Feeling the Hard of it All


It has been two weeks now. Two weeks of social distancing; two weeks of aloneness or very limited contact; two weeks of staying at least six feet away from anyone who does not currently occupy our homes with us. Two weeks and things are getting harder. Harder to deal with, harder to fathom, harder to grasp hold of in a way we can understand. I am hearing from friends who own small businesses and are having to let go of staff, people they care about very deeply. Friends who are considered essential workers are heading out every day and so are in a constant state of anxiety and worry about their health and the health of the loved ones they interact with. Friends whose jobs have been shut down or let go are struggling and in fear. Things are hard. As a dearest dear one put it, it feels like we have been running on adrenaline for the last two weeks and now reality is crashing in. I miss my people I am worrying about them, fearing for them in some cases. I miss my normal. I miss taking my daughter out for sushi. I miss going to the movies or walking the mall with my husband. I miss falling into the arms of my closest friends. This is hard.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to feel when things are hard. I am tempted to remind myself that I have it so much better than others perhaps do. This is not affecting my paycheck or my husband’s as we are able to work from home. We are healthy, have enough for our needs and then some, and are together. I have nothing to complain about, I am tempted to scold myself. But why? Why should I scold myself? Why should you shame yourself? What is our crime? Being human and grieving all this hard right now? Why are we tempted to compare our pain, our hard with someone else’s? Yes, there are people in worse situations than I am, and this is hard for them. However, that does not diminish the space I need to hold for myself and that you should hold for yourself, too. We need to feel and grieve this hard. I need to. I need to let myself admit that things are hard right now, because they are.

Let’s set down the shame, dear ones. Set down the expectation that we should be able to handle this. No one is handling this well, never mind handling at all. These are times for which no one was prepared; these are circumstances for which no one was ready—physically, mentally, financially, emotionally. We do not need to be the one with the answers, because we are not. We cannot expect ourselves to be the ones who fix this, because we are not. What we can do in this moment is admit that this is all incredibly, immensely hard. We can grieve the losses in our lives, whatever they may be. We can allow ourselves to be beautifully, brokenly human.

For me, the hardest thing right now is the unfathomableness of all this, the not knowing. I have no end to work towards or, at least, not an end that I can see. We canceled a spring break trip we had planned for our daughter. A concert Ben and I have been looking forward to for years is postponed with no idea of when it will be rescheduled. A belly dance workshop with a favorite dancer/teacher planned for my birthday weekend is postponed until next year. My mother cannot come to visit us for Easter. I cannot go visit a friend as I had planned. My weekly dinners with another cannot happen right now. My daughter cannot play with her best friend.

This. Is. Hard. It is, dear Readers, and we are allowed to feel and grieve that hard. Right now, we are in perhaps some of the softest spaces to emotionally land that we probably could ever be. We can be soft, too. I know it’s hard, believe me, fighting the shame. We are together in that, though we may be separated into our own spaces. Still, my little corner of the online world is a soft place for you to land. What is your hard today? What is your grief? You are safe and welcome to share those here. I see you. I hear you. There is space for you here.

This Thing Called Coping


Can I be really-real for a second? Just for a little bit, Dear Readers? I hope that is okay. It’s been…12 (13?) days since my little family and I have been sequestered at home amidst this crisis, and I realized–or rather admitted–something rather important. In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, a friend shared a Facebook post by  Revelatori, which consisted of ten gorgeous images that hit me like a Mack truck.

The truth of these images, of this beautiful vulnerability was almost too much for me to take for a moment. 

I am not coping as well as I would like to be, dear ones. I am unable to rest and relax during the day; I am constantly looking for something to do or scolding myself because, “with all this extra time and so many things to be done/cleaned/arranged/tidied, I should be doing SOMETHING!”  Whether that is curriculum work, grading eLearning assignments, guiding my daughter through her lessons or helping her with an art project, exercising, or doing household chores and projects, my body feels like it needs to be in a constant state of work. Not movement. Work. So much so that when I am not, I feel guilty and lazy and I start looking for something to work on.

I am constantly on alert throughout the day for state and national (even international) press conferences and the like, watching the news on TV or listening to it on NPR & IPR. It’s as though I am afraid of missing something direly important, even though my common sense (along with other wise sources) tells me that such saturation is not good for my mental and emotional health. I absolutely agree with that, but I find I am inundated by noise: the noise of the news, the noise of family in close quarters, the noise of play and games and music, and my own attempts to drown them out at times.

An effect of all that noise, however, is that silence has become almost deafening, even when I crave both it and stillness so deeply. The latter feels almost impossible, as though my body and mind are trained to live at my daughter’s energetic pace. But even she slows down, even she rests. At the very moment I was writing this, I could hear her up in her room, cozy and chill on her bed, indulging in a favorite cartoon on her Kindle for a little while. I, meanwhile, struggle to rest and now grapple for that hygge spirit that I began the year working so hard to cultivate.

I am doing good things in all of this, yes. I am writing what I feel I am led and need to write in this season of life–a work of love, support, safety, and encouragement that comes straight from my heart. I am extending myself to my friends, my dear ones, my colleagues, my students as best I can, so they know that they are not alone in all this. I don’t want us to be isolated while we are separated. This is all hard enough. So, yes, I am doing good things. I might seem calm, cool, and collected, but I am still not coping as well as would like.

Last night, as he tucked me into bed, I admitted to Ben that it all just feels unfathomable as to when it will end and where we will be when it does end. Not monetarily but as a country, as a society, as people, as a species. I cried as I admitted what often feels like a bottomless feeling. He encouraged me, of course, like the good man he is. He didn’t dismiss my fears but he reminded me of where we look for strength, that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). He also reminded me that I am not alone in this, none of us are. We are all together, whether we are so physically or not.

No, I am not coping as well as I would like, but I am coping. My beloved Marmee, bless her, reminds me every day that I need to rest, that it is necessary. She is right, of course. I have forced–yes, forced–myself to do so several times this week, putting aside what I think I need to do in favor of curling up on the couch in the afternoon sun a few times or taking a long, hot, lavender-suffused bath. I am coping, not as well as I might like, but I am. And I know you are coping in your ways, too. You may not be doing so as well as you would like either, but you are coping, Friend. Don’t dismiss that, you are coping. We can cope together, hold each other, support each other.

Thank you, Relevatori, for your beautiful vulnerability and stunningly heart-full reminder.

The Onset of Overwhelm


With a statewide Stay Home order having gone into effect last night and the extension of school closings until May 1 here in Indiana, we teachers have had to pivot once again. My school board has requested that teachers set up lessons, projects, practices, etc., for students to engage in, though they are all to be optional. I had been preparing for something like this, dear ones, so I was at least partially ready. As such, around lunchtime on Saturday, up the lesson folders posted and out went the emails to students and parents, letting them know that these lessons were now up on our digital learning platform. I spent the rest of the afternoon fielding questions from students and parents and even reading a few assignments that were posted before the end of the day.

And, just like that, I felt the overwhelm starting to hover right over my shoulders like an owl, ready to settle its weight on me, talons digging into my skin. This is uncharted territory for me—teaching remotely—and I am nervous about it, to tell the truth. I am nervous about all it will involve, about how effective I will be able to be, or if I am even doing it “correctly”. I am also nervous about how much I will need to be doing, as, despite the fact that the lessons are optional, I know many parents have been dying for their students to have something to do and so will insist upon it being done. I am already working what feels like full-time between my daughter and her lessons, grading the assignments I have already brought home with me, reworking curriculum, taking care of our home and family, and my personal projects I have lined up for this season of life. I am anxious about being able to handle everything and possibly (hateably) dropping the ball. Right now, the overwhelm threatens to overtake me.

Over the past week or so, I have been reminding pretty much everyone, especially my own husband, that it is okay for things not to be perfect. It is okay, in this season, for things to be good enough. If you need to call in to the meeting in Zoom on your phone instead of video-conferencing on your laptop, that’s okay. It still works. If you AND your child have frustrations over the week’s elearning, it is okay to let what has been done be done and set the rest aside for tonight. It will still be there tomorrow, and we teachers will not judge you (I am officially speaking for my people, I have decided.).

This is indelibly difficult advice to take myself, though, as usual. However, the truth that is the same for others is also the same for me: it is okay for “good enough” to be good enough.

If I can only manage to be available to student contact for 2-3 hours in a day, that is good enough; they can wait until tomorrow.

If I can only mentally manage to get through half a class of grading today instead of the whole set, that is okay; the papers aren’t going anywhere.

If I need to slough off schoolwork entirely for a day and huddle with a book to recharge, that is acceptable; I am tending to my mental and emotional health, which is good and necessary.

If all I can manage during my prayer time is an exhausted “Ugh!” or no words at all, that is good enough. Jesus still knows my heart without me trying to stumble my way through words.

Let me say it again. It is acceptable and even healthy to let “good enough” be good enough right now (though not with your hand-washing and social distancing, please.). We are all finding a new way, a new normal, and nothing new is ever perfect right off the bat. Neither do we need to be perfect. Neither do I need to be perfect. In this season of life, dear ones, if any, we absolutely have permission to be imperfect. Give yourselves some much-needed grace and allow “good enough” to be good enough.

All in This Boat Together


For the first time in perhaps two centuries, almost the entire world is in the same boat. Every major country in the world is dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19. All over the planet, life is being disrupted, change sweeping over everyday life like a tsunami. People are startled and scared. For the first time in my lifetime, despite our location, we are all in the same boat.

Despite growing up in the Caribbean, I am not a huge fan of boats. The way they pitch and roll, the way that water can gather on the deck when the waves are choppy. I don’t like the smell of fish or the sensation of damp against my skin. I love the wind as the boat moves through the water but not the way it can leap and rear on the waves when it isn’t. I would be doubly squigged out if I were in that boat alone. And I have been before.

As a child, on a field trip, I elected to stay in the boat while my classmates tumbled into the water at Stingray City. I had no interest in swimming with creatures longer and larger than my entire body combined. Creatures that, if I stepped on one by accident, could deal me a painful blow with their stinger-tail. So I stayed in the boat by myself. That wasn’t fun either. I can remember holding onto the bars on the boat tightly as it bobbed and weaved on the water, an unsettled and unsettling feeling tingling at my temples. It was the same feeling that I still get when I am nauseated or when I hear Velcro being pulled apart. I still might not have liked being on the boat but perhaps I would not have been quite so unsettled if someone else had been there with me.

Simon Peter and the other disciples were in their own little boat when a storm came up and pitched and rolled them on the lake’s surface. I am sure they would agree with me: not fun, do not recommend. Even though they were not alone in the boat, it almost feels as though they forgot that Jesus was there. And maybe they did. But, yes, that was Him, napping in the prow there, rubbing bleary eyes when they shook Him awake in their fear. Apparently, this storm was enough to make even seasoned fishermen. as several of them were, cling white-knuckled to ropes and the sides of the boat. But they were not alone. They were together and they were with Him. And they got through it.

We are not alone in this boat right now. Many others, millions of them in fact, are startled, scared, and suffering, just as we are. I know that thinking about the misery of others may not be especially helpful but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that we all—for one of the first times—can empathize with each other. We know what those other folks are feeling, and they know what we are feeling because it is the same thing. We are all startled and scared and suffering. We are all in this boat together. That empathy can lead us to patience, that patience to compassion, and that compassion to mercy. May we look up from our own white-knuckling long enough to recognize the fear in the face of the person across the boat, the worry for their family, friends, and themselves. May we see ourselves in them, recognize ourselves, and offer the comfort that we so desperately crave, too. We are all in this boat together.

Ya basta, Dear Ones! Yibambe! Hold fast! To hope and to each other. We are all in this boat together; let’s let it make us softer, kinder, stronger, more loving, more merciful. Let’s let it make us better.

Interrupting the New Routine Energy


Have you ever noticed that when you start something new, you have all this energy for it? In dating, for example, they call that “new relationship energy”, where everything is sharp and vital and you can’t get enough of each other. Well, I totally had “new routine energy” on the first day. Over the weekend, after school closure was announced, I had sketched out a rough idea of the routine I wanted to get myself and my daughter into over this long duration at home. I talked it over with her and did my best to give myself grace for that first day–that it didn’t have to be perfect and, if it didn’t come together at all, that was okay, too. You know what? The first Monday home went beautifully! We accomplished every part of my proposed routine, with minimal snags or objections. It was an absolute dream!

Then came Tuesday. The only difference in Tuesday was a moved-up dentist appointment, but everything still went relatively well. Even now, I can still feel the novelty, the newness of the routine, of this situation, buzzing along my skin, and I think it is what is keeping my daughter relatively docile. New things, new chances, new interactions with these people with whom I spend my life. Despite this being our house, our town, our stuff, this is now our daily routine(s) writ small and contained in this space. It’s still there, that “new routine energy”, but I cannot help but think on down the road, down the days and weeks, to where the routine will become…well…routine. When it gets old and the everyday sets in. That’s when things get hard, tempers get short, the space seems too small, and the days seem oh, so long.

That is when we really need each other. When we start to follow blindly because “it’s what we do”, that’s when it is so very helpful to have that surprise phone call from a friend, your favorite song playing as their ringtone. That is when the chirp of the video-chat call on your computer or a letter in the mail is so very welcome. That is when a break in the energy is needed.

Jesus interrupted that “routine energy” on a not-so-routine basis. He ate at the homes of tax collectors and social pariahs. He held conversations with women often called harlots. He touched the untouchable. For Jesus, “this is how we have always done it” wasn’t good enough. If it didn’t center around people and love and mercy, it was not good enough. Life as it had always been done was not “routine” for Him.

May we be willing to break our routines for people, for love, for mercy. May we take that extra time at the table or on the couch to listen to the story our child made up. May we make just a little more coffee than normal so that our partner can have an extra cup as they try to figure out how Microsoft Teams works. May we be willing to do what Jesus did: break the routine energy in those moments when it is (or even just could be) so very vital.

Sinking In


This feels odd, doesn’t it? Being told to stay away from other people, to isolate ourselves? Being told to stay home? Many of us often wish we could but being told to do so is rather a different story, isn’t it? And yet it is for our own good. It is to protect us and others. It is meant for our good. And honestly? If we were not forced to—by need or dear-one mandate—some of us would never do ourselves that good and rest, including Yours Truly.

Jesus got it, though. Jesus got this separate but together thing. He got rest, in both senses of the phrase. He understood it and He made sure He got it. More than once in the New Testament, we are treated to watching Jesus step back and self-isolate, to “retreat from the crowds”, once for 40 whole days! (And here I am just on Day 3.) It was also for His good, the separation from everyone else for a little bit, the rest from the hustle. It was for His good, just as this is for our good. Jesus did it to restore His strength and to sink into His connection with God. So we, too, can use this time to restore our strength and health and to sink back into our connections—to faith, to family, to self. We can rest, just as Jesus did. Remember, He did it for 40 days once. Let’s be honest: in this particular case, He may be the only one who can speak to our condition.

When I am Forced to Rest


At the end of the day yesterday, an email came through my inbox, informing me and the rest of the staff in our school building that, after the coming week, the local Health Department was taking the precaution of closing all the schools in the county until Easter Monday, April 13. Today, right before lunch, my 3rd-period students came barreling into my classroom, demanding to know if I had read my email. 

“They are closing school starting MONDAY!” they shrieked at me.

I shooed them and their cacophony off to lunch and sat down to read the email, which I hadn’t read because I had been busy doing other things (go figure), for myself. Indeed that is what it said. So, instead of being out of school for three weeks, including Spring Break, we would now be out of school for a month! I panicked for a moment because my eLearning lessons weren’t done. I was only 3 days into the unit I was building. 

Then I read on.

Because our state government has offered schools a waiver of up to 20 out of the required 180 instructional days during the school year, and we would be using 15 days for this closure, that was what we were going with. So there would be NO ELEARNING during this closure. No assignments or lessons would be given to students while they are out for these four weeks.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it (still cannot, honestly), so all afternoon, I would catch myself saying, “Oh, I need to work on/copy/prepare this for class next week,” and then realize that…I didn’t.

WHAT?!

It threw me time after time, as did the realization that, unless the schedule changed drastically for the end of the year, I wouldn’t have time to teach the unit I was working on before we launched into standardized testing anyway.

I can’t just stop…can I?

I can’t just sit back and set it all aside. I have assignments that need to be graded and entered, a unit that needs to be built, no matter whether I actually get to teach it this year or not, curriculum that needs revamping, AND a 1st-grader who needs a routine and cannot afford to fall behind on her academic skills, in case they do not change the testing schedule.

I can’t just stop…can I?

And yet, in the midst of all of this chaos, a thought floated through my mind. “If you do not rest when your body says it needs, you will be forced to rest when it no longer can.”  Now, I am under zero illusions that all of this has come about because I was not taking the best care of myself. However, the truth indeed is that I have not been resting lately, dear ones. With all the grading for the end of the 3rd nine weeks, I have been working pretty much constantly and only averaging between four and five hours of a sleep a night. Not good at all. 

But I can’t just stop. Can I?

Perhaps now, in more ways than one, yes, I can stop. Perhaps I am being forced to rest. To take in the small moments. Take life day by day and create a new routine. Take the opportunity to slow down.

So, as we enter this time of admitted uncertainty, I want to see the lessons of rest that might be hiding in the corners, waiting for me to calm down enough to see and embrace them. Lessons in how to be good to myself, good to my dear ones, and what lessons and moments of quiet, rest, and hygge await me as spring peeks around the doorjamb.

What Is Held Between the Covers of my Bible


If you look closely as you flip through the book of Proverbs in my Bible, you will see dates.

2/22/20
11/22/09
9/21/02

The pages–and not only of Proverbs–are full of highlights, underlines, margin notes, and dates. Pages are marked with ribbons, receipts, sermon notes, and inserts from ‘prayer cookies’.

I have had this particular Bible for almost twenty years, ever since I was in college. Its leather cover is nicked and dinged, the spine broken, edges tearing. It has gone from Indiana to Florida to Cayman to Russia and back again and bears the weight and stories of all it carries. No other Bible that I have bought or been gifted has seen as much of me and my life as this one; nor is is any other Bible in my possesion continually sought out as much as this one because of the very fact.

It is precious. Not only because of what is typset on its pages but because of what it carries between its covers: my life and my journey into Love. As I have said before: teaching is my job, writing is my joy, but Love is my vocation. The Love that Jesus showed to every soul He encountered, even up to and during his final moments in this life, is recorded for us here. The loving lives that we are admonished to are demonstrated for us here. Encouragements I often need (whether for myself or to share) can be found here.

This book is where I learn continually to walk my life in the footsteps and actions of Jesus, where I learn to emulate my Lord, and where, couched by dates and cross-referenced with journals, I can see how His teachings are relevant and alive and how He has held and spoken to me in those poignant moments. Moments of growth, moments of grief, moments of joy, and everything in between.

This book holds me and Jesus, side by side, on this walk through life, because Love is a daily journey.

Pausing to Rest


As I tipped the trash bag into the hopper and let the lid fall, I paused on my shuffle back to the house over the icy drive and just stood still. I let the silence of the winter night, the temperature rapidly dropping, settle over me and just…rested in it for a long moment.

Have you ever listened to the world freeze over? I did. I could hear the creak of branches under the weight of the freezing snow and the muted boom of expanding ice birthing cracks and potential potholes in the streets. My eyelashes sparkled with shimmering snowflakes that fluttered to spangle the black of my sweater as they swirled and winked in the arc of light cast by the fixture beside the backdoor.

I remembered a night similar to this, almost twenty years ago, when I tripped merrily home from a campus formal. I recalled the dusting of snow on the sidewalk glinting like fairy dust under my feet and the hem of my gown in the blue moonlight and how beautiful I felt in that moment. Smiling at the memory, I just stood there, drinking the peace of a winter night, its stillness, its deep, slow breathing, and its call to rest.

Then the single-digit-chill wind decided I needed a nudge back to reality and gusted up to cajole me on into the house. “Before the cold catches up to you…” it seemed to whisper, dusting one last sparkle of snowflakes over me before I turned to go inside.

A moment’s rest can be just what you need, especially when it leaves you with a pleasant little shiver.

The Rest After the Step


It has been a long few weeks that have left me far more tired than I had anticipated. The biggest factor in this is something that I have told very few people about. Two weeks ago, I applied for a position outside of teaching. My husband heard about the posting from some of the ladies who work for the nonprofit that posted it (benefit of your office building sharing space with other groups). He then immediately passed it on to me, with the insistent assurance that I would be perfect for the position with my abilities and skill sets. At first, I was dubious, as I have been in the past, but I have deeply prayed over the past few years for God to show me the next chapter He has for me, to help me find my next right thing (thank you, Emily P. Freeman and Queen Anna!). So I decided that I would update my CV and send it in with a letter of interest. You guys, I cannot count how many revisions those two documents went through over those few days! I have always been a perfectionist when it comes to documentation like that; and it had been several years since I had even contemplated a position outside of teaching, so updates were definitely needed. When all was said and done, I said a prayer, clicked “Send” on the email, and that was it. Then I had to wait. So I waited. And waited. Then, all in a rush, I received an email last weekend saying that they would like to interview me over Zoom! We managed to wrangle a day and time that would work for everyone, mindful of time differences for those traveling, and so it went.

The interview went well, but, in the end, it turned out that the timing of the position just was not going to work out. They needed someone to be able to train and slide into the full-time position by the end of February, and I did not have peace about up and leaving my teaching position so suddenly and abruptly. I did not feel released to do that to my principal and students. So…needless to say, when they answered my question about the timing, I felt a sinking in my soul.

“Well, that means this interview is over,” I thought. But I still asked some questions about their nonprofit, in an effort to not have things end on an *extremely* awkward note. Just a moderately awkward one.

After the interview, I finished out my day, but, once the kiddo was in bed and Ben and I were alone, I flopped onto the floor with an “UGH!” that would have made Charlie Brown proud. When I was finally able to verbalize what I felt, I realized that I had become far more hopeful of that new position, that change, that new chapter, than I had realized. And I was disappointed. Disappointed that it wouldn’t work. Disappointed that I wouldn’t get to try something new. Disappointed that my stepping out in faith seemingly wouldn’t be rewarded.

As this week has gone on, however, I find a thought has been whispered to my mind and soul and repeated when I haven’t been looking.

“You have stepped. Now rest.”

Rest. It’s my word, my intention for the year. Rest. I stepped out in faith, praying for God to lead me aright. And He did. I stepped out in courage. Now I need to rest. 

Rest in gratitude that God kept His word to be with me and guide me. 

Rest in faith that He knows best. 

Rest in peace that where I am is my next right thing for now.

Rest in hope that, when another opportunity comes along, I will heed the call to step out again.

I have stepped; it was a lot of work–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now it is time for me to rest my feet, recover, and allow Him to refill those stores. There is another big week ahead, but, for now, this is my immediate next right thing. I even have a scratchy, tired voice to enforce it.

Rest.