A Good Day To Search the Heart

I keep thinking of the power of having true moments of confession and repentance. It’s a beautiful thing; it’s not a shameful or condemning experience. I often ask younger women who feel far from God or troubled in their souls this simple question: Is there anything in your life that doesn’t please God? It’s an invitation for the Holy Spirit to do the white-hot work of conviction in the soul. And this is a radical form of joy–the best kind I know. Because of Jesus, we don’t stand under condemnation, so we receive forgiveness and cleansing. We enact 1 John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

What I’ve noticed about the COVID-19 world I’m in is how it reveals our true nature. We’re stripped down with none of the regular comforts or activities. We find ourselves alone with ourselves and increasingly helpless, dependent, and fearful. Some of us move into anger, controlling behaviors, cynicism, and despair. This morning I looked at 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 as Paul writes about a moment in his own life that sounds like what so many experience today:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. . .

I think about being in situations that feel “far beyond our ability to endure” and people around us in despair. I’m amazed at Paul’s rather simple (but ultimately profound) explanation: this happened so we would rely on God not ourselves.

So we would rely on God. On God we have set our hope.

This is something to talk to God about. How have I relied on other things? On whom or what have I set my hope besides Jesus? I believe we might see a great turning toward God as the systems we rely on fail. I believe we might see more and more of our own weaknesses. It’s a kindness of God because as Paul David Tripp writes, these situations cause us to “humbly run to God for the help that only he can give.” He ends his thoughts on feeling discouraged today with this powerful statement: “So your weaknesses are not the big danger you should fear. What you should really fear are your delusions of strength. . . Paul actually celebrated his weaknesses, because as he did, the power of God rested upon him.”

On Good Friday, I think about Jesus carrying our sin on the cross. I think about what it means to exchange my sin for His forgiveness, my weakness for His strength, and my fear for His power and control of all things. It takes a humble heart. Why not receive these things today? It’s a good day to do so. It’s a good day to take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to the kind of repentance that makes Easter mean more than ever before in our lives.

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When Nothing Works But Prayer

It’s a good day to pray. However you do it, do it.

In your kitchen, in your chair, in the bed, while brushing your hair. With your Bible, with a pen, with a journal. With music, with silence. In the bathtub. Together. Alone. On the front porch, on the back porch, on the stairs. Anywhere. Everywhere.

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My Creative Neighbor on Zoom

My neighbor across the street always dresses in elaborate costumes with fun Zoom backgrounds when he’s teaching or attending faculty meetings. He’s hilarious! I mean, wouldn’t you want to listen to a lecture on acoustics from him aboard the Millennium Falcon or in the Hobbit world?

For the Vikings end zone picture, I tagged the Minnesota Vikings, and they actually liked it!

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And We Shall Find Nests

It’s my favorite time to walk and discover the marvelous little bird nests all over the neighborhood. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved bird nests. I cannot adequately describe the sense of joy and wonder in finding a nest and, most importantly, the little egg inside.

My oldest daughter and I walk around the sunny neighborhood today, and I note the mourning doves darting in and out of the pine trees. Mourning doves mostly nest in pine, so I know to look there in the next few days. In fact, as we walk by a large pine tree down the street, I see the shadowy beginnings of a mourning dove nest. The loose construction of these nests always worries me. The sticks balance in the pine tree, and it seems like nothing holds them in place. How can that egg stay safe in there?

I’ll return tomorrow to see the completed nest. Meanwhile, the Northern Cardinal and the Robin compete over the winterberry bush and the weeping cherry. I never know who will win out, but this year, I’m rooting for cardinals.

Soon, the tiniest little sparrows will build their nest in the bushes that line the sidewalk up the road.

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The Strength We’ll Need

All morning, I pray that God strengthens me by the power of the Holy Spirit to respond with wisdom and steadiness for whatever might come.

And I realize my greatest source of strength: God’s word. My soul sings this morning when I read Psalm 9:10

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

I know this confidently, and it’s God’s word animated in my soul. The writer of Psalm 119: 28 knew this. He writes this:

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.

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Keep Trying New Things

With my adventure in online learning, I continue to try new things. I produced video recordings of essay commentary in addition to written feedback (just for fun). I also tried things I might do in a residential classroom like and in-class writing on Zoom. We all wrote for five minutes and shared our work if we wanted to. I also continue to try new things in breakout rooms like making students accomplish professional tasks together. For example, they’ll have to discover their best format for online collaboration for peer writing workshops–and then justify their choice to me. Is a google doc best? Is Zoom always best? What about emailing drafts back and forth with tracked comments?

There’s a way I can attach what’s happening to professional outcomes. We are learning how to present ourselves online, with appropriate discussions, in good lighting and in a good setting. We are learning to manage with unstable internet or broken microphones. Learning to adapt and do these skills positions students well for what’s next. It’s not a waste or second-best when there’s a learning outcome involved in using Zoom or online discussion (which we are all terrible at).

Meanwhile, I keep trying. I keep learning. Perhaps the breakthrough has come that it’s always about what we’re learning.

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The Practices We’ll Surely Keep

I ask my students what they’ve been learning most about themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss how much–despite all the fear and sickness in their particular communities–they enjoy the simple pleasures of a daily walk, a nap, a meal with their families, and the connections with siblings they wouldn’t otherwise see. Some talk about playing with their dogs every day. Others talk about the elaborate daily breakfast sandwiches they make because they finally have time to feed themselves well. They’ve been getting a full night of sleep. They’ve been doing their work and managing a schedule.

I take a daily walk with Ashley. Another couple joins us at a safe distance. When the Stay-at-Home directive ends, we wonder what practices will remain that we’ve all come to love. For me, I hope to walk along the creek every day of my life.

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The Verbs of Philippians 4:4-9

My husband told me of something he began to consider as he read Philippians 4 yesterday. Of course I was delighted because his insights centered on the strong verbs of Philippians 4 as opposed to the one weaker verb. I’m not sure of the technicalities of translating all the verbs in the Greek, but I can tell you this: Paul tells us exactly what we can do in the face of the verb “do not be anxious.” He writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

My husband reminds me that it’s impossible when someone says, “Just stop being anxious!” And Paul seems to know this. But when we’re told to rejoice, let, present, think, and practice, we can take some action steps with the Lord.

After an anxious day yesterday, I took inventory: while I had rejoiced and thought about good things, I never actually presented my requests to the Lord. I decided to return to the detailed prayer journal where no request is too small for the Lord, even in a pandemic. Whatever added to my anxiety, I presented as a request to God. I asked for help for even the small things (like what to make for dinner and how to finish all my grading) to larger requests for Penn State, my community, my family’s health, and for the virus to stop spreading.

And the peace of God was with me.

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