slowing down

slowing down

Several years ago, when Caleb was in seventh grade, I had carpool duty two afternoons each week. I usually arrived early enough to relax post-work by reading, listening to music, or a podcast. One afternoon, as the group loaded their belongings into the cargo part of the car, I hadn’t turned off my music selection which was my habit. 

I started to switch the music off when in unison, everyone except Caleb(who is his mother’s frequent passenger), yelled “Hamilton! Turn it up!” I obliged and drove the next 30 minutes to a unique rendition of the musical Hamilton which repeated for several weeks until one carpool member urged for a new music selection. 

This will always be an indelible memory of how art can bridge the seemingly wide chasm between people. 

My original five watched the movie version of Hamilton at exactly midnight the moment it premiered. This might seem like overkill but we are trying to make a celebration out of anything these days, especially when we can do it in our own home.   What a treat to see the music we have loved and couldn’t get out of our heads jump to life before our eyes. 

Even my next sentence echoes Eliza’s words to Alexander (“Take a break.”) but I am going to heed them better than he did.

I am taking a break from writing on the blog for at least the rest of July. Normally, I wouldn’t make any fuss about it but so many of you dear friends wondered where Monday’s post was last week. Thanks for missing the post. 

I’ve written a lot of words since the first Monday in January. I love a good streak and I have only missed two Mondays in the past seven months. But alas, I am not meant to be a machine. We all need to remember this for ourselves and sanity.

January was the month I decided to return to writing regularly on this blog and gather words about what I was learning about slow living. “Slow” was the word I picked at the end of August as my word for my birthday year. 

I realized last Monday, my birthday was only 50 days away. What a lot of living over the course of this year and what a lot of slowing down in the second quarter of 2020.  It’s time for me to consider a new word for my upcoming birthday and continue to hold tightly to the goodness of the word “slow”. I hope to spend time journaling and fleshing out new thoughts. There is an avalanche of words out in the world right this moment, I want my words to be ones of hope, encouragement, and life-giving. 

It’s summertime. Time for a rest, lots of iced tea, and books.

The best way to know when I have returned to posting is to be subscribed to my blog. Sign-up information is found on the sidebar, thanks for your readership.

So Jesus said to his disciples, “Come, let’s take a break and find a secluded place where you can rest awhile.” 

Mark 6: 31 (TPT)

That sounds mighty nice.

 

*****

 

May this summer bring gifts beyond measure.

May you find joy in the midst of disappointment from abandoned plans.

May you revel in offering the gift of safety to others by wearing a mask.

May God grant you health and wellness during this time of mounting statistics.

May rest and recreation hold hands with one another during this season of sunshine.

May you allow yourself to take a break.

 

beauty for ashes

beauty for ashes

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On the occasion of my birthday in August, I chose the word “slow” to guide my 55th year.

Even for all the reasons I needed to choose the word, I hadn’t anticipated how much it would prove valuable in 2020. As I endeavored to live a slowed down life, previously filled space emerged to allow me to write weekly many months before the pandemic settled into our lives, a gift nestled in ashes. But perhaps one of the most difficult lessons of this time has been that even when life comes to an abrupt halt, it doesn’t build a wall against heartache or pain. However it can’t diminish our ability to celebrate or find joy, if we seek to unbury it like a treasure. This has been a bittersweet season for so many. I am not sure anyone has been immune to its effects.

The county where I live seemed to be the last in the country to move into Phase One. Last week, I had my first appointment and a couple of small in-person hang-outs. Carl mused how quickly we had gotten out of shape at gathering. Our pace has slowed and is quickly exhausted by an out of the house schedule. There is an extra emotional component related to continuing to strive to keep ourselves and others safe.

As we begin to walk towards the return of daily activities try to remember to:

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Go slowly.

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Breathe deeply.

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Pick the pace that is best for you.

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Yes and no can be the right answer for different people.

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Remember the lessons learned during sheltering.
List them to anchor each day.

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Extend grace to yourself.

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Extend grace to others.

wilderness

wilderness

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I love the month of June in the Pacific Northwest. It crests the horizon of summer with all the lushness and beauty of spring still in force. The vegetation encircles me, thick with growth, filling every gap in the soil, extending an invitation to linger and behold its glory.

Our maple tree blots out the sky, creating a natural umbrella over our sidewalk and pathway winding toward the front steps. The butterfly bush gently curves towards the brick archway over our porch.

Oh, and my blueberry bushes are loaded with berries from shades of the palest green to light lavender. As branches bend earthward every indigo hued orb beckons me to pluck and eat. 

Carl and I have a pretend tug-of-war between his wish to shore up drooping stems and clip away wandering branches whereas  I want every inch of growth, a billowing canopy of foliage. Our home feels sheltered by the natural world around it.

I love it. 

I welcome it. 

Maybe I feel passionate about the glory of June because I know July and August are around the corner. Rain showers will be less plentiful leading to crunchy, scorched lawns. My shoulders start to ache simply thinking about hauling a hose around to douse weary blooms.

There’s another plot of land I witnessed this week, different than my yard at home.  It’s a  corner lot that has remained empty after the leveling of a business. This dusty, dry barren land is enclosed by a chain-link fence. I’ve grown accustomed to this familiar sight, it’s become a fixture I often don’t notice. During a rare car ride this past week, while at a stoplight, I glanced across the intersection expecting the usual view but instead the fence was lined with colorful signs declaring Black Lives Matter, Justice for George, No Justice, No Peace, and other slogans. There were flowers and balloons woven and tied through the fence gaps. I sucked in my breath as my eyes hadn’t expected to land on this makeshift monument. 

As I brace myself for the conditions and requirements of my summer garden in the weeks to come, I feel the twinge of concern about this cultural moment, will it be a sustained movement.

We long for racial injustices to be ripped from its soil like the weed it is and be replaced by the lushness of equality and compassion.

 But in reality, we are still standing on ground which hasn’t been allowed to flourish circled by the beginning seeds of hope. I feel this hope beginning to take root in my soul but I remain cautious.

Don’t we all want our world to resemble the first garden described? A place which provides shade from harsh conditions and beauty to the eye, yielding an abundance of nourishment for all.

 So many people have newly immersed themselves in black history and terminology over the last few weeks. It’s natural to desire branches heavy laden with fruit, anticipating change, and a new harvest.  But it would be a mistake to believe a long-lasting harvest is possible after simply tilling the soil and scattering seeds. Slow, sustained work in every season is essential, especially during the harshest climates.

It might be discouraging to realize our world may resemble the second plot more than the first.

But I would suggest we are a people who are in the midst of the wilderness, one which may be defined differently than imagined.

wilderness: 

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

an area where nature is left to find its own path

We are a people with a plethora of different opinions and viewpoints. I believe the wilderness expresses what this particular time in history represents. 

There are many people who have had their eyes opened during life slowing down during the pandemic and further by seeing the shocking reality of racial injustices. Four hundred years of history is being illuminated in such a way it can no longer be denied. This revelation for some is creating huge growth opportunities. For others, it is poking at them in a way that feels too uncomfortable to acknowledge or to slow down long enough to personally reflect. 

Envision America as circled by the fence of those who want to secure the current laws of the land and definitely do not wish to see or embrace the wild abandoned growth of others.  The ones who are stretching and processing are trying to tether their message onto the fence dwellers. They are crying, “work with us, be united with us.”

What remains to be seen is who will gain possession of all the remaining land still up for grabs.

Who will remain to keep fighting for justice and equality?

Who will keep speaking up even when words are rejected by friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members?

Who desires to fully inhabit this time in history and not simply pass by?

I am hopeful. I also may have to admit Carl’s desire to shore up the drooping and trim away the excess might not be such a bad idea. 

Support one another in this fight. 

Continue to cut away old ideas and stereotypes and biases.

Allow time to digest new truths you encounter and learn.

Keep listening and asking yourself what is something only you can do to fight racism.

Everyone has a part and will look different from person to person. This is a good thing.

How I endeavor to fight racism will look different than someone else’s. A collective movement has many different facets, which enhances its beauty and value.

*****

May we be people of hope.

May we never tire of doing the good work of peace.

May we walk alongside one another in solidarity.

May we continue to offer a hand to those who simply want to stay on their own path.

May we walk in humility.

May growth create change for others rather than puff ourselves up.

May we long for the day when all the land is flourishing and yielding a mighty harvest.

May there always be enough blueberries for everyone. Forever. Amen.

 

 

history

history

A few years ago, I decided to allow my physical therapy license to lapse. There were many factors that led to this decision but at the core was feeling I had lost my edge as a physical therapist (PT). 

A few years before this decision was made, I remember sitting in a hospital with my family, days before my grandfather’s passing and confessing as much to myself as to  my mother, 

“There’s a problem when you no longer want to get patients out of bed, to cause them any more pain.”

I added this realization to chronic pain from years of lifting patients and it wasn’t a winning combination.

When the license renewal date approached, I was securely in a different line of work nor would I meet the required continuing education hours, I decided it made perfect sense to let my license lapse.

It was as simple as letting the date pass without any action.

*****

Fast forward to the first Friday in March, I drove to my son’s high school to volunteer with a parent I did not know. We arrived, set up for the task at hand, and chatted as we waited for students to stop by our window. We were both somewhere in our 50’s and she happened to mention she was a physical therapist. 

At that moment, I felt a crushing weight attached to my lapsed license. There seemed to be a voice shouting in my head to not mention a word about my past life as a PT so I obeyed and simply responded appropriately while she shared. 

As students began to meander past us and engage with what we were doing, we vacillated between talking and helping students. She mentioned physical therapy a second time and I was silent. 

The third time she made this reference, I summoned the courage to admit I had been a PT. She picked up on my past tense phrasing and inquired. I assumed a stance of explanation in an attempt to cover my embarrassment, bracing myself for a scolding from a stranger. Instead, she gently said, “It makes perfect sense why you made that decision. But you know, Oregon is pretty loosey-goosey about these things, you should really look into getting your license back.”  

The last of the students left the building and my volunteer partner uttered these parting words, 

“Think about it.”

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe this was an ordained, a divine encounter. I have not seen this parent again because the school year ended the subsequent week due to COVID-19. But this conversation stirred something inside me and revealed unprocessed emotions stemming from this lapse. 

I took to my laptop, contacted my state’s licensing board to determine if I was eligible, and the necessary steps.  Life came to a standstill and I feared silence as the renewal deadline of March 31st approached. However, a few days later an email reply arrived with the requirements as well as confirmation that had I waited much longer, renewing my license would not be possible. Due to the Coronavirus restrictions, the renewal process was extended by two months giving me additional time to complete online continuing education and other examinations.

Last week, I received news that my license was approved and renewed. I knew the relief I felt when submitting all the files and documents to the licensing board. 
I surprised myself by throwing my arms in the air when I saw the congratulations email.

I don’t know if I will ever practice physical therapy again. This may sound suspect.

I didn’t go through the effort of regaining my license to start a new job. I went through the process because the title of a physical therapist is a part of my history. It’s a history I hadn’t realized was still important to me. 

I renewed my license not to rewrite or correct history but to rewire it. To rewrite my history would be to pretend the reasons for the lapse didn’t matter or exist. My history has been full of stops and starts, highs and lows, gaps and a lot of glue. By rewiring my history I am honoring every part of it, even when I may have been wrong or hasty. It’s creating a new pathway from one that no longer wholly functioned.

It’s never too late to change your mind.

It’s never too late to rewire your history.

The post I wrote two weeks ago struck a chord with many readers. I think it provided a perspective of the myth of all Americans experiencing life in the same way.  

Writing the words also stirred up pieces of my history I don’t often share and have been resistant at times to reflect upon. 

Over the last weeks, I have allowed myself to remember painful moments during my life. Some are stories I never told my parents until I was deep into adulthood. They are the accounts that wounded but I won’t allow being the definition of my life, only a section not the full extent of my history. 

As I begin to reflect on each of these shards of glass, whether young or older, I am allowing God to comfort all the Helens I have been as far as my history has been written. 

It’s never too late to flip through the pages of our histories and decide what to leave behind and what to pick up and carry. To wrestle with what places need to be healed and grieved as well as the parts to be molded and curated. 

It’s fascinating how our individual histories become merged with collective history shaping us in wonderful and horrific ways. If we are to be truth-tellers we cannot tear from our history books the parchment pages we are afraid to look at but laminate chapters that bring comfort.

Over the last few weeks, a stronger light has been cast on racial injustices and has undoubtedly created complex conversations and may have unearthed new information about our country’s history. There might be a multitude of emotions starting to simmer as you process. There may be sadness about the realities of oppression. There could be anger about why vast portions of history were not taught in school. I am wading through these emotions with you.

It takes courage to take a longer look from a different vantage point, using a telescope or magnifying glass as needed. We are actively making and hopefully rewiring history at this moment. 

Think about it. 

Don’t let this moment in time pass by without any action.

Will you rise from your bed, take steps that may feel shaky but help stop the pain of others?

The crushing weight you may feel is a call to action within your sphere of influence- your family, workplace, neighborhood, church, and community. You will not be scolded for walking towards unity and justice only if you ignore the shouting voice in your head to not help fix what has ceased to function for the whole of humanity.

We can rewire history.

*****

Rewiring history is going to take time and effort. There is a huge groundswell of action right this moment. But this is work for the long haul. One way to help keep some momentum is through history lessons. 

I have followed Marcie Walker’s Instagram account @blackcoffeewithwhitefriends for quite some time. However, it was only recently I became fully aware of the weekly history lessons she creates for Patreon subscribers called Mockingbird.

 When you become a paid subscriber, you receive a weekly history lesson and additional content. She allows subscribers complete access to every previously released history lesson, about a year’s worth of material. As she builds her Patreon support, she is able to fund the creation of a curriculum for students. Marcie is very generous as she offers the same amount of content no matter the giving level starting at as little as $1/month.

A 4-minute video sharing the heart of Mockingbird

A sample lesson

Mockingbird has been a worthy investment for me at this time. During the month of June, Marcie has been providing bonus mini-lessons inspired by the advice that Mr. Roger’s mom gave him when he was just a little boy and fretful of all that was wrong in the world, to look for the helpers.  Throughout the month of June, she is pointing out the helpers during one of our country’s most turbulent times in history: the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. 

*****

May we bravely look at history and endeavor to not repeat its mistakes.

May we push past quick-fixes and commit to a long haul pursuit.

May we recognize our voices carry as much weight in our homes, workplaces, communities, friendships as those rising from the streets.

May we think and rise from our slumber.

May we look forward to the day when we raise our arms in the air celebrating a rewired history.

Photo credit: Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

a pause

a pause

Hello friends,

There won’t be a Monday post this week. I woke up on Saturday and literally lost my voice and it hasn’t returned as I type this on Sunday.

This blog has always been about paying attention, I have decided to obey my physical reality and not push into crafting words this week.

But I am not going silent, I am taking time to continue to grieve as well as be bolstered by the responses I see around my city, state, country, and the world. I have watched footage of a single person from a small community lifting a sign as an act of protest and support for Black lives and watched as others joined him, in solidarity. But it would not be the full story without mentioning he received plenty of harsh reactions and gestures before he was joined with others.

Speaking up is costly and as each day passes, we must decide if our voices will be as pronounced when it is joined with many or if we will continue even as a chorus of one.

I am hopeful that the choir will continue with wide open mouths.

Until next week,

Helen

a weary world, not rejoicing

a weary world, not rejoicing

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Early in the pandemic, there were piles of memes to wade through on any given day, but there was one which I found to be particularly funny:

Introverts, please check on your extrovert friends during this time of need. They are not OK.

For many introverts, this meme was not only hilarious but pointed out how often introverts are the ones who are expected to adapt in an extroverted world. In a sense, extroverts found a way to make aspects of quarantine all about themselves, their needs, their comfort, or discomfort. 

 But it’s just a meme, right?

This past week with all the news coverage regarding George Floyd and the woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park, I was flooded with grief. 

On Wednesday, I could not get myself together. 

I sat dazed in a chair and read a fantasy novel most of the day, now and then glancing at social media littered with hashtags and photos AND videos. I hadn’t anticipated feeling quite so assaulted by the images. I mean, it’s sad to admit but apart of me has become accustomed to this horrific violence. I could spend the rest of this post listing the names of those we know who have been killed because of skin color and leave a lengthy space for the names we don’t know, only their families and loved ones know. Each image, every name, a source of trauma attaching itself to my soul, my DNA. 

I haven’t been one who easily picks up a sign or marches for a cause. Maybe I have spent too many years of being polite. I considered myself to be one person in a group possessing a specific amount of assigned power hoping that collectively we might amass some power, some influence, maybe even credibility in this world.

I believed if I dressed a certain way, styled my hair in a palatable way, never put my hands in my pockets while in a store, and chose to let kindness be my guiding principle, then maybe I, this one person, might add a chain link to the legacy of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles.  Extending to my brother, sister, cousins, husband, children, niece, and nephew to shift people’s opinions and obliterate fears about people who look like us.

So when I scroll through Instagram stories and see a quick photo with a hashtag followed by photo after photo of trivial things to me, it is perplexing. Instagram stories last 24 hours but a physical post can last indefinitely. It feels like announcing you are going swimming but only your big toe gets wet.  Maybe it feels tolerable to display murder on one frame and a sweaty workout selfie on the next frame. It feels like drive-by social justice, fleeting. It’s like jumping on a bandwagon and deciding when the ride ends. The wheels are still moving for me, for many.

Back to the meme at the beginning of this post, allow me to change it up:

White friends, please check on your black friends during this time of need. They are not okay. 

I lost pieces of hope this week. I wish the wearing down of my soul made it smoother but I am unsure.  I have never felt more fear for my male family members and especially for my son beginning to tiptoe into adulthood. 

I have lived as if racism was my problem to fix. When in reality, it is mine to be healed from and for those who don’t look like me to lend their voices, time, and power to end its deadly message. Racism is not a hashtag. Protests, education, and reading books are valid ways to stand against this evil monster of racial injustice but true healing can only start in my opinion when empathy leads the way.

Empathy is not about feeling bad about something and remaining silent, returning to life as normal because the alternative feels uncomfortable. It is a privilege to be able to return to life as usual without the fears so many people of color bear. It is important to be aware of the privilege of not having to change any part of daily life when it is not the reality for Black people and other people of color.

 Can you jog or take a walk without a second thought?

Can you enjoy bird watching without fear of being arrested? 

Are you able to drive a nice car without concern you will be questioned about your ownership?

These are rights and shouldn’t be just for some.

My daughters and I have talked over the years about how we unconsciously exaggerate our actions in stores. We want to make it absolutely clear when we touch something that we have replaced it, if we decided against buying it. This is an intrinsic message based on a  potential (not imagined) threat during a routine activity of life. This is why I keep my hands out of my pockets, in case you wondered. 

Empathy is feeling the pain and refusing to turn away. It is acknowledging your own feelings and turning your eyes from those onto another’s pain. It is a willingness to proclaim your presence beside someone else because their pain is different than your own and experience. Empathy shouts despite the discomfort, it might involve saying the wrong words but affirming a desire to walk together. It’s weeping with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn. It’s asking “how are you?” and then leaning in, listening without discounting experience, or projecting a defensive stance.

Sometimes it’s as simple as saying I am here for you because I see you.

*****

I wrote this post on Friday and then over the weekend, I had several friends text to check in with me. I was very moved by these offerings. It caused me to debate whether to post this piece but then I remembered one of my aims is to remind people they are not alone. I believe there is at least one other black person who is wondering why there is so much noise online but silence towards them.  Maybe they are wondering if they are really seen by those who don’t share their skin tone. They also may fear by a pointed post like this, they will now be avalanched by concern, so many days and years late. 

So please be gentle with your black friends and family members. 

Be authentic.

Apologize. 

Check-in by making it about them. Use the correct pronouns. not just how badly you feel. 

Listen and then listen some more.

*****

 

May we walk in love with each other.

May we grieve with each other.

May we share space for uncomfortable words.

May we have the courage to look at one another in the eyes and listen to each other’s histories.

May we have the strength to apologize where we have wounded and may we be people who extend grace to those who simply had no idea. 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  

II Corinthian 1: 3-4

 

the evaporating nature of plans

the evaporating nature of plans

 

Photo by Achilles Kastanas on Pexels.com

It’s Memorial Day.

This day may conjure many different emotions. Many cemeteries are not placing flags or allowing visitors which adds to layers of grief. 

It may have been customary to spend the holiday with a large group of family or friends, reveling in a day away from work but now work is staring at you from across the room every day. Today may signify a deepening of the loss of social interaction and work-life balance.

Today we join Mother’s Day and Easter to the list of holidays celebrated in new ways with Father’s Day looming on the horizon.

The reality of Memorial Day, in addition to its great importance, is where it lands in the calendar year, it is literally the doorway to summer. It is that last holiday before the school year ends and perhaps an audible sigh signaling permission to look toward future plans. 

Well, I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t already had plans disrupted over the last few months. As summer approaches, it is a foregone conclusion that plans have changed.

I don’t have any magic words to lessen the ache of those once anticipated events. However, I would suggest speaking aloud each loss. I know it may sound insignificant because the awareness of what isn’t happening is obvious. 

Why rub salt in open wounds?

I had to express a hard spot to different sets of people several times over the past week. It pre-dates COVID-19 by a few years. 

I had to say aloud, my dad has cancer.

It’s also possible, I barely uttered the words when cancer had belonged to my husband several years ago, saving the fluttering of sighs only for God. 

I mentioned to Carl how surprised, after all this time and experience, I still needed a deep breath before uttering the words. I knew these words, they have been firmly implanted into my mind and my soul but to hear the words hanging in the air felt different.

Saying the words didn’t change any of those days’ realities. 

Saying the words didn’t erase the pain, dismiss uncertainty, or cement plans which undoubtedly for the foreseeable future resemble quicksand. 

Saying the words, allowed me to exhale a wee bit, like a tiny pin releasing air from a balloon slowly.
The balloon is still knotted with some inflation remaining, but the tautness of the vessel for air has softened enough to be held. 

Saying the words made me stop grasping for control, in any way.

Speak your sorrows.

Speak forth your losses.

Share your pain.

Then remember to be gentle with yourself.

I am becoming acquainted with is a heightened response in my body regardless if something is hard or good. I am choosing to be gentle with myself.

Your words may be…

My wedding is not happening the way I envisioned.

My birthday or anniversary celebration may feel like just another day.

My graduate won’t walk across a stage in the way dreamed of for countless years.

My loved one with mental health challenges is especially vulnerable during this time.

My child with special needs is struggling due to the stripping away of routine and support.

My friends are not only socially distant but nowhere in sight.

My next paycheck is not guaranteed or will not arrive. 

My dreams are slipping through my fingers. 


What pain point do you need to express?

What tightly held plan do you need to release to allow your body and soul to unclench?

Speak your worthy words into the atmosphere and wrap your arms around yourself in a gentle embrace. 

*****

The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

 the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace. 

Numbers 6: 24-26

remain

remain


My neighbor’s remaining place

As several states have begun to reopen over the last week, I have started to see photos across social media of people returning to shopping, appointments, etc.
I have felt an initial twinge when I witness these images. My thoughts buzz with
“I wanna do that too.” Perhaps because we have been at this sheltering time for longer than a couple of weeks, the feeling was short-lived. Don’t get me wrong, I would welcome fewer restrictions but I feel settled in waiting until it is deemed safer. There is also a corner of my mind and heart that doesn’t want to rush back into a “business as usual” mindset. I don’t want to go back to being consumed with consuming.
Which has caused me to think a lot about the word “remain”. 

remain: verb

  • to be a part not destroyed, taken, or used up
  • to be something yet to be shown, done, or treated (it remains to be seen)
  • to stay in the same place or with the same person or group
  • To continue to exist especially after similar or related people or things have ceased to exist
  • to continue unchanged

This word couldn’t be more fitting for this current passage of time. 

When I first began to think about the word remain and its definitions, my thoughts centered around what does it mean to stay in the same place with the same people?
I pondered what does it look like to remain when the world and future remain to be seen? But now, my thoughts rush towards what does it mean to be people who remain while others are released? After all those questions, the bottom line is simply how do we remain, day after day, no matter what anyone is doing to the left or the right?

The Benedictine monks take a vow of stability. This word stability means to be firm, to stand fast, to endure, to persevere, and to be rooted. It is the action of staying put, remaining steadfast, and faithful to the situation in which God has placed. It is persistently sticking with a situation, with people, and with God. Monastic stability is a commitment to a place and a group of people in the belief that this place and these people will help them to find God. 

We may have not taken a vow but this stretched out time has given the gift of stability. It takes new eyes and perspective to find it. 

This month marks 27 years of living in our home. This is actually time, not COVID-19 time!  Carl and I have often looked at our decision to “stay put” on the same street in the same house as practicing stability. We have made an intentional decision to stay and remain nestled among this particular set of people whether they leave or stay. It’s felt like a unique opportunity to firmly plant ourselves along our avenue. We only have to look at the maple tree we planted during our first year. It possesses deep roots and continues to reach up and out as a visual reminder of our  nearly three decades of dwelling.  There are so many stories and memories we share about the time in this house on this street. Oh, the dramatic happenings along this block I could tell you about but the ones which stand out are the births, deaths, feuds, and forgiveness. It’s part of the history that grows from remaining. 

This crisis is becoming a part of our individual and collective histories. Think of the conversations to be had while we remain together. The opportunity to linger longer over words instead of rushing off to the next obligation is precious. As home time has lengthened, hopefully, the guards surrounding our hearts have been lowered. Maybe what used to occupy our time has now dimmed, ceased, or proven unsatisfactory. So, we continue to remain in our homes because no matter how challenging, we believe it is for the good and that good things are on the horizon even if it isn’t visible.

I planted three peonies a few springs ago. I scroll Instagram and see photos of peonies heavy-laden with blossoms. I can almost smell the scent. Then I wander to the three places mine are planted and see healthy plants but not a bud in sight. What should I do? Should I dig and throw them in the compost? No, I will wait and allow them to remain and bloom at the appointed time despite my impatience and longing.  I believe the wait  will bring greater joy than today, it’s a hard-fought for hope.  When I am tempted to not securely believe this sentiment,  I look to the right where poppies planted years ago are covered in deep orange crepe paper-like flowers. The year before a strong breeze sent the petals of one solitary flower into orbit. 

What has bloomed in your life during this time?

What blooms are you waiting for? 

What seeds could be planted in spite of  hard soil and wait for a harvest?

Stay.

Remain. 

*****


May we be people who remain despite all unseen and unknown.

May we see this time of staying put as a gift to draw closer to one another.

May we grow deeper roots with the people who surround us.

May we reach out to others if we live alone and seek solidarity in remaining.

May we keep our eyes on where we are planted and not across the fence.

And may we know it is not too late to decide what will remain in us and what
can be released from us once
restrictions are lifted.


Benedictine stability resource

better than gym class arm circles

better than gym class arm circles

20171230_085405.jpg(A girl can dream, it’s been a while since I took this photo in my favorite place.)

Last week, I experienced back to back days of feeling listless*. Which looks like being withdrawn and my spoken words slowly beginning to cease. I am grateful the two I live with gave me plenty of space to sort myself out or perhaps they welcomed the silence. I choose to believe the former. When those days strike, “trying harder” or being more productive doesn’t help. Even the activities I reached toward during the early days of this crisis aren’t helping as much as hoped. I wonder if many of those activities were simply a place card labeled in the meantime, a way to distract me and manage the unmanageable.

When my lethargy lifted, I noticed one thing in common with what has been key to anchoring me each day, connection.

Acts of connection are buoying my soul right now. I need to stay connected to God, others, and myself. It’s the holy trifecta of life, a life that will remain when everything feels shaky and fragile.

I plan to experiment the next time I feel an emotional wall starting to build. I am going to check to see what connection is missing or needs rewiring?

I hated the arm circles endured during  P.E. classes. However, I am going to suggest an easier set of arm movements and questions to help assess these three vital connection points. 

Reach up:  I will lift my arms upward and ask:

Have I slowed down long enough to meet with God?
Does God feel distant?
Why?
Am I sharing with God my biggest fears or superficial chatter?
Have I spent time in nature?

Reach out: I will extend my arms out in front of me and ask:

Who have I spent time with this week outside of my housemates?
Am I lonely?
Am I missing someone?
Do I feel forgotten? Who might also feel forgotten?
How can I close the gap of distance with my loved ones?

Reach in: I will bend my elbows and place my crossed hands over my heart and ask: 

How am I ignoring my body?
Have I taken a shower?
Am I taking good care of my body by eating well, drinking water?
Can I allow myself to bask while indulging without apologizing or criticizing myself?
Have I moved my body, dug in the dirt, laughed, taken a nap?
Am I holding my breath?

 

During these challenging times, we don’t need more items on a to-do list.

We need simple ways to connect with God, others, and ourselves. Whatever ways feel life-giving, rather than an obligation or a “should” is probably your answer. I could fulfill all three connection points in a day spent at the ocean, but that is not currently a simple way. So I will think again until one day the tide runs over my weary feet.

*****

May we extend ourselves grace when we have off days.
May we not ignore what our bodies, minds, and moods are trying to tell us.
May we feel deeply connected to God, each other, and ourselves this week.

*****

*What I experienced was situational and not long in duration. If you are experiencing prolonged lethargy or depression, please seek medical advice or help. Especially if you are not inhabiting a home with others.

don’t silence your passions

don’t silence your passions

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My energy level has been like the weather lately. 

One day I feel sunny and full of energy and the next day, I feel weighed down by cloudiness and torrential rain.  

It’s probably not that dramatic but I am paying attention to the ebbs and flows of my moods. Not in a way of judging myself but with an awareness of the toll of this suspension time. It does feel as if we are in the center of a suspension bridge, each side is anchored, we are in the middle taking sure steps as well as shaky ones and sometimes a gust of wind or passing traffic gets too close and threatens to send us flying. 

I am realizing when days are stacked with sameness, weariness creeps in. It doesn’t take a monumental shift to create a lift in mood. It can be as simple as doing or seeing something different across the perpetual landscape of your life.

Fridays are pizza night and we each made our own personal pizzas. Caleb was last to take his pizza from the oven to cool and left the house to take care of our neighbors’ cats. He came through the front door a minute later surprising us with the speed of his caretaking.

He said, “Guys, you gotta come see this!”

Carl and I left our chairs and walked down the block in socks and slippers and started to hear guitar music. Neighbors were spread out along the block before ours listening, clapping, and dancing to a mariachi band.   New neighbors were celebrating their marriage, a new home, and workers all over the world. A table was full of party favors of coffee, cupcakes, and small bags of toilet paper rolls and hand sanitizer. Carl and I went back into our house to get our masks and shoes for him. We loved chatting with our new and old neighbors who live so close to us but feel miles away as well. Once we returned to our pizzas, grins dotted our faces and our spirits were buoyed.

I had a similar buoyant feeling when I recently hosted a silent book club* via Zoom.

Have you ever heard of a silent book club?

Silent book clubs turn the traditional book club format upside down.

Silent book clubs gather together for a set time to read silently a book of choice then each member discusses the book they are reading.

I had always thought this idea might avoid some of the potential book club pitfalls but I tucked it away for another time. Until I spotted this article about what silent book club groups were doing in light of the pandemic. ZOOM. I immediately sent the article to my mother and daughters and each one was intrigued and interested.

Two Saturdays ago, I hosted my first silent book club over Zoom. 

There were 6 book lovers in attendance. Each one of us brought a book to read silently for 30 minutes. Some read on their phone, e-reader, or from physical books. We didn’t all know one another so after quick introductions, we held up the books we would be reading.  The genres were varied as were the reason for each selection. 

  • Starting a new book
  • Giving a novel written in verse a second try
  • The next book in a juicy series
  • One of many books currently reading
  • A book almost finished
  • A library book that one day will need to be returned

We set a timer, muted our microphones, and read for half an hour. Our meeting time was during the lunch hour and people were free to munch and sip while reading. After time was up, we talked about our books which garnered additional discussions and questions. We talked about how our reading life had been affected by this stay-at-home time period.  We batted around the question of whether audiobooks count as reading. We gave each other book suggestions. We chatted about how many pages to give a book before setting aside.  We all agreed to meet again soon.

 After the book club was over, I was energized for the rest of the day. There is a kinship created when sharing a passion. This video chat wasn’t about solving a work problem or recounting a litany of the redundancy of a day, it allowed each one of us to step outside the noise of a week, even the quiet of our neighborhoods and cities can feel loud, beautiful at times, but still loud.  We were able to carve a tiny space to welcome a beloved pastime.  There was something uniting about sitting in silence together while doing a loved activity. 

If you are not a book lover, this might seem like the most insane or, as someone in my home may have said, a lame idea. But I think you could gather across screens around any type of passion.

You could knit with someone and discuss your creations.

You could set your screen to show the length of your table and work on puzzles together.

You could gather a bouquet of flowers from your yard and share what blooming, what seeds you plan to plant, what vegetables you dream of harvesting. Or give a virtual tour of your yard.

Have a set of photos printed in advance to put in a photo album and play “show and tell” during the process of documenting life. 

Gather the ingredients, prop up a phone, and make the same recipe together. 

Songwriters share your songs with each other, poets whisper your poems. 

Unfold your easels and paint together. 

Our family watches Survivor together in 3 different locations but we are united in debating whose torch will be snuffed out each week. 

How can you celebrate and share your passions? 

Find one way this week.

*****

 

May you encounter your neighbors this week in meaningful ways.

May you recognize any passion you have silenced during this shuttered away time.

May you seek connection with a fellow lover of what sets your soul ablaze.

May you be gentle and kind to yourself on days when your energy is depleted.

 

*silent book clubs may be an introvert’s dream, however, our group was a mixture of introverts and extroverts and I think it made the perfect combination!