Love in a Time of COVID-19: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Health officials are giving us step-by-step instructions on hand-washing, stocking our pantries and medicine cabinets, and even a meter-stick guide to social interaction. Experts are doing a great job explaining how social distancing can flatten the curve and be one of the most altruistic actions we can take right now as a nation. But when it comes to caring for our hearts and the hearts of those around us in the midst of these most unusual days, I hope these few reminders will be a help:


Stock-pile Peace

God has promised us peace if we ask Him. He doesn’t promise life without sickness, brokenness or frustration, but he readily makes His peace available to us. He invites us to come and get it freely. It’s never out of stock and it’s never too costly.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

Take your thoughts captive (2 Cor. 2:5). Fix your thoughts on Jesus (Heb. 3:1). Take every anxious thought to Jesus through prayer and petition. Over and over again, we are given very active directives on how to war against anxiety. It starts and ends with Jesus. We pray. We fix our thoughts on Him. We worship Him as the One who is better than anything else, who is secure and firm even when everything else is rocking.

Pass the Peace

If you know and understand something of the comfort of God, this peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7), then you have a resource more precious than an N-95 respirator. Just like on the airplane when they tell you to secure your mask first before trying to help another person, if you are breathing in the peace of Christ, you are free to be a conduit of life-saving peace to the anxious and desperate around you. That desperation may not be anxiety about the virus itself, it might be anxiety about finances, the safety of loved ones, the dreams or plans put on hold or broken. Whatever it is, if you know the peace-giver, you can pass the peace. He is the One who gives us hope even amidst devastation of all sorts.


“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. “ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thes. 5: 11)
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn the idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thes. 5:14)

We have seen clear evidence of how a virus can spread exponentially. Guess what? You know what else can be a contagion? Hope. Peace amidst insecurity. Spread it. Infect everyone you know with the hope that Christ is the peace of every age, of every crisis, and of the age to come when all these things are distant memories. Be a vector of peace in your communities.

Social-distancing Doesn’t Equal Relational-distancing

Loving your neighbors well during this time may mean for many of us staying home, not gathering in large crowds, canceling our calendars and cutting back our activities. But just because we are keeping our physical distance, does not mean we need to keep our emotional distance.

Reach out to your loved ones with a phone call, text, email, Facetime, Skype, or whatever form of communication is most comfortable for those whom you love. Check on them. See if you can help meet a need whether it may be physical, emotional or spiritual. Reach out to the people on your street or in your neighborhood, school, or workplace. Listen to God’s Spirit; perhaps someone comes to mind who could use a call or email of encouragement?

Remember that air-mask on the airplane? If you are receiving God’s oxygen flow of encouragement through drawing near in prayer and His word, you are in a position to help secure someone else’s mask.

Love Your Nearest Neighbors

Last, but certainly not least, love well those closest to home. Don’t forget that your spouse, your children, your room-mate– whoever is living within your four walls– is your closest neighbor. They need you to love well right now too. Loving well means casting your cares on the Savior, drawing your peace from Him that you may truly, selflessly focus on the needs of others. That may mean putting your phone down and playing a board-game with your stir-crazy children. It may mean re-assuring your spouse that he is more important to you than your vacation plans or your 401k. It may mean looking past the irritating qualities of your room-mate and focusing on something you like about them or just making a meal together. Who knows, how slowing down, cutting back, and staying home might strengthen your relationships, if you lean into God’s care for you and extend that same love to those closest to you.

To “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) means to care for yourself by drawing near to God so that you can extend that love to others. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean relational distancing. If we look to Christ for our strength, we might find our relationships growing stronger than ever.

I leave you with the words from one Rebecca Arendell Franks, writing from Wuhan, China. She shares how God has been with them in the quarantine. Take heart:

Rebecca Arendell Franks is with Tsungirirayi Tinotenda Chakaza Fisher and 2 others.
March 8 at 3:42 AM
WUHAN. It’s roughly day 48 of the city’s quarantine. We’ve been locked in our apartment complex for many weeks. I haven’t eaten out since January 19. We’re living in such strange times.
After my last post, which was all about locks on doors and further restrictions, my husband asked me if I’ve posted any of the good. But…but… well, but nothing. That convicted me.
So from the epicenter of the coronavirus, here is just SOME of the good we have been experiencing because of the lockdown: (Be warned – there is no way this post could be short.)
Our family life has never been better. Usually one weekend is long enough before I’m ready to send each of us back to school or work. But for SEVEN weeks, we’ve been home together with very little outside influences or distraction, forced to reconnect with one another, learn how to communicate better, give each other space, slow down our pace, and be a stronger family than ever before.
We’ve learned how to accept help from others. During this time, we’ve HAD to rely on others to show us how to get food and other things we need. People here are so good, and they want to help. It’s satisfying to accept the help.
Shopping is so much easier now. It comes straight to our complex, and we just pick it up. Simple.
Right now I hear birds outside my window (on the 25th floor). I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan, because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people. All day long now I hear birds singing. It stops me in my tracks to hear the sound of their wings.
Spring in Wuhan is absolutely stunning. God has been giving us glimpses of the beauty to come with near-perfect weather. Because of lockdown, we get to watch spring slowly unfold right in front of us with no work, traffic, pollution, or other distractions. I have pulled up my chair and am ready for the creator’s show.
My cooking has gotten way more creative. I’m cooking like a homesteader. Housekeeping hasn’t suffered, either.
We take naps in the middle of the day sometimes.
We’ve all been reading so much more than before.
I’ve reconnected with lots of old friends. We’ve talked with our families more than ever before.
We still work and do school, but all from home and all on flexible hours. It is not perfect, but it is fairly productive and good.
We are exercising more. Because we borrowed a rowing machine from school right before the lockdown, Edgar Franks has been rowing regularly at home and has lost several kilos already. I still walk in the morning as usual, but I do so with no time restrictions and now with friend Erika Carlson.
In my yoga world, I have finally done a forearm stand. I also share goofy yoga photos each day with a local friend/yogi. This keeps us connected in spirit and movement.
I could devote a whole post to the amazing community we’ve been blessed with because of this lockdown. We live near 4 other staff members, most of whom we didn’t know well at all prior to this. Because of this quarantine, we have bonded with and supported each other in ways that I’ve never experienced in 9 years of living here. (Crowd sourcing for feminine products and coffee, creatively sharing overstock of carrots and squash, etc)
Friday night, we four staff women celebrated Julia Marie Roehrkasse’s birthday together. We four have never before been together without husbands, kids, or larger community. But that night, I felt like I won the lottery in the friendship department. Our gathering was genuine in a way that can only be shared by people who are experiencing the same thing at the same time and understand what each other are going through. This bond we have may lessen when our world gets back to normal, but for now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is good.
My prayer life has never been better and my study time has been much more real. I have quiet time that is actually (usually) quiet – and I can devote real time to it. Most days I have so much more time to think, to listen, to process, and to discover. I am discovering the good gifts that God has given me and my family. More than anything, I am bowled over by his goodness at every turn. He overwhelms me with his goodness.
We had “church” by Zoom this morning at 10:30, as usual. My husband just woke up from his nap. My kid is reading quietly on the couch. I have the luxury of writing uncensored here on FB. We are about to go pick up a ham that a friend is giving us, taking her our coffee and cranberries to share.
God is providing so many opportunities for good while we are here, and he is showing us his goodness every single moment.
We are at peace in the epicenter of the virus. We are at peace in the epicenter of his will.
Fear is a faithless coward and has no place in the lives of believers. Fear and worry have no seat at our table. We’re here because he wants us here, right now, for his purpose.
Coronavirus wants you to isolate and stock up and take care of your own first. Instead, look to him first while you take care of others. In community, we can do so much more than we can do on our own. God is caring for us so richly and showering us with SO MUCH GOOD each and every moment.
And the song just plays nonstop in my head – Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the 99.
I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Psalm 118:6 – The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

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How to Weather Adversity Like My 2 Year-Old

About a month ago, my sweet James caught his foot under him while playing in the basement. We didn’t see the moment that it happened and at two and a half, communication is still less than perfect. At first we thought he’d just stubbed a toe, but after a day went by and he refused to put any weight on the foot, we knew something was definitely wrong. After a trip to the pediatrician, the radiologist, and the orthopedist, he came home with a bright blue cast on his right foot—and a diagnosis: a fractured first metatarsal. There were a few tears at the doctor’s offices, but overall he was a brave boy. He even managed a smile on the ride home.

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This being my inaugural fractured bone as a mother of four boys, I didn’t know what to expect. But I’ll confess, I feared it was going to be a challenging several weeks. The first night we got home and I was putting him to bed he said, “Shoe off, mommy?” And then I explained to him that his blue boot couldn’t come off for at least four weeks. There were tears and more repeated requests that night and the next for me to take “the shoe” off, but after that he didn’t ask again.
Instead, he taught me a few lessons about handling adversity with a sweet spirit.

1) Accept your limitations. Since it basically rained most days here in the month of May and getting his cast wet was out of the question, we had to set pretty strict rules about him not playing outside most days. And even on the days when it dried up for a few hours, we couldn’t let him play in the grass where it was still wet. Several times he stood at the glass door like a forlorn puppy, while his brothers got to play outside. But he didn’t throw any tantrums or drive us crazy whining. He accepted his limitations with grace and looked around to see what else was available to him. Because no matter how small your yard is, you’ll waste what has been given you if you spend all your time looking at the fence.

2) Discover new strengths. With outside time being off limits and mobility up and down the stairs to the basement being somewhat a struggle, James turned his attention to puzzles. Before he got his cast on, we knew he had a slight interest in puzzles. Now 4 weeks later, he has absolutely amazed us. Since my other boys never really gravitated to puzzles, I didn’t have a whole lot of them around the house. I did, however, have a set of continent puzzles I’d gotten for teaching my 6 year old homeschool geography this year. James started out mastering South America. I was pleased, but with only about a dozen pieces I wasn’t surprised to see him memorizing the puzzle. Then he turned his attention to North America. When I noticed that he was matching the shapes of 50 states, Canadian territories, Mexico, Central America and the islands to the puzzle outline I called my husband to stare with me in disbelief. A day later, our 2.5 year old had conquered Asia, Europe, and Africa as well, all the while refusing help from anyone who offered and persevering til he finished the very last piece. If he hadn’t had the cast, who knows if we’d ever have discovered his hidden talent. Sometimes it takes a weakness to discover a strength we didn’t know we had.

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3) Love on others. There is only one member of the family less mobile (for the moment) than James and that is baby brother, Beau. James seized the moment amidst his trial to spend his “down” time with baby bro and give him some love and attention. Because no matter how bad things are, there is always someone else who could use your love and encouragement.

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4) Break expectations. When we finally had a dry enough day to play outside for a bit, with just a little bit of help on and off, James took immediately to his tricycle. Basketball and backgammon were also on the agenda. While we do have to accept our limitations, that doesn’t always mean we have to be defined by them.

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5) Let others help.  It was so sweet over the course of the weeks with his cast on to watch his brothers learn compassion and service. Each night, Isaiah faithfully prayed for James’ foot to heal. Luke was sweet to offer James his hand or build a special Lego surprise for him. Both boys served him by clearing his plate or bringing him his milk. It was a sweet reminder to this mama that sometimes our trials are God’s opportunities to help others learn service and compassion.

 

On Tuesday, we went back to the orthopedist. Thankfully, the bone appears to have healed. While James is still a little unsteady, he is on the road to full recovery, but we’re richer from having watched him walk through this trial with such grace. Next time I’m faced with something hard I hope I’ll remember my brave and cheerful little 2 year old and weather the storm with a smile.

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Slow Down: What Our Longings Tell Us

Boys newborn beauSo in the past few weeks at my house, we’ve had a two year old fracture a bone in his foot, pink eye, an ear infection, a twisted ankle, fevers, nausea, more pink eye, sore throats, and congestion. I’m thinking of putting yellow caution tape outside and posting the word “Quarantine” on our doorpost. Undoubtedly, it has been a very strange and eventful sick ward. These are not the days that you look back on with nostalgia. These are the days you pray to get through. But I do know the days—or perhaps, more aptly put, the moments—where we just wish, somehow, we could slow down time.

Recently, my two year old has been coming and cuddling up next to me, looking up at me and saying in his still babyish voice, “I love you, mom.” The simple sincerity in his statement, the turn of his chin as he looks up at me, his dimples, his bed-head, his sticky fingers: could I just somehow bottle it all and uncork it on another day when I need to hear, see, and feel it again?

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These are the moments where, yes, we wish time would slow down, as Nicole Nordeman has put words to in this wildly popular music video:

Such moments come to all of us, parents or not. They are the moments when you are laying in the grass on a perfect September Sunday looking up at the light shafting through the trees, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, the lightness of the breeze, and then closing your eyes with a deep, settled sense of peace.

One of my moments, I’ll never forget, came when I was 17 years old and was spending a summer in Cuzco, Peru. Each morning I would climb up to the flat rooftop of the guest-house where I was staying and have some time reading my Bible. I’d watch the sun as it eased its way over the Andes, and somehow, I felt free enough to just sing and worship God there, alone on that rooftop. I remember one morning being so caught up in the beauty of the sunrise and of the truth of the words I was singing about God, that I just praised and wept and held my hands up in worship. Still, to this day, when I think of the tenderness of my love for God–the youth of our romance–I think of that morning on a roof, 11,500 feet above sea level, soaring over the cares of the world.

But while we’ve all known moments we wish could last, something else in us seems to bristle at the over-sentimentalism that people sometimes use to airbrush the reality around such moments. A friend of mine posted a picture of her two children, all smiles, embracing one another. She captioned it, “A split-second of genuine affection before they went back to clobbering each other.” Another friend posted a picture of her and her daughter smiling two dazzling smiles against a picture-perfect backdrop of blooming flowers. Then she shared how moments before and after that photo she and her daughter had been quarrelling to the point of tears. A lightening glimpse of peace surrounded by an afternoon of thunderous heartache.

Recently, I was reading a friend’s words of how tired she is of having people tell her to “Enjoy every moment!” with her little one. It seems as if every time she goes out, someone says to her, “They grow up too fast,” or “Savor it!” or some such comment. She’s frustrated with all the saccharine that is attached to life with young children. I can feel the tension between these two points of view. As I was thinking about what she said, I saw her words echoed in a recent blog post. I found myself in agreement about the pressure that all the “Cherish this!” sentiments can put on a young mother who is in the thick of sleepless nights and sweeping crushed Cheerios off the floor and round 3 of the stomach flu. We shouldn’t feel like we have to enjoy every moment. And the blog author’s main take-away is a very good reminder to remember that the whole point of all our -parenting is that they grow up. That’s not a tragedy—that’s the God-ordained trajectory.

But as my husband and I talked it over, I couldn’t help thinking that there is something particularly fleeting about these little years. There is a reason why this refrain of “Enjoy it,” is so oft-repeated. Why people can hardly help saying it. Our little guys are changing so fast. The rate of their growth, both physical and mental, will never be matched again. The children I had just a few short months ago are so different from the ones they are today. Everyone who is telling you to enjoy it, the ballads which long for it to slow down, they are all trying to express a truth that is buried in our hearts. Here it is:

We are meant for eternity.

Okay, you say, that was a leap. But hear me out. There is something in us which just wants these special days to last for always, right? That is why we annoy our children with pictures and videos, why we relive these moments in our memories, why we wish so hard, sometimes, for the moments to slow down. We are living within time, but God has “set eternity in the heart of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We long for something of that “eternal now” because God placed that longing within us. As singer/songwriter Michael Card puts it, we are built for eternity, but “stranded in time.”

If we have those moments, where just for that fleeting second, everything is right and perfect and good and we want it to last, don’t berate yourself for that desire. Remember that desire is evidence that you were designed to live eternally in a world that is not blighted with sin, but where everything is right, where your heart is tuned to praise God, where everything that is good and true and beautiful lasts and leads you to praise your Maker. You were made for that.

So next time you have one of those moments, don’t hoard it as if that memory were the end-all and be-all of human existence. The point isn’t about the sweetness of your child, the beauty of that sunrise, or whatever else you wish could last. It is that these good and perfect gifts point us toward a perfect and good Giver who built us to long for timelessness because we were made for eternity with Him. Let the look back lead you to look forward in expectation. You were made for something beautiful-and that beautiful moment is there to whet your appetite for something even better.

Thank You For Your “No”: A Mother’s Day Letter

baby-4-1428356-639x426This Mother’s Day I hope someone will snuggle up next to you, wrap two (probably sticky) hands around your neck, and tell you that you are a good mama—tell you that you are loved. I hope you’ll get a picture that a chubby little hand drew with more love than talent or a phone call from a grown son or daughter who is blossoming because of the love you’ve sewn in them. And I hope the man you’ve joined your life to will look deep into your eyes and tell you thank you: thank you for the love you lavish, for the nights you lose sleep, for the drudgeries you endure, for the pain you’ve faced—all because you wear the name, “Mama.”

And while I hope someone thanks you for the things you do each day. I want to thank you for the things you haven’t done. I want to thank you for taking a humble little path, not of glory, but of sacrifice.

You see, I’ve seen you around. You have an incredible amount of talent and intelligence. Some people think you’ve foolishly tossed chances away. But you know in your heart that you made a choice—and a worthy one. You said, “yes” to your children and that meant sometimes saying, “no” or at least, “not right now” to parts of yourself. A lot of people have no idea about the things you’ve turned down: the promotion, the spotlight, the time, energy and availability for that quiet dream of yours. Sometimes saying “yes” to motherhood has meant saying “no” or “later” to so much. But you’ve done it. And while no one may see the quiet heroism of laying down your own life, I want you to know there is One who knows and who values the service in obscurity.

He values also the ways you’ve said, “yes” and “no” with your money and resources. He sees the little luxuries you’ve done without so that they could have piano lessons, a week at camp, braces, or a little bit tucked away each year for college. You’ve made do with less to give them more. It’s a gift you’ve given through your, “no.” It’s a gift that the children may not appreciate until it’s time for them to make similar choices, but it’s a gift you’ve willingly, quietly given. God sees it. He gets it because he gave us His most precious gift of all so that we, His children, could have more as well.

He sees all the many “no’s” you’ve said, so that you can say “yes” to them. For the naps you’ve done without, so you could say “yes” to tea parties and Lego building; for the night out you’ve given up so you could help her get her scouting badge or ease the pain of a little one teething; for the free time you’ve done without so you could read one more chapter of that beloved book, coach him through writing his college entrance essay, or stitch up the torn princess dress.

And while you may get a thank you from your children or from your spouse this Mother’s Day for the things you do, no one may thank you for the quiet things you haven’t done. So I hope this note finds you, mama. Because what you haven’t done is as important as what you have done.

But even if this note doesn’t reach you, I have a feeling it’s okay. Because you, of all people know, that what you’ve received far outweighs the sacrifice. You’d do it all over again in a heartbeat for that sticky hug, for that scrawled picture, for that phone call. You’d do it all over again to see that smile, that look of accomplishment, that contented moment when their eyes close and you watch them dreaming. You’ve learned the secret: that sacrifice is not the way of death, but the way of life. You’ve learned that the humble road where we lose ourselves is the one where we find the greatest joy. Because life was never meant to be stockpiled and saved, but splashed joyously out—and you, sweet mama, have made quite the splash—soaking everyone around you with the joy of your life spilled for others. I know you are soaked through with joy because of it.

 

If we haven’t yet met, welcome! I’m so glad you stopped by. My aim with every post I write is to challenge you to live a deep and fearless faith. You’ll see I often write about motherhood because I’m write in the middle of it: four sweet children deep. Consider signing up to get these posts directly to your inbox, or check out my book for new or “new again” moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting.

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