The Saturday Disney movie marathon. The too early fall baking and decor. Rereading your favorite childhood books. Playing video games all afternoon. Extra cheese on your pizza. Whatever it is you’re splurging on to help you cope and get through the day, just enjoy it. If no one’s getting hurt, it’s fine. Don’t worry about people judging you for harmless indulgences.
Don’t disappear too long. The world still needs you. But turn it all off and rest for a minute.
I’m not very good at listening to “weekly” podcasts. Instead I get in the mood and listen to like 4 episodes in a row. And then I won’t listen again for a few weeks.
One of the podcasts I listen to is “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker, a spiritual/religious author. At the end of each podcast, she asks her guest a question that she stole from another religious author, Barbara Brown Taylor:
“What is saving your life right now?”
That’s a pretty good question.
This is an important question because I’m wearing down a little. To be perfectly honest, I was thriving at the beginning of quarantine. The sudden free time, the lack of commitments, the time to rest and catch my breath, it was all needed. I was tired, and quarantine was a relief.
But now I want to get out. What USUALLY saves my life is a live play, an orchestral concert, a ballet, a trip to the library, visiting local shops, grabbing coffee, trying new restaurants, going to museums, taking day trips, singing in choir. These are the things I rely on to save me when I’m worn out; now they can’t save me because we’re stuck inside away from everyone and everything.
So, this question has become a challenge, because my answer is different.
What is saving my life right now?
Reading on the front porch and watching the bunnies and deer eat.
These are normal, average every day things that aren’t specific to the pandemic. But it’s what I have at my disposal. I have get to draw my peace from this smaller, simpler list. I appreciate these little gifts that offer me a little peace and joy. I also know it is an immense privilege to have all of these comforts to indulge in, even if these are hard times. I am grateful. I want to take this lesson with me when “life is good again.”
I hope everyone enjoyed the poetry series I posted over the last few weeks. I will do more in the future. This week I am back to blogging and sharing my personal thoughts.
I think it’s hitting now that we are in July that “normal” isn’t coming back any time soon. And even when the worst of this passes and medicine catches up to help us, “normal” won’t be what it once was.
Oddly, I feel very open and welcoming of this. Of course, my hope is that we as a society progress when it comes to matters of race, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, healthcare, and income equality. I believe that this pandemic is showing us that there has been an illness infecting and rotting us to the very core when it comes to how we have been “functioning” as a society. So I am open to whatever positive change comes from the exposure of our collapsing economy and social inequality.
But my personal upheaval began back in 2018 when my career and faith began being challenged. I have been unsettled and transitioning for almost 2 years now, so this pandemic probably hasn’t thrown my life out of whack like it has for millions (billions?) of others. I have had a head start on being accustomed to uncertainty, sudden change, suffering, and being lost.
That being said, I believe that this weird time when many of us are cancelling plans and staying home more has actually led to an inner quietness to settle inside of me.
I have been scared, nervous, and exhausted by the pandemic. I want to sing in choir, go to plays and concerts, travel, go to the beach, go to cities, visit museums, go to church, go eat at restaurants, and even go to the grocery store. I am sick of this, I am scared of this.
But I have had time to mourn the suffering I experienced from my more recent traumas. I have had time to write and create art from that pain. I have had time to be someone who has been seeking and searching spiritually. I have had time to transform and grow in ways I may not have if I hadn’t had this time. Being used to uncertainty has helped me make use of this weird, scary experience because the rug had already been pulled out from under me before the pandemic could do it.
I am finally cultivating some peace. I am finally healing. I am finally moving forward. Something inside me has finally shifted to a place where I am emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthier than I have been in 2 years. And for that I am grateful.
Let us remain cautious and wary. This illness is terrifying. Let us take care of others. Please wear a mask. Protect your family and your community. Be good to others. Do no harm. Maybe if we all have a shift within ourselves personally, we can have a greater shift in the world around us.
Covid-19 has taken so much away from us. People have lost loved ones, celebrations they planned for, jobs and income, and so much more. There is so much grief. We have given up so much of ourselves, especially our essential workers who are risking their health and isolating themselves so as not to expose someone they love to illness.
Please know that there are also things to receive in this time. Maybe some are learning by taking some free classes or conferences online, or we are reading more now. Maybe some are resting, sleeping in, taking naps, watching movies and tv shows. Maybe some are trying new things like gardening, crafting, and new recipes. Maybe some are reconnecting with friends and family members. Maybe some are healthcare workers participating in the free coffee, donuts, and food different services are offering right now. Maybe some are really benefiting from funds, grants, and other sources of money being offered. Maybe some work in local restaurants and are being kept afloat by the community ordering takeout. Maybe some are receiving from charities who offer food and home necessities. Maybe some are receiving accessible worship in their homes. Maybe some are receiving healthcare to defeat the virus.
I am not asking you to count your blessings and be grateful. I am saying that we are all giving of us ourselves, so it is perfectly acceptable to also receive. Let’s help each other. Don’t feel guilty about taking what you need. This isn’t a promotion to be selfish (because we have already seen far too much of that), but it is an affirmation of self-care. Give back in all the ways you can, and receive what you need to survive this scary era in our lives.
Getting a new enterprise going is tough. You have to go all-in because you know it’s all on you to succeed. I have been working on Tales of Glory since July, and I am starting to get traction with my work. However, I am hitting a bit of a wall. Burn out is real, especially after leaving trauma behind. But I am learning how to balance the time when I need to pause, take a breath, lean into healing, and start again.
I have had wonderful people reach out and encourage me. This encouragement has seemingly come out of the blue, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes when we are struggling. These messages people send me give me peace, and they soothe the pain and anger I have felt toward God, myself, and those who’ve hurt me. I have taken time to meditate, pray, and cry over these kind words. They heal me. But, the time I spend in prayer and meditation is time away from my work, and then I don’t accomplish what I had hoped for the day.
But I need these moments to heal. Healing is not linear and takes time. Also, I cannot minister if I refuse to talk to God out of anger and if I hold onto the suffering. Rage creates self-inflicted wounds. So I choose to pause, to heal. Instead of scolding myself for not meeting all of my goals for the day, I lean into the peace. I work through my anger or sadness. Then I take a breath. I let the love others show me and the love God is sending wash over me. I sit in the light shining on me. I can’t move forward in my work, at least not to its full potential, if I am not also on a path to healing. I cannot heal if I do not allow the space for it to happen.
When the weight of your work is bearing down on you, and your mind or your soul needs a break, then take a breath. You may not cross everything off your to-do list for the day, but you and your work will be better for it. And if someone crosses your mind, reach out to them. Encourage them. The Holy Spirit may be working through you; you just may be an essential part of their healing.
Luke 19:28-40 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Update: The previous blog post falsely stated that the same crowds who shouted, “Hosanna” are the same ones who cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. This is a misconception, so I have rewritten a new blog post and apologize for the error.
My first attempt at this blog was a statement on the fickleness of humankind…which is true, but not the point of this scripture. In the update above I had made a false statement about the same crowds being there on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. That’s not biblically founded. Then I thought I would write about a Palm Sunday anthem, “Ain’t No Rock Gonna Shout For Me.” It’s a spiritual-gospel style song based on this text. It’s got a great swing and is a lot of fun to hear and sing. But it’s an “original spiritual” written by a white guy. So, that’s problematic, and I am not comfortable with writing about a song that could possibly be a form of cultural appropriation.
So maybe that’s my message this Palm Sunday: look closely at scripture, especially well known texts reading and rereading, interpreting and reinterpreting these stories while freeing them from our appropriation to our preconceived theology. So I’ll point some things out and pose questions so you can consider them and interpret the scripture yourself:
Why is Bethany and the Mount of Olives an important location in this story?
How did Jesus know about this colt? And what does it mean that he commissioned two people to take it without permission (steal)? How does the need of the Lord justify this robbery? Do the owners get their colt back? Do they consent to this?
What are the significance of the cloaks?
Who are these people who are praising God? Why are they quoting Psalm 118?
Why are the Pharisees there? Why do they tell Jesus to stop them?
What does he mean by the stones shouting out?
Consider these and other questions that arise as you read this strange story. Strip away the familiarity and try not to appropriate it to validate your theological beliefs. Read it with new eyes, learn something new from this passage. Maybe you’ll find a new practice of biblical interpretation. I had to learn this lesson myself, to break away from a message I had heard before and was repeating without enough research. I will strive to continue learning so as not to make assumptions about scripture and the groups of people within.
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
In Sunday school this past Sunday we talked about the word “hope” in scripture. Yakhal “to wait”, or Qavah “to wait with tension” in Hebrew. Waiting or tense expectations. Elpis in Greek. Hoping in scripture means waiting for God, sometimes expectation with tension and anticipation, and waiting with hope based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often this means there’s nothing to indicate that things will get better, but choosing to wait for God to act and move anyway. We learned this from a great resource: The Bible Project “Hope”
Hope is waiting for God to act without any evidence that circumstances will improve. Now to put the scripture back into context:
Isaiah 40:1-2, 6-11, 21-23, 28-31
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah,“Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
God’s people had been exiled by Babylon, and this is the first message of hope in what is known as Second Isaiah. This is the transitional portion of the book of Isaiah when the end of the exile is near and the prophetic message is one of a brighter future. After such misery and suffering in exile, the people of Israel felt defeated and perhaps forgotten. But the prophet’s job was to speak God’s words of judgement, followed by renewal, forgiveness and restoration. They had endured the judgment, but restoration was coming. There was a political shift occurring, and this created unease as it always does. There’s no way to know if things would get worse, or if things could possibly be worse than they were. But the prophet was bringing a message of hope, of waiting with tense expectation, that the everlasting God was moving and had not forgotten them. It didn’t look good right then in that moment, but the prophet was inviting them to just wait and see what God would do.
There are no revelations happening to me right now to help inspire me, move me forward, and break out of my slump. I keep looking, praying, and waiting.
Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. Maybe you need a word or a message, but there aren’t any prophets appearing in your wilderness. I’m right there with you.
I will choose to hope and to wait. There’s no evidence pointing toward a clear path to a brighter future. But I’ll lean into the expectation that God renews those that wait.
Living in Kingsport at home with my family, I remember the habits I had, the spaces I claimed to make a household of four have space for my own habitation. I had a number of small comforts that expressed myself and helped me develop into the person I am today. We had a swing in the backyard that had a cover over it. I would take books out there in the summer and read for hours. Eventually I would drift off to sleep, warm and safe from sunburn. In the cooler weather, the living room (one of the only rooms without a TV) became my reading and napping place.
As I got older, staying up until 3 am while watching rock music videos and chatting with friends online was an escape from my angst. While I was ready to move out and get ready for college, I had these spaces and habits to make my own “home” space while living with three other people.
I loved libraries and movie rental stores. Libraries felt secretive and magical. Somehow the quiet and the whispers made the space more exciting. It felt like something was waiting around the corner. Typically,these things were hidden in the books, and the hunt was on to find them. Maybe that’s why I would reach my maximum check-out limit of 25 books on most of my visits there. At movie rental stores there was a thrill in the air as my love for horror movies grew. Mom and I would rent scary movies to watch on school breaks, and my interest has only evolved from there.
My small comforts shifted when I moved out of the house and into college. My love for coffee began at this time. I drank so much of it to stay up late for studying and writing that I realized I could drink it black (I still like it plenty sweet though!) I would also spend the weekends at Andy’s house watching hours of Criminal Minds, Ghost Adventures, and other spooky shows. I realized how much I loved walking when Andy and I would walk around his friendly, hilly neighborhood every weekend, even when the weather turned cold. It had become such a habit that this is how Andy decided to propose to me: in the middle of our Sunday walk. I fell in love with my home church, Glade Springs Pres where I sang in choir and made friends with the choir members. And, of course, King itself had places where I was comforted and felt at home: Tadlock, the FAB, Hyde, and the chapel.
When Andy and I moved into our first apartment, we had a magical back porch, which became the focal point of my small comfort. I would sit with books, coffee, and music as I watched the dozens of hummingbirds flit to and fro and listen to the creek babble at the edge of the backyard. It was a very sweet place where I could hide from the world.
At seminary, my small comforts were the library and the “couch” room. Both offered a place to study. The library is where I would hunker down with commentaries and music in my earphones. It’s where I really got a lot of work done. The couch room was my home away from home. I would nap here, study here, eat lunch here, and sometimes even watch television here. When I had a few hours in between classes, this is where I would get settled. It became such a special place that when last year’s tropical storm hit and our apartment was without electricity for 3 days, Andy and I holed up in the couch room where we could have internet and watch TV. While in seminary I realized how much I loved scented candles. I always had one burning, reflecting the season of the year. I wanted my home to smell lovely. Andy and I continued our walking tradition around the neighborhood surrounding Columbia. We especially enjoyed the decorations on these homes during Halloween and Christmas.
Now I have the small comforts transported to our home here in Florida. The sun room is my space, where I keep my art supplies and read my books. On Saturdays I watch horror movies, light scented candles (soy candles that are safe for our cat; the others that I had been burning ended up making him sick), drinking coffee, and leisure reading. Andy and I walk on the beach 4-5 times a week. It’s amazing how little habits, small comforts develop over a period of time. It’s easy to forget who you are and lose yourself to your work and to the stress of the day to day. But I’m glad to have retained my propensity to find home-y space to read and nap, find places to enjoy my coffee and scented candles, find time to watch horror movies, and find routes to enjoy walking with my husband. These small comforts are just little parts of what define me, knowing that what I do and who I am are two different things.
I won’t divulge too many details, but rubber has met the road this week in many ways. One of these ways was by conducting my first solo funeral. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak the Gospel to those in need of comfort and hope. God was present, there was love in the room.
This is when self-care has come into play. I have been spending the last few weeks reaching out to friends who I haven’t spoken to in some time (for some, it has been years.) I may not always be in touch with the people who are important to me, but reaching out and checking in is just my way of saying hello and reminding them that I care for them. It was good to receive kind words from friends. Some of which heard my venting and offered prayer, encouragement, and advice. I am so grateful for people who speak life in difficult seasons.
Andy and I grabbed lunch at a local seafood restaurant, which is on a pier. I had a drink, dined on grilled fish, and watched the waves crash around me.
This morning was a weird one, but a good one. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, due to some mild anxiety. And then I had some lingering emotions from some things I am struggling with. After an hour I decided to get out of bed, realizing the sun would be coming up in a half hour. Andy woke up with me, and we walked down to the beach together. We watched the dolphins and pelicans catch their breakfast, which was enough excitement to get me through the week. For those who don’t know, dolphins have been my favorite animal since I was a kid, and watching them come out of the water and feed in the wild is breath-taking for me. And then the sun rose over all the feeding animals in the sea.