The New Normal

Listen, I know you’re likely in one camp or the other: you embrace this term or you reject it. I have swayed back and forth for various reasons, some of which I will explain.

On the one hand, yes, we will have a “new normal” because none of us has ever experienced anything like this. Yes, our oldest generation has gone through worse. I believe that: think of the world wars, the great depression, genocides, etc. But this is different. COVID has happened in an age of information that is historically unrivaled. News travels fast – lightning fast – whether it’s true or not, and often influences so efficiently that if it is later debunked, it is hard for people to believe the actual truth. I believe we also live in a very fearful age. I actually think that safety has ironically made us more fearful. We live so safe and clean and healthy (at least we perceive life to be this way) that we are terrified of a bad cold, needing a few stitches or a surgery, offending people, the list goes on and on. And so this fear fed the narrative – I don’t think you can disagree with this no matter what side you fall in your beliefs about this virus and its socioeconomic effects. And when you have been taught to fear something, it is very hard to walk away from that.  Worldwide lockdowns, terminology no one had ever heard before (social distancing, anyone??), confusing science and data have left us in a very different place than we were five months ago. And those living in epicentres or who have lost friends or family members will be scarred and will never go back to the normal they knew before.

On the other hand, I can see that there are freedoms we have given up in the name of health and safety that I still believe we should get back. Using the terminology “new normal” has the potential of convincing people that these freedoms are no longer our right. That we are too vulnerable to stand closer than six feet apart as we might get sick or get someone else sick. That we will accept the prices of groceries that have steeply risen or the extra taxes we’ll inevitably be paying to handle the government financial aid that many of us have received. I know these things are par for the course in the middle of it all but I am concerned that over time, these things will continue even though the virus itself passes. That we will be quick to do things we are told even when they are unreasonable. People aren’t meant to live alone and stay apart. I certainly intend to fight the new normal in that area at least.

So here’s the third perspective. Hopefully a Godly one.

I embrace the New Normal. Not the losses in freedoms or the fear of disease. I wholeheartedly embrace what God has been doing in the Church during this time. I believe that many who were lukewarm have become hot in this time. I know that there will be some who let their love grow cold, and will fall away. I do not deny that. But I feel revival in my heart, in my family, in the Church. I have experienced beautiful community borne out of trial and I don’t ever want to lose that, not to go back to what was “normal” before. I have prayed more, worshiped more, read more of the Word. I am revived, even in the middle of global crisis.

Yes, I still get frustrated. I still feel sorrow over what has transpired, over lives lost or in ruin. I still wonder when it’s going to end. But then I actually didn’t want it to end too soon. I wanted a chance for more of the Church to grab hold of something incredible.

In the first few weeks of lockdowns and health orders, I woke up with part of a song in my head: “You take what the enemy meant for evil, and you turn it for good.” I have tried to make that my anthem for the last few months. No matter what was meant for evil, He can turn it for good.

The provision of God

I have been telling these stories for a long time and in this time of financial insecurity for so many, I want to tell them again. Sometimes I forget just how obvious this provision was at the time but then telling the story reminds me and I am in awe.

Mike and I got married in February of 2004. He was working a pretty good job but when we got home from our honeymoon, he was called to go to camp for a week. Not a great start to a marriage, especially when you add the fact that I had just moved 1,400 kilometres from home and didn’t really know anyone here. He quit that job about a month later because we knew we didn’t want that lifestyle and then we lived off of our savings for a few months, just enjoying our time together and settling in. That summer, he started looking a little harder for a job as the money had nearly run out. He had a few opportunities but took a cash job on trial at an auto body shop. He did detailing on cars for a short time and eventually moved to prep work. At this time, I was surprised we were not expecting yet (because we were not trying to prevent) and started praying more earnestly for a baby. Right around the time that I would have conceived, he got a “real” job for the company and a simultaneous $4 raise. By a year later, he was making $4 more than that per hour and not only did we have enough to provide for the baby that came in June of 2005, but we had enough to buy a home that summer. The timing of everything was just too perfect to call it coincidence.

In January of 2008, we were expecting our third baby and Mike had moved on to another auto body shop where his Dad worked and was even talking about going to school for some certification in body work. He didn’t exactly love the work but he did like the people he worked with and the company took care of their employees. He had only been there for six months when things slowed down and he got laid off. When I think of the year 2008, I think “recession.” It didn’t hit Canada in exactly the same way but I know many people had a hard time. It was early in the year, though, and all I could think was that we didn’t have any substantial savings, had a mortgage to pay and were about to have three kids, three and under. I was shocked and didn’t know what would happen. Mike started looking for work, applied for EI (unemployment) and we listed our ’85 Honda Accord for sale, hoping that would bring in a bit of cash. Not even two weeks into the layoff, we were sitting down with his sister and her husband for supper and talking about Mike’s need for a job when our brother-in-law told us that the small engineering firm he worked for might have a job but it was unlikely that it would interest Mike at all. He started to explain the job to us and rather than finding it off-putting, Mike was intrigued. He got an interview with the owner of the company and then we went on a trip for a conference that we had already had planned months before. I forget the fine details of when things happened, but we definitely got a call when we were in the Edmonton Ikea that they had a job for him and he could start work by the middle of February. Shortly after, our 23 year old car sold for $1,200 – the exact amount of a two week paycheque at that time. Not only was this job a Godsend in timing, it turned out to be something Mike loved and has continued doing for 12 years now, working through a company buy out and a everyone else in the company leaving over time.

Now, 2020 and the COVID crisis. Early this year, we went over our budget and determined that we had around $600 in excess every month if I kept my spending relatively tight. We had changed the way we budgeted and so we could see where money had been wasted or unaccounted for before. We talked about investments or just putting it into savings but in the end, we needed the extra for a few things in January and February so we didn’t make any final decisions about it. In March, we were told that the company would be implementing a 10% wage reduction due to COVID. It wasn’t long before I determined that the difference in wages for us was almost exactly the amount of extra money in our budget. We had never squirreled it away anywhere and so it was just there, available to make up the difference for us.

We have had countless times when God has provided for our needs – both tangible and otherwise. Sometimes these cases of extra provision have been totally obvious. Other times, we have had to look back and realize how incredible they really were. They have all pointed us to a God who knows what we need and has provided.

Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

Psalm 50:10

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”

Matthew 6:28-32

 “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”

 

Think on these things

This morning, we took in our first live stream only church service. Our little church has been live streaming for some time now but this week, it wasn’t just church members who couldn’t be there in person, but all of us watching from home. We were reminded to praise God in the middle of this trial, and after the message, our family joined together to answer the global call to prayer from noon to one local time.

After this time of prayer was done, I listened to another live stream from this morning. The pastor talked about hope and optimism in this time, something that many people seem to be short on. He reminded his church, and all those watching, of the following verse:

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

This simple reminder is crucial right now. Personally, I have been in a great deal of self-conflict (and unfortunately had some conflict with other members of my family) over the opposing information and viewpoints being presented. We can easily look at statistics and see desperation and hopelessness in this time. So many people are afraid, people are sick and dying and economies are slowing down considerably. We are told to limit our gatherings, stay home, don’t even go outside – such extremes in the actual orders, let alone what social media is screaming. It is easy to get caught up in this and listen to these voices rather than the Holy Spirit.

I believe that what the enemy has meant for evil in this time will be turned to good, but we have a part to play in that. Share things that are true and honest on social media – do some real research before you hit “share” on that frightening post. Read books and watch movies or television that are pure – now is the time to build ourselves up in the Lord, not embrace what the world offers. Look on what is lovely – if it is spring where you are, appreciate that beauty outside your window. Watch your kids learn new ways to be creative in the middle of isolation. Focus on good reports first. The statistics are there every day and depending on who you are and what you are listening to, you will read them differently. Remember that while you might not feel too bad about things, the person reading what you are sharing may be despairing and living without any hope. Ask yourself if it does anyone any good to re-share something that is already circulating and causing fear or distress.

I read a comment on a local post yesterday saying that “it is time to panic.” I could not disagree more, even if this virus was about to infect my entire city. As a believer, I cannot give time to fear. Practicing caution or listening to recommendations and mandates is good but I am watching as people make up their own rules based in fear and then spread those around – much like the virus we’re trying to avoid.

I have seen sad things in the last few weeks and have watched as some people seem to have given up all hope. I have also seen beauty in this time – families coming together in ways they’ve never been able to before and neighbours watching out for each other. The latter is lovely, pure, just, true. Think on these things, brothers and sisters.

When nothing changes, and everything does

I know that I am not the only home educating parent who feels this way right now. We laugh and share snarky homeschool memes as many of our friends and neighbours are having school canceled and then we share our resources to help those parents facilitate  learning in their homes until school starts again. We acknowledge that, for most of us, especially those of us with many children, not much has changed.

But everything has. Seemingly overnight, too. Our daily life doesn’t look different, but I promise you, it feels very different. We are facing the same uncertainties, explaining things to our children, watching as our extracurricular activities and then our church services are canceled due to social distancing mandates. We have long conversations with our children and spouses about different approaches those in the homeschool community and in the Church have in this time. Do we deny mandates to have fellowship with other believers? Do we embrace this time as a time of rest and sabbath? Do we distance ourselves completely because we are or know people with weakened immune systems? Do we believe this theory or that one about what is behind this virus and ensuing pandemonium? We ask these questions and don’t always have the answers.

We go to bed knowing that things will look different in the morning and we never know what to expect.

But our kids are still home, like they always are. We’re still feeding them all their meals and snacks at home, like we always do. They are doing school (or not, in our case), using up their screen time and sometimes asking for more. We live in this surreal state, with home looking more or less the same, while the world around us is simultaneously reeling and frozen in place.

And what should we do? My personal response is to maintain an atmosphere of peace in my home, throughout all the decisions that we have to make minute by minute. My God has not given us a spirit of fear and I will not bow to it. Maybe you’re not afraid of the virus or death but are concerned about the economy, your job or what will happen if school is out for the rest of the year. I challenge you to, ” let your requests be made known unto God,” in this time. Fill yourself up with the Word, worship, and words of encouragement. Focus on the many things we have to be thankful for in this time and look out to see what you can do practically to help others. There are many people in need in this time – some need toilet paper or milk and others just need a listening ear or a number they can text anytime they feel anxious.

I said to my husband last night that I never could have predicted this two weeks ago and that knowing that makes me aware that I cannot predict what life will look like in two more weeks. This crisis, although it has not impacted me physically or financially at this time, has made me focus on living one day at a time, something I have admittedly never been great at. So while I fight for peace, I will just live one day at a time and adopt the position of “Lord willing,” as I think farther ahead. I encourage you to do the same, my friends.

 

The Milk and The Meat

When we think of milk in modern times, I would guess that most of us imagine a cold glass of milk with a cookie, or milk we pour over our cereal – things we readily consume as adults. But when the Bible refers to milk, it is in the context of infants and therefore can be presumed to primarily mean breast milk. Breast milk and its alternatives are really incredible foods. Babies grow exponentially fast in their first year of life – if we continued growing at this rate, we would be a race of giants! It is high calorie, high fat, built for exactly what babies need.

I have been breastfeeding babies off and on for nearly fifteen years. In fact, with the majority of my babies nursing into the next pregnancy, I’ve only had a known break from either for about two weeks in 2009. I am very familiar with breastfeeding and the demands of infants and toddlers who are still nursing. New babies nurse around the clock and this is natural and to be expected. Most of my babies have nursed during the night until around sixteen months. Regardless of how you feel about that personally, I never questioned it and have just gone with the flow (no pun intended) in feeding my babies.

However, as my kids got a bit older and started eating more solid foods, even before weaning them from the breast, I started giving them their own plate and utensil to eat with, or giving them bite sized pieces they could feed themselves. This is expected as children grow up – we want them to feed themselves because it is a time consuming process to be feeding ourselves and also feeding a baby or small child. At least half of my kids refused to be fed by a year and only wanted things they could put in their own mouths. We applauded this even when it meant a mess would be made.

Something we often hear in the Church is that we are looking to be “fed” when we attend services. People leave churches because they feel that they were not being fed enough. “Feed me!” we cry every Sunday, and most never question it.

This is what the authors of 1st Corinthians and Hebrews were talking about. We need to distance ourselves from this language and the expectation that it is the pastor’s job to “feed” us. Maturity in Christ means giving up milk and moving on to meat – solid foods. It means that instead of someone feeding us around the clock on simple food – milk – we move on to meat that we feed ourselves a few times a day. These things take longer to digest, are more nutritionally diverse and are much more exciting than milk anyway. But how many in the Church are existing on milk that a pastor feeds them once a week? How many never move on to more interesting foods because they refuse to give up the comfort of around the clock (spiritual) breastfeeding?

I write this while literally breastfeeding my youngest child. He is thirteen months old now and still desires this comfort but also loves solid food. He loves to eat half a banana, mash some of it up between his hands and feed the rest to the dog. He likes to beg for whatever the rest of us are eating and if I wanted to, I could wean him at any time and he would be just fine. There is no harm in continuing to nurse him for the foreseeable future but I do so with the full expectation that he will eventually wean and move on to eating full meals that look just like mine, with no need for the nutrition or comfort of the breast.

While new believers need the milk of the Word – the simple food, life giving, full of fat and calories – we must expect that as we grow in Christ, we trade the milk for solid food. At first, we might split our intake fifty/fifty. The initial foods we eat are basic, maybe a bit bland and still consumed frequently. Over time, though, we need to move on to meat – the solid, diverse and exciting Word of God. The stuff that takes studying, puzzling over, questioning. The parts that require a Strong’s concordance or commentary alongside to understand the original meanings of words and phrases. The chapters and books that may even confuse us until we study the historical and cultural context of the times they were written in. This is the meat.

A friend recently made a statement about the Church as a whole that was painful, but I believe to be true. The Church, in many ways, is dying. Not necessarily shrinking, but dying. Many never move on to meat as they grow up, stunting their growth, and eventually killing them. They may never leave the Church but are forever babies in Christ. If I forced my children to eat nothing but milk beyond their infancy, they would become nutritionally deficient and would not thrive. The same is true in the Church and it is time we face this head on and start the weaning process.

 

1 Corinthians 3:2  (KJV)

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

Hebrews 5:12 (KJV)

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

Cleaning up, letting go, dreaming a little

Nearly every January, I get motivated to declutter and clean up. Last year I was seven hours away from home for most of January and then had a newborn when I got home, so the annual work was postponed, and then never really done. I came home to a clean house thanks to my mother-in-law putting in loads of work while we were away. It was a huge blessing, but of course, she wasn’t getting rid of my stuff, so it was all still there, just organized.

I signed up for a two week declutter challenge starting on the first and did well sticking to the schedule for the first few days but then we went away for the weekend and I was behind when I got home. I did my best to catch up and focus on the areas targeted but it’s far from done. A few days ago, I tackled my *incredibly* messy kitchen. Like, no joke, cluttered, dirty, etc. Not pretty. It felt amazing to get that done as I had done my bathroom completely before our weekend away and my boys cleaned the entire basement last week. One thing at a time, right?

Part of this process is of course getting rid of things. I like what I’ve heard about making certain you’re not keeping things that only fit the ideal version of yourself in your head. Honestly, the hardest aspect of this for me is craft things. I LOVE to create. I poured myself into a busy board project in December as a Christmas gift for my youngest boys and it was so much fun. I have great storage for craft supplies which actually means that I probably keep more than I should. For now, I’m focusing on the more public areas of my house but eventually I know I’ll have to weed through all of it and get rid of things that really only suit the me that has loads of spare time to work on crafts.

As my house improves a little bit at a time, I imagine things that could be different in my home, that would make organization and storage easier. And I dream about building a house and all the things I would do differently there. They aren’t always practical dreams but it’s hard to shut them down in favour of more realistic ideas. At the moment, I know my goals need to be focused on this house and getting rid of things so that eventually, we can fix all the broken things (there are many) and sell it and move on.

I remember when we were in this position with our little house (2 bed, 1 bath, 768 sq feet and FIVE kids). We packed things away that didn’t fit but we wanted when we moved, decluttered, organized, fixed things and made it pretty. And then we sold it rather quickly. The issues in this house are so much bigger than they were at the little house and will cost us far more to fix. It is possible that the process will take us years longer than it did there, but we have acknowledged that without a major renovation and possibly adding on, this house will not suit us long term. When we moved in, we didn’t see it as temporary, but the small things we didn’t like when we first bought it have been magnified and are now fairly major issues as we’ve added three kids since then and the oldest ones are taking up a lot more space as they grow.

For now, the goal is decluttering and cleaning. Next it will be fixing things while maintaining the organization we plan to put in place. Eventually I know we will be able to dream about another house without it being a distant and unrealistic dream.

 

 

 

Count it all joy

The amount of time that has passed since I last wrote anything is evidence of what a hard few months it has been; November in particular. In this case, sick kids, a teething baby and a busy schedule clashed in such a way to make sleep hard to come by and down time almost non-existent it seemed. I am exhausted going into December and looking forward to a break from extra activities between Christmas and New Year’s. Exacerbating our busyness was a shift in my husband’s job where he had loads more work show up but lost all his help in the lab around the same time. So staying home for a day or two is out of the question for now at least.

I read something great yesterday about God using the very little that the widow had in 2 Kings chapter 4 and making sure she didn’t run out. I feel drained right now, with very little in reserve in terms of energy or the ability to give much. I still feel so much hope and excitement about things I believe I’ve been called to but when it comes down to it, just don’t feel I have time to pursue most of it for longer than five minutes (another reason I haven’t blogged since October). What I read yesterday encouraged me to give those five minutes back to the Lord and let Him use it anyway, even when that’s all I have.

Today, this is my five minutes. It is likely that any extra time I have today will be spent on household chores that have been put on the back burner for awhile, or even more likely on a day like today, having a nap. Maybe it will be months before I have more than five minutes to give but I know that God can use these five minutes for His glory when I give them back to Him.

NOT too much to do

I was going to title this post, “Too much to do,” but then I realized that if it is something God has called me to do, it is never too much. And just now as I’m writing this, I happen to hear the words to the song playing at this moment: “You are the God of the impossible.” How fitting.

Mike and I both have things in our hearts and minds to do now and in the future that seem HUGE, especially when compared to what normal life has looked like for us. And this is coming from someone whose normal life includes eight children, no debt other than a mortgage and whose husband got his long term good paying job without any experience, training or a degree. God provides and has been there in BIG stuff before, things that certainly would have seemed impossible leading into them. Having a large family, becoming financially responsible, finding reliable work, etc.

The things we are feeling called into are just so different and so much bigger than anything we ever thought we’d be experiencing. Think writing books, inventing things, leadership, leading worship, business. BIG. And my tendency would be to look at it all, say it’s too much and then not really do any of it. The beauty of this journey at present is that Mike is just as much or even more on board with these changes as I am. This gives me great hope that we are going to see these things come to pass in the next few years and that even if it’s hard and uncertain at times, we are in it together.

What is your “too much” right now? What is it that God has called you to or you are passionate about but are holding back from because it looks too big for you to manage? Remember that when you give it to Him and it’s from Him, He will help in its completion. I love what Sammy Robinson said a few years ago when he was here in Fort St. John: “A vision from Heaven will be funded by Heaven,” and that includes all the resources needed to get it done.

Acting like a grown up

Today I did something that I’ve been putting off for a long time. Like, for thirteen years or so. When I moved to Canada, I had not had my Washington State driver’s license for very long. I used public transportation AND hated tests, so I didn’t get my license until I was nineteen and engaged. When I moved up here and needed a BC license, I went in with my full fledged WA license and found out that because I hadn’t had it long enough, I would have to be a “Novice” driver and have a lower license on the graduated licensing system here. I have had various reasons throughout the years for why I would not just take the test and get rid of it (namely, the fact that I hate tests…did I mention that?) but this year I just felt like it was long past time. My license was up for its five year renewal which seemed like the perfect time to deal with it. Over time, it had become something that I hardly ever told anyone because it was downright embarrassing. Most people here get their learner’s at sixteen, get their N as soon as they can and then get rid of their N within two years. Here I am, about to turn thirty-six with eight kids and an N!
 
I knew I couldn’t use my Hutterite White (our 15 passenger van) to take the test as it has some engine issues and needs a new windshield. Plus it just seemed like it would be a lot easier with a smaller vehicle. I took a 90 minute training course to familiarize myself with the vehicle and also with road rules that I either wasn’t aware of fully or I had just gotten out of the habit of doing after driving for sixteen years. I went in this morning, did a pre-test drive with the instructor to clear up a few issues I had the week before and then took my test. I was all kinds of nervous all week but in the end, had a very pleasant experience and did so well that he didn’t even have to test me on everything because I didn’t have any demerits knocking my score down. We finished in twenty minutes when there is around thirty-five in the test period. The hilarious thing is that I had a dream last night that this exact thing had happened – that I did so well I was done in twenty minutes.
 
I made a decision recently that there are some things I have put off over time or have avoided because they honestly scare me a bit. This was one of those challenges that I needed to deal with and get over. I think the next thing is going to be skating again…didn’t grow up skating on ice regularly and I haven’t done it EVER in Canada, believe it or not. But it was something I always loved to do before I moved here even though I was never very good at it. I’m not sure what will come after that but it feels good to check one thing off the list!

Where Revival Begins

This is not an original thought. This is something that people say and mean all the time. But this is a thought that never penetrated my heart fully until very recently.

Revival begins in me.

Revival begins in me.

We are being revived, changed, transformed, restored. We are experiencing breakthrough and victory. We are living for the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and trusting God for some big things that would be completely impossible for us to do on our own.

We are waking up with worship songs in our minds and on our lips. We are reading Scripture that is suddenly made alive and new and beautiful. We are listening and acting on His leading and WOW. Wow. Life is exciting for us as we make a re-commitment to our saviour and what He has for us. The things of this world just do not have the same pull and I am finally seeing how I am having victory over battles I’ve been fighting – or not fighting – for years. I am seeing clearly when the thorns (Matthew 13:7) and wind and waves  (Matthew 14:30) are tempting me and distracting me from my calling.

Over and over, people have said that there is something special happening in Fort St. John and someone said that we shouldn’t expect revival here to look exactly as it has in the past. I believe that it is because it is really beginning in the hearts of individuals who are full of passion for the Kingdom and His righteousness. We will not be spectators anymore and we will not walk into a building looking for revival because we know very well that it is happening within us.