Choose the Good Portion

Everyone feels the oppressive atmosphere of an uncertain and prolonged future battling Covid-19.

We watch in horror the ripening Civil Rights unrest, which expanded from American to global protests. We witness the maltreatment of refugees, natural disasters overtaking the West and South, and we have a formula for one very exhausting world. Many oddities have come to define the Bingo board of 2020: murder hornets, meth alligators, and (sorry David Moscrip)—Florida Man in all his natural glory. Every day presents itself with new atrocities, disastrous conflicts, and absurd political commentaries.

I’m not sure, but I imagine ‘80s lawn chairs and popcorn companies have made a fortune—yessir, let’s spectate from our lawns and watch the world burn. Don’t forget the butter.

Social media can be a menace to our well-being in ways, but on occasion, it can help us reassemble lost perspective amidst these strange, unwieldy times.

Scrolling through my Facebook memories, I saw a post I wrote on October 1, 2008, back when we still had that ‘is’ after our name. My post said: ‘Jessica is wishing she had a furnace.’

At first, I laughed, because I couldn’t remember ever not having a furnace and how illogical that would be.

But then I remembered 2008, the last year of my first marriage. I gave birth to child #5 in February, my first girl. I’d been living in a schoolhouse built in 1890 since 2006, a failed real estate restoration. I had no heat save for a woodburning stove purchased for me by my dad. Every morning in the winter, and every few hours, more wood had to be added. This usually wasn’t a big deal, but the house had concrete floors and large open spaces—a catastrophe for someone with tiny children trying to stay warm. I had four children under six-years-old, so I relied heavily on my oldest son, age ten at the time, to go outside and gather wood for me.

October of 2008 was unusually cold. My daughter was almost always sick. Every winter in that house, I had to keep my children in my room with a space heater. I was living like a pioneer in an age where modern conveniences have alleviated that sort of thing. In January of 2008, I recorded the temperature in my house at 12 degrees. It was like that for weeks. So in October, with temperatures already dropping, I dreaded the coming winter.

Right now, I live in a home with air conditioning and a furnace. It’s twelve years later, and my life is significantly different. Some days are worse or better than others, but I think about prayers I desperately sent out to God in those days when I had nearly nothing. I have been in and out of poverty since I was born, and though times can bring panic and trigger severe depressive episodes, never have I not known God to meet me where I was.

I think now about Paul writing, ‘Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ (Phillipians 4:11-13, NRSV).

Paul isn’t implying that during times of anemic provisions, we will be happy or not suffer, or that we should be ‘oh well, it is what it is’ or that it’s pleasant to endure, but that he learned to be content. How is this? It’s a secret, says Paul, which is that through Christ, we are strengthened in our weaknesses.

But how?

Again, the idea that ‘Christ is in [us]’ (Colossians 1:27, NRSV) severs any notion that we don’t have access to His power and presence in troubling times, but this is accomplished by ‘Christ… mak[ing] His home in [our] hearts through faith’ (Ephesians 3:17, NRSV).

Friends, we can’t have faith in someone we don’t know. Spending time with anyone is imperative to grow a relationship and develop trust in it.

I think about those days in that cold tomb of a house.

But though I remember shivering and wearing layers of clothing, hats, and gloves, huddling under blankets with my children while we tried to homeschool, or sending my son downstairs in full gear to make sandwiches for his brothers and retrieve one of the gallons of water to put by the space heater to thaw, I also remember hours of small boy giggling, a tiny girl bundle—the answer to ten years of prayers—nursing in my blanket nest. I can hear their joy, their contentment that comes when you trust the person to whom you’ve given control. I couldn’t give them a physical fire, but the one in my heart was always burning.

I made them forget our exterior winter because we didn’t need to focus on anything except that we had each other, and that was enough. I cried in the darkness for them, but in the light, I had small, soft bodies wrestling on my bed. They pretended to be arctic explorers (since we had the right setting for it) or told me awful jokes. That is what God gave me to survive—the unwavering faith and resilience of small children.

I wasn’t mad at God, though I would be lying if I said I didn’t pity myself occasionally. Today, twelve years later, I still get into ruts of self-pity. But then a child laughs, a dog barks, the thunder announces spring—and I see that the long, cold days will come again next winter.

Like Joseph’s seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine, we will always have vicissitude in our walk with God. We aren’t assured prosperity the way the world expects, but we were promised everything under heaven, including God Himself.

‘Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”’ (Hebrews 13:5, NRSV).

If you are experiencing significant physical, financial, emotional, spiritual, or some other deficit right now, I pray for you the ‘peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7, NASB), so you can see where God is in your circumstances. So you can know Him in the place you need.

Be well, friends.

You’re not alone in anything. Please make sure those around you know that.

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