Bring us Easter.


“Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, ‘Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?’

Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone…”


*****


Has there ever been a time in our generation when we’ve needed Easter more?

Most of us have spent over a year now falling asleep to our own prayers for mercy, and waking up wondering what new headlines or social unrest or family tragedy awaits us. It should come as no surprise that statistics show we’ve as a society grown more addicted, more overweight, more depressed, and more anxious.

Lord Jesus, bring us Easter.

Vaccines are helping, but people are still fighting, numbers are still spiking, and masks are still hiding the worn down frowns of our fatigue.

God Almighty, bring us Easter.

The stones we carried before the pandemic were heavy enough. Now with twelve months more worry and grief, we’ve no margin left.

Precious Savior, bring us Easter.

Bring us the rugged cross, the plumb line of your beaten body hanging for our freedom.

Bring us the cool damp tomb, light eclipsed by the huge stone of our sin and shame and fear.

Bring us the three days of silence, of questions, of doubt.

And then, Lord, bring us.

Bring us the morning.

Bring us a dew on the roses daybreak, a stone rolling, shame shattering, death defying

resurrection

Lord.

Bring us.

To our knees. To our senses. To

YOU.

Today and every day.

Take our stones away.

What will your pandemic legacy be?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately. One, five, ten, thirty years from now, what will I want–and not want–to say when someone asks, “How did you live through that?”

For many months now, I feel like I’ve just been surviving…one day at a time, one foot after the other, one more morning waking up and wondering what horrors are in store for us next. If you’re like me, your brain has physiologically resorted to a sort of constant fight-or-flight syndrome, like troops on call for a battle. 

And that’s just plain exhausting. 

I didn’t realize what a pit I was living in until I found a Bible study on the armor of God*–or rather, it found me. I started reading the Bible again (and I’d been sorely remiss about that). I hadn’t asked God to change my heart. I was too worn out to realize I needed changed. But like the good, good father that He is, He knew. And He rescued me. 

All around us, it seems everything has changed, and indeed, much has. But in a way, nothing has changed at all. We are–as we have always been–in a battle for our souls. That may seem strong, but Jesus assured us in John 16:33 that in this world we will have trouble. Granted, the trouble of these days is worse than most of us have ever faced. But our choice in how we respond in the long run is just that–a choice

Many times, only the phrase about trouble in John 16:33 is quoted. But leaving it at that eliminates the most precious promises:


***

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 TMV

***

Jesus warned us about hard times not so that we would worry and despair, but so we would be unshakeable and assured and deeply at peace.

But how?

How can we feel assured when the whole world seems to be falling apart? How can we be at peace–and not only that but deeply at peace–when loved ones are dying and spouses have lost jobs and new graduates can’t find them and on and on with the blaring headlines and anger and fear? 

Because God’s promises are greater than feelings. God’s promises are truth, and truth is hope. And as the protagonist in my novel, Before I Saw You says on the very first page, 

“Hope means everything when you’ve got nothing.”

No one knows how long we will face this pandemic and its challenges. But we can know that we are not alone and we can find peace in the hope of Jesus. 

If I can encourage you to do anything, friends, it would be to rededicate yourself to reading the Bible every day (if you aren’t already). Not only that, but make the Bible the very first thing you read every day. There are some great Bible apps for smart phones these days (I use YouVersion), and since–it’s okay to admit it–our phones are the first things we grab when we open our eyes in the morning, a Bible app is a great way to incorporate the Word first in your day. Not Facebook. Not the weather app. Not Twitter or the news or Instagram, but the Word. And while you’re at it, pray your armor on every morning, too. 

Start your days with the Word, and see how the assurance and hope God freely offers begins to change your heart and perspective. 

I don’t want to look back on these days and realize I was a frightened and angry person. I don’t want to look back and regret the bad habits I’ve developed and poor coping skills. I want to look back and be able to say that I had victory over these days because I spent them safely in the strong tower of His love and mercy. 

May I close this with a prayer for you? 

Lord, we are weary. We are burdened. We are scared. Send your peace to each person reading this today, and in the days to come. Give us the discipline we need to focus on you and your Word, so that these dark days do not steal our joy, and so that we can live with the unshakeable assurance that you–and only you–have overcome the world. We praise you for who you are, and that you so mercifully love us so, in spite of ourselves. Amen.

Celebrate Black History Month with a book!

A couple years ago I decided to make a concerted effort to read more fiction and non-fiction written by people of color (POC). So much is and has been left out of our history books about their true American experience, and so much can be learned by reading their stories.

Over the years, I’ve read Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Langston Hughes, and other beautiful classics. But now I was doing some serious soul-searching. I came across The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, written in 1903, and The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas, written in 2017. Although over a century separates them, they reflect in striking ways how little has changed for POC. They are probably my two favorites as far as opening my eyes and heart. Links and synopses to several of the others I recommend are below. Have you read any of these? Are there others you would recommend not shown here?

Besides the fact that it is Black History Month, few times have been more pressing to do what we can to hear the heart cries of POC, and heart cries are indeed what you’ll find in these books. Some will make you laugh, and some will make you cry. And all of them will make you think. I challenge you to choose one to read this month–if not one of these, then one of your own choosing. Let me know what you read!

One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
― W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk



An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones.
Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

I’m Still Here, by Austin Channing Brown.
From a powerful new voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America. In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value “diversity” in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

Memorial Drive, by Natasha Trethewey.
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.

Ruby, by Cynthia Bond.
Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom’s Juke, to Celia Jennings’s kitchen where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man’s dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

Kindred, by Octavia Butler. 
The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…

You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson.
Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she maintains, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed on the daily. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she’s been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she’s been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn t that . . . white people music?”); she’s been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she’s been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page and she s going to make you laugh as she s doing it. As personal as it is political, “You Can’t Touch My Hair” examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.”

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.

Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid.
In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward.
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt, while brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel’s framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel’s heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, “Salvage the Bones” is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.