Updated: Apr 4, 2021
7 Carry-ons for the Journey
It’s been a full year since this epic Covid and related nonsense started. As we marked the Spring Equinox yesterday, I’ve been reflecting on all that’s happened and realized how extraordinary the year has been, including for me personally. Hindsight being what it is, I see ever more clearly now how God has shown up vividly. The flux continues and He remains the lighthouse in still-stormy seas, imparting seven key truths to carry-on. Processing my own Covid year, I invite you to join me in debriefing your own, mining your life for precious, faith-building life-lessons and catalysts for change. Here's a tool to help:
This time last year, almost to the day, the then-called Wuhan virus was accelerating. I remember clearly that my kids were on spring break and we weren’t sure they were headed back. I got what I thought was my routine early spring cold and was promptly sent to quarantine. In those early days, I isolated in Isaac’s room, rarely stepping out for two weeks. When I did, I blazed a trail with Lysol.
Yet despite my illness and growing global anxiety swirling around Covid, I was feeling free, faith-filled, serene, and utterly fearless. I believe it was due to the fact that I’d just emerged from the grueling and gruesome lawsuit and subsequent bankruptcy of my precious business MightyTykes. I’d been driven to protracted kneeling to deal with my fear and had been delivered from the scary shackles that had hindered me my whole life. Likewise, on my knees, only months earlier, I’d finally mustered the courage to tell my husband I wanted a divorce on the heels of a 20-year relentless process with God. (No exaggeration on the timeline.)
Both these experiences borne of profound powerlessness had not only liberated me, they’d also given me a deep sense of God’s unconditional love and caring provision which is paradoxically empowering. So, despite the growing panic, I was feeling Tony-the-Tiger grrrrrrrreat! I asked God what he wanted me to do with all that.
In February, I’d launched a really swell crowd-funding campaign to reboot MightyLytes, even as I job-hunted and actively sought a new vocation. I was super ambivalent about reviving the business that had sucked the life out of me for five years, but absent other prospects, I wanted to give it one last chance before letting it go. The campaign looked fabulous.
I exchanged some brief correspondence with an old friend that prompted an unexpected avalanche of hope and healing, and served as another muse.
In the early depths of shutdown, I was inspired to record more than 30 daily Facebook live episodes of 4 O’Clock Faith aimed at comforting those who were struggling during quarantine and had a little following. Later, I recorded dozens more through the end of 2020. I was blogging a lot, too.
In addition, I had five Guideposts writing assignments, and the time, quiet and freedom to do them during quarantine, gratefully collecting unemployment for the first time in my life.
I was connecting with old friends and new in a deeper way.
I enjoyed some unique, high quality time with my kids at a critical juncture, and it was surprisingly effortless being together 24/7.
Just as I asked my husband to move out, I was offered a long-term sub assignment at my son’s school—right on time
Ray found a place right across the street and the kids seemed to be adjusting amazingly well
I worked several weeks before being offered a full-time teaching position with benefits at my community’s high school just as my divorce was imminent
In sum, 2020 was a really good year for me. Transformative. Or so it seemed.
My elation started to wane as some of my prospects seemed to lose their luster:
The timing soon proved to be exceptionally lousy for a crowd-funding campaign and business launch (duh) and I shut it down, releasing MightyLytes altogether.
My baffling, hope-filled connection with my long-lost friend hasn’t panned out as I'd imagined, causing pain and preoccupation
First-year teaching during a global catastrophe has been rough and all-consuming, leaving little creative bandwidth and time for writing
The students are tough and traumatized, the system seems rigged against them and teachers both, and the Covid challenges are overwhelming even to hearty veterans
While deeply gratifying in some important ways, the job comes with alarming concern with education, politics, and the fate of both our kids and our country
In this moment, there’s absolutely no way I can meet the short-term certification requirements, either financially or timewise. With my contract up in June, viable employment prospects look bleak.
Loved ones in a position to help easily didn’t, adding to my grief and grappling.
Plus, loads of assorted other stuff…
Apart from the real-time challenges, I have absolutely no idea how any of this will pan out and while there are some actions I can take, I have no control over the outcome.
The agelessly wise King Solomon once said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
Indeed, it does.
Yes, I’ve had some moments. Boy, have I! Bawling moments. Irate moments. Confused moments. Harrumphing unhappily as I have at other times in my life, I brought it to God. He helped me name it.
Disillusionment - “a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.”
Disillusionment with myself, with others, with institutions…
Naming it is vitally important to changing it.
Once again, hanging our hopes on a particular person (including ourselves) or outcome only to find it wanting, can leave us feeling desperate and discombobulated.
Waiting, lingering with unfulfilled hopes can wear us down and make us heartsick and anxious.
What to do?
It’s tempting to lay down on mental railroad tracks or conversely, to spring into action to fix stuff, but the better remedy remains the same: Bring it all to God.
And so, clobbered into submission, I have.
After a few years on the Spiritual Path, I know that hardships are always an invitation to draw closer to God and that's where we can find hope, regardless of outcomes.
If I filter my momentary disillusionment through the hands of One Who Has All Power, a loving God who transcends all of it, I can perceive it spiritually, gaining a dramatically different and more positive perspective. I can also release it to let God sort it all out.
I’m not saying this is easy. Absolutely not. But ultimately, it’s far easier…and more effective…than my Type A way of frantic micromanagement.
In my now mostly default posture of looking for God’s helpful hand in all that happens, I see him ushering me through this important life transition—occurring during global flux--with loads of grace.
The degree to which I see this seems to be closely correlated to the degree to which I let it go. Easy. Gentle.
If I only stay where my feet are, and lean into my Divine Daddy’s broad shoulders, scampering into His spacious lap, all is well. This is not Pollyanna or prosperity preacher “well” this side of heaven—that’s not the promise.
Tuning into The Spirit, I can practice gratitude and identify the positive dimensions of my current challenges. In turn, I glimpse hints of what may be unfolding and unmistakable road signs pointing the way, sometimes downright magically. And yes, I see the lighthouse on the craggy promontory drawing me safely to shore, navigating around perilous outcrops, many conceived in my mind. All at once, in mystical and medicinal timing, I see God moving. Here are just a few highlights:
In letting MightyLytes fizzle, God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. While I was willing to go there, I really did not want it. Even the prospect of succeeding filled me with dread.
The brief exchange with my long lost friend prompted valuable and liberating personal reflection and healing, and helped me lovingly reconnect with my long-buried, authentic self.
Yes, the teaching job is intensely challenging, but some days, it’s almost too much fun
The ways in which it challenges me keeps me connected to my recovery and to God, who then shows up with dramatic flair to help me, proving once again, that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
It’s also providing financial stability for my kids and I during a critical transition on a very handy schedule, too
I can readily see how I’m helping to comfort and encourage the kids during a tough time in history, which is healing to all of us
I’m learning some extremely valuable skills.
Studying literature is proving to be very inspiring and unexpectedly faith-building, so I’m collecting a creative stockpile to download as time allows
The troubling insights into our educational and related systems is enflaming my social activism and deepening my sense of purpose in sharing the hope of faith.
I don’t know if this job forever or just transitional, and I don’t need to know. I know I'm where I'm meant to be right now. That's a good thing.
In general, all the disillusionment and powerlessness pointed me back to God, the source of all power and the lighthouse in stormy seas.
It cracks me up that I'm watching my own videos to be reminded of the truths I already know and am...
Learning from Others
In the midst of all this, right on time, my friend Sarah just happened to send me Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, which chronicles the spiritual icon’s journey. Elliot faced many monumental joys and disappointments in her life, along with a lot of unexpected interruptions. Most famously, her young husband Jim was speared to death by Ecuadorian Waodani tribesmen just as the Elliots and their fellow missionaries thought they were making headway. Soon after, Elisabeth and her toddler daughter got global attention for returning to live with the tribe that killed her husband, demonstrating bravery and stunning forgiveness.
The tragedy—coupled with Elisabeth’s own painfully thwarted vocation as a tribal linguist—proved to be the catalyst to her spiritually transformative sojourn with the tribe and in turn, a high-impact writing and speaking career which has touched millions of lives.
Since the biography is written on the scaffolding of Elisabeth’s journals, it’s helpful to see how much she struggled in faith. If someone like Elisabeth wrestled with disillusionment, why would I expect otherwise? Let's not even talk about Jesus himself, who openly expressed discouragement with peoples, systems and circumstances.
Concurrently, I just happened to be reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter with my 11th grade students. It has spoken directly to some of my current circumstances. The text mentions Anne Hutchison, a spiritual revolutionary who antagonized the Puritan establishment with her grace message, and is an ancestor to two Massachusetts governors, Mitt Romney, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Bush presidents. I’m also reading Hutchison’s biography, American Jezebel, another treasure map through the landmines of life challenges.
I believe God delivered these stories, and many other signposts, to me navigate these challenging times, but also to help me fully leverage them for others.
Because that’s what He does.
His goal is not so much our comfort, but rather, to help us to become all we can be.
Chiseling…in the form a challenge…is the tool.
For some of us really hard cases, it’s relentless chiseling.
Working it all for the Good
Have you been there? Are you there now?
Whatever you’re facing in this moment, whatever hopes have been dashed on the rocks, bring them all to God. Filter them through the promise of Romans 8:28.
Maybe your own little domain is dandy, but the headlines are freaking you out. Maybe you got all vaccinated, but news of the African or British variant and new shutdowns overseas have you wondering what’s next. Or maybe you thought the election would be a panacea and you’re wondering about rising gas prices, escalating tensions with world powers, and the long-term implications of admittedly welcome trillion-dollar relief packages. Maybe historic ice storms, crimes and violence are mushrooming in your mind. Maybe you’re hoping the kids will go back to school. Or maybe you’re worried they won’t.
Regardless, in an increasingly uncertain world, our hopes are best anchored to something—or someOne—solid and enduring. The variables this side of heaven are just too great to serve as the building blocks of security--let alone peace and joy. There is only One truly reliable cornerstone. If our hope is based on attaining a particular outcome, our hopes are sure to be dashed, possibly leaving us permanently alienated from the only source of true hope Who Is.
I don’t believe this means we abandon our happy hopes this side of heaven. I believe it means living in the uneasy tension of faith where we trust God for what we long for, but hold it loosely or better still, keep our hands entirely open to release it and receive something else altogether.
What is faith?
Faith is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Hebrews 11:1 TLB)
Believing that the Lighthouse and all the signposts along the way are bringing you someplace good makes it all easier.
7 Carry-Ons for the Journey
Here are seven enduring takeaways from my own process and common themes in all spiritual journeys.
God's motive is always love. He wants the best for us, whatever it takes.
The world is broken, as are humans, and thus, stuff happens or doesn't.
Experiencing the consequences of brokenness isn't punishment. It's consequences.
God can, does, and will use everything for good in, for and through us. This includes our mistakes.
God doesn't owe me an explanation for what does and doesn't happen. Accepting that is inherent to faith. Honestly, if I was able to understand God's ways, he'd be a pretty puny god indeed.
God timing is perfect.
Fear and faith are mutually exclusive. The remedy to fear is more of God who is bigger than any challenge.
To that end, I’m keeping my eyes fixed on The Lighthouse. I hope you will, too.
Helpful, Hopeful Homework
I also hope my own reflections will prompt you to consider what spiritual, emotional and practical fruit has come from this landmark year in your own life and where God may be leading you.
Here's my Debriefing 2020, aimed at helping you unpack the past year with a light, loving hope that God is doing something good, as only God can.
Above all, I hope it will draw you closer to Him.
Once you do it, would you write me to tell me what you got out of it?
If it helps you and you want more, I invite you to order Embracing Life: Letting God Determine Your Destiny. This simple study guide is designed to help you navigate life challenges and plumb them for life-changing spiritual perspective.
Through it all, remember: God loves you no matter what.
Love, peace, grace and joy,