We are all in some form of quarantine or social distancing situation, so we should have more time to do all those things we have been meaning to do, right? In an ideal world, maybe, but as we all know and are experiencing, this is not an ideal world. Things change at the drop of a hat, illnesses spread, and if we don’t have the news channel on, someone is texting us the latest bad news.
But, being stuck at home doesn’t have to be the same as being “stuck”. Creatively, I have had boundaries pushed and pressed all in ways that are making me grow as an artist and communicator I am sure. Galleries are moving to online gallery openings, studios are offering conference video classes or online material, and several sources are giving out daily prompts to keep hands and minds busy.
I am going to dare you for a moment to not be busy.
Yesterday, Shane and I listened to our church service in our hammock, then continued to rest for about an hour, which was really hard for me to do. I have so many online things and videos I need to record, I have been missing the gym, and I actually have been doing very little felting, but that break was good. A christian music group posted a picture this morning on Instagram a note on their thoughts for another week of the same thing. They urged the viewers to be still in this season, to receive God’s presence as sabbath for our souls, and to quiet our bored, overactive, and frustrated minds.
Psalm 19:14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
I am back to a busy Monday; yes, even though I am not going into the dance studio where I teach, I will be welcoming dozens and dozens of kids into my home through online classes. I have been editing lesson plans, going over what went well last week and what to add this week. I have been listening to recital music, trying to figure out how to teach these last few counts over a video for various dances. Through all the business, I think back to yesterday, listening to praise music in the hammock, and am thankful we took the time to sabbath in the sunshine.
When spring was trying sneak past winter, and I was still trapped inside due to the chill in the air, I sat down and thought, “I will make a list about fishing, all of the places Shane and I fished together in our first year of marriage.” I can say with certainty, we did not fish enough. Now, this was a list of us together. Shane went with out me many, many times on the ice and a few times last spring. In the end, this is our list of places we fished as a couple, either alone or with friends and family, in our first year of marriage:
1. Moraine State Park
Okay, this one makes total sense. We could walk to this place if we wanted to. Lake Arthur is a body of water I have worn my hip boot into to practice fly fishing, a place I have walked on when it was cold enough, and of course, we have been out with the boat so many times I have lost track.
2. Parker Dam State Park
This was the place that was always my go-to growing up. It was natural to share the excitement of opening day together with my dad and Leah this past year on the bank of Parker Lake, although we also hit Laurel Run in this park on the first day. Shane may not be into the “shoulder to shoulder” mayhem with those who have never fished except for on opening day, but we had fun none the less. I think that first day, with a crowded shoreline, can be humbling as you try to catch trout that aren’t that hungry and novices can out-catch you with in minutes.
3. Frances Slocum State Park
Frances Slocum Lake was a little, but rewarding lake. We were on vacation, so why not just relax by a shoreline after hiking at Ricketts Glen? We set up bobbers and played cards and reeled in fish. This was when Shane commented that maybe once a year he would go bobber fishing usually, but that in that moment, the Sunday before Memorial Day, already gone twice, and he said he can see why people like it.
4. The Grove City Ponds
This was a place Shane got me out onto the ice again! We had a lot of fun here once we got all set up in the rain in a little pop-up shelter he brought to keep me dry. We caught bluegills here and with his fish finder, we could see them coming in and how they were reacting to our bait. This was one of the most recent places he and I fished considering we are just coming out of ice-fishing season and why it made it over the next location.
5. Spring Creek
This quick afternoon trip was made with Leah after she and I had been at the Creation Festival. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Leah wanted to experience fly fishing on a creek, Shane had come to the Saturday night concert and so I had told him to bring up fishing stuff so Sunday we could go out on our way home. Unfortunately, this fishing trip didn’t supply us with any catches at all. I just wanted to lay in the cool water, having been in the hot sun all weekend at the festival, so needless to say, with Leah having to head back to Connecticut, we stopped our attempts sooner than Shane probably would’ve liked.
Sadly, those were the only places that we enjoyed fishing together. After figuring that out, I promptly told Shane, we had to go to more places, even if I had to drag him along kicking and screaming. (Of course, this would never be the case.) Now with the summer sun smiling down on us, looking out to a blue sky, another list has started up on my computer, a list of places where we could get to for a nice day trip and take the boat and Grizz could learn some boating manners.
It’s funny though, because this list reminds me that no matter what we plan, no matter what we have in store, we cannot plan for tomorrow. As it stands right now, Shane and I are with out a truck to haul the boat, and though we have canoes and hip waders and other ways to fish, the truck breaking down has dampened our spirits.
Proverbs 27:1 says not to boast about tomorrow, because we never know what tomorrow may bring, and with my longboard fall and the truck breaking down, we know that to be true. Another couple may be stressing out at the lack of a truck and the dilemmas that may bring as we need one to gather the materials for the new dog fence, haul a boat, or even just to move things with more ease on our property, but as Shane and I discussed what to do about a truck, we decided to just keep praying and waiting. As Shane put it, he has never not had anything he needed provided just at the right time. I love hearing that from him, knowing he is able and capable to wait on the Lord with me.
Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendorwas dressed like one of these.30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Looking back through verses that I have posted in more recent entries caused me to pause and re-read them in the style of my last post. I replaced law from this Psalm and inserted Jesus, and it made me smile.
Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love Jesus! He is my meditation all the day. 98 Jesus makes me wiser than my enemies, for he is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Jesus is my meditation.
He reached out to everyone, he loved everyone. He was a great teacher. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we are living with Jesus on our minds all the time, we would act differently to everyone around us? After all, those who look to him are radiant, because he is a light, and their faces shall never be ashamed according to Psalms 34. This leaves me beaming.
Looking to him, meditating on him and being left radiant also left me curious as to how many times the word light appears in the Bible. According to the Christian Bible Reference website, it varies a little based on version, but in the King James Version, light is mentioned 177 times in the Old Testament and 93 in the New Testament. Meanwhile, the Knowing Jesus website has 440 instances in the thesaurus where the word light shows up in the Bible. Either one of the websites counts are impressive and is proof that the idea of light is important.
So many verses express how, once knowing Jesus, you have light. Once believing in Jesus, Christians are described as the salt and light. The description of a man being foolish to hide a lit lamp under a bushel is a popular parable of Jesus. This idea of light makes me think of a child playing with a flashlight, even when their hand is squeezed over the lens, and orange glow creeps out from between fingers. To really hide the light, you have to turn it off or completely turn it inwards, utterly blocking the light.
John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
And yet, despite what that verse says, we do stay in darkness much of the time, don’t we? We hide our light, we keep it pressed close and inward so we can go out and no one will notice, for fear of actually having to discuss what we believe. We take out our flashlights and wave them like lighters at a concert in praise on Sundays, we feed the flame during the pastors message, but then we tuck it away again as soon as we leave the church parking lot. How many people know what light we have, does it creep out from between our fingers as we others politely enough? Or is it all together absent when the waitress gets our order wrong, the car mechanic lists off ten more things that are wrong with your car that you didn’t expect, or a friend comes to us crying asking why?
It can feel safer or easier to just ignore the light, to just hide it. Especially if you have gotten close to the brink or given up all together on the supposed “how-to” manual. After all, if you don’t even see results and you feel the pain that the world brings, what is the point of having the light? You might as well tuck it away until the occasional Sunday or holiday and live like the rest of the struggling world.
But, if you have the light, we are not like the rest of the world. We should know what true love is and want to share it. Think about a couple that just started dating, they can’t stop talking about the other person, they blush when they come up, and they make changes to their calendar just to see more of that person. A newly engaged couple is always happy to show off the ring and talk about plans for the big day. That other person is their life, and they would do anything for them. I can’t sum up any better how that sort of relationship should exist between us and the Light and how it should radiate out of us to affect others beyond this verse from John:
1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If you are feeling like giving up, if you feel like it is easier to hide your light, if you feel like this “how-to” manual left out a few pages and isn’t fixing your problems, please don’t forget, you know what real love is and it comes from the Light. Life can get exhausting, confusing, and it can down right hurt, but Jesus’ arms are outstretched and he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
I have to include this song from Tauren Wells because it is a beautiful reminder not to give up.
Standing in your ruins feels a lot like the end
So used to losing, you’re afraid to try again
Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
The truth is that you’re not forgotten
‘Cause Grace knows your name
Sunday, our normal preacher didn’t take the stand, but the pastor of operations did. Shane and I have heard the younger speaker before, and agree, he is just as inspiring as our senior pastor. This week, he did not disappoint, bringing forth the word, and presenting it not as a “how-to” manual for life, but instead a story of who. If we constantly and only approach the word as a manual, then we are bound to be disappointed. Ways we can be disappointed could be in ourselves for not measuring up or being disappointed because even though we were following the “directions”, things did not turn out how they were supposed to. We can be disappointed as we feel we are following the “directions” yet others around us, who don’t seem to be following them get promoted, get a bonus, get that relationship we’ve been wanting, that job, that home, what ever.
If your heart is heavy and mind is tired from trying to follow the “how-to” manual, these lyrics from the song “Particles” seem to sum up how it feels in that moment of things not working:
Here I am
Floating in emerald sea
Keep me dancing
Keep me as still as can be
And I try to keep the balance right
And I try but it feels like wasted time
But these heavy hands
They’re pulling me down on my chest
Latching on, coloring all of my flesh
Quietly, you hover over me
And I fight but it feels like wasted time
I’ve been there. Who hasn’t been there? I think what really hurts sometimes is seeing someone you love right there; there in that moment of “but what did I do so wrong, wasn’t I basically following the manual? I have seen others follow it far less, and yet I’m the one suffering.” Any time spent following the manual, feels like wasted time. Disappointments pull you down and seem to latch on. I so want to tell everyone who is standing in that place, there is a door, there is a pathway, there is more to the story. Thank goodness, there is more to the story, there is redemption.
Our regular pastor has been speaking on Revelation, and he is in chapters two and three at this point, and Jesus is revealing things he knows about specific churches, a testament to a central theme in Revelation that God knows what you are going though, it is evident by what he already knows about the churches. At the end of every church statement is written, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says…” Meaning, if we put it in context of ourselves, we have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to look for signs of all sizes. This is where our senior pastor said, “Do not miss the subtle ways God reveals himself because you are only looking for the powerful.” Maybe it is a song, maybe it is a blogpost, maybe it is a friend reaching out, but that is God acknowledging that he knows what you are going through and he is trying to reach out to you about it.
The bridge for me between his message from Revelation on April 29 to this past Sunday’s sermon on the Bible as a “how to” guide, was this idea of not giving up. If you have followed the Bible like a “how-to” manual instead of a story about who, then trying something else might seem to make more sense, ignoring it until Sunday may seem easier, or tossing out the manual altogether may seem like an answer, but there is more to the story than a list of do’s and don’ts and more to your story. It may feel like God hasn’t noticed how you have followed directions or at least that other people have followed them less and yet they are receiving blessings and it just feel like time wasted, but there is more.
Pointing out synonyms, we looked at Psalm 19:7-10 where it speaks of the law of the Lord, or synonyms for law like commands or decrees.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
Here it is, verses making promises, following all these rules should work, right? So why doesn’t it always work out? Where is the beauty in illness, in a car crash, in debt, in a broken family? Let’s pause and consider, what if we re-read those verses and replace the “how-to” with a who.
7 Jesus is perfect, refreshing the soul. Jesus is trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 Jesus is right, giving joy to the heart. Jesus is radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 Jesus is pure, enduring forever. Jesus is firm, and all of them are righteous.
10 Jesus is more precious than gold, than much pure gold; He is sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
And what if we look at the truth Jesus shared about himself in Matthew 11 where his arms are stretched out, reaching for us? It adds so much to these Psalms full of promises and helps fulfill a beautiful image of a caring savior.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus is the answer. He is perfect, he is pure, he is forever. He is all of those things that the Psalms describes. While those descriptions may be applied to many unreachable gods, Jesus is reachable. In fact, he is reaching out for us with the promise of rest.
Jesus is the answer. Every time he speaks to a church in Revelation, our pastor pointed out, Jesus identifies himself to them, and to the suffering church of Smyrna, he presents himself as the one who died and came to life again. For that particular church, they needed to know that, they were under real persecution, and some wouldn’t survive. But, we need to be reminded of eternity too. This isn’t it, there is more, so much more to all of our stories thanks to Jesus, and when it seems like the rules, the decrees, the manual isn’t working, Jesus is perfect, refreshing to the soul and waiting to give us rest.
I have to finish with this quote from our senior pastor because as I heard it the first time, I found it so encouraging. The connection I made with this particular quote from his message and resting in Jesus rather than a “how-to” manual just culminated into a beautiful reminder I want to carry into the remainder of this spring. It is a reminder that I can’t keep to myself as I see hurting people all around me feeling like they are wasting time on laws and decrees with hollow promises. And to contrast the song “Particles”, I also want to share “Your Promises” and hope it is a song you can carry with you this hour, this day , this week to remind you to not give up.
“Don’t give up even though you don’t always understand what God is doing, you may not like it, you may not understand it. Things might happen to you that God didn’t orchestrate because somebody else turned wrong, made a wrong decision and now you are paying the price and he would’ve not wanted you to go through that, but he promised he’d be with you, even in the middle of it. But even if there are things God orchestrates, and you don’t get what he’s doing and the end result, don’t give up.” -Denny Krajacic, Senior Pastor at Butler Community Alliance Church
I brought up the numbers sixteen and forty-four in my blog post, “Being the Salt, Continued” for a reason. They are actions that can reach outside of our comfort circle, outside of the “handling fresh fruit” zone and can dip into delaying the decay. While I think it is important to encourage other christians, support them on their walks, have a mentor or be a mentor, or support our spouses by giving thanks to them to encourage and uplift them as I mentioned in my last post, when we are compared to salt in the book of Matthew, that’s an image that should cause us to reach beyond ourselves.
I have long been thinking about this salt idea since it was so repeatedly brought to my attention through a few different outlets, and since my routine is pretty set in stone, tucking in “gifts” as Ann Voskamp might refer to them has been on my mind. One place I regular is the gym. I could shrug off my time in the gym as everyone wears headphones and for the most part is in their own little world, but I didn’t want to shrug it off. Again, I’m shy, I might not be the one to go directly up to a stranger and invite them to church, but I do regularly wear hoodies to the gym.
Over the years I have collected a good number of hoodies that have verses on them and bright images. I made them year after year for our VBS at our church and the little dance crew that would perform in the closing. As a gift, the dancers would get to keep their hoodies, and if I wasn’t dancing, I still kept one, usually just to make the minimum order it took to get them printed and because I designed them, so naturally I liked them. I try not to disguise their message, it’s a bold pop of encouragement.
One year the hoodies were a rich azure blue with bright white mountains and a cross. The verse was from Psalms 18. My cousin was one of the dancers at the time, and after VBS he still wore the hoodie. He was so excited to share with me his experience with it after VBS, and why he no longer had it, which I will now share with you.
He was in another town with his friends, a day trip, just having fun, not out on a missions trip; they were stopped someplace when a woman came up to him and asked where he got his hoodie, to which he replied he hadn’t gotten it in a store and why he had it. For whatever reason though, the verse on the hoodie just really hit home with the stranger, and she told him it was exactly what she needed to hear, or see since it was on his hoodie. My cousin was so moved by this chance meeting that he gave his hoodie to the woman. She was so grateful. My cousin, in recounting the tale, apologized for not having his hoodie any more, perhaps thinking I would be offended he gave away a gift I gave him.
I was the complete opposite! My heart felt full and I wasn’t even the one who got to hug the stranger and give her the hoodie. I told him that was exactly what the hoodies were for, not that I or any of the other dancers have had experiences quite like this, but the message is big and bright so it can be noticed and shared.
Maybe someone will approach me about my hoodies when I wear them to the gym, maybe they won’t, but they’ll get to read them. Sometimes it is a silent connection, other times it can become a connection where you can literally give something away. Either way, again, I pray you can find a way to be the gift in our world today.
Psalms 18:2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.