The Wilderness of Coronavirus

The weight of weariness is heavy.

Four of my friends have experienced panic attacks this week. Another two reported they cannot get the medical care they need for painful, urgent issues due to medical staff furloughs and decreased appointment slots. Some people in my community are struggling to manage two or even three businesses, without childcare for their kids all while being prohibited from actually operating. I have friends who are still waiting on stimulus checks and others who have yet to see payment for the unemployment they filed weeks ago. And this is just in my town.

People around the globe are exhausted, scared, and angry. They don’t know what to do amidst the trying times we find ourselves in. They’re worried for their health. Their lives have been completely uprooted; their livelihoods in serious jeopardy of permanent collapse. Government aid has fallen short while local elected officials sit powerless to do much of anything under the current orders. For one reason or another, everyone is afraid.

Yes, the weight of weariness is heavy. When the system you rely on collapses and all the things you hoped would come through for you don’t, the shadows get long, the road ahead becomes confusing, and even sleep deprives you of rest.

My friends are praying people. They cry out in their exhaustion and anguish to a God they know loves them, hears them, and provides for them. But He couldn’t feel further away. They emerge from reading the Psalms with the courage to face the day, only to have their peace snatched up and their hope fainting within hours of closing their Bibles.

Their hurt is stingingly real. Their pain is long suffering. Their confusion is justified.

And their God is deafeningly silent.

It reminds me of Elijah, weary and outrunning death at Mt. Horeb.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 1 Kings 19: 9-16 NIV

Ah, that still, small voice, calling at the edge of the cave. But it is not the comforting sweetness we might expect. In his weariness Elijah loses sight of the plan to the point God removes him from his vocation as prophet and sends him home.

In this time of great trial and despair, perhaps we too are like Elijah. In our searching for answers, have we missed our God passing by? Have we looked for Him to change our circumstances or remove our burdens, even while faithfully doing the work He appointed us to? Have we cried out longing for Him to take away our pain and bring justice on our enemies without the wisdom to see how He works?

To my suffering friends, my heart is burdened in heaviness for you. What our world is facing is unfair on so many levels, with human evil at every one.  But to attempt to offer you cheery answers would be to fail you now. And so I can only sit alongside you in your suffering and offer this ancient story of a broken man in the wilderness at the foot of a mountain.

The truth of this story is that so often our Maker does not remove our hardship, even for his most trusted partners. He never promised to rescue us from our circumstances. Rather, He promises that no circumstance could ever change His plan to rescue us. And He asks us to be faithful regardless.

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18

Our God will never relent on His people. Even in the face of unspeakable horror, He is faithful to His plan to restore His Kingdom.

So we may bleed out. We may suffer oppression, disease, terror, and heartache. We may fight the vicious monsters, and we may even lose the fight. But take heart if you can, because God has not lost His fight.

When the global system collapses, famine breaks out, plagues fall on the entire world, poverty threatens our children, and imprisonment and warfare linger on the horizon, His Kingdom is still at hand. And we are still His. (Gen. 37-50)

And so like true exiles, we must seek the peace of Babylon to the best we can. Live in harmony with our neighbors, take care of those who need us, breathe out kindness and generosity, and if the day comes and we can no longer abide under the law of the land, we remain faithful knowing only evil is burned up in the end.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jer. 29:7

Weary friends, I will not fling another out of context Bible verse of hope at you. But know that your burden is not unseen. (Gen. 16:13) Your wilderness is not desolation. It is where your God will meet you and teach you how to be His own. (Ex. 40:38)

There’s Enough

Lately the entire world seems to be running out of things. At first it was the toilet paper. Carts so overloaded with the stuff that entire warehouses ran out in minutes. Then it turned more serious with food shortages. Bread, eggs, frozen pizzas, and cleaning products–all the basics in low supply. Last week the headlines turned to the shortages of masks, gloves, ventilators, and oxygen tanks. Experts predict that next the terrifying deficit will be hospital beds, doctors, and God forbid, morgues. Leaders are slamming other leaders; not enough medical help, not enough federal aid, not enough money.

If you are not working in an under-resourced hospital or other essential service that’s squeaking by on the bare minimum to keep things running, then you are probably one of the millions of Americans truly stuck at home with no job, no paycheck, and no idea of when those things will return.

Both as a nation and a world, we’ve come up painfully short. We are short on hospital space, lab technicians, and tests. We are short on ideas. We’re short on cash, and we’re short on time. To address one problem only worsens another. We either doom people’s lives or doom their livelihoods.

Our knee-jerk reaction during times of crisis is to protect ourselves. All it takes is a walk down a Walmart paper goods aisle to see that. We look for ways to keep our own families safe. In the face of scarcity, we stockpile. Turned inward, we conserve what we have, and damn others when they get in our way.

It’s easy to see the world through the lens of scarcity right now. However, as a follower of Jesus, that lens doesn’t fit in what should be my frame.

The worldview which supposedly defines me is one of abundance. God plants a garden. He gives it to humans as a generous gift and tells them to eat freely and go make more of it. An astute reader will notice an undercurrent of unrestricted fruitfulness–of endless resource and bursting potential–that runs the whole length of the Bible. And while we’d like to think in times like this that sin has messed all that up, Jesus himself operates under the worldview that there is enough.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on…Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet, your heavily Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they…If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?…But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt. 6: 25-33

The truth is that humans love to dwell in worry. We love to think of ourselves, worry about us and our clan, and take advantage of things to get the upper hand.

In the mind of Jesus this is how the world works, but it’s not how the Kingdom works. In the Kingdom, there is enough. There is a generous Giver who bestows everything lavishly on everyone. There is a cloud that rains down manna, a rod in the hand of an old man that parts the sea and swallows our enemies. There is a garden and a tree, and a new Vine bearing enough fruit to feed the entire world. We can’t see it, but it’s here. Jesus told us the Kingdom is at hand. Abundance is at hand.

In this time of global crisis where everything is scare, I’m challenged to wake up and look at the world through this lens of abundance. But when people are separated from their loved ones or when the system we count on collapses under the pressure, this becomes a hard ethic to embrace. When the paycheck stops and money is weeks away, what are we to do?

And I am no saint here. It wasn’t long ago that questions like these would have sent me into a panicked frenzy. In my own home right now, this virus is affecting our family. Our source of income is on hold, and we have no idea when that will resume or what damage this shutdown will cause. Like many we are healthy now, but for how long?

And so our grim situation creates the atmosphere the world is currently running on: anxiety, desperation, and fear. But in my spirit I am wrestling against those natural responses. While all very real, they are at odds with my new humanity in Jesus. When the world tells me there isn’t enough, He calls me to live in the abundance of the Kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, I will not downplay the gravity of the COVID-19 situation. To do so would be a grossly insensitive and frankly, unhelpful, move. Instead I urge my fellow Jesus followers to see this as a time to dig in. It’s a time when we are called to live by Kingdom rules when the Kingdom is hard to see. We must choose to live as though there is enough, even in scarcity.

This means radical generosity. It means unwavering trust. It means purchasing the extra bag of groceries for a friend or assisting a neighbor when they’re in need. It means leaving a larger tip, being unusually inventive, choosing to exercise extra patience with our families, and spending the extra ten minutes at bedtime going to war in prayer for those on the front lines. It means we reach out wherever we can, however we can, as often as we can. And it means that when we are down and out, we lay down our shame and guilt and ask for help.

Kingdom living takes grit. And grit is hard to come by when the tragedies once on the other side of the world are now pounding relentlessly on our doors. But Jesus words echo loudly in my mind. “You of little faith!” Matt. 6:30

It is with great faith we must step forward into the Kingdom. We live by its rules and hold fast to the truth that our jobs, our money, our children, the food in our pantries, the gas in our cars, and the very breath in our struggling lungs is a gift. An abundance mindset should define us all; it should be the light in this uncertain time. May we have the faith to give freely and use our resources wisely, trusting that the God who provides for the birds provides for us. Because in the Kingdom, there is enough.

Shelter in Place

I woke up today feeling as though I live in a novel. Some historical fiction piece set in the wartorn 1940’s where people have to dive into a bomb shelter, not knowing if the world will be there when they emerged the next day. Or maybe its more akin to a sci-fi thriller where civilization survives a biological event of epic proportions when everything around them is contaminated. The truth is that neither of those two scenarios are far from the reality I woke up to today.

Today our governor shut down everything nonessential in our state and ordered everyone to stay home.

Our world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Things I’ve only ever seen pictures of in history books are now my daily concern. Take the empty grocery store shelves. Basics like bread and eggs are in short supply, and I had to swallow a lump of guilt as I took the last two packages of tortillas last week. Local businesses have shut their doors, many truly worried that they may never open them again. Office buildings sit empty, all the workers sent home. Our schools are closed. Our gyms are closed. Our churches are closed.

Meanwhile people on the other side of the world are dying terrifying deaths, alone, separated from their loved ones. And they say it’s only a matter of time before we see that here too. To open everything back up–to go on with life– would mean putting countless lives at significant risk. But to shut life down means many people will never recover from the severe economic repercussions of our current reality.

And so we find ourselves in Psalm 23, a shadowed valley with mountains of ruin on either side. There is no good choice. No right way to tackle a pandemic–everything has a consequence and everyone thinks they are right.

Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.

For those like myself, the irrepressible urge to help others is the worst part. I want to save every small business. I want to pray for every sick person, hand a cup of coffee to every exhausted medical worker, and make every weary trucker and grocery clerk a sandwich. Instead I slap on a smile and work hard to keep my own little people busy and entertained as we pass the time away. But deep down, my heart is breaking for the loss and hatred that is tearing our world apart.

How do we respond? What do we do when “shelter in place” is our only real option? I find myself looking to the ultimate shelter.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD “He is my shelter and my refuge. My God in whom I trust.” Surely He will save you from the fowlers snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find rest. His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Ps. 91:1-4

God does not promise that we will never suffer or live without times of dire uncertainty. He does not promise an easy, carefree existence. But He does promise life–abundant life–that no virus can take away. He provides a shelter that no state governor can match; a provision that makes a trillion dollar federal bailout look like a foolish joke. And He promises a salvation no human could ever acquire on their own.

To be fair, now is not a time for flinging Bible verses at scared or bitter people. It isn’t a time to pat friends on the back and say God’s going to make it all better.

But for those who follow Jesus, it is a time to genuinely trust–to go all in with our faith–and live in the abundance, prosperity, generosity, and healing that Jesus demonstrated to His followers. Because when God strips away every cure, every security, and every mortal attempt at hope, the only thing left to cling to is the everlasting promise that our King will return to rescue His Kingdom.

So hold fast, my friends, wherever you are. Have courage. Be kind. Shelter in Him.

Five Things that make Homeschooling Successful

When it comes to my life, I often hear the popular catchphrase “I don’t know how you do it!” Usually I get this when I’m out with my kids, and most often in reference to homeschooling. People assume I have it all together or that I’m some kind of homeschool supermom. How I project this image I will never understand. I feel like I’m running around like a madwoman most days! While I normally reserve this blog for the more philosophical or theological implications of life and motherhood, I wanted to step away from that voice and platform for a moment, and offer an honest, real look at our homeschool.

The truth is that I don’t actually feel like I’m doing it. I just seem to get up each day and go from one moment to the next, and somehow my kids have followed suit. But as I’ve pondered our educational choices, it’s become so clear to me that homeschooling does not start with a fancy curriculum or a box of books delivered to our door. It starts with our intention.

The reason our homeschool and, by extension, our life runs as smoothly as it does is because I set it up to do that. I’ve figured out what my must-do’s are and what kind of support I need to accomplish them. I’ve also created a vision for our homeschool that directs our priorities and gives us a bigger reason for home education. And in all of this I’ve learned to be careful to account for my own personal needs and weaknesses. So here it is; a breakdown of the five things I do that make our home a place of learning without me actually being super mom to pull it off!

1) Maintain the Core Vision— Before we began homeschooling, I outlined in my own mind our reasons for homeschooling. This wasn’t about choosing an educational modality (like Classical, Unschooling, Montessori, etc.). It was more about the over-arching reasons for keeping my kids at home.

One was that we want to raise life-long, independent learners and we felt the home environment was best suited for that. We also wanted to have the flexibility to incorporate a wide variety of educational experiences into our family culture and provide an academically rigorous but also more flexible foundation for our kids than what traditional schooling options allow for.

And so every time we have a bad day and I find myself asking “why are we even doing this?” it’s helpful to go back to that core vision. It drives us forward and helps sort out many of the doubts or struggles that arise. (As an aside, even if you don’t homeschool, having a unified vision is so important for a healthy, functioning family. Mom AND Dad really need to be on the same page there.)

2) Make a Plan–Each summer I spend a lot of time thinking about what milestones I want each child to reach and how I plan to help guide them. (I should write all this down, but given that I have my hands full pretty much all of the time, I’ve become very good at operating on mental lists.) Personally, it works best for me to keep it to 3-4 broad goals per child, usually that have to do with helping my kids achieve growing levels of independence that propel us into future years.

For Ayla (5) this year, I simply wanted to 1) get her used to doing a short amount of more “formal school time” with me, one on one, each day, 2) introduce her to basic phonics, and 3) get her working with numbers and basic math on a regular basis. Everything else is a bonus, and believe me, we’ve had a LOT of bonuses! Why? Because my plan was manageable and set us up to succeed. At the end of the year what really matters most for Ayla? Those were the three things I kept coming back to. Those three things will lay the foundation for the next school year, when I will expect more from her and she will need to pick up the pace.

For Crew (8), my plan was a lot different. He’s older, has mastered all the foundations, and is ready to be challenged in other ways. But the goals I have for him function the same way; they’re always paving the way to another benchmark that leads to greater independent learning.

3) Define Priorities–Once my “plan” is in place for each kid, then I can start figuring out the ins-and-outs of how we’re actually gonna pull it off. What are my must-do’s each day? Each week? And how am I going to ensure that those things get don,? (We’re talking both school and non-school stuff here.)

Because I am a busy mom trying to homeschool two big kids with two very active little ones underfoot all day, priorities are a BIG deal. I can’t do it all, so we have to choose the right things. Priorities look different for every family, but what I have noticed over the years is that priorities are very hard to meet when you are not available to meet them. In other words, it’s really hard to homeschool when you are never home!

I’ve found it helpful to build the rhythm of our day around what’s most important. Most weeks follow a pretty strict pattern, and that usually involves me staying home to ensure that the top priorities get accomplished. For us, mornings are school time. We are early risers, and often Crew is working away at math by 7:45am. This means by lunchtime, he’s done nearly four hours of solid school work. Our afternoons are marked by nap time for the littles and quiet time for the bigs (and mom!), and then we are free to play, work, or do whatever else is left in a very unstructured afternoon. Learning happens all day, every day, and for the most part, my must-do’s get done because the rhythm of our day supports my priorities. It’s been a helpful lesson to learn and eased my stress levels when I don’t feel like I have to do “all the things.”

4) Find Support–You cannot successfully homeschool, effectively parent more than one child, and also maintain a house, a life, a spouse, a healthy diet, and your sanity without support. I’m sorry, but you just can’t. Support is paramount for moms in general, and absolutely a necessity for homeschooling moms. Moms can’t to it all!

It dawned on me over the summer as I was struggling to pull any sense of routine together after having baby #4 and moving that I simply wouldn’t be able to accomplish our vision for our homeschool unless I got more support. I knew I would end up jipping the big kids in their education and having lots of loose ends because of two demanding little ones who also need me. Bit by bit I began figuring out what support would look like and realized how much I needed to advocate for myself.

This is a tough thing for many moms to admit, and especially difficult for people-pleasing personalities like me. But behind every woman who looks like she’s got it all together is a killer support system that she has cultivated and, more than likely, had a hard time accepting.

For me in this season of life, support looks like help with my toddler. Two mornings a week he leaves the house for a few hours. He goes to a friend’s house one morning and spends the other with his grandparents. This gives me a solid and predictable chunk of time to plow through things with the older kids. On weeks when my husband isn’t traveling or too slammed with work, he also pitches in and will sometimes take the two little ones out to run errands for a bit. It’s good dad time for them, and gives me yet another block of focused time. It can be a sacrifice to make support a reality in your life but it’s super important for the longevity of your mental health and overall quality of life. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m getting more comfortable accepting the help I need and planning for it to happen.

5) Play Up Strengths. Know the Weaknesses.–There’s a lot of wonderful ways to homeschool and many inspiring families out there who are accomplishing those things. I am not them. I’ve got to do what works for us, no matter how awesome another family makes it look.

Reading aloud is a great example. It’s so valuable, produces great conversation, and I love doing it. But reading aloud to four kids, with four different levels of interest, attention spans, and a wiggly baby who just wants to eat the book or pull my hair–well, I’m just not in a season of life where reading aloud to the whole family can happen without causing me a mild panic attack. So I only read aloud to the big kids together, and I read separately at other times to the littles. I know admitting this is like homeschool sacrilege but when all four are together, we don’t read!

Other things that are my weaknesses: I’m not the best teacher for something like long division, I’m quick to shrug off science in favor of discussing a great book, and I know that if I don’t get a little down time each day, I will lose it and turn into Momzilla.

To combat this, we switched math curriculums to something that Crew could be much more independent with. I still do math with Ayla, but Crew can work much faster and without my help most days. When Crew told me he’d like to study chemistry and physics, I decided it was time to bring in a science tutor who works with him once a week and gives him assignments to complete between sessions. This has been a huge hit for everyone this year! He is loving it, learning a ton, and I get to sit back and be the cheerleader rather than the coach. And the quiet time? That happens every single day. I guard it like it’s Ft. Knox because if I don’t, I will totally burn out.

By knowing my weak areas, I can better plan for them and free up my energy for the things that get me excited about homeschooling. I’ve loved teaching my kids how to read, and cannot wait until they hit middle school and we can really tackle some great writing and literature analysis. I also enjoy history and social studies, and I find it easy to incorporate these things into our everyday life. So I’ve learned to play up my strengths and find creative alternatives to teach the things that I’m not good at or that simply don’t excite me.

To sum it all up, homeschooling is a wonderful privilege, but it’s also an alternative lifestyle. I spend a lot of time curating the education we’re after, and that takes effort, intention, and creativity to make it a success. I didn’t start out knowing all this and we’ve made some big sacrifices and significant life changes to make it work. But when the long day finally comes to an end and another day of school is in the books, it’s these things that have been our guide and are preparing us for where we need to go tomorrow.

The Best Part of Parenting No One is Talking About

The other day I sat down with a friend and listened to her tell me about her fears of raising kids. She is knee-deep in toddlerhood, where tantrums and choking hazards are the biggest struggles of daily life. I listened as she shared her doubts and worries, the messiness of her life at home with young kiddos. It was the standard “the days are long but the years are short” condundrum, one that any mother worth her salt will face. Through our chat she expressed to me her fears about her little people growing up and the days when there are no more toddlers or preschoolers around her home anymore. She worries about wishing these little years away and dreads the hole her children will leave when they outgrow babyhood.

Her fears have merit. Every single person I’ve ever met has told me how much I should treasure these young years and how fast they go. Anyone can get misty at the thought of a bright-eyed, beautiful baby suddenly grown up, gone from their life in a blink. But it seems to me that in sapping about over the days of cuddles and coos, we’ve missed the best part of parenting that no one is talking about. We’ve missed the quiet, gentle days of big kids.

It sneaks up on you, that phase. You don’t see it coming. And as quick as it comes it’s over, and you’re off to the precarious transition of tweens, and then into the full-blown teenage years that everyone seems to fear. But this year I realized what a beautiful season I’m in right now. For the first time in almost nine years, half of my children are big kids.

Like their little brothers, my two oldest kids are still fun and lively. Their imaginations and possibilities are limitless, and their main goal in life each day is pretty much just to have fun and discover something interesting. It takes very little to make them happy, and for the most part, a simple routine full of rich explorations satisfies them.

But unlike their baby brothers my big kids have the stamina to really go for something. They have attention spans and cognitive abilities that make conversations stimulating, even for an adult. And while not every moment is a bright one, for the most part they have enough maturity to navigate the ins-and-outs of the disappointments and thwarted plans that daily life brings.

While everyone is quick to tell me not to miss a beat with my two youngest, they never tell me about the ways in which my heart nearly bursts when I see all that my big kids have grown up to be.

Resourceful, responsible, kind. Humorous, welcoming, gentle. Creative, hard-working, useful. Empathetic, independent, self-controlled.

And then there are those moments where I truly have to pinch myself. The ones where I walk into a room and my 8 year old has dressed his little brother, taken him to the potty, brushed his teeth and hair, and generally made my morning faster by at least 15 minutes. Or when I discovered the two big kids, working together in harmony, just randomly cleaning up the kitchen. And it’s then that I realize that I won’t be a slave to little tyrants forever.

We still have a long way to go. There is still plenty of character shaping and hard parenting in front of me.

But with two littles and two bigs, I find myself resting in the beauty of the truth no one tells: big kids are just as magical as babies.

The best part of parenting isn’t the phases we look forward to or leave behind; it’s the phase we’re in. It’s those everyday moments we don’t notice that shape us and shape our children. And after a while all those moments add up and transform into something that–surprisingly–we didn’t expect to see during our time in the muddy trenches of the little years.

And so I savor the moments I have. I soak in those snuggles and the simple play with my tiniest ones. But I also bask in the awe of the two in my home who are no longer little. And I delight when one of them walks into the room and I just love them more than I ever thought I could. I will cherish them for who they are, and step into the fresh season ahead, loving every moment of being with these babies I’ve raised.

When my friend finished telling me about her fears of her toddlers growing up, I smiled. “Yes, your babies will grow up,” I said. “But do you know what happens then? You get to marvel at the big kids they’ve become. That’s the best part of kids. They grow.”