Are You Convinced?

Lately I’ve been thinking about passages of Scripture that involve the idea of being “convinced” about something. I started thinking about this theme while pondering Romans 8:31-39. In verse 38, Paul says three incredibly powerful words: “I AM SURE.” It made me wonder where I possess or lack that kind of certainty in my own beliefs. Far too often, my faith wavers. On a good day, my faith in God’s character and promises may be strong. On a bad day, it may become woefully weak. I’m not sure what had to happen to make Paul utterly sure and convinced of the love of God in Christ Jesus no matter what, but I am sure that I’d like to be as convinced as he was.

This thread of conviction is further seen in 2 Timothy 1:12 where Paul says, “for I know whom I have believed, and I am CONVINCED that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” Later in this letter, he alludes to Timothy’s own conviction by saying, “continue in what you have learned and have FIRMLY BELIEVED (2 Timothy 3:14). So Paul had conviction, he modeled conviction, he taught and discipled conviction. We see more evidence of conviction in his life and ministry in Philippians 1:24-25, where he says, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. CONVINCED of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”

So often, our concept of “conviction” is reduced to issues like whether or not we abstain from alcohol, what type of movies we watch, or how we spend Sundays. These are all important, to be sure. Yet it seems as though biblical conviction is so much more. Something we should all be striving for and praying that the Spirit of God would work into our hearts. I want to be someone who is CONVINCED, SURE, and FIRMLY BELIEVES what God says about Himself in Scripture so that it manifests in my daily life. I want to grow in this by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

What would you like to be convinced of? What is an attribute of God, or truth in His Word, or circumstance in your life where you want God to CONVINCE you of His truth?

Most wonderful of all, we see in the book of Hebrews that God Himself desires to convince His people of truth. In Hebrews 6:17-18, we read, “So when God desired to show more CONVINCINGLY to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” So then, our desire for growing conviction is rooted in the hope that God Himself desires that we be convinced of His every truth and promise as spoken in His Word. Verse 19 goes on to speak of the surety of God’s Word as an anchor of the soul, and indeed, that’s exactly what conviction provides—a firm resolve and anchoring in the midst of trials, confusion, and discouragement.

The Apostle Paul’s life was an exceedingly difficult one, and I wonder if in many ways, the things he was convinced of gave him the fortitude, courage, and joy to press on in serving the Lord and laboring for His kingdom. And though Paul and I are different in gender, and seemingly very different in personality and temperament, his conviction is one way that I’d like to follow his call to “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

An Open Letter to Churches on Mother’s Day

Dear Churches,

Please allow me to share some observations with you before your church service on Mother’s Day. Holidays are a wonderful idea. It is good to celebrate what is lovely and right in the world, and it’s especially good to thank mothers. I’m glad to be able to celebrate my own mother, grandmother, and my friends who are mothers. But I fear that sometimes the way churches celebrate on Sunday morning is less than helpful, and can sometimes be downright hurtful. You see, in Christian circles, marriage and family are the “norm.” And I’m grateful for godly families! This is good! Yet there are many women who actually don’t fit into this box of married with children. Many women are infertile, many have lost children. And a good many women are still single well past the age they thought they’d get married, and wonder if they’ll ever have a family at all.

Romans 12:15 calls believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” We usually see these commands as involving different and distinct events, but an interesting dynamic takes place when one and the same event can cause two different reactions. This is poignantly described in Ezra 3:11-13. The Babylonian exile has ended, and the Jews have started to rebuild the temple. The younger generation, who had not seen the first temple, was wild with excitement and joy at the foundation of the temple being laid, and they shouted aloud for joy. But the older generation, who had seen and remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple, wept with loud voices when they saw how small and lackluster the new construction was in comparison with the former glory. Same event, two different reactions. And though the context is different, the same dynamic occurs on holidays in the body of Christ. As some rejoice, others mourn as they grieve what used to be and is no more, or perhaps grieve what may never be.

So how can we both rejoice with rejoicers and weep with weepers? How can churches seek to minister to ALL of their members on Mother’s Day? A few thoughts come to mind:

  1. Acknowledge mothers, but be thoughtful about how you acknowledge them. It may not be the most helpful idea to have all of the mothers stand up for a round of applause. Though we don’t want to take away from the opportunity to thank and bless these women, I fear how it will hurt and further alienate my dear friends who desperately long to be mothers and have been providentially hindered from doing so. Even worse (in my opinion), is the practice of giving a rose or flower to every mother on Sunday morning. It only cultivates an obvious visual gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
  1. Maintain biblical accuracy in your sermon. I have to believe that pastors are well-meaning when they say things like “a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother,” but this is completely biblically inaccurate! A woman’s highest calling is to know and obey Jesus Christ, whether married, single, mother, or childless! Please, please, do not say such things.
  1. Acknowledge hurting mothers and non-mothers. Honestly, little things can go a long way. Just having your pastor acknowledge that some people do not experience Mother’s Day as a day of joy can accomplish so much. It helps the non-mothers feel like they belong in the body of Christ even on Mother’s Day. It helps the mothers remember that some of their sisters in Christ may be struggling. And the acknowledgement helps strengthen the non-mothers to rejoice with those who are rejoicing (as we are all called to do, despite our own personal pain and sorrows).

Again, I think it is good and right to acknowledge mothers with gratitude. We dare not miss the opportunity to thank and encourage mothers! But if rejoicing with those who rejoice leaves no room for weeping with those who weep, then we may need to reconsider what ministry to ALL of the flock could look like. So I hope and pray that this Mother’s Day your church will minister to each woman in a manner that is worthy of the gospel, with the tenderness and compassion of Christ. After all, the physical family is temporal, but the spiritual family of God is eternal!

Clean Food and our Craving for Control

It was an object lesson if ever there was one. Due to ongoing health struggles, I had recently converted to a gluten-free, no refined sugars, “whole” foods way of life. Countless hours of internet research had uncovered the dastardly dangers of processed foods, and I was doing my utmost to “purify my plate,” so to speak. My meats and produce were organic, my milk and eggs were from a local farm, and I was convinced that my culinary diligence would purify and protect me from a toxic world. And perhaps without realizing it or ever saying so, there was a fair bit of judgmentalism toward anyone who would deign to eat chicken cooked in industrial seed oils or pop pesticide-covered strawberries into their mouths. That is, until one day when I got a letter in the mail from Costco.

As I walked back from the mailbox, I opened the letter to find some dismaying news. The two pound bag of organic berries I had purchased was being recalled. For what, you might ask? Hepatitis A. Yep. The letter instructed me to cease and desist from all further consumption, throw out the bag, and visit my local Costco for a refund. I was also instructed to immediately visit my doctor to receive testing for Hepatitis. I was horrified. Here I was, working so hard to make pure choices in a toxic world, and just because a food-handling employee didn’t wash his hands after using the restroom, my pristine organic berries were tainted, and I had potentially contracted a disease.

To be completely honest, I was more than horrified…I was angry. As the Lord does with His children, this little debacle was His means of exposing my heart to His penetrating purity and light. Why was I angry? Well, I was angry because I thought I didn’t deserve to have something bad happen to my health because of my superb food and health law-keeping (my own law, of course, not God’s). In my flawed way of thinking, I had developed the idea that if I did the hard work of eating clean, then I would be shielded from the sickness and health consequences incurred by those who wash down their Twinkies and French fries with a Diet Coke. They deserved it, not me.

I was angry because I thought that safety and wellness was my due reward for my diligence. The thought that I might get ill, not because of poor choices, but ironically, precisely due to healthy choices, violated my sense of justice and revealed my control-seeking tactics. I had unwittingly made a silent agreement with God that went something like this: If I make good choices, then You need to honor those choices so that I can exert control in a scary and threatening world and shield myself from danger.

In His mercy, God was at work. He was showing me that my choices are not ultimately definitive. Yes, I must seek to make wise choices as a means of worshiping Him and loving others. Yes, I will continue to eat clean foods as much as I can. But I cannot deceive myself into thinking that my life ultimately rests in the control of my own choices, even when they are good choices. If my best efforts end up being the very means of my undoing, and that reality makes me angry as though I don’t deserve it, then my motives were not worship of God, but rather, worship of control, safety, and protection.

The good news is that God is at work in our hearts and lives. He aims to expose and uproot the harmful ways in us, enabling us to bring greater glory to Him as the Ultimate Controller of all things. Where has God exposed this craving to control in your own heart, and how will you respond to His light? After all, He can use the most mundane shopping trip at Costco to reveal His truth and grace, if only we have the eyes to see and ears to hear.

The Sinister Artwork of Satan

Did you know that Satan is an artist? Make no mistake, he sits before the easel with palette and brush in hand. His subject? God Himself. No doubt you’ve seen his work, though perhaps at the time you didn’t recognize him as the artist. No doubt you’ve bought a few of his paintings, only to find out later that they were fakes.

He’s had a long time to perfect his craft. He knows what will induce people to buy his artistic renderings. He’s smart, shrewd, and sinister. And he has a very specific agenda: dishonoring God and destroying people.

God is holy, but he paints God as indifferent about sin. God forgives sinners, but he paints God as a chronically angry judge. God is good, but he paints God as cruel and uncaring. God is close to His children, but he paints God as distant. God desires our best, but he paints God as desiring our worst. God gives good gifts, but he paints God as withholding good gifts. God ordains and causes grief and pain, but he paints God as delighting in our pain and motivated by a desire to see us suffer. God is powerful, but he paints God as impotent. God is compassionate, but he paints God as harsh. God’s ways are worth obeying, but he paints God’s ways as foolish and unsatisfying.

Each of us are tempted to gravitate toward certain sketches he offers, based on our life circumstances, our innate strengths and weaknesses, and the particular sins and idolatries in our hearts. He knows what to sell and how to sell it with specificity that is alarming. And without exception, every single one of his paintings is a fake, a fraud, and a fib. As soon as he can get you to define God’s character based on your own opinions, your painful circumstances, or the opinions of the world, he’s got you where he wants you. And friends, that is where none of us want to be.

The Son of God came to destroy the works of Satan. DESTROY them! As Martin Luther wrote, “His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.” And until his final doom occurs on the day of the Lord, he can be felled by the Word of God written and the Word of God incarnate. Only the Word of God has the power to reveal his paintings as the heinous caricatures of God that they truly are. More than that, we not only have God’s Words to enable us to see the true picture of God’s character, but the very face of God and person of God in human form, the God-man Jesus Christ. What is God really like? Look at Jesus. He is the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1).

Not only must we fight in our own souls not to buy his work, but we must help each other not to buy his work. Or if we have, to get it out of the house of our hearts and throw it in the dumpster. His artwork has no place in our homes, and no place in the homes of our brothers and sisters. May we not be outwitted by him nor ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11), but rather, may the pure light of God’s Word utterly expose him and enable us to see God for who He truly is.

Total Home Makeover

I love home makeover shows. The more I watch them, the more I begin to see a characteristic theme emerge over time.

The scene usually goes something like this: the homeowners, desiring to update the look of their home, decide to knock down walls, install new bathrooms, or embark upon any number of other structural modifications. They have a budget that cannot be exceeded, and all modifications must fit into the budget. Yet to the frustration of the homeowners, the construction process often reveals problems, sometimes significant ones. Pipes are corroded, electrical systems are faulty, or the support beams for the outdoor deck are weak. Had these problems not been found, serious danger could have occurred.

The strangest part of the episode is that instead of being relieved and grateful that such dangers were discovered, the homeowners often become angry. They wanted beautiful cosmetic changes that would be externally visible, yet now a large chunk of their budget must go toward correcting hidden and unseen structural dangers.

Upon reflection, I realized how much these shows provide us with a striking metaphor of the “total home makeover” that the Spirit of God brings about in our lives as His children. As trials come into our lives that rip through the exterior and reveal the hidden person of the heart, dangerous and concerning things are often discovered. In the construction zone of sanctification, God is at work to expose the remaining pride, unbelief, idolatry, and selfishness that hinders us from increasing in our likeness to Christ and bringing glory to God. Sometimes we welcome the process, but sometimes, like the homeowners on the show, we wish that we didn’t have to see what was hidden underneath. After all, the revealing process can be painful, the renovation costly, and the reward not externally visible in the short run.

Yet in this process, God’s love is put on display as He does whatever is necessary to reveal to us the dangers in our souls. Jesus promised us in John 14:6 that He is preparing a place for us. And not only is He preparing a place for us, but also preparing us for that place! And until we join Him, He is at work in our hearts and lives, sometimes painfully so, for the end goal of His glory and our eternal happiness, not to mention His purposes in our trials in the lives of other people. And like an iceberg, the bulk of His purposes may remain hidden in darkness under the surface in our earthly lives, only to be revealed in glory.

So then, let us entrust ourselves to the Master Builder who mercifully reveals the dangers in our hearts, graciously forgives all our sin, and powerfully enables us to endure in the faith. The construction process can be painful, but our perfect and pure Savior will never forsake us, and will be faithful to lead us all the way home.

There Won’t Be CVS in the New Heavens and Earth

A while back, I had to go to CVS to fill a prescription. As I waited, I noticed the layout of the store. Giant signs hung from the ceiling over each aisle, telling shoppers where to find the items they needed. I began to read the signs: antacids, hearing aids, crutches, vitamins, bandages, blood pressure medicine, and so on and so forth. Suddenly, I realized that drug stores proclaim some serious biblical truths, and quite loudly at that, because stores like CVS wouldn’t exist apart from the Fall. Essentially, CVS is one big “reverse the curse” operation where we can find a bit of relief from the effects of the brokenness of sin and suffering around us and inside us. God created a world where we didn’t need CVS, and we turned it into one where we do. But changes are coming. Jesus is coming. And He’s going to “shake not only the earth but also the heavens…in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27). Sin will be shaken out, righteousness will remain. Rejecters of God will be shaken out, believers in Jesus Christ will remain. King Jesus will reign and we will have glorified bodies on a new earth where you won’t be able to find a CVS anywhere, because gloriously, we won’t need one anymore.

Pride, Humility, and the Weather

I’m always somewhat surprised when I hear someone complain that the weather forecaster was wrong. Yes, people should do their jobs well. Accountants should do their math correctly, mailmen should deliver to the right address, and cooks shouldn’t burn the food. But meteorologists? That’s a different story altogether. After all, their job is to try to predict what God will do, which is precisely why they’re so often wrong!

We human beings like to be in control (or at least we like to believe that we are). Thanks to climate control, mankind can now survive in locations that were previously uninhabitable, whether due to extreme heat or extreme cold. This can give us the false notion that we are much more powerful than we actually are, and a false sense that our ingenuity makes us invincible. But all it takes is a breath from God’s mouth or a touch of His hand, and we immediately realize just how frail we are.

I recently saw a show about the 10 most extreme weather cities. In one case, Death Valley became so hot that observers saw birds falling from the sky dead from the heat. In the coldest cities, they described the erratic behavior of people suffering hypothermia in the severe cold, their bodies unable to function at such low temperatures.

I am not the biggest fan of the cold snap we’ve had across the south the past few weeks. My California blood is freezing as I daydream about sunshine, palm trees, and mountains in the midst of cold, gloom, and ice. Yet I will say that it’s been a reminder of the sheer power and absolute sovereignty of God. When He brings His snow and ice out of the storehouses, the plans of man cannot stand. We must back down. We must cancel or change our plans. And we must be careful in the midst of potentially dangerous elements much stronger than ourselves. It’s a reminder that we are not in control, and we are not as strong as we think we are. And it’s a reminder that God is in absolute control, He is more powerful than we can imagine, and He is not constrained to operate according to our preferences. He cannot be controlled. “He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow” Psalm 147:16-18.

So rather than being surprised next time that human meteorologists failed to predict the will of God, let it be a reminder of who God is and who we are, and let the snow and ice move you to humility and worship before Him who is completely above us in every way, yet in Christ, came near to bring us to Himself.

Broken Cisterns of Validation, Vindication, and Veneration

Inevitably, I find myself drinking from the rainwater cisterns of man. You’d think that the bitter taste of the water would help me see that I’m drinking from the wrong source, but I can drink there a while without realizing it. And sometimes, I drink there on purpose and enjoy receiving my satisfaction from what the cistern can give. I find myself craving 3 things: validation, vindication, and veneration. Where will I go to find them?

I want to be validated. I want my life to be substantiated, confirmed, and approved. I want to hear that my life is successful, fruitful, and valuable. I want to know that I’m not a loser. I want to believe that my life counts for something, both in the here and now and into eternity. Yet I easily seek to measure these things by worldly standards. How prestigious is my job? (and this is not just in a corporate America sense, but also for people esteemed by others for their full-time ministry positions). How much money am I making? (especially when the salary goes down at every new turn in life rather than up). Where am I living? (do I own a house, or at least can I rent an apartment, or I am unable to even manage that?) What do other people think of me and say about my life and how successful it is? Do I measure up? But by these standards, it looks as though I’ll never achieve validation. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

I want to be vindicated. I want to know that the choices and decisions I’ve made were the right ones, especially when they made my life harder rather than easier. I want confirmation that I’m going in the right direction. I want to know that I’m on the right track. Yet again, I look to the circumstances of my life or the chorus of public opinion for the vindication I crave. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

I want to be venerated. What do people think of me and say about me? As much as I am repulsed and embarrassed by kind acknowledgements, there’s another part of me that likes it. Oh please, don’t embarrass me by saying nice things (err…but please keep saying them!). What twisted hearts we have, the holy and the heinous both residing there. I want to be good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, godly enough, successful enough, etc. And I look to people to feed me what I desire. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.

In its commentary on Jeremiah 2:13, the ESV Study Bible says this: “Palestine has three sources of water: the best is fresh running water, such as flows from a spring or stream, which is called ‘living water’ (Hb. mayim khayyim); next comes ground water, such as might collect in a well; and last is runoff water collected in a cistern…thus in Jeremiah’s image, not only have the Israelites traded the best of water supplies for the worst, but their cistern is broken, with all its water leaked out and nothing but sludge remaining. Their covenant infidelity is not just ungrateful and unnatural; it is also foolish. It leaves them without help in the coming difficult days.”

It reminds me of another woman looking for water. We seem very different on the outside, but perhaps we’re not so different after all. We meet her in John 4, where she meets Jesus. She came looking for physical water, but Jesus changed her life by giving her the living water of salvation and eternal life. In John 7:37-39, Jesus cried out to the crowds to receive this living water, the Holy Spirit who would indwell believers and empower them continually from the inside out.

And faith is not a one-time drinking, but rather, repeatedly going to drink from the living waters that only Jesus gives. It’s continually recognizing the tendency to drink from the wrong place. The cistern will not satisfy my desires for validation, vindication, and veneration. And even if it did, it would just be a pleasant-feeling deception. I have no validation in and of myself. Only in union with Christ and a life-direction of glorifying God does true validation of my life take place. Not in the world’s eyes and according to superficial standards, but in God’s eyes. Better to be considered invalid by the world than to be considered invalid by God, and better to be validated by God than validated by the world. Only in union with Christ will I be vindicated, because I actually don’t deserve vindication outside of Him. I deserve condemnation, but through faith in Jesus, He is my vindication before the Father. And whoever trusts in Him will not be put to shame. So I make my decisions and live my life with an aim to do what I believe is pleasing to Him, as best as any human being knows how to do. Because ultimately, His opinion is the only one that matters. Better to be vindicated in the eyes of God than vindicated in the eyes of the world. And only in union with Jesus do I remember that veneration for myself is not the right pursuit. God is to receive veneration, and I am to offer worship to Him for His worthiness, and live so as to receive His commendation of having been a good and faithful servant. Praise from the world is a lame and pathetic substitute for praise from God.

So may we seek mayim khayyim in the only place it can be found: the triune God.

How a Stranger is Changing my Life

I don’t know what she looks like. I don’t know whether she’s tall or short, what color her hair is, or what her laugh sounds like. But a woman I’ve never met is changing my life. You might wonder how this could be possible… the answer is simple: she has been praying for me almost every single day for about two years now.

I know very little about her besides her name (which is Gayle). We are connected through our mutual friend Betty, who has been a steadfast and faithful friend to me. She and Gayle have prayed for me almost every single night.

Prayer is hard work, especially prayer for others. We are all fairly motivated to pray for our own needs, problems, and desires, since obviously we’re the ones being benefited by the prayers. But praying for others, especially with any consistency, is hard. In fact, I think that the ministry of prayer is one of the most humble ways we can serve each other in the body of Christ. After all, when we encourage someone through our words or our works, our labors on others’ behalf are fairly conspicuous. People will know that we took time to serve and help them, and we’re more likely to be thanked for our investment. But prayer? That’s a different story. For the most part, we’re completely unaware when another person is sacrificing time with their friends and family, hobbies, relaxation, or work, to knock on heaven’s door not for their own needs, but for ours. Since what they do is in secret, they’re not likely to get thanked or praised. Their reward will come from the God who sees in secret.

Life events over the past few years have caused me to see the reality of spiritual warfare with new clarity. We really do have an enemy, he really does desire to destroy our faith, and we can come treacherously close to wanting to give up. Of course, God is the sovereign one, but I believe that He uses means, and that Gayle and Betty’s prayers have been one aspect of God’s means of preserving me in the faith.

Ultimately, this displays the glory of Jesus Christ in His ministry of prayer for us. In John 17, we see Jesus praying to the Father for those who belong to Him. And in the book of Hebrews, we see His ongoing ministry as our High Priest, interceding for us, as does the Holy Spirit.

It’s hard for me to fathom how someone who doesn’t even know me has been such a faithful friend in prayer for me. But I am convinced that one day in the glories of the new heavens and earth, I will see just how much my life was preserved and protected through her prayers. And until then, I hope to become a woman like her: full of the character of Jesus Christ that I too might labor in prayer for someone I’ve never met.

Antiques Roadshow and the Judgment Seat of Christ

It was one of my geekier moments. I had seen a flier at the local library for a free antiques appraisal, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring in some jewelry and art I’d received from my grandparents. I rolled out of bed early on a Saturday morning, packed my treasures into reusable bags, and drove to the library.

After arriving, I sat down and started people-watching while I waited for my number to be called. I saw all types of interesting items: an antique wooden rocking horse, an enormous Asian art scroll, and a commemorative plate of American presidents. Some of the items were pretty, some were interesting, and some were downright ugly.

The most surprising part of the whole experience was listening to the values assigned by the appraisers. Some of the items that looked beautiful in my estimation were worth relatively little, and some were worth nothing at all. On the other hand, some items that looked like garage sale rejects were valued as worth thousands of dollars.

The valuations seemed so unexpected, so counterintuitive. In that moment, I realized that my observations pointed to a more significant reality: how we tend to see and judge our lives may be quite different from how the Lord will see and judge our lives one day. Scripture clearly teaches that believers will be judged, though not for our right to stand in God’s presence and dwell with Him (for Christ has accomplished that on our behalf). However, our works will be tested, and rewards will be given based on God’s appraisal system. And this appraisal system may be quite different from our human appraisal system.

Young moms: do your days of dirty diapers and laundry seem less valuable than a fruitful workplace career or church ministry? Pastors: does your faithful preaching to a small congregation seem less valuable than being a well-known pastor writing books and speaking at conferences? Employees: does your diligence in your boring job seem less valuable than a fulfilling career that impacts the world in concrete and tangible ways? Sick ones: does your confinement in your home or hospital bed seem less valuable than a life of busy activity? Believers: does your present circumstance tempt you to feel as though you’re having very little impact for God’s kingdom, and is a grand departure from the script you would have written?

Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Appraiser. He alone will define what is of great value and what is relatively worthless. And simple acts of faith and obedience done in relative obscurity may rank far above what seem to be grandiose acts done before a stage of observers. So take heart, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. And you just may be surprised one day at the true value God places on your perseverance in the seemingly small things.