Jackson Five Friday: Baby Truth

Hey Friends,

Does spring give you great hope for renewal? It does me. Growing up in Michigan instills a special fondness for ushering winter out the door, but I’m glad to reside in a place where post-Easter snows are not a thing. In fact, in Tennessee the first signs of spring come in February and I get to watch the Bradford Pear trees blossom in the valley at least a whole week before the ones on the mountain. How great that God staggered the peaks of His creation! And all the better to live on a mountain, where a daily drive up and down emphasizes the gradual progression.

We can all appreciate that children can sometimes be painfully honest, but last Sunday I witnessed a baby’s honesty about masks. I was sitting in church and watched a baby smile with utter delight if a stranger lowered his mask. The joy of this little one was unmistakable. He loves faces. We may not wiggle with excitement and grin from ear to ear to see faces — I mean we may not outwardly act like this baby — but I think on the inside this is exactly how we feel. We all love faces.

Does it strike you as odd that there’s no analysis of the cost of wearing masks? Mental illness is rampant, people feel isolated, exhausted and hopeless. I am amazed how often I hear something along the lines of “he’s never struggled with depression before.” And it’s across all demographics. Yet some people just can’t hear that masking and lockdowns have any cost. I’ve been unfriended for simply stating that there are always tradeoffs and that we should certainly analyze them. It’s like the little girl on the playground who runs aways with her hands over her ears, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” When will the childish nonsense end?

So, what’s my point? The point is masks are costly. Telling the truth means not omitting facts. In this upside-down world, it’s more important than ever to find the truth tellers. If people aren’t willing to talk candidly about tradeoffs, they aren’t truth tellers. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to find the truth on anything — so many agendas, so many profit motives. I read about one “expert” whose analysis may have been motivated by an interest in a vaccine now in development. You’ve got to be kidding me! You mean he has economic motivations?!? Like everyone ever.

Of course one Person is free of profit motives and agendas. He never omits any important details. He never hides the ball or twists His message to get you to comply. And guess what? He knit you together in your mother’s womb and loves you like no one else ever could. He watches over you while you sleep and crowns you with love and compassion. He redeems your life from the pit, no matter how often you stumble in there.

He says, “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV).

I’m praying today that you know Him. He is the Truth.

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. On a lighter note, I have a parenting tip for you. I stole this tip from a friend. When you play cards (is there cheaper, more bonding entertainment than cards?) keep a notebook. My friend has two boys and they mostly play Hearts. They take that spiral notebook with them wherever they vacation. They record the date, the place, who plays and the score. We started doing a notebook this year. And I’m excited to add some new entries this coming week. So my friends, play some cards with your family, preferably euchre, and trust Jesus. It’s all going to work out!

Jackson Five Friday: The Secret to Happiness

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. It’s baseball season in my house. The season opened on Tuesday night and now Big Blue is already 2-0, with game three this afternoon. It is a gift to be outside even when it’s cold, to hear our National Anthem, to cheer on live action with other fans (parents and students). Nate has been playing baseball with some of these guys since sixth grade, and it’s fun to see that they are now skilled men playing a game that is full of defeat with such grace.

Al Spalding said: “Baseball is a man maker.” And it’s true. Baseball is a man maker because even the very best batters fail more than they succeed — nobody bats .500. Tiny errors often cost the whole game, and pitchers endure tremendous pressure to “pound the zone.” You don’t get to quit after striking out, or giving up a a grand slam, or throwing the ball over the first baseman’s head. You keep playing. You get back in there. You move on.

What a life lesson! Whether you fail, or you are mistreated, or you regret your own choices, get back in there. Churchill said, “Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” I think we Americans need a stiff cocktail of baseball resolve and Churchill toughness.

Plus, the Bible warns against bitter roots, and yet bitter roots are ubiquitous. Everyone is bitter about something. By God’s grace, generally that is not my disposition. But sometimes I find myself feeling bitter about people being bitter. How self-defeating is that? The book of Hebrews talks about being anointed with the oil of gladness. My destiny and purpose are in Christ. My identity is in Christ. Christ is my joy — He anoints me with gladness. But bitter roots choke out joy. The secret to happiness is rooting out the bitter roots.

Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

America 2021 is a vivid display of the trouble caused by bitter roots. How can we be ministers of God’s grace in helping to uproot bitterness in our hearts and in those around us? The command is clear: we are to SEE to it.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: The Ageless Wisdom of NOT Navel Gazing

Hey Friends,

I mentioned last week that I recently taught at a women’s Bible study on Psalm 121. I sign up for such things because deadlines motivate me. Without the pressure of preparing a talk, I would not study in the same way, and yet I am jazzed by the process of preparing. I love going to my church library and pouring over commentary, of unearthing ideas I’ve never heard before. I especially love finding centuries-old quotes that capture a nuance in a way we just wouldn’t see today. Language evolves and the manner of speaking evolves, but the truth does not.

My favorite quote from my Psalm 121 research is from Thomas Fuller: “In thy agony of troubled conscience always look upwards unto a gracious God to keep thy soul steady; for looking downward on thyself thou shalt find nothing but what will increase thy fear, infinite sins, good deeds few, and imperfect: it is not thy faith, but God’s faithfulness thou must rely upon.” Fuller lived in the early 1600’s, more than a century before the founding of the United States. It amazes me that Fuller was counseling against self-absorbtion in the most perfectly succinct way four hundred years ago.

You want to live a steady life? Always look up to a gracious God. What’s navel gazing going to do for you? Increase your fear, remind you of your infinite sins and your pitifully few good deeds, which are imperfect. You can’t rely on your faith. You must rely on God’s faithfulness. My paraphrase just doesn’t compare, but who doesn’t want to keep their soul steady?

The COVID restrictions of the last year have been particularly unsteadying. Many, in all demographics, have been harmed emotionally. The light appears to be at the end of the tunnel, normalcy is returning. But the impact will be felt for a long, long time. Even a definitive “all clear” won’t heal many of our wounds. Perhaps, more than ever, we can commit to helping each other by not letting those we love isolate and navel gaze. Can you have lunch with someone, or go for a walk, and encourage them to “always look upward unto a gracious God”?

May we spur one another on this week by reminding each other where to fix our gaze.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. I had a sweet interaction this week with someone I used to see pretty often, but haven’t seen in a while. She told me about how her cat has gotten super fat. Her words were hilarious, her expressions adorable. When is the last time you’ve had a few good laughs with your favorite five-year-old? Let’s not fail to recognize the cost of isolation. Life is richer for the organic social interactions that happen when we do not treat each other like vectors of death.

Jackson Five Friday: English Muffin Addiction

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week. March is one of my favorite months of the year. It is a time of being almost there, and this year more than ever. I actually spoke at my church last night about Psalm 121 which scholars believe Jewish pilgrims sang the night before reaching Jerusalem. It’s an unabashedly hopeful song sung by a tired crowd who is almost there. In short, it’s perfect for where we all are right now.

The problem — well one of the problems — was I felt a bit of brain fog last night. When I finished I felt unsure if I had delivered the whole talk. Did I skip whole pages of my prepared remarks? Did it flow at all? Although it was recorded I’m not planning to listen to it, like ever. I have no interest in confirming my worst fears.

Then this morning when I went upstairs to make sure Nate was awake, my knees felt like I’d run ten miles yesterday, despite doing nothing strenuous whatsoever. As I hobbled my way back downstairs I had an epiphany. The brain fog and the knee pain have an explanation. The explanation is I have an English muffin addiction. My favorite coffee shop/bakery (Niedlov’s) in Chattanooga sells English muffins that are the tastiest morsels of toasted goodness on the planet. My so-called friend, Susan, introduced me to this glutenous crack about six months ago. I had been happily spending time at Niedlov’s for five years before I tried the English muffin. But my three-muffin indulgence yesterday (no I’m not exaggerating, although I ate almost nothing else) was like a controlled experiment proving once and for all that gluten is not kind to my brain nor to my joints. So if you see me trying to purchase a six-pack of muffins please, for the love of God, intervene.

Paul wrote so beautifully about self-discipline: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

I want to run in such a way, spiritually and physically, to get the prize. Gluten is a hurdle I keep throwing in my own path. Do you have ways that you self-sabotage your spiritual and physical goals? Because Spring is a great time for a reset.

On a different note, I walked to my car last night with a woman who is old enough to be my mother, a woman who I was blessed to meet when I first moved to Tennessee. I could not have spent a full five minutes with her, but we talked about a wide variety of topics in our brief interaction. She made me laugh so hard, and then she made a super timely and profound statement about a situation in my life. This kind of social snippet has been discarded by leaders and decision-makers as inconsequential. The truth is it’s priceless. Praise the Lord she didn’t “stay home” last night.

So, my friend, we are almost there. May we not sabotage our own races and always cherish our people. Have a fabulous weekend!

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: License Plate Theology

Hey Friends,

I am sitting at home this soggy morning, and grateful to have nothing on my calendar today. It’s been sort of a crazy week and I’m quite content to just stare at the monochrome landscape, listen to the birds chirping, and know that spring never fails to come. We do not hope for spring like we hope our team wins a big game, we hope for spring knowing it always always shows up.

On Monday I got my husband’s car registration renewed. He had a license plate with his hospital on it, but Tennessee got rid of that as an option so he was going back to a regular license plate. For the regular plate, there are two options. The girl behind the counter asked, “Do you want it to say, ‘In God We Trust,’ or not?” I wish I would’ve asked how many people reject the “In God We Trust” plate. It sounds so simple, but in truth it’s life altering. Attaching the words “In God We Trust” to the back of your car does not reveal your heart, nor does it hold any special power, yet living a life of trusting God should be a primary goal.

Years ago I had a pastor, Lon Solomon, who said the Bible could be summarized in two words. The overarching theme of both the Old and New Testaments is God saying, “Trust Me.” And honestly, it’s true. Peter Kreeft makes a similar argument:

So when everything seems senseless and your faith is tested and God puts you on Job’s dung heap, there is nothing better than to look at the crucifix (which is much worse than a dung heap!) and say “Jesus, I trust you.”

Before I Go: Letters to Our Children about What Really Matters

Our world seems so utterly senseless, so full of pain and sorrow. The abandonment of truth, the calling what is sin, good, and what is good, bad. It is so messed up. It is not going to be solved by a license plate, that’s for sure. Yet Kreeft rightly observed that the harder it is to say, “Jesus, I trust you,” the more precious those words become.

Can you say them? Can you acknowledge all that is painful in your life, all that you do not understand, and yet still utter these words: Jesus, I trust you. Because here’s the thing, you can fight against the goads but you’ll struggle and struggle and never be free. The paradox of Christianity is that we find freedom when we stop fighting. The freest among us are the most trusting. The freest among us don’t kick against the goads.

Spring is coming — that is our certain hope. But trusting Jesus is just as certain. A.W. Tozer said, “Everything that God does in His ransomed children has as its long-range purpose the final restoration of the divine image in human nature.”

Sometimes I hesitate to quote Romans 8:28, because it’s not always a comfort in the midst of deep pain, and I know so many who are deeply struggling right now. But the truth is we do know “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Praying today that I’ll trust the long-range plan of my Lord and Savior, and that you will too. Kicking against the goads does not lead us to peace, but trusting His always restorative and often mysterious plan does.

Singing this simple chorus is a wonderful way to remind yourself of this important truth.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Living Free in the Present

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. I spent a few days in Florida which was capped off by a drive across the state in a cute little rented Jeep. En route I talked to my mom’s best friend from high school, and when I arrived I got to see my best friend from high school. If this past year has taught us anything it’s the value of staying connected and of in-person laughs. That morning, before my little trek across Alligator Alley, I encountered another dead animal on a walk. This time, unlike the iguana, I did not witness the death, but there — facedown on the beach — was a bald eagle. Was this a symbol of the death of freedom? It was such a pitiful sight.

Do I think our government and institutional leaders have behaved irrationally and implemented policies that impede freedom? I do. Do I trust the government to ensure our freedoms moving forward? I don’t. However, I am free in Christ, and nothing any human will ever do can change that. The Bible is clear: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The bondage of being consumed by what might happen is a choice. Bondage to sin is a choice. Bondage to fear is a choice. We are free in Christ, why would we submit to any yoke?

Relatedly I read two snippets this morning that can help us stay the course. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that Satan wants us to be “perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now” missing out on every gift offered in the present. Do you cherish the gifts that are offered you in the present? Or are you in pursuit of the rainbow’s end?

Even in moments spent on the most menial of tasks we can be grateful and intentional. I have so much laundry to catch up on. I need to work on our taxes and pay bills. These are not my favorite things to do, but a mindset of doing these things well, knowing they are important, is key. It is counterproductive to instead long for more time at the beach.

And that brings me to the other snippet I read this morning, this one from Oswald Chambers: “If we will arise and shine, drudgery becomes divinely transfigured.”

So my friend, arise and shine, live free in the present. Seek God’s will which is good, pleasing and perfect and do not worry. It is for freedom that you have been set free.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: TB12 and the Cat Lawyer

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. I have. My youngest son is a devoted, even rabid, Bucs fan. The boys and I were quarantining in Florida when Brady signed with the Bucs last spring and big brothers stoked the Super Bowl fire that day and many days since. Sam watched each week, hopeful but also a nervous wreck. I wonder if God let that game be uninteresting just for Sam. His pacing in front of the TV subsided after the first quarter and he just enjoyed the inevitable. And I mean the guy is the GOAT. On Monday I read about how much water he drinks and was inspired to guzzle all day long. I guess maybe he did a different kind of guzzling Wednesday at the boat parade, but I’m really into grace in a world that seems to have forgotten it. It’s not like the GOAT was driving, you know like the Boss.

Another great thing that happened this week is the cat lawyer video. I saw it posted numerous times on Tuesday and thought to myself, “Not into cats, not clicking.” But finally someone said it was as funny the 20th time as the first and I took the bait. Unfortunately I was in bed with my sleeping husband, and my efforts to muffle my big laugh were not successful. I was DYING. It is truly one of the funniest things I have ever seen. My sweet man, who was so rudely disturbed, found it just as funny as I did, fortunately.

Shared experiences — and personally I’d choose big laughs over big NFL wins — are important for relationships to flourish. The ubiquitous calls for unity mostly strike me as empty. The modern use of “unity” is a nebulous concept without real-world application. But you know how you can love your neighbor? Spend time with them, laugh with them, make some kind of unique memory with them. You don’t need to talk about unity. In fact, until you know someone really well why broach politics or faith? Just ask questions about their life and listen to what their joys and struggles are. I don’t get how politics bleeds into everything on a macro scale because it definitely doesn’t on a micro level. Maybe that’s the point. Social media implies life is lived in a sphere it’s not. That’s not life, that’s carefully curated clips that are often edited so profoundly that they bear little resemblance to actual life.

I’m intentionally talking out of both sides of my mouth here. Yes, our shared experiences are bonding, even when they are as far reaching as the Super Bowl and the cat lawyer, but that concept is infinitely more important for your in-the-flesh relationships. We can hold in tension that we need shared experiences as a society to have any commonality, and yet know that passive experiences like watching something cannot be the sole basis for our deeper personal relationships. God can love the whole world, and does. But we don’t have that capacity. We are called to love our neighbors — real, in-the-flesh people. And we are called to love them not with words — even words like unity — but by our actions. My dad instilled in me that “talk is cheap” and I often remind my own sons of this vital truth. Of course, the Bible says it best: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:18-20).

As Americans, as neighbors, as Christ-followers, as human beings, may we love those around us in deed and truth.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Slavery to Self-Interest and Fear

Hey Friends,

I hope you have had a great week. I have accomplished almost nothing I set out to this week. I had a list in my head and I’ve checked off almost nothing. Instead I have been blessed to spend time with people. In fact, some the very best moments of my week have happened in the last 24 hours. Yesterday morning I spent some time catching up and praying with a few friends. Last night I went to a women’s event at church that has a time of worship and teaching on the Psalms. Then this morning as I drove Sam to school, we caught up with my grand-nephew Brooks. He sang us a song about rejoicing. These all felt like cup-filling moments of worship, prayer and celebration.

If you have read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline you might recognize these –worship, prayer and celebration — as three of the twelve Spiritual Disciplines. I resolved to re-read this book by the end of January, but in typical fashion I’m just a few pages in on February 5th. Still, every page is worthy of deep reflection. It’s an incredible book. On page two is this stunning statement: “The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.” Foster’s words feel almost prophetic: in our 2021 world the need for liberation from self-interest and fear is dire.

We know from experience that fear is combatted not so much by a determination to be brave, but to practice the Disciplines (Foster consistently capitalizes it so I guess I will even though it feels weird). So how are you doing? Have you been to a worship service? Have you stood with the body of believers and corporately acknowledged that God is good and full of steadfast love? Last night we sang a song I love called Yet Not I, but Through Christ in Me. Reminding ourselves together of God’s truth through song has always been part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It would be a terrible thing to give up now.

Here is the last stanza of this beautiful song:

With every breath, I long to follow Jesus,

for he has said that he will bring me home.

And day by day, I know he will renew me,

until I stand with joy before the throne.

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus; all the glory evermore to him.

When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat,

“Yet not I, but through Christ in me.”

2018 CityAlight Music

How are you using worship and all of the Spiritual Disciplines to remind yourself that hope is found only in Jesus? That no matter how dark the world around you feels, no matter how fear-inducing the headlines, no matter how enslaved you may be to self-interest, Jesus is the source of day by day renewal?

One the best quotes I’ve come across this last year is from Sinclair Ferguson, who said, “But, you see, if you are crippled by fear you don’t even enjoy your food, or your friends, or your family, or your life.”  We can turn that question around and ask are you enjoying your food, your friends, your family and your life?

Fear, worry and fretfulness rob us of much, but they are not merely benign pitfalls. Check out what Psalm 37:8 says: “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Do you need to turn from anger or wrath? Do you recognize how fretting leads only to evil?

Matthew Henry makes a wonderful point on this. He says, “Fretfulness and envy are sins that are their own punishments; they are the uneasiness of the spirit and the rottenness of the bones; it is therefore in kindness to ourselves that we are warned against them.” Kindness to know they are their own punishments, and kindness to practice Disciplines to drive them out.

I hope if you haven’t read Foster’s book, that you’ll pick it up. I’ll be reading it sloth-paced for the foreseeable future. Hope you have a blessed weekend and that the promise of life springing out of the cold, hard ground very, very soon gives you as much joy as it does me!

With Love,

Kristie

P.S. Another Spiritual Discipline is solitude. Two weeks ago I spent a few hours on the beach, just me and Jesus. Those were the most spiritually renewing hours I’ve enjoyed in a long, long time. Maybe the disciplines we most neglect are the ones we need the most. I guess that means I need to take up fasting.

Jackson Five Friday: Invasive Species

Hey Friends,

A couple of Christmas vacations ago, I took just Sam golfing in Florida. It was a lovely little par 3 course that has just one problem: iguanas. They are everywhere on the course. I have vacationed in that same area essentially my entire life and when I was a child they weren’t there. Even twenty years ago I do not remember seeing them, but now this invasive and disgusting species is commonplace.

On one hole, Sam’s ball was between the pin and three or four iguanas hanging out near a little pond. As Sam was about to hit his shot, being the daughter of Judy Huber (who loved to tease), I considered how I might make him think the iguanas were about to attack. But the anticipation of the ensuing hilarity kept me from devising a good plan. I ran over to him feigning panic and inexplicably yelled out, “Charge!”

He did not for a minute think the iguanas were coming for him. But dang if we didn’t laugh and laugh and laugh over my failed prank. In fact we can still get a good laugh reliving the moment.

Then in a strange turn of events this Christmas vacation an iguana did in fact charge. I was out walking on a path that parallels the beach (see picture above). Between the path and the beach are sea grape trees which provide lovely shade for my morning strolls. I never knew that iguanas go in there. But a huge one — honestly I cannot overstate how mindbogglingly massive it was — charged out of there causing me to nearly jump out of my skin. For 0.7 seconds I marveled at witnessing an iguana running at full speed, but then unbelievably the charging stopped. The enormous, lightning-fast Usain Bolt of iguanas got run over, and I watched it die. The sound was about like the car running over a small tree trunk. I probably screamed because I’m a weirdo like that, but I’m not sure because I was alone. I guess it’s good when an invasive species dies, but death is never pretty, is it?

You know what is even uglier and more invasive than iguanas? Sin. God created this world to be perfect. Before sin entered the Garden there was no hint of destruction. Post-fall we see evidence of decay all around us. Sorrows and pain are everywhere. If we are honest, we all know that nothing is as invasive as sin. Life on earth daily testifies to the truth of the Bible: the wages of sin is death. Left to our own devices we have no way to push back the darkness. Sin mars everything it touches and it rages on until death comes. But God loves us so much that He sent His Son to reverse the fall. Jesus paid the price for all our sins. He offers us clean hearts and purpose. We can partner with Him to shed light in a dark world, and to help restore what was intended. This restoration will not be complete until Jesus returns but I don’t even want to imagine a world without the partial-redemption we now enjoy.

Do you ever stop to consider the cost of forgiveness? Jesus on the cross is such a horrific image. The brutality He suffered, and the grave injustice of it all. These are things we avoid thinking about. We just want the clean heart, the ticket to heaven, and the deep purpose and steadfast love for the here and now. We don’t want to linger over what was suffered. But I think that’s a mistake. Those who have been forgiven much, love much. You can’t appreciate how much you’ve been forgiven if you don’t take a good, long and frequent look at your own heart. Without counting the cost, you also can’t appreciate the forgiveness that is required in daily life. Tim Keller said, “Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.” Our culture has largely abandoned the goal of forgiveness, and as Christians we need to constantly model and highlight both the goal and its cost. To apply Keller’s words, where do you need to be willing to suffer in a costly way to forgive someone? How can you encourage those around you to embrace forgiveness even when in the short-term it’s painful to do so?

The Lord’s Prayer states it so simply: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12).

May the word “as” in that verse be a tremendous motivation to us all.

With Love,

Kristie

Jackson Five Friday: Home Signage

Hey Friends,

I hope you’ve had a great week. This week, along with every other week, I’m grateful to live with people who make me laugh. No matter what is going on in life or the world, my husband and sons seem to find ways to crack me up. I never want to take that for granted.

If you know me, you probably know that I don’t watch TV. I truly do not know a single channel and never turn it on. I don’t have any interest in it. I can get into it when others are watching, especially a game or occasionally a documentary, but most of all, I like commercials. Commercials are more my speed. Short and sweet, and sometimes quite entertaining. The one I like now is the Progressive guy who helps people not become their parents (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The slide to becoming our parents does feel almost inevitable. The coach holds up the artful sign, “Live. Love. Laugh.,” and queries his students, “Do we really need a sign to live, laugh, and love?” They think maybe they do, but he’s direct and firm: “The answer is ‘no.'” The music and the whole vibe add to the humor. But here’s the thing, if we swap out “Live. Laugh. Love.” with another popular home sign, “Gather,” the bit wouldn’t work, would it? Why is that?

First of all, the coronavirus has eliminated a great deal of gathering. My little family of introverts has been relatively unscathed. We spend a lot of time with just us, anyway. My sons have all been back to school since August, and our church meets in person or online. I’ve had in-person Bible study and book clubs that have continued to meet, except now they are outside. We can attend Nate’s basketball games, and limiting our social imprint is entirely consistent with our frequent family card games on weekends. My parents are both deceased and we don’t live near any family. Would I be eager to attend a beautiful dinner party of some sort? Of course! But, I’m not devastated by the absence of such outings either. However, I am increasingly aware that my situation is somewhat uncommon. I see the isolation taking its toll on people. I hear the low-grade depression in their voices. Are we just not concerned with mental health anymore? COVID-19 seems to be the overwhelming health concern, despite the statistics (for example, drug overdoses are truly staggering). President Biden said the death toll is like that of World War II (over 400,000). The average age of a soldier in WWII was 26. Do you know how many Americans have died of COVID-19 in the 15-54 year old demographic? The answer, according to the CDC, is 25,076.

What is the agenda of people who use numbers to so skew perceptions? Losing 400,000 soldiers when the total population of the United States was 131 million is not remotely comparable to losing 25,000 people today. Why do people want to hide the fact that the vast majority of deaths are among the aged? I find it all very perplexing. We are all going to die. Every single one of us. Increasingly the pertinent question has become, how many of us are going to actually live?

But back to the “Gather” sign and the Progressive coach, maybe it’s a reminder we actually do need. The verse I used to name this blog is from Hebrews 10:24: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” But the next verse continues the thought: not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” So whether you have the signage or not, the Bible counsels against giving up gathering.

So how are you doing from a mental health perspective? How about those around you? Do you need to find ways to safely gather as the writer of Hebrews counsels? I hope you have great discernment in evaluating the many risks we face each and every day. I hope you do not fall into the trap of thinking this virus is the only potential harm in the world.

Praying tonight for my family to wisely weigh costs and benefits, to seek first the kingdom of God, and to continually spur one another on to love and good deeds.

With Love,

Kristie