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. 

 

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.

The New (Single) Girl At Church

I missed church this Sunday, accidentally. Somehow, I was an hour off in my head, starting last night when I set my alarm, right up to the middle of my shower this morning when I realized my error when it was too late. I’ve been trying out a different church for the past few weeks, and was looking forward to it. Ah well, such is life.

The church I’m trying out is multi-ethnic, tiny, and only a couple years old. It is led by a young, black, male pastor who loves God’s word and his people. As someone who has been unhappy with the state of the white evangelical church since moving away from my LA church, it was time to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still leading GriefShare (a grief support group for those who have recently lost a loved one) at my former church while I figure out if I’m going to leave or stay. The counseling pastor at my former church is aware and supportive of this transitional period, as is the pastor of the new church.

Trying out new churches as a single woman is always a daunting process. I know it’s now easy for marrieds either, but at least you have someone to walk through those doors with, someone to talk to about it after, someone to run interference in awkward social situations. You also don’t get stared at quite as much as you do as a single woman. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, having tried out churches as a singleton from college through today, but it’s still unpleasant. 

You have to face confused questions like “did you come here alone?” and, once they find out you’re single, the dreaded “don’t worry, there’s still time” or “never doubt that God can still bring you a husband” or “I know someone who got married at 50!” Ugh. I actually haven’t gotten much of this at my new church, which has been a pleasant surprise. I have gained enough confidence to shut it down pretty quickly when it does happen by reassuring people that I’m actually quite happy with my single life, and that I’m glad to be following God’s plan for me. And, when I’ve got nothing to say on the tip of my brain, I echo what my llama church notebook (pictured above) says, and just say “Nope!” and leave it at that.

There’s also the fear that every man you meet in the church might think you’re trying to hit on them, or their wives may get possessive. I don’t feel this way when I meet men outside of traditional Christian environments. But after enough experiences with men in conservative Christian circles being convinced that any unattached woman must be on the hunt for a man (specifically them?), and therefore dangerous possible vixens, I always feel more nervous during the church meet and greet when I shake a woman’s hand, then turn to shake her husband’s.

Sometimes the men ignore you altogether, and won’t even greet you. It’s bizarre. Then there’s the awkward Christian hugging thing – do I side hug?Actually hug? An awkward combo. of both? Anyway, I didn’t have horrible experiences with the men here, so that was nice.

A dear friend of mine who I’ve known for years has also started trying out this new church with me. She’s a single mom, and her adult daughter has come as well. Thank goodness she started coming before we had communion, or I’d never have figured out the whole wafer shrink-wrapped on top of the juice thing! We singles need to stick together to mitigate some of the awkwardness.

I battle between hope that this could be my church home for the foreseeable future, and cynicism that there is no church where I currently live that can fill that role. I’m not naive enough to think a church that’s “perfect for me” exists. I’m well aware that church is made up of fallen, broken sinners (like myself!) and it’s a family, which comes with some good, some bad, and lots of complications. I know it’s not all about me as well.  But I still yearn for a church where I see both a deep respect for God’s word and his love for the vulnerable lived out in word and deed.

I had the chance to meet with the pastor one on one to get some answers to questions about church doctrine, structure, and accountability, as well as views on women in ministry and on social justice and community involvement. It was a great start, and I always respect a Christian man who isn’t afraid to meet with me at the church, who listens well, and who responds with thoughtful, biblical, compassionate answers. I feel hopeful.

I’ll keep trying this new church throughout fall and hope to make my decision this winter. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes. Your prayers are appreciated!

Other singles out there, how do you handle trying out new churches?

An Awkward Spinster Has All the Thoughts as Summer Ends

With one week left of summer vacation, I think my mind is trying to process all the things it’s been pondering this summer. Things like women’s roles in the church, how best to help those suffering through grief and loss, the effects of institutionalized racism on my bookshelves, the awesomeness of graphic novels that work for kids and adults, the joy of supporting art, and how to be both firm yet gracious. I can ponder forever, but coming to conclusions is another thing. So now that I’m down to just a few more days before my mind is filled almost entirely with the business of getting the library up and running for the school year, I’m trying to actually make some decisions based on the things on which I’ve ruminated for the past couple of months. 

On the role of women in the church, this video by N. T. Wright has had me thinking for days. It was suggested by female Anglican priest Tish Warren in an interview on Preston Sprinkle’s podcast “Theology in the Raw.” As this issue has been a concern of mine for literally my entire life, and as it is an issue that directly affects me as a woman in ministry, any conclusions I come to will probably take more time and study. If this is a topic of interest to you, please check out the video and let me know what you think. Comment below if you’d like to get a conversation going. It’s a complex issue, and one that is often considered “not a priority” (a direct quote from a pastor with whom I discussed this) by many churches as men are solely in leadership, thus think they are not directly affected by this (they are), think it’s clear (it’s not), or think it’s not that important (it is to the other 50% of the church).

Last night, I showed my mum the Anderson Cooper interview with Stephen Colbert, and we both cried a little. Colbert’s compassionate and authentic response to Cooper’s vulnerable questions on loss and grief was insightful, beautiful, and pointed to Christ. As I am gearing up to, once again, co-lead a grief group at my church, this interview will stay in my mind. Check it out. Discuss below.

This January, as I thought of what New Year’s Resolution I could make, I looked around my bookshelves and realized that the ratio of white authors to authors of color was not great. Though many of my favorite authors are men and women of color, I’m still not hearing their voices as often as white voices. And since I’m actually pretty angry with many of the white voices that can seem to screech the loudest in our culture, I thought I’d like to hear some perspectives that differ. At this moment, I’m in the middle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” If the late, great, Toni Morrison said it’s “required reading,” I’m there. It’s beautiful, difficult, thought-provoking, and important. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. If not, perhaps you can join me in reading it and we can discuss together when we’re done. Which will probably be tonight, because I can’t put it down.

Another way I gear up for the school year is by reading some of the kid lit I’ll be introducing to my library this fall. I had heard great things about the graphic novel series by Ben Hatke, “Zita: the Spacegirl,” but never got around to reading them. I know this shocks most people, that an English major and librarian hasn’t read Every Single Book in Existence, but hey, there are A LOT of books out there, so we can’t read them all! Anyway, I stumbled across the Zita trilogy for a great price at one of my favorite Southern California used bookstores, BookMonster in Santa Monica, and snatched them up for my kiddos. I just read all 3 in 3 days because they are fun, amazing, and lovely. I can’t wait to get them into the hands of my students as soon as the school library is open for business this fall! I’ve also been told that “Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl” is even better, so I can’t wait to read it. Someday soon. When I have time and money again. (I don’t get paid during the summer, and yet somehow I still bought 3 bags full of stuff for my library, sigh.) Are there any other graphic novels I should stock in my TK-5th grade library? Let me know.

Something that reminded me of how much I love to support others’ art was the successful Kickstarter campaign of illustrator Seth T. Hahne. His American Lit series is brilliant, and I’ve now got both the Salinger and Fitzgerald pieces framed and hanging on my living room gallery wall and mailed off a bunch of the others to some literary geek friends. Check his work out, and buy some. You can also support my two favorite artists-who-are-related-to-me, my brother Joshua Kemble, and his wife Mai S. Kemble. Their work is incredible, objectively, with no bias on my part. Check them out and support your local artists! Are there other artists I should know about? Link to them in the comments.

Another idea that’s permeated my summer is how to stop seeing people as one big group with whom I’m upset (cough *evangelical Trump supporters* cough) and instead get back to seeing individuals. And, as silly as it may seem, I’ve been convicted by the depiction of G. K. Chesterton’s gracious, kind, clever, and firm Father Brown. Mum and I happily discovered that Season 7 is now streaming on Amazon Prime’s Britbox (yes, of course we have Britbox), with a new episode offered each week on Thursdays, I think. If I could be more like Father Brown, I think I’d be doing well. His ability to both treat people with respect and grace, yet hold people accountable for their sinful actions and desires, all while calling them to repentance and reminding them of Christ’s ever-present offer of forgiveness is astounding. Are you a Father Brownian? Let me know in the comments. 

I realize I’m ending this post with very few conclusions, and possibly may be giving you more questions, but I’m an educator so questions are my favorite tool! Let’s ponder these things, and more, together. After all, a single lady needs her community to share ideas, debate, and discuss. Have at it.

An Awkward Spinster’s Summer

June meant the end of school, a trip to south Florida, a conference, lack of sleep, and lots of rest. But mostly it meant time with people – time for listening and deep conversations, time for meals/drinks together and car talks, time for late night chats and quick hugs hello/goodbye. 

Right now I know I should write about my week in Florida visiting a dear friend I’ve known since grad school, getting to know her husband, borrowing their car to zip around the area and sight see, breakfasting with another friend from my undergrad days, experiencing the southern summer rain, and having incredibly deep conversations over Star Wars themed beer, or Peruvian/Cuban/Jamaican food, or tea and seeing way fewer Florida Man incidents than I was hoping for. 

Or I should write about the biblical counseling conference I went to near San Diego the day after I got back and how I got to catch up with people from grad school and my LA home church, how I got to take part in a filmed round table discussion possibly to be used by churches as soon as next year, how I met women in my field of ministry who are inspiring powerhouses of intellect, skill, and desire to help the church, and how mum and I managed to squeeze in some vacation time in Carlsbad and San Juan Capistrano in the evenings and on the way home.

Or I should write about my disgust for how our country is treating the vulnerable and voiceless, migrant families and refugee children, how much I struggle with the attitude of so many Christians I know toward the least of these, our neighbors, whom we’re supposed to love, and how I didn’t really miss church because of this while I was out of town.

Or I should write about taking the last week off to REST for once, but also fit in a meeting with the LA Inklings (my writer’s group), breakfast with a childhood friend, church with an old friend from high school, and some family time with the kiddos in our paddling pool in the backyard, and also how REST doesn’t necessarily equal SLEEP for an insomniac like me, especially during summer.

But my head is foggy, full of allergies and a rough night without sleep, and the typical educator’s summer vacation inability to focus. Every day these past three weeks the thought “I should write a blog post” has popped into my head at some point, and then has been shoved aside in favor of, well, all the things above. But if I keep doing that, I’ll never write again, so here I am rambling along in happy summary of my recent life with nothing much to report. 

God is good. Church is hard. Living in the desert is hot and makes sleeping even more difficult. Family is still worth it. Singleness is still bringing me joy (minus those fleeting moments when I wish I could snog that one guy I barely know and won’t see all summer anyway). Paddington Bear (the best westie ever) is snugglier than ever. My little loves fill my heart. Fourth of July means Stranger Things 3 with the besties. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.