Coronavirus Diary #9: Comorbidities –Pandemic and Racism

Often illness is complicated: a person doesn’t typically just have heart disease; he likely has comorbidities, or other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure that are present at the same time. Depression often coexists with anxiety; skin rashes often accompany allergies. When someone gets sick, the doctors often first deal with the ‘presenting problem’ or the one that is currently causing the most difficulty. However, in the course of treatment, other underlying issues are often discovered.

Several years ago, I went to the doctor with a presenting problem — actually a few presenting problems — joint pain, fatigue, and inflamed patches of skin. The doctors diagnosed psoriatic arthritis, and I began treatment. In the wake of that diagnosis, other issues surfaced — iritis, scleritis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, a tendency toward overwork, a highly critical spirit, and deep, soul-wrenching, unexpressed grief.

Several weeks ago, we were all sent home because our nation had a presenting problem — a coronavirus pandemic. Now that over 1.7 million of us have been diagnosed with this illness and over 100,000 have died, some comorbidities are starting to surface — broad weaknesses in structures like education, health care, and criminal justice; a struggling economy; and, most notably right now, flaring systemic racism.

We were wearing our masks, staying at home, washing our hands, and applauding our essential workers when we started hearing about the disproportionate impact of this virus on people of color (nearly two times as many as would be expected based on population). And then another series of senseless deaths hit the headlines:

Ahmaud Arbury was shot to death while he was out for a run on February 23.

Breonna Taylor on March 13 was killed by police who shot her eight times in the middle of the night in her own home.

George Floyd died with a police officer’s foot on his neck, begging for air, on May 25.

It wasn’t enough that communities of color were losing fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters every day to Covid — now they (and we) have over and over watched video clips of two of their own (Arbury and Floyd) actually being killed.

Citizens across the country — black, white, Hispanic, male, female, gay, straight — are outraged and are taking to the streets demanding attention for this sickness — this disease — this epidemic.

It’s not new. Racism is part of the very fabric of our country — its threads are dyed with the blood of Native Americans and African slaves who paid the price for straight white males to expand their territory, build their monuments, and amass their riches. For centuries, non-whites have provided manpower in exchange for lower pay, fewer opportunities, and a gaze of suspicion. For centuries, the lives of brown and black people have been deemed expendable — by slave owners, by riot police, by the judicial system, by the educational system, by you, and by me.

We have never had this disease under control, but now that we are weakened by our presenting problem — Covid 19 — and starting to feel the added pressure from the resulting financial crisis, the underlying sickness is starting to flare. In a matter of just a week or two, its strength seems to have dwarfed that of a global pandemic — a pandemic that sent all of us racing to our homes, dragging out our sewing machines to create masks, and washing our produce and surfaces like our lives depended on it.

While just a few weeks ago, most of us were reluctant to leave our homes for fear of catching a life-threatening virus, thousands are taking to the streets to fight a bigger demon — one that questions our humanity.

If we can watch a man die on national television and not be moved to action, who have we become?

If we can stand by while a woman is shot inside her own home — a woman who had not committed a crime or posed a threat to anyone — what else will we tolerate?

If we are not sickened by two white men gunning down an unarmed human in broad daylight, what is the matter with us?

If I’ve learned anything about healing sickness, it’s this — to have any hope of recovery at all, you’ve got to be willing to look the disease straight in the face and see it for all it is, and then you have to be willing to make drastic intentional change.

To recover from what on the surface appeared to be psoriatic arthritis, I had to slowly and carefully examine each underlying issue and then I had to make significant changes to my home, my job, my diet, my exercise, my ways of dealing with emotion, and my attention to self-care. Even then change did not happen overnight. Slowly, over the course of more than seven years so far, I have experienced improved health.

For our nation to have any hope of recovering from a centuries-long battle with racism, we’re going to have to start with taking a long hard look at how deeply this disease has permeated the cells and tissues of our society — and I think we are starting to. We are scratching the surface. We are starting to see the disparities in pay, in health care, in education, in the judicial system, and, you know, I think Covid-19 paved the way for that. When the numbers started showing how hard communities of color were being hit, brave leaders started to talk about why. And now that we are seeing these blatant horrific examples of outright racial hostility, thousands are taking to the streets, demanding that the rest of us take that long hard look, that we see the pus-infected wounds, and that we make sweeping intentional changes — to tear down oppressive policies and practices, to promote reparative measures, to provide spaces in which people can air their grievances and be heard, and to create new systems that provide access for all people regardless of color, or gender, or income, or background.

Sweeping systemic change and recovery won’t happen immediately, but if we are willing to commit to working together to make space for the stories of individuals who have been harmed by broad systemic racism, to interrogate our own conscious and unconscious biases, and to insist on structural changes; if we will commit to stay the course day in and day out, having hard conversations and working through difficulty; slowly, over time, we will begin to see life return to our bodies and restoration spring up in our communities.

When all of us — all of us — are breathing freely, walking safely, and sleeping peacefully, we will enjoy a new kind of freedom, a new way of living, a rich expression of humanity.

I beg you to join me in joining those who have been doing this hard and essential work.

I’ll start by posting some resources. Will you start by checking them out?

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets

The Next Question with Austin Channing Brown

We Live Here

Code Switch

Black Lives Matter

If you have other resources you would like me to add to this list, please share them in the comments below.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

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 #8: Watching and Waiting

We’re gardening today — spreading dirt and manure on the ground, raking it back and forth, making holes and troughs with our hands, and pushing tiny little seeds into the earth in the hope that they will split open and produce new life.

We’re welcoming the chance to be outside — to do something besides Zoom calls, watching television, housekeeping, or cooking.

We’ve prepared the ground — loosened the soil, coaxed out all the weeds that had sprouted since the winter thaw, and lined our little garden plot with pinwheels that will hopefully spin in the wind and deter any critters from helping themselves to whatever pops up.

We’ve purchased seeds — carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, kale, radishes, and cantaloupe — and a few plants — tomatoes and peppers. We’ve halved a few seed potatoes, donned our gloves, and gathered our tools.

We do this each year, of course — put in a small garden — because we really love the taste of fresh tomatoes, and because I just can’t get over the wonder I feel when tiny seeds split beneath the soil and push fresh life toward the sun.

We’re on our knees in the dirt and manure — spreading the filth with our hands and dropping in tiny seeds of potential.

While we are at it — dirt beneath our fingers, and sweat glistening on our brows — we’re planting red and white petunias in the beds that face campus, small flags of welcome, in the hope that instructors, staff, and students return soon.

We’ve put chairs and a small table near the garden so that we can sit and watch — sipping tea, reading books, working crosswords — and wait for the first fingers of green to break through the earth, the first humans to walk onto campus.

We’re waiting and watching for new life, rebirth, resurrection.

And isn’t that what we are all hoping for right now? Aren’t we hoping that as new life springs from the earth we’ll find new life in our days? Aren’t we hoping that when we emerge from our homes, we’ll feel refreshed, renewed, restored?

Aren’t we hoping that the funk, the fatigue, and the frustration will fall away? that the sick will be healed, the hungry will be fed, the poor will be made rich? that we’ll gather with our people, embrace, and rejoice?

I mean — yes! That’s what we hope for!

And so we get on our knees in this rich soil of possibility. We plant seeds of hope — for recovery for the sick, for employment for the jobless, for reunions of distant loved ones, for reconciliation among those divided, for a new way, a new path, a new life.

I can’t stand next my garden and shout my seeds into growing. I can’t demand that my tomato plants produce fruit. In fact, my only role is to place the seeds in the ground, water them, and wait.

I can’t demand that this virus stop spreading, that demonstrators put down their weapons, or that leaders come together in a united approach for the good of our country. I mean, I can try, but for what? My power lies only in my willingness to go to my knees, to share what I have, to encourage the lonely, to watch, and to wait.

It can feel a little powerless unless you remember that every single year when I’ve pressed tiny seeds into the earth, new life has come forth — whether I’ve been sitting next to the garden watching or have abandoned it to go on vacation. The tiniest seeds of faith have yielded fruit.

Every. Single. Year.

More so, the prayers that I have whispered, cried, and shouted from my knees have born rich fruit — miraculous answers, incredible victories, astounding reconciliations.

Time after time after time.

So, I return to what I know. I get on my knees and plant my hopes — for my garden, for our world, for our future. Then, I watch, and I wait.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

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 #6: Touching

When the sun came out this weekend and warmed the earth, we stepped outside, donned brand new gardening gloves, pulled each weed from our garden plot, trimmed last year’s death away from our irises, washed grime off our outdoor chairs, and began to see signs of promise.

We began to look forward to the next phase where we’ll push seeds into the ground — carrots and peas and beets and radishes– and when we’ll spread fresh mulch on our flower beds. Maybe this year we’ll actually find some time to plant some annuals.

Signs of new life are all over campus. Tiny green leaves have sprouted on the wild blackberries at the edge of the woods behind our yard. Peonies and tulips have broken through the soil just as the daffodils have begun to take their final bow. The rose behind our house, pruned a few weeks ago, is thick with leaves and hinting at buds.

Do I dare to walk out to check the lilac? Could he be waking up, too?

Is it possible that we’ll soon be able to move some of our hours outside? to emerge from our four-walled isolation? To touch the earth? To smell the flowers? To feel the breeze on our skin?

Soon. The weatherman says it’ll be cool with scattered showers for the next week or two. This flash of 70s and sunny was a glimpse of what’s coming — a glimmer of hope.

So we leaned in. We played 80s jams — Doobie Brothers, America, Steely Dan — and sang along as we sat loosening the weeds from the soil. We smiled as we chatted, not rushing, just happy to have our hands in the dirt, to smell the earth, to feel the sun on our faces.

And as we were working there, on our knees in our garden, an unfamiliar Buick rolled right up next to us. An elderly man opened the passenger door and stepped out — no mask, no gloves, just a Laborers for Christ baseball cap. He told us his name and said, “Twenty-five years ago I stayed in these dorms for six weeks while we remodeled them.” My husband put down his tools, stood up, and stepped closer. He reached out his now ungloved hand, saying “Thank you so much! What a difference you made! Your work is still making a difference!” He shook the man’s gnarled hand, looked him in the eye, and smiled.

The man continued on, stringing memories together, a little confused, wondering if the dining hall was open or if he could go into a residence hall. Well no, my husband said, not with the pandemic. “Oh, right, right,…” the man said, as he got back in the car that his son was driving. They turned the car around and drove away.

I guess it was a sunny day and they just needed to get outside, to go for a drive, to remember a different time, and to make sure that the work of a long time ago still mattered.

It does. Even though the residence halls are all but empty. Even though some of them are due for another round of sprucing up. Even though he couldn’t peek inside. His work still matters.

I’m glad my husband instinctively knew what this man was looking for. After weeks shut in at home, with little outside interaction, knowing that he’ll likely not walk this earth too much longer, he wanted to see if the work of his life mattered.

My instinct when my husband reached out his hand, I have to admit, was fear. I almost said, “Stop! Wait! Don’t shake hands! We’re not shaking hands right now!” Wasn’t my husband the one who just yesterday took great pains at the park to walk off the path and to wait patiently for others to pass so that we could maintain our six feet of distance? Isn’t he the one, with me, who opens each piece of mail at the door, refusing to let the outer packaging come in the house, the one who washes each purchased item, each piece of produce, before it’s allowed to sit inside our fridge?

Did he suddenly forget all the precautions we are taking?

Maybe.

Maybe he forgot.

Or maybe his heart noticed a greater need. One that — ever so occasionally — trumps the precautions we’ve been taking for weeks.

For weeks we’ve touched no one except our spouses and possibly our children. For weeks we’ve seen no one in physical form other than those living inside our homes and the people we strategically avoid in public spaces, delicately shifting to the other side of the path, the street, the aisle to keep our distance. We’ve had all of our interactions over the phone, Zoom, and FaceTime. We’ve stayed within our private spaces in order to slow the spread of disease, flatten the curve, and protect ourselves and others.

But sometimes after you’ve seen no one in the flesh since sometime in March, an elderly gentleman steps into your garden, wondering if in his life he made an impact, and it suddenly becomes exactly the right thing to do to reach out, shake his hand, and say, “You made a difference.”

Touching can make a difference.

We won’t be making this a practice any time soon — touching friends, family, or complete strangers who step into our garden — but for this gentleman, who needed some reassurance on a day that offered the hope of Spring, touch seemed more than appropriate. It seemed like the human and loving thing to do.

This afternoon, my husband asked if I’d seen the lilac bush near our house. I told him I hadn’t, so we walked, plucked a small sprig of blossoms, and I held them to my nose and breathed in.

They smelled like Spring; they smell like hope.

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

I Thessalonians 5:11


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.

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