We don’t get voted off the island…

Matthew and I usually end up watching each new season of Survivor on television. This last week was the start of the season. I often ask myself why I watch when they just seem to wander around in only their underwear so much of the time. Is that really necessary? Do I need to see all that? No. I don’t need to see all of that.

But in the midst of all that unnecessary skin exposure, a few nuggets of value rise to the surface. The game of Survivor is really a social experiment, and that truly cranks my tractor. Alliances are made and broken, promises are made and broken, all in an effort to survive to the last day and have the opportunity to win a truckload of money. 

It’s forty days of uncertainty. Every player strives to position themselves to make a strong alliance with other players that will carry them through to the end. But here’s the kicker, no one can ever be sure of validity of such alliances. So called “friends” will play each other and some of the best TV moments on the show are when someone who just knew their alliances were going to hold strong, end up getting voted off the island by the very ones who swore their loyalty. Sheesh. Very few players of Survivor can make the entire forty days with their integrity intact. Most of those kinds of people end up voted off early.

That got me to thinking about alliances. An alliance is a union formed for mutual benefit. The Bible calls it a covenant. God made a covenant with Israel. He would be their God and they would be His people. He would make sure they defeated their enemies, and lived in a posh land flowing with milk and honey, and they would serve Him, and only him, for all their days. It was a holy alliance. God always kept his side of the deal, but Israel was a rebellious lot, and like the Survivor players, often caved on their end of the bargain.

When we travel over to the New Testament, we find that God was still interested in covenants. Through Jesus, a new covenant was made. This time, being in relationship with God was not based on performance. Humans had already demonstrated their inability to keep that up. Instead, the alliance required a once and for all sacrifice for all time. This covenant was made on the back of Jesus, himself.

When we enter into this particular covenant, it is a once and for all, never say die (except daily), binding relationship. Because we could do nothing to strike this deal, neither can we do anything to nullify it. When I hear fellow believers who have the idea that there is something they can do to cause God to let them go, I am reminded of the scripture that speaks otherwise.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

And there’s also this one…

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30

Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. The ones we committed yesterday, today and the ones we will commit tomorrow, next week, and twenty years from now. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, and nothing we can ever do to make him love us less. He is not disappointed in us. We do not have to worry about the relationship we have with the Father. Our picture stays up on his fridge, no matter what.

We can know that we are secure in his love. Our alliance with him is strong. Our covenant is binding. There is no tribal counsel, no getting voted off the island. Jesus doesn’t go back on his part, he doesn’t withdraw his sacrifice.

Jesus left this earth to go prepare a place for those of us who love him. (John 14:1-3) Not because he hopes we will be there, but because he knows we will be.

Vine Slayer

I know, I know. It’s been a minute since my last post. Every once in a while, I think, “Maybe I’m done with this.” And maybe I am, but I was outside this week, praise the Lord, working in the yard, and this post kept eating at me. I keep telling myself that it is corny and predictable. Do not write this. 

And then, 

Maybe I am corny and predictable.

But hey, it is my birthday, so maybe you all will just indulge me. 

When Matthew and I moved into the house we built on the hill in the woods, I quickly grew to love being outside in nature. I loved everything that grew… even things most people would consider weeds! Who gets to decide what is a weed anyway? I loved watching all the various things that came up during different times of the year. I protected it all. It became one of the main disagreements Matthew and I had. It pained me every time he decided that something needed to be chopped down or pulled up. Men do love to chop down things. 

One of those things we disagreed upon was a green, leafy, viney thing that covered the forest floor and made it look oh so enchanted. Matthew worried about it taking over, but I was loath to cut it because it just gave the woods this… magical feel. He relented, and it stayed. You win some, you lose some.

By the end of last summer, as I ventured out into the woods, I noticed a problem. The vine was EVERYWHERE. From a distance it seemed fine, but on close up inspection, I thought, “Houston, we have a problem”. A very intricate network of vines lay across the forest floor. As I reached down to pull on vine, I soon discovered that what was visible to the naked eye was just the beginning. As I pulled, I saw that most of the vine snaked underground with branches that split off, taking the vine elsewhere. Some of those underground branches were the size of small tree trunks! 

I quickly regretted leaving the vines to grow at will. Matthew had warned me, several times. I had told him it was fine. That I could handle it. Clearly, I could not. I spent hours upon hours that day pulling and cutting vines… and many days since. On the upside, it is a good arm workout.

This spring I have jumped on it. I have cut and pulled vines two days already. I have a mantra that I speak over them. “Not this year. Not this year”. But I know I am now fighting an uphill battle. I feel like one of those movie heroes sent to fight the million horrid monsters with no hope of getting them all, but fighting to try and live another day, anyway. I am formidable.  

I told you this was a corny story. 

I know that if I am not diligent, this stuff will eventually creep out of the forest and overtake my yard and my home. It is at the edge of the yard already. I’m not going to let that happen. If only I had listened a few years ago, it wouldn’t be this bad. If I had valued the words of the person who loves me and warned me there was trouble brewing. If I had only been willing to see that this stuff was bad medicine and needed to be dealt with. Perhaps this is what Bon Jovi was talking about. 

Oh, come on… 1988? Top of the billboard charts? On their New Jersey album?

I see a life correlation here. This is the predictable part I was talking about earlier. I see that vine as sin, corruption, addiction, whatever. When it first shows up, it doesn’t seem harmful at all. We can handle it. We’ve got it under control. Look, it’s not even that bad. We kind of like it. But then someone who loves us steps in out of concern and warns us. We assure them all is well and we have everything under control… thank you very much. All the while, it is mounting an attack underground. It is gaining strength. It is out of our site and out of our control. Its network grows thicker and it gains ground continuously. One day, we finally take a look around and wonder what the heck has happened!? How did this get so bad? What am I going to do? This is about to overtake my life, my home, my family! 

We make the decision to start fighting, but we better be ready to stand our ground. We better have our mantra ready. “Not this year! Not this day! Not this moment!” We are fighting an uphill battle now. It didn’t have to be this hard, but because we didn’t listen, because we were happier in denial, now the battle is a war. 

I didn’t win my battle over the vine that first day I decided to start fighting it. I haven’t won the battle, still. But I am hacking away at it. I am mindful of it, and I know the enemy I am fighting now. I know what it looks like and how it works. I know what appears to be lovely on the surface is truly something sinister underneath. Armed with a hoe and a chopper tool thing, I am dangerous. And I will continue fighting. 

Is there something growing deep down underneath that you need to give attention? Has someone who loves you warned you about it? Please don’t let it go. Please don’t be fooled into thinking it is harmless while right underneath the surface it is gaining ground. The possibility that it will overtake you is real. Learn your enemy. Fight the good fight. Do it for yourself and for those who love you.

I Am Woman

I am woman. And sometimes I roar. Just ask my husband. He actually likes it when I roar as long as I am not roaring at him. I do not often roar. I find that if you roar too often, people tune all the roaring out like they have a case of roar-fatigue. I selectively roar.

Women, young women in particular, are roaring a lot these days. The Me Too movement has given voice to a generation of women who are fed up with being objectified and used by men who fail to comprehend the true value of a woman. The disparity we find in the value assigned to people groups is getting under the skin of this generation. It’s about time, right?

One issue of concern at play here is momentum. When a movement builds momentum, quite often it grows a life of its own and the pendulum swings oh so far in the opposite direction. What starts off as good and necessary when left unchecked becomes distorted, and the end result serves no one at all. I see young women, even Christian women, swinging with that pendulum to a dangerous place with radical feminism these days. The goal should not be to surpass men, making them irrelevant and without value to us. In devaluing men, we are guilty of the same disgraceful actions that motivated women to speak out to begin with.

When I teach about gender disparity, I always ask my Sociology students if they think Jesus was a feminist. They are afraid to answer me, initially. They shift in their seats, look around at each other and then back up to me, unsure of the safe answer. Then I read them the definition of feminist. “Someone who advocates for the social, political, legal, and economic rights of women equal to those of men”. I read this to my class and again ask the question. Was Jesus a feminist? Yes. They always say yes. Jesus did more for women than any other person before or since Him. He drew equality lines in the sand (John 8). He stripped away value determinations between men and women, free and enslaved (Galatians 3). Yes, by our definition, Jesus could have been thought of as a feminist. And Jesus was clearly radical. But He was not a radical feminist. Neither should we be.

I walk in confidence today. Have I ever been devalued or brushed aside because I am a woman? Sure. Plenty. Is my worth wrapped up in what that person said or did? If I let it, yes. But I do not let it. I learned a while ago where to find my worth. My power is not in the fact that I am a woman, although being a woman is powerful. My power lies in the fact that I am a woman called by God to His good works. Works that He ordained for me before the foundation of the earth. Most of the time I walk in quiet confidence knowing the power that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of me. I picture crowds of dark demons parting, giving me deference, making a way for me to pass as I walk this life. You should try it. It’s a powerful visual.

Sometimes I’m quiet, sometimes I roar. But quiet or roaring, I always carry a sword at my side, and I never forget where that sword came from. I know that sword was not made by my hand. It was forged by the fire of the Holy Spirit and placed in my hand, along with the rest of my armor, at the moment I recognized Jesus as the Messiah. I am completely His. I walk in confidence in who I am because of what He says I am. Not by some hyped up, fueled up, emotional position I take because of a reactionary feminist view of the world. I slay dragons by the power of the Holy Spirit who uses me because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

If only we could see COVID19

As a general rule, we Americans do not like to be told what we can and cannot do. There’s been a lot of that going on in the last four months, and it is making us uncomfortable. As I move around in my mostly reopened community, I am seeing a lot of people wearing masks. I see many who are not. I see lots of folks ignoring the advice supporting social distancing. Even I, immersed in COVID19, am growing weary of it all. We are not accustomed to having to hold our focus on something for more than a couple of news cycles. And as much as I want to talk about something, anything, other than this cursed virus, I have to force myself to stay engaged. We are not done yet. We cannot afford to grow weary in this fight.

The spread of infectious disease is a big deal to me. Matthew and I lost an infant son to the unintentional but devastating spread of infection in a healthcare setting. Since that time, at every opportunity, I have promoted and encouraged practices to prevent the careless spread of infection in healthcare. I even did my master’s thesis on a method to promote hand hygiene practices among healthcare workers. The manner(s) by which infections spread is not a mystery to us, but there is still room for improvement even among those of us who understand the subject better than most. It has been an uphill fight. A worldwide pandemic has helped, but it should not have taken that to motivate us.

Countless studies support the theory that we must have human contact to promote mental and physical well-being. While it is vital for our survival, it is through human contact that we pass disease among us. We cannot see the germs on our hands or floating through the air as we speak, breathe, cough or sneeze, but they are there.

Oh, how I wish we could see it. Being able to see biological, viral, and fungal organisms on our skin or in our breath would completely solve this for us. I believe my son would be alive today. If we could see the germs, we wouldn’t be fighting an invisible enemy. But since we cannot see them, it is hard to stay vigilant. We begin to doubt their existence and their impact. We think, “This can’t be necessary. They are blowing this whole thing out of proportion. I do not like being told what to do. Who are these ‘so called’ experts? I know what’s best for me and my family”.

We grow suspicious that those in power are using this to control us. I have stopped getting my information from those sources. I am listening to researchers who have no other agenda than genuine concern for the public health in their communities. There are people whose primary focus is intervention and mitigation of this virus so that the majority of us never know what it is like to endure the worst of this monster. They are relentless, they are tired, and they are determined. I am listening to them.

The truth is, as much as we want one, there just is no quick fix for this.

The public demand for a quick fix has those studying the issue prematurely putting out every scrap of information they can come up with, and it leaves us feeling jerked around. The better option might just be for us to sit back and wait on them to work the problem through. And while we wait, we wear a mask, wash our hands, and protect the most vulnerable around us by keeping our distance.

We know cloth masks aren’t the best. We know they do not prevent the spread of the tiniest particles. (Most of us couldn’t stand to wear the masks that are designed to do that, even if they were available.) But cloth masks do help.

And shouldn’t we want to help?

COVID19 is here to stay. In time, we will beat it back into submission, and we will have a vaccine. Yes, we need to continue to live, but we must also grow through this experience now, though, because this will likely not be the last time we face such an enemy. Lurking somewhere is the next one to come. It is brewing in a lab or growing in strength in some unsuspecting species, just waiting to make the jump to human hosts. If we get our response to this pandemic right, we will be better equipped to knock back the next one. It will be easier to say, “Been there, done that. Bring it on”.

I truly wish we could see the germs on our hands, on the surfaces around us, and in the air we exhale. I believe our conversations and responses to the spread of all infections would be different. But because our enemy is invisible to the naked eye, we have to combat any urges we have to go rogue on this. We cannot afford to choose that path.

How this plays out really is up to us.