Giving Thanks in An Exceptional Year

I always prefer to focus on gratitude, yet I hadn’t been feeling it this Thanksgiving week. So I posed a question to our community via Facebook:

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wonder if you would share what uniquely 2020-related things you are thankful for?

In this exceptional year, I thought we might move beyond the typical answers: life, health, family, community. As it turns out, those answers carry exceptional significance this year. When U.S. COVID cases have reached 12.7 million and 260,000+ have died, the essential facts that we and our loved ones are alive and healthy becomes a precious truth for those who can claim it. This year has yielded a renewed awareness that we aren’t promised anything and everything can change without warning. We are learning anew to appreciate our own vitality, the breaths we inhale and exhale over minutes that become hours that become days, and the people with whom we share breathing space—especially those we trust within six feet.

Which leads us to: Family. We’re grateful not to frantically rush out the door for our commutes or carpooling children hither and thither and instead to move a little slower. To share family lunches, hearing about school in the middle of the day. To teach kids to ride a bike or overhear through the bedroom door as they sing along with the school choir. To have unexpected time with littles who grow too fast or with older children who will soon fly the nest, or those who tried and got COVID-grounded or those who’ve made a return trip with fledglings of their own. We’ve had time and space to connect and care for one another differently as we’ve all gone through the strange experiences of this year. Some increased the love under their roof by adding dogs or cats to their households.

Zoom has taught many of us that we can work remotely and it’s given us another tool to connect with family and friends in other places. Some have been holding weekly dinners or game nights via Zoom, an idea that likely wouldn’t have occurred to them before March. Who can tell how many families and friends will celebrate with a virtual Thanksgiving feast?

We are grateful for friends who make us laugh. Last spring the world witnessed Italians singing from the balconies of their homes and apartment-dwellers who held evening calisthenics each outside their own front door. As we walked our dogs, we saw socially-distanced neighbors in cul-de-sacs and on street corners enjoying a “six feet at six o’clock” cocktail hour. A local DJ held socially-distanced neighborhood dance parties. One person commented, and many chimed in, that she is grateful for the way those in our community “swarm” to help others with small or big needs; this swarm produces honey as it relieves life’s stings.

We’ve rediscovered ways to savor time, playing board games and card games with family, hiking our spectacular trail system under smoke-free skies, or dabbling in watercolor painting through a subscription art kit. Reading lots and lots of books. Developing our skills through online classes.

It seems to me that the unexpected and initially undesirable changes brought about by the pandemic initiated so much more than cleaner closets and bread baking skills. It gave us quiet in which to reflect on our priorities and lingering conversations with family and neighbors. It forced us to get creative about how we would maintain the essentials for living and it freed us to be creative in other previously neglected and also life-giving ways. It freed us to live into who we are and who we want to be.

One respondent admitted that she found my question difficult to answer since the pandemic has hit her family hard. Although I’ve never met her nor do I know the specifics of her situation, I extended sympathy. As we say, “we’re in this together,” and clearly this year has been hard…illness, death, unemployment, draining bank accounts, loneliness, mental health issues, grief on so many levels. That’s precisely why I asked the question. We know how hard it’s been, and most of us know that our mis/fortunes rest along a spectrum: we have it hard, and also easier than others. Everyone’s lives have changed…in the same and vastly different ways.

In my faith tradition we acknowledge that when you don’t have words to pray for yourself you can rest in the prayers of others. Similarly, when I couldn’t name my own gratitude, I relied on the gratitude of others. “Yes,” I repeated with each response. “Yes, me too,” I’m grateful for that, and that, and I’m grateful to hear about that small or spectacular development in your life.

And so…

A Prayer of Overflowing Gratitude During Thanksgiving Week of an Entirely Unexpected and Exceptional Year

To the One from whom all good gifts flow I whisper Thank You for life and breath and health and the reminder that we can’t take any of it for granted. For families and slow time to hike and ride bikes and learn to cook or bake or support local restaurants by eating delicious take-out food. For the particular humans I get to call “mine,” and for the shared memories and the coming moments that will be tomorrow’s memories. For board games and card games, even the video games I don’t like but over which my guys bond and burn through their frustration loudly in the garage while I quietly read a book in another room. For skin care products which matter so much more than make up and baseball caps to hide the pandemic-casualty formerly known as a hairstyle and for the comfort of lounge wear all day and night. For the enthusiastic love of our furry friends and the hours upon hours we’ve walked dogs through neighborhoods and along trails, watching the tiny and wondrous changes of the seasons. Thank you for California poppies and irises and hawkweed and thistles, roses and hydrangeas and mums, and mustard plants that grow taller than our 85-pound dog. For sunshine and clear skies and the end of fire season and for the twisting and turning of rainbow-colored autumn leaves on the trees and the ground. For the neighbors we’ve greeted from a distance and waved at through windows and conversed with on the phone or over social media or Facetime or Zoom. For books and our library system and my never-empty Kindle. For Netflix and The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek and Disney+ and Hamilton; may Lin Manuel live to write many more plays. For creativity and its multiple expressions we might not have witnessed except for this year. For freedom and those striving for freedom for all. In this Thanksgiving week and on every day of this ridiculous year whether I feel it or not, I whisper Thank You. We say Thank You. The people shout Thank You. And so, Amen.

Following the Words: Scattered

One evening I heard myself say to my husband, “I feel scattered.” I went on to explain just a few of the dizzying directions in which my brain was spinning:

the books I’m reading–to study the author’s writing style, to challenge myself to learn about life from a different perspective, to unwind before bed;

my writing projects–the few side gigs that pay a few pennies, the assignments that stretch me, my commitment to post on my blog regularly, the personal projects I’m trying to take to the next level;

my thoughts and feelings about the divided state of our country, the political and racial strife stirring up people on the streets but also changing friendships and affecting families, the election, and oh, let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and I have never in my life spent this much time at home;

and the intensely personal thoughts and feelings about the ways in which my sons are struggling through distance learning and the coincidence of their developmental stages with this strange time in history, and my mom’s declining health and how her children are coming together…and not.

In other words, it’s a lot. Everybody’s dealing with a lot right now, but this is my heap of extra to pitchfork my way through in search of a needle to stitch together a patchwork quilt of goodness.

The next morning, as the foggy mental fatigue continued to hang heavy on me, I did what I do: I started writing. I decided to follow the word scattered, to listen to the images it offered and what they had to say to me.

I feel scattered…
…like the multicolored metallic glitter confetti strewn across the parquet wood-tile floor of my teenage bedroom after I tore open a belated birthday card…
No, not that bright.

…like the dots and frizzles of crepe-paper ribbons launched from the midnight canon on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, paper melting and colors bleeding into sludgy snow drifts, ground into the treads of shuffling boots and sneakers and spiked by the impractical inches of sparkly high heels impaling the neon dark dawn of another cold year…
No, not that wasted.

…like the wild ping and ding and plonk and buzz and whap-slap of pinballs bouncing and banging a dizzying hypotrochoid roulette through an arcade game…
No, not that loud.

…like fire ash twisting in the late-summer breeze, tangling with the twigs of sunlight creeping through the apocalyptic orange smoke sky, impossibly snowing grey soot on our white roses…
No, not that tragic.

…like the crisp underfoot crunch of fallen autumn leaves carpeting the ground, sun yellow, rusty red, burnt orange, vibrant and colorful and withered, contributing their seasonal decay decoration to the loamy compost which will energize more life to burst forth from the ground…
Yes, organic potential, scattered like that.

Not the best piece of writing I’ve produced, but that wasn’t the point. The process itself was helpful. For a time I lost myself in playing with words and images. It felt freeing to be able to see, and then reject, what scattered could but didn’t mean to me: no, not wasted like crepe paper confetti on New Year’s Eve, or loud like pinball machines in an arcade. Not bright, not tragic.

But yes, scattered like fallen leaves, natural, not artificial, still scattered, but promising. Each factor in the multiplicity of ideas and anxieties boggling my brain and soul might come together for exponential growth. Some thoughts, like those fallen leaves, will crumble into dust and blow away on the breeze–not everything needs to lead to something or even mean something–but others may contribute to the rise of something new.

Though feeling scattered remains uncomfortable, the process of following the words led me to hope. And for that, I am grateful.

Cover Image by Martina Janochová from Pixabay

All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay

Noticing the Glorious Ordinary

Most days of the week I walk by this ordinary bush tucked in among other ordinary bushes along the roadside. So why on that particular day did this one particular ordinary bush attract my eye? The dog must have yanked her leash and stopped to sniff at its roots, allowing my eye to rest a beat longer than usual.

But this bush…! Once I noticed it, I couldn’t not notice it. Now I see it, and admire it, every time I stroll that stretch of the neighborhood. I don’t know what it’s called, or whether it might look different in a different season, but it fascinates me in this early fall. I’m no mathematician but I’m certain its intricacies are mathematical in their precision.

Do you see those teensy pink flowers tickling their way out of the pods extending on stems from the central ball, like the tiny tickling feet of a sea star, or the antennae of some other spectacular underwater creature?

This glorious ordinary bush, tucked in among other ordinary bushes which might be equally glorious if I stopped to notice them. Like one glorious ordinary day in a week, or a month, or a year of ordinary days…and in this year filled with never-ending weeks and months of Blursdays, blurry in their sameness, it’s too easy to lose track. Some days when I open my gratitude journal in the morning to record a few sprinkles of gratitude from the previous day, I can’t remember a single stand out; some days I forget to even pick up the gratitude journal.

This striking regular bush, like a magnificent typical day, like a fantastic common individual human person. All ordinary, among ordinary others, and all miraculous… What will it take for us to stop, see, notice, admire, appreciate, marvel in the extraordinary ordinary all around us? Including our very own lives.

Choose Joy

I have a full day in progress, some work and mostly mundane chores that still need to get done. I also received hard, sad news yesterday, had strange dreams that shocked me awake with my heart fluttering, and had a pressing headache–from the tip of my nose down to my aching shoulders–before I even opened my eyes. None of that changes all the tasks ahead of me today.

And so I will choose joy.

@apeaceofwerk

I may require extra coffee and ibuprofen, notes to self to unclench my jaw and stretch, and refilling my water bottle more than normal. But I will still choose joy.

I will set timers to be productive and take breaks.

I will involve the kids, turn on music, and transform cleaning into a dance party.

I will offer myself periodic rewards for work well done, something as simple as a head massage in the shower I won’t get until this afternoon.

I will step outside and feel the warmth of the sun.

@apeaceofwerk

I will notice gratitude–for the sun, for the new crop of grape tomatoes growing in our container garden that will explode deliciousness in our mouths, for the company of the people I love living under our roof.

I will breathe deeply.

I will engage my senses–what can I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch that adds beauty to this very moment?

I will pet the pets and laugh at their antics. Maybe I’ll look up silly animal videos on one of my breaks.

I will give myself bear hugs.

I will say YES and Thank You to whatever this day holds, all the imperfections and the missed expectations and the mess and the wild and precious ordinary 1440 minutes (or however many are left) in this day.

@triciarobinson

How will you choose joy today?

These Miraculous Days

Some days are picture perfect–big and bright, colorfully nuanced, blooming like a show-offy prize-winning rose.

Those are the days when you wake three minutes before the alarm, energetic and enthusiastic to take on whatever-may-come. The days when the sunlight glints on every surface and the temperature is just right, not too warm or too chill. The days when one steaming mug of coffee or bone China cup of Darjeeling is all it takes to get you going and the whole grain toast pops up at exactly your preferred degree of doneness. The days when even your dog keeps in perfect rhythm with your step the whole jog around the block, foreshadowing good things to come.

Those are the days when your clothes don’t need ironing and they fit better than the last time you wore them and the color of your blouse enhances the rosy blush in your cheeks. When you catch every green light on your way and everyone you pass smiles and even the conflict you knew to anticipate dissolves into nothingness. When you find an unexpected check in the mail alongside the oh-so-fun Etsy package you ordered as a birthday gift for your neighbor, and your kids have managed to prepare a simple meal that you don’t have to salvage.

Those days are miracles. You fall into bed three minutes before bedtime and breathe in and out a deeply contented sigh, “Miraculous.”

Other days are simpler, quieter, like an uncomplicated autumn yellow chrysanthemum.

Those days you might wake up with the alarm. You might also hit snooze a time or two. You down two mugs of coffee and put on an extra layer before leashing the dog who yanks hard toward every other bush, which makes you slightly late so that you have to cut your route short.

Those are the days when you try on three outfits before settling on the one that needs ironing but to save time you toss it in the dryer on the “wrinkle release” setting while you take an extra slurp of coffee. The toast doesn’t exactly burn, but it’s disappointing–and you know life is too short for disappointing toast–so you chunk it in with the dog’s food and grab a yogurt cup instead.

Those are the days when, like your dog peeing on every other bush, you hit every other red light. When your preoccupied boss doesn’t smile but that might not mean anything and your work requires more concentrated effort yet you find yourself daydreaming out the window while the warm breeze tosses the leaves like fun-size candy on Halloween. When the mailbox contains bills and political ads and the kids are squabbling and no one can agree on what you should prepare for dinner.

Those ordinary days aren’t bad. They are most days, typical, unexceptional, average days…and they’re still miraculous.

How are you? No, really…

How are you? she asks, a simple question requiring an easy answer. But do we really have a simple answer?

I could tell her I’m tired, weary in my bones and soul. So weary that sleep plays hide and seek through the dark hours, slipping through my grasp each time I think I’ve caught it. And I understand, of course, that hide and seek was always more fun to play after dark. Still, I do all the right things: I go to bed at what they call a reasonable hour with a book soothing, not scintillating. I read until my eyes flicker and then, ready to slide down sloping fatigue into sleep, I turn out the lights. Timed to the flick of the light switch, my eyes snap open, staring into the dark interior of my sleep mask, which I now shove onto my forehead because I am instantly wide awake.

I could tell her I’m tired because, on those rare nights when I less eventfully hop aboard the sleep train, when its chugga-chugga forward motion lulls me into slumber and its choo-choo doesn’t rouse me, it speeds ahead of schedule to reach its destination before I’m rested. Or it breaks down with a screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks as I am knocked meanly backward into my seat, clutching the arm rests for dear waking life, desperate for the slow-and-steady rhythm of safe passage to morning.

I could tell her I’m tired from my nightly boxing match versus my comforter, not doing its comforting job–I should spitefully call it “duvet,” or less fancy and more plain-spoken “bedspread,” or even “hot mess” except that more accurately describes me–as I fling my limbs free from the tangles of its stranglehold in search of the air flow from the oscillating fan. Until my foot or knee or elbow ice over and I yank them back to center, only to fight another round, and another, the fight cycle as endless as the fan, and the minutes on the clock, oscillating through the hours of the night.

I could tell her I’m tired from not sleeping because I’m a middle-aged hormonal woman. We could shrug and laugh and oh well meshuggenah at this sleeplessness. I could also explain that my anxious mind spins all night long through the circles of aching grief hell from the losses we have suffered this year, the loss of jobs, the loss of freedoms to be out and about at the theatres and the malls and the concerts and the parties, gathering with friends and family in countless numbers since the more the merrier was always the open invitation. The loss of travel, of vacations planned and cancelled. The loss of so much that added fun and celebration and punctuated the mundane, while the fatigue mounts from trying and flailing to sprinkle sparkle over days that recur with such similarity that we have lost the days of the week, the weeks of the month, the months of the year: I keep opening my calendar-planner to March, confused…

Pause: Let us now pause to mourn the colossal loss of the freedom to grieve through the rituals that allow and support and move us through grief. We have lost the freedom to be with our loved ones who are sick and dying; we have said our goodbyes in this life through plate-glass windows and computer screens. We have lost the freedom to hold memorial services and graveside gatherings. We have lost the freedom to gather in remembrance, for Memorial Day, 9/11, and Veteran’s Day is coming right up. We have lost, and perhaps just recently regained while perhaps to lose again, the opportunity to worship together in person, to worship and praise and lament and just be in process in this moment, side-by-side, right now.

I could tell her I’m tired from the heartbreaking loss of friendships because apparently some friends were truly occasional acquaintances and, without our regular joyful meetings in our ordinary joy-filled places, the colorful palette of our once-vibrant conversations dried, faded, flaked in the plein air breeze of months we thought would be weeks, leaving behind a faintly-hued shadow I hold tight as a memento. My gut aches and my soul quakes from the loss of friends who turned toward a different view from our place on the trail and wandered away to hike with others, new friends or those who share similarly-firm beliefs that leave us behind in the dust wondering how we could have seen things so differently when we once paced so steadily shoulder-to-shoulder?

I could tell her I’m tired of listening to and, in turn, shielding myself from the spits of anger bubbling and boiling in almost every cauldron-conversation, in person, online, on screen. The news I choose to read because the vitriol voices need no additional amplification. The pummeling lies that beat us to dust-level to sift through more and more foolishness piled up in more and more sources until, muscles sore from shoveling piles and digging mine deep, we strike a vein of truth: Eureka! Only to recognize that we will need to repeat the process, digging, sifting, digging, rinsing, hi ho hi ho, in search of diamonds and precious gems and 24 karat gold while smacking fool’s gold from foolish fingers.

I could tell her I’m tired of the ear-piecing voices that puncture the present to “get back to normal” ASAP, right this g’damn minute if not yesterday or last week already, that the restrictions meant as safeguards against which many fought and didn’t follow ever, you do you American individualism at its worst, be lifted for everyone everywhere. That theatres and malls and concerts and parties roar back to life, that workplaces open and freeways and BART trains fill up as commuters resume their daily to-and-fro trudge. That schools for students of all ages open immediately.

I could tell her I’m tired because the pandemic has worn me out, too. Just like everyone else, I’m tired of making all the meals for all the people and washing all the dishes and planning all the menus so we can stagger all the shopping trips or find ourselves again, unintentionally, offering the pet rabbit or the compost heap the produce that has gone off before we got to it. I’m tired of competing in the Pandemic WiFi Olympics with everyone under our roof and in our neighborhood on Zoom work and Zoom school all the freaking hi ho hi ho day long.

I could tell her I’m especially oh so tired of monitoring online school and emailing teachers and skirting parents who want me to agree with them, though I don’t and I can’t for the sake of my individual and particular struggling child, who likely represents more children than I or we know personally. The screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks sting my ears and burn my brain as I realize that this time I’m the one throwing the brakes and I’m the one throwing my body over my child tied to the tracks as the train hurtles toward us… We’ve finally committed and settled in to our place on this track, as we thought required and necessary, and now that we’re here we discover wide-eyed that we’re stuck and left behind while others nimbly switch tracks and the train set in motion by life and pandemic and school board and caution and all those squeaky wheels might actually mow us down.

I could tell her I’m just as tired as every other K-12 parent from empathizing with the myriad losses my son has and will experience, losses common to all our kids, the games and sports practices and dances and lunchtime rallies and spirit days and concerts and plays and gallery shows and in-class support and Scouts and youth groups and parties and budding romances and old-fashioned face-to-face friendship and, oh yeah, Halloween which shouldn’t but probably will happen anyway in 2020, as this strange school year in this strange pandemic year unfolds bit by bit, a map we didn’t chart and don’t know how to follow toward a destination on which no one yet agrees.

I could tell her I’m tired of feeling anxious about a virus we can’t see and don’t understand for which there isn’t yet a vaccine–and patients in vaccine trials keep getting sick which halts vaccine trials and maintains our place in this holding pattern. I’m tired of having to think so intentionally about how to do differently all the things that once filled our days with normalcy, like a quick grocery trip on the way home from a day at the office to pick up a fresh ciabatta loaf so we can make a Tuscan pressed sandwich for dinner tonight with the fragrant basil and glorious tomatoes growing in our garden.

I could tell her I’m tired and shattered for feeling suspicious of neighbors and friends, those same shrill voices who insist that society and schools reopen, and yet I’ve heard about their summer vacations, multiple trips in fact while so many of us followed the suggested guidelines and stayed home, and I’ve seen their pictures of mask-less hugs gathered in tight for the camera on those vacations or at those restaurants that posted policies of family-only seating. Who to trust?

I want schools to open, safely. I want on-site work to resume, safely. I want stores and theatres to open, safely. I want to see friends and neighbors and family and colleagues, safely. I want “normal” life, whatever that ever meant, to resume, or our “new normal” to commence…safely.

How are you? she asks.

Tired, grieving, frustrated, sad, lonely, I could say.

Existentially and honestly, I could also answer: I am loved, safe, housed and fed, unintentionally funny yet funny nonetheless, smart and talented and engaged, creative and creatively fulfilled, thoughtful and kind and loving.

Grateful, I could say. I am all of this, and also grateful.

How are you?

Bloom Your Beauty

Between the seasonally-grassy yard and the narrow porch walkway facing our NorCal single-story ranch-style home we have a border of three white floribunda rose bushes, Valentine’s Day gifts from my Guy many years ago, that bloom May through November, spring through fall.

Every summer, as blooms explode among the greenery, I commit to bi-weekly dead-heading; every summer I fail and trim them back only once a week, often less. I believe if I had more discipline I could keep them from getting leggy and they might fill out and produce more.

However, by the time I remember that my sweet roses require attention, often they have grown taller than my head, some of them top the roof line, and many sky-high branches hold handfuls of buds. I’m a sucker for rose buds; no matter how tall and spindly the bush becomes, I will not cannot trim back rose buds. I have to wait for them to bloom, then wither, before I reach for my pruning shears.

The other day I glanced out the kitchen window and gasped: a watermelon pink rose had bloomed on one of the reaching-for-the-(finally blue again)-sky canes, with an equally pink bud next to it. Pinker than pink roses on my white rose bush, standing up tall as if to demand my admiration. Did the Queen of Hearts arrive in the night with a step stool to carefully apply nail polish?

I know it happens sometimes, probably something to do with pollination. And these white roses have had a rebellious pink streak for a while, some of them pinkish-white in bud still bloom snow white while others bloom mostly white with a single pink streak, like a blonde teenager who dyes a neon stripe into her shoulder-length hair. Prettier than that, though, as natural variations outshine our mimicry.

As much as I adore our white roses, I am grateful for these pink surprises. They stand out. They delight me and make me laugh. They remind me to take care of the plants my husband purchased and dug into the ground.

They also remind me to bloom my own beauty, my own Siv-style of watermelon pink on a white rose bush. I don’t have to be like anyone but myself.

Bloom your beauty, friend. Be you, your one-and-only glorious self. The world needs what you have to offer. You don’t have to fit in. Cast off whatever holds you back, including your fear. The spotlight is yours and we’re waiting to cheer you on.

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

Unexpected

How are you holding up during the pandemic? I don’t typically experience anxiety, but I have during the five weeks the San Francisco Bay Area of California has been under shelter-in-place (SIP). Some days, or at least some hours, I’m fine, and others not so much.

I do typically seek out gratitude, and this discipline has become even more important these days. It has helped to hold me steady. So the unexpected feelings of anxiety have me looking for unexpected things I can be grateful for during this extremely unexpected experience.

Unexpected things I’m grateful for during SIP (beyond things I’m regularly thankful for, like walkable neighborhoods and blooming spring flowers):

Not having to rush everywhere
Our church has learned how to broadcast services and Sunday school resources, and folks who haven’t been attending church have been finding their way back
All the people we meet face-to-face (at a safe distance) while walking
Cleaning out closets, the pantry, the fridge/freezer, vacuuming under the bed, etc.
Family projects–both kids worked with their dad to create/update pet habitats and Q15 has a new live edge redwood desk with redwood legs
People rediscovering the art of correspondence
Also, rediscovering playtime–puzzles, games, hobbies, toys that had been outgrown and tucked away have been pulled out
New cooking/recipe groups on social media and time to try new recipes
Bartering–a friend swapped me two bottles of wine for homemade hummus and granola
Artists and musicians sharing their gifts and humor freely, and amateurs dabbling creatively
My overflowing (and occasionally crazy-making) bookshelves + our local online library service + more time to read and I will never run out of new material
Technology meeting the demands of new restrictions and reminding people that we can be connected even if we’re far apart
People have been leaving whimsically painted rocks along the trails and roadsides for others to find–like discovering Easter eggs all spring!

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to write Bible studies like the one below, in which Jesus showed up to His grieving friends. I’m grateful for the reminder that I don’t have to have it all together for Jesus to be with me, to love me just as I am.

Connect
What unexpected things have you discovered you can be grateful for during shelter-in-place?

Study
Read aloud John 20:1-18.
What did Mary, and then Peter and John, expect to find at the tomb (vv1-3)?
What different responses did Mary, Peter and John have as they approached the empty tomb (vv1-9)? Who do you most relate to in this scene and why?
Why do you think Peter and John went back to where they were staying while Mary remained at the tomb (vv10-11)?
Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus (vv9-16)? What did it take for her to recognize Him?
Describe the interaction between Jesus and Mary (vv15-18).
What instructions did Jesus give Mary, and why is it important then and now (vv17-18)?

Live
How do you typically expect to approach and interact with Jesus?
How has Jesus recently surprised you by bursting beyond your expectations?
When coming to God, are you more of a “clean it up first” or “bring the whole mess” kind of person? Explain.
What does it sound like for Jesus to call your name? How do you respond?
How has Jesus met you in the grief and disappointments of life?
What difference does the resurrection make to your life today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for eyes to see the Lord.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:11-18 individually and with your family:
What makes you sad?
How can Jesus comfort you when you’re sad?
Pray for eyes to see Jesus.

If you’d like to hear a sermon based on this passage, my husband preached a grace-filled message for our church today. You can watch here.

Cover Image by TC Perch from Pixabay