In a time of so much uncertainty, I take more delight in certain things. I note how the Weeping Cherry will bloom on schedule. I see the evidence against a stormy sky. Tomorrow, we may see those fleeting blossoms, certain in their transience.
It’s bound to happen. I can already see it. We might start comparing our lives. Some people shelter-in-place in lavish, well-stocked vacation homes, far from urban centers. They can ride this virus out for six more months with joy and endless provisions. And others sit comfortably in what has become a 1950’s neighborhood of fathers throwing baseballs with their children in front yards, neighbors riding bikes, and happy, healthy families doing puzzles together on spacious, germ-free porches.
But that might not be your situation or mine.
I can see the longing in the posts of friends who still work long hours and in the stories of young mothers who cry every day because life at home is not the idyllic dance party of TikTok and Instagram. I talk daily with people whose situation is close to miserable. They are alone, scared, and just barely getting through each hour. It’s not fun. It’s not a vacation.
I feel the sting of jealousy and comparison when I talk to better situated friends in other parts of the nation or when I think about the difficulty of my new work life as a virtual professor. And the same questions parade across my mind that came back in 2014 when I wrote Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison:
What if my life were like that one? Why aren’t my children doing this or that? Isn’t everyone else living a better life in their home? I want a different, better seat at the table of comfort, blessing, health, wealth. And I wish I lived somewhere less populated or less at risk! I need a different seat!
PS: My comparisons become oddly specific. I think things like this: Is it OK if I do not like puzzles, strategy games, or long painting sessions with my family? Is it OK if I’m not engaging in hour-long devotional times with my teens or accomplishing personal development goals? My goal is survival. Is that enough?)
I speak the same truth that saved me then and saves me now. You and I are exactly where we should be. God ordained it. And I recall my favorite quote from Seated with Christ: “All seats provide equal viewing of the universe,”—meaning no matter what your situation today, you have an equal chance to enjoy God’s presence, blessing, riches, joy, favor, power, and comfort in an unlimited way. And Jesus will lead you in what to do, how to live, and what will bring joy and peace to your environment, no matter how terrible it now seems. Paul was writing Ephesians 2 most likely from a Roman prison, yet he experienced himself as being seated at the Greatest Table with the Greatest King. And this is your situation, your seat with Jesus. He’s planned the fruit for your life (Ephesians 2:10). It’s not going to look like your best friend’s, your brother’s, or a celebrity.
I speak the verse again: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). We are in the best situation already because Jesus put us here.
So now, we live lives of faith and deeper focus into spiritual realities. We don’t compare our lives. God knows where you are, why you’re there, and with whom, and He will use it for His glory.
Now that we’re over the distraction of comparison, we can get to the real work of loving our family, friends, and neighbors. We can get to the real work of worship, of prayer, and of abiding with Jesus to bear the fruit He’s picked just for us.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m having a bad moment as I think about COVID-19, I feel overwhelmed when people call or text and ask, “How are you doing?” Of course, that’s how I personally lead off in conversation, but something doesn’t feel right about it lately. I began to wonder if there’s a better question. Yesterday, as I walked along the creek, a professor asked me this:
What challenged you today? What did you do about it?
It felt like a breath of fresh air! It was a focused, loving question that helped me process something small but important about my day. And I found that the question opened up my heart and mind. It didn’t overwhelm me or make me assess my own well-being. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t invite me to wallow, either. Instead, asking me to identify a challenge and my process through it felt empowering.
Some people don’t want to talk about their state of being. Again, the weak verb (!) in a sentence like “How are you doing?” invites existential investigation. It can feel exhausting. But the precision of “What challenged you?” invites a clear picture: I can revisit what happened socially, professionally, financially, or even nutritionally. I can really go into specifics. If I want to talk about my emotional state, I can. But I don’t have to.
I bounced the question back to the professor. And for the next hour, we talked in productive, joyful, and meaningful ways.
After two weeks of teaching virtually at Penn State, I’ve learned some things:
- Teaching virtually is not the same thing as launching an online class. When you teach virtually, it’s a synchronous classroom where students join you during your scheduled class time for virtual instruction via Zoom (for example). An online course does not necessarily do this. It can, for example, work asynchronously, meaning you post assignments, pre-recorded lectures, discussions, or quizzes that the students complete on their own time. Nobody necessarily comes together at the same time in a purely online course. Why does this matter? Online course development requires training I do not have. My course isn’t designed for online instruction. So I seamlessly turned it into a virtual, synchronous classroom. We discuss things together at the same time. We can share our screens and look at our work at the same time. We’ve basically created a classroom via our screens. I would like more training in online teaching, but that’s not what I’m hired to do. And that’s OK. I know what I can do. However, this synchronous teaching challenges students who live in different time zones or who now find themselves caring for children or working jobs at home. Synchronous teaching also assumes all students have laptops and a stable internet situation. So I’m learning that recording classes to allow students to access later works. It also means I’ll try my hand at asynchronous strategies this week like emailing readings for students to respond to when they can.
- When you teach virtually, you must over-invest in student-teacher interaction to make up for the millions of little ways you connect when you’re in a residential classroom. I send more personal emails. I invite students to upload more writing for commentary. I hold more virtual office hours. Yes, it’s exhausting! But when you teach virtually, you miss the easy banter where you bounce around in conversation before class about Tyler’s new car or Lauren’s upcoming Calculus exam. Before, you’d arrive early to class to see students sprawled out in the hallway where you’d join them to discuss the basketball game or their paper topics or the Post Malone concert they went to over the weekend. You miss the walk to class where you enjoy the warm weather together or sip your lattes and smell the coffee. You even miss talking about new shoes (you don’t see anyone’s shoes on Zoom–a small thing).
- Your physical space matters. You’re going to see yourself for hours on a screen. You need good lighting, a clean background, and the kind of environment that energizes you. Last week, I sat in my upstairs office for five hours a day looking at a screen. I dreaded it. It was boring and dreary. This week, I moved a small table in front of my Weeping Cherry in my bedroom, right next to the yellow recliner where I read my Bible, scribble in my journal, and write my blog. It’s bright, cheerful, and tucked away from the family. It’s a cozier spot for me. The cat sleeps by me as I teach.
- It’s stressful, so build in non-screen time. I’m amped up every day. That’s why every day at exactly 4:15 PM, I depart to walk along Spring Creek for an hour. I look into the beautiful water instead of a screen; I gaze up at the budding trees; I listen to the birds; I talk with others on the walk. After an hour, I’ve calmed down. I’ve shed the stress of the teaching day.
I’ve also learned little tricks: inviting students with fresh Zoom invitations each day so they aren’t overwhelmed with a dozen links in old emails; polling them regularly about what they need more of or less of (I wanted to stop using Zoom on Friday’s, and students actually wanted it! They loved the routine of it! One said, “Could you please just keep a Zoom room open in case I need to talk to you?); using breakout rooms to ask students to connect with each other and share what’s working as they overcome challenges of isolation; and limiting lecture to 15-20 minutes if I can. What a journey it’s been during this COVID-19 world!
This morning, I read David’s words in Psalm 57: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”
Until the disaster has passed! I note the word “disaster” and consider the COVID-19 world I’m now in. I ask God to teach me to take refuge in the shadow of His wings until the disaster has passed.
It does feel like this–that I’m in a refuge– as I stay in my home, leaving only to walk along the creek. I take refuge in Him as I pray, read my Bible, journal, listen to encouraging sermons, and go about the most simple life I’ve ever had. I begin to record the blessings I take for granted. Breathing. Sleeping well all night. Having enough food for today. And I know I can still take refuge internally even as the Lord may call me out to care for the sick or neighbors in need.
The big news of a simple life is to observe the Northern Cardinals bounce from Weeping Cherry to Winterberry Bush as they pick their spot to build a home. Now, I can see everything. I won’t miss a moment with them. I also work on bringing humor to Zoom calls that might seem boring; I download backgrounds where it will look like Taylor Swift has joined our class or that I’m teaching from atop a coral reef. I can put myself in a forest or in a great library if I want. Such fun!
This morning, I was so encouraged as I joined in our daily prayer time with Cru graduate student ministry leaders. Ashley asked everyone to share and pray through the passage of scripture they had been meditating on and clinging to during this COVID-19 pandemic.
As I humbly listened, my heart overflowed with assurance of God’s power, His comforting presence, and His ultimate control of my life and the entire world for His good purposes. Enjoy these passages today. May they strengthen your heart and mind as they did mine.
Isaiah 41:10: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Psalm 46:1: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 17:7: Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
One leader shared from Mark chapters 1-3 and how Jesus shows His authority over all things as He heals and offers forgiveness. Another leader shared from Genesis and how God is first and foremost a Creator, and His creative power dwells within us by the Holy Spirit; this creative power gives us insight into creative ways to endure and serve during COVID-19.
Psalm 91: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
Another leader shared how Jesus is our sure foundation when the foundation of our lives and economy feels shaken. She read from Isaiah:
Isaiah 28:16: Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be toppled.”
We prayed through Ephesians 6–that God would strengthen us for spiritual battle. I also shared from Isaiah 8 about the holiness of God and how He is the only One to fear–not the virus. We listened as a leader prayed from 2 Corinthians 6-7. Finally, we looked at the example in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and how nothing could shake their faith in the Lord.
It was so good to dwell in God’s word and pray this morning. What a gift God’s word is! What joy it brings as it connects us to Jesus and the steadfast love and power of God.
With all of us working together at home, it’s been difficult to figure out how to be together while giving one another space. My husband, for example, found that our daughters are constantly interacting with him, asking for help on projects, or needing him to fix something.
He found a clever way to manage all of his work while also giving time for our daughters. He holds “Office Hours” for one hour when everyone can come to him with all of their problems. And he will solve them. He will listen. He will help! In addition to Daddy Office Hours, he pops up from his workspace a few times a day for 10 minute mini-conferences for anyone who needs him. The girls run to ask about this or that or seek advice on this or that math problem or internet issue. It’s funny to see the Office Hours and mini-conferences protocol in action. It’s saved his work day.
I’ve also had to learn to give people space when we are all in the same space. Nobody needs to be available to everyone all the time. We can fully engage at certain designated times, but otherwise, we go about our work. We gather for meals, games, and movies. We abide by the Office Hour rule. And we get through another day.
Today is my 10 year anniversary of blogging at Live with Flair! Can you believe it? I wanted to thank you all for journeying with me this past decade. We’ve grown up together. You’ve witnessed my life.
Thank you for witnessing my life.
What have I learned after writing every day for 10 years, after recording over 3,000 daily moments of joy and insight?
I learned the power of hope.
In ten years’ time, my life underwent the most remarkable paradigm shift. I learned to dwell in hope, to expect good things from the Lord, and to see how everything I experienced pointed me to my ultimate hope in Jesus. This made every day a beautiful day.
The lesson never changed. It’s always about hope.
And, on this 10 year anniversary, I wondered if you might start your own daily record of joyful things. I wonder if you might write every day, not only to heal your heart, but to find your written voice. I wonder if you might learn to dwell in hope and wonder for the rest of your life. Check back with me in 10 years and tell me how it changed you.
And it will change you. You will dwell in hope.
Below, you can read 20 posts to encourage your heart.
Once I sowed to please the spirit, surrendered, and began to dwell in hope, I could begin to see the unexpected blessings of this most strange and unprecedented time in history. While I do allow myself a few minutes each day to check the news, worry terribly over COVID-19, and let my mind imagine worst-case scenarios, for the other hours of the day, I’m living.
And here’s how I’m living:
I wake up naturally for the first time in as long as I can remember. Nobody wakes to alarms; there’s nowhere to go and nobody waiting for us. There’s no schedule. So everyone is well-rested in my home.
I soak in the Bible like never before. I might spend over an hour just reading, taking notes, journaling, talking to God, and then listening to a sermon. I pray as I’m led.
I walk for an hour an a half every single day along the creek. We meet up with another couple who keeps their distance, but we can still process how our virtual work lives are going and how we are doing. We share scripture; we pray; we strategize; we encourage. We also talk about how we can make sure others in our community have food and the resources they need.
I cook lunch and dinner, and this morning my daughters and I made a homemade apple pie, crust and all. I feel a little bit like we are pioneer girls.
I check in on several people for various reasons. I think about how I can serve people through helping them in ways I can.
I teach efficiently, wholeheartedly, and now expertly on virtual formats. I’m finding that students need about only 20 minutes of a Zoom lecture and the rest might include a discussion board, breakout rooms, or a writing prompt. They become fatigued with too much technology, too.
Certain small outside rituals now become precious: checking the blooming daffodils in the yard, watching the birds choose possible nesting sites, walking to get the mail in the sunshine.
I organize the evening with popcorn and a movie every night. Every night! This family time has been so meaningful, especially with a senior in high school that I might otherwise not ever see.
I retreat to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls and listen to a sermon before falling asleep.
Life is simple. Every day, I rest in faith that allows for ambiguity and for uncertainty. I pray that God heals the sick and diminishes the power of the virus. And then I live.
My Plumcot now grows at an unprecedented rate. It has branches. Soon, I’ll move this tree to the counter because it’s too tall for the window.
In the Spring, I’ll move the tree outdoors where it belongs. I cannot wait to taste the delicious fruit it will one day bear.
While stuck indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think about how we’re all also growing, although perhaps in imperceptible ways. We’re internally shooting upwards to the Lord and putting down strong roots while potted here. My friend recently asked me what story I would want tell in the future about my time during this isolation and fear. I would want to tell the story of growth and fruitfulness to come because I learned to spend more time with God, trust Him more, and listen to Him more.