The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

April 27, 2020

Quarantining: who are you with?

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Have you read the interesting statistics coming from China post-lockdown? Many people expected a baby boom after the quarantine; instead, they have a divorce boom.

Before I read that, I’ve been thinking a lot about who people are forced to spend their time in seclusion with. The bottom line is: Do you like the person you’re isolated with?

For six weeks, the only person you can see from a distance closer than six feet is the person you live with. The only person you get to touch. The one you have to eat every meal with. The one you see constantly all day long and can’t get away from.

Do you enjoy his or her company?

This global social isolation is yet another proof of the need to choose wisely. What I mean by choose is who you live with. Specifically, I mean your spouse.

Steve and I moved to North Carolina when Steve’s company eliminated his office and he took an early retirement. I had yet to find a job. We were at home together all the time. It was a big adjustment, but we had options to create a little space. We weren’t quarantined together. We could take turns getting out and having time apart from each other.

People in lockdown don’t have that luxury.

Soon after we got married, we joined a group of newly married couples at our church. The leader asked the group what we thought was the main reason for divorce. Someone answered, “Money.” No. “Sex.” Nope. “Lack of communication.” We were getting closer with that one.

The answer may surprise you. The major reason couples divorce is a lack of friendship, according to our group leader. They just don’t like each other anymore.

Some couples can mask their lack of friendship by focusing all their energy on the children. When the family revolves around the kids, parents can avoid facing the reality that they’ve grown apart. But unless they let the kids live in the basement until they’re in their forties (and many people do), they will find themselves alone, just the two of them, at some point.

For some couples, that point has arrived.

I think of couples who were about to split up before the pandemic and have been forced to quarantine together. Or a spouse who is abused by the other and cannot get away now.

With 45% of Americans being unmarried, there are many other categories of people who may feel stuck.

What about people who are completely alone? Elderly or widowed people. Single extroverts who have been going crazy since the first day. Single introverts who enjoyed the time alone at first, free of expectations, but now that they’re in Week 6, they are starving for company.

Roommates who don’t really like each other. I’ve been there. It’s not that I disliked any of my roommates, but I had nothing in common with a few of them, no natural affinity. Being trapped at home with a roommate like that would’ve made me go nuts (but I have no doubt I would’ve driven them even crazier).

When I worked in ministry with college students, I always asked the young women to tell me about their week. One of the most common topics weighing on their minds was the tension in their relationships with their roommates.

Choose Wisely* is good advice for everything in life, especially life partners. The lockdown brings the fruit of unwise decisions we’ve made to the surface.

I’m so glad I chose well. Steve and I took a long time with our decision, and it paid off.  I like my husband and I enjoy being stuck with him!

 

*Whenever I say “choose wisely,” I feel a need to add “Grasshopper” to the end, a shoutout to the 70s TV series Kung Fu.

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April 8, 2020

Heartache and Hope

We are in the middle of the most difficult week to date. With the coronavirus, officials predict this week we will have more heartache, yet at the same time, renewed hope. The death rate will climb but the curve will begin to be flattened. Heartache will slowly begin its turn toward hope on our collective roller coaster ride of emotions.

But this isn’t the first time this particular week has been the most difficult. Two thousand years ago, this week–now called Holy Week–was the hardest one in Jesus’ short life. The adoration of the crowds on Palm Sunday quickly shifted. Within the span of a few days, the chief priests plotted to arrest Him and kill Him, and Judas made a secret deal to betray Him.

By the end of the week, He was tortured and killed. Jesus was forced to carry His cross down the Via Dolorosa (Way of Pain and Suffering) to Calvary. The hope that brought joy to His followers turned to heartache and despair. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions.

But the story didn’t end there. It doesn’t end there for us, either. The heartache becomes Hope again, Hope with a capital “H.” The worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world gave way to the best thing that ever happened.

On Sunday morning, the tomb was found empty. Jesus had risen! He broke the bonds of sin and death. Ashes were exchanged for beauty; mourning for joy. He died, but now He lives. Because He lives, we can have renewed purpose and meaning in our lives. And because He lives, we can live with him forever.

“We live and die; Christ died and lived!”

~ John Stott

“There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. There was no greater suffering nor any greater innocence than the suffering and innocence of Christ. Yet God was in it all. . . Is not then the passion of Jesus Christ meant by God to show the world that there is no sin and no evil too great that God, in Christ, cannot bring from it everlasting righteousness and joy? The very suffering that we caused became the hope of our salvation.”

~ John Piper, from The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die. This is the 50th reason he lists. Christ suffered and died . . . to show that the worst evil is meant by God for good.

Happy Easter, friends! May your worship at a distance be meaningful and turn your heart to hope. Truly, He rose!

One final thought: Moses also worshipped at a distance. In Exodus 24:1, the Lord told him, “Come up to the LORD—you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders—and you are to worship at a distance.”

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April 2, 2020

Giving Up

It feels like ages ago when Lent began on February 26. In the five weeks since then, the world has changed. Our daily lives have altered.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I decided what to give up for Lent. I chose dessert. Every year, I question my motives with what I choose. Am I doing this for myself and my health, or to substitute the vast amount of time I spend eating bon-bons with listening to God, or maybe a little of both?

Going dessert-less is laughable if I think it compares in any way with what Jesus suffered.

What I Gave Up

This year, I actually gave up more than dessert, and it hasn’t felt trite at all. You’ve given up the same thing. Whether we wanted to or not, we all gave up time with people. We keep our six feet of social distance from everyone except those we live with. If you live alone, you have given up physical contact with everyone.

Our new normal feels a little like life did in Eastern Europe when I moved there. The streets are quiet. The few who venture out run the risk of being cited by the police with a misdemeanor or criticized by suspicious neighbors. Grocery store shelves are empty. Supplies are scarce and people are short on money to pay for them. Churches are closed. Gatherings are limited to a small amount of people. People are fearful.

I gave up face-to-face time with people because I had to. A global pandemic forced me to give up. I didn’t choose this; nobody did.

What Jesus Gave Up

Jesus willingly gave up. He gave up for us. It was his purpose all along, the reason he came to earth as a baby.

The biggest sacrifice for Jesus wasn’t the pain he endured–although that was horrendous–or the humiliation or the betrayal. It was being separated from his Father, for the first time ever.

Philip Yancey expresses this well in The Jesus I Never Knew:

No theologian can adequately explain the nature of what took place within the Trinity on that day at Calvary. All we have is a cry of pain from a child who felt forsaken. Did it help that Jesus had anticipated that his mission on earth would include such a death? Did it help Isaac to know his father Abraham was just following orders when he tied him to the altar? What if no angel had appeared and Abraham had plunged a knife into the heart of his son, his only son whom he loved? What then? That is what happened on Calvary, and to the Son it felt like abandonment.

As the final days of Lent pass by, I want to reflect on what Jesus gave up for me. I want to use these days to prepare my heart for Easter.

This Easter will feel strange. We won’t gather in person on Sunday morning to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today!, sharing in the joy of the empty tomb that first Easter morning. I will miss that. Probably you will, too. Even though we’ll be worshipping in our homes, alone, He is still risen.

I pray this Easter will be especially meaningful for you.

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March 12, 2020

Do Not Fear

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

People across the globe have a lot to be anxious about these days. Worrying quickly turns into fear, which becomes panic and leads to hysteria. Besides the obvious pandemic coronavirus, we have the worldwide economy to be concerned about. Cancer, illness, money problems, job problems, relationship problems . . . the list is endless.

Yet, none of this has taken God by surprise. He wasn’t distracted. He didn’t step away from his throne to take a personal day off, and then come back to find out that somehow this virus crept in. He is still sovereign. He is still good.

The Bible tells us “Do not fear” 365 times. Every day of the year, there is a fresh reminder, new every morning, to not be afraid.

It’s hard to relinquish fear. But there’s good news. We’re not just admonished to stop worrying; we’re given something to replace it. When we surrender our fears to the Lord and affirm our trust in him, he gives us something wonderful to fill every crevice of the place where fear used to live.

We get his peace. Peace that surpasses anything we can try to understand on our own. His peace is different from the fleeting kind that the world gives. Actually, it doesn’t feel like the world gives any kind of peace at all; just more turmoil.

God’s peace is supernatural. We can’t manufacture it on our own. It is a fruit of the Spirit, given to us when we yield control of our lives to him.

I remember being the most frightened that I’ve ever been one New Year’s Eve when I lived in Budapest, Hungary. I came home to find that my flat had been burglarized by the Russian Mafia. They’d been stalking me. After the police left–about 4:00 in the morning, I tried to sleep but I was too afraid. The robbers had cut the doorknob out of my door; my only protection–or so I felt–was to slide my hutch in front of the door.

I scrunched under my down comforter and repeated God’s word that I had hidden in my heart as a prayer. I recited Isaiah 41:10Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

And Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I realized my protection didn’t come from having an elaborate security system or a strong guard. My safety was and is found in God alone.

When you start to feel anxious, put his word in your mind. (And continue to wash your hands and be sensible.) Following are just a few of the 365 adages to not fear:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. ~ John 14:27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

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February 24, 2020

Settled or Open-Ended?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I like to plan. I live by my to-do lists and my organized calendars. I rarely clean my house, but I must have things in their rightful places. I like having decisions made, tasks completed, plans settled.

Everything in my life right now is unsettled and disordered. This does not make me very happy. If I write anything in my calendar, it has to be in pencil because it’s all open and up for grabs.

Years ago, I used to be the Queen of personality tests. You name, I took it. I’ve been labeled a Starring Individualist-High D-Sanguine-Designer-People Gatherer-Fieldmarshal. My favorite test was the Myers-Briggs, but I realize that dates me. I haven’t kept up (I don’t know anything about enneagram) since I stopped being part of a team.

One of the Myers-Briggs categories reveals how you prefer to live your outer life–how you orient yourself to life. I always tested near the middle of this category, with its “J” for judging (a terrible word choice) and “P” for perceiving. This category highlights the biggest cause of stress on overseas mission teams, which are made up of people who already have the stress of navigating life in another culture.

When the majority of my team overseas couldn’t decide which train to take or arrive at the station on time, I became the J who took charge to get them there before the train took off. If my team were mostly task-oriented, deadline-driven people, I was the fun-loving one who would help them loosen up and enjoy life. People on those teams would not recognize me as I am today.

These days, I am a total J because my life feels chaotic, causing my need for order to spin out of control. It’s harder than I imagined to juggle two books at once. My mind and my office space are littered with haphazard info that I must shape into some semblance of structure for the non-fiction prison book I’m currently writing, while spending much of my energy calming down my highly emotional ex-con who has to rehearse painful events so I can write about them.

I find I can’t make plans—for anything. When the first round of edits come back for the historical fiction novel that’s being published, I have to drop everything and complete my part in just a couple weeks. What if it comes when our houseguests are here (who sleep in my office, by the way)? Until the novel’s release date on November 20, I will have many such urgent publication deadlines.

But that’s not all. Being the caregiver for two parents in their late eighties means frequent and often unplanned trips to medical facilities—which is how I spent most of today. It also means that if I schedule anything  that involves me leaving town–even for a day, a shadow of uncertainty looms overhead. Will I be able to get away or should I stay put? What does a good daughter do?

Buried here in the middle of all this emoting is some really, really good news. I’ve just signed a contract with an agent for the non-fiction book that I’m currently writing (yay!), and he’s shopping for publishers right now. When he lands one, I’ll have two sets of publication deadlines.

Naturally, I am over-the-moon ecstatic over all this. I just hope I’m still (?) sane when the books come out.

 

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