Jackson Five Friday: Artificial Christmas Trees and Other Lies

Hey Friends,

I miss my Sunday School kids. Pre-pandemic some of my most fun conversations happened with second graders on Sunday mornings. It’s really such a great age. They are so smart and enthusiastic. Yesterday I saw one of my favorites from a couple years ago at Costco. She was with her mother and siblings, and they were purchasing a beautiful artificial Christmas tree. However, the tree’s 1800 lights were not enough to sell this little girl on the idea. She thought they should stick with a real tree.

I tried to help by saying, “But look at all those lights!” Her face, or rather her eyes (we were all wearing masks), were expressionless. She was not budging. She wanted a real tree.

And I get it, don’t you? Sometimes we are just NOT in the mood for lies. In fact, I feel like I’ve hit a wall this week, not with artificial decorations but with artificial narratives. My spirit feels like the steely gaze of that determined little girl. I’m done. I’m just not having it.

Fortunately, a friend recommended the Rod Dreher book, Live Not By Lies. The title is taken from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who said he would not participate in the lies of the Soviets: “Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.” That’s where I’m at. I’m not living by lies. Lies aren’t getting any help from me.

But clearly we are living in the midst of a pandemic of lies and platitudes. Perhaps the one that irks me the most is “We are all in this together.” What does that mean? Because I assure you the coronavirus isn’t getting the message. It doesn’t treat people like they are “all in it together.” Exactly the opposite actually. Many are asymptomatic, many others have mild cases, but for some the virus is a horrific and potentially deadly disease. Thankfully, after eight months we know a lot about who’s who. Why would anyone familiar with how the virus works make the absurd claim that we are all in this together? We’re so not. The under forty demographic (without co-morbidities) should be proceeding with life. The old and vulnerable people should be told to either stay home or know that the mask is of negligible protective value. Furthermore, millions upon millions of Americans have recovered from the virus. Doctors now think the immunity lasts for years, maybe decades. These people should be wearing masks and social distancing? How do you figure?

Think of the other ways we are not in this together. My husband works in healthcare. Working from home is not an option, and if the numbers get bad enough, and they might, he’s ready to jump back into doing bedside medicine in the ICU. Nurses are wearing horrifically itchy N95s and other uncomfortable PPE twelve-plus hours a day. Other people are literally home all the time. It’s more than a little tone-deaf for the Netflix binger to say, “We’re all in this together.”

And the disparate impact of economic policies might be worst of all. Unless someone is willing to live off the grid and rely on no one else for anything, I find it completely immoral to lockdown. Yet many are all for locking down on the backs of the poor, while maintaining “We’re all in this together.” Well, that’s a lie I’m not living by.

Of course “we are all in this together” is just one lie. I’m sure you probably have different ones that spring to mind. Do you think it is important to refute the lies? Or do you think it is okay to just let the lies be? Truly, I think we need to be discerning. I don’t want to be a constantly disagreeable person. On the other hand, I am increasingly convicted that we should not “live by lies.” I pray that God will guide me. That I’ll know when to be as quiet and peaceable as a dove, and when to be as shrewd as a serpent.

Speaking of serpents, the crafty one in the Garden of Eden asked Eve, “Did God really say?” The older I get, the more I see the influence of that question all around us. Being diligent about seeking truth means constantly coming back to God’s Word, constantly acknowledging that the Prince of this world is the father of lies.

My sweet little friend may learn to love her new Christmas tree. I hope she does. But some fictions should never be embraced. May we never stop asking God for eyes to see the difference.

Ponder these words of Jesus, and may none of us live by lies: “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:43-44

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: All Your Things

Hey Friends,

I snapped the picture above yesterday morning. It was the view out my front door. I will never tire of seeing the sun rise over fluffy low lying clouds. It’s absolutely beautiful and such a great way to start the day! Later I wrote the bulk of this blog, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to post it. I guess maybe because I didn’t love what I wrote. I feel discouraged about how things are going in the world, and yet I have a deep longing to be a super spreader of joy.

Do you remember the character Harriet Oelson from Little House on the Prairie? What words come to mind to describe her? How about Nazi informants? What words do you think describe the type of person who would rat out friends and neighbors to the Gestapo? One word that did not come to mind is happy. In fact, people who are obsessed with what others do or don’t do are never happy. Stop for a minute and think about the busybodies you’ve known in life. Think about the busybodies who have come out of the woodwork in 2020. It’s a foolproof recipe for misery. Why do people willingly engage in behavior that invariably leads to unhappiness?

On the flip side, other-centeredness, when it is not aimed to control, is a path to joy. I just read a sweet letter from one of my Compassion kids in Ethiopia. She asked how it’s going with coronavirus, and how we are doing. She ended her letter with a statement that may not have been ideally translated. Referring to God she said, “Leave all your things on him.” I’m essentially the worst sponsor on the planet. My communications are sporadic, and although we’ve been giving for many years, I have never consistently prayed for my three Compassion kids like I should. I bet I’ve never written her anything so sweet and profound as “Leave all your things on him.”

Do you live by this sage advice? Do you worry about what others think or do? Or do you aim to leave all your things on him? I desperately want my life to be more like the latter, don’t you?

I imagine my sweet Ethiopian friend was referring in part to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7, but today I read Psalm 49. One takeaway of the Psalm is that “death is inevitable and that, when it comes, we must leave everything behind.” (James Montgomery Boice). So in another sense, we “leave all our things on him” because when we leave this world we can’t take anything with us. Either interpretation works for me.

May I cast all my anxieties on Jesus, and consistently remind myself that only people and God’s Word will last.

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. I think what is really dragging me down is how freedom feels less and less valued in our culture. The Bible says it is for freedom that we’ve been set free. But the yokes of government are largely embraced by the masses. What happened? C.S. Lewis said:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

May we ponder these words in the days ahead and recognize the “moral busybodies” in our midst.

Jackson Five Friday: Getting What We Deserve

Hey Friends,

Last Friday my husband, Will, took the day off to study for the board exam, which he took this week. We drove Sam to school together and then went to my favorite coffee shop. Will studied, and I blogged. Then we hung out at home till 4pm when our oldest son had his first collegiate swim meet, which we live-streamed from the couch. Then at 8pm the four of us live-streamed a Jim Breuer show (I think he is the best comedian of our time). It was a lot of happiness crammed into a single day!

But the minute I’ve replayed the most in my mind happened on the way to school. Will loves all kinds of music, but perhaps the most surprising genre, among his diverse tastes, is old church music. He listens to contemporary Christian too, but one of the pre-programed stations in his car is old-timey Christian. That’s what he was playing that morning on the way to school. The DJ, if that’s what you’d call him, sounded about eighty, and he was talking about how sometimes people think they deserve certain rewards in life. And then he slowly and emphatically said, and I quote:

“What you deserve, is hell.”

All three of us cracked up. It just seemed so funny and direct from what sounded like a gentle old man. We were enjoying a beautiful, sunny morning to kick off our weekend, and yet this guy was saying what we deserve is hell.

I turned around and looked at my darling son, “Well, Happy Friday, Sam!”

But have you stopped to think about it? It is 100% true. Donald Trump deserves hell. Joe Biden deserves hell. I deserve hell, and so, my friend, do you. Instead of living in denial we should recognize it as a vital and re-orienting truth. Our culture talks about living “your truth” or being “true to who you are.” But the fact is we are all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all miss the mark of the plan God has laid out for us. We can’t earn righteousness. Even our most selfless and loving deeds are like filthy rags.

Yet the comparison game plays on, as if it’s all relative. A few years back I wrote a blog post about American Pharisees (I loved that title and now, sadly, someone has used it as a book title). But the phenomenon of pridefully looking down on another group has certainly been around for millennia. And even if we don’t verbalize it, our better-than attitudes shine through. This year we even have brand new demarcations for superiority. Maskers shame the maskless. The maskless disdain the maskers. The stay-at-homers condemn the restaurant diners. Protestors for cause x malign protestors for cause y. “Unfriending” is increasingly socially acceptable and rarely called out as pharisaical nonsense. People even post on social media their acceptable criteria for friendship. I find it semi-amusing and semi-disturbing. Finding one’s identity and worth in a group that condemns another group is commonplace. On the flip side, acknowledging that “what you deserve is hell” is an antidote to self-righteousness. If deep down you know you truly deserve hell, who are you going to judge?

Did you ever hear Jesus say, “I came for the whole world, just not those people. Those people are too far gone.” Of course not! Yet, our culture boldly draws lines in the sand. “We’re on this side,” they say, “and therefore better than those horrible people.” The truth is only Jesus is entitled to draw in the sand. Can you picture him quietly doodling with his finger? He doesn’t throw any stones, but gently says, “Go and sin no more.” He never says, “Unfortunately, you are on my irredeemable list.” There’s no such list. Praise the Name above all names, there is no such list! The Man who knew no sin doesn’t have a list. Meanwhile, we deserve hell and yet have all manner of lists. This should not be!

If you go to a liturgical church, you likely have a weekly time of confession. Do you ever stop to examine your heart in terms of pharisaical leanings? Who in this life does your spirit say, “Thank you God I am not like him” or “at least my sin is not as bad as her’s.” May we confess and repent of every such inclination.

Next week I get to resume volunteering at a local hospital. This staying at home business is harmful in so many ways — the lack of opportunities to serve others not least among them. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s a heck of a lot easier to judge people when it’s electronic or theoretical. When you interact face-to-face, the goodness of others — the Imago Dei — comes through. So, don’t wait for inherent goodness to manifest itself via the internet, go love someone in the flesh.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:35

And be joyful too because we may deserve hell, but we aren’t condemned to it: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Surely, you would’t reject the saving grace of Jesus to stubbornly live “your truth,” would you?

May your weekend be full of joy, love, peace, patience, and kindness.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: The End of the World

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. I mostly have. Sometimes I give into the temptation to scroll through social media, and that’s always a buzz killer, but when I resist it, I tend to stay pretty optimistic. By God’s abundant grace, my default mode is glass half-full.

Last Friday I had lunch with a friend who I tend to see eye-to-eye with. In fact, I even see eye-to eye-with her physically — she’s only a half inch shorter than I am. But we agree on lots of things. We were talking about a book we’d both read and she said, “The one thing I didn’t like was x.” And honestly it’s kind of an odd and insignificant tidbit about that book, but I found it to be a stumbling block as well. Those “me too” moments are especially bonding when you have both lived somewhat transient lives. She’s only been in Chattanooga a few years as well.

Anyway, as we wrapped up lunch and walked to our cars I said something that I’ve replayed over and over again in my mind. We’d ended our lunch talking about the many unknowns in the upcoming election, and as I told her how lovely it was to be with her, I said, cheerfully, “Well, even if it’s the end of the world, that’s not the end of the world.” I don’t even know where that came from but I think it’s both funny and profound. Truly, if the world as we know it ends this coming week or in the weeks ahead, as a follower of Christ, that’s NOT the end of the world.

As Paul wrote the Ephesians:

…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19

No matter who controls the White House or the Senate, God is still Sovereign. He is on His Throne today and He will be on it on Tuesday and on January 20th and forever. I hope you see the issues the way I do. I even hope you vote the way I do. But I am called to love you regardless. I am called to treat you with love and respect, no matter what. I am called to speak honestly, but always with gentleness and respect. As a follower of Christ, the world ending is not the end of the world for me. Nothing whatsoever can separate me from His love that is higher and deeper and wider and longer than I can fully grasp.

I may meet my Savior face-to-face before the world entirely unravels, and that’ll be just fine, but if I witness the collapse of society, my prayer is that I will persevere in proclaiming His Name and giving thanks in all circumstances.

Can you too, no matter what happens, give thanks and proclaim the name of Jesus? Whatever circumstance we find ourselves in next week, we need to remember God’s faithfulness, acknowledge His sovereignty, believe He has a plan, and count our blessings.

I hope you have a fabulous weekend!

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. Hopefully the photo above I just snapped at my favorite coffee shop will not mark my last visit here.

Jackson Five Friday: Sensitivity Training

Hey Friends,

It is a beautiful fall day here in Tennessee. I love how you can see the season fall down the mountain. The tip is discernibly deeper into autumn than the base. It’s lovely.

You know what’s not lovely? The small-mindedness of sensitivity training. Let me explain. Am I all for people being cognizant of other people’s feelings? Am I in favor of kindness and respect for others? Of course. In fact, I came across an excellent summation of my views just this week. Marilyn Robinson said, “I concluded long ago that reverence for ourselves and reverence for God are mutually dependent, inextricable.” The Christian worldview requires that each person be treated with dignity and respect because each person is made in the image of God. The more you revere God, the more you treat each person with reverence. Starting with the view that we are mere animals, evolved from a glob of cells, will never logically lead you to revere any person, much less every person. How could it?

And yet the lack of worldview is only part of what makes sensitivity training small-minded. There are two other aspects that are vital yet missing. First, before we do any airing of grievances, we need to have some idea of why. What’s the end goal? If there’s not a specific goal in mind, the airing of grievances will likely be about as therapeutic as the Festivus ritual — meaning, not at all. Secondly, effective “training” would involve two but related prongs of biblical wisdom: (a) it is to your glory to overlook an offense; and (b) forgiveness isn’t optional.

Maybe take a minute to think about where in your life people air their grievances. Think specifically about the motivations of people who post such things on social media, who rant on cable news, who bombard institutions, or who complain profusely over lunch or coffee. Is there an understanding when those hurts are shared that every single person involved is made in the image of God? That every single person in that narrative is worthy of dignity and respect? Is there an aim for healing? To move beyond the offense, or even by the grace of God, to overlook it? Is there an explicit aim to forgive, as is required of all Christians?

If those considerations are entirely absent, and sadly, we all know they often are, then I’m not sure it’s a useful exercise. Brennan Manning said, “Only reckless confidence in a Source greater than ourselves can empower us to forgive the wounds inflicted by others.” Do you have reckless confidence in the Lover of your soul, that He will empower you to forgive the wounds others have inflicted upon you? I hope so.

Should we be careful about how we treat others? Yes! Each person is of infinite worth, made in the image of our Creator. Should we be careful about the words we use? Absolutely! These verses from James are always sobering:

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 

James 3:5b-10

Be kind. Love everyone. Guard your tongue. But let’s also acknowledge that we all benefit from learning to overlook offenses, instead of looking for them. And we are freed by the act of forgiving, even when the wrongdoer fails to repent.

I found this little paragraph from Scott Sauls thought-provoking on so many levels:

The pious Pharisee’s bravado and righteous indignation is merely a mask for self-justification. Forming a mob around a common enemy — around the “sinners” — was groupthink of insecure and small-minded men. They were looking for a way to medicate their fragile egos at the expense of a scapegoat — a scapegoat who was no more shame-worthy than they.

befriend: create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation and fear

Where do you see mobs forming around common enemies today? Do you see the role of fragile egos and groupthink? Do you see a tendency to scapegoat others who are no more shame-worthy? I do, and I pray for these situations that while nothing new under the sun, seem so very pervasive. I pray for self-awareness, for a rejection of scapegoating. I pray that we’d all repent of our pharisaical ways. I pray that we will understand it is to our glory to overlook offenses, and that forgiveness is for our own good and always required.

Have a fabulous weekend letting the love of Christ rule in your hearts and not letting any bitter root take hold.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Whatever Happened to YOLO?

Hey Friends,

I am forty-eight and although the world has changed a lot since 1972, change in recent days is supersonic. I am not someone who is resistant to change. In fact, I enjoy mixing it up. I’ve lived in my current house almost five years, which is noteworthy because I haven’t lived for five years in one place since I was seven years old. I am game for new adventures and making new friends. But I think we should resist the brisk winds of change that swirl in our culture today.

Don’t you wonder whatever happened to YOLO? How was the truth that indeed we only live once so swiftly abandoned? The cowering in homes because of a virus is mind-boggling to me. If we could stomp out viruses I’m sure we would’ve done so with the common cold, or AIDS, or the many coronaviruses that have come before. I’ll concede that you can have some success with delaying getting it, but at what cost? I appreciate the many old people who choose to continue living instead: “well, they died doing what they loved: LIVING.”

I realize that opinions are all over the map on this. I think it’s interesting to talk to people who say things like, “Well, my parents are not concerned, but his parents are ultra-cautious.” In the last few months I’ve had numerous conversations about how friends are navigating the divergence of opinions amongst their own families. But just like YOLO is a thing of the past, so is “You do you.” Instead, people are suddenly entitled to berate you about how to do you. The golden rule itself has been co-opted. It used to be you needed to consider how you would want to be treated, and then act like that. But now, it seems the winds of destructive change have re-defined it. Now, it’s you get to decide — not how you would treat someone like you — but how I should treat you. And worst of all, love has dropped out of the equation entirely. But I’m not kowtowing to this absurdity. You aren’t telling me how to live. And whether you live, cower, or bury your head in the sand is totally up to you. I’ll pray for you. I’ll even share my opinion if you happen to want it. But I will not tell you how to live your life. I’ll also, by God’s grace, continue to love you and respect you because you are an image-bearer of God. The culture demands we weigh in and affirm or condemn x, y and z. But that’s not motivated by love either. It’s motivated by the push to conform. And I’m not kowtowing to that absurdity either.

The scary thing is not just the rapidity of the fundamental change, but the lack of any pushback. Meanwhile, two friends from college have died this year. Both of them appeared to be vibrant and healthy but dropped dead — one of a heart attack and one of an aneurysm. That could be me. That could be you. We are never promised another breath, and if you haven’t experienced devastating loss, maybe spend some quality time with someone who has. Maybe they can re-light your YOLO spark.

I have a chalkboard over my kitchen table. When I bought it I envisioned myself often writing new memory verses on it. The lettering would be beautiful and the truth always new and profound. I think I’ve had the same verse in my own wretched handwriting up there for three years now. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy and terrible at follow-through, but it might because we all still need this verse, desperately.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

So, my friends, I pray you are watchful and discerning. I pray you will stand firm and strong. And I pray we will all be motivated by love, all of the time.

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. I do not know the swimmer in the picture above, but she was quite advanced in age and it was 7pm in October. She was alone on an unguarded beach. I’m not sure I would take YOLO quite that far, but I let her do her.

Jackson Five Friday: The Check Engine Light

Hey Friends,

I recently had occasion to drive a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta 700 miles. I won’t bore you with the details of why, but trust me when I tell you that I have something sort of like the Midas touch. The difference is instead of stuff turning to gold, stuff just gets incredibly complicated. So suffice it to say this little trip was no different. Prep for the trip included two visits to the body shop and two trips to my favorite mechanic. Nonetheless, I headed out on a Sunday afternoon and the check engine light still came on less than 200 miles in.

I turned the radio off. I tried to listen intently. But this Jetta doesn’t exactly purr at baseline. Of course I hardly know what baseline would even sound like. Was that high-pitched effort normal at 70 mph? Who knew? It felt a little like The Little Engine That Could, but she made it. The next day the light disappeared. I searched the internet about possible explanations. Pro tip: in some cars, the check engine light can be an indication that the gas cap isn’t properly sealed. I guess maybe that’s all it was.

But here’s the thing: I knew that. I’ve actually experienced that some time in the past, but it’s been a while so it just didn’t occur to me. If I had remembered, I could’ve adjusted the cap, and not tried to evaluate engine noises for a solid 500 miles. I could’ve relaxed, and not been concerned that the little engine might not make it.

And that’s exactly how we are in life too. We know certain things, but we are so forgetful that we sacrifice the peace that God intends for us. The Bible constantly tells us to remember, to forget not, to meditate on the truth, to hide God’s Word in our hearts. And yet, we tune out the music of life and focus instead on what could be. We rob ourselves of joy by worrying about the what-ifs. We forget that God has a good, pleasing and perfect plan. We forget that He determines our steps. We lose sight of freedom. We fool ourselves into believing that we can add even a single hour to our lives, that we can and should figure it all out.

What are you prone to forget that costs you the joy and peace for which you were designed? How can you remind yourself of the applicable truths that lead you you back to surrender, peace and freedom?

Bless the Lord, O my should, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103: 2-5

Of course, there is also a time to forget. For example, what should you do when you hear crushing news about someone you revere and admire? You should certainly avoid replaying it over and over in your mind, and you should ask the Lord to help you think on other things. But people will always disappoint us.

In a sense, it is kind of interesting that the fall from grace of someone you esteem is as discouraging as it is. After all, it happens over and over and over again. But we don’t get used to it. We don’t get any better at just brushing it off. C.S. Lewis wrote about how our longings that go unfulfilled must point to something. And maybe this is an example. We long to have people not disappoint us. Have you ever considered that this points to Jesus? Because He will never ever give us that sinking feeling. He will never leave us disheartened, disillusioned or dissatisfied. He is incapable of deceiving, or overstating His love and care for us. He is the personification of Truth and Love. The next time someone’s humanity leaves you disillusioned, let it be a reminder to look on Jesus as the only source of perfect, unfailing love.

Lord Jesus help us to look to you as the source of truth, as the door to freedom, as the author and perfecter of our faith. Help us to remember what we need to remember and to forget what we should forget. Help us to not miss the freedom and peace you have for us in this fallen world, and help us to look with eager anticipation of living forever with You.

May we remember and forget in the godliest ways imaginable this weekend and always!

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. It has not escaped me that a large number of my stories revolve around cars and trips. Perhaps I should write a little book called Lessons Learned from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Jackson Five Friday: A Revival of Gratitude

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. Last year in Tennessee we had record breaking heat around this time, and now temps are about where they should be. It’s chilly in the morning, warm in the afternoon and fire-pit worthy at night. In short, perfection.

As Anne of Green Gables said, “I’m so glad I live in world where there are Octobers.” That quote starts playing in my mind pretty much as soon as fall is in the air. And I’m not going to let the state of our world impact that sentiment one bit. In fact, I am more and more convicted that what we need is a revival of gratitude. How often do your recent conversations center on how thankful you are? I bet you are like me, not enough. And we know that whether you are full of gratitude or full of misery, both attitudes are highly contagious. Why don’t we commit to be super spreaders of gratitude?

My mom came from a very large family. Her dad had six siblings and his mother, Ida Mae, was widowed at the age of 36. This amazing woman refused government assistance during the Great Depression and by God’s grace alone raised amazing, God-fearing, hardworking children. Ida was a three-pound preemie born in 1894, who they incubated on the wood stove. She was hardy to the core, and lived to the ripe old age of 99. If she’d lived just two more years, she could’ve been at my wedding! Which is kind of mind-blowing.

Anyway the descendants of Ida are a special, special bunch. My mom’s cousin Gayle is one among a handful that I keep in contact with. She lives in Michigan and most summers (like 15 out of the last 17) I get to see her when we vacation there.

Gayle called me on the morning of August 11th. I missed the call so she left a message. She told me how much she missed seeing me this summer, how much she loves me, how often she prays for me. I called her back. We chatted about a whole host of things. How her family was doing, how she was doing since losing her husband two years ago. And then I told her that that very afternoon we were driving to Knoxville to drop my son off at college. Inexplicably I started sobbing on the phone. If you know me, you probably know this is an exceedingly unlikely event.

My own mother’s funeral was three years ago today. Can you even fathom what a gift it was that Gayle (a mother-like figure to all who are blessed to know her) called me and comforted me on August 11th, of all days. That was my Savior whispering via Gayle, “I love you.”

Sometimes I’m reluctant to share something like this because I feel like my own spirit could respond to such a story with skepticism. But on the other hand, for me, a handwritten note on the table from God Himself would have been only marginally more impressive. I never talk to Gayle. I’m certain God prompted her to call me. How can I not be eternally grateful for such tender comfort?

I’d love to hear something you are grateful for too. Maybe it’s this lovely time of year — the smell of a cider mill, even. Maybe it’s some special way that God demonstrated his tender affection for you. Truly I’d love to hear. May we all be super spreaders of joy and gratitude this weekend and always.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. I took the photo above this afternoon. This park is right up the street from me but has been closed during the pandemic. It opened again this week, and it is possibly even more majestic than I remember it being. Rejoicing that I can walk here once again!

Jackson Five Friday: Who Do You Love?

Hey Friends,

If you are a parent, you are going to make mistakes. Certainties in life are death, taxes, and getting things terribly wrong as a parent. But I do take solace in the victories. I’m not getting it all wrong, after all. There is at least one thing I am confident we’ve gotten right.

When my son Nate was two and a half he had his adenoids removed. We decided to have this minor, outpatient surgery because Nate would get a mild cold and then could not get rid of it without antibiotics.

But the morning of the surgery was oddly frightening. He was in a season of daily pretending that he was Robin Hood from the 1973 Disney classic movie. To be like Robin Hood he needed to have a bow at all times. A stick and string could serve as his bow, or just a stick. In a pinch, anything could be a bow, even — as proven on the morning of the surgery — a tongue depressor.

I can picture that darling, precocious boy sitting in my lap with his tongue depressor bow, not at all aware of what was coming. They put him in a little gown and began to give him sleep inducing drugs. The scary part was that for no apparent reason he just kept telling me how much he loved me.

“I love you so much!” He kept saying over and over again. Then, as the drugs started to take effect, the words just got slower, “I…. love…. you….. sooooo…… much.” My heart pounded as they rolled him back, terrified that this was goodbye.

Finally, the surgeon came to the waiting room to tell us everything had gone well. A few minutes later we got to see Nate in post-op. They had just taken the tube out of his throat and he was clearly in pain.

When he saw me, he started yelling “Kiss it! Kiss it!” He opened his mouth as wide as he could, and used his chubby little finger to point to his throat. That sweet baby believed my kisses could fix anything!

The experience cured him of the notion that kisses could heal, but thankfully it did not impact how much he tells me he loves me. And that’s my one foolproof parenting tip: Make sure your home is one where people tell each other “I love you.”

We are called to love another, and although we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, we certainly cannot love our neighbors if we don’t even love the people we live with.

Here’s a thought-provoking quote in a book I read a long time ago but was just flipping through this morning:

Jesus never once told us to love humanity. If preachers tell you that he did, they are serving up their own recipe instead of Jesus’. The only Jesus we know, the Jesus of the Gospels, told us to love as he did; that is, to touch and to serve the specific individuals we meet. (Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You)

That’s part of the problem with society right now. Too much emphasis on loving humanity, not enough on loving the specific individuals we meet. And whatever your views on social media (I still need to watch The Social Dilemma) loving people we meet needs to mostly, if not exclusively, mean people we meet in the flesh.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John‬ ‭13:35‬ ‭NIV‬‬.

May we all prove our discipleship this weekend and always!

Love,

Kristie

P.S. The picture above is Nate at 2.

P.S.S. If the title of this post made you sing the George Thorogood song Who Do You Love? that is appropriate because Thorogood was all three Jackson boys’ first concert.

Jackson Five Friday: An Anxious Farewell and Calm Repose

Hey Friends,

I have been writing this devotional blog since the summer of 2008. I named it Spur based on Hebrews 10:24 and aimed for it to always be a message to encourage others (and myself) to greater love and good deeds. I still love the name, and as Paul David Tripp writes in his introduction to New Morning Mercies, “There is no reality, principle, observation, truth, command, encouragement, exhortation, or rebuke in this devotional that I do not desperately need myself.” I agree. Every Friday I am always preaching to myself because I desperately need it.

Another aim of this blog is to capture everyday stories I might otherwise forget. I do not think anyone is in danger of forgetting 2020, but I do want to document some nuances. Plus, it feels like a good time to go back and revisit how it all came down.

Six months ago today was my sons’ first day of virtual school. If you remember, the world fell apart the week before. On Thursday, March 12, we learned that school would move online. The boys went to school like normal on that Friday, but a portion of that day was spent learning how to use zoom. Their school planned and executed better than any I’ve heard of — in fact, a lot better than any I’ve heard of. They left for the weekend knowing to take all their belongings, and were advised to be ready for a normal school day to start Wednesday, March 18th online. In short, they missed only two days of instruction.

My husband had put a cot in his car in the beginning of March. If his hospital system had an outbreak of Covid-19, he planned to just sleep in his office. He also had never formally applied for privileges, because although he is board certified in internal medicine and critical care, his job is 100% administrative. He ended up getting hospital privileges because he’d be better at intubating than most, and we just didn’t know if there’d be a need for all hands on deck.

When we found out about virtual school, Will and I talked about the boys and I going to the beach. We have a small, two-bedroom condo in South Florida. I read a study about how sunlight made a dramatic difference in the recovery of WWI flu patients, and decided we should probably go (as an aside, vitamin D does seem to be important in protecting against the virus). If we weren’t there to bring germs home to, Will would not have to sleep in his office. If things got crazy, he could even have other doctors or providers stay at our house.

The decision to quarantine in Florida instead of at home inexplicably felt like one of the weightiest of my life. I felt like I might never see my husband again. I couldn’t keep myself from picturing him deathly sick and alone. I mean, I would’ve come back, but what if it wasn’t in time? The projections on the death toll were terrifying and he’d be in the hospital every day. I almost can’t describe how conflicted I felt about it all.

We stayed through the weekend, celebrated Sam’s 13th birthday on March 16th, and the four of us drove to Florida the next morning. We sailed through Atlanta like it was uninhabited, but soon my one eyeball was twice it’s normal size and I had to be done with my portion of the driving. Somehow for me, stress centers on my eyes. The gargantuan stye made me look almost as pitiful and stressed as I felt leaving Will that morning.

Of course once we arrived with our car full of school books, computers, a printer, toilet paper, Sam’s trumpet and non-perishable food, I felt better. The ocean breeze and swaying palms are invariably calming. Will worked crazy long hours, but we FaceTimed with him every night. Sam’s birthday balloons were still in the kitchen, and Will would show us how the giant 1 and 3 were drooping and dimpling as the days passed. My funny man said things like, “Sam, hopefully you’ll get to come home before you turn 31.” But that’s about how it felt. Time slowed to a tortoise pace. The great unknowns felt almost crushing and those balloons representing 31 instead of 13 didn’t feel as far-fetched as it should.

One morning I was trying to zoom in to Bible study. I was sitting in the parking lot, while Sam was in the car for band class. I didn’t think my mostly elderly neighbors would much appreciate him playing the trumpet in the condo, and so he hustled down to the car for band class.

The car was turned on so that Sam could have some A/C, and I sat down on one of those yellow parking block things, a few empty spaces away. I logged into zoom, and I could see my girlfriends, but I could not hear them. Perplexed I tried to figure out if they were all muted, or what. I kept gesturing that I could not hear. Finally, I realized that my phone was linked to the car, the audio of my zoom call was in there with Sam. I’d already witnessed the profound, unparalleled embarrassment of revealing you have a mother during zoom school. I had made the grave mistake of walking behind Nate’s chair and he nearly died. Now poor Sam and his entire band class were hearing my Bible study in stereo! It still cracks me up to think about.

But with all the anxiety of telling Will goodbye on March 17th, and all the logistics of doing school at the beach for three weeks, I can look back and remember the sweet memories we made. Sam and I rode bikes during “lunch” every day and I sat on our balcony and watched the sunset every night, sometimes with all three boys. We were only there a few days before the county closed the beach, but the police stopped patrolling at 5pm. Right after 5, I’d watch a group of old people rush out into the water to soak in the healing, salty waves. I read a lot of coronavirus articles, spent too much time on social media and prayed. But mostly I just sat around and thought. There was so much to ponder, and so much time to do it.

This week I was reading through Psalm 13. The structure of it is a little bit like my whole beach quarantine experience. It starts with a frantic feeling and ends with trusting calm. What do you think comes in the middle? Any ideas? Did you guess prayer? Yes, prayer comes in the middle.

Here is the full text of the Psalm:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. Psalms‬ ‭13:1-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Are you in a season of “How long?” Or a season full of anxiety and indecision? Can you force yourself to stop and pray, asking the Lord to look upon you and answer? I don’t think we make our way back to a place of trusting and rejoicing without praying and reminding ourselves of how good the Lord has been in the past. Sometimes the peak on the other side of the valley is even higher having seen with clarity the pit.

Over two hundred years ago a biblical commentator wrote this about Psalm 13:

This song, as it were, casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror, and the only motion discernible at last is that of the joyous ripple of calm repose. (Frank Delitzsch)
Friends, I hope your weekend is a joyous ripple of calm repose!

With Love,

Kristie