Quarantine Diary: Tendons

Before I had time to think, we were holed up together and uncertain of a time when normalcy would ever return. What a rude awakening.

Just days before, I was sitting in a hospital waiting to have a scheduled surgery. My husband and I were watching the news that morning as the virus was beginning to make its way into our country. It was before there was a guidance to cancel all elective surgeries. It was before there was a stay at home order. It was before my kids’ school closed. I was put to sleep and woke up to a different world.

It’s been two weeks since we’ve existed in the world like we always did: taking up space, going where we wanted, buying all the food we needed for the week, hugging the people we love. My surgery went well, but it confined me to the couch as I recover ever-slowly with four kids running circles around us as we try to make money, do schoolwork, maintain a 4.0 GPA in college (just me), keep a trace of sanity. Whenever the sun’s out, we make them run in it. Whenever we see a familiar face on the screen, we bask in the joy of seeing someone new that has been in our life for years but is physically inaccessible to us. Whenever there’s a moment of silence, we relish that we’ve made it this long together.

The word “Coronavirus” comes out of my kids’ mouths in their innocent voices, and it’s like it makes no sense. What world is this? Why is everything twisted and rearranged? Will we make it? I carry stress well most of the time, but lately, I don’t. I’m anxious in my gut thinking of people I love and like. And if I hear another sermon about it all I might barf. Or cry. Or fall asleep. I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I don’t think any of us were.

I crawled back into this space to write because this is what I know how to do. I know how to show up and deliver on eloquence and deep emotion that resonates with others. I have no idea how to do anything else when it comes to this virus. I feel paralyzed and exhausted, which is an oddity considering how little I have done for two weeks.

However, in the darkest days of my life, I showed up to God with a pen and said, “Tell me what to say.” Some of it felt like pulling a splinter from my skin. Sometimes it feels like gliding on a swing like a little kid being pushed by her daddy. It is a reassuring practice of finding freedom in a moment when I feel the most captive, most trapped, and most terrified.

You aren’t me. But we all have something that spiritually connects us. I think even for those of us who aren’t believers in Jesus know exactly what I mean. There are things that we do that connect us to unseen greatness. Passions, talents, skills. It’s like walking in shoes that were formed for our feet, doing something that feels to us like it’s in our skin and bones, molded into every fiber of us.

To tell you the truth, we have a lot of time while we wait. I invite you to join me in doing the things, the small things, that give you the most joy. The things that remind you of you. The things that connect you deeply.

I think you’ll see God. And if ever there were a time to want to see Him, I trust you know it’s now.

Muscles & Bones

My alarm goes off, and I reach over to silence it. Maybe hit the snooze button a few times. I get up, and begin the trek upstairs to my boys. Sometime in the last few months I’ve noticed something new: my muscles ache and my bones crack in the early morning as I walk up those stairs. An honest reminder that no one, especially me, is getting younger.

Truthfully, it’s okay. Until I forget and drink a latte way after 5 PM and regret it at 12:35 AM as I’m staring at the ceiling. That was me, last night, scrolling through years worth of blog posts that are posted right here in this beloved, sacred space of mine. My, how God changes us when we let Him. To see His work in our own lives is like seeing beauty for the first time. It’s breathtaking.

I’ve been studying the book of Esther for the past eight weeks. As part of my study, I read through commentaries from other people, specifically people from different countries, parts of the world, races, and contexts. They weren’t reading from the mindset of a 29-year-old white, Midwestern woman. They read the Bible through a completely different lens than I did.

Somewhere between now and 16 years ago, I started to believe that differing perspectives were difficult and testing, not beneficial. It’s taken years to see it as otherwise.

The past year has been trying and conflicting for me and my world. I’ve known for some time that this moment in life and faith is meant to grow and change me into who I am meant to be. But it hurts, like the way my muscles ache and my bones crack in the morning. I’m trying to wake myself back up because I’ve been sleeping on too much for too long.

For the first time in a while, it feels like I’ve stepped into the right place. Like the tension of the world and heaven has created a tightrope, and I’ve finally gotten it. I can feel how all that surrounds me could make me fall, but my feet have memorized how to move better, more steadfast, with confidence. For a long time it felt like walking through a wall of rain and fire. But now it feels like walking with the rain and fire is what has made all of this easier.

The dimensions of Christianity are complex, but truthfully, you and I have to blame for a lot of that. For too many of us, living a life for Christ means standing with straight spines, neat appearances, measured steps, plastered smiles, and kindness that feels like dead air.  We speak words that fall on deaf ears because our words are pretty dead themselves. Aren’t they? We speak with no action, we love with ulterior motives, we pray with plans already made. We’re complicating something that is not so complicated.

And my goodness, no wonder I don’t fit in with it.

I think about Jesus in the Bible and the way He behaves with people. Not only is He so self-sacrificing, but He is so aware. His back is bent to reach low. His words are like oil on rusted wheels, getting minds and hearts moving towards a Kingdom they know can be theirs. He doesn’t walk with dead words. He walks and embraces and hugs and loves like it is the simplest thing in the world.

As I was studying Esther, discovering this book over and over for eight weeks, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head: He is relevant to all of us in all of our complexities. He is applicable to all of us because He is so acutely aware of us and who we are. And He does not back away from us. It’s quite the contrary: we often back away from Him, sure He’s a liar, sure He’s a thief, sure He’s not really who He says He is. We’d rather look like those with rigid appearances and dead air than we would look like a king who serves like a slave.

Sometimes when I’m standing in worship at church, I close my eyes and pray with any fervor I can muster. Sometimes the Church looks like a bunch of sleeping buffoons, and by God, I don’t want that for them. I close my eyes and start letting the Spirit speak for me. I invite Him in, like rain and wind and fire, and ask Him to get us moving towards Him, whatever it takes. That we step out of line a little bit, get out of our minds the idea that we have to look and be and do as all others do. I pray for Him to weave among us as we stand in our spaces, afraid to move for fear of being wrong.

If there ever were a time to begin moving in the world like Jesus did, it is now. If there ever is a time to be unashamed of the gospel, it’s today. Otherwise, you’re looking at a life lived with dead words coming from your mouth hitting dead air and deaf ears.

It’s time to wake up.

Steps Toward the Creator

Before I knew what I was doing, I was being who I was. There’s a lot less fear when you are unaware of the effects of living a free life. Not that there are ramifications, but when you are newly free, you aren’t easily jaded by the circumstances you find yourself in.

As time goes on, the fear of being seen and judged is heavy and uncomfortable. I don’t want it from anyone. I want to walk the way I’m supposed to, but fear gets stuck at the bottom of my shoes, slowing me down, reminding me of what I think about before I fall asleep some nights.

The devil is not stingy when it comes to us. He knows what we would be capable of if we jumped and ran, so he dishes out fear in multilayered pieces. He snakes in the cracks and plants seeds that grow into thick weeds. He will give us the best he’s got because it’s all he has. And isn’t it a shame that we let him win? Especially when we can look to our right and see a Man with blood-stained hair and holes in the palms of his hands. That Man has more power in his right pocket than the devil has in his whole being, but for some reason, we crumble under the weight of the power of a crumbly being.

I’m working on it. I’m not here to say I have fear in its place and that freedom is every bit of how I walk with Jesus everyday. I do know Whose I am and who I am, but there are many days between here and there when I don’t know where to turn to be rescued from fear.

I’ve seen what believers do to each other when they fail. I’ve seen the condescending words trickle from their mouth to unbelievers. I’ve heard it in my own mind and heart. This soul is scared to death of what the Church will do to her if she ever speaks her mind. I would rather cozy up with fear. So I do.

Hallelujah that the Lord knows my innermost being. Praises escape me when I recognize that I am not in a prison, that I am not bound to fear, that I am made right with a King who loves His girl. I may toss and turn in the night and cling to what I want to throw past me, but He is rooting for me. I’ve already won because I’ve got Him. Yet now we move, into the space where we can make brave movements towards a God who is always moving towards us.

I see You. I’m running.

The Wind

Standing before me is a mountain I have never asked to climb. It isn’t one I want to die on, nor is it one I’d like the world to witness. But lo and behold, here we all are standing before mountains we never asked for and lives we never envisioned, with troubles at every valley and short-lived glory at the peaks.

And the wind.

It can be a force to be reckoned with or a push forward. It can be changing and forceful, and like the pockets of the ocean as they rise and fall in the waves, so is the wind. It hides and weaves, hits like a wall and pushes like its strength is unceasing.

On the mountain, the wind can make all things better and all things worse, sometimes all at once.

I read the other day that leaders must lead. They mustn’t sit idly by when someone needs to stand up and say something. Silence is agreeing that whatever is happening is fine.

While I was sitting in my living room, scrolling through my phone, I stopped there: Leaders must lead. I looked up at the wall in front of me. The wallpaper seams can still be seen under layers of paint from decades ago. This house has seen many faces before mine because this house is older than I am. I studied the seams and thought, “Who has sat here before me and wondered if history would be kind to them?” I was looking around and behind me, searching for the leader that I know was sitting right in my seat.

And here’s the thing: I am not just anyone.

As a woman who stands in Christ’s blood, I set myself to a standard that is to God and God alone.

You see, this moment we are in is crucial. And I’m afraid most of us are scared that what is familiar to us will be lost, or what has always been must continue to be. If you think that isn’t you, I think you’re lying to yourself. Because it’s me. It’s me, looking in the mirror, seeing where I am and the people I’m with, thinking, Why would we change what has always seemed to be right?

I imagine Jesus is looking at His Church wondering who she thinks she is.

His Church isn’t one made up of people who won’t listen to people of another race. His Church isn’t made up of people who yell horrid things over a keyboard. His Church isn’t made up of people who value one type of person over another. His Church isn’t made up of people who see “American” and see the epitome of God’s creation. His Church isn’t made up of just us, and I’m afraid none of you believe that.

There’s too many people we have overlooked. There’s too many who are crying out in righteous anger, and too many who are willing to ignore it because it doesn’t look like your anger.

Too many mountains. Too many burdens I wasn’t made to carry.

We can’t fight every battle. But we can agree that there are battles that must be lost and battles we can certainly win.

Leaders, lead.

We often don’t ask for mountains. We look at them and disdain them, as though they are the bane of our existence and only show our weakness. But there, where we are crawling with fingers gripping the rocks and climbing because we must go higher, we become strong. The wind will hit like waves, throwing my hair around my face, pushing me to the next step, giving me breath to see the moment I need to be in.

We don’t ask for trial. But without it, we don’t know God. Without it, we don’t know how to become stronger. With it, we can see what the wind can make of us.

As He Envisioned

Hi, I’m Janelle, and I don’t want to do this.

That’s only partly true. I do want to write. I’ve missed writing in this context, and I love just letting words weave together like a garment stitched with care. The truth is, I don’t want to do what I know I should.

(Welcome to life, Janelle.)

I am tired.

It’s part of me to be this way. Some people are born with the get-up-and-go, motivated and driven, but I am not always like that. I need to be reminded that whatever is happening is worth happening and not a response to anything I lack or what I’m worth.

As the days, months, and years pass, I’m growing more and more aware of how important it is to be who I am and be God’s girl. I get to do a lot, and I get to be more than I dreamed, yet it’s never all about me. That feels like a tug of war between my soul and my gut, and I can’t always swing past it without needing a break or two.

I know I’m at war with the perception I want other people to have and the reality of what God has called me to.

Heads up: Jesus tells us this isn’t an easy ride. This is not a free pass to heaven where we are cheered on every step of the way. Some of the most remarkable women I admire have endured a lot of crap flung in their face, and if I could hide from anything, it would be that.

Faith is not a box. It is not a tidy gift. It cannot be bound by our standards, and man, if that doesn’t screw with everyone’s Americanized beliefs then I don’t know what will. A thought has been reverberating through my brain over the year, and it’s this: Jesus is everything. And if He isn’t? It will show. In more ways than one. It will show in the words that come out of my mouth, the motivation behind my social media posts, the way I defend myself before others, the way I interact in discourse, the way I love my neighbor, the way I see the world, and the way my heart responds to a continually loving God.

When He isn’t everything, we’ll have multiple thrones in our midst filled with menial things and unsatisfying embellishments. We’ll be an embarrassing shadow of the love of Christ, and you best believe the world will know it.

I think they already do.

It’s no wonder I quit writing. It’s no wonder I stopped being a loud voice. All the voices I kept hearing were saying things that sounded a lot less like love and a lot more like condemnation.

But God.

Man if I could count the times I’ve thought it and said it. But God! I am a quitter, and He is not! It’s like being on a team where the coach keeps saying, “Try again! Get back up! Don’t you quit! You’ve got it in you!” He believes in me more than I do, and I thank Him for it.

I don’t want to, but here we go. One day at a time, as we mold and grow like clay in the potter’s hand, we become exactly as He envisioned. As He envisioned. I couldn’t imagine this for a moment. Yet, He already did.

Walking in the Fields

Feet on the ground.

My feet are on the ground, and it’s a moment where I wish they weren’t. The perspective from right here sucks. I see you all plowing, planting, and fertilizing the soil under your own feet, and I don’t know what kind of fruit you’re looking to produce.

I don’t even know what kind of fruit I want to produce, either.

I’m not a gardener. I basically buy plants I like and plant them, most often hoping for the best. The literal planting and fertilizing is easy. The waiting is annoying, but I also have other things to do, so I don’t sit around waiting for a plant to grow and bloom. The figurative planting and fertilizing in our spiritual lives is similar yet miles apart from the literal. It takes a lot more than good fortune and a nice plant from the store.

We all have feet on the ground, soil under our feet, and seeds in our hands. But oh my dear friends, we’re really bad at planting good plants and bearing good fruit.

We’ve got feet on the ground, and we’re tearing through other people’s fields. We think we know everything, don’t we? I mean, I think I know a lot. But I’m not old enough to know the half of it. I’m not wise enough to discern what’s right and wrong every time. I’m not even guaranteed that my thoughts align with anything the Bible says.

Feet on the ground means we all have work to do.

And isn’t it like us to look at each other’s work and pout? Isn’t it like us to see the fruit of others and wonder why ours looks nothing like that? Isn’t it like us to forget we’ve got our dang feet on the ground when the ground we’re standing on is not the soil we wanted?

I wonder what’s in us that thinks we know best. I wonder who told us or me or you that whatever opinion or value we adhere to is worth demolishing another’s field for the sake of being right.

I mean, your feet are on the ground, aren’t they? Or are they wandering into other fields where they simply don’t belong?

I often think to myself, “Head down, eyes up.” Head down, Janelle. They’ve got a work, and you’ve got a work. They’ve got an opinion, you’ve got an opinion. Remind yourself Who your focus is on. Is the work in their field made up of your soil? Is the work under their feet under your feet, too? Is the trip to stand your ground on their ground anything righteous at all?

Eyes up. Don’t look down. Don’t miss it. There’s an entire world in front of you, and you’ve got a Spirit of love in your soul. See it. Give it away like air because it’s plentiful. Remember to keep looking up, keep remembering Who loved you first. Work the field you’ve got and praise a good God that you get to be here to do it.

I don’t know what you’re building or what kind of fruit you want coming from the field. But it’s not going to make a world of difference if you’re growing something only to destroy someone else’s. I’m guilty. I’d challenge you to think again if you think you aren’t.

Love walks the fields and asks questions and asks to help and isn’t going to condemn another for doing what seems different. Love isn’t like that. If it is, I don’t know what kind of love that is.

Feet on the ground. Feet on your ground.

Walk the fields. Work with what you have. Head down, eyes up. Love at every turn.

A Word from the Cement

The pit is where we find Him.

I imagine it’s where He likes to pace, anticipating our fall into depths of pain and ache that find no solace other than the dank cement under our feet. It isn’t that we hit the bottom with a thud. No, it’s that we climb down there to find a way out, and all we find is nothing.

But He is there. That is how our Father is. He crafted us knowing where we’d end up. It seems odd that a loving God would let us choose the pit with the dark, dank cement. What was He thinking when He decided to let me choose, knowing that I am such a screw-up, a failure, and a nobody who would walk into a pit day in and day out thinking it was something new? It never is. It’s always the same, and sometimes it feels like someone throws us in there. It feels like rock bottom is a stop on a tour that we can’t get out of, with a pit waiting just for us.

Maybe we’ve climbed in ourselves. Maybe it’s as though someone tossed us in. Whatever the case, we find ourselves there, and all we do is face the wall. We keep our hands against the cool rock, grasping for a crevice to cling to so we may lift ourselves out. You would think we learn, for we know that it isn’t that easy. Getting out takes two people, and we’re alone. We’re facing the wall, hands against cold rock, grasping for anything that will pull us out of a situation we don’t want to be in. We want hope, and we’ll claw until we find it.

But remember—He’s there. Pacing quietly, maybe even standing patiently. As busy as we are trying to climb, claw, and fight our way out, He is waiting for us to turn around. It takes another Person. It takes Someone else to lift us up. He is our hope, and in this moment of pain and hopelessness, He knows the way.

It takes another person, remember? We need His strength to get us out of our pain. We need His hand to guide us the right way. We need His comforting arms to wrap us up and remind us that we aren’t a disappointment to Him. We need His hope to get us out of whatever pit we’re in because He is the only One there with us through the midst of it all.

Your pain is not unseen. Your frustration is not unheard. Your cry for help is not ignored. He has never left you, not for a moment. What’s more—when we do find ourselves in a pit of some fashion, He anticipated you being there. And He decided to meet you. You just have to turn around. Get away from the cold, unwelcoming wall, and see Him. He isn’t distant. He’s ready whenever you are.

You are someone to the God who made you. He always knows exactly where to find you. Even the pit that you don’t want to be in, He knows the exact moment when your feet hit that cold, wet floor. Every moment in your life is known to Him. He’s seen your pain. He knows the way out. His way doesn’t promise a life without pain. He doesn’t guarantee you won’t see yourself in a pit again anytime soon. But He does promise to be with you, always. Until the end of time.

And when you’ve lived a life walking by His side, seen the depths and experienced the glories of joy, your soul will find eternal joy with Him. He promises us that. A wholeness never seen on this earth, a place where no pit can swallow you whole, and everlasting hope that frees for all eternity. It’s worth every moment. Even the pits we fall in.

He is with you. Always.