing small moments of delight throughout my days in the simplest ways.

Still, I’m a sojourner in this wilderness experience where, despite how many glasses of water I am given, I’m left feeling parched soon after I have drunk them. I’m constantly longing for more.

Recently, I have been pondering the thought that maybe God only provides enough refreshment to sustain us on the wilderness journey because we would otherwise get too comfortable and want to settle down in a place that God has not intended for us. Perhaps we are too often tempted to accept less than what God would give us for the sake of comfort and safety.

Does this idea ring true to anyone other than me? My greatest moments of growth have come at times where I have felt the least comfortable. It has been in these moments that I have been pushed to take bold steps toward the future God has for me—steps that I would have been too afraid to take had I been comfortable enough to stay where I was.

Priscilla Shirer speaks of a similar concept in her book. God wanted to lead the Israelites into Canaan, but the perceived risk it would take to get there in conjunction with their wavering faith in God caused them to remain outside of their Promised Land. Instead, they would wander in the wilderness for a total of forty years. Apparently, life on the outskirts of the Promised Land was comfortable enough—comfortable enough to determine that entering Canaan was too risky in comparison.

When I think of how comfort can keep a person from following God’s leading, it gives me a different perspective about this wilderness journey I’m on. God has sustained me thus far. I don’t want to get to the outskirts of where God is leading me and then settle there because I’m comfortable enough where I am and the risk of entering into God’s “promised land” for me is too risky. I don’t want to have come all this way to fall short of His intended destination for me.

I love traveling and have had the opportunity to do so by car, train, bus, and plane. There is something thrilling to me about traveling somewhere, regardless of the means of travel. This was our favorite thing to do as a family before the coronavirus made its way to the United States. We enjoyed discovering new places and revisiting old ones as well.

Part of the fun of traveling for me has always been the expectation of arriving to my destination. The truth is, the actual travel part of the trip is always uncomfortable to a certain degree. This is especially true the longer the trip. I get hot, my face gets unnaturally oily, and I nearly always feel stiff by the end of the trip. And it’s only more complicated now that we have a toddler in tow. However, the destination makes the temporary discomfort worth it. It’s a price well paid to discover a beautiful city and to make memories with my family (and our extended family when our trip involves visiting them).

Something I have noticed in my years of travel is that, the longer the trip lasts, the greater my discomfort. However, the longer the trip lasts, the better the destination.

Perhaps this is how I need to view the present day. This journey feels long and has been very uncomfortable. But I want to believe it will be worth it. I want to have faith that the destination at the end of this pandemic wilderness will be even better than I could imagine.

In the meantime, I’ll take whatever form of refreshment God gives me along the way, and I’ll ask Him to give me a grateful heart for these moments of discomfort, because I see Him leading me forward through them to who and where He wants me to be, and I don’t want to settle for less than what He has intended for me. I want the Promised Land and all the beauty that comes with it.

The World is Our Oyster

I bought this at the beach years ago. Pearls are one of my favorite jewels. I love how they are formed and what we can learn through them.

Let me state the obvious; life won’t always be this way. The reign of the coronavirus will one day come to an end, and we will resume our regular activities and go back to life as usual.

Although I imagine that this transition back to everyday life will be gradual, I picture it as an epic ending to a movie. A symbolic one at that.

In it, COVID-19 will meet its demise in a final battle, and the smoke will clear and the dust and debris will begin to settle. Then, one by one, families will slowly start to come out of their homes.

As they assess the aftermath of the war, they will pick up the broken pieces that can be put back together again. Then they will tenderly sweep up the remaining fragments that are too shattered to be pieced back together. They will sweep them up not to throw them out, but rather to bury them in a sacred place where they can be mourned, honored, and remembered for what they once were.

The losses will be evident. Some of them already are. But grieving will be made fully possible when this saga comes to an end, and it will be accompanied by the hope of restoration for what has been broken but can be made new.

When the moment comes for each of us to build up what has been torn down and to bury what is forever gone, I hope we will remember that not all was lost during this time. I hope we will see what we have gained.

Can you see what you have gained so far as a result of living during this time? What is God doing in and through you in this current moment?

Recently, I read about how pearls are formed. Their initial formation begins when an oyster cannot expel an irritant, such as a parasite that has latched onto it. When this happens, the oyster secretes a fluid known as nacre with which it coats the parasite. After layer upon layer of covering the parasite in this material, the pearl is formed.1

I’ve heard it said before that the world is our oyster. If this is true—if the world is our oyster, then the coronavirus is our parasite. It has latched onto this earth tightly and will stay here for however long it will, as unwelcome as it is. But we don’t have to let it pollute our minds or get the best of us. We can, in fact, get the best out of this time through God’s working in us, because

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

This doesn’t mean we won’t have our hard days or struggles throughout the duration of this moment in history. However, the overarching theme of our lives can be one of faith because we know the goodness of our God, and we know our story’s ending involves an eternity beyond our wildest imaginations. This is where our hope lies.

In the meantime, God has given us our own “nacre” to combat the polluted thoughts of this parasite in this present time. He has given us His truth and the promises and hope we find in His Word. He has also given us fellow believers who can encourage us and be encouraged by us. And through all these things, we continue to be reminded that God is in control, and He continues to show us that there is still beauty to be seen in this world, because

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…

Psalm 24:1a

When we are anxious, afraid, or upset due to all things COVID-19, let’s choose to wrap up these thoughts in the nacre we have been given—not just once, but in layer upon layer.

We can’t change the fact that the coronavirus has come, nor can we undo any damage it has done. But if we continue to allow God to do a good work in us in the midst of the frustration, heartache, and discomfort, we might just see that we emerge out of this season with a whole lot of treasure. As of now, a shiny pearl is in the making. Let’s see the work through.

1 pearls.com

Sweeping Up Pine Cones

I was probably on Facebook when it happened. I confess I have been escaping to it far too often nowadays. I finished looking at the image on my screen, then I set my phone down and turned around to investigate the mysterious rustling noise that was following the pitter patter of my toddler’s footsteps.

I already knew he had a plastic bag by the sound of things. I headed toward the living room, fully prepared to tear it out of his hands and withstand the temper tantrum that would likely ensue. What I wasn’t accounting for was the cluster of pine cones strewn across the tile floor as I made my way towards my son. I had forgotten about the pine cones altogether up until that moment. A friend of mine had given them to me months ago when she learned I was making a wreath. Since I finished the wreath before she could give them to me, however, I stuck the bag in a desk drawer to save for another day—a Christmassy, craft-making sort of day. Unfortunately, Liam had other ideas.

I let out a slow, audible sigh as the familiar feeling of hopelessness perched on my shoulders and pressed down on me. I already felt exhausted by current news events. An added chore left me feeling overwhelmed. The one true glimmer of hope at the moment was that Liam was due for a nap, so I got him down and grabbed a broom, all the while trying to muster up some energy for the task at hand.

After picking up the pine cones, I swept up the remaining pieces. As unhappy as I was about the additional chore that day, I was grateful for the decision it caused me to make, which was this: I’m not going to feel bad for having a hard time keeping up with the housework. At least, I’m going to try not to feel bad about it anymore.

The pine cone incident was the vivid reminder I needed for what I already knew—that my cute little boy is sabotaging my housekeeping efforts. He does so by making a number of messes daily. He also does so by slowing down any progress I make towards a clean home, squirming his way in between me and the kitchen counters when I’m trying to clean them or whining to be held when I’m in the middle of vacuuming. And let’s not even mention the countless number of times he asks for another snack when I’m trying to wash the dishes or sweep the kitchen floor! It’s no wonder household chores can be so daunting!

I’ve read enough to know that I’m just supposed to say by now that I’ll embrace the mess because my kid won’t be young forever, and memories made with him are far more important.

I certainly want to make memories with him and am, but I can’t bring myself to embrace the mess. Instead, I find myself thinking of how productive I was before I had a child. Although JJ doesn’t seem to mind that our loveseat has currently become a permanent spot for the latest load of clean laundry or that the sink nearly always has dirty dishes in it, I find myself reminding him of my past glory years as well, the years when I accomplished so much! He nods, unsure of what to say, and I silently wonder what became of the woman I once was.

Recently, I have realized how unfair it has been to compare myself to the woman I once was. No one would promote a woman to a new role within her company and give her new responsibilities only to expect her to do her former full-time job along with the new one. In essence, this is the expectation I have placed on myself.  Granted, I can’t just promote myself out of the tasks of cleaning and cooking now that I’m a mom. They have followed me into this new role and are a part of it for me. Nonetheless, I can’t assume I should be able to continue at the same pace I did before having a child when the responsibilities, distractions, and obstacles are greater now than they ever were before. This is something I need to keep in mind when I feel a sense of self-disappointment rising up within me. I also need to show myself grace. Perhaps I don’t have to embrace the mess, but I can be a little more accepting of it and patient with myself as I recognize the challenges I face at this stage of motherhood.

Something else I have recognized is that I do a lot more than I give myself credit for. I’m sure this is true of most moms. At the end of the day, it’s easy to look at our list of chores (or simply the laundry-laden love seat, in my case) and to recognize what we didn’t accomplish. But we fail to remember all the tiny chores we did throughout the day—the yogurt we cleaned off the table and chairs after breakfast, the couch cushions we put back on the sofa several times after our little munchkins kept using them as a trampoline, and the water we wiped off the floor when our toddler insisted on drinking from an open cup. These are all such simple tasks, and yet the house would be a complete disaster if we chose to ignore them.

 Then, of course, there are the tasks we do throughout the day that aren’t a part of the housework but are very much a chore—a chore caused by our children. Some of the more interesting ones involve fishing forks out of the trash, or, worse yet, toys out of the toilet. Or maybe it’s picking out food from a child’s hair. Or the minute task of re-rolling the toilet paper onto its tube. We’ve probably done a lot more than we realize (or can even remember) when the day comes to an end.

As we head to bed and see all the tasks that we didn’t finish on our way, let’s remember our own moments of sweeping up pine cones. Our days are full of them. As such, let’s give ourselves grace over a messy home and accomplishing less of what’s on our to-do list, because we’re accomplishing more than we even realize.

Furthermore, let’s also recognize what all we have become in our role as mothers. We are not a shadow of the women we once were. We have become more than what we realize, and we are acquiring new skills all the time on this journey of motherhood.

What new skills have you acquired as a mom?

Although my son is only two, I can already think of a small (albeit silly) list of abilities that I have mastered. I have become proficient in the fine art of cutting grapes into quarters, for instance. Moreover, I’ve become such a good tickler that I believe Liam would rate me a ten out of ten if he knew how to count.

The interesting thing about motherhood is that, just as we master one skill, it’s time to lay it aside and figure out how to master a new one. Our roles as mothers are dynamic, always changing and requiring something new as our children change and grow. But we adapt to those changes. We become what our children need us to be.

Nonetheless, we often fail to see the wonder of our role as mothers. The mundane and monotonous moments of life tell us a different story. But they don’t have to be the voice we listen to.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial things we could do for ourselves in this season of life is to ask God what He thinks of us in our role as moms. How does He specifically view you and me? And what does He want us to know about ourselves as we continue to take care of our children?

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Although we may not be getting any gifts from our children this year and perhaps have low expectations for the day, God can make it special for us. Whatever He reveals to us, in fact, could be the very best gift Mother’s Day gift that we could ever receive.

We All Need a Hero

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

When JJ discovered that he could check out movies for free from the library last fall, the library quickly became the place to be for a quiet family evening out. We were easily there every Wednesday and had our routine down pat. JJ would head to the movie section while I would race after Liam, who would make a beeline for the children’s section where the community toys were kept. We would then meet up in the movie section a little later on so that JJ could show me what videos he had found while I nodded distractedly and tried to keep a squirming toddler from running off.

We watched some good movies during that time. Both of us like films based off of true stories, so we mostly gravitated towards that genre. Some of our favorites were McFarland, The 33, Operation Finale, Twelve Strong, and Breakthrough.

Since nothing beats free, and new movies didn’t make their way to the library all that often, we found ourselves checking out some of these films a second time a month or so later, then a third and fourth time when family came to town. Some stories never get old.

The more we watched these movies, the more I noticed the following pattern among the majority of these films:

  1. The main characters were just average people living ordinary lives.
  2.  An event or series of circumstances destined them for a greater story which involved an enormous obstacle to overcome.
  3. They chose to believe that the final outcome to their story did not have to be as bleak as their current circumstances suggested.
  4. They persevered in the midst of their trials, which inspired others to find faith and hope as well.

Ultimately, each of these stories were about men and women who emerged to become real-life heroes, not because they sought out the opportunity but rather because destiny gave them the chance to decide. And they took that opportunity; they rose under pressure.

When I was first pondering these thoughts in January, I believed it must be rare to be presented with such an opportunity. Although most of us can share about trials and obstacles we have overcome, most of our stories do not elevate us to a hero-level. We are just average people living ordinary lives.

Little did I know of the story that was about to unfold this year—one that would include a worldwide pandemic, and a quarantine and the social distancing regulations that would ensue.

COVID-19 has presented us all with a unique opportunity this year. We have been thrust into a situation where we must decide if we will emerge and be the real-life hero. We have been destined for this moment. Will we rise or fall?

In all honestly, we may do both. I know I have. I have tried to rise above these present-day circumstances and encourage people through writing, but the next moment I’m crying over a sentimental toilet paper commercial and asking my two-year old for a hug.

The truth is, we all need a hero. None of us are immune to the damage this illness is inflicting on society, nor are we impervious to getting sick or seeing a loved one get sick because of it. And we certainly are not unsusceptible to the range of emotions that the current events of the day can bring.

We all need a hero. We need a hero that will inspire us to have faith and to keep on hoping, one that will remind us that the final outcome of our story does not have to be as bleak as our current circumstances suggest. And we need one to help us overcome our enormous obstacles, because none of us can overcome them alone.

We all need a hero, and fortunately we have one if we are willing to call upon Him. He is ready to answer us even before we do.

We must not think that He is a hero like any other, however. He is limitless, all powerful, and without equal. No one can outwit Him or undermine Him, and His kingdom will never be overthrown. Nonetheless, He doesn’t necessarily choose to save everyone like a super-hero in the movies would. Not in the way we would expect Him to, at least. And we do ourselves a disservice when we try to demand that of Him or command Him to answer our prayers as we see fit.

After all, He tells us the following in His Word:

…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV

So how are we to find comfort in a hero that may or may not save us from death and everything happening in our world today?

We find it when we realize that we face a far greater obstacle than physical death, but He has made a way for us to overcome it.

The truth is, as much as COVID-19 is a concern in our time, it is merely a side plot for a much grander story in the making. God has been writing this story since before time began, and although we may see ourselves as average people living ordinary lives, He has destined us for a far greater story in which He sent His Son into the world to overcome our greatest obstacle—our separation from God through sin.

We were never meant to be the hero of this story, but we were meant to know the Hero. We were meant to find faith in the One who has overcome our greatest obstacle. And through that faith, we were meant to believe that the final outcome of our story—our COVID-19 story and otherwise—does not have to be as bleak as current circumstances may suggest, because He is the one that helps us to persevere in the midst of every trial we face, and that inspires others to find faith and hope through it all as well.

No matter what happens and what the weeks and months may bring, let’s keep this perspective. Let’s remember that Jesus has saved us for the life to come, the one that matters most. And let’s lean into Him and ask Him to help us be more like Him every day so that we can show others who He is, because just as we need a hero every day, the world does too. We all need a hero, and Jesus is the best one that anyone could ever have.

Pulling Weeds

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

I pulled weeds a little over a month ago. If Liam had not been playing in that section of the yard, I wouldn’t have noticed them; they were so small.

I pinched them between my thumb and index finger, and with a slight tug they came up, root and all. It was the easiest experience I’ve ever had pulling weeds.

The weeds from last year were nowhere near this easy. Although they weren’t very big, they proved to me by that first prickly tug that looks can be deceiving. I was not to be outdone by some nasty old weeds, however, so I grabbed some gardening gloves and a hand shovel and squared off with the ugly plants.

After several minutes of carefully digging at the bottom of each one, I pulled them out and threw them into the trash. I showed those weeds who was boss! I couldn’t quite revel in my victory, however, because it was only a partial win. The roots ran too deep to be completely uprooted. In the back of my mind, I knew these weeds would seek revenge for what I had done to them that day. For now, they would nurse themselves back to strength, all the while planning their next move (cue the sinister music).

My latest weed-pulling session got me to thinking about how easy it is for weeds to pop up in our own lives. They can be a bad habit or tendency, a small indulgence that we justify, or a daydream or thought pattern that isn’t beneficial to us or pleasing to the Lord. Or perhaps it’s a relationship. Or pride. There are too many to mention, and they vary as much as the physical weeds that sprout up in front of us. But they share one thing in common—the intention to choke out any life around them.

Their intention is to choke out life.

One of the problems with a weed is that its appearance can be deceiving, as I discovered last year. It might look small and innocent, but down below, its roots are growing deep and destroying anything in its path.

Nonetheless, since it looks so innocent and easy to handle, we can easily convince ourselves that it’s no big deal. We’ll take care of it later on, when it’s more convenient. But that moment of “convenience” almost never comes. The truth is, most times we like our weeds. There is something about them that offers us a false sense of comfort, familiarity, or pleasure. So we justify why that habit, tendency, indulgence, etc. is in our lives and why it’s not such a bad thing. And we try to quiet the voice telling us otherwise.

But let’s not deceive ourselves.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Galatians 6:7 ESV

The destructive life patterns we sow today will reap for us more than we bargain for in all the wrong ways no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Let us not be quick to ignore that, and let us not be slow to act.

If we aren’t keeping weeds around because we’re fond of them, then perhaps it’s because we feel overwhelmed by them—too overwhelmed to try to pluck them out.

This was literally the case for my husband several years ago. Before we met, JJ owned a quaint, ranch-style brick home. Everything about it was lovely except for the dirt back yard. He didn’t mind, though. He worked long hours and didn’t have time to enjoy being outdoors.

One day after monsoon season, he peered into his backyard and saw some weeds. He planned to get around to the prickly plants when he had more time, but by then, they had grown well past his head and were too much to handle.

Fortunately for him, a friend of his was strapped for cash and gladly took care of the weeds when JJ offered to pay him for it. His dirt yard was restored to its former beauty (because dirt yards start to look beautiful after they have been cleared of weeds). All was well at the ranch-style home.

I’m guessing that we all have a few weeds to pull at this point in time. They may even seem over our heads. And the monsoon that has caused them to sprout up and grow continues to rage on with no known ending in sight. But we can’t wait for the storm to stop before we pull the weeds. If we do, they will only dig their roots more deeply. We have to be willing to get a little wet and muddy in order to restore our own backyards. Fortunately, we need not do it alone. God has given us a Helper, the Spirit of truth (John 15:26), who is willing and able to help us uproot our weeds. Let’s choose to dig them up and plant good seed with Him instead.

As we continue to weather this storm for however long it endures, we can be sure that more weeds will continue to sprout up, perhaps suspiciously similar to the ones we have already pulled. It can be tedious—this task of pulling weeds. It can also feel disheartening at times when the weeds we pulled are the same ones that keep popping up again. But let us not grow weary of doing this good work. Let’s continue to rid ourselves of weeds and continue to sow seeds that will produce a good harvest. And then, when this monsoon season finally comes to an end, we might just peer into our own backyards, and instead of finding nasty weeds, we will see a colorful array of plants blooming forth in full beauty. Let’s stick with it. Let’s continue to pull weeds.

A Plea to El Pasoans Regarding the Pandemic

In August we experienced the unimaginable as a city. A 21-year old drove into town and strolled into a local Walmart, unleashing his hatred on unsuspecting shoppers through rifle rounds.

My family and I stayed home that day as the texts poured in. First it was a warning from a friend that formerly lived in El Paso. Then it was a couple of texts from some close friends in town. Finally, it was an official advisory from the city warning us of an active shooter and advising us to stay home.

My family and I were getting ready to drive to San Antonio the following day, and although I needed to pack and clean the house, I found it difficult to do either. Instead I spent most of the day close to my phone and watching the news as we waited to hear the final outcome of this story, all the while praying for the shooter’s quick capture and safety for our city.

A few hours later, we received the news that the shooter had been caught, but not before damage had been done. Twenty-two people lost their lives that morning, and twenty-four had been injured. But the wounds that were inflicted within the span of an hour extended well beyond the walls of Walmart that day. As we assessed our losses, we came together as a community and mourned. We mourned, but we also found strength within ourselves to respond to the grief of others.

That afternoon, lines of people overflowed blood donation centers, all intent on giving blood to save the lives of those injured. Soon after, different organizations set up funds, and people made donations to help the victims of the massacre. And then the shirts were produced and purchased—the ones that said El Paso Strong and that also served as a fundraiser to help meet the needs of the wounded. And soon every car dealership, fast-food restaurant, gas station, and numerous other businesses proudly displayed this motto on their billboards.

El Paso Strong.

We would not be defined by a killer’s hatred of our community. Rather, we would be known for our response to the tragedy as we joined together in unity and love. This is what El Paso is. This is who we are.

Fast-forward seven months later, and another killer has made his way into town. In the short time he has been here, he has infected 292 people, hospitalized 57 (23 of which are in ICU) and killed 2 individuals. We await the final outcome of this story, however. The killer is still active; we have yet to assess the final damage.

We have been issued the same advisory as we were in August. Please stay home. Restrictions have been set in place to save our community from a silent and subtle killer. This time, however, our response has been astoundingly different than what it was seven months ago.

We have abused the meaning of our core values, turning unity into near proximity and mistaking selfishness for love.

As different individuals continue to disregard the city’s restrictions, we naively continue to invite the killer into our homes and then allow him to follow our guests to their homes, unwittingly giving him permission to prey on our most vulnerable. Instead of starving the beast, we continue to feed him by offering him a buffet of people from whom to choose. And he’s growing. No amount of people will satiate his hunger.

If we are to slay this dragon and reclaim our city, then it will be when we truly live up to our motto and choose our core values again. We must find unity in the solidarity of our solitude. We must express true love through the sacrifice of distance. Then, just perhaps, we will look back at this time and see that distance truly did make our hearts grow fonder. And we will know that solitude was only a stepping stone to allow for the future gatherings and celebrations that we can only dream of now.

So let’s fight this predator and take back our community. We didn’t let a killer define us last year, and let’s not allow one to now. Join me as we rise above this enemy with unity, determination, perseverance, and selfless love. Then, and only then, we will once again be El Paso Strong.

It’s Okay to Be Sad

It’s okay to be sad. This should go without saying, but I don’t think it does.

It’s okay to be sad.

The year before COVID-19 crept into the United States and continued to devour the globe, my son got sick. He spent a two-night stay in the hospital but fortunately responded well to treatment and started to recover.

A trip to a specialist a few weeks later revealed that not all was well, however. The sickness did not leave him unscathed. As a result, he would have to take his daily prescription indefinitely and would have regular visits with the specialist from then on unless or until his body healed.

Around this time, my own personal research led me to discover that the medicine he was taking could cause brain or liver damage if he were to catch the flu. The happy life we once knew suddenly crumbled like sand beneath our feet as waves of fear and worry swept over us.

Our daily routine and patterns changed abruptly as we tried to figure out how to best protect our son’s health. We stopped going to church for a while (we listened online). Then we started taking turns watching our son so that the other could go to church each Sunday.

I had to drop out of a group for moms with young children because I couldn’t risk putting my son in the nursery there and exposing him to germs, and I could no longer consider being a leader for that group the following semester. I also had to withdraw from a women’s Bible study that was about to begin and told the worship leader at church that I could no longer pursue being part of the choir. My son and I missed the opportunity to see my husband’s family later that year as well and to attend his sister’s wedding reception since we knew a plane trip would inevitably expose him to too many germs.

It was a hard year, not unlike this one in some ways. We became well acquainted with sickness, isolation, and the sorrow that comes with the two. I realized a few things that made the following months a little more bearable, however. I hope they can be of help to you as we experience sickness, isolation, and sorrow together in the weeks to come.

  1. It’s okay to be sad.

In all fairness, I realized this before my son got sick. What I realized, however, was that it was okay for me to tell other people that.

A lot of times, we tend to want to fix a person’s problem by giving them advice in their moments of sadness. We may tell them they should be glad they don’t have it as bad as so-and-so or that they should just be thankful for what they have.

I dealt with this a little bit as I confided in others about how I was feeling, and it hurt. These phrases only serve to invalidate one’s feelings.

What I needed people to understand was that I was mourning loss. I was mourning the loss of my son’s health, the loss of going to church as a family, the loss of our somewhat carefree life, etc. And it was okay for me to be sad.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about something that Jesus said to His disciples on the mount. He said,

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4 ESV

It’s hard to comprehend that Jesus could offer us comfort when we caused Him to suffer and die on a cross for our sins. But He does. He offered it to me often last year and offers it to me still.

As more people enter into this experience of sorrow, sickness, and isolation this year and we join each other in mourning the losses of this pandemic, I want to remind myself to be like Jesus. I want to offer comfort to others, even if my hardships might seem bigger than theirs or I may have to offer it to people who have hurt me. Jesus didn’t compare His hardship or withhold comfort to others, so neither should I. May I learn more and more from His example.

2. Choose wisely in whom you confide.

I was very fortunate last year because most people that knew about my family’s situation were compassionate toward us. I found, however, that it was especially helpful to talk to my mom and younger sister when I was feeling down. They empathized with me and didn’t try to minimize my concerns or my losses. They wept with me and felt my pain, but they didn’t allow me wallow in it. They reminded me that God was in control and that He loved my son more than I did. And He wasn’t withholding goodness from us even though we were walking through a dark time.

In a situation like this where we face a pandemic worldwide, it might be easy to think that we can confide in anyone about how we are feeling, but we would be wrong. Some people’s burdens will feel so heavy to them in the months to follow that they will have no strength to carry anyone else’s burdens. Others won’t be able to empathize because they won’t understand why people are sad about certain things. And others just simply won’t know how to empathize because they never have.

As the weeks continue and we remain under our current restrictions, let’s pray that God would help us to know in whom we can confide (through virtual options, of course) and that He would help us to be safe people in whom to confide. And let’s confide in Him most of all. After all,

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalms 147:3

He knows how to take care of our pain and bring relief to our souls. He is a trustworthy God who delights to bring healing to His children.

3. Let God heal the underlying root to your emotions.

There is a list of possible symptoms that a person could experience with the Coronavirus that is circulating in different media outlets. Why? Because anyone with those symptoms needs to self-isolate so that they do not spread the illness to others. Perhaps the hardest part of putting an end to this pandemic is the fact that an individual can be infected without even realizing it, thus spreading the illness to others.

Although none of us like to experience symptoms of illness, they are a very important part of the human experience. They help us to realize that we have an underlying health issue and cause us to temporarily change our normal way of life so that we can get well.

Our feelings are a lot like symptoms. They show us the health of our hearts. If we are sad, frustrated, anxious, etc., those emotions show us that we hold a certain belief or mindset that is making us feel that way. Those thoughts and beliefs are the underlying issue.

What I have found in my own experience is that I can easily recognize my symptoms, but it is often hard for me to recognize the underlying issue. I either want to wallow in my emotions without thinking about their root cause or stuff them to the back of my mind rather than deal with them. A lot of times they just seem too painful to want to dwell on. The road to healing, however, is to dress the wound. A heart doesn’t heal if its source of pain is not mended.

As I cycled in and out of sorrow (and anger) last year, God helped me to recognize several underlying issues that were making me feel the way that I did.

I can’t say that I resolved the underlying issues perfectly as each one came up, but I did see God addressing my emotions and revealing these underlying issues to me each time I turned to Him. And He kept reminding me that He was in control and that He was not anxious or afraid.

Letting go and trusting God was a hard lesson for me to learn. It still is. It showed me how much I want to control things. But I believe it has been the very lesson I have needed because of all the opportunities I have missed out on in trying to control my life. God would choose abundant life for me, but much of that means letting go. He continues to work in my emotions as I continue to recognize how little control I have lately, even less than I ever realized before. And I’m glad. Perhaps a little terrified, but glad. I wanted an adventure, and I’m getting more than what I ever bargained for. We always do with God.

I believe that many of us will find that we cycle in and out of sorrow and other emotions for however long this pandemic lasts. It’s to be expected. God will continue to work in our feelings and thoughts if we continue to ask Him to. He is the greatest counselor and physician. He delights in making us whole.

Even so, it’s okay to be sad. Everything we are mourning today is ultimately due to the effects of sin in the world. Sickness and death entered the world through sin, and we mourn what sickness and death are doing in every area of the world today. As we mourn sin’s effects and seek God’s comfort, I pray we would be able to come to a place as believers where we would ask God to search us and know our hearts and see if there is any grievous way in us (Psalms 139:23-24). He is able to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us (Psalms 51:10). Let’s ask Him to. Let’s start afresh with Him today.

May God Grant You Sleep, My Child

Lyrics:
May God grant you sleep, my child
As you lie down in bed
May He remind you
He’s there right beside you
He’ll watch over you as you rest
He’s always near you
To comfort and shield you
May He grant you peace as you rest

Que Dios te guarde en paz
Al acostarte ya
Y que descanses en El tu refugio
El siempre contigo esta
El te protege y El te consuela
Descansa en toda su paz

I composed this song in December and started singing it to my son every night shortly after that. Little did I know how comforting it would be to me a few short months later. Liam is still too young to understand that we are facing a worldwide pandemic and that the widespread effects of this illness have reached every nook and cranny of society. I am thankful for that.

This song is for those parents whose children go to bed at night feeling afraid and anxious of an unknown future.

We have a Father who holds us in His hands and will never let go. Let’s rest in that tonight.

For Such a Time as This

My son painted this a few months ago. The smudges on the top, left hand corner remind me of two birds escaping a city as it collapses. Given the world we are living in now in days, it seems appropriate.

Several years ago, I visited my brother and sister-in-law in Georgia for Christmas. It was a memorable time, from the steak dinner on Christmas day to the overnight stay at their family’s cabin and visiting several coffee shops throughout the week. Perhaps what stood out most from my time there, however, was the movies we watched in the evenings in the comfort of their own home. Each night, we watched a different movie based on the time era of the Nazi regime.

After several evenings of watching these movies, I noticed an underlying theme. It was fear.

It caused a neighbor to report suspicion of Jews hiding in a neighboring office building when the neighbor, in fact, had no reason for suspicion. It caused a mother to starve to death in a concentration camp when she had bread hoarded underneath her mattress for her daughters that she feared were not getting enough to eat. It caused a coup attempt to fail that would have undermined Hitler’s advances and potentially accomplished the defeat of the Nazis. And it brought about countless amounts of suffering and death for those that could have otherwise been saved during that time.

For the remainder of my visit, I ruminated over my thoughts regarding fear as portrayed in those movies. The truth is, fear is a feeling that I am far too familiar with. It has dictated my decisions in so many ways. But as I started to recognize the far-reaching effects that fear could have, I resolved in my heart to no longer allow fear to dictate my decisions. Fear would never be a good reason for any choice.

Fast-forward a little over six years later, and here we are, experiencing a new wave of fear as a nation and around the globe. The threat in our day of age has brought illness to hundreds of thousands, but perhaps an even greater problem is the effect it is causing on otherwise healthy people—the poison of fear, which is bringing about an even greater destruction.

I have seen and read many articles and posts throughout the last few weeks about the topic. Small businesses are failing, the economy is crashing, grocery stores can’t keep up with the demand of their customers, medical staff are in danger of not having the proper safety equipment due to higher demand of supplies by the general public, etc.

In the midst of a world gone mad as the coronavirus continues its spread, how are we to respond?

For those of us who are believers, we already know the answer. Do not be afraid.

It’s a common command given throughout the Scriptures in moments when the most normal human response would have been to fear. And yet God tells us not to be afraid. Why? Because He is with us.

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9 ESV

When I was really little, I remember thinking my dad was one of the strongest and most capable people in the world. When circumstances contradicted my beliefs, it was hard for me to accept that. After all, he was my dad, and being strong and capable was an intrinsic part of being a dad in my young mind.

Though I now know that my dad has limitations and weaknesses, I believe that God would want us to have the beliefs I once had about my father when we think about who He is. He is powerful and sovereign and above all things. And His strength and capability are an intrinsic part of who He is. So when He commands us not to fear because He is with us, we need to keep reminding ourselves of who He is and to rest in the fact that He is by our side. Plain and simple.

For those of you who are struggling with fear, even in the midst of knowing who God is and that He is with you, please know that this post was not written to judge you. All I ask is that you would do this one thing—confess your fears to Jesus. And if you don’t know exactly why you are afraid, ask Him to show you. This virus may be the very thing He uses to heal you of fears you have been secretly holding onto—fears you may not have even known you had. He already knows what worries you are facing, and He would delight in helping you to feel a little freer. Take advantage of this opportunity to find further wholeness in Him.

On the flip side, for those of us who are not dealing with fear, let’s not give in to foolishness. The tendency, in our case, might be to want to “show off” how unafraid we are by overexposing ourselves to crowds and having the attitude of “I’ll do what I want.”

While we have the freedom to do that, for whose benefit would it be?

It would do us well to remember the following verse in times like these:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3 ESV

Let’s choose where we go and what we do with wisdom, knowing that we may come into contact with people that might not survive the coronavirus if they were to become infected because of us.

As we face the days and weeks ahead, I want to encourage us all to ask ourselves what the determining factor is for each decision we make. Is it fear, foolishness, or faith?

Let’s ask God for His wisdom and guidance as we seek to be people of faith. Moreover, let’s ask Him to give us the perspective He would want us to have during this time. We have an unprecedented opportunity in history to be a witness for Jesus like never before and to display the peace that He offers amidst moments like these.

He has allowed us to be alive in this moment of time for such a time as this. Let us rise to the occasion and be people that would sing His praise and bring Him glory, even in the midst of all this.