Memorial Day, in the time of Covid-19

Click to hear this post read aloud.

On any other Memorial Day, we’d be packing up picnic baskets, putting the finishing touches on the potato salad, and donning festive red, white, and blue.

We’d be joining friends around picnic tables, under tents, next to pools.

We’d be driving to cemeteries to pay our respects, plant flags, and place flowers.

We’d be remembering those lost in wars, yes, and those we’ve lost, period.

But today, in the time of Covid, when almost 100,000 have died in the US from the Coronavirus alone over the last three months, let alone all who have died of heart failure, stroke, car accidents, cancer, violent crimes, or suicide… when gathering — even in groups no larger than ten — can bring a risk of transmission leading to even more illness or death, Memorial Day is going to look a little different.

Families who have lost loved ones in the last three months have not had the privilege of holding their loved ones’ hands as they have died. They have not gathered for funerals. They have not hugged one another and cried. They have not had a chance to grieve — to accept the reality of death. What does their Memorial Day look like this year?

The New York Times covered the front page with this image, and yet few of us can wrap our minds around the reality of — the “incalculable loss” — of nearly 100,000 deaths.

The Times ran this memorial perhaps as a way for us to remember, to conceptualize, to note, to grieve, to mourn. It’s a list of names of a fraction of those who have died complete with brief descriptions, epitaphs, if you will, that help us attach lives of real people to the numbers. People like:

Alan, Peter, Joseph, Mary, and Lorena, loved by their friends and families, despite their weaknesses and flaws, will be missed, and mourned, and remembered, so will the other thousands upon thousands, as will those who have died in the last year from all things not Covid.

I don’t know how you are remembering today — if you are indeed visiting a cemetery, if you are gathering with a few friends, if you are isolating at home, if you are doing the same thing you’ve done every single day since somewhere in the middle of March, or if you will sit in your yard, on your porch, or on your couch, quietly remembering those you have lost.

We’ve spent the weekend visiting with those we have not lost — my in-laws, my parents, and my godmother — through porch visits and phone calls, taking care not to contaminate — keeping distance, wearing masks. We have laughed, smiled, and realized that life is precious.

We taught Ken, 85, Caseville, MI, who left home at thirteen and became a millwright and a father, how to use Google Duo to videochat with his kids and grandkids. We heard Dorothy, 83, Caseville, MI, a retired second grade teacher, talk about the time she helped her two sons transport a 17-foot aluminum canoe in a Chevette.

We greeted Margaret, 90, Bay City, MI, who after working on a factory line in the ’40s and ’50s loved collecting hand-painted china and now lives a few miles away from her husband of 70 years, unable to see him since they are in separate facilities that are both sheltering their residents.

We chatted with Harold, 81, Brownsburg, IN, retired businessman, who once hitchhiked from Michigan to California to buy a vehicle after serving his time in the Marines; we laughed with Joyce, (age withheld to protect myself from harm), Brownsburg, IN, a beloved fifth-grade teacher, who’s trying to figure out how to help others with her stimulus check.

Today we’ll see Roger, 75, St. Louis, MI, a butcher turned grocery store manager turned prison shopkeeper who enjoys riding his motorcycle and golfing, and Carol, 78 St. Louis, MI, a former hospital unit secretary who has spent most of her days finding ways to show love to her children and grandchildren.

And then we’ll head home, thankful that on this Memorial Day we have no fresh grief, other than the collective groaning of our nation.

And that groaning we will hold in our hearts as we continue to isolate at home, wear our masks when we venture out, and do our part to slow the spread, to reduce the casualties, so that we (and others) can spend more days with those we have not yet lost.

For those who are freshly grieving today, I extend my heart. May you find comfort in your mourning and joy for your soul.

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:13

Coronavirus Diary #7: Finding our way

When I wrote my first “Coronavirus Diary” on March 30, I could not have guessed that I would be writing a weekly series that seems to have no end. Could any of us have predicted that we would be working from home, wearing masks to the store, and zooming with our family and friends for most of the Spring?

We’ve been quarantining at home for going on eight weeks now! You might think that the time has dragged on, but my husband and I keep looking at each other and saying, “Is it Friday again already?”

Our days look mostly the same — wake up, morning routine, work, cook, walk, eat, TV, sleep, repeat.

Sure, we have other engagements. We Zoom call our families. We grocery shop (which now includes an elaborate in-processing of purchased items that takes a chunk of each Saturday). We ‘gather’ with our small community group twice each week. We take care of our dog, clean the house, and try to remember to send cards and gifts to somehow mark birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and the fact that we still care about our people even though we can’t see them.

We worry. We agonize. We pray.

Then we go to bed and get up the next day to do it again.

We don’t set long-term goals. We don’t make plans. We don’t go anywhere. Yet the time seems to be flying.

Even still, a lot can happen in the space of a week. A polar vortex can blow through. A friend can be hospitalized. A daughter can reach a milestone. A company can move from an almost expert response to a global pandemic to joining the ranks of those who have made sweeping layoffs and massive restructuring. A video of a shooting death of a man in broad daylight can circulate so widely and stir up so much outrage that a father and son who’ve been sitting freely at home for most of two months are arrested to the sounds of virtual cheering.

Thousands can protest nation-wide shutdowns. Thousands can been newly diagnosed. Thousands can recover. Thousands can die.

And we’re feeling it — all of it.

We’re edgy — quick to say a sharp word, snatch something from another, or walk away mad.

We’re raw — falling to tears and sobbing about the deaths, the uncertainty, the financial strain, the endless monotony of day after day, or the full sink of dishes. We cry because we’re tired, because we’re sick of being home, or simply because we ran out of Cheerios.

We’re angry — demanding that governments open up, complaining about the ‘idiots’ who keep congregating without wearing masks, and insisting that the person next to us would just stop chewing so loudly.

We’re doing our best to celebrate miracles — births and recoveries and job changes and college acceptances — and to mark graduations and birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Sometimes we can’t be bothered — we just don’t have the strength, the wherewithal, the awareness to reach out, to noice, to connect with each other, to wash our hair, or to change out of pajamas.

Yet somehow we’re figuring it out — doing our best — finding our way.

We’re finding our way by seeing the devastation and reeling from it, because that’s what you do when you are devastated — you reel. Try to brace if you like, try to harden yourself against the blow, but like it or not, when the impact hits, you’re gonna find yourself tumbling around trying to find your feet again. If you’ve been ordered home, lost your job, gotten sick, lost a loved one, or simply born witness to the losses of others, you might find yourself reeling. (If you don’t feel like like you’ve been smacked around a little bit, you might be fully in denial that almost 80,000 Americans have died, that millions have lost their jobs and are without money, food, and any sense of stability, and that none of us really knows what the next weeks or months look like.)

We’re finding our way by talking it through. When we talk on the phone, meet together on video chat, or sit next to each other in the evenings, we’re sharing the bits of news from the day, we’re asking hard questions, we telling each other that it’s hard to get out of bed, that we haven’t changed out of yoga pants since March, that we cancelled our vacation plans. We talk through the loss of a loved one, the test results, our latest cooking adventure, and the project that we’ve been working on.

We’re finding our way by reaching out. We call our parents who are weathering this ‘storm’. We touch base with our siblings more than we used to. We check in with friends and call our kids, listening to words, to tones, and to things left unsaid.

We’re finding our way by eating, sleeping, exercising, and deciding that we are going to do the next thing, even if it’s not the best thing, every. single. day.

And in the midst of all this finding our way, doing our best, and carrying on, we get tired and overwhelmed; we start to lose hope. We cry out.

Will it ever end? How long, O Lord, will you forget us forever?

Forget you? How could I? See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

You did? You did!

I did! And I’ve given you a future and a hope.

You have? You have!

I have. I will never leave you nor forsake you.

You won’t? You won’t!

Behold, I am making all things new.

You are? You are!

I am. From before the world began, I am.

That’s right. I remember.

We’re engraved on the palm of Your hand. You’ll never leave us nor forsake us. You are making all things new, from before the world began. You are.

Ok. We hear you. We do.

We’ll keep listening for your voice as we find our way.

Coronavirus Diary #5: Stating the Obvious (and the not so obvious)

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on Friday morning that we would continue our stay-at-home order until May 15. This makes sense to me. While our numbers in Michigan are leveling out and we haven’t had quite as many new cases every day, that seems to me to be the result of us all staying away from each other — slowing the spread, flattening the curve. Since the virus still exists, and many are still carrying it, it would seem foolish to all of a sudden drop restrictions and start interacting with one another face-to-face.

And no one is suggesting that we do that. Not for a while.

In fact, it seems that for a while we’ll be experimenting with tightening and loosening restrictions and seeing what happens. Some states are being criticized for ‘opening up’ too soon, putting financial stability ahead of public health. Other states are being criticized for keeping the restrictions too strict for too long.

I’m not in any position to have an opinion about the best way to proceed, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m told — sheltering in place, going out for necessity only and with an abundance of caution, washing my hands, and covering my face.

I can do these things with little difficulty because my husband and I can work from home, we have everything we need, and we have not been infected. We eat well, have access to all kinds of television shows, read good books, and sleep comfortably each night. Our loved ones are all safe and well, and we are able to communicate with them regularly.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

So, so many have lost their jobs and are suffering from the financial impact. Over 20% of our country is unemployed at the moment (26 million as of April 24, 2020). I can’t imagine the stress they must be feeling. While stimulus checks have been promised and unemployment payments have been subsidized, no one can really be sure when those dollars will arrive or if they will be enough. While more than half of qualifying Americans have received their stimulus checks, most of those who have filed for unemployment will be waiting a while to get financial assistance.

Many do not have what they need. Many families and individuals do not have enough food. Grocery stores are short on certain items due to shifting demands and the reorganizing of supply chains. Medical facilities continue to struggle to obtain necessary supplies and equipment.

Many, many are sick. As of this writing, over 2.8 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed around the world; over 200,000 have died. In the US, over 965,000 cases have been confirmed; over 54,000 have died. In Michigan alone, there are over 37,000 confirmed cases and over 3,300 deaths. And this is far from over.

Many have no time to rest. Parents of school-aged children are juggling their own work responsibilities while managing the educational, physical, social, and emotional needs of their children. Governmental leaders are doing their best to make decisions that impact all of us while facing criticism, protests, growing death tolls, and and a devastated economy. Essential workers have been burning the candle at both ends to provide medical care, necessary supplies, and food to the rest of us. They’ve been going steady for weeks on end, and they’ve got to be exhausted.

Some are unable to communicate with those that they love. We all have heard stories of people who have loved ones in the hospital who are sick or dying alone. Because of the danger of contagion, no one can visit. Often, it’s challenging to make contact of any kind — even a phone call. Some have been separated from loved ones who live in nursing homes — a generation that is unfamiliar with Smart phones, FaceTime and Zoom rooms.

So why am I writing all this? Am I just stating the obvious?

Probably.

But I think right now the obvious needs to be stated.

Because the obvious is heavy, and it’s a burden we can’t put down — now or anytime soon.

We’re lugging this load down a long dusty road, whipped by the wind, parched and tired, and we can’t see our destination — the place where we can set it all down.

We don’t know when it will be safe to hug our aging parents, when we’ll be able to play with our grandchildren, when we can sit across the table from our friends, or when we can simply get a haircut.

We don’t know when our finances will recover, when we’ll go back to work, when we’ll reschedule our vacations, or when we’ll worship together in church, gathering at the altar for the bread and the wine, joining our voices in song, hearing one another in prayer.

And what is not obvious is that walking around every day with this very heavy burden is exhausting. We’re tired, and tender, and emotional.

We feel weepy, then angry, then giddy, then hopeless, then resolute, then determined, then disappointed, then devastated, then weepy….

So, we think to ourselves, “let’s do something fun — go see some friends, have a party, go to the beach, have dinner out,” but then we realize the obvious:

we are under quarantine,

Covid 19 is a killer,

the only weapon we have to defend ourselves at the moment is social distancing,

supplies are tight,

people are suffering,

there’s not much we can do but to keep doing our part.

The obvious is heavy, so if you’re tired, it makes sense. Have a seat. Take a break. Call a friend. Laugh. Cry. Yell.

If you can, extend a hand. Connect with someone else.

Consider sharing — some time, some money, some food, some resources, some hope.

It’s a long dusty road, and the burden is heavy.

Let’s help one another along.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Coronavirus Diary #4, loss, grief, and encouragement

This past week as we faced snow-covered ground and chilling temps, I started to believe that life as we once knew it was over and we be quarantined forever. I started feeling anxious and a little bit desperate. What if this continues for months and we can’t see our parents or our children — our siblings or our friends?

I started considering scenarios in which my husband and I threw provisions in the car and drove the three hours to check in on his parents and then two more hours to check on mine. I saw us driving twelve hours straight east to see our daughters — to eat lunch with them at a picnic table out in the open — keeping space but close enough to touch only if we dared.

My emotions are heightening. I guess because this coming Saturday was supposed to be our son’s college graduation day — after four years serving in the Army and another four years going to classes, he was set to walk across the stage to roaring applause. We’d already envisioned ourselves there, yelling, clapping, whooping, and hollering. Last night, I checked his university’s website — again — and found next to the original details the word ‘canceled’ in red. Just canceled. Period.

Next week, our daughter was supposed to celebrate her college graduation, too. After six long years of studying and getting sober she was going to proudly don her cap and gown to celebrate her achievement and her recovery. We had the plane tickets, the days off, and the desire to cheer her on, but her university’s website says that the graduation will be held at a “time that is determined to be safe,” which right now feels like a long way off.

Because really, despite recent talk of Phase One, Phase Two, and Phase Three plans for coming out of quarantine, no one is bold enough to imagine a time when we’ll feel comfortable packing a stadium or an auditorium. No one is picturing a crowded courtyard where families kiss and hug and snap a million pictures. No one can say when those kinds of meetings will happen.

And so I’m trying to find ways right now to celebrate them. I’m trying to find ways to let them know that we care — that we are thinking of them — that we love them — that we are so, so proud of all that they’ve done and all that they are. Even when we can’t see them or be with them.

And nothing I can think of feels like enough.

I know I’m not alone in this. Surely countless individuals across the globe have cancelled parties, graduations, weddings, and even funerals. Worse, thousands now have lost their lives — over 166,000 as of this morning. Experts say that number would’ve been exponentially higher had we not all gone inside and closed our doors last month. We could be grieving much, much more.

And so we stay at home — we keep our distance — because we know it’s our job right now.

That, and grieving.

I’m grieving the loss of these celebrations — grieving them hard. I’m trying to remember that quarantining/social distancing is necessary action in order to save the lives of those we love so that we can celebrate another day, but today that’s just not helping me.

A few things are helping a bit.

Work is helping. I’m thankful — I am — that I have steady work. In fact, we are busy providing online instruction to kids who are trying to understand why they are suddenly not allowed to go to school, see their friends, go to church, or participate in sports. We are providing consistency by showing up every day and providing high quality instruction, and we’re trying to have a little fun — playing tic-tac-toe and battleship online, telling jokes, giving prizes, and being silly.

My friends are helping. I am part of a small group of women who have met for breakfast and prayer for the past several years. We’ve read several books together, we’ve retreated together, and we’ve stood with each other through significant life struggles, so it makes sense that we would continue to show up for each other now. The other morning we were meeting and one shared about how she is processing her grief.

She said she had read, “wailing women teach one another… in grieving we take time to experience and feel the emotions…it’s a way to bring everyone home…”

We all agreed to make ‘grief’ a focus of our prayers and our study right now…we might as well, because we had already begun grieving.

On Friday and Saturday, I ‘met’ with a broader group of women — 100 pastors’ wives who meet each Spring. Our in-person gathering was cancelled, but the leaders decided to offer an online gathering. We started on Friday night with a welcome video on Youtube which offered worship music and streaming photos from previous gatherings. Then, we met on Facebook to “play games”. A post would pose a question, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” or “What would you never purchase ‘used’?” Dozens of women replied and commented in the moment, and I found myself sitting in my home office smiling and laughing. I felt so connected. Saturday morning, 100 of us met in a Zoom room for Bible study and prayer. I was so happy to just click through the four screens of familiar faces that I found myself asking if we could do this again soon — let’s not wait a whole year to get together again.

My family is helping. Like many of you, I’m talking to family more — we Zoom, we FaceTime, we phone call, we text. We crave connection from within our walls. We long to see one another — to check in, to laugh, to talk about this experience. It’s so good to see the familiar — those who’ve known us and loved us through all the seasons, who’ve seen us at our best and worst. Connecting with family feels like an anchor holding me in place reminding me of what we’ve already survived and that we’ll get through this, too.

My husband is helping. I’ve spent more than thirty years with this man, and he continues to be the one who sees me, understands me, cares for me, and wants to hang out with me. Right now we’re walking, laughing, hand washing produce and wiping down surfaces, and exploring obscure British television. I am so thankful he’s the one I’m sheltering in place with.

My dog is helping. Pure and faithful companionship — that’s all.

Here he is after surviving his Saturday bath.

My church is helping. We love our church. We love the people in our small group who we meet with every Thursday for conversation and prayer and who we worship “with” every Sunday as we sit in our own homes — joining each other on Facebook Messenger video chat while we stream our service on YouTube. We love our pastors, Gabe and Marcus, who continue to provide quality leadership through thoughtful messages on Sunday and twice throughout the week and who are coordinating and overseeing numerous activities to serve our congregation and our community during this time.

So, I’m grieving, as many of you are grieving, but I’m also hopeful because I’m connected — to friends, to family, to my husband, to my dog, and to my church. I’m gonna be sad in the coming weeks as I grieve the loss of some celebrations — some markers of significant life events for the people that I love — but I’m going to be ok.

The time of mourning will pass; we will celebrate again.

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:13

Coronavirus Diary #3: Feeling the funk.

I lost my sense of humor this week. I found myself walking around with a scowl on my face, side-eying the dog, and unintentionally snapping at my husband.

I can’t trace it back to any moment, any inciting event, or any offense.

Instead, the funk descended on me, as the sunny skies of last weekend turned gray and then started spitting — rain, then hail, then snow. My facial expressions tightened, my tone darkened, and my sensitivities heightened.

Maybe you’re feeling like this, too. We’ve been sheltering at home for a million days, the death toll keeps climbing, and we don’t know when this will end.

Maybe you’ve got other stuff going on in addition to dealing with a pandemic.

Maybe, like me, you’ve got family members who are aging or have health issues, and you feel the weight of not being able to take an active role in caring for them right now.

Maybe, like me, you now know one or two or more people who have contracted the virus, or worse, some who have died. The whole earth is practically groaning with the deaths of over 114,000 from coronavirus let alone all the deaths from other causes in recent weeks.

And if all that wasn’t enough, it’s Holy Week and we can’t be with our people.

I tried to “make the best of it” when we participated in the livecast of our congregation’s Palm Sunday worship service last Sunday. We ‘joined’ our small group on Facebook messenger video chat while we live-streamed the service; then we ‘stuck around’ after church for coffee hour with our friends. It was great to see everyone; it really was. We truly are making the best of a bad situation. Still, I want to be at church. I want to hear the babies crying and the papers rustling. I want to gather in a circle for the bread and the wine. I want to hear the voices of the communion of the saints singing “Hosannah!”

But not this year.

I felt deflated on Thursday afternoon as we prepared to virtually share our Seder meal with our community group. It would be different, too, this year — with each family scavenging their homes for whatever they might use to represent lamb, charoset, parsley, and horseradish. We’d hear the story of the Passover, asking “why is this night unlike any other”, and remind ourselves that “it would have been enough,” but somehow, it doesn’t feel like enough.

And then on Good Friday, I paused from work at lunchtime and sat on my couch to hear music come through our television and to listen to the story of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and burial.

I couldn’t stay through the end — the stripping of the altar, the darkening of the room, the closing of the tomb — because I had to sign back in to work, to meet a student, to put on a smile and behave as though everything is as it should be.

But it’s not. Not this year.

I’ve been trying to shake this funk — I’ve been exercising, eating right, practicing yoga, and getting outside whenever I can. I roasted a turkey breast and shared bits with my husband and our dog while I sliced it for dinner, and still I was left feeling weighed down, irked, and out of sorts.

I don’t typically give up easily, so even on Saturday, I crawled out of bed, did my morning routine, finished a couple housekeeping tasks, and threw on some clothes. The sun had come out, and I felt a spring in my step as I ventured out to the grocery store clad in mask and gloves, got the few items we needed this week, brought them home, cleaned them, and put them away. I took an extra long walk, ate a delicious turkey sandwich, soaked in the tub, and read a good book. I was doing all the self care that would shift this mind, this heart, this attitude.

Since I had a block of time, I decided to make some progress on the medical masks I’ve been sewing for a local hospital. I had several prepped for sewing, it shouldn’t take long to zip them through the machine and finish this batch so they could be delivered. I had everything running smoothly and was beginning to move efficiently, when all of a sudden, ‘clunk’, my needle broke. I didn’t have a spare, so I checked online to see if I could pick one up from JoAnn’s or Target, but no, not when everyone in the world has turned to sewing projects and every store is open only for limited hours. So, I tossed a few packs of needles in my online shopping cart, clicked ‘purchase’, turned off my sewing machine, tidied my area, and walked away.

Sigh.

This morning I woke up — Easter morning. Not a jelly bean in the house, not one egg hidden, and no reason to put on a dress.

I started by doing what I do every morning, reading my Bible reading plan, writing three pages, practicing yoga, and taking a shower.

My husband handed me breakfast as we walked to our living room sanctuary and turned on our church’s Easter service. We sang a few songs, and I confessed to my husband that I wasn’t feeling it. I was still in a funk.

And as though he knew, our pastor started by saying that while some of us were excited by the resurrection, others of us “can’t shake the uneasiness, the ‘not-at-homeness,'” of this season — the coronavirus season.

I leaned in. You mean I’m not alone? I want to be excited — even Easter-level excited — but I can’t seem to shake this funk.

And as though just the two of us where having a conversation, the pastor replied, “You may be tempted to look at this situation through the lens of common experience, but God is at work.”

This is not a common experience. We don’t have a frame of reference for life during a pandemic, but we can trust that God is at work.

Our pastor said that we might feel like the disciples did when they went home on Friday, knowing that their friend, their leader, their Messiah lay dead in a tomb. They must have felt shaken, uncertain of their future, and a little light on hope.

So when they heard the stone was rolled away, they were surprised — even though Jesus had told them He would rise, even though they knew He was the Messiah. They had gotten lost in their grief for a bit — they had forgotten that while they could not see Him, Jesus was still at work.

And He’s at work right now — He is always at work to heal and restore all things. Even right now. Even during a pandemic. Even when I can’t shake this funk.

Our pastor ended by saying this:

It may seem like the coronavirus has ruined Easter, but Easter has ruined the coronavirus.

It may seem like death has ruined Easter, but Easter has ruined death.

It may seem like sin has ruined Easter, but Easter has ruined sin.

It may seem like this funk has ruined Easter, but Easter is right now ruining my funk.

“Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free!

“Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me!

“You have broken every chain; there’s salvation in your name!

“Jesus Christ, my living Hope!”

**After the worship service, we chatted with our community group during our virtual coffee hour. We went for a walk, then I spent some time here processing my grief, my disappointment, and my hope. Then, as we spent our afternoon videoconferencing with our siblings and our children, I could feel the funk lift a bit. We laughed, we smiled, and we believed that God is indeed at work.

***I will link Pastor Gabe’s sermon here, in case you, too, need a little lifting of your funk.

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

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

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

Close Contact, a re-visit.

On Monday, I asked if you were willing to take some risks for the sake of others (post here). I’ve asked this before. In February, after the Super Bowl, I asked if you’d be willing to enter into dialogue about what in our culture perpetuates sexual violence (post here). In March of 2018, I wondered if you’d be willing to spend time in community, to be vulnerable and open to the change that can happen there (post here). Today, I’m reposting this piece that I wrote one month — one month — before we went inside to protect ourselves from a pandemic. In this post, I explore what we have to gain from looking at the ways we have hurt one another and committing to do the hard work of healing those hurts. I was writing on a more personal/community level, but it seems that this type of work — this coming together, this commitment to vulnerability, this openness to change — is needed on a societal level right now. It’s gonna be hard, but if we are willing to take the risk, we just might experience a new kind of freedom.

Adapted in days of Covid: As we continue to distance ourselves from others, by working from home, by wearing masks, by keeping six feet away from one another, we long for the days when we could be up close and personal — when we could drop by one another’s homes, sit side by side in a movie theater, shake hands, and hug. Living in close contact with those we care about can have a positive impact on us. It lifts our spirits, it connects us to our humanity, it gives our lives meaning.

However, spending time in close proximity to others does come with risk — and not just the risk of disease. The moments we spend with others — our family, our community — are not often picture perfect; frequently they are characterized by friction, collision, and pain.

In fact, when I look back on the mental movie of my life, I can see the people I love most standing nearby as I have yelled, thrown things, and slammed doors; they’ve born witness as I’ve lain wounded, cried, and struggled to get back up. What impact must these moments have had on the bystanders? I am sure they have left marks on the people I love most. And when I sit with that truth, my body aches.

But, here’s the thing: we can’t avoid leaving marks on the people we love the most.

We. are. broken.

All of us.

And when broken people come close to one another, we hurt one another.

Hurt people hurt people.

And all of us — from time to time — are hurting.

I remember one particularly difficult morning during the soldiering years when our whole family was headed to join a gathering of friends for a meal. Everyone else was ready and waiting, but I was upset about something — probably a larger internal issue — and I couldn’t get comfortable with the way I looked. I closed the bathroom door, tore everything out of the cabinets, and began violently cleaning and rearranging as I cried. I was hurting so badly, but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how I could pull on a face that would not expose my pain for public viewing. My husband and my children — all in middle and high school by this time — could certainly hear me wailing and slamming as they watched the clock, knowing we were going to be late. When finally I emerged, tears wiped, make-up applied, and silent, they watched cautiously as I climbed in the car. We all rode quietly to the event, where I took a deep breath, got out of the car, and engaged appropriately (or at least more appropriately) with those who had gathered.

What impact did that make? How did I affect my children and my husband, all of whom were also hurting during this period, by processing in this way — behind closed doors — and then presenting a different face to those who were one step removed? What was I teaching them about pain? About emotion? About friendship? About community?

Of course many experience bigger hurts than my emotional melt down. When families and communities experience accidents, trauma, or disaster, all feel the blows and carry the resulting injuries. If one member of the family is injured in a car accident, everyone’s life gets bumped out of its rhythm — all those who care stop what they are doing, show up on the scene, rally to help, and adjust their schedules until further notice. When one person is the victim of a crime, all in the vicinity feel the violation — they experience fear, anger, grief, agony — sometimes for years after the fact. When someone in the family loses their house to fire or their livelihood is destroyed by hurricane, the impact can be felt by the children, the parents, and the whole community who might see the course of their lives redirected for decades in the wake of such devastation.

Not every hurt is remarkable, of course, some impacts go virtually unnoticed. Others are among the everyday bumps and bruises incurred with close contact.

The other morning, my husband of almost thirty years was driving me to work on one of the coldest mornings of the year. We were chatting matter-of-factly as he drove when something he said struck a cord and I felt defensive. I heard myself respond directly, and soon I knew my reply was sharper than I’d intended when I heard his tone change, too. Before we knew it, we were both feeling agitated and exchanging charged comments. We arrived at the office building where I work, said our goodbyes, and both tried to proceed into our days carrying the bumps and bruises from that conversation.

Now, because we’ve been married for almost thirty years and because we’ve done the heavy lifting that has taught us how to repair, he texted me within moments and I texted back. We both acknowledged our part in the conflict and agreed to table our discussion until later. We’d both felt the pain of contact, but we were willing to back up, reassess, and try a different approach that wouldn’t cause damage.

When you are willing, you can experience growth and change in your relationships with others. Over time, having experienced many collisions and close calls, you can learn how to navigate more safely, how to give each other a wide berth, how to forgive missteps and even outright hurtfulness.

In fact, if you are going to stay in relationships with people, you are going to have to learn how to consider one another, how to forgive one another, and how to give one another chance after chance after chance, because when we live in close proximity, we bump into each other, and sometimes it hurts.

It can be painful to think about the impact that our choices, patterns, and words have had on those closest to us. We want so badly to get it all right, but we never will. So, we trudge on, doing what we can.

We don’t have to — we don’t have to keep trying, keep trudging. We have options.

We could avoid this hurt altogether. We could choose to live as individuals — insulating ourselves from others so that we don’t hurt them and so that they don’t hurt us — but what would we lose in so doing?

We would lose the opportunity to love, to learn, to grow. We would lose the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven. We would lose the chance to laugh together, to share experiences, and to weep with one another.

This morning at church, right before I witnessed my friend and her husband give bread and wine to her aging father, right before I saw them, along with our pastor, envelop him in a hug and pray for him, I heard these words:

…what if our true selves are made from the materials of our communal life?

Where is there some “self” which has not been communally created? By cutting

back our attachments and commitments, the self shrinks rather than grows.”

Stanley Hauerwas

In my closest relationships I have experienced the deepest pain, and I have felt the fullest joy. Knowing I will continue to experience both the pain and the joy, I will not cut back my attachments; I will not shrink into myself. I will open my arms and embrace the brokenness that is inherent to all relationships, because our truest selves are indeed made from the materials of our communal life.

“Be kind to one another — tenderhearted, forgiving one another — even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32

Tempted by Despair; Choosing Hope

And just as I’ve set my resolve to Take Care and to Be Kind for the holidays, just as we’ve decked our halls humming fa-la-la-la-la, I find myself with a weight on my chest and a lump in my throat.

It’s December 1, the first Sunday in Advent, and I am sitting here talking myself away from the ledge of despair. Why? One innocent Instagram post suggested that my hopes might be disappointed — that all my resolve-setting, and hall-decking might not end up in joyful reunions, restored celebrations, or a meeting of healed hearts.

After all of our healing work and intentionality, we might still find ourselves broken.

I can’t bear to face that reality. I can’t imagine the possibility of another holiday sprinkled with tears and punctuated by slammed doors followed by hours of silence. But I am beginning to imagine it, just as I was beginning to have hope.

I was beginning to picture smiling embraces, laughter at the table, and intimate conversations filled with sustained eye contact. In my mind, I saw four generations sharing stories, sitting closely, leaning in. I imagined games and coloring and gifts and food. I saw tenderness, forgiveness, cuddling, and love.

These images were born out of longing — a longing for restoration, for healing, for reconciliation, for an end to a long, long season of grief.

All year, we’ve been removing layers of mourners’ clothing — a black veil here, a grey dress there — and we’ve been eyeing the party gowns in the closet. Do we dare to hope that we might be celebrating? That we might kill the fatted calf, invite all the neighbors, and make a feast to announce the return of joy?

We’ve prepared rooms — fluffed all the pillows, set out new towels, and lined the manger with straw — but what if no one comes? Or what if they come, and they leave disappointed?

What if the gifts are not right, the food too much (or too little), the conversations strained, and the accommodations inadequate? What if there is no joy?

I can’t, I won’t entertain those doubts.

I won’t feed my longing with manufactured images of despair. I won’t, sitting here hungry, imagine a table filled with rancid food. I will hold onto hope.

We’ll prepare the space, hold onto hope, and wait.

Sarah Bessey wrote on her blog this weekend: Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away.

And as I’m waiting for them to be wiped away, they just keep coming.

We’ve come so far! We have seen evidence that all things are being made new — the blind receive their sight, the sick are made well, we’ve had good news preached to us, and then one Instagram post can send me reeling.

I spiral quickly from choosing hope to drowning in despair.

Like Sarah Bessey, I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

I need to be gathered, just as I long to gather my own, to hold them close, to provide warmth and comfort, and to feel their warmth and their comfort.

I am longing for that warmth. That comfort.

Advent is for the ones who know longing, says Sarah Bessey.

And, if she’s writing about longing, she probably is familiar with it — that ache, that desire, that wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night hunger for wholeness, for healing, for restoration.

I’ve been so caught up — for actual years now — in longing for the restoration of my family and for healing for those I love, for peace in our world, for an end to violence, poverty, hunger, and pain. I’ve been feeling my brokenness.

We’re all broken — every last one of us.

We all are longing to be made whole, aren’t we? We’re longing for all things to be made new. We are watching in the distance for the arrival of a Savior who, we trust, is coming to gather us into His arms.

And He. Is. Coming.

In fact, He is here. He is already making everything new. We see evidence all around us — when long-lost friends reunite, when we share small kindnesses with strangers, when we realize we are forgiven.

We rejoice when we see these glimmers of hope, and we will celebrate even more when we finally see every broken piece put back into place.

We will see every broken piece put back into place.

And in the mean time, we’ll deck our halls, fluff our pillows, and make some room.

And I will continue to hope, even if reality doesn’t meet my expectation — if my gifts are all wrong, the food doesn’t turn out, and if everyone leaves disappointed. Because although I am longing for restoration, I know that it comes in ways that I don’t always expect and that I don’t always recognize.

Small glimmers accumulate over time…and then all at once, He wipes every tear from our eyes.

I will not lose hope, because Hope. Has. Come.

And He is coming again.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22:20