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.

In which I write about 2020 even though I don’t feel like it, favorite books of the year, 2021 TBR list, a new release, and my One Word.

New Year’s Day, 2021.

Outside, ice pelts the window and slicks the sidewalks, and the gray skies wrap my little world with a gloomy sort of comfort as I sit on my bed with my pup and my brand new calendar/planner.

The ambivalence of looking back over the unimaginable past year causes a wrench in my gut I’ve grown accustomed to…an ache of dread, my whole body overwhelmed with the lactic acid build-up of a year of bracing myself for whatever hell is looming around the next corner.

When my husband and youngest son and I watched the ball drop in Times Square last night, the relief felt strange and temporary. After all this time spent emotionally—even physically—hunkering down against the 2020 tsunami, I’m finding it difficult to straighten myself enough to look up, let alone ahead.

One of my all time favorite books is Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. In the chapter on grief, Lauren describes the Jewish tradition of praising God in the midst of grief and mourning, even and especially when you don’t feel like it. By continuing to speak truths about God’s goodness and faithfulness, we eventually come around to feeling that goodness and faithfulness again.

Today, I don’t feel like celebrating. I don’t feel like writing my annual turn-of-the-year blog post. My soul is just plain raw from being a healthcare worker in the midst of this pandemic, from the normal, everyday effects of this pandemic, from the heart-rending social unrest in our country, and from a few other significant and personal losses of 2020. And yet, my head knows God has been so good and merciful to me and my family through it all.

So I’m writing this blog today anyway.

I may not be steadfast, but my God is.

First off, my favorite reads of 2020.

Frustratingly, I fell far short of my 75 book goal for 2020. I read over 90 in 2019, so I thought 75 was modest and obtainable. But I only got around to 41. Even then, I regret that I didn’t even really like most of the ones I read. Maybe in another year I would have liked some of them better, but I doubt it. Picking up books in 2020 felt like picking chocolates out of a Whitman’s Sampler box and getting all the nasty ones.

They weren’t all bad, though. Seven stood out to me:

1. Cutting for Stones, by Verghese: This one actually made it to my all-time favorites list. Just so beautifully written and engaging and thought-provoking; even life changing.

2. The Dutch House, by Patchett: Beautiful, descriptive prose, and set in Brooklyn, NY, which I had the chance to visit on the verge of the pandemic. Loved the story. Love that city.

3. A Time For Mercy, by Grisham: Pure entertainment, consistent with his earlier and better work. Also, the return of Jake Brigance. how can you not love a book that makes you picture Matthew McConaughey as the protagonist the whole time you’re reading?

4. The Guest List, by Foley: Again, pure entertainment. A great mystery that kept me guessing. It’s rare that I find a book I can’t put down, and this was one for sure.

5. Such a Fun Age, by Reid: A solid story and enthralling plot that spoke convictingly to the societal, racial issues of today without being preachy. Loved it.

6. House Calls and Hitching Posts, by Hoover: A heartwarming read when I needed my heart to be warmed. The true stories of a doctor to the Amish that reminded me all over again why I love being a nurse.

7. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Robinson. In a year in which book sellers bombarded us with must-read books on race (many of them very angry and not even written by POC), I found this one to be at once convicting, honest, and inspiring, because it really helped me see what life is like for POC. Robinson made me feel like she was talking to me as a friend, and at the end of the day, that is the kind of language that will help heal our nation.

These seven were definitely great reads.

I’m looking forward to more and better books in 2021…

…and here is my stack of priority reads on my bedside table. Strout, Robinson, and Kingsolver are three of my all time favorite authors, not to mention inspirations behind my writing.

I am continuing to read more books on race, and the parts I’ve read of Memorial Drive and I’m Still Here are really, really good so far. There are also a couple of nature books and books for research for a new novel I’m beginning to write.

This stack of books alone is good reason for me to look forward to 2021.

New book release!

What I’m most excited about is the release of THIS book in early June, 2021: 40 Days of Hope for Healthcare Heroes! I literally cried my way through writing this book of devotionals in the height of the pandemic this summer. It is a prayer and an offering to every health care worker I have ever had the privilege to work alongside, and I cannot wait until it hits the shelves! (Available for pre-order now from your favorite book seller!)

And finally, my One Word for 2021.

I enjoy the tradition of choosing a word as a sort of umbrella of conviction and inspiration for my year. For a long while I didn’t feel like I’d be able to identify one, but then RESTORE jumped out at me and I am clinging to it.

What better word for 2021, after all? The weariness is multifaceted for all of us, isn’t it? We long for restoration for our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our souls.

The best part of this word is that it just so happens to be the theme of my all-time favorite Bible verses, Joel 2:25:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm…”

Years ago I went through a dark time and planted a locust tree in our back yard as a way to remind me of this verse. Skinny and sparse at the time, it now provides shade across our entire patio, allowing us to sit outside in the heat of the summer.

The whole chapter of Joel 2 speaks to how God redeems a time that seemed irredeemable and inescapable for Israel. Not only does He redeem, he pours out His love and grace and peace out on His people on the other side of that time.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t feel right now that any part of 2020 is redeemable. Maybe you feel like the doom and gloom of it are clawing at your heels in their attempt to cling and hijack their way into the new year.

But feelings are fleeting, friends.

Our God is faithful.

He will restore and redeem and renew.

So, happy new year, dear friends!

Praying peace and RESTORATION for each of you in 2021 and beyond!

How to Survive in the COVID-19 Wilderness, via More to Life

As a front line healthcare worker, I spend my days navigating the overwhelming isolation and fear of patients in the midst of this brutal pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 was bad enough the first time around. Now with hospitals full again and re-instituting no visitation policies, patients are faced anew with fighting their diseases alone, the warmth and touch of their loved ones reduced to a one-dimensional blur on hospital issued iPads.

We haven’t even had time to recover from the spring. 

The resurgence of isolation-related blame and anger, frustration and sheer exhaustion overshadow COVID-19 itself, and no wonder. God realized as soon as He created us that we needed companionship, and He knows we need it now. He knows we need to love and to be loved, and that so much of that occurs in the presence of others. We are withering emotionally and spiritually as insidious fear and emotional emptiness slowly but steadily drain joy from our hearts—again. 

How and where can we find hope? CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at More to Life Magazine.