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Choosing joy in the midst of COVID-19


We often hear people using the expression to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” This idiom generally focuses on the straps and whether or not someone can succeed in life without the assistance of others.


In light of COVID-19, I don’t want to talk about the straps that one may use to prevail over circumstances. I want to discuss the boot instead. We’ve all inherited a boot, which I believe correlates to our respective backgrounds. Some of our boots are lavishly decorated due to an affluent upbringing. Some boots are laced with dysfunction. Some with personal sorrow not of our own making. My boot was a little different.


I am a little black girl raised on a pig farm in southern Alabama. I grew up in a home with no running water, no insulation, an outhouse in the back, and a well on the side of the house. My family had to look up to see the bottom rung of the economic ladder. I remember my grandmother, Hattie, would ask me to help her in the garden. I thought she just wanted to spend quality time with me. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized it was, in part, for our survival. If we ever wanted beans, or greens, or potatoes on our plate, we had to grow them with our own hands.


I inherited a boot of extreme poverty. There was nothing I did—or didn’t do—to be bequeathed that particular boot in life. And yet, there it was, shaped and molded by my circumstances: a fatherless home, the color of my skin (which resulted in open discrimination in the Deep South), a by-product of rape. But, in spite of all that, I had one distinct advantage: I was loved.


So how did I get from there to where I am today—the author of a newly released book, Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America; a candidate for Congress in the 4th Congressional District of Pennsylvania; and a frequent commentator on Fox News? Although I did not grow up with a father, my two little ones will not know that same absence. I am married to a wonderful man who loves the Lord. Despite my boot of poverty and lack that to most would guarantee failure in life, I have prospered.


How did this happen? In large part, because of Jesus! You see, I gave my life to the Lord when I was 19 years old. He set me on a completely different path than the one I was on that was leading to destruction. And, after giving my life to the Lord, I started transforming my mind by reading and applying the Word of God. I believe the Word where it says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).  I believe Jesus when He says, “It is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth” (Matthew 15:11).


You can’t get from an impoverished pig farm in southern Alabama to running for Congress without learning a few lessons in life. Even today, I look for the lessons everywhere, every day—opportunities behind every cloud. So, it doesn’t surprise me that, even as we face this deadly and highly contagious virus, I’m asking myself, “What are the lessons to be learned? What am I to do with this boot I’ve inherited?”


Although we’ve done nothing to inherit or create COVID-19, we are all being plagued by this insidious beast that has spread throughout our nation, taking precious lives, infringing upon our liberties, and placing our economy at the brink of collapse. So, what do we do now? Stick our head in the sand and become little worry warts?  Spend all day scrolling on Facebook or binge-watch TV? Scrub our hands until they’re raw? No, no, and no!


Early on, as that little girl on the pig farm, I learned that the battle takes place first and foremost in my mind. I learned as a new believer that I must discipline my thoughts. And I learned that happiness isn’t based on circumstances that come and go. I learned that joy is a choice.    


The next few weeks, during which so many Americans will be doing the patriotic thing by practicing self-containment, are going to be difficult. Being out of our natural ebb and flow of life, experiencing feelings of palpable loneliness, and worrying about financial ruin are our new realities. But we can face those concerns with courage, not fear. We must resolve to not be moved by events that will pass in time.


Practically speaking, I encourage you to use this time to start intentionally disciplining your mind. Wake up early most days. Start the day with prayer and then a physical workout at your desired level. Select a good book to read. Don’t watch too much television. Play with your children. Go for a walk. Do the simple things that will pay huge dividends when the end of this perilous season finally arrives. If I was a betting woman, I would wager that you will not regret the time you spent working in your backyard, talking with your spouse, playing with your children, or reading a really good book.


Like most seasons in life, this too will pass. We’ve all inherited this dreadful virus. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. But we can control what we think. And we can always choose joy.


Kathy Barnette is a veteran, an author, and a candidate for Congress in the 4th Congressional District of PA. She appears regularly on national television and radio. She served her country proudly for 10 years in the Armed Forces Reserves, where she was accepted into Officer Candidacy School. Kathy is a former adjunct professor of Corporate Finance and has homeschooled her children for the past six years. She sat on the Board of a pregnancy crisis center for five years.