Jackson Five Friday: Thankful, Awe-Filled Living

Hey Friends,

I hope you had a lovely day yesterday. This was our first year having Thanksgiving in Tennessee, and it was simple and quiet. It was also Will’s birthday and since Thanksgiving is his favorite day of the year, it makes it especially fun. Will’s dad joined us too, but sadly he took a spill on our front steps the other night and broke the bone in his upper arm. Prayers for his speedy and full recovery would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve been thinking about the prevalence of statements about what a terrible year 2020 has been. I get it that it has been a weird year with lots of challenges, but counting our blessings is always the answer. Mindset drives so much of how we feel. Why would we give in to the temptation to focus on the negative? Being grateful is a choice. It’s a choice that once made is incredibly self-reinforcing. You just have to force yourself to jump on the gratitude Merry-Go-Round. Once you are on it, it’s easy to keep it going. If you try writing down specifics for which you are grateful, you can never finish the list.

I think the other key to getting through tough times is to soak in the kinds of things that fill you with awe. Does a hike through the woods fill you up? Sam and I went for a hike about a month ago on nearby Stringer’s Ridge. It has beautiful views of the river and the city. Unfortunately, we took a few wrong turns on the way back, and ended up crossing through a briar-filled, overgrown field to get back to the car. The views, the vibrant colors, the quiet and even the sight of my car were all awe-inspiring. I never tire of sitting next to the ocean either, sunrises and sunsets, a beautiful piece of music played in my gorgeous church. You should know what fills you with awe and you should seek these things out as much as you possibly can.

Paul David Tripp said, “It is dangerous to live without your heart being captured by awe of God, because awe of God is quickly replaced by awe of you.” Does that ring true for you? It does for me. I feel like self-interest, self-pity, self-satisfaction and any inclination for haughty thoughts are all cured by a new infusion of the awe of God.

I also love this quote from Oswald Chambers:

Beware of posing as a profound person; God became a Baby.

Does that say it all? The Creator of the universe, the Author of life and faith, the infinite, all-loving God took on flesh and was born in a stable. And yet somehow we all struggle with humility. When you look at it like that — God became a Baby — it’s outrageous.

Advent begins on Sunday and really it is a season of cultivating awe over the miracle of the birth of Christ, and as Americans it is on the heels of a season of thanksgiving. It’s pretty perfect, isn’t it? Give thanks. Be awe-filled. Those few words summarize an incredible amount of our entire mission in life. May we all close out 2020 thankful and awe-filled, and of course we can also pray for an awesome 2021!

Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven.

Job 25:2

With Love,


P.S. My advent devotional is available on Amazon if you are looking for something different this season.

P.S.S. I snapped the picture above this morning on the Riverwalk. I wanted to clarify that it’s not Stringer’s Ridge.

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,


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,


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,