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. 

Single in the Time of Coronavirus

My life has changed entirely in the past few months, as life has changed for many. Not all, apparently – I’m still amazed to look at my social media feeds and see so many people going on vacation, visiting friends and family, eating in restaurants, traveling, dating, hanging out in other people’s houses, and acting like there isn’t a raging global virus going on all around us. Sigh. 

But for me, life is nothing like it was before mid-March. I have no job. I cannot leave town. I can’t touch anyone other than the person with whom I live – my mum. Some days, I don’t leave the house. Other days, I only get out to take my dog for a walk or go for a quick local drive, or to get take-out. I watch sermons on my laptop on Sunday mornings. About once every couple of weeks, my brother and sister and their families come over for a very socially distant paddling pool party for their kids in the backyard. Separated by picnic benches, two pools, two inflatable unicorn floaties, two sets of folding chairs, and mum and I off to yet another side on our porch swing. No hugs, yelled chatter, and a deep appreciation to even be able to see them in this limited way.

I might be taking extra precautions because I live with my mum, who is more at risk due to her age, or perhaps it’s just part of my conscientious personality, or my current lack of health insurance (why on earth does the US have our health insurance attached to our jobs??????). No matter what the reason is, I spend every day thinking through the options I have and which ones might kill me, my mum, or anyone who we come in contact with. And I spend every day wrestling with anger toward those around us who don’t seem to care at all about how they could affect us, our community, and how more and more people just keep dying.

For those of us who are taking this coronavirus seriously –  what an odd time it is to be single, to not have that life partner to make these decisions with, to not have that physical contact with a spouse and kids. My single parent friends are struggling more than anyone right now as they try to balance one income with kids doing school from home – an impossible task.

My single friends who live alone are struggling with loneliness and the extra stress of being entirely alone other than Zoom or Google meetings. My elderly single friends who live in senior living communities are even more cut off than normal, not being allowed visitors and having to totally quarantine for 14 days any time they leave the campus for doctor’s appointments or supplies. My single friends with roommates are having to evaluate how much exposure each of them has with jobs and family obligations and make incredibly tough calls about how to live together safely. My single friends who, like me, lost their jobs are dealing with the fall out of not having another income to rely on, not having a spouse to float us on their insurance, not having extra support. My single friends who still have to go into work (thank you, essential workers!!!) go home after stressful days to empty apartments. 

I don’t have a solution to these struggles – they are part of the reality in which we will most likely live for many months more. I just want to let you know that I see you, I see the extra layer of loneliness and sadness, the extra layer of stress, the extra layer of grief many singles wear at this time. Yes, married couples struggle too, and there are many others who have it even harder right now – the chronically ill, black men and women, those sick with Covid-19, those who have lost loved ones recently, poor and vulnerable populations. I do not pretend this is an easy time for anyone and, in fact, have two separate friends who are in the very beginning stages of divorce in the midst of this craziness, so I know marriage doesn’t solve hardship and can actually cause more of it.

But today, I wanted to recognize my single brothers and sisters out there who are doing what they need to do to survive each day in the face of a constant looming threat. You are making all the decisions for your household yourself. You are creating quarantine bubbles so you can still reach out and love others. You are crying in your rooms alone. You are overcoming shyness and exhaustion and other difficulties to get on yet another Facetime to try not to become a total hermit. You are checking your finances and trying to be wise, all on your own. You are grieving the loss of dream jobs, family members, friends, travel plans, and other things the coronavirus has stripped away from you. You are “attending” church online and texting your greetings. You are going to work in person or online or looking for work. You are battling anxiety and depression and grief and fear each night, alone. And, on top of all this, you are still dealing with everything you already struggled with in “normal” life. 

I see you. But, more importantly, God sees you. And He loves you. And He is with you – you are not alone. Our Christ was a single man with the weight of the world on His shoulders, separated from His Father, often alone and misunderstood. He understands your fears, your worries, your concerns. You do not have to be strong on your own. 

Romans 8:35-39 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is here with you. I know this knowledge doesn’t make the hardships go away, but I encourage you to turn to Him in prayer with your concerns, loneliness, and fears. 

Know that there are many of us out there in similar positions – the world of singles is vast. You are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to your friends. And I’m here for you too. Comment, e-mail, reply. And if you’d like to hire me for a Biblical Counseling session or a few, just fill out the bottom form on the Speaking and Counseling page.

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!

A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.