pandemic days

I’m having a Pandemic Day today.

I started identifying Pandemic Days shortly after… wait for it… the pandemic started.

I know it sounds obvious, but as we adjusted to a totally new way of being in the world and on the internet, I found that there were some days that I would wake up feeling really heavy. On those days the tears fell easy and often, and while I tried to restart the day a few different times, the heaviness just stayed with me. Somewhere along the way I started to notice the pattern, and when I’d wake up feeling that way I tagged them as “Pandemic Days”.

Now that the months are ticking by those days are fewer and farther in between, but that only means they surprise me more when they come along. Just when I think I’m starting to get the swing of this: that masks aren’t all that bad, that things are starting to feel normal again, that we’re all going to be fine…it hits me. I find myself wanting to crawl back into bed as soon as I’m out of it. On Pandemic Days I want to be like this guy:

(if you haven’t checked out the Amazon reviews for the Ostrich Pillow I recommend it)

Please give me something to help escape these days.

I’ve come to realize that what’s really going on during Pandemic Days is that I’m grieving. Still. I’d like to pretend that we did all the grieving when this thing started and it should be over now, but as this drags on there are new things to grieve and the old grief hasn’t been resolved. Sure, we’re adjusting. But there’s no forgetting all the things we are missing.

I’m not sure what caused my pandemic day today, but I think it has something to do with my son starting kindergarten. He’s going in person, and he loves it. Seriously, no complaints. But during recess his class goes outside and they play on the basketball court. A fabulous playground stretches out in front of them, but they can’t play on it. It’s too hard to sanitize. So instead they are relegated to the basketball court, where my son tells me they play Red Light, Green Light. He is delighted to have a classmate who can run as fast as he can. And I am devastated that he can’t play freely because of a virus.

I could try to talk myself out of this grief. I could ask Sam 100 times if he’s really happy at school, though I can tell you from experience he stops answering after the third ask. I could tell myself about all the other things that could be happening to me that could be SO much worse. I can remember that I have my health, my family, my job.

But the thing is that you can’t lecture yourself out of grief. And as I’ve mentioned before, the experts tell us that comparative suffering doesn’t build empathy. So there is no point in dismissing your own grief because it’s ‘not as bad’ as someone else’s. Feeling our grief helps us identify with other people in their grief.

So instead of trying to shake it off, I try to name it as soon as I realize it (usually right about after my first cup of coffee fails to improve my mood.) My family and friends know the deal, and we’ve all been able to name it when we find ourselves in a Pandemic Day. Having a shared language for these days helps us to go easy on one another, and reminds me to go easy on myself.

I hope your Pandemic Days are few and far between. And I hope that when you have them, you can allow them, hard as they may be. We are all going through a hard thing right now, and I don’t think we have to muscle through and be tough. I think we can feel the sadness and try to trust that tomorrow we’ll wake up to a new day: full of empathy and understanding for others.

And in the meantime: Ostrich Pillow.

Another pandemic survival tool: Schitt’s Creek.

Words of Affirmation

In 1992 Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. In it, he offers the premise that each of us have five different ways of expressing love, and the key to a successful relationship is understanding the love language your parter speaks, and making sure to speak to them with that language. (I have some issues with the book, but we can leave that for another time. I get where he’s coming from.)

The five languages he outlines are as follows:

  • Physical Touch
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Gifts
  • Words of Affirmation

This book is meant to be about romantic love, but he’s written follow up books about how to understand these languages in all our relationships. I find it helpful with all the love.

This past Sunday I was at another outdoor church service at ECC with a congregation who was gathering to use our space for worship. I watched as they saw one another for the first time in six months. I’ve gotten used to the routine by now – and I’ve experienced it myself. The awkward approach. The attempt to see beyond the mask at the person you miss behind it. The slumped shoulders as both parities bemoan not being able to hug. It is so good to see each other, and it is so hard to not be able to express our love for one another in all the ways we used to.

As I was actively refraining from hugging an old friend myself, I commented that one of the things that makes this pandemic so dang hard is that we have been robbed of a couple of our regular love languages.

I meant it as a joke, but it got me thinking. One thing this pandemic cannot take away from us is our love for one another (not saying that love hasn’t been tested at moments, but you know what I mean). But it has been difficult to lose some of the ways we express that love for one another. Physical touch has been – in large part – taken off the table, at least in the short term. And quality time (my personal love language) is threatened. We are encouraged to stay outside, keep it short, and move along.

I’ve been busy lamenting these losses but on Sunday I realized that it was better to acknowledge them so we can balance the scales. We can’t hug, and that’s lousy. So it might be time to ramp up the words of affirmation. Or the acts of service. Or the gifts.

Earlier in this pandemic – after I had talked about one how one of my favorite prayers is “what’s next” I received a handmade bracelet in the mail from one of my campers and her mom.

It was such an incredible expression of love, and it brought a smile to my lips at a time I was struggling for the smiles.

On another night while Jonathan and I were putting the kids to bed my mom cooked us a wonderful steak dinner. We sat around a table with a meal I had not had to prepare. That was an act of service that filled my cup right up.

And, in the absence of hugs, I find the words “I love you” leaving my mouth more than they used to. As I looked around at the people at camp Sunday I realized that this love language in particular is one I can ramp up while we keep our social distance.

Words of affirmation is my hardest language. I can write them, but speaking my feelings out loud does not come easy to me. I get in my head a little and the words sputter on their way out.

We haven’t lost words though, my friends. In fact, we have so many words that sometimes I think we might be causing harm the way we are using them against one another. But we can use our words for love, and in so doing can help lessen the load that the people around us are carrying.

Use the words for good. Even if you – like me – think they sound corny.

I love you.

I’m inspired by you.

I’m proud of you.

I’m so happy that you are in my life.

I see how hard you are working.

I value you.

Start with your friends and family until you’re feeling more comfortable, and then be brave. Use words of affirmation with your co-workers, your teachers, the people working at the grocery store, the delivery guy. They might look at you weird, but I bet those words will matter.

This pandemic continues to be hard. In fact, I think it might be getting harder. I’m not “getting used to” this way of life, and the waves of grief continue to roll in.

We need one another. We need to lift one another up. We need to share and receive love in every possible way we can.

I can’t wait to give all my people a big old awkwardly-long hard hug when we are able, but in the meantime get ready for me to tell you about how much I love you. That will be awkward too, but I don’t care.

Love is the energy.

Mountain of a Living God

Each Sunday our Beloved musicians, Elizabeth Silvia and Emily Harrison, drive up to the empty church to record our church music. This past weekend, after they recorded, I got a text from Emily. They had lost the video for one song and only had the audio.

I told Emily it was no problem, and I could put a stock photo of the church or the barn or something for that last song. But then I started thinking it would be more engaging if we had other video to put music too.

I didn’t have a lot of videos on my computer, but quickly found some footage from one of my favorite afternoons of camp life ever. Conveniently, the footage was from the same week of camp that would have started this week: Bridge Camp.

At Bridge Camp, campers with special needs are paired with high school students and they enjoy and incredible week of camp together. It is a truly magical week of camp. You can read some of my other Bridge Camp stories here and here.

Last year, on the last day of camp, while I was shuttling some of our Bridge Campers back from the waterfront, Jimmy caught my ear about how we had to have a dance competition. He had lots of ideas. He had chosen the judges already, and the prizes (coloring books). There was a structure in place for the dancing and judging. I laughed and agreed a dance competition would be a good idea.

Jimmy approached me at lunch a couple of hours later and it became very clear to me that he believed that the dance competition was a sure deal. After he walked away from the table I looked at the other staff I was sitting with. “Well,” I told them, “looks like we need to schedule a dance competition.”

The Bishop was on his way up to visit so I called him to be sure he could be a celebrity judge. We rearranged the afternoon schedule to accommodate for the competition. We signed up campers who wanted to take part. We set up the pavilion for the event. And when the time came, we gathered everyone together.

What followed was one of the most incredible hours of camp life I’ve experienced to date. The dancing was carefree and beautiful. Laughter and tears flowed from the group gathered to watch. The cheering was enthusiastic and steady. At the end, we gave crayons to everyone who had participated – I could see Jimmy becoming agitated (that was not the plan). Then we announced that we had a special prize for the event organizer, and we presented Jimmy with three new coloring books. The Bishop presented him with his prize, and he grabbed the microphone to make a speech. He offered a long list of people and circumstances that he would like the Bishop to pray for and thanked the crowd. When he finished, as you can see in the video below, he handed the mic back to the Bishop and turned to high-five the judges.

The footage we took on video wasn’t perfect – our angles were weird and those of us with cameras were so busy taking in the moment we didn’t get all the right shots. But you can catch a glimpse of the joy.

I started pulling the clips and dragging them into the video of the music Emily and Elizabeth had sent me.

We have come to the mountain of the Living God…

It was perfect. Because that dance competition was, undoubtedly, a moment of encounter with the Living God. A mountaintop experience.

I admit that watching the video also brought sadness. Not only because of the obvious reason, that Bridge Camp is not starting this week, but more because it highlighted what I think has been missing throughout this pandemic. We humans have found ways of celebrating, laughing, and finding joy in the last few months. We are resilient, after all. But even in the most beautiful moments we’ve had recently there is a cloud that hovers in the distance. We can’t un-know everything that’s happening in the world around us, and it lurks there, even when we are are trying to put all our focus on joy and love.

While painful to realize that, it was helpful. I keep wondering if this whole thing is as bad as it seems. Like maybe I’m just being overdramatic. But watching our freedom in this video exposed the truth – that these are unprecedented times, and that our communal experience of grief has been, and will continue for a time, to lurk in the corners. As grief is prone to do.

This video also served as a promise. We will not be in this place forever. Joy will come again, and sometime in the future – who knows when – we’ll throw our arms up to dance with reckless abandon and suddenly realize, “Oh look – we’re back.”

the new normal

I got a message from a friend the other day. She was spun up, and asking “Why do people keep saying this is our new normal?? What does that even mean? I don’t want this to be the new normal. Does this mean it will be normal to not hug people?”

I understood why she felt so panicky. I’ve felt that too, and I’ve heard the words “new normal” thrown around quite a bit over the last couple of months.

It reminded me of the first time I heard or at least paid attention to the words. Years ago, a perfectly normal day suddenly changed when I got a call from my best friend. She was calling me from the pediatrician’s office, and something was wrong with her daughter Emma’s bloodwork. I went to the doctor’s office to meet her, and by the time the day had ended her daughter was in the hospital with a leukemia diagnosis. It was sharp and sudden and totally life-changing.

A week or so later I was staying with her infant son at a hotel down the street from the hospital so my friend could be as close as possible to both children. One night as we were in the hotel room having dinner together, she pulled up an email she had received from her mom. Her mom, a cancer survivor herself, tried offer reassurance by saying, “you will settle into your new normal.”

My friend and I both balked. We were still shaken and scared about everything that had happened in such a short time. Things felt totally out of control. We didn’t know if her daughter would live or die. We didn’t want any part of what was happening to be “normal”. We wanted to be delivered from the hell we were suddenly finding ourselves in.

Normal? No thank you.

Weeks went by, and Emma stabilized. She came home from the hospital with a new routine of chemo, visiting nurses, hand washing, and very limited exposure to other people. Just about three years or so after her diagnosis, Emma got a clean bill of health, and has been healthy ever since.

In the end, my friend’s mother was right. Their family did have a new normal, and while that “normal” came with quite a bit of stress and some new ways of living their daily lives, they found their rhythm. Some days were harder than others. Many days had tremendous joy. Some days were just boring. So, you know – it was life.

Since then, life as they know it has resumed to mostly the way it was before cancer. (Or it had, until the pandemic) But some things never went back to how they had been. I can assure you my friend and her children knew how to wash their hands long before the videos started circulating on our Facebook feeds in late February. And they are vigilant about certain things – eating healthy foods, regular wellness checks, and monitoring fevers, for example. And mostly they never, never take having healthy children for granted. They have a profound appreciation for health, and life, and family.

When we talk about this “new normal” in life after corona-virus, I find myself thinking about my friend and her family. I think, understandably, hearing the suggestion that this is our “new normal” when many of us are still under stay at home orders is just coming too soon. We can’t consider this “normal”, nor should we. We are still living in the emergency stage of this virus.

I am hopeful that as we know more about the virus, and as we learn how to co-exist safely together, that we will find our new normal. I think it will look different than what we had, and I think the new normal is likely to last longer than we’d like. I think “normal” will come with stress, and new was of living. I think we’ll have some days that are harder than others, days that bring great joy, and days that are boring.

And then at some point (God willing) things will start to look a little more like they did before. But maybe (hopefully) with some permanent change as well. Like, we’ll all be really good about washing our hands. And we won’t take health for granted. And we’ll appreciate our friends, and family, and life a little more than we did before.

In the meantime, if someone suggests there’s a new normal, and that sends you into a panic? Go ahead and dismiss it. It just means you aren’t there yet. At some point in the future you’ll wake up and say “you know what? This is starting to feel normal.” Doesn’t mean that the new normal isn’t sad, it just means we’ve adapted to living in it. We’ll get there. I’m sure of it.

Emma and her mom and brother sharing a moment of joy in their new normal.

Super Helper Team

I won’t lie to you, today has not been my favorite day of this pandemic. I’m not sure I could even pinpoint why, I just know I woke up grumpy and I stayed grumpy. I even tried to re-start the day a couple of times. I tried doing one of my coloring sheets to reset, and then one of my kids accidentally colored on my sheet. Then I tried to go for a run (an indication that things are really dire) but I got a block into it and the hurricane force winds had me turning around as fast as I started. Then I tried to take a nap, but I’m not actually capable of naps.

Honestly the day has reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books that, to my delight, has morphed into a fabulous pandemic meme:

Memes, I tell you. They are keeping me going through all this.

The other thing keeping me going (and simultaneously causing me to lose my mind) are my small children. Emily is 3 and Sam is 5 and they have all the needs. Part of my issue with today was that it started with Sam bursting into my room full of volume and enthusiasm at 5:30am, Lord help me. And when that child is awake there’s no turning back. THIS IS THE DAY THAT THE LORD HAS MADE AND I SHALL DEMAND 3-5 BREAKFASTS.

I’m tired, for sure. But if I’m being honest the kids have also been a burst of positivity on the days that feel overwhelming. Just as their energy never subsides, neither does their enthusiasm. They are excited to see me every single day, even on my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ones.

Yesterday, in one of two good parenting moments I’ve had since this thing started, Sam and I decided to start a project together. He had made some puppets out of paper bags, and wanted to have them star in a short film. I’m always up for movie-making, so agreed to be the director of his film. Though I learned quite quickly that I was only permitted to be the technical support, because somebody had big plans of his own and wanted no part of my creative input, thank you very much.

I asked if he had a screenplay and he told me he’d be making it up as he went along. We set up the blue blanket that we have discovered doubles as a green screen and he got to it, demanding re-takes when necessary.

Now some of you have been part of my creative projects before, and you know that Sam doesn’t get his bossy pants from nowhere. When it comes to creative ventures I have a clear vision and no issue shutting down well-meaning ideas that don’t align with the vision. Sam has fully inherited this trait from me, and as soon as the filming wrapped he came with me upstairs to dictate what scenes would play behind the puppets.

“Mommy, I want a door closing and locking and it has to be raining outside.”

We had to compromise.

Mommy, I want it to say ‘and it’s called Super Helper Team.'”

I insisted that didn’t make much sense, and he did not care.

“Mommy, I want it to be like I’m in the theater in the movie talking to everyone. Like there’s people in the theater.”

Insert eye roll here, but he got lucky with that one.

When it was over, we had a blissfully short feature film that Sam was terribly proud of. He immediately demanded that I send it to all his friends. So it wasn’t a huge surprise to me that when I asked him if I could share it with “a bunch of people” he eagerly agreed.

So here’s the debut of “Super Helper Team”, written, directed by, and starring Sam Brower. In case you get confused, “hop-hops” are what Emily called bunnies when she was little.

I hope if your day has been anything like mine this will bring a smile to your face. And if the movie doesn’t make you smile, I hope the image of Sam putting me to work with his endless list of demands does…

everything is holy now

I just took my kids on a walk through the neighborhood so that we could sprinkle the streets with rainbows. The idea came to me in a moment of desperation this morning when even they didn’t want to watch anymore tv. (Yikes)

I went upstairs to root for the new sidewalk chalk that the Easter Bunny was going to deliver later this week and we jumped into the wagon to circle the neighborhood.

Right about when I started to feel tired from dragging the wagon around I found my attention turning to Holy Week, which we entered yesterday with our Palm Sunday worship. I’ve thought a lot about Holy Week the last few weeks – wondering how we will honor these days, wondering how we can connect online with any bit of the same impact our connection in person offers us, wondering how the celebration of Easter this Sunday can possibly bring a feeling of joy and new life as the peak of illness and death from COVID 19 has yet to even come.

As I turned these questions in my mind for what felt like the hundredth time while we walked, I decided to make the question simpler. Instead of asking myself “what should Holy Week look like?”, I asked myself “What is holy?’

As soon as I shifted my perspective I heard the words of a Peter Mayer song that I have loved for years pipe into my mind. The words from his simple refrain answered my question as quickly as I asked it:

Everything, everything, everything is holy now.

I looked back down at my kids while they giggled together in the wagon, totally unaware of why the world needed rainbows. I thought of the neighbors we had encountered with more care and compassion then we typically display with one another. I thought of the joy I felt when a new puppy trotted with its owner across the street from us. And things started to click for me.

Here’s the thing about this time we’re living in: It is scary, and confusing, and uncertain. Words I keep using over and over again – I’m so tired of using these words.

But this time is also holy. This is a vigil. We are, all of us, holding vigil together. We know that some of us are sick. We know that some of us are dying. We know that many of us are heading to work to serve others when all work right now comes with so much risk. And whether we are out working or staying at home, we are waiting, watching, holding vigil.

This Holy Week will be different from any we’ve experienced before, there is no doubt of that. But while we can’t gather together in our churches the way we have for centuries to hold vigil for Jesus, we can honor that this collective experience we are sharing right now is just as much a way to honor God and to honor God in one another as we have ever experienced. There will be no Easter Vigil at Church of the Beloved this year, but we will vigil. We will wait for death. We will care for one another the best we can in our waiting and in our grief. And we will believe that God will make all things new in ways beyond our imagination. And it will be holy.

Everything, everything, everything is holy now.

Sermon, March 29

A friend of mine texted me yesterday and posed the question, “what’s it like to minister to people in all this?”

While I’ve certainly spent time thinking about the fact that I’m ministering in “all this” I hadn’t really thought about the answer to the question.  But the words jumped to my fingertips as quickly as they flashed into my brain:

“It’s like playing pin the tail on the donkey,” I said. “I’m trying so hard to get it right, but I don’t know where the target is, I can’t see, and I’m dizzy.”

This might not be a metaphor for the ages, but it does pretty much sum up how it feels to be ministering right now. I’ve never done this before. We’ve never done this before. Not that I read books or anything, but even if I did I wouldn’t be able to find one about pastoral care during a pandemic in modern America. There is no book. Everyone is just making it up as we go, and doing the best we can. Myself included. 

I had hoped that God would infuse me with profound thoughts and wise words during this kind of thing, so that I could preach sermons that would impact the masses (and by masses I mean the 20 or so people that regularly attend Church of the Beloved).  

And yet, God has not given me wisdom. God has not inspired the most beautiful poetry I have ever written. The Spirit has not breathed on me words that will propel us through this difficult time with poignant serenity. 

No, God has given me parodies. 

Now for clarification, I tend to credit God with most of my creative efforts. There is a freshness to a spark of creativity that for me, feels divine. My creative self feels like my best self, my God-given self, and so practicing that creativity is part of practicing my spirituality. 

All that said I’m not sure if God really wants any credit for my recent creativity. 

Spoiler alert, tomorrow’s parody is going to be a love song to my weighted blanket. So…

But pray as I might for inspiration on my sermons, that’s not what’s coming. Neil Diamond hits are coming. 80s hits in general. But I mean, try to tell me 80s music doesn’t bring you closer to God because I. WILL. FIGHT. YOU. 

The parodies have been fun, and I do think there is wisdom to making space for fun and joy in the midst of stress and anxiety. I believe God yearns for that for us. But parodies don’t solve the fact that here I am, on the third week of this pandemic, preaching to you about… I’m not sure what. When I dig deep into my soul for a sermon I find a valley of dry bones. And not a prophesy to be found. It’s just dry. Real dry. 

So that has been a struggle for me. In the midst of everything else being a little bit of a struggle. Preaching is kind of the thing that I’ve always been a little lucky with. The words come. But maybe it’s because I’m working so hard to also figure out facebook live or Instagram live or how to get in the same screen with my musicians – maybe there’s just not enough room or something. 

I don’t know. 

When I read these readings for this week – the valley of dry bones and Lazarus rising from the dead – my first, second, third and fourth thoughts were “we don’t need a sermon on these readings. These readings speak for themselves right now.”  What can I possibly add to these words that have already been spoken here tonight? Surely everyone feels the dryness and despair of death right now. Surely everyone longs to have new life, new skin, new health breathed onto all of us. Surely I am not the only person desperate for God right now, wondering if Jesus weeps with us in this uncertainty and worry. 

So yeah, no sermon needed. You can read. 

But typically, when I read a passage of scripture and there’s no sermon there, it’s because I’m not engaged with the right parts for me. So I suppose as an act of desperation (because cancelling church really felt like an easy way out) I kept coming back to the readings. I kept reading and praying and reading and praying until finally I realized what the issue was. 

And now listen – this is the part where I’m just reaching around blind trying to find where the tail of the donkey is meant to land. I don’t know if my searching for meaning in these passages reflects what you need to find or connect with in these passages. But since I can’t see – since I’m a little dizzy myself – all I can do is take my best guess, and tell you what it’s like from behind my blindfold. 

What I realized, when I came back to the readings again, is that even though my well of inspiration for preaching might feel like a valley of dry bones right now,  do not feel like a valley of dry bones right now. And I don’t feel like Lazarus, dead in the grave, waiting to be brought back to life. I don’t have anything to say about that new life being breathed into the bones, into Lazarus, because I don’t feel that way right now. We are surrounded by death and the threat of death, but I do not feel death myself. 

In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I feel alive. Perhaps the most alive I have ever felt. NOTHING that I’m doing in my life is unconscious right now. I am aware of every feeling: every surge of anxiety, every tear of despair, every swell of joy, every wave of panic. I am aware of the people and the communities and the practices that matter most to me in my life, and I’m aware of the things that fill my time that simply don’t matter – the things that have become important by default. I am aware of how precious my loved ones are, and how much all those strangers that felt so different and apart from me before a month ago because we held different political or world beliefs suddenly matter to me. I’m aware of how much I have taken things for granted – the availability of food at the grocery store, the waiter in a restaurant, the experience of sitting next to someone at a pew and hugging them at the peace. And this whole range of human experience and emotion existed before three weeks ago, but I simply wasn’t always conscious. 

So the last thing I need right now is more life. More flesh. More breath. 

These readings weren’t doing anything for me because in my own confusion and disorientation I decided that I should most connect with those that were dead in these readings. 

But I am not dead. I am so very alive. 

I am not Lazarus in this story, I am Martha. I am Mary. I am experiencing a life event that is so outside of my typical experience that – like grief – it brings everything around me into sharp focus. I am confused and uncertain and there has been loss – not quite the same as the loss of a loved one, but a more nebulous loss that I can’t yet define or explain. And in my hazy grief I realize what I didn’t appreciate before, and what really matters now. But the clarity of purpose doesn’t cancel out the darkness and despair. 

I am Mary, and Martha, meeting Jesus on the road and saying 

“Where have you been? What exactly are you doing here? If you were here, this couldn’t have happened.” 

That these two women would meet Jesus, and be so very bold. It is stunning. And though Jesus could have rebuked them instead he meets them with tenderness, greatly moved, and disturbed in spirit. And he asks, do you believe? 

And even in their doubt, even in their grief, even in their accusation, even in their confusion and unknowing, they believe. 

They don’t know how Jesus will undo what has been done. They don’t know he could transform their grief into joy. They don’t know how he could make right what had gone so horribly wrong. But somehow, when pressed, they admit that they believe. I believe you are the Messiah. 

Maybe it’s because I have the benefit of these stories my whole life, but more likely because I have seen God transform even my darkest moments into light, I believe too. I believe that in a way I cannot anticipate or understand that God is working here, and that resurrection – a resurrection beyond one that we could possibly have experienced before – is coming. 

If we are very, very lucky, we will come out of this with a strong grip on our alive-ness, and those things which we have realized with such clarity will continue to hold meaning in our lives. And maybe resurrection for us will look like an end to apathy and complacency. Maybe resurrection will look like a collective restructuring of how we spend our time – our most precious resource. Maybe resurrection will look like a wave of compassion towards the people around us, even those that are different, because we realize they matter. The possibilities for resurrection are endless. 

While I look forward to the resurrection ahead, we are still in Lent now. We are still in the waiting. Still in the wilderness. And there’s no telling what the timeline will look like for wilderness vs. resurrection in this particular season. I am not sure if the wilderness will be confined to 40 days or if the fullness of the resurrection will be realized when our church calendar changes to the Easter season. But regardless of how this timeline works out, we need both of these experiences – the wilderness and the resurrection – to be in relationship with one another regardless of the calendar date and the season of the church year. The people we become in the wilderness will determine how we live out the resurrection. Our aliveness and awareness matters  – now, and in what is to come. 

And in the meantime, if all you can muster is to meet Jesus on the road and accost him – ask him where he’s been or what the hell he’s been doing, or tell him that if he was really here all this wouldn’t have happened. Well? Jesus can handle it. Jesus will meet you where you are with tenderness and understanding. God transforms this world whether or not we can understand what’s happening in it. Abundant grace rains down on us regardless of if we are cranky and confused or grateful and accepting.  Resurrection happens even in our darkest moments of doubt and despair. 

And that is something we can believe in. 

Amen.

tenderhearted

In 2018 our summer theme at ECC was 1 Peter 3:8: Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

When I met with the rising counselors and young adult staff in January to choose the theme, this verse jumped out to all of us primarily because of two words:

Tender Heart

At the time, we were feeling weary by the divisions in our country, and wanted to spend the summer exploring ways that we could soften towards the people around us, especially those who were different than us. We wanted to be tenderhearted.

Over the last few days I find myself reflecting on that theme with some regularity. This experience we are all living together is scary and confusing and wild and challenging and creative and unexpected. And through all of the unknowns and anxiety I have begun to experience something else as a theme through it all: tenderness.

Last night I walked into a cold barn with Faith, Joyce, and Lance for our third livestream service of Compline since this whole thing started in earnest. The four of us have said Compline in the barn together hundreds of times before, but always surrounded by at least another couple dozen people. These gatherings have been different – all of us spread out, a phone perched on a tripod, and the cold quiet filling the space around us. It looks a little like this:

Leading the service is surprisingly emotional. Words that we have said over and over again somehow take on new meaning.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping.

Last night, as Joyce read the words to her favorite Compline psalm, 91, I felt chills through my body as she read the words

“There shall no evil happen to you,”

and we responded,

“neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

We are only four of us standing there, but somehow in the starkness of the empty barn we can feel all of you with us. And it is very, very tender.

The same is true for me at home, where I set up a home office after finally coming to terms with the fact that I would be working from here for some time. The first thing I set up was my prayer bowl, and a space where I could begin each day shuffling through the prayers that people have shared with me, and offering some of my own.

(The prayer shawl was made for me by members of the camp community in 2004 when I was working at camp the summer my father died and before I left for seminary.)

Yesterday I sat and prayed and wept, and even though I was all by myself, I felt everyone there with me. And it was tender.

What’s so interesting to me about all of this is that we aren’t doing anything we couldn’t have done before. We could have done a livestream Compline before this – we had the technology. We had the barn. We had the people. And I could have set aside a space for prayer in my home. We could have shared Church of the Beloved services on the internet – and allowed other people the access to the beautiful music and worship we share together there each week.

We could have done all of these things. We just didn’t.

There is something about sharing this experience together that brings into sharp focus how much we matter to one another – how much we rely on one another. We are sharing anxiety and grief and confusion, and suddenly it opens doors for creative new ways of connecting and consequently, for a tenderness that perhaps we don’t always experience together. Even though this time is scary, it is also beautiful.

It’s worth noting that sharing anxiety and grief and confusion with the larger world can also cause us to be a little more brittle. (For example, in the middle of writing this post I got into an argument with a family member that caused to me to feel decidedly not tenderhearted. Life is complicated.) I think that makes these shared experiences of prayer and connection even more important. With any luck the tenderness we share doing Compline together online help us to be tenderhearted to the people we are with in the grocery store line (and to our family members). With any luck tenderness can become grace, and we can see the people around us scared children of God, all of whom deserve connection and prayer.

I will be curious to see how we go back to “normal” whenever normal comes. I’d love to believe that this experience is shaping who we are as people of God. I’d love to believe this is fundamentally changing who I am as a priest, and helping me to re-prioritize the most important parts of my job: not email, but prayer. Not administration, but worship. Not excel sheets, but connection.

It’s impossible to know what will happen even though I have some guesses (some changes, other things resorting to the way they were before). But regardless of what comes in the future, I will be grateful today for the very tender connection I feel to all of you right now. We might not be together in person, but we are together in spirit, and I love being with you in this way.

Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Bonus picture with Faith!

joy and sorrow

Well, the livestream of Zumba I offered from ECC certainly seemed to be a hit for people.

Some other time I’ll cover how totally mortified I am to think of all those people seeing me dance like a moron all by myself, or we can unpack why I felt the need to double wave. Lord have mercy.

But late last night, as I watched our engagements and number of views climb I started wondering why there was so much of a response to this post. I figure it must be one of two reasons:

  1. You all are very kind, and you sympathy-liked or commented on this post to try to lessen the sheer mortification you were feeling on my behalf. Or,
  2. People are really craving some joy right now.

I think it’s mostly the second option (thanks to those of you for whom it was the first – I see you, and I appreciate you.) I felt the joy while I was doing it. I had to face the screen towards me so I could make sure I wasn’t dancing out of view, so I saw the comments and likes coming in as I danced. I felt like we were together. The sun was out, the music was blaring, and even though it made my whole body hurt the jumping and dancing and smiling really worked. I wasn’t faking that up there – I was joyful.

I went to bed feeling a slight vulnerability hangover but mostly really glad that so many of us had shared something fun together. Some of you sent me videos of you dancing in your living rooms (it’s not too late to still do that!), many of you sent words of thanks. I felt connected. I felt grateful. I felt good.

This morning I woke up and laid in bed while I listened to the rain outside wondering what today would bring. I find planning pointless these days, because nothing happens as I think it might. I came downstairs and poured myself my coffee and picked up Facebook (because I don’t heed my own advice) and almost immediately saw this comment in my Facebook feed:

And in a moment, I was crying in my kitchen.

I’ve been doing a lot of self talk lately. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still being paid. I have people in my house so I’m not totally alone. At least for now I can still stand in the barn at ECC and read the words of Compline. The internet exists. I have toilet paper. I should just be grateful. This could be so much worse.

And all that is true. But what the wise mama on my Facebook feed said is also true. There is grief in this for every single one of us. We have all experienced so much change so quickly. We have experienced loss and at the time of this writing we have no idea how much more loss we will sustain before this is over. Grief is wholly appropriate. It felt good to cry.

Which got me thinking. Yesterday I saw our collective deep craving for joy, and today tapped into a well of grief I didn’t know I had. And I bet I’m not the only one carrying that around. So if the need to experience these two emotions is so strong – what’s happening in us as we move through these days?

My best guess is that we are walking around trapped in between. It’s incredibly hard to access joy when we are so anxious, and it feels almost taboo to do so when we know so many people are struggling. And I think we are terrified to tap into the grief for fear of being overwhelmed.

So what happens instead is we are hovering in this middle place – this purgatory. We don’t allow joy or grief and so instead all that’s left is….anxiety.

But friends, we need to be brave here. Brave enough to feel. We needed to dance together yesterday, and we might need to cry with one another today, and we need to allow for that full range of emotion. Each of these moments – the good and the bad – they pass. I think we will do well for ourselves if we let ourselves sink in to both. Allow yourself a good belly laugh and the high of endorphins, and allow yourself to sink into a pile of tears. I don’t think these feelings will overwhelm you – I think they will set you free.

I want to leave you with some of my favorite words on this idea, from the writer Kahlil Gibran.

Please go easy on yourselves, friends. This is hard, and we can do hard things. Even when the hardest part is just living into all the feelings that come up along the ride.

The inevitable and the optional

My mother has offered me countless nuggets of wisdom over my lifetime, but one of the ones I remember well and yet have always struggled with is a Buddhist saying:

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. 

The first several times she offered this to me I couldn’t grab hold of it. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, and I couldn’t figure out how to parse out the difference between the two. 

Then one day, after I had experienced a devastating break up and my first real heartbreak I was sitting in my room wallowing in my tears, which had become a regular practice. I glanced down beside me and saw the novel that I was reading, lying in wait for me to dive back into the story. I looked at the book, considered it for a moment, then shook my head. “No,” I said to myself, “I just feel like all I can do is sit here in my misery. I don’t have the capacity to read.” 

And then, suddenly, the lightbulb went off in my brain:  Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

There was no avoiding the pain I was experiencing from the loss of a relationship. That pain would be with me until it went away (which took about a year, for what it’s worth). But I did NOT have to choose to sit with misery as my companion. I could pick up my book. I could lose myself in a story. I could allow myself some reprieve. 

As we all sit in wait of what the next thing the CDC or government is going to recommend in the midst of the spread of COVID-19, I have found myself reflecting on that nugget of wisdom quite a bit. That exact line doesn’t work, but some variation of it does:

Gathering information is necessary, panic is optional. 

Planning is necessary, obsession is optional. 

Staying home if you’re sick is necessary, buying toilet paper is optional. 

Kidding on that last one, of course. Couldn’t resist. 

But here’s the thing: I’ve been trying to send out a couple of emails for 48 hours now and I can’t get it done.  I can’t get to it because I’m either fielding phone calls from people who are spinning with the magnitude of this thing or I’m pacing my kitchen trying to figure out if I have enough food in the freezer for…what? I’m not even sure. The not-knowing what exactly is about to happen is causing its own anxiety. 

This is unchartered territory for us, and there’s a lot of unkowns still. But there are also some ways we can mitigate the anxiety, and walk through this as informed, careful, sane humans. I believe in us. We can do this. 

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about how to navigate this time – how to choose NOT to obsess or panic:

  1. Easy on that social media, Sparky.  Listen, as we’re being asked to practice “social distancing” this is perhaps the most grateful I’ve ever been for technology, because we still need to be connected. But your Facebook newsfeed is dangerous territory right now. This is a great time to create some groups and post encouraging words to one another, offer support, and share cat videos. If you are accessing Facebook on a computer browser, consider getting a news feed eradicator extension, which allows you to go on Facebook and visit the groups without seeing the newsfeed. 
  2. Watch Love is Blind, not CNN.  If there’s ever been a time to give thanks for crappy reality shows, it is now. You can read articles and listen to podcasts (as long as you are checking your sources) to get the information that you need, but the news media is trying to fill a 24-hour news cycle and they will sensationalize. Wouldn’t you rather see Amber get engaged?
  • Laugh. We don’t need to be making light of something that is very serious, but a little levity will go a long way for us right now. And the internet is full of amazing memes and gifs to keep us going.  Endorphins, people. We need them.
  • Exercise. Doesn’t need to be fancy. Push-ups in your living room will do. (See what I did there? I made you laugh! WE ALL KNOW I DON’T DO PUSH-UPS)
  • Read a book, play a board game, listen to a podcast. All of these things will help you unplug for a while and you can, at least temporarily, forget about coronavirus. Your brain needs a break! There are countless podcasts that will inspire you and help you connect with God, like this one
  • Check in on someone else.  Like I said earlier, we need to be connected right now. Take a Lysol wipe to your iphone and start using it! Call people you often call, and call people you don’t usually call. See how they are doing. Crack a few jokes. See if they need anything. If you are young and healthy and good about not touching your face, deliver a few groceries to someone that can’t leave the house. If you are in a position where your income will not suffer from not being at work, buy an amazon gift card or some groceries for someone who isn’t as fortunate. Doing something for others will help you feel like you do have control at a time when it’s feeling like control is being taken away from you. Take it from Olaf:
  • Go easy with self-medicating. Wine and brownies are starting to look reallllll good right now, but ultimately will not help you have your best brain. Moderation is important, and so are vegetables.
  • Pray. Crazy, I know, but I’m convinced that this will help too. For me, it’s especially helpful to do something with my hands. Folding origami stars, for instance. Write the name of someone you are praying for on the paper and get to work. Write letters or cards to people letting them know you are thinking of them. Read scripture.
  • Listen to music – all the music. It will soothe your soul. Start with this one, which I have a particular affection for.
  • Breathe. We’ll get through this. We are taking extraordinary measures to prevent things from getting worse. It feels extreme, but we are being as careful as we can be. We are helping keep people safe and healthy.

Friends, this is hard, but we’re in this together. Please love yourselves and others – love is the very best antidote to fear. And when you find yourself faced with a moment where you can choose something other than panic – do it! You’ll be glad you did.

Quick note: Some of us have very real anxiety issues, and I am not trying to suggest that you can choose your way out of that. Call your doctor and have your prescriptions refilled. Call your therapist, because insurance companies are approving phone meetings right now. Take care of yourself. (THEN watch Love is Blind.)