Coronavirus Diary: Thoughts from Confinement

I don’t even remember when all of this started, do you? The information has been coming in waves and the impacts on our lives seem to change in the moment.

I first heard about the coronavirus sometime in January. At that point it seemed so removed. I understood it was in China and that a whole city was on lockdown, but that information seemed very intangible at the time. What did I know about a city of 11 million on the other side of the world? How could I conceptualize what a shut down of that magnitude might look like?

On February 11, I must have been driving home from celebrating my mom’s birthday with her when I heard the news that the coronavirus had been given the name Covid 19, and still, though I knew that a whole cruise ship had been detained with 700 sick onboard, I couldn’t picture it impacting my life at all.

One month later, as I was driving back to my mom’s to support her recovery from surgery, President Trump was preparing to address the nation and announce a halt on all travel from Europe. This began a series of quickly escalating restrictions. That was March 11, 18 days ago.

By Friday, March 13, many schools had closed and many businesses began to send their workers home.

By Thursday, March 19, I, too, was working from home.

On March 24, Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, declared that all in the state should shelter in place.

And here we are.

How quickly we have all shifted into this new reality! We’ve moved our necessary supplies home, we’ve shifted all our meetings online, and we’re learning how to stay connected from a distance. And that’s the best-case scenario.

Some have lost their jobs, gotten sick, and even lost their lives. In fact, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, the grand total of those infected is over 700,000 world wide. Over 34,000 have died.

This past week, I was having a video chat with a parent when she shared that her father was in the hospital sick with the coronavirus. His health was declining, and he would likely not make it. The hardest part, she said, was that no one could be with him. He was suffering alone.

And many are — suffering alone.

Countless elderly spend their days in locked down facilities, confined to their rooms, restricted from visits. Many others live alone and are doing their best to care for themselves, get the supplies they need, and bide their time.

But the two populations that keep popping up in my imagination — the two groups that seem most vulnerable to me are the homeless and the incarcerated.

Last Monday night, as I was driving home from what would be last last medical maintenance appointment for who knows how long, I passed a homeless shelter. I was struck by a mass of people standing shoulder to shoulder at the entrance of the building. How are their needs being met? Do they have access to the news that suggests they keep six feet away from one another? Where can they shelter in place? How are our shelters providing food, supplies, and space for those who are in such desperate need while still protecting their staff and volunteers?

What must the inside of a jail or prison look like right now? I have to imagine that inmates are confined to their cells. Are they able to get outside at all? What kind of access do they have to health care? How terrified must they be?

Today an inmate in Louisiana became the first inside the American prison system to die after contracting the coronavirus; how quickly will it spread?

Some jurisdictions are releasing non-violent, aged, and chronically ill prisoners. Some cities are providing additional emergency housing for the homeless. However, I’m certain such undertakings are monumental and will result in further complications. Where do prisoners live when they are released? How will they support themselves? Who will follow the homeless and make sure that their needs are met?

How will we care for the most vulnerable?

What about those who are mentally ill, medically fragile, or ‘sheltering’ in place in abusive or neglectful homes?

How must they be suffering?

I’m sitting here in my house next to my dog, comfortable, well-fed, employed, and well. I have everything I need, and still I find myself struggling a bit — feeling crabby, wondering how long this will last, and disappointed that some of my plans have changed.

This pandemic has challenged us all — we’ve never lived this way before. We’ve never been so restricted, so isolated, so aware of one another and our struggling.

We’re communally groaning. And yet, we are not without hope. Not even close.

You don’t have to look far to be inspired.

Leaders and agencies are trying to meet the needs of the homeless, the imprisoned, and those who are in dangerous situations. (If you are able, financially support these efforts.)

Countless medical professionals are showing up to work everyday, donning personal protective equipment, and caring for the sick and dying with dedication, skill, and compassion. (Let’s all pray for their health, stamina, and encouragement.)

Teachers around the world are finding ways to connect with their students and provide learning opportunities in creative ways with whatever resources they have. (If you’ve got an awesome teacher in your life, send them an encouraging note or an e-gift card to Starbucks or Target.)

Grocery store employees are staying in the trenches — restocking shelves, disinfecting carts, adapting in the moment, and making sure we have everything we need. (Be sure to smile at them, thank them, and recognize their sacrifice.)

And what about those Shipt and Instacart drivers! It’s amazing that they’re willing to go to the stores for us, risking their health, so that we can stay put. (Make sure you tip them well!)

Companies are stepping up. The company I work for gave all employees 40 extra paid vacation hours and 80 extra paid sick hours. Verizon emailed me yesterday to tell me they’d given me an additional 15 GB of Personal Hotspot to help me stay connected. The founder of Zoom gave free access to educators and students. Other companies are stepping up to provide hand sanitizer, medical masks, ventilators, and the like. (Let’s shout out these companies and continue to patronize them!)

The United States government approved a relief package that will deliver cash payments to qualifying individuals and families, will provide extended unemployment benefits to displaced workers, and will support small and large businesses who have been impacted by virus-related restrictions and shut downs. (It wasn’t easy, but our leaders collaborated across party lines to make sure we are supported. Let’s urge them to continue working together!)

As we shelter in place, we are limited in how we can care — but we can support those who are on the front lines.

And we can pray.

Last Sunday, our pastor challenged our mid-sized congregation to a bold task — could we maintain a 24-hour prayer vigil for the duration of this crisis? He asked if individuals would sign up for 30-minute blocks of time around the clock to lift up our world, our nation, our state, our community, and each other in prayer. Since Sunday, March 22, every slot has been filled. Dozens are committed to calling on God to sustain us, protect us, heal us, and support us during this time.

And that’s just in our small church community. Undoubtedly, thousands are praying around the world — calling on God to have mercy, to provide for our needs, to heal the sick, to comfort the mourning, and to show us how to care for one another during this unprecedented crisis.

I wonder what that sounds like — thousands and thousands of voices calling out to God.

When I imagine us all praying together, I don’t feel alone or isolated or anxious — I feel connected, heard, and calm. I know He sees it all — me, the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick, the dying, the helpers — and that He holds us all in the palm of His hand.

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

How are you doing?

Now that it’s become more obvious that we are actually doing this — social distancing at a minimum and possibly even sheltering in place or quantining…

Now that you’ve purchased groceries and supplies with a different mindset than you’ve likely ever had before…

Now that your daily life has been transformed and you’re working from home, working under extremely stressful circumstances, or not working at all…

Now that you’ve been physically separated indefinitely from loved ones — the aged, those who live far away, or those who you don’t dare risk exposing to something you might be carrying around…

Now that schools are closed and you’re feverishly preparing lessons to deliver virtually or you’re exhaustedly managing all your responsibilities while also navigating your children’s schooling or your finishing your own coursework from home…

Now that restaurants and bars can only provide take out…

And — gasp — now that hair salons have been ordered to close…

How are you doing?

Are you experiencing unexpected emotions? Are you afraid you’ll get sick or, worse, that someone you love — someone who is at risk — might get sick? Are you worried about finances — is your job insecure or has it already been eliminated? Are you disappointed that your plans — graduations, vacations, weddings — will likely be postponed or cancelled? Are you angry that this is happening right now and to this extreme?

I’m right there with you. I’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster and trying to find my we can do this attitude — and sometimes I can, but I’ve also found myself more defensive and snarly and volatile.

My husband asked me the other day if I was washing my hands after touching the laundry and my thickly sarcastic response almost left a mark, “No, dear, I’m actually not washing my hands seventy-five times a day.”

This is a lot, guys. In a matter of just a couple of weeks we have moved from business as usual to a starkly different reality. We’re all dealing with a lot — relocation, disappointment, financial stress, and possibly illness — and most of it is out of our control. It makes sense that we might be having some feelings about it all.

And what are we to do with all of these feelings?

If I’ve learned anything in the last several years, it’s that we do well to feel them — feel them all. Then talk about them, write about them, paint them, create them, notice them — feel them.

It’s not shameful to have feelings — it’s human.

Last week, I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and one of the most significant scenes for me was when Mr. Rogers visited the bedside of his friend’s dying father. The family was gathered, aware of the reality, but nobody was able to speak it. Mr. Rogers, in his characteristic style, remarked that often people don’t like to talk about death — they consider it unmentionable. He then said, “Death is human. Anything that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is manageable.”

If you are having all kinds of emotions right now, that is human. And I am willing to bet that you know some other humans who are also having all kinds of emotions. We are not alone in our feelings right now. In fact, my pastor said this morning (his sermon is here) that “all of us are feeling isolated together”. Now is a very rare moment — a moment of world wide shared experience. A moment where many are reaching out and actually sharing the experience.

And during this time, we can mention the mentionable — we can speak about our fears, our worries, our disappointments, and our anger. These are all human responses, and they are mentionable.

When we are willing to mention them to one another, we might be surprised to find that they are manageable.

In the moments after I realized how harshly I had responded to my husband’s reasonable question yesterday, I quickly backpedaled, sputtering a few more comments in an attempt to recover, and finally saying, “We’re all doing our best right now.”

We are all doing our best to manage the manageable.

And we are bearing witness to one another — watching one another do our best. We see teachers practically moving mountains to deliver content in ways that they’ve never done before; we see our friends and celebrities popping up on social media reading stories, playing music, and posting encouragement; we see health care workers going in to work, putting themselves at risk to provide care; we see our spiritual leaders delivering God’s word through live streams, Instagram stories, and YouTube videos; we see grocery store staff scrambling to keep shelves stocked, offer delivery services, and provide sheltered hours for those at risk; we see one another stepping up and doing our literal very best.

So guys, when we have some feelings and they spill out onto one another — in rude comments, in unfiltered facial expressions, in clippy tones — let’s do our best to check in with one another. Instead of reacting, let’s pause, let’s ask one another how we’re doing, and let’s provide some space to share our feelings.

Over the past few days, I’ve found myself on the phone more than usual — talking with my parents, my children, and my friends. I’ve even joined several video chat platforms to participate in our small group Bible study, to watch our granddaughters jump into a pile of pillows, and tonight to catch up with a group of friends. I need the connection right now, probably because I’m having so many feelings.

I need to know that my people are ok. I want to hear how they are feeling. I want to tell them how I’m feeling.

This is time is unprecedented. It’s unsettling. We need each other, so let’s keep asking one another how we’re doing.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thessalonians 5:11

A break in the routine, re-visit

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On Monday, I wrote about our recent cultural transition to social distancing in my post, Time Out. This post from January 2015, explores another time that I made a big transition.

My blender stopped working this morning. I think it got jealous of all the other items that have been leaving my house via the Minimalist Challenge and wanted to join them. It’s going to get its wish.

I filled the blender with all my healthy ingredients — almond milk, cashew butter, banana, etc. — then pressed the button that usually makes it whir and blend. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  This happened once last week, but I walked away, came back a few minutes later, and it miraculously worked. Not today. I walked away with the rest of the parade of beverages, did my Bible study, then came back. Still nothing.

Since I moved to Ann Arbor, I have embraced…

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Time Out

Click to listen.

On Wednesday, as I was leaving work, I heard a parent ask our center director what our plan was as the coronavirus epidemic became more serious. I kind of shrugged my shoulders and walked out the door. I figured it would all blow over while I was out for a couple of days to help my mom recover from shoulder replacement surgery.

By the time I arrived at my mom’s house two hours later, the NCAA had determined that March Madness would be played without spectators. Before I went to sleep that night, our governor had ordered all Michigan schools closed for three weeks. The next day, all NCAA sports for the rest of the season were cancelled, Disneyland closed, and all of us entered a new reality.

Each day brings more closures, more cancellations, and more restrictions. Most of us have been impacted at work, at school, or at home. Some have had to reconfigure their daily lives for the foreseeable future.

Consider a two-parent family with three school-aged children who regularly rely on day care and school while both parents go to work. When the schools and the day care close indefinitely, what are they to do? What if they are doctors? police officers? paramedics? nurses?

Or consider a single father who counts on his hourly wage to support his small child. What if his place of business closes for the next several weeks? How will he earn money to pay his rent or mortgage? to buy food and diapers?

People in all kinds of unexpected situations are scrambling! What will they do?

Since I’ve been away from my normal life for the last few days, I’ve been able to pause and observe the varied responses of the people I have interacted with in person, over the phone, through email, and on social media.

I’ve been a bit removed.

I haven’t been, like many, scrambling at work trying to determine how to sanitize, shut down, and communicate an action plan. I haven’t had the necessity to trouble-shoot child care or purchase extra groceries or devise a work-at-home strategy.

Many of you have been in the middle of all that, and I applaud you. You are doing the hard things and figuring it out.

I watched one family hire a displaced child care worker to care for their young children who can not go to school or day care for a few weeks. I’ve seen my workplace switch all of our in-person students to an online platform in the space of one 8-hour day, even while they met the immediate instructional needs of all of our students. I saw our church community first adapt our worship gatherings and then shift course to cancel all gatherings and then begin rallying our troops to reach out and meet the needs of those in our city.

You all are showing up, caring for one another, and rising to the occasion.

We can do that — we can rise to this occasion!

While all of this bustling was going on, my mom and I were looking for something to do as she sat in her chair resting and icing. She suggested we watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Fred Rogers, beloved children’s television icon. I couldn’t help but be touched as I saw Mr. Rogers’ character teach the journalist who was interviewing him about appropriate ways to express emotion — how to manage fear and anger and sadness.

Aren’t we afraid and angry and sad? We’re angry that the store has run out of the things that we need. We’re afraid to go to work where we might get sick or unknowingly share a virus we might be carrying. We’re afraid of staying home for so long. We’re sad our plans — for trips, gatherings, and celebrations — are being cancelled for who knows how long. And what will we do with all those feelings?

Will we isolate? Will we lash out at those closest to us? Will we find ways to express how we’re feeling? Will we talk it out? write it down? cry?

I see some of you asking the hard questions — is this an overreaction? isn’t the flu even more dangerous than Covid 19? is this just the media’s attempt to whip us into a frenzy? And, I hear you. It does seem extreme.

However, whether we think the recommendations are overblown or not, they have moved beyond recommendations to directives. We’ve been told to create social distance, to avoid gatherings, and to stay at home. Nevertheless, even when the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and our governmental leaders all say to “shelter in place,” we still have some choices.

We can choose what to do with our feelings about this. We can grumble about how ridiculous all of it is; we can piss and moan and shake our fists in the air. We can push against the communal flow, or we can turn.

And maybe we need to.

It seems to me that for quite some time many of us have found ourselves positioned against one another, pointing fingers and shouting accusations. We’ve argued over everything from healthcare to guns to sexuality to abortion. We’ve gotten really good at converting our fear, our anger, and our sadness into attacks on each other. And how’s that been working out for us?

Do we feel good about the distance we’ve created with all this finger-pointing and name calling? How would we respond to our children acting this way? Would we allow them to continue, or would we give them a time out?

As we are forced to pause our lives in the midst of a political climate that is so emotionally charged, are we being offered a communal time out?

What if this virus, this quarantine, this season is an opportunity for us to check ourselves? What if being stopped dead in our tracks is giving us an opportunity to see that we’ve lost our way? What if we pause inside our homes, look at the people that we love, and decide that we can do better than we’ve been doing? What if we can choose right now to care for others regardless of the differences we’ve had with them in the past?

Mr. Rogers said that his mother responded to scary news by telling him to ‘look for the helpers’. This week I have seen many helpers. I’ve seen you reaching out to one another, being creative, and finding ways to encourage one another. You’re posting cheerful videos, providing suggestions for stay-at-home activities, and cheering one another on. I saw one dear old friend post a video of himself reading The Cat in the Hat and challenging others to post videos of themselves reading their favorite stories.

That’s the kind of people you are — the kind who show up in difficult situations to care for friends, strangers, and even those who tend to annoy you.

While I was cheering my mom on this week — encouraging her to exercise, helping her get dressed, and offering her ice cream cones — the world around was feeling a little chaotic, and still friends brought food, family delivered flowers, and others made phone calls, offered prayers, and provided guidance.

Many were helpers.

I think one way that I’ll deal with stress, fear, disappointment, and anger in the coming weeks is by watching how all of you show up for each other. I’ll be looking for the helpers and learning from them during this time out.

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:14

prayer helps, a re-visit

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Our pastors started a seven-week series on prayer two Sundays ago, at the beginning of Lent. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this Lent, more than any time I can remember, has me turning to prayer — for our country during this election cycle, for the world during this coronavirus pandemic, and for my family as they weather transitions, health struggles, and other life challenges. On Monday, I wrote about the power of prayer to turn us From Fear to Peace; today, I re-visit a post from August that further explores the power of prayer.

Over the weekend I talked with my 90-year old godmother, who has now lived for over a year in her home alone — ever since her husband, my godfather, fell and broke his hip. She is so sad and lonely; her load is heavy — managing a home, driving to and from the…

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From Fear to Peace

If we weren’t already fretting and stewing — what with climate change, the presidential election, forest fires, and one report of sexual assault after the other — now we’ve got Covid-19, the corona virus. First it was just in China, then Italy and Iraq, but now it’s in Florida, New York, and even Indiana. Am I the only one who checks the map every day to see how far it has spread?

When I walk into work every morning, I see a sign taped to the door:

And, dutiful employee that I am, I take a pump on my way to the time clock.

The other morning, a potential new employee came to our suite. I heard the doorbell and went to let her in, “Hi, I’m Kristin,” I said as I offered her my hand. She looked a little startled, but she took my hand, and then, when we were done shaking, immediately spotted a bottle of hand sanitizer and took her pump.

I wasn’t offended. This bug is real, and all of us are being a little more diligent about washing our hands, disinfecting surfaces, and covering our coughs in the bends of our elbows. We are doing everything we can to prevent contamination and contagion.

However, Covid 19 isn’t the only thing that’s catching — a culture of fear has been infecting humanity, and it didn’t start with the corona virus. This high-alert culture has been gaining speed by way of the twenty-four hour news cycle that becomes increasingly theatrical what with it’s dramatic musical themes and foreboding voice overs. It’s been fueled by Twitter (not to mention Reddit) threads that provide a venue for instant confrontation between strangers who virtually shout accusations and point fingers. And it’s been stoked by public figures who use their platforms to raise anxiety rather than suggest solutions, provide reassurance, or take action.

And we are quickly becoming a society that scurries through life, checking our phones, looking over our shoulders, and distilling its opinions into 280-character statements that it frantically flings into the cosmos.

We are scared — scared of disease, scared of climate change, scared of war and fire and crime and each other.

Drunk on adrenaline and cortisol, we stumble through our days, checking our news feeds, judging (and berating) those we don’t agree with, and posting carefully curated photos to convince our friends (and ourselves) that we’re fine — really, we’re better than fine.

But then we lie awake at night worrying about if we have enough money to pay our bills, if our kids are alright, if we will indeed catch the corona virus, or if that old white dude will win the election. The worries keep cycling in our minds, and we can’t get back to sleep, so we open our phones and start scrolling to see if anything has changed. But guess what? It hasn’t, yet we keep scrolling and posting, thinking that we’re up anyway, so what will it hurt, not realizing, that we are merely adding more fuel to the fire.

When we finally drop the phone back on the night stand, we feel no better than when we picked it up — only more tired, more worried, and more unable to sleep.

How can we break this cycle? How do we protect ourselves from the pervasive fear epidemic that is infecting all of humanity?

Prayer.

It’s that simple.

You may think it’s corny. You may be thinking to yourself, “oh, geez, here she goes with that Christian stuff again,” but let me tell you, prayer is the only thing that calms my fears. The only thing.

I’ve tried logic: making claims, gathering evidence, and providing reasoning.

I’ve tried self-determination: see the last five years of my blog for anecdotal evidence of how that worked out.

I’ve tried blaming everyone around me for what’s wrong in the world — predators, politicians, and people who don’t think like I do. All that does is make me angry on top of scared.

The only effective way of dealing with fear, is surrender. And it’s so counter-intuitive that it takes me way too long to get there. I try all other strategies first every time. I come up with a good plan, I try to work the plan, and then when the plan doesn’t work out, I blame myself and everyone around me for the failure.

Then, weeping and wailing, I crawl into an empty room, open up my notebook or my laptop, and begin to write. Often I start with raging and railing vitriol — oh, the injustices!, then I move to grief — oh, the agony!, and then to the realization that my writing has become a prayer.

You see all this, don’t you? You see how we are pointing at one another and shouting accusations. You see how angry we are, how hurt, how afraid. And you are the One who can change this — You can stop a virus. You can restore the earth. You can make us whole. You can bring us together. And will you? Will you please? Will you stop this virus dead in its tracks? Will you show us how to do better at taking care of all you have created — plants, animals, and the people we love? Will you show us how to open our clenched fists? Will you fill us with love and understanding for one another? Will you show us how to to bring our fears to you?

And I find I’ve brought them to Him, and I’ve trusted that He will make a way when it seems there is no way. He will wipe the tears of those who grieve. He will sit beside me when I’m lying awake at night, and He will invite me to tell Him all that is on my mind. And He will listen. He will change my fear into compassion; He will motivate me to take action — to not let worry paralyze me, but to let it propel me.

When I pray, when I share my heart with the One who created me, fear floats away and peace descends.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Body Signals, a Re-visit

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If you choose to click the arrow and listen, please forgive the two times I paused to find my place!

I wrote this post almost exactly one year ago today — during another season of busy-ness. As I re-visit this post, I am thankful to acknowledge that I have turned down my work intensity just a bit. I haven’t stopped deeply caring for my students, but I am finding ways to care for myself, too, as I do my best for them.

The physical body is uniquely designed to send us messages that help us take care of ourselves. For example, I have a ten year old student who has beautiful long eye lashes. These eye lashes serve to keep dirt out of his eyes, but occasionally one, rather than staying where it belongs, pokes in and causes irritation. His eye begins to water, and my student does everything he…

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Surprise! Re-visit

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Click to listen.

It’s Sunday morning, and I already know that my work schedule is so packed this week that I won’t have time to write a new post. I’m a little anxious — how will I make it through? will I get sick? will I become irritable? I’ve not even stepped into the week, and my adrenaline is already flowing. In an attempt to calm myself down, I found this post from March 2018. It reminds me that while I am bracing myself for a stressful week, I just might be pleasantly surprised.

Today I was getting ready to do a lesson with one of my students when our office manager informed me that one of my coworkers had gone home sick. Would I mind combining two students’ instruction — one, a nine-year-old doing language arts and one, an eleven-year-old who had a math assessment to finish? Two students at once might…

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Bent on turning, re-visit

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Click to listen to this post.

On Monday, when I wrote about Finding Space to Turn, I mentioned that I am bent on turning. If that phrase left you scratching your head, here is the rest of the story, that I wrote way back in January of 2016. As we enter this season of Lent, may we be willing to stop and re-turn.

Why am I amazed every single time that God reveals Himself. I mean, He does it so often, you would think I would begin to expect it. Yet, I am always surprised.

Consider this: Way back in November, my Wednesday morning battalion was discussing what we would study next. Several books were suggested, so we considered each of them before we decided on Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything. Well, that was November, and then Christmas happened.

God took me on a journey through December…

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Finding Space to Turn, a re-visit

Just over a month ago I wrote this post — I was noticing the impact of taking a brief intentional pause from my regularly hectic life to do a little reflecting. Little did I know that less than a month later, much of the world would make a hard stop to shelter in place. As I re-read this post, I am well aware of how much time I now have for introspection, for evaluation, and for turning.

Is your life as jam-packed as mine is? Do you find yourself rushing from task to task, commitment to commitment, often running late because you are trying to cram in one more thing?

Work, social engagements, exercise, caring for our homes, and myriad other commitments can leave us little room for contemplation, for feeling, or for processing all that happens within one of our very busy days.

Instead of pausing to do the most important work — to consider the ways that we live, the ways that we communicate, the beliefs we hold, or the opportunities we might be missing — we cycle through our days, getting up, going to work, and collapsing, day after day after day.

It can take an act of the will to get ourselves to step out of that cycle — to meet friends for dinner, to take a class, or to go on a long walk. Trapped in our crowded schedules, we find it difficult to see where we might find the space (and the energy) for such pursuits. So we continue in our patterns day after day after day. We eat the same foods, drive the same routes, and see the same people.

Sometimes, though, we do take action — we pause the cycle and get a glimpse at a better way.

Yesterday, I found myself sitting in a room with nine college-aged couples attending a workshop on relationships that my husband was leading. The day focused on three key topics: 1) the keys to healthy relationships, 2) what our personalities bring to our relationships, and 3) how to communicate more effectively about emotionally-charged topics.

I was most struck by the fact that these college students — who certainly have lives that are at least as busy as mine — willingly hit the pause button so that they could do the hard work of considering a new way. They engaged in conversations, took a personality inventory, and practiced a communication tool that showed them how to be vulnerable with one another. I watched as they turned to one another, heads leaning in, speaking their hearts and listening.

You might have guessed that my husband and I did all the activities, too. We paused to consider the marks of healthy relationships and which areas we might continue to improve in; we acknowledged how our personalities play off one another; and we practiced a communication strategy. And, you know what? We learned a few things. We may change some of our patterns because of our participation in this workshop.

Pausing for a few hours on a Saturday — breaking our usual routine — allowed us some space to take a look at our standard operating procedures and to find some areas for refinement.

Crowded lives don’t allow for much turning — when we are pressed in on every side, we don’t have much room to move, to turn. We continue our routines, finding little space within which to navigate. We feel frustrated: we grumble, we growl, we lash out. From that position, it can seem impossible to find space in which to make change.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of Lent, the day where we remember our mortality — we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. Lent is a time that many Christians pause from their busy-ness, their very crowded lives, to take a long look at how they are living — what are their priorities, what practices have become unproductive, what patterns have become destructive.

Some do this by “giving something up” — chocolate or television or technology — in an effort to open up some space for reflection. Some do this by adding something in — a daily devotion, a Scripture reading plan, or additional worship services — in an attempt to refocus their thoughts, to turn toward God.

You certainly don’t need Lent in order to shift a few aspects of your life to find space, but Lent can serve as an impetus for those of us who are stuck in our routines.

When we pause, when we find a way to step aside and make some space, we have the opportunity to reflect, to consider our options, and to turn — to try a different way.

When we entered Lent this year, we had no idea how hard a pause we would be making or how much space we would suddenly have — space to see ourselves, the ways we’ve been living our lives, and the people we choose to spend them with. If in all this sudden space you find yourself reeling, anxious, grumbly, or even euphoric, you might consider turning. I don’t know the turns that might impact your life, and maybe you don’t either, but perhaps there is a first turn that might inform those that follow.

In all this time and space you suddenly have, I invite you to return to prayer — a simple turning of the eyes to the One who always provides us with space to turn.

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”

Psalm 116:7