Storm Reflections

Today it’s blustery and gray outside, and the forecasted rain is most certainly on its way. It’s chilly and the storm hasn’t yet hit. It will be colder and wetter soon.

But not that long ago the sun radiated through the autumn-bedazzled green-yellow trees. The sky was a brilliant blue and even with a slight breeze the sun warmed my skin as I strolled the dogs through our neighborhood.

Today’s storm will hit and darkness will descend during daylight hours. But we know, in hope and from experience, that the sun will rise again.

Even on sunny days, for many of us 2020 has been a stormy year. Things have changed, minor inconveniences and devastating losses, and despite our attempts to calibrate to this “new normal” or our plaintive longings for the old “normal” that may have been the song on repeat but also may have been more ear worm than desirable—can anyone define what we even mean by “normal”?—this has been an exhausting year replete with challenges we’d prefer to have avoided. We’ve been shoved into a marathon for which we didn’t train; we’re parched and gasping for breath to fill our aching lungs.

But when we’re alone in our rooms, quiet outside and in (hard as that may be), we can take comfort that this, too, shall pass. We know, in hope and from experience, that the storm will cease and the sun will rise.

We don’t know when, or how, or what the newly-illuminated landscape will look like. We have theories, arguments, conjectures, sure we do. Or at least we try to conjure or adopt or collage theories, arguments, and conjectures so we appear educated, thoughtful, “in the know.” Other times we simply throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and sigh with the admission that we have no idea. We’re just doing our best to slug our way through today.

So today I’m going to light candles and start a fire in the fireplace. I’m going to drink hot tea. I’m going to listen as the rain thrums on the roof and the wind whistles and I’ll watch through the windows as the trees enthusiastically dance like they’ve been waiting for the storm as debutantes waited all season for the grand ball.

I will seek moments of beauty in the storm. Living in drought-prone California, I’m trained to appreciate water falling from the sky even when it’s inconvenient. I will respect the storm for what it is, for its differently beautiful gifts that nudge me to a new and necessary perspective.

I know, I know, that may be easier said in an actual rainstorm than done in the unimaginable storms of this year. Yet I can’t help but wonder: what candles can we light, and what will we admire in their glow? What unexpected gifts might this year offer as it prods us to reconsider our priorities, as individuals, neighbors, and citizens of our country and the world?

Because the sun will rise. It’s coming, friends.

Cover Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

A New Perspective on the Waiting

Last weekend I noticed myself feeling itchy-irritable. Smoke from the fires in Napa (north) and Santa Cruz (south) settled thick on our slice of the San Francisco Bay Area; if the measure of unhealthy air quality starts at a score of 150, our air measured at a ridiculous 1100+. We couldn’t open the windows, we certainly couldn’t be outside. Add a record-breaking heat wave and no air conditioning and, yah, I did not feel like a happy gal.

We’ve been waiting for the heat to break. We’ve been waiting for the fires to be extinguished. We’ve been waiting for the air to clear. We’ve been waiting for months for the pandemic to end (remember when we thought we’d be home for two to three weeks?), or a proven-safe vaccine to become available. And through most of the summer I sat on my ever-expanding rear waiting for an injury to heal.

Waiting, waiting, so much waiting. It’s felt heavy, disorienting.

Did you know there’s a spiritual term for that waiting? It’s called liminal space, from the Latin word for threshold. We’ve left normal behind and, though we throw around the term new normal like children playing Hot Potato, we haven’t actually entered that new normal yet. We’re in between. We’re standing in the doorway. We’re waiting.

Most of us don’t like to wait. We get restless, we want to move on. Blaise Pascal, writing in the 1600s, offered wisdom: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” (do women sit easier? Let’s assume he meant to include everyone). Anyway, that seems a quarantine-worthy quote if I’ve seen one.

Flip those words around: we could solve all of humanity’s problems if we could teach all of humanity to sit quietly alone. Lofty goal for sure, but we can start with ourselves. Right now, when we have been asked – for the greater good and health of humankind – to stay mostly at home by ourselves, we can begin with God’s help to untangle some of our own problems.

Rather than feeling irritable and restless, we can choose to rest. Rather than fighting what we cannot change, we can accept this liminal space as it is and seek to receive the gifts it holds for us.

I’m finding it helpful to imagine a circle drawn on the ground around my house. This is my liminal space, this is my liminal time, and in this sacred space and time God is doing a new thing.

Despite Modern English singing on the soundtrack of my youth, I’ll stop the world and melt with you, we didn’t stop the world, the COVID-19 pandemic did. We didn’t will this change, yet here we are. This in-between time, so outside our common experience, feels dislocating, off-kilter. So let’s just go with it already. Let’s find a new perspective, looking at the contents of our lives from this different angle.

It seems like a good time to reevaluate our priorities:
* What did we do before that we want to keep doing? And what no longer serves us? (I’m thinking of all those who have realized they can ditch the commute and work from home just as well).
* How – or where – do we want to live?
* Among our many acquaintances and friends, who remains in our inner circle?
Tough questions, worthy of time alone in your room to think and pray deeply.

Already the smoke has cleared and the heat wave has broken. A safe vaccine will be found and made available eventually. This waiting time will end, we believe, and the world will have changed. We don’t yet know what those changes will entail, but we can rest in God’s loving work in us and in our midst.

One more thought: in his book Everything Belongs, theologian Richard Rohr recommends making liminal space a regular practice. “Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible….If we don’t find liminal space in our lives, we start idolizing normalcy.” Let’s topple normalcy from its throne and trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t.

Cover image by Pexels from Pixabay

Thankful Thursday – Forced Detox

I’m back!

For the last few weeks my computer has either struggled to function or has been in the shop (don’t even get me started on the several internet technicians who spent hours at my house replacing brand-new modems with other brand-new modems or moving brand-new modems to different locations in my not-big-enough-for-this house; or the multiple techs sent by the manufacturer as my machine is still under warranty; or the fact that, once the company had the machine in their possession, their first pass was to repair the wrong part…).

As Communication Director, it becomes extremely difficult to get the job done when I’m traveling between computers with files on server, in the cloud, and on a thumb drive. Needless to say, and frustrating to deal with, a few balls dropped.

As a writer, I felt like a good portion of my brain had exited the building. I couldn’t think straight. And I didn’t want to write on another computer–almost like cheating–because I have enough files I need to retrieve and back-up again now that my machine has returned to me. I guess I could write on paper, but I didn’t.

Definitely not a vacation, no way a sabbatical, but in the “off work” hours, I had, for the most part, to be off work. I couldn’t check work email at home or do “a few quick tasks.” When I left the office, I had to be done.

Considering I work part-time, this shouldn’t have been so hard. Still, it was.

Being gentle to myself, it is hard to not have the equipment necessary to do your job efficiently. It is hard when your major creative outlet gets stunted. And as I’m trying my darnedest to also (mostly) stay off Facebook during this maddening political season, I had unanticipated time.

What did I do? I read. A lot. I walked or ran. I cooked. I helped Tween study for a test. I took pictures. I also watched more TV than normal, but TV that I recorded because I want to watch it, not just whatever’s on TV.

I made conscious choices throughout the moments and the days to be grateful. To remember that this is absolutely a first-world problem.

Meanwhile one of my work projects has been to compile and edit gift-in-kind donation items for local and global ministries to be available through our church Mission Market. For example, you can donate $7 to buy school books for kids in the Dominican Republic and then give your sister a card with a description of the group to which you donated in her name. Win-win, especially when most of us don’t need another Christmas sweater. Or anything, for that matter.

For example, Amor Ministries, the home building ministry we work with in Mexico, for which hundreds of high school students and adults through our church have built hundreds of homes over 25+ years, finally has the opportunity to purchase land for their camp that hosts all the volunteers… Amor can finally have a home! If we donate…

Thanks to another group (nameless at their request and for their protection), Syrian refugees can machine wash their laundry, rather than hand wash. While the clothes tumble, women can make a pretty craft to take to their temporary “home.” Their children can do crafts or receive help with handwriting and spelling. There’s also a corner with second-hand clothes free to the right fit.

Keeping things in perspective: I had a few weeks of significant inconvenience. Others told me they would be banging on doors and demanding a better, faster solution. That’s not my style. I complained a bit and did my best while also trying to make the best of the situation.

On the other hand, some people have not just inconveniences but hardships. Frankly, I am abashed to have complained at all when I think of their life situations.

I am grateful to have my computer back. I am grateful for easier and quicker access to the work given me to do. I am grateful for this blog, this creative outlet that connects me to others in (I hope!) meaningful ways. I am thankful for technology that organizes my life in oh-so-necessary ways. I am grateful for perspective. I am thankful.

Swing

A few years ago, our neighbor took down their simple tree swing. He walked across the court and put it under our pine tree, then returned to his garage to get a ladder and tools. Within minutes, their slightly-older children had bequeathed to ours a perfectly good source of outdoor entertainment.

Now adolescents, I suppose my kids might be too old to spend much time on the swing. We keep it up, though, for the waiting times – waiting for rides, for friends, during transitions. And the neighbor kids come up the court when the weather’s nice. I love hearing little kid laughter from our front yard. It makes me giggle in chorus.swing

Some months ago a friend challenged her social media followers to do something childlike. I immediately thought of our swing, and so I spent a few minutes swinging. I had thought I didn’t like swinging, that as I get older the motion makes me a tad seasick. And yet, it didn’t. It was fun, playful, indeed, childlike.

We’re in that funny NorCal time of year when technically the calendar declares Winter and yet we experience Spring-like days. The sky is blue, the birds sing, flowers pop up from the ground, trees bud, oh, and allergies make my eyes sting. While I would be thrilled for the heavens to dump a few more feet of rain on our parched landscape, meanwhile the beautiful light quality makes me happy. It makes me want to play outside.

So I’ve been swinging on my tree swing regularly. The other day I set the toaster for four minutes and ran outside to swing until the timer beeped. Other days I’ve set the timer on my phone for five minutes and played until it goes off.

On the swing, I feel my body – legs pumping rhythmically, lungs filling and exhaling, heart thumping with joyful exertion. I feel the rough rope in my hands and the air on my face and blowing through my hair. I move fast and pump hard, and then rest, floating. I see sky between branches, pine cones opening to distribute their seeds, California poppy leaves taking over our once-lawn. I hear the creak of the swing and the branch, the birds as they flit from tree to tree.

Five minutes seems like a completely do-able amount of time for a break. I don’t have to think. I get to just be in the best, most human sense. I suppose I’m getting exercise, moving my body in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise, but that’s not the point.

The point is play. It has occurred to me to wonder if the neighbors are peaking out their windows, wondering what’s gotten into me. It has also occurred to me to tell my inner critic to bug off. Who cares if a grown woman on a swing, no children in sight, looks like a nut case? I’m having fun. I’m gathering a new perspective. I’m enjoying the day and my place in space. I’m saying YES! to life.

How about you? What do you do for play that reconnects you to child-likeness and helps you gain perspective?