The Missing Matters


On Thursday, our state superintendent of education announced that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. There are other things that go along with that, of course, such as distance learning, plans, etc. But the big takeaway is that now students will not return to the school buildings OFFICIALLY. This is an abrupt and jarring ending for our kids. This is not the way the school year is supposed to go. Speaking as a parents and a teacher, while it is for the best and is the safest course of action, it feels like nothing less than the yanking away of hope.

Hope of being able to hug and play with their friends again.
Hope of being able to suit up for their favorite sport.
Hope of being able to sit in their favorite teacher’s classroom again.
Hope of gathering in their friend-groups and being able to hold hands through all of this.
Hope of preparing for their final dances, field trips, competitions, and performances and the year-long work that has led toward those ends.
Hope of birthdays, band practices, pool parties, movie nights.
Hope of being honored for their hard work at the end of the year, being able to stand up proudly and accept awards that they honestly worked their tails off for.

That hope is gone. There really is no other, nicer way to say it. That hope, in its original shape, is gone. And that is painful for our kids.

I was upset yesterday at the announcement, though the why is harder to articulate. I think part of it was the same upset that we all get when we have to deliver bad news, news that we know cannot be softened nor its truth mitigated. That feeling dragged on me and nagged at me all afternoon and evening. My anxiety was torn between curling up and crying the upset out and sitting down to work on ALL THE THINGS for distance learning, just so I had some modicum of control (I am a teacher after all). I felt like I had to do SOMETHING!

Finally, grabbing a quiet moment with both hands, I sat on the couch in my pjs and recorded a quick 1-min video on my phone before slapping it up on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and emailing it out to my students. I just needed to reassure them, needed to tell them that it’s going to be okay. But, even more than that, I needed to tell them that I am sorry.

I am sorry that we won’t get to finish that book together in person.
I am sorry that I won’t get to hear about how you’re moving to a new town over the summer, hug you goodbye, and tell you how proud I am of you and how much I enjoyed having you in my classroom.
I am sorry that you will not get to dress up for the final dance of the year.
I am sorry that we won’t get to do the Reading Counts party with games, the pool, and pizza.
I am sorry that we won’t get to gush over the new Marvel movies that were slated for early May.
I am sorry that I won’t be there to answer your knock and welcome you in to hide over lunch when you are having a bad day.
I am sorry that we cannot be together. I am sorry that you cannot be together.
I am sorry that you won’t get to play, perform, compete, and display your wonderful talents before everyone one more time this year.
I am sorry that you won’t get to do all those amazing things you had planned this spring.
I am sorry that this is how things have turned out.

It was only a minute or so but I wanted my students, my Heroes, to know that it matters. That their missing this portion of their lives right now matters. The missing matters! And that they are allowed to grieve it. It was important to them, important to their people, and losing those opportunities is significant. Even so, it will be okay.

And that is for you, too, Dear Ones. It will be okay. We will get through this. We will figure this out. And it is absolutely okay to feel disappointed, to grieve, and to cry through all of the getting through it, too. I am sorry, Dear ones. I am sorry for the disappointment, the distress, and the fracturing of hope. It will be okay, yes, but it is also hard. And it’s okay to feel that hard and hold on to hope at the same time. We are complex, we can do both things.

We are here. We are separated but still togther. We are still here. Hope is just taking on a new shape now, and we will learn to recognize it. We have not been deserted. We can still find hope, God, peace, and each other. It will be okay, Dear Ones. We will get there. Hold fast! Yibambe! It’s going to be okay.

You Have Not Been Deserted


Today, teachers who needed to were allowed back into our building–one at a time, of course–to pick up anything we might need for the remainder of the school year and/or summer, just in case. My time slot was 11:30, with another teacher due to arrive at 11:45. I did not take my phone with me, as I wanted to make sure that I was in and out quick-sticks as instructed. But, Dear Ones, it was WEIRD!

Weird to walk into that building that I am so used to being bustling with life. Weird to see the empty halls, the quiet classrooms. Weird to see the lockers that had been covered with hearts and post-it notes so far this semester, expressions of love and encouragement from student to student, now stripped clean out of an abundance of caution. Of the four that were once there, one lone post-it note remained on my classroom door. One that admonished: “Make yourself a priority.” (I tell you, the student who wrote it could not have known that they wrote it for just such a time as this. But that is a whole other blog post.)

It was eerie, empty, and all I could feel was a sense of…desertion. We had deserted these halls, deserted this routine, deserted this normal, and it felt utterly weird. And sad, too, in a way. For roughly 13 years of their lives, students get up and go to school for 7-8 hours a day at least, 180 days out of the school year. For the school to be deserted on the first day of April just felt…wrong. I know many of my students feel that wrongness and, yes, maybe even desertion right now. I think that is where we all are at the moment: feeling that wrongness, that disruption, and, yes, in some sense, that feeling of desertion, of either deserting or being deserted by our lives. We are in the midst of something huge right now, Dear Ones, something without defined borders or dimensions. We have been deserted by all certainty except the most dire in this time, and that is unspeakably hard.

As I bustled about my classroom, gathering what I needed, I spied projects that my students had done that had not been picked up before we had closed, and I smiled. I smiled at their imagination and hard work. These were projects that I had comandeered the downstairs display case to show off during fall semester, as they were done during first quarter. I was and still am supremely proud of those students and their creativity and ingenuity.

That feeling of desertion may be hanging heavy, but there are still smiles to be had. There are still opportunities for ingenuity and creativity. Things have changed, yes; been upheaved, yes; been turned right on their ear, yes. But we have not been deserted. I can assure you of that, Dear Ones. You have not been deserted and nor have you deserted anyone.

I know you. I know that you are being massively kind and caring, shouldering not only your burdens but also those of your partners, children, family, friends, and neighbors. You have taken their cares and well-being onto your minds and souls.

You have put bears in your windows for children to find.

You have strewn your porches with balloons and filled your windowpanes with encouraging messages.

You have sent out hope in emails, Facebook messages, Instagram DMs, and messages of handwritten love.

You have not been deserted and nor have you deserted anyone. We are all still right here. Separate but still together.

When I came home from my trip to the school building, I got on our digital learning platform and started grading assignments that have been turned in. And I smiled again. I got to read wonderful, insightful posts by students about oral tradition and how it translates into our digital age. I got to see others’ creativity in translating and interpreting proverbs from Poor Richard’s Almanac.

We will all have stories to tell when this is over and it makes me smile to teach my students just where their stories fit in to the larger one of life.

You have not been deserted and nor have you deserted anyone, Dear Ones. There are still smiles to give and receive, love to be found in the every day, hope that will crop up in the quiet moments. Peace is still there to be found in what cannot be stopped by crisis or circumstance: sunrises and sunsets, the quiet of early morning and the settling of life in the evening, and the eventual changing of the seasons (did anyone else totally miss that the grass has become green again?).

We have not been deserted. There are still smiles, love, compassion, peace, and hope to be found in the midst of all this, and we can still find each other.

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.

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.