How Long, O Lord?

I’m in an online women’s Bible study that just started going through the book of James last night, and my home church had its second week of sermons on politics this Sunday. I am being reminded to “count it all joy” . . . “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I am being reminded that what affects me the most emotionally is a good sign of what I worship, that politics can become a false religion. I’m being reminded that the mature Christian will be filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

But today, 200,000 people in my country are dead from Covid-19, many of which were preventable if our government had gotten its act together. But today, I cannot go outside because my lungs cannot handle breathing the air left behind by the fires surrounding us, people are losing their homes, and people have died while our president  repeatedly mocks our state and threatens not to send help. But today, three police officers who killed a black woman in her own house walked out of the court with little to no consequences, yet again. But today, myself and others like me who have lost our jobs due to the coronavirus search the news frantically to see if the government has finally found a compromise to help us with bills, our lost health insurance, and other needs. But today, my brother-in-law has to process the Zoom meeting he just had with his school district saying that he and all the other special education teachers will be going back to teaching in person on campus in October, even though they were given no plan on how this will actually be safe for them, their students, and their families. But today, evangelical pastors flout the law and refuse to take precautions on behalf of their parishioners because they’d rather take a political stance siding with a president that couldn’t care less about them. 

Today, I don’t know how to “count it all joy,” how not to be so emotionally invested in what’s going on politically, how to be at peace. Today I have no fun gifs with which to sprinkle my post. All I can do is listen to songs of lament on repeat, let the tears spill, let my heart hurt, lift up my voice in moaning grief and seething anger to my God, this God who cares for the vulnerable and lost, the widow and orphan, the sojourner and the poor so much that He came to earth to live amongst them, befriend them, teach them, feed them, heal them, then die for them. 

O, how my soul grieves! O, how my heart burns in anger! O, how my very body longs for God’s return and the redemption of this broken world! O, how helpless I feel, shut up rather safe and comfortable in my mother’s house, unable to fix anything for anyone, unable to even hug friends to comfort them, or march for righteous justice, or weep with my church in person! O, how I yearn for a new day to dawn of empathy and compassion, generosity and love! 

Politics is surrounding and directly affecting all of these things and more. There are immediate and long term needs everywhere I look. There is violence and hatred, cruelty and selfishness, a deep desire for power and a lack of care for those who need it most when I look at the political landscape. There is pain and loss and heartbreak, illness and death, grief and anger for so many who are meant to be served by our government.

Tears, slow yet steady, run down my face as I type this. I have no answers but my cries to the God of the universe, my Father, my creator, who IS love. Another day I will try to wrap my head around how to balance loving others well in this political landscape, how to find joy in it, how to find hope in the Lord in the midst of it, how to speak truth with love, how not to judge others harshly, how to view politics as important but not ultimate, how to participate in politics in ways that love my neighbors and help enact God’s desire for the flourishing of others, especially the vulnerable. Another day I, like David, will rejoice in God’s steadfast love and remember His bountiful gifts to us. But today I lament. Today I wish for sackcloth and ashes. I wish to tear out my hair and wail in the streets. Today I cannot stop the tears, I will not stop them. Today I will pray in sobs and songs and groans and wordless numbness. Today I will not be ok.

Psalm 13
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
 
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul 
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? 
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; 
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” 
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; 
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 
I will sing to the Lord 
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

An Ode To My Dog

My dog died last Wednesday, and I am heartbroken. In the midst of having to stay at home as much as possible during the global pandemic, smoke-filled skies from my poor state being aflame, losing my incredibly beloved job (taking with it my health insurance), the possible disintegration of my little church, the horror show that is our current government, friends dealing with depression and divorce and loneliness and anxiety and all things distance learning, having to watch my little niece and nephew grow up from a distance, and in the month my father died years ago, our little dog was a sweet comfort. 

Paddington Bear, our little old westie, did not care that Donald Trump ramped up his lying. He was thrilled when we had to stay home more – it just meant more walkies and cuddles and attention for him! He sat on my mum’s lap every Sunday as we watched church online, loving that for 1+ hours we sat there, unmoving, with our coffee and songs and notepads. 

Paddy did care when one of us was sad. If I cried, he would gently approach to give me cuddles and licks, and check on me. He helped us keep to some sort of routine, which is difficult when mum is retired and I’m unemployed. But every morning he’d wake mum up to be let out, go for a walk, get breakfast. I knew it was time to get off the computer, working on whatever freelance or personal project I was on, and finish for the day because it was time to feed him his dinner, then cuddle on the couch while watching some TV. 

Paddington didn’t care if my friends were Democrats or Republicans, adults or children, single or married, Christian or anything else. He loved everyone. He was happy to be petted and cooed over, and then left to his own devices. He was, after all, a very old man at 15 ½. No longer desiring to play fetch in the backyard for hours, he was happy just to run after the ball once, stare at it, then look around the yard for a good sniff. 

Paddy loved nature. Squirrels were his favorite, with birds as a close second. The terrier in him never went away, and he’d sniff around the perimeter of his yard every morning and night to make sure all was right with our little world. 

Paddy was mostly deaf and a little bit blind these last months of his life, but it never seemed to bother him. He couldn’t jump on and off the furniture like he used to. Had to eat softer food. But he wasn’t worried – he knew mum and I would take care of him. We’d talk louder so he could hear us, try to gently pat him awake, lift him off and on anything he wanted to get to, and smoosh and warm up his food just so. He trusted us implicitly, never worrying.

Just a dog, but really a little treasure from God to my mum and I. Like a glimpse of innocence, creation before the fall, loaned to us for these 15 ½ years to care for and enjoy. To our whole family, really. As two single adult women, he gave us something to take care of, he gave us affection and comfort, and all the snuggles we needed. And we miss him, and I am sad. We will get another dog, as we are just dog people, but I will still miss Paddy. He was a gift. 

Mourning in Times Such as These

Today I am grieving. Grieving over 70,000 lives lost in my country from one virus in just a couple of months. Grieving yet another black man murdered months ago while his white killers still walk free. Grieving the defensive excuses so many people (mostly Christians) I know are making in order to not have to truly mourn these losses. 

Yet, while I grieve, I still sit at my computer updating the school website for the teachers. I wait for phone calls from our textbook reps to get quotes for next school year. I research free ebooks and read alouds and virtual field trips for my students. I increase the tip on my instacart order to make up for the income loss due to items not being in stock. I pet my dog, who comes to visit me in my “home office” for a quick snuggle. I text my global prayer group about books I’ll be dropping off for their kids. I drink my morning coffee, and turn on the fan as the day begins to heat up. 

And yet, I mourn. Or at least, I try to. 

In the middle of an email about school accounts, logins, and passwords I feel like bursting into tears. It passes quickly, and I move on with my tasks for the morning. Lately, my days feel like this – a slightly jumbled mix of emotions as I try to balance living life day to day in faith and hope (one of the most difficult things for cynical me – hope), while experiencing grief for these deep losses we are facing globally and locally. 

I have friends that can’t even try to balance this. And I get it. Friends who are so focused on the pragmatic side of life that they just can’t give in to any emotion right now. The economy, kids at home 24/7, working from home, getting groceries – this is what they can focus on. And, often, only this. 

Then I have friends who are paralyzed in their grief and mourning, lamenting and gasping for breath at the mere thought of the immense loss surrounding us. They become unable to deal with the practical side of day to day life.

But most of us are somewhere in between, just trying to figure out how to survive this time without becoming callous or overwhelmed. It’s a tricky balance, and I don’t think I know anyone who has gotten it just right. Most of us lean one direction or the other, becoming either too cold or too emotional, prioritizing either the compassion or the practicalities. 

I challenge each of us to continue to seek ways to be both practical and survive, yet compassionately mourn. If you lean toward just getting on with life, and accepting all of this death and injustice as “normal,” “inevitable,” “necessary,” or “not that bad,” I challenge you to learn to lament. My dear friend, an incredible woman who lives with chronic illness, has a blog called The Curse and the Blessings which can walk you through lamenting via the Psalms. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been recording a series of Songs of Comfort as the pandemic rages, that can help you process your emotions. Spend time in prayer, asking God to help us “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) during this season of loss for so many.

For those of us who lean more toward the emotional side of things, and are struggling to get through the day to day tasks of life, I encourage setting aside time to pray for God to help comfort you, but in a way that makes you capable of reaching out and comforting others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Don’t let this overwhelm you, keeping you in your head. Set some practical steps, like limiting your time on social media and the news. Make a To-Do List that has one achievable goal for each day that week. Bathe your days in gratitude for every little gift from God, from spring flowers outside (even if you’re allergic to them) to a bed in which to rest.

I’m trying to take one or two small steps each day to help me continue to live life and be useful where God has given me tasks to do, but also hold a compassionate heart for those who are hurting right now, including myself. 

If you have anything that is helping you lament, or helping you continue living daily life, please share with the group. We can all use the encouragement and support!

My Brain Won’t Work. I Blame You, Rona!

Each day, I sit down at my desk in my home office (guest room) for a couple hours of online tech support for the teachers as they deal with Home Learning. This new opportunity to get ½ my hours back after 5 weeks without work was a godsend, the gift of administrators who have been doing everything in their power to help me keep some kind of income since campus closed due to the pandemic. Other than this, I have time. “Free” time (without the freedom). Yet, I haven’t written a single blog post, poem, story, or journal entry. My brain exists in some kind of existential fog, incapable of expressing itself in more than the odd Facebook rant, and even those haven’t gone far, mostly deleted before publishing.

 

Yet, I don’t have kids to balance the huge load of online learning with general parenting. I don’t have a husband who needs to use my space, or laptop, or spend time with. I’m not working all that much, and rarely leave the house, so I have way more time to write than ever before. No outside distractions. No excuses. Except maybe that is my excuse?

 

Being a semi-unemployed, mostly-quarantined, insomniac, singleton in the time of a global pandemic leaves the brain way too much time and space. Thank God for my mum, because if I lived alone, it would be even worse. 

 

This mental fog in which I dwell hits whenever I try to focus on something that requires deeper thought. I can get through work pretty well because it’s mostly looking for content, uploading stuff to a Google site, or emailing parents and teachers back about the reading program. Nothing requires truly deep thought. I can watch TV, but only lighter programs or shows I’ve seen before. I can read, but again, only lighter fare or rereads. I couldn’t even finish a puzzle.

 

Even now, my head is fuzzy and my eyes are having trouble focusing. Creating each sentence is like digging through mud. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education helped me feel more sane about my mental deficiencies. “We can’t read. We can’t think. We’re having difficulty communicating. It’s all the profound effects of stress” The Harvard Business Review published an article explaining how what we are experiencing with our emotions and thoughts during this exceptional time is grief, actually several types of grief at once. 

 

This makes sense to me, as I can remember my brain reacting in a similarly floaty way as my dad was dying, and when my sister was having some health problems when she was pregnant, and when I’ve been in a couple different periods of deep depression. 

 

The thing is, I wasn’t expecting my brain to do this now. The day after my campus closed due to a stay-at-home mandate, I made a list. I was going to be Productive! I was going to be Creative and Efficient and get So Much Done. I would come out of this season more awesome than ever. Possibly with a book deal, a more toned body, the thanks of friends whose lives I had made better, a thoroughly KonMari-ed room, a signature cocktail, new life skills, the cure for insomnia, and a redone blog without that darn error code at the top that I just can’t get rid of.

Instead, I’m definitely on track to gain the Covid 15 as my mum has taken up baking again. I’ve had sinus infections and allergies, so have spent a good amount of time in bed, though my sleep is worse than ever (and that’s pretty darn bad, considering my lifelong insomnia issues). My closets and drawers are as messy as ever. I haven’t Facetimed my besties since the first week of this. I managed to get the ingredients for Moscow Mules in one of our Instacart orders, but other than that have been quite happy with just two fingers of scotch, neat. And I haven’t written a word before this rambling thing. I am the poster girl for Quarantine Brain, except instead of a Fight or Flight instinct, I Freeze.

 

I’ve got friends who have been using this time well. Reading Good Books. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Cleaning. Baking. Adopting pets. Raising kids. Learning new skills. And I’m just here, proud of myself for putting on non-pajama shorts today (at noon, after I finished working online). Ah well, to each her own.

 

The one thing holding me together is the same reminder I’ve needed my whole life, the reminder than God loves me. I can rest in that knowledge. He doesn’t love me because I have reached a certain level of productivity, in fact, there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more than he already does, because his love is already complete. Even when these blurry eyes of mine are having trouble focusing on anything, even Him, God is still there loving me.

 

How are you holding up during this time? Comment here, or on my social media, or DM me to chat more about it. 

 

From Sprained Ankles to Leaky Hot Water Heaters

This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions. In the span of one week we celebrate my mum’s birthday as well as my littlest nephew’s, then move right into the anniversary of my father’s death. This year my life decided to also throw in a mild ankle sprain and a leaky hot water heater.

In the midst of hobbling through my usual workday, birthday parties, a writer’s group dinner, the Downton Abbey movie, GriefShare, a going away party, church, heating up water on the stove, and all the various other little details of daily life there was a low-lying hum of something just not being quite right. For others in my family this year, the hum this week was more like incredible sadness or constant anxiety, but for me grief remained under the surface. It doesn’t always, some years they are pretty unaffected and I’m the one with more obvious symptoms. It’s rarely the same for all of us at the same time, which is nice because we can help each other through when needed. 

So this year I managed to get through the 17th anniversary of dad’s death without too much sadness, but with a couple tears alone at night, digging up a beautiful old photo of us snuggling, and stopping every once in awhile to recognize how much I still miss him. The moment of digging out his old crutches from the garage, the very ones he and I used to trade off between our constantly sprained ankles, brought memories flooding back. And I know the thought of “I wish Gordon was here to help deal with this” is constantly in the back of my mum’s head as she deals with the broken hot water heater. But God gave me encouraging students to help cheer me on as I hobbled around this week, and an endlessly kind and patient neighbor to come rescue us with his special vacuum, and tools, and truck, and knowledge. 

Ah Fall, my favorite season and yet one filled with so much emotion. Our house is already decorated with fake fall leaves, pumpkins, scarecrows, and various adorably haunted things. The nights are cool enough that I can snuggle under my top covers again, bringing me better sleep. Even the days are finally cooling down – I’m even wearing a long-sleeved top as I type this! We are burning pumpkin or apple scented candles non-stop, and may even fire up the fireplace tonight! I love it. But I also have that undercurrent of melancholy coursing through my body at all times.

Perhaps that’s part of growing up, of becoming an adult: we learn to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time, to celebrate life and grieve death simultaneously, to yearn for something lost or that we know we will never have while also reveling in the beauty that surrounds us. I no longer fear holding both things at once, no longer feel the need to only experience one at a time. Part of how I’m able to do this relies on talking to God about it, letting him know what I’m experiencing throughout the day and relying on him to give me peace.

Philippians 4:4-13 keeps coming up, at GriefShare, in my own study, and at church again this Sunday. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’m learning that rejoicing in everything and not being anxious require facing the truth of what’s going on and relying on God to get me through it, knowing he always has done and always will. Peace and contentment don’t magically appear after I pray, or throughout the day as I talk to God, but this week I’ve experienced moment after moment when I can choose anxiety or peace, when I can panic or trust God, and this week God’s been gracious enough to grant me the peace. 

As September turns into October, I’m looking forward to more and more crisp, cool weather and nights by the fire with cups of tea and delicious smelling candles. I know the melancholy will be there, but so will the joy. And, as I’m about to dash out to go shower at my sister’s house, I’m really looking forward to hot water again. Praise God for fall, and for healed ankles and appliances.