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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Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

momfail

The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

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For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

afloat
There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Parenting: This. Is. Hard.

LUKE JAMES 1MOTwo months ago, our sweet baby boy decided to make his debut a month early. A slow leak of amniotic fluid meant a heightened risk of infection for baby and me, so much to my dismay, the nurses hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin one Wednesday night in early October and induced a labor I wasn’t expecting that day or for nearly another month. (I told them that it wasn’t a give-birth kind of night—more of a movie-and-popcorn kind of night, but they disagreed and hooked me up anyway.) Thankfully, our sweet boy is a fighter, and he came out kicking and screaming. One short NICU stay later, and a few jaundiced trips back and forth to the hospital, we had our precious James Valor home with us for good.

Since then we’ve been slowly getting accustomed to life with a 3.5 year old, nearly 2 year old, and newborn. Did I mention all three of them are boys? Energetic, sometimes mischievous, hard-of-hearing boys…yes, that’s the kind we have. They are also sweet, adorable, can’t-help-but-kiss-their-precious-little-cheeks kind of boys. That kind. I love them to pieces, despite the fact that the two oldest are currently keeping each other awake upstairs rather than napping. I’m choosing to ignore this so I can write a word or two to you because God has put something on my heart to say. And here it is: this isn’t easy.

I know you know it, but sometimes I think we as parents tend to think that we are the only ones who feel this way, that perhaps somehow everyone but us has it together, that perhaps other people’s children are innately better-behaved, or other parents are just better than us at balancing it all. Well, I want to say that it just isn’t so. Sure, some of us are better organized. Some of us have more experience with little children. But none of us get a free pass. Everyone who is privileged enough to be a parent has the incredibly hard task of raising a little one from complete dependence to independence. Every one of us is given a child whose heart is bent away from God and towards selfishness. And all of us must pray and parent diligently to turn their hearts toward Him.

So in case you’ve seen me on a good day, when my hair is combed and make-up is actually on; in case, you’ve assumed that because my children sometimes can be super-sweet that I’m one of those have-it-all-together kind of moms, well, just in case you thought that about me or some other mom you know, then let me set the record straight. Parenting is hard. It’s hard for me and hard for all of us.

Here’s where I feel like I’m supposed to offer you some great pick-me-up, some biblical principle that makes what I’ve just said all better. I don’t know that I can. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that the love I have for these little guys is bigger than the frustration I feel on a daily basis. I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me even in my weakness, even on the hardest of days. And I want you to know that too. But I don’t want any of that to eclipse what I’ve just said. This isn’t easy.

And if you don’t hear it or feel it from anyone else, I want you to know dear, sleep-deprived friend; I want you to know dear, when-will-he-ever-potty-train-wondering mommy; I want you to know sweet sister in the can-I-throw-one-of-those-tantrums-too trenches that I hear ya, I feel ya, and I understand. This. Is. Hard. I’m right there with you and so is God. (He has some pretty obstinate children also. At least that’s what I hear.)

 

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