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My 3 Non-Negotiables for Health & Peace in COVID-19 Days

Woman with COVID-19 Mask and virus

I’m lost. Going from so busy to no busy is harder than I thought, Jan wrote. I’m struggling to find any rhythm or routine these COVID-19 days.

Don’t Waste These COVID-19 Days

I feel Jan’s pain. Two weeks ago we were sent home-kids with their Chromebooks and teachers with their lesson plans- for God knows how long. The days feel different from before, but all the same.

Oh, it’s Thursday? I thought it was Tuesday, my fourteen year-old said.

So this post is for Jan and me and all of us who want to find healthy, new shelter-at-home routines.

It’s for all of us who don’t want to waste these COVID-19 days.

My 3 Non-Negotiables Each Day

I’ll share those three healthy, stabilizing habits in a minute.

But the first and last word on health has got to be grace.

For in Him we live and move and have our being. Because He is our life and the length of our days. And His word has given us life. (Acts 17:28, Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 119:50)

Because any measure of health is a gift from God.

Because the LORD forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases, redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies me with good so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:3-4)

So what are we to do when the foundations are shaken? How do we live in these confusing COVID-19 days?

Well, our God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). So here are my three: three means of grace to find the health and peace we so crave in these turbulent days.

1. Get Physical

The body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  –1 Corinthians 6:13

Move your body. Exercise- outside if you can. Because God made our bodies and he made them to move. And- guess what?-he made them to feel good when they do. We weren’t made to stay put, even during these shelter-at-home days.

David Mathis explains in a recent message to Christian fitness buffs.

With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, and the smartphone in 2007, many of us are still coming to grips with how sedentary human life has become. But this has not always been so. God made us to move, and to do so vigorously. And he wired our brains to need it, reward it, and reinforce it. Exercise makes happier humans, and God made humans to be happy — in him — with bodily movement being an assistant, rather than adversary, to our joy.

Regular human movement has been assumed throughout history, but the innovations and seeming progress of modern life have made a sedentary lifestyle more normal than ever before. Perhaps we’ve never needed to state the obvious about regular bodily movement and “bodily training” as much as we do today.

Lady biking during COVID-19

We get this- the dogs of the world are making out like bandits with all our extra walks. Still, I predict Weight-Watchers will go gangbusters. Because many of us have never had so much food stored up. Nor, I suspect, has the temptation to emotional eating ever been greater.

But getting physical doesn’t just mean walking or biking. My husband’s job is “non-essential” these days. He’s cleaned the garage and chopped lots of wood. Friends are cleaning drawers and sanding tables. That’s work-moving the body. It counts.

So let’s get physical. Because physical training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8). It’s God’s gift and healthy habit #1.

2. Be Social

Let us…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10: 25

No joke: I’ve phone-called and Face-timed more in the last week than in the six months combined. Yesterday was extra-social: 2 phone dates, 1 Zoom Lifegroup, 1 FaceTime call and 2 6-foot distant visits with my neighbors.

Every single contact was encouraging. And all provided much needed perspective. Each one was a real time was to give and receive love.

Rhythms For Quarantine

Justin Whitmel Earley provides Spiritual Rhythms For Quarantine, four habits that create household patterns of stability and hope in a time of distraction, upheaval and fear.

About Gather Safely, he writes,

Friendship is the lifeblood of the soul. We were made for community, and without it, we wither.

Christian community is the primary place where we process our anxieties and preach the good news of Jesus to each other. While now is a time where we absolutely must significantly alter the way we meet, we must not give up small and safe gatherings, even if that means we have to connect by digital means. These times will either be some of the most rich because of the ways we lean into community, or they will be some of the most despairing because…we fail to [meet]. 

Social isolation is dangerous. But a sweet friendship refreshes the soul. So phone a friend. That’s healthy habit #2.

3. Feed Your Soul

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 42

Social distancing does not apply to God. COVID days or not, God’s call to us is the same: Draw near (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22). Christ calls us to come to him every single day.

Honestly, this non-negotiable is the one I negotiate the most. It’s the one most likely to get squeezed out. Exercise and the friendship have immediate effects- endorphins from exercise and encouragement from friends. They make me feel good in the moment.

But of spending time with my Father who is unseen takes faith. Because I don’t always feel the perks right away. But blessed are those who hear these words of mine and obey them (Luke 11:28).

As if to drive that point home, it just so happened that Mary and Martha were in my daily reading today. Remember them?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better thing, which will not be taken away from her.”

Am I the only one these days tempted to keep checking the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 interactive map? I’ve checked it twice since I sat down to write. The numbers are still going up: 116,505 confirmed cases in the US and 8 deaths in Milwaukee.

And Martha was anxious and distracted by many things too.

Choose The Better Thing

So if we need any reminder of non-negotiable #3- enter Mary. Mary, who chose the better thing that cannot be taken from her. She could have been distracted by the same things Martha was, but Mary chose the better thing.

The better thing was sitting and listening to the Lord Jesus, caring for her soul. Yes, I’m naturally Martha. But by grace these days, I’m becoming Mary – choosing the better thing. Seeking God in the Word and prayer: that is healthy habit #3.

A while back, my friend Jen gave me some good advice about parenting our new teen. Her words have been echoing in my ears: Teach him to care for himself. Don’t tell him what to do. Instead, ask him how he can care for his physical, social and spiritual health each day.

Will you take her advice? Care for your body, your friends, and your soul. Make those non-negotiables.

If you do, you won’t waste these COVID-19 days. Or any days.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31

Recommended and Related:

Author Amanda Barratt wrote a thoughtful piece about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Even though his social distance was kept in a Nazi prison camp, his non-negotiables were the same. Care for your body, your neighbor, your soul.

For the most part, his days were spent alone. He organized his time, dividing it between reading, writing letters, working on various writing projects, and exercising, both in his cell and for a half hour every day in the prison courtyard. 

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On My Good Dad’s 70th Birthday

Dad and Adult Daughter pedaling paddleboat

Thank you, good daughter, is what my dad said.

He said it last summer as I helped haul hay from the wagon to the mow. That wasn’t the only, but it’s the last time I recall.

Today’s my good dad’s 70th birthday. Let me tell you a few things about him. But in some big ways, if you know me, you already know my dad. For I am my father’s daughter.

A Dad Of Contrast

Let’s start last Sunday. With COVID-19, we worshiped at home. At 9:30 AM, Mom and Dad and my sister showed up with 4 hymnals. Hymnals. Dad and I love singing hymns. We started with Rise Up, O Man Of God. Man, not church, let the record reflect. But dad’s not a musical snob. Not at all.

He loves him some foot-tappin’ Gospel and strong-strummin’ folk. Besides playing the bagpipes- he recorded Danny Boy at dawn on St. Patrick’s Day for my sister to share with her 2nd grade class- he picked up some tin whistle too. He could probably play in a pinch at a session.

It’s like that with cooking too. He’ll whip up the most elaborate, marinate all day, ingredient list the length of spatula, simmer all afternoon with fresh rosemary and thyme from his garden dish you’ve ever tried. Then he’ll go a few days on vegetables with bread and cheese or just plain cabbage soup.

Teaches And Learns

Dad’s at home with the most intellectual. He’s reading a new book on redemption from a Greek Orthodox position- and did I mention how he popped open his Greek New Testament on Sunday to show us that the beyond in 2 Cor. 4:17 is hyperbole in Greek.

Dad’s a thinker. But he’s also a teacher and a lifelong learner.

In fact, he’s taught our boys most of the finer points in etiquette and mending relationships with Laurel & Hardy, What About Bob? and Ernest Goes To Africa. Just ask Gabe- or don’t- who taught him to lick last bit of ice cream from his bowl.

Dad’s always reading the farm journals to improve his horticulture. Currently, he’s learning be a champion broccoli sprouter. He’s already taught us how blowing fans on his tender sprouts toughens them for big gusts outside of the house.

Laughs and Serves

Dad can go toe-to-toe with a gifted theologian, and nose-to-nose with a baby. Dad pastored for decades and now he serves with mom in the little church nursery. I wouldn’t say the nursery is his passion, but I think being there brings him joy. Dad knows a real servant does what needs to be done.

I’ve got a lot to learn about being a servant, but what I’ve learned is mostly from watching Dad. Servants are humble. Dad isn’t all wrapped up in himself. For the Christian, that’s called maturity. Others’ focus is spiritual health.

Dad and toddler

I first remember thinking that about Dad when I was five or six. No kidding. We’d stopped off at a park 10 minutes from home. The park had a tunnel slide and Dad carried my down in his lap. I probably had begged him to go. But when we got off, I looked at him and burst into tears. Because blood ran from the top of his head down his face.

Dad was balding even then and the top of his head had scraped the tunnel and I thought he’d soon drop dead. But instead he laughed and grabbed his handkerchief. That was that.

Now fast forward to my 7th grade year. Dad was my science substitute teacher. I don’t remember anything about it except that Brian whispered, in range of my sensitive ears, “He’s a chrome dome.” Aaron laughed. And I about died of embarrassment- for my dad.

Somehow it came out at dinner that night- the outrageous, shaming slur- and guess what? He just laughed and said, Don’t let that bother you, Ab.

Dad and 4 kids

Dad Loves His Friends

Dad definitely loves his family. I’ve never doubted that for a second. But Dad also loves his friends.

For almost two decades now, Dad gets together with his friend Tom early Wednesday mornings, I think, to study and pray over coffee. Sometimes with Baileys Irish Cream. He used to do that with dear Mike, his literary friend.

Then there’s Paul and Robin their movie-swapping, ag-chat friends and Bob and Jane their all-thing-Irish friends. And for decades, until last year, there was Patsy and Jim. And on Tuesday nights, Lord willing, there’s sweet time with Jen and Tim.

My Dad loves his friends. I have a hunch that watching Dad love his friends has made my friendships second nature. We all need friends, and all different sorts of friends.

A Good Dad

But the best thing Dad did is make it easy for his kids to come to Jesus. I’m sorry some of you don’t have a dad like mine. Some fathers make it hard. They lay stumbling blocks instead of sowing gospel seeds.

But a good father lays down his life for his kids. He goes low to love his ownDad feeds his kids what his sweat has grown, potatoes and berries and beans. He laughs with his grandkids, sings hymns with his kids, and, for love, serves us all in love. Where once he preached in the pulpit, now he plays in the nursery. That’s my Dad.

I have good dad. That’s in large part because he has an even better Father. So I’ll leave off with this song my father loves.

It’s about his Father whose name is love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Dad, Mom and grandchild in paddleboad
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St. Patrick, Me, and COVID-19

Man dressed for St. Patrick's day with hat over face.

My family celebrated St. Patrick today, but capped at 10 only. Dad read from the Confessions and we sang St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I wore my green Irish sweater and made mashed potatoes. It’s St. Patrick’s day.

But it’s also the day that all the schools in my town locked up and the library shut down- while the librarians wore plastic gloves. Culver’s is takeout only and the Wellness Center is closed.

It’s a new day, this St. Patrick’s Day.

COVID-19 Tests Our Hearts

Pressures squeeze out what’s inside of us. Surprise trials test our hearts. Coronavirus burst on the scene and with its coming, temptations abound.

Some of us are tempted to anxiety, some to pride. Many are tempted to find security in hoarding supplies and as many are tempted to arrogance because we don’t.

Some of us grow harsh trying control to our little kingdomsVirtual school starts at 8:45 sharp. Go wash your hands again- sing Happy Birthday two times. Go outside! You need 30 minutes of exercise.- in a world that feels out of order.

Some of us are so overwhelmed that we’re letting go of any semblance of self-control- Sure, wear your PJ’s all day. I’ve lost two hours scrolling the news feed.- and tempted to dulling sloth.

Coping Skills Or Just Rats?

We might try to excuse it by saying, We didn’t see this coming, and We’ve never lived through anything like this before. But don’t take it. What we might call our coping methods C.S. Lewis just calls rats.

…Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? 

If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light. 

Coronavirus hit us fast and hard. The rats had no time to take cover.

I’ve had my heart laid bare and humbled. My desire for order turned surfaced and turned into bossing the boys. I didn’t buy extra toilet paper, but I did hit the grocery store three days in a row.

The last few days, I acquired lots of peanut butter. And, I pray, more humility toward those who don’t see things just like me.

Impending Chaos

Which brings me back to St. Patrick.

Last year, I told how St. Patrick and I love the sun. Two years ago, about his gratitude. Before that, I shared my own bittersweet confession about a selfish choice to climb Patrick’s holy mountain alone. There were 5 Reasons Why Saint Patrick Is My Homeboy and one more reason that rustic Patrick is a kindred soul.

But today is a new day, and time for a new confession from one of my favorite saints. (You can read all 62 confessions here.) Confession #34 (C 34) is a confession about acceptance- acceptance of good or bad– and gratitude.

Here’s where I connect Patrick, me and COVID-19. In big ways Patrick’s day wasn’t so different from our COVID-19 day. Patrick lived on the ragged edges of the Roman empire where “there was a sense of impending chaos, if not a very real experience of it.”*

Rather like our day.

The Time of Our Temptation

In the face of that wild world, living at the edge of western civilization, with high anxiety (C. 27), almost perishing (C. 28), very real threats to his life (C. 35, and actually running out of food (C. 22), here’s what Patrick said,

I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation… He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties. I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end...

God is able to keep us faithful in the time of our temptation. For many of us, this is the time. Whether it’s pride or anxiety, control or sloth, the rats that live in our hearts come out.

But If Not, He’s Still Good

We all fear the unknown. Some days, we fret. Honestly, some of our worst fears may come true. I might wish I had bought more toilet paper and peanut butter or not gone out at all. I don’t know. But I do know this: God will provide all that we need for our souls to prosper.

Not a single one of us- the CDC or otherwise- knows what the future holds. But we know who holds the future. And he is good.

St. Patrick trusted that all things come from God’s fatherly hand and gave thanks. Don’t you want to do the same?

For I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!”

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands…

Psalm 31:13a, 14, 15a

*The Wisdom of St. Patrick, Greg Tobin, p. 164

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Death by Chocolate Spot-or Not

Shirt with chocolate spot

Nooo! I am so embarrassed! I half shouted, half cried. Why didn’t you guys tell me? Didn’t you see this spot?

Death By Chocolate Spot

No one has ever died of embarrassment. And I’ve lived through other wardrobe malfunctions. But, my oh my, how they hurt my pride.

Parent-teacher conferences were last night. I’d sat across from not one, not three, not five, but seven- SEVEN!- of my son’s 9th grade teachers. I was close. Close enough to see the fray on his collar and the stain on his tooth and to compliment the Spanish teacher on her Jerusalem cross pendant.

They must have all seen the spot. How could they not?

That is the shirt pictured above. But, for the record, that is not the spot. Oh, no. It was much bigger and far darker and way more chocolatey than that. Because the spot that mortified me was a caked-on splatter of chocolate cookie dough, whence those dark beauties came.

4 Takeaways from the Spot

I’m always looking for a lesson. So without (way) overthinking the chocolate spot, here are four quick takeaways:

1. Look in the mirror before you head out the door. 

Literally. Check for spots, check your teeth. But also spiritually. There are blindspots we don’t see in our lives and we won’t see without the mirror of God’s Word before us. So look in the mirror.

2. Friends tell friends when they see spots. 

When a friend mentions the spinach in my teeth or the cows coming out, that’s a gift. Better a second of awkward than an hour of public display. And remember, faithful are the wounds of a friend. Friends tell friends.

3. A little embarrassment humbles me. 

And that’s good because God embraces the humble, embarrassed. Embarrassment means failure- big or small. I failed to look in the mirror before dashing out the door. But failure isn’t the end of the world. God still loves me.

4. ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.

Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free, ’tis a gift to come down to where I ought to be. I know this: when you’re low you don’t have to fear falling. Someone’s even said that creativity only comes when you feel at ease with embarrassment.

That might be a stretch. But here I am sharing my spot story with you. Being vulnerable about my own failure might help you grow. Or at least help lighten the mood if you’re feeling low.

To See Ourselves As Others See Us

Speaking of low, I’ll close with that Robert Burns’ poem, “To A Louse.” He’s a few pews behind fancy Miss Jeany, who is oblivious to the “ugly, creepin, blastit” fellas hopping beneath her bonnet and tossing her hair about.

The last stanza comes to mind as I munch on a cookie and think on the spot.

O wad some Power the giftie give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad free many a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait would lea’e us,
And ev’n devotion!

The Power gave me that little death-by-chocolate gift the other night, to see myself as others saw me. But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

God’s grace flows to the humble. With or without the chocolate spots.

For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

Psalm 138:6