March 25, 2020

Oh, Easter, How We Need You

I'm not sure I'm going to need a new Easter dress this year. 

I ordered a bunch of candidates, but I don't know if I'm going to keep any of them, not only because I'm not in love with them but, so much more, because I'm not sure I'm going to have an occasion to wear them.

But I am very, very sure of this: I need Easter. In fact, I'm sure we all need it, maybe more than we've ever needed it at any other time in history, save one.

I'm not talking about needing the reopening of businesses, as President Trump recently put forth.

I'm not even talking about needing to be able to gather in sanctuaries together, though that surely is a longing of so many aching souls.

I'm talking about needing the pieces of Easter that are not in question, because they've already been answered. I'm talking about needing the details of Easter that are not TBD, because they've already been determined.

We desperately need Easter, no matter what it ends up looking like. If it looks different than other years, it will follow in good stead, because the first Easter also looked entirely unlike anyone expected it to.

Jesus’ followers expected that first Easter Sunday to look dark.

They expected it to reek of death.

They expected it to be shrouded in fear and uncertainty. 

They expected it to be heavy with disappointment.

Close to 2,000 years later, we know about these things.

But that first Easter, eleven words changed everything.

“He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”

These words and the truth behind them turned the expected on its heel. 

Dark went to light.
Death went to life.
Fear went to hope. 
Uncertainty went to blessed assurance. 
Disappointment went to fulfillment.
Defeat went to victory. 

We need these gifts and maybe we need them with an urgency we've never known before. These riches are ours to take hold of, held out to us by the Giver of every good gift, Who is not waiting around to see if Easter will happen this year.

No matter what we end up wearing or where we end up wearing it or who might be near us to compliment us on a new dress, this Easter can blow our expectations out of the water. 

No matter what we’ll be wearing, our certain celebration is based on what Jesus WASN’T wearing that Easter: His grave clothes. 

This is the only thing we need to know to look forward, full-on, to Easter this year. 

Let’s give the anticipation its due. Let’s put more weight on what we know than what we don’t. Let’s wait with eager hope. Let's look forward in confident expectation that our deepest needs will be met. And then let's watch God do, again, the glorious unexpected.

March 21, 2020

Maybe Getting Back To Normal Shouldn't Be What We Want Most

 Normal is officially on hiatus. 

Whatever normal might ever have been, it isn’t right now. 

We are still doing some "normal" things, of course. We are eating and sleeping and laughing and crying and working and learning.

But even these most basic elements of "normal” we are doing in new ways. 

We are eating, but more at home and possibly using ingredients we've stocked up on more than usual.

We are sleeping, but some of us more fitfully and some of us just more.

We are laughing, but maybe feeling a little guilty about it.

We are crying, but maybe more often and about things we aren't even sure we understand.

We are working (some of us, and we're thankful for it), but from home or on a reduced schedule or at a different job we've hastily gotten to fill in the gaps.

We are learning, but in different ways and places and at different paces. Some learning is much slower, and some is so fast we can't keep up with it.

And then there are the normal things we are not doing and the abnormal things we are doing. 

We are not shaking hands or eating in restaurants or getting together. We are not, some of us, going to work or church.

We are staying home and washing our hands A LOT and canceling plans and seeing a great many posts about toilet paper.

We are, frankly, already tired of all of it: the erased normal and the altered normal and the abnormal. We have not actually been living on this normalcy hiatus for very long, but it already feels like a lifetime, and we are DONE.

Life called, and it wants its normal back.

But maybe getting back to normal shouldn't be what we want most.

Some of the not-as-normal things we are doing are things we needed—and need—to do. Things like working out our patience muscles. Things like checking on the vulnerable and asking, "Does anybody need anything I can provide?" Things like seeking out opportunities to help and serve. Things like spending extended time with our families and not just at the holidays. Things like realizing what matters most. 

Things like stripping away some busyness. Things like making sure the people we love know it. Things like breathing and going outside and taking walks and soaking up sunshine. Things like figuring out what we can do without. Things like appreciating a lot of pieces of normal life we take for granted.

Some of these not-so-normal things are the byproducts of not being able to do a lot of usual life. We've had space and wide margins opened up, and we've filled them with some things that might be good to keep around when normal—or a new version of it, anyway—returns.

Instead of getting back to normal, maybe what we should want more is to get forward to something better. 

To a place where we recognize that there were some good things missing from our old normal and so we decide, gratefully, to make them part of our new. 

March 19, 2020

Why We Need a Little Christmas Right This Very Minute

The Hallmark Channel recently announced it's scheduling a Christmas movie marathon during the coronavirus self-quarantine. 

People are putting their Christmas lights back up (or patting themselves on the back for never having taken them down in the first place).

And I absolutely understand why.

I understand, because for days, I've had a show tune running through my head: "We Need a Little Christmas," from the musical Mame.

The musical, based on a book and a Broadway play, is set in New York City against a backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II. It tells the story of its eccentric namesake who, after she loses her fortune, decides she and her household need some Christmas. 


"This very minute," in fact.

Mame calls for "candles in the window" and carols around the piano. But I think Hallmark and the people who are putting their Christmas lights back up understand we need something a lot more right now than just comfortingly sappy story lines and decorative illumination.

We need the close comfort of home and family. We need to be grateful. We need to think of others. We need cheer. We need peace. We need goodwill. We need joy. 

We need hope. 

We need these gift of Christmas, and it feels like we really do need them right this very minute. 

The similarities between the time stamp of Mame—the Depression and WWII—and the time we're living in right now feel a little eerie. NOT that we are in a depression...but our worldwide economy surely has taken a hefty blow. NOT that we are in a military battle...although it does feel as though our entire world is fighting a weighty war.

So if pulling from the best parts of the Christmas season—the parts that aren't bound by any month on the calendar—can help us all navigate a season none of us has ever been through before, I say bring it on.

If anyone needs me, I'll be 
cranking up the Christmas music, digging out my Christmas lights, rounding up my Christmas tree cookie cutter, and putting on my official Hallmark Christmas movie-watching socks. I need them. And so much more than that, I need to give all the deeper gifts that go with them. 

This very minutes. Now. Always.

March 16, 2020

For All We Don't Know, Here's What We Still Do Know

The unknowns feel as though they're ruling the day right now.

Or, at the very least, they feel like a bunch of bullies, pushing their way to the head of the life line.

We don't know what day-to-day life is going to look like.
We don't know what's going to be open, closed, happening, or cancelled.
We don't know if trips or events or celebrations we've had planned for a long time are going to be wiped out in a matter of minutes.
We don't know how close the virus is going to get to us.
We don't know what's going to being in short supply next.
We don't know what plans for the future are safe to make.

And maybe one of the most unsettling things we don't know is how long we're not going to know all this.

It's the open-endedness that I think makes this crisis so weighty. I can usually deal in okayish fashion with a challenging season if I feel like I have some idea of how and when it's going to end. But that how and that when feel like the leaders of the unknown parade at the moment.

Yet for all we don't know, here's what we do still know.

We know that learning can happen in lots of different ways and places.

We know that getting outside and moving around are always good ideas.

We know kindness is disease-resistant.

We know laughter does not have to wait until there's nothing unfunny going on.

We know having a home to be in is a privilege.

We know patience is a skill we can get better at with practice.

We know the big picture is made up of a lot of little pieces that all have to be fit together before they make sense.

We know doing what's best for others often comes at a sacrifice to ourselves.

We know encouragement is not a one-time deposit but a ongoing investment.

We know right now is the perfect time to tell our people we love them, even though we hope with all our hearts they already know it full well.

And when the fog of doubt closes in again, we strain our eyes to see this guiding truth: God knows where we are, and He is always taking us somewhere worth going.

"He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, 
I will come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).

March 15, 2020

To Mom: The Unspoken

To Mom: The Unspoken

by Kyrsten Newlon

For the times you made me smile through tears,
I saw the love you held.

For the grocery runs and the homework guidance and every night you rocked me to sleep,
I saw the care and my heart beamed.

For the trophies and awards and celebratory dinners,
I saw you at the end, not my own success.

For the days when it all came crashing down on you,
I saw the burden you carried.

For the prayers and stress and late-night talks,
I saw and treasured every bit of wisdom.

When we felt distant, when we felt close, when we fought and when we laughed,
I saw how hard you were trying.

For the conversations about God and the teachings you handed down,
I saw Him in you.

For the discipline and the punishments and every time you said no,
I saw the love, even if I didn’t always understand.

In every adventure you took me on,
I saw you. You were the hero to me.

Kyrsten Newlon is a writer from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has written for Input Fort Wayne magazine, the Kalamazoo Valley museum, the Winona Lake Newsletter, and Grace College. Her days are consumed by writing, coffee, and notes upon notes of ideas. As a dedicated learner, she loves to explore many different areas of writing, interviewing, and dreaming.

March 6, 2020

Dear Children, You Can Be  Something Even Better Than Anything You Want To Be

My Dearest Children,

I need to tell you something that may be a little startling, given that it's probably in direct contrast to what you've heard most of your lives.

You cannot be anything you want to be.

I know: you've always heard that you can be. You've heard you can be anything you want to be, so long as you put your mind and effort to it.

But the truth is, you can't.

Hold on, my loves, though, because before you nominate me for Mom Unmotivational Speaker of the Year, I have even better news for you. The best news, really.

You can be something even better than anything you want to be. You can be anything God wants you to be.

My darlings, you were made on purpose, for a purpose. You are not a fluke or accident or coincidence. You are the direct result of a thought in the mind of the Creator of the universe, and He only ever has good ideas.

God can do anything He wants. (See, "sovereign.") You can do anything He wants. (In fact, doing what God wants is always a very good idea.)

But because you are, at the moment, living in an imperfect world in an imperfect—if mind-blowingly complex and intricate and flat-out fabulous—body, there are going to be some things you might want to do that you can't do. Things your particular body and/or brain are just not equipped to do, no matter how much you want or work at it.

Your father, for instance, may have wanted to be an astronaut. (He didn't, but go ahead and humor my example here.) That may have been the "anything" he wanted to be. But his reading glasses, contact lenses, night glasses, and special telescopic driving glasses should tell you NASA would have had something else to say about that. Your father may have wanted to be an NBA basketball star. (Okay, he did want that.) But no matter how much he wanted that "anything" or how hard he worked or sacrificed, he was never going to have the innate ability to make that wanting a having or a doing.

On the other hand, he may have wanted to become an attorney. His impaired vision might have made that harder. But your grandfather seemed to be speaking the mind of God when he told your dad, "I think you'd make a good lawyer," because your dad is, in fact, that very "anything."

You may want to be "anything." But God has made you to be something. Something specific. Something special. Something only you can be.

"I know the plans I have for you,” God says. And, great news: they are "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

You have dreams, longings, wishes, and hopes for yourself—and those are cause for anticipation and celebration. But God has plans—concrete, defined, certain intentions—for you that are forward-facing and always and only for your good. And because He is an intentional, complete God, if He's planned it for you, He's planned you for it. He's loaded you with the mental, physical, and emotional capacity to make that longing into a reality in your life.

You may very well want to be "anything," but it might not be an "anything" God wants you to be. God had an idea that might be a hard thing to wrap your mind around, so He went ahead and addressed it in His great love letter to you.

"My thoughts," says the Lord, "are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours" (Isaiah 55:8,9 GNT).

I want you to aim high, my loves. But know that God is aiming higher.

The fact is that you cannot be anything you want to be in the "wanting" of your own nature. But when you pull and tug and wrestle and s-t-r-e-t-c-h your own will for yourself so it lines up with God's will for you, this fact is freeing, not limiting! This reality does not deprive you of possibilities; it delivers you to probabilities. It does not close doors; it shows you which ones you can open, with hard work and diligence and determination and hard work and passion and study and practice and hard work and are we seeing a theme here?

When the road to being anything God wants you to be grows long and steep and rocky, remember that what God starts, He finishes. What He allows you to start, He will equip you to finish.

"There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality" (Philippians 1:6, 7 MSG).

So, no, you cannot be anything you want to be, my darlings. But you can be anything God wants you to be. 

That makes all the difference in the world. And that's how you will make all difference in the world.

With hope and love,