Everything is Different This Time

In recent years I’ve found solace in the Church calendar. The rhythms of Lent, Ordinary Time, and Advent orient my soul to a cycle of renewal each year. It keeps my focus on the bigger picture, the collective experience rather than a self-centered view of the world. 

I thought I understood Advent until this year occurred. I grasped it in theory prior to 2020, but this year the idea of waiting took on a whole new meaning. I yearn for things to be restored, for new to arrive. I feel like we went from Lent straight into Advent. I’ve spent the better part of eight months in a state of waiting, a state of uncertainty, a state of wondering when things will change. 

Yes, I’ve found bright and encouraging moments over these months of distancing…but it doesn’t negate all of the hard, often painful things we’re enduring. 

I can count on one hand the number of hugs I’ve had in eight months. 

My sister is growing a human inside her…and my experience of this process is relegated to images on a screen. I’ll never get to put my hand on her belly and feel my nephew kick. 

I watch from a distance as my loved one battles a debilitating disease…and I can’t sit at her bedside to hold her hand. I can’t be with her in the moments when she needs someone to encourage her to fight. 

I can’t spend extended time with Mom. I have to consult weather reports and figure out distancing logistics just for us to spend a few minutes together. 

None of this is fair. We didn’t ask for this. But we take steps now because we are anticipating a change in the future. We have faith that a vaccine, an antidote, is on the horizon. 

These months feel like an eternity…

Imagine waiting centuries for a break in the silence, a break in the waiting. The waiting became a way of life. Generations of waiting. I cannot fathom such a concept. 

I yearn for a change, for a break of light on the horizon. Advent is no longer theoretical for us. It’s not just symbolism and remembrance. It’s reality. The whole world is in the midst of a type of Advent right now. 

May we carry the experience of this year with us – to remember the uncertainty and frustration of what it’s like to truly wait for something. 

Kindness is not Justice

I am a white woman.

I deeply believe that all people are imprinted with the image of God, and I strive to treat everyone I meet as a fellow image-bearer. I don’t have to understand someone or align with anything they believe to treat them with dignity. They bear the image of God, and I will not do anything to damage or diminish that image within them.

It’s not enough.

I said “I will not do anything to damage…” But what if I stay quiet while others do it?

If I see someone behaving in a way that damages the image of God in another, I must call it out. I can do so in a way that also protects the image of God within the person inflicting the damage.

I know I actively work to foster love, kindness, dialogue, and respect among my circles.

But individual kindness does not bring institutional justice.

I’ve spent the last decade educating myself on systemic injustice and racial reconciliation.

When someone calls out racism or racial injustice in a news event, is your first response “Well I’m not racist! I treat everyone the same.” It may be true, but it’s an individual response to an institutional problem. It’s apples and oranges.

Institutional justice requires action beyond ourselves.

There are many videos circulating of positive interactions during the protests: people kneeling together, protecting each other, asking for forgiveness. It’s beautiful and necessary, but it’s not justice.

Justice comes when we change the systems that brought us to the point of unrest. Officers kneeling and asking forgiveness is a powerful image, but do they go back to their union and advocate for policy change? People post black squares on their social media, but are they contacting their officials and demanding change? Are they voting for interests beyond their own?

Kindness might change the mind of an individual, but it won’t change a system of oppression. Kindness without action…will see us repeat this cycle of injustice and protest in the near future. Action must go beyond a social media post. It must last longer than the trending hashtags. If you have the privilege to decide whether to act, you must act. It is your responsibility to use your privilege for good.

So how do you start? Read, listen, watch. Educate yourself. Examine your own complicity. Grieve. Have difficult conversations. Vote. Be vocal about your care for others.

It is hard to confront your own shortcomings. It is uncomfortable. It doesn’t come with a quick solution. You won’t get it right the first time…or maybe even the tenth time. 

Let’s lament together. And then let’s change the world.

All We Can Do

It’s day 43 of staying at home. I’m one of those with the privilege of working from home in this time when many are unemployed or working on the front lines. My heart is with those who are suffering. 

In the first week, I was determined to “make the most” of the extra time at home. I wrote out a daily routine to make sure I didn’t waste the opportunity to be productive. I made a list of projects to accomplish and hobbies to practice. 

I tried to maintain control in an uncontrollable situation. 

I crashed. My body told me it was time for a break.

We’re living through a trauma. The body’s natural reaction is a fight or flight response, but that’s not possible during a global pandemic. So…the body goes into protective mode and cannot function at highest capacity. 

This is not business as usual in a new setting. This is something altogether different. We cannot expect our minds and bodies to function normally. Even though I’m relatively safe in my home with a paycheck, my mind and body are stressed. Stressed about loved ones who are vulnerable, stressed about friends losing money, stressed about essential workers, stressed about what the future may look like…etc. 

So I gave myself a break. I spent two days with no expectations, no schedules. I watched movies, played video games, and slept more than usual. I fully expected to emerge ready to jump back into what I’d been doing. Instead, I came out of the break with the realization that I needed to make some adjustments. I wrote a list of things I must do, a list of optional activities, and a list of things to avoid.

I’ll include the lists at the end of the post, but I want to spend a bit of space writing about what the change has meant to me. 

Thoughts:
This time at home is not a vacation or the extended productivity time you’ve always wished for. It’s a time of protection and survival. As someone who is still working full-time, I have to remember that my mind still needs to rest during time off as it did when I went into the office. 

Our society has taught us to believe that free time must be filled and justified with activities and projects. In reality, during the week my only “extra” free time during this season is the commute I’d usually spend getting to an activity. I still have those activities virtually, which takes time and brainpower. My weekends have more time because I’m not running errands or going on day-trips. I’m tempted to fill that time with projects and busywork. But you know what? Slowing down is not a crime or a failure. Sometimes it’s what you need. 

In the slowing down, I’ve come to cherish the peace and gentleness that comes from it. Not just peace and gentleness expressed to others, but the peace and gentleness I allow in myself. My mind won’t allow the copious amounts of reading I usually rely on for relaxation, so rather than forcing it, I’ve decided to let my mind tell me when it’s ready. I still read…but a chapter here and there rather than hundreds of pages. My usual tendency would be to try to increase my reading until I was back to “normal,” but not this time. I don’t need to “fix” anything because I’m not broken. 

I love that my friends have time for chats. We talk about our neighborhood walks and funny little things that we never really bothered to tell each other in the time before pandemic. The random bits of our lives are now worth sharing. Then again, they were always worth it…but we decided not to bother.

I love that bubble baths are now more than an occasional treat. 

I love that technology allows me to play games with my siblings even though we’re in three different states. 

I love learning that I’m perfectly content spending hours with myself. Y’all know I’m an introvert, but I’m not accustomed to long periods of solitude.

There are plenty of things that frustrate and discourage me – things are not rosy. But there is so much to love at the same time. 

When we come out of this time, I hope we don’t write up summaries of all we accomplished. I hope we talk about how we loved one another. I hope we share the joys we found. I hope we continue to cherish the random, small bits of life that were once things we hurried past. 

Must Do: May Do: Avoid:
Nourish body and soul Hobbies/Crafts Fixating on bad news
Stay in contact with people Reading Comparison
Take vitamins Home organization Focusing on the “cannots” of this time
Meaningful movement a few times per week. (but don’t try to become a marathon runner)    
Share joyful and encouraging content you find    
Laundry    

The Fifth February 27th

Each year I write a letter to my Grandma and post it on her birthday. When she was living, I wrote her poems every few years. Since she’s been gone, I’ve found these letters to be an integral part of learning to navigate a life without her in the daily happenings.

This year’s letter was harder to write than I expected. I didn’t feel like I had much to report, but then again, you’d love to read even the most mundane things if it meant I took the time to write.

In many ways I would describe this last year as both wonderful and weary. I made some tough decisions and tried to conjure what I thought you’d give as advice in each situation. I’m not sure I got it right…but I know I tried.

It was a year full of “I thought I would ____________ by now” and honestly it was hard to accept. No major milestones, but I’m learning to acknowledge progress as being enough.  The perfectionist overachiever in me doesn’t want to leave, but I’m finding a way to muffle her voice.

There were a few moments when I longed to return to your living room – to curl up on the couch with your tiger blanket, a warm bowl of mac ‘n cheese, and the Sound of Music on the tv. Your off-key singing wafting in from the kitchen as you danced and did the dishes.

The two of us in her living room. I still have that reindeer.

You’d be so proud of the community in which I’ve found myself a part. A group of questioners, oddballs, and sillies who know the secret combination of laughter and vulnerability. They’re my go-to people. They’re not you – they won’t ever quite “get” me as much as you did…but it’s the closest I’ve felt to normal since you left. I sometimes think about how they’d love to have you as a communal Grandma –they would cherish your knack for showing up at the most unexpected, but perfect, times.

Sister and I were sitting together a few months ago and she said, “I wish Grandma was here. She’s missed so much.” We sat in somber acknowledgement. This coming year will bring the third wedding bouquet not assembled by your hands. We continue to reach milestones while we strain to hear the memory of your cheers. We think fondly of your spot at our kitchen table and your ever-presence in the bleachers and pews of our lives. We’re following your example – we try our best to support and advocate for those around us. We move forward imperfectly, but in love.

I went back to your park a few weeks ago – the warm days in February seem to increase with each passing year. I wandered through the trees and spent some time by the water. I almost made it to sunset this time.

Happy Birthday, Carolyn Diana. Your sunshine loves you infinity plus seventy-three.

Goodbyes and Hellos

In the spring of 2006, I saw her photo for the first time. She was a joyful jumble of cheeks, scrunched nose, and pigtails. As I walked up to the table of packets, I saw her face and picked her immediately. Josselyn needed a sponsor, and as a college student with no consistent income, I decided to take the role. I agreed to a monthly commitment of money that would be a stretch for my little budget, but I was determined to make it work. I had no idea we’d spend the next 13 years in community with one another through letters and photos.

As years passed, I watched her baby face mature and her pigtails disappear. I marveled as her correspondence evolved from pictures, to words, to paragraphs full of insights and encouragement. She gave me descriptions of her life, her hobbies, and her dreams. I did my best to write back and send her pictures of my own, sharing milestones along the way. I beamed with pride as she recently told me of her wish to attend university and to visit Paris…and to one day meet me.

…and then yesterday, it all came to an end.

I received written notice from the organization that Josselyn had aged out of the program. No warning. No formal way to say goodbye, just a phone number to call to arrange my next sponsored child.  

After more than 13 years, we deserved closure. We’d built a friendship that deserved recognition.

I learned so much from my interactions with Josselyn over those years. She helped me keep a global focus and remember that my actions can affect people I will never meet. In a way, we both grew up. I am certainly not the same person I was in college, and she’s transitioned from preschooler to adult in that time.

I received the notice about Josselyn right after I scheduled my interview to begin the process of becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care. Coincidence?

I’m no longer Josselyn’s sponsor, but I’m going to be a voice for children in my community. My interactions with her are part of the journey that heightened my awareness of vulnerable children. This volunteer opportunity is the first step in what I hope will be a much larger story.

Thank you, Josselyn. Maybe we’ll meet in Paris someday.

Like Holding Sand in the Ocean…

The title of this post is my attempt to describe the way I feel when I’m overwhelmed with life. I’m not talking about being overwhelmed with a busy schedule or an influx of tasks. There are times when it is hard to find motivation to function. My coping tendency is to isolate and vegetate – not great solutions.

In recent years, I’ve recognized January/February as a typical timeframe for the appearance of this overwhelm. I could blame it on the weather or the abundance of free time I seem to have during those months, but regardless of the cause, it’s an experience I do not enjoy. Once I saw a pattern, I developed a plan to combat reoccurrence. So, this year I’m trying a few things to battle the “winter blues” and continue thriving:

  • Be intentional with free time
    • The hours between work and bedtime seem to multiply in the winter, and my mind likes to run marathons if left idle for long stretches of time. This year I am attempting to schedule tasks and errands throughout each week to make sure I have a goal to accomplish every day. For example: rather than cramming all my chores into one day, I’ll wash clothes on Monday, fold them on Tuesday, go grocery shopping on Wednesday, etc. It seems simple, but assigning tasks to specific days encourages me to avoid wallowing in a dark room with Netflix.

  • Take on a new project
    • I like to be crafty. I often knit in the winter, but this year I’m trying diamond art instead. It’s similar to paint by numbers, but you place acrylic gemstones instead of paint. When I’m finished I’ll have a nice image to frame. I work on it while I’m watching a show or listening to an audio book, and it keeps my mind from wandering.


  • Yoga
    • I’m striving for a peaceful demeanor, so I chose a fitness practice that emphasizes calm. I try to complete three sessions a week.

  • Pick small things on my “someday” list and do them
    • I love to cook, especially in the winter. I have a family recipe for tomato sauce and meatballs that I’ve wanted to attempt for a few years. It’s an all-day process so I kept saying I’d do it sometime in the future. This time I set a date and invited good friends to share a meal. I was tired by the time we sat down to eat, but the food was delicious and the company made it all worth it.


  • Make plans to see people
    • It sounds silly, but scheduling time with friends and loved ones is one of my best practices. There are plenty of spontaneous events, but putting coffee meetups or shopping trips on the calendar helps me break up my workweeks and ensures that I’ll spend time with people who care.

So far I’ve been successful with these practices, and it seems to be making the winter more pleasant. January feels forever long, but I think everyone feels that way this year? Are you trying new things to make winter fun?

The End of the Beginning

I stepped into a mall during the holiday season. Not just any mall, but THE mall of my youth. This particular mall quite literally makes an appearance in the telling of my birth story (more on that later), so when I say it’s the mall of my youth, I truly mean my ENTIRE childhood. 

There were other malls in the county, but Lakeforest was closest and it had everything we needed. White Flint felt small and fancy. Montgomery Mall was too expensive and far away. Lakeforest was just right for us. 

The mall is dying. 
Three of the anchor stores have closed. Many shops are empty. Even Starbucks abandoned their post. 

I was struck by a wave of nostalgia mixed with sadness as I walked through the mall and still found Santa in the center, sitting on his chair and posing for photos. That’s the spot where I took my first photo with Santa, and my siblings did as well. 

I haven’t been a regular shopper at the mall in years, so I’m a contributor to the decline of such establishments, but I found myself mourning the end of the kind of memories I made in that building. Many people see malls as monuments to consumerism, but those walls created a social space that we no longer possess. The gathering areas in the center of the mall and in the corners by the anchor stores became places for people to chat and hang out while their kids had safe places to deplete their rambunctious energy. Most of my memories are not about money spent, or things purchased, but about people and quality time in that space.

I haven’t created new memories there in quite some time, but I’ll miss being able to walk through and reminisce – to point out those memories to people who are new to my life. So, I’m going to share some of them with you now. 

Let’s start at the very beginning:

The day of my birth: Mom went into labor. My Aunt was working at the mall, and Grandma called to say she’d be there in 10 minutes so they could get to the hospital before I was born. 90 minutes later, Grandma finally pulled up to get my Aunt who was frantically wondering what had taken so long (this was before cell phones, kids). To this day, no one knows what Grandma did during that time. She called it the missing hour and a half for the rest of her life. 

Other memories I cherish:

  • Countless hours of playing in the middle of the mall with friends and kids I’d just met.
  • Eating Jerry’s pizza after hours of playing. 
  • So many family photos at the Sears studio.
  • My high school senior photos (also at Sears)
  • Grandma’s illegal parking spot in the service lane at Sears – no one ever stopped her!
  • Walking many, many laps around the mall with my mom when she was pregnant with all three of my siblings.  
  • Family dinners and celebrations at Chi-Chi’s.
  • The clerks in the women’s department of Hecht’s knowing me by name because I walked my sister Amanda to the bathroom there so many times. 
  • Turning all the rain sticks in the Natural Wonders store at once to make the waterfall sound as loud as possible. 
  • Wandering through the music box store and always playing the ones from Phantom of the Opera. 
  • Shopping at Claire’s and KB Toys. 
  • Saving up all my money in 6th grade to buy one “cool” outfit at Limited Too. 
  • Being trusted to shop with my friends while my Mom was somewhere else in the mall. 
  • Buying cd’s. 
  • Getting an egg bagel toasted with cream cheese and a Mystic drink from Bagel Time. 
  • Sitting in the couch alcove under the staircases with a book and feeling like I’d found a hidden oasis.
  • Tasting my first caramel macchiato – the real thing, not the Starbucks version. 

I could write pages and pages of things I did in that mall. It was quite normal for our family, when I was growing up, to spend a day just being there. We always ran into people we knew. 

I snapped a photo of Santa, knowing this is probably his last hurrah in Lakeforest…and mine as well. My mom asked if I wanted to wait in line and sit on his lap for old times’ sake, but I chose instead to capture an image of the center of the mall…and the place of so many memories.  

We’re closing another decade. It’s hard to summarize all that’s happened in ten years except to say that things have changed – just like the mall. To call it a tumultuous decade would be fair, but that’s not the whole picture. I’ve experienced the deepest valleys accompanied by the most inexplicable joys. It’s been far from safe, but it’s been good. 

Here’s to the twenties. 

What I Read in 2019

Each year I  keep a list of the books I read.  It’s fun to look back and see what I read and how it corresponded with my personal and emotional journey. It’s also a nice record-keeping tool. 

At the beginning of every year, I create a basic list of things I intend to read. I do this knowing that I will inevitably add many more titles along the way. Sometimes I’m in a store or a library and a book just calls to me. I cannot ignore it. So, it gets added to the pile for the year. My basic list this year was more of a goal than a collection of specific titles. I wanted to be intentional about reading works written by people of different faiths, cultures, and backgrounds than my own. I wanted this for both fiction and non-fiction choices.  It is a practice I will continue. 

I am a firm believer that fiction can teach you things you’ll never glean from non-fiction, so I’ll never shy away from including both categories. The power of story can plumb the depths of your emotions and insights, so don’t discount fiction! 

Non-fiction

Pure – Linda Kay Klein

White Mughals – William Dalrymple

The Color of Compromise – Jemar Tisby

A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans

A Forever Family – Rob Scheer

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

Pastrix – Nadia Bolz Weber

Faith Unraveled – Rachel Held Evans

The God Who Sees – Karen Gonzalez

All the Places to Go – John Ortberg

The Very Good Gospel – Lisa Sharon Harper

The Ultimate Exodus – Danielle Strickland

Everything Happens for a Reason – Kate Bowler

 

Fiction

Rise of the Mystics – Ted Dekker

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

Sundowners – Lesley Lokko

Little White Lies – Lesley Lokko

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

The Tree Bride – Bharati Mukherjee

Paris by the Book – Liam Callanan

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

A Private Affair – Lesley Lokko

Big Stone Gap – Adriana Trigiani

This is how it Always is – Laurie Frankel

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf – Mohja Kahf

The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

Time After Time – Lisa Grunwald

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

Drowning Ruth – Christina Schwarz

The Identicals  – Elin Hilderbrand

The President is Missing – Bill Clinton/James Patterson

Summer of ’69 – Elin Hilderbrand

A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult

What did you read this year? 

Growth Cycles

For the first time in years, I have a backyard.

In the spring, I cleared all the debris and made plans: hammock, string lights, and a vegetable garden. I did all kinds of research to find the best planting containers, the ideal crops for my climate, the right soil to use, and the best times to plant each crop. I got all my necessary supplies and told all my friends of my intentions. 

I planned all kinds of posts for this site to document my progress, my harvests, and yummy recipes created with my produce. 

I marked the planting dates in my calendar…and when the time came, I put seeds in dirt. 

It felt meaningful to plant seeds and care for them. Every day after work I went out to the yard, anxiously waiting for something to sprout. 

And then…seemingly overnight the planters went from dirt to luscious greenery. 

I had this overwhelming sense of accomplishment as the plants grew! 

The excitement was short-lived. 

We had flooding rains for weeks followed by extreme heat.

In the end, none of my plants produced any vegetables. 

I was frustrated. The venture failed. 

But did it really fail? I learned things in the process. I have more knowledge about planting and soil conditions than I did last year. I know that I’m capable of growing things- plants did sprout- I just have a couple adjustments to make. I know what to improve next time. 

The whole process seemed like a lesson for certain aspects of my life: So many seeds planted, so much potential – yet nothing grew. 

I’d grown weary of getting my hopes up, sharing the anticipation with others and then having to share the let-down. Mourning dreams is a grisly business. 

But every once in awhile, I’d take a look around and notice a few things. My dreams may not materialize in the manner I expect, but the essence of what I hoped for shows up in various ways – A dream for a family manifests itself, for now, as a solid community of trusted friends who share in my journey. A dream for a fulfilling career manifests itself, not in a new job, but in role changes and support from my supervisors. 

The spirit of Advent reminds us that the things we hope for, the things we wait for, may arrive in ways that are wholly surprising. 

What’s caught you pleasantly off-guard lately?

 

 

When Our Cathedrals Burn

The title of this post came to me weeks before I knew what the content would be. I thought I’d be writing about Notre Dame and the collective response to it, but I was wrong. While we were all glued to the news and watching the fire, a woman I’d never met was fighting for her life. I say I’d never met her, but I feel like I did. Her writing and social media engagement made many of us feel as though we knew her. For weeks, I checked twitter several times a day for her health updates, praying for good news. She had to recover. We needed her to keep writing, to keep questioning, to keep inspiring us toward openness.

…and then suddenly she was gone.

I was helping with a youth retreat and didn’t look at my phone until late at night. When I saw the news of her death, I found myself sitting in a bunk crying and grieving for someone I’d never spoken to.

The community Rachel Held Evans fostered online and through her writing was one of my cathedrals. It was a safe space where I felt welcome to work through my questions, doubts, and misunderstandings.  It was a place where I found other people who felt the same way. Once she passed, it became evident how many thousands of people are at a loss now. It was all so sudden…and so many strangers are part of this bereft family.

Rachel went public with her questions and her journey to find a faith that addressed the very real problems in this world. She articulated things I couldn’t put into words, but had felt for years. She did not shy away from expressing her views even when she knew the critics would vehemently attack. She was not afraid to be wrong. And she was not afraid to apologize. She fought tirelessly to encourage people to keep their faith…because God was bigger than any human construct or behavior. She gave the outcasts a place to feel loved and welcome. She used her success to lift up and draw attention to other voices who needed to be heard.

When our cathedrals burn, we don’t abandon the cause. We rebuild.  

I’ve written and deleted so many posts over the years because I didn’t want to be misunderstood. No more. I’m ok being misunderstood by hundreds of people if it means one person feels known. I will be vulnerable with my thoughts and writing…and if it means I have to apologize for getting things wrong along the way, so be it. Rachel may be gone, but she influenced thousands of us who need to carry on the cause.

I’ve dreamed of being a writer for my entire life. The fact is: I am a writer. I don’t get paid for it, but I have a voice. I will use my voice to draw attention to issues that matter, to encourage people to think about new perspectives…and to build cathedrals where all are welcome.