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

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 in these COVID-19 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.

We get this- the dogs of the world are making out like bandits with all the extra walks. Still, I predict Weight-Watchers will go gangbusters. Because many of us have never had so much food stored up at home, 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. So he’s been home. He clears paths, pulls stumps and chops a lot of wood. Friends are cleaning drawers and sanding tables. That’s work. It counts.

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

Lady biking during COVID-19

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 it was 2 phone dates, 1 Zoom Bible Study, 1 FaceTime call and a 6-feet distant, visit with my neighbor.

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. Yup. The numbers are still going up.

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. Time seeking God in his Word and prayer: that is healthy habit #3.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine was helping me adapt to parenting a teen. She said, Teach him to care for himself. Don’t tell him exactly what to do, but teach him to take some time each day to care for his physical, social and spiritual health every day.

Will you take her healthy advice, too? Take care of your body, of your friends, and your soul.

If you do, you won’t dither away 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.

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Humbled by Hyunjin: “Today Also is a Gift”

smiling family

We did it! Hyunjin said, beaming.

Atop the empty grandstand, amid dust kicked up by the Massey hauling plow for the rodeo that night, Hyunjin slapped me one exultant high five.

Why?

Because with 30 minutes of a month to spare, he- we actually- finished HELLO UNIVERSE.

For the record, I don’t recommend HELLO UNIVERSE. The universe with its bright crystals and stars are gods. But it’s a book I’m glad I read because it gave me precious side-by-side time with Hyunjin.

Mother and son holding book
Top row of the grandstand. And, DONE!

The young-adult fiction was assigned by Hyunjin’s English teacher in Korea. With 320 pages, it was Hyunjin’s daunting summer read.

But heaviness  turned to joy in the top row of the grandstand.

Joys Doubled, Twice

Two years ago today, I posted about Kibum. I told you how our joys were doubled and our hearts were wrung by our first Korean exchange son. Wet eyes still come when I think about Kibum. Now they also come reliving the month with Hyunjin.

Which brings me to one of those sweet memories. Most nights before bed, I’d check in with Hyunjin about the next day’s events. That was the drill. So I walked into his room, calendar in hand.

Nine days left, I said.

Nine days? he repeated with urgency and scrambled for paper and pen. Then he did some long division: 238 divided by 9.

Oh! 31 pages, he exclaimed, eyebrows high.

Then I got it. He had nine days to finish an epic-long book written in a foreign language and he had barely begun. I knew what I had to do.

I read with you each day, okay Hyunjin? We sit together and read. We will get it done.

He smiled and sighed and for the last nine days, we did. We sat side by side on the sofa and read. And he taught me snake is pem and cat is goyang-i and I taught him that Prank is different from Frank and Birgil is not how we say Virgil. We learned and laughed.

And it was all joy.

Joy Shared, Joy Doubled

I’ve learned this pretty well, but sometimes I slip back into thinking I’ll be happier if I keep my little joys private. But I know better. Remember, love seeks not its own. Joy shared isn’t halved, it’s doubled!

Three smiling boys hiking trail.

Seeing our humdrum lives through Hyunjin’s fresh eyes proved it again: Joy shared is joy doubled.

Hyunjin helped us enjoy common things more: round-robin basketball in the driveway, dashing around in the van (sans flat tires), meals together, after breakfast reading and then turtle feeding, after lunch chess and playing with goyang-i, after dinner Monopoly Deal or even better slap-jack with dad.

In four weeks the boys played more chess, solved more cubes, took more bike rides and we all rolled our eyes at goofy-sounding words and our Korean mispronunciations and laughed more than in the whole year before.

There were more visits with family and friends and more lingering after dinner and, I admit, probably more home-cooked dishes than the other 11 months of the year.

boys playing basketballTo be sure, there was also more junk food in the bedrooms, more Dude Perfect flips, more multi-player video Brawl Stars and more goofy talk.

(Hyun-Jin, you know what we call that in America? Gabe would ask Hyunjin. Gooch. To mix it up, sometimes he’d say, equally ad nauseam by week three, Saucy.)

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Sometimes good friends do.

True Friendship

Hyunjin, like Kibum, brought out our best and smoothed out our worst. I like to think we grew a little more gentle and courteous last month too. Maybe we became a slightly less American and a slightly more Korean?

boys and cat in basketWe do miss Hyunjin. But there’s one more thing I miss: I miss what we were when he was with us. Hyunjin brought out something in each of us that wasn’t expressed fully without him.

C.S. Lewis writes about that in The Four Loves. He describes the way he missed his friend Charles Williams, and how that one friend changed the “dynamics” of the group of friends called the “Inklings.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth…They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes one who will augment our loves.” For in this love “to divide is not to take away.”

Adding One Multiplies

Adding Hyunjin to our family didn’t divide our love. His presence multiplied it. 

Boys playing chessHyunjin brought out sides of Sam and Gabe that only a middle brother like Hyunjin could bring out.

Gabe cracked more and sometimes funny “Gucci-gooch” jokes and Sam played hard for chess Grandmaster. Hyunjin won the last game they played, for a 7-6 series lead. Sam says, “He’s lucky.” Gabe says, “gooch.”

Hyunjin also brought out fun sides of Jim I don’t get to see so much and, I suppose, more gentle, domestic sides of me.

His fresh kind eyes brought out our best and reminded us of the gift of each day.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we say. We ventured, we gained. We opened our hearts and home, and- you’ve loved- you know what comes.

C.S. Lewis again, from The Four Loves, 

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Kamsahamnida, 현진. (Thank you, Hyunjin.)

So fast. Our days together went slow but the month went by fast.

Not too fast though. God’s timing is perfect and our times are in His hands. It’s like that Hangul printed artwork you made for us, and explained when I asked you what it said that it’s kind of hard to translate, but what it means is, Today also is a gift. mom and two sons with Bucky Badger

So kamsahamnida, Hyunjin. Thank you. Thank you for bringing out our best and doubling our joy as a son and brother and friend. Thank you for opening your courteous, gentle, Korean heart to us oft-times wild and willful Wallaces. Thank you for being so kind that your absence left a hole in our hearts. You humbled us in the best of ways.

And I’m really glad we read that book together, about crystals and stars and Virgil and Valencia and the pem. But the universe deserves no thanks for bringing us together.

The Master of the Universe and Giver of all good gifts absolutely does. Because he brought you to us last month. So kamsahamnida, Lord, for Hyunjin.

And thank you,현진, for reminding us Over and over that Today also is a gift.

today also is a gift Korean art
“Today Also is a Gift”  Hangul art from Hyunjin.

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Known: Why This Knowledge Matters Most

Known gifts

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that he knows me.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Gevalia Gold Coast coffee, dark-chocolate covered almonds, and Downton Abbey CDs.

Two friends recently gifted me with these. Then came the rush.

Do you know this rush?

The Joy of being Known

It’s the same rush I felt when my friend Jen nailed my game clue. “Fleeting” wasn’t too veiled for Jen, because she knows how much I love sunsets.

It doesn’t matter if you know the game. What matters is someone else playing the game knows you. When that happens, there’s that rush.

It’s the surge of joy, of feeling loved, that comes from being known. I felt it last night, too when my friend Jen guessed my card right, in a Dixit game where it pays to be known.

But there’s a flip side.

The Pain of being Unknown

Back to gifts for a minute. My favorite gifts are not the ones that cost most. They’re the ones that show that the giver of the gift knows me. I mean knows me.

Which probably has something to do with the fact that most of the gifts I give are far from a perfect fit. I’ve given plenty of duds: whole-bean coffee to friends with no grinder or who don’t even drink coffee and milk chocolate to those who much prefer dark. Then there are the musical mismatches I’ve made. Just because I like I folksy, hymnsy doesn’t mean my friends do.

Recalling those poorly chosen gifts makes me cringe because I know how some gifts I’ve received have hurt my own fragile little feelings. I won’t tell you which ones. Let’s just say how I felt opening them was probably how someone with a deadly nut allergy would feel if a good friend made him a very special peanut-butter cup birthday cake.

Painful.

But it’s not only gifts. Questions sometimes do this too.

When Questions Miss the Mark, or the Heart

We all long to be really known and truly loved.

I think the reason misfit gifts hurt us is that they reveal that we are not really known, at least not as much as we thought, or wish, we were.

But sometimes gifts show us that we’re not and sometimes well-intentioned questions miss the mark. They miss our hearts.

Like when a friend asks about your work but it’s your kids that are heavy on your heart. Or when she inquires about your sore knee, but really it’s a trouble at work that that’s got you losing sleep.

Failure to read minds is no fault. Credit goes to any friend who gives a gift or cares enough to ask.

Still, when gifts and questions miss, we’re disappointed. Because deep down we want to be known and the misses show we’re not. And since we can’t love something we don’t know, feeling unknown often leaves us feeling unloved.

But maybe you’ve got secrets that you don’t want known, because if they really knew you, they wouldn’t love you.

The One Who Matters Most Knows Most

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be known as that you’re afraid that if you really are- if you stop hiding- you won’t know love. And you’ve been hiding your “stuff” from everyone.

But Jesus sees it. Which is actually a good thing.

The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.

Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship!

There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’s knowledge of you is like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person — Jesus Christ.

John Piper sermon, “He Knew What was in a Man,” bolding added.

Yes, do. Let that truth sink in.

Known By God

This truth grips me: that my God knows me. I am known infinitely better than even my husband and best friends know me.

Here’s some proof:

  • “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3)
  • “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)
  • “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
  • “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

It blows my mind to think we can know the Holy, Almighty God. It blows my mind more to think that He wants to know me.

Which might suggest that He loves me.

What Matters Supremely

J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God two years before I was born, but I missed it till now. I’ll close with this wise man’s wise words.

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.

I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].

I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Certainly, there is great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose.

Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 36-37, emphasis added.

Do you feel the rush now? I hope you do. Because you are fully known and deeply loved by the One who matters most. You are never out of his mind.

In fact, He even wants you as His friend.

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25:14

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The Best Advice Mom Gave

He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.

My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Good 

It wasn’t teaching me to whip up apple pie in a flash, and always from scratchReal butter for crust, and always topped with cream, fresh-whipped in a frost-covered bowl. But that know-how has come in handy.

It wasn’t showing a sulky furrowed-brow little lass that A smile is the prettiest thing a girl can wear. Surely, no one was more qualified to teach that than a girl nicknamed Mary Sunshine. Some friends call me Smiles.

It wasn’t explaining that A quality product doesn’t need cheap advertising. Mom gave that sage advice on Sunday in May when I chopped half my new blue jean skirt off and wore my new mini to church. Dad was our pastor there.

 

Which taught some even better lessons.

 

Better

Like, Better to bend than to break. My mom lives like a willow. She bends with the wind and rolls with the punches. With mud on a fresh-mopped hardwood floor and with a thirteen year-old’s mini. I can’t bend half so low.

And as vital as it was to instruct me and rest of her honest-to-a-fault brood, If you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all- this wasn’t the best. Though that wisdom from Mom has maintain the unity of the Spirit so many times.

Nor was it her steadfast prayer, her constant refrain, God, give me a pure heart. Which was, I think, as crucial for a preacher’s wife as for a farmer’s wife as for a teacher and mother and friend. I pray this now, too-for Mom and me.

As valuable as these lessons are, they’re not the best.

 

Best

The most precious advice mom gave is this: To have a friend, be one. Although she didn’t say just this way, I knew what she meant: Stop thinking of yourself, Abigail. Look around and love others. 

To an introspective, insecure ten-year old in a brand new school in a brand new town, her words hit home. She didn’t let me pine away the weekend, feeling left out and alone. Let’s have a hayride and invite your class. Be a friend, she said.

To a still introspective, somewhat more secure fourteen year-old in a brand new high school in a brand new town, her advice still struck a chord. So without knowing a soul, two weeks before school began, joined the brass and met Tom and Chris and Pete and Angie in marching band.

Then, as a still introspective, and slightly lonely newlywed, I remembered what Mom said and a dinner group was forged with Shelly and Jay and Jen and Steve. Fifteen years and oodles of grace later, the group still gathers one Friday night each month.

When alone and unknown in a new church and alone and unknown in new job and more often now, well-known and let-down, Mom’s words to her introspective ten-year old, still echo through, her words about being a friend.

Plus these other two.

 

The Words That Blow My Self-Pity Away

To have a friend, be one is first. Then these two join forces with that advice. Together, they’re my Three Self-pity-busting Musketeers.

Don’t wait to be served, serve. Don’t wait for thanks, thank. To have a friend, be one.Those three are all for one and one for all. And the one they’re for is healthy, happy, humble me. Because self-pity is the weak side of pride- wounded ego, not-getting-what-I-deserve- pride. And this self-pitying pride cannot abide humility.

It cannot abide the God-Man Christ, who took on the form of a servant. Self-pitying pride can’t believe he really said, It’s more blessed to give than receiveAnd that truly blessed is happy. And happy is what a giving, serving, befriending me is bound to be. 

So when Mom’s words come to me, by grace, I go. They come when I feel left out and I go invite a friend. They come when I start to feel unvalued and I go send a thank-you note. The woe-is-me monsters still come and want to throw me a pity party. But I’m learning to look outside of me and go. 

I don’t wait. I can’t. Because if I do, I know melancholic me will join that party. So I don’t wait for someone to comfort or reach out or thank me. I’m learning that when I want thanks, the best thing to do is give it. And when I want to be served, the best thing to do is serve. Because I know it’s more blessed to give than receive.


Four days ago, an introspective eight year-old burst in the front door and burst into tears. Between massive, shoulder-shaking sobs, I gathered that a bump on his nose garnered teaching on the bus ride home and that he missed recess because of late work and-horror of horrors- outdoor gym class.

The world conspired against Gabe Thursday.

Imagine my surprise when my wounded second-grade warrior entered the kitchen ten minutes later, hands full of comb and brush and spray and gel. And with “One pass to the barbar.”

Mom, I know you like me to do your hair. Can I fix it for you now? 

And so I was blessed by the best 40 minute barbar job any girl could ever get.

But the bigger blessing was knowing that this regal treatment came from a son who was learning to look outside of his pain.

Who was somehow learning that focusing away from his pain to show others love is the best way to brush a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad, day away.

So thanks, Mom, for all your good advice. And for the way you lived it. We’re learning to live like you.

She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

Proverbs 31:26

*This post was first published on Mother’s Day, 2018. But it’s as true today, on mom’s 70th birthday, as it was then.