When Labels Fall Off

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I drafted a newsletter over two weeks ago. Last week I organized it in preparation to be sent. But I couldn’t do it. Our everyday lives look so very different today than that newsletter reflects, and so do the lives of every recipient or reader of that newsletter. So it sits in “draft” mode wondering whether it will ever become a “post.” What I have to offer instead are a few of my thoughts.

We have been a bit late to the global game regarding Coronavirus here in Malawi, and who knows if that’s for better or worse. What I do know is that our regularly scheduled routine has been affected just like everyone else’s around the globe, if not a bit delayed in its impact.

So I’m sitting with the same questions as millions of other people who can no longer define themselves by their profession, vocation, schedule, or defining role in society in the same way as a few weeks ago. 

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The interesting thing is that this idea has been dawning on me for some time. For months, maybe even years, I’ve sensed this stripping away. Not the stripping away that stings like a bandaid coming off, but more of a falling away, like leaves off of a tree in autumn. They are the labels I’ve used to define myself and the world around me. But, all of a sudden, they just feel hollow and irrelevant.

It’s why that drafted newsletter feels so ill-fitting in the current global climate. It sounds like an attempt to justify our missionary life and vision, even though it was never intended as such. It feels like yet another lesson in taking off the self-made label that I want to hide behind. To just be who I am, in this day, at this moment. But, looming over that seemingly simple practice is a haunting, abysmal question. When all of the labels have fallen off and I’m left with no defining mission or noble profession to give me an illusion of identity, what am I?

The only thing I know for sure is best stated by author and pastor James Bryan Smith:

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights, and I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”

I belong to Jesus. This label is permanent. It’s not something I’ve written down on a Post-It note and stuck and restuck on myself. It’s as indelible as a tattoo. But it’s a tattoo that penetrates deeper than my skin, deeper than my bone, all the way down through my soul into the deepest part of my spirit. It’s as inseparable as my DNA, but will remain long after my DNA has returned to dust.

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This identity is meant to be my true north for all of my days. It means that even when all of the labels blow away, and I’m left feeling as naked as a barren tree in winter, I am still ok. I am still His.

I can still wake up and smile at the day before me. I can hush my buzzing soul and step into my day as “one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” I can ground my anxious mind and remember that I “live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.” I can breathe deep gifted air into my lungs knowing that “the kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”

I can walk into my day as though it was always meant to be this day, in the midst of a global crisis, the one the Lord has made. The one that Jesus made for me and has enclosed gifts of grace within. The day that does not have to be anything but this one day. If it’s overwhelming, it’s overwhelming. If it’s unremarkable, it’s unremarkable. The one thing it is not, however, is unprepared.

These days may not be easy, but they have been laced with grace. I might not see the grace so readily, but when I lift my eyes from the screen and look around, I see it. A blue sky. A bird singing. A horn honking. The wind blowing. The leaves falling. The dog snoring. The kettle whistling. Tiny graces I’m so used to I don’t even recognize them for what they are.

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Even when the world seems like it’s nearly stopped on its axis, God is still gracious. He is still Emmanuel. Jesus is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. Even during a pandemic. Even when we are quarantined. Even when there’s no other label than “His” that I can hold on to.

Not to oversimplify, but maybe this is the point of this season; has always been the point. Maybe the point has always been to simply remember we are His. It was the point before we knew what COVID-19 was, and it will be the point long after it fades into the realms of history books.

So may we remember again this wonderful truth as we move into our days, celebrate Holy Week, and look to God for what life will be like on the other side of this pandemic:

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights, and I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”

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13 Responses

  1. Hi Lisa and Matt!
    Lisa, what a beautiful and life giving word! It oozes with truth and peace. I loved the quote from pastor Smith (May I share it?)! I think we all wear labels and don’t even know it! Thanks for encouragement in such a volatile season. Our God is unchanging and we are His. Period!
    So nice to find you guys here! Trusting you are well! And that Malawi is a better place cause you guys are there! Happy and most blessed Easter! Hope to see you ….in Gods timing!❤️

  2. Matt and Lisa,
    Jesus knew exactly what I needed to hear…..
    You made my day!!!
    I love you both so much!

    Julie Bond

  3. I would like to magnify all the other comments that came before mine this is so encouraging and so needed. Thank you, love and miss you deeply ❤️❤️???? I will be praying for you daily.
    Thank you for this post today!

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