Forget the New Year: I’m Making Post-Covid Resolutions

My driveway where I walk almost every day while making mental resolutions for the other side of Covid-19. A girl can dream!

It’s officially fall, and while most people are overdosing on pumpkin spice and dragging their sweaters out of storage, I’m over here phoning in the fall season. While I love the leaves and their cheery colors, bowls of soup with bread, and the smoky scent of firewood, I’m already looking ahead.

It’s already been the worst fall of all time. I’m dreaming of a next fall when hayrides, tailgates and potlucks are the norm again. Sure, I can live in the moment—what choice do I have?—but I don’t think it’s too soon to start making some resolutions for a post-Covid world. 

I’ve decided that I’m skipping New Year’s resolutions. I’m going straight for what we’re all waiting and pining for that isn’t tethered to a date on the calendar. As soon as someone gives the all-clear that we can stop tiptoeing through our lives like nervous cats, I hope I remember these resolutions and live them well.

My Top 20 Post-Covid Resolutions

  1. Dress up and wear something that makes me feel awesome at least twice a week.
  2. Entertain more at home and crash your party. Who cares if our homes are clean? Clean is overrated.
  3. Hug everyone, give out kisses, invade personal space. I’ll bring the breath mints.
  4. Travel abroad and take the trips I was saving for someday.
  5. Bring back the mosh pit.
  6. Decrease my screen time. Screens aren’t our friends. Humans are.
  7. Forgive and move on. Life is short. An angry life is bitter and lonely.
  8. Shake hands with anyone and everyone. Hold hands with the people I love.
  9. Write the book.
  10. Ditch Amazon and go shopping. Browse the aisles. Touch things, smell things and try before you buy. Champion the resurgence of retail!
  11. Take a swing dancing class.
  12. Buy the tickets. Go to a nerd-fest fan convention or a writer’s conference.
  13. Visit Disney World or Universal Studios and never complain about long lines again.
  14. Stay for the reception. Dance.
  15. Go to all the parades.
  16. Make time for the family visits and do the traditions. Make them count.
  17. Double dip.
  18. Turn off the news and do something newsworthy (something legal and positive, of course).
  19. Schedule and keep the coffee date, the lunch, or the movie night with a favorite friend. Catch up with the people who always say, “we need to catch up.”
  20. Build a massive bonfire and invite everyone over to Burn. Our. Masks!
A proper high school Homecoming bonfire pre-Covid. Personally, I’m looking forward to the most epic mask-burning bonfire of all time!

I made my resolutions as realistic as I possibly could. They’re within reason, right? When reason is something we get the luxury to enjoy again, I will be ready. 

What are your post-Covid resolutions? If you’re like most humans on earth at this moment, there’s a fairly good chance you already have a list all your own. Like mine, your list may seem silly in relation to a deadly pandemic, but mental health is important too.

Writing down our goals by reflecting on what we’ve learned isn’t naive if it also makes us feel good. Feeling good is a worthy investment of our time right now. It’s also a boost for the immune system!

Visualizing what we’ll do with our unhampered hours once we get them back is the first step to redeeming some of what we’ve lost this year.

Commit to something different and a new appreciation of what’s important to you in the post-Covid years of your lives.

If anyone has an update on when that begins, just let me know.

Until then, make the resolutions. Start working on them now. Trash the ones you’re making for 2021. Lord knows we wish we could take back our 2020 resolutions. After all, hindsight is … well, you know the rest.

Surviving Covid-19: When Your Worst-Case Scenario is the Scenario

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.

One week ago, I was hopeful that my family would be turning the corner back toward normal in just a few days—normal being a relative term these days, of course.

To rewind, my husband, a high school football coach, had been quarantined from our family and others for several days following Covid-19 exposure. Sadly, he had to miss coaching a game for the first time in 22 years.

Before that quarantine was up, he had some flu-like symptoms, but after two negative Covid tests and no more fever, we all thought it was safe for him to get back to work. A new week was beginning, and we would hit reset then, right?

Wrong. Our worst-case scenario was only beginning.

After he got cleared to coach a football game last Friday night, he woke up Saturday feeling horrible. That same day, I had him check his oxygen level with a small device that my Dad sent to us over six months ago. Truthfully, I thought it was one of those weird items that your parents buy on QVC. I had stuck it in the back of the bathroom closet and forgot about it.

But then I remembered hearing that low oxygen levels are a telltale warning sign with Covid, so I dug it out of the closet. My husband’s oxygen level that day was 95. It was lower than what you want to see, but still in the safe zone.

Not the Friday Night Lights we hoped for as my husband attempts to assist in coaching while quarantined in his Suburban.

On Sunday, his hacking cough never seemed to end, and he could barely talk. So we checked it again. This time it was 92. I decided to call a physician who recommended he see a doctor in the morning to confirm the reading and seek necessary care. Suddenly we were preparing for bad news—what if he did have Covid-19 after all?

At 8 a.m. the next morning, his oxygen level read 86. It was time to go to the doctor and accept the strong possibility that his Covid test had been wrong. By the time he got to the doctor’s office, his oxygen number had plummeted to 81. He was sent straight to the ER where he was hospitalized and diagnosed with Covid-19. I know now that my Dad’s gift may have saved my husband’s life.

For the next three days, he remained at the hospital in isolation from us and anyone else except an excellent team of healthcare professionals. He received an intensive protocol of oxygen, breathing treatments, Remdesivir, antibiotics, and steroids. He wasn’t put on a respirator because he had no underlying health issues and was breathing well enough on his own. In just a few days, he made huge leaps and was home with us again.

Unfortunately, coming home was hardly the caboose of this crazy train.

For starters, we remain completely separated from him as he continues to heal. I have not slept in our bed for almost a month. To be anywhere near my husband to deliver food or medicine, we both wear masks while he stays far away. He can have no interaction with us except through doors or our cell phones. It also means that we’re back to a quarantine lifestyle outside of the house too. So yes, that means high school homeschool has resumed—groan.

To make things much, much worse, this all happened during football season, meaning that everything has been shut down for two weeks. Two big games are now gone. Memories and opportunities for my son and his teammates are now gone. Many lives have had to change their plans because Covid had plans of its own. I seriously couldn’t have written a more depressing story. For us, it feels like the worst-case scenario came true.

Thankfully, despite all this doom and gloom, I know that our scenario truly wasn’t the absolute worst. My husband survived and everyone is fine, even as our story continues to unfold. We are still living in this story and learning a lot about the disease, our attitudes, our priorities, and our survival skills. We’re also learning more about God’s mercy, our faith, and the value of community.

Regarding our relationship with the disease, my 20-year old son also had Covid two months ago, and he still hasn’t regained 100% of his taste and smell. I sincerely hope that the worst is over for this household. I believe we will overcome it, but what that looks like is out of focus. I wish I could be more optimistic, but we are a long way from the days of toilet paper memes. Weren’t those the best days?

I think it’s now probably safe to say that this virus may be inevitable if you’re going to be out and about among the living. We should continue to exercise common sense and precautions, of course, but I think it’s far more tenacious than I ever imagined. It honestly sucks. 

In full transparency, I’ll share what the sucky side of Covid life looks like at our house right now.

I make everyone sanitize their hands all day long and I bleach clean everything constantly. Our home smells like a hospital. I’m tired of choking down huge vitamins.

I’m a cranky and unimaginative cook. No one wants leftovers, and we fuss a lot about food. I yell things like, “no one cooks full meals during the day unless they’re Amish!

I’ve lost my home office (aka the master bedroom), and have had to call clients from the laundry room this week.

My boys miss watching and talking football with their Dad. We all miss hugs and physical touch.

My husband misses social contact. I honestly don’t know how he’s made it in isolation this long. He mostly spends his days alone despite our best efforts to remind him we’re here.

Even our two cats know that something is up, and they’ve been sleeping in weird places. Yesterday I stepped on a fresh hairball in the living room with bare feet. That was a low point.

We’re all more sensitive and irritable and prone to complain about anything. No one is sleeping on a regular schedule. It just seems impossible given the circumstances.

It’s very easy to slip into pity party thinking when that’s the only party you’re attending at the moment.

On a positive note, and there is one, we have also received incredible support from near and far. We can’t figure out why, but apparently, people love us! In an ironic twist, the most viral thing we have ever done as a family is to come down with a killer virus, no pun intended (okay, actually it’s a perfect pun).

Not that I recommend catching Covid-19 to be reminded of how many friends you have, but it has given us a beautiful picture of the people in our corner. While the last few weeks have been exhausting and disheartening at times, we have also felt such a powerful calm and confidence from the outpouring of support and prayers.

I am 100% convinced that our journey through this weird, dark place was strengthened and accelerated through prayer. Prayers, texts, calls, and gestures of kindness have brought us comfort in the face of uncertainty.

I know our story is just one of millions in this continuing saga. Our experience with Covid-19 has been an unfortunate, annoying setback that was scary for a short time. We do not take this for granted. Many families have not had the same outcome. This disease is random and relentless, but it will not define us as a family, a community, a country, and as people. 

We still get to choose how to respond to whatever it hurls at us. We aren’t perfect and will experience highs and lows as we process our response. But if I’ve learned anything while spending time with the ‘Rona, I’ve discovered that we are stronger than we think we are. God built us with incredible fortitude and He is always near. 

I am forever grateful to those who haven’t let us forget it.

Put yourself in Coach

I’m trying to impress my “Coach” with my four inch vertical. To be fair, I’m wearing jeans. I try.

Around my house full of men who coach and play football, I’ve grown a thick skin over the years. Whenever I attempt to jump into the postgame “break it down” talk, or add my perspective on football recruiting, I often hear comments like:

“Mom, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Seriously, that’s not even close to right.”

“Oh my word, did you just say that?”

“We love you, but you need to stay in your lane.”

It sounds cruel, but don’t feel sorry for me. My men are good guys and they’re right. I honestly know very little about football when compared to their collective knowledge. But because I’m practically living in a locker room 24/7, it’s a little impossible for someone who talks as much as I do to stay out of the conversation. Most of the time, I keep talking until something gets a reaction, even if that reaction is eye rolls.

My football analysis could be described as “Mary Poppins talks X’s and O’s.” It’s laughable. Sometimes, I have to laugh at myself.

I confess that I admire the competitive drive and passion that my guys have for the sport they love. I understand why it’s no laughing matter to them. I’m also admittedly a little envious of my husband’s role as the “Coach.” Deep down, we all want to be that no-nonsense expert at something, right? In a phenomenon that only happens in sports, I think it’s interesting that once a person coaches a sport, even if for just one season, that person will forever be referred to as “Coach” by other coaches.

So what do I have to do to earn that title? Even though my family sarcastically calls me “Coach” all the time, they have no idea that I’ve actually been coaching for years.

Hey, I’m good at things! We’re all good at something. I’ve come to accept that while I may never be a member of their intense little football fraternity, I’m already a coach in my own right. We all are. We just need to be reminded sometimes.

Here’s my coaching resume:

I’m the coach of two needy cats.
I’m the coach of planning the most unpredictable vacations.
I’m the coach of challenging the status quo.
I’m the coach of networking.
I’m the coach of embedding stories in the hearts of my children.
I’m the coach of organizing family time.
I’m the coach of fun and mischief with my friends.
I’m the coach of stretching a dollar and finding treasures in the trash.
I’m the coach of living room karaoke.
I’m the coach of all the holidays.
I’m the coach of raising boys.
I’m the coach of finding the right words.

It’s incredibly empowering to recognize and believe in our unique value. It’s essential to embrace what we can do like no one else.

What can you do? What team would fall apart without you? What characteristics and talents have made you a coach?

When you discover OR re-discover these gifts, be thankful! They are the best part of you. While it’s a worthy goal to learn and pursue new things, it’s also okay to sit still and thrive where you are.

We have no business trying to be an expert at everything. That’s a recipe for neverending frustration.

This lesson alone may be the hardest one I’ve had to learn over and over again. It’s the lesson that just keeps giving, and humbling me constantly. When we stop bossing all the people, we can step back and get a glimpse of the boss in the mirror. This boss is the best one you’ll ever have. God gave you everything you need. He designed YOU to lead yourself first before leading anything or anyone else.

The game plan is simple. When you’re winning at being the best version of YOU, then you’re unbeatable, Coach.

On vacation, I’m in charge. This trip out West is one epic example of me as the “Coach of Vacations” (pictured here at Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park). We stayed in a teepee, we stayed in a dome, and we stayed at a hostel where some German guy in a sweater offered me an onion for breakfast. My boys called it dirty summer camp. #winning

When in doubt, show up

MateoIshowup

I’m thankful to Mateo the Handyman for the inspiration on the tailgate of his pick-up truck. I’m pretty sure this guy is getting the job done.

I’m fairly observant most of the time, but I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to tune out the sights and sounds of our current situation. It seems easier that way. It may also be denial, but that’s where I am. 

I have tapped into every facet of my being to will away, write away, pray away, and push away the fact that things are not getting substantially better yet. I’ve come to accept that this uncomfortable place is our home for now. For me, it’s been simpler at times to numb my senses. 

Thankfully, I still managed to see something recently that demanded my attention in the most unlikely of places. In a city parking lot on the tailgate of a local handyman’s truck, I discovered a short slogan that spoke to me like a prophetic calling.

I Show Up.

That’s it. That’s his marketing strategy. And I love it.

When your faucet is leaking or a window is broken, who do you need? You need someone who shows up. Until the repairman arrives, he can’t diagnose the problem, buy the essential parts, and get to work. Those three words really simplify things.

We can’t slay a dragon if we’re hiding behind a rock.

Right now, we’re all trying to slay a really BIG dragon in our lives. The size of its flames and ferocity depends on how this virus is disrupting or even threatening our very lives. If we want to get a handle on our everyday experience and stop living on the edge of our seats, we just need to shut up and show up.

pexels-craig-adderley-3359734dragon

What does your dragon look like right now? When I picture mine, I always see the dragon fiercely guarding Gringott’s Bank in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

We can’t control a lot, but we can control where we are.

Here are four ways to take back some control.

Show up for family members and friends.
Especially if you have loved ones in isolation, make a call, write a letter (with actual ink ON paper), send an email, make a video, send a voice text, organize a video chat, or just sit outside in a chair and make some noise with banners and confetti. Deliver or mail a favorite treat, flowers, or a special book. Be a human person. Go beyond a “like” or an emoji. Be as real and in the flesh as you can be.

Show up for your home.
Cook a favorite meal, sing loudly even if they protest, pull up a chair to talk
and listen, plan a surprise day trip, help someone with homework, unload the dishwasher when it isn’t your turn, hang the towel up, and turn off your stinking phone. Look for opportunities to do things you haven’t done before. Reinvent what you can be for the people who live with you and love you.

Show up for your community.
People need people, even in places that aren’t open in a normal way. Our souls crave community. Visit a city park, buy local, pick up trash that isn’t yours, send an encouraging email or note to your local leaders, visit your library, help someone who seems overwhelmed, pray with and for people who are suffering in silence, and smile at strangers.

Show up for yourself.
Maybe this should have been first on the list because until we are fully present, it’s hard to show up for everyone else.
Invest in YOU. Use this time to return to a hobby you once loved, start a journal, learn a new skill, take a hike, make a new friend, watch a favorite movie, watch a Christmas movie (!), or take a mineral bath (it’s the new bubble bath, friends, and it’s amazing – check out Dr. Teal’s – the Pink Himalayan Mineral Soak is my favorite). Just identify what feeds your spirit and fill up!

If we keep showing up, we get things done. If we keep showing up, we focus more on the important because we’ll be too busy to focus on everything else. If we keep showing up, we can overcome this challenge with fewer battle scars. If we keep showing up, we get to write the ending to our chapter in this upside-down story.

Don’t forget that you are in charge of YOU. This mess of politics and the pandemic is NOT the boss of you. Don’t listen to your doubts. They are greedy. They want you to miss out. We all have important work to do. We just need to show up so that we don’t miss it. 

justshowup

 

10 surprising reasons to love your mask

As the pandemic lingers on, and on, and on, the odds are you’ll be wearing a mask sometime, somewhere. Even if you’re a diehard anti-masker, you know you’re eventually going inside the grocery store or to visit your dentist. So whether you’re sporting a mask reluctantly or enthusiastically, you still know the drill.

Cover your nose, cover your mouth, and try not to choke on your own hot breath.

While it doesn’t take much effort to think about all the things that we loathe about our masks, I invite you to consider some of their lesser known benefits. If you can’t get behind the idea that wearing them could actually get us back to normal sooner, (remember normal?), then you can maybe embrace these perks.

  1. Masks are a shield against bad breath.
    This benefit goes both ways. Yes, we’re supposed to be socially distant, but let’s be honest. You have smelled terrible breath from six feet away. I’ll stop there.

  2. You can hide unsightly blemishes and unwanted hair with a mask.
    Don’t feel like shaving today? Wear your mask. Have a fresh crop of chin acne because your mask is also a portable petri dish? No problem. A mask is now the most effective concealer that money can buy.

  3. Masks help you avoid getting trapped in awkward conversations.
    You’ll get home from the grocery store in record time when you can quickly smile with your eyes and then dart away. What’s his name again? Who cares? I’ll never escape, she talks forever without taking a breath! Don’t panic. Your mask just saved the day.

  4. Wearing a mask is an amazing anti-aging technique.
    From the bridge of your nose down, your skin will enjoy extra protection from the elements and the sun. If mask wearing continues indefinitely, we could someday resemble Batman’s nemesis, Two-Face, but for now let’s call it face insurance.

    maskstand

    I spotted this booth in Hilton Head, S.C. in May. I thought it was ridiculous at the time. Little did I know that just a few months later, it would seem like a great idea.

  5. Masks are bringing sexy back to sewing.
    Men, women and children across the globe are learning and sharing a craft that is proving to be forever useful and in vogue. I personally can’t wait to see what the designers on Project Runway are going to do with pandemic fashion this season.

  6. Masks are the new “it” accessory.
    Speaking of the runway, be truthful with yourself. Unless you’re a supermodel, masks are probably the most avant-garde thing you’ll ever wear. You might as well have a little fun with your options. From floral to tie-dye to tartan to bedazzled, there’s a style for everyone.

  7. You can make a personal statement with your mask.
    Be it your politics, your faith, your team, or even your favorite Star Wars character, you can express yourself a little bolder behind a mask. It’s like a tiny billboard for your face. Introverts, this is your time. Now is your chance to say it, but just don’t spray it (sorry, I had to).

  8. Behind a mask, you can overcome your stage fright.
    If you’ve always wanted to try karaoke, public speaking, or stand-up comedy, a mask just might give you the courage to make a bold move. And if you bomb and realize your horrible mistake, just run away and no one will ever remember your terrified face.

  9. Masks can be creepy when needed.
    Listen up parents! You may need an extra layer of authority once the kids’ hybrid online and/or socially spaced school year begins. A little healthy fear can go a long way when you’re trying to get a teenager out of bed for his Zoom class OR make your first grader stop licking her face shield. Masks can also be loads of fun for intimidating your nosy neighbors, who may or may not be named Karen.

  10. Masks can make us friends again.
    On these insanely shifting sands in the world right now, we need some solid, common ground where we can stand together. When we’re all masked up and our eyes meet across a room or a parking lot, we no longer need to say a word. There is a telling look or a nod, and our eyes share a truth that our faces often fail to communicate. This great equalizer may leave us knowing our neighbor a little better, even if we never recognize them again.
redbubblemask-1

Looking for something original? Check out redbubble.com where artists create pop culture and fashionable designs. Most orders take several weeks to arrive right now, but I still think this one was totally worth the wait!

Are you ready for some football?

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Friday Night Lights in middle Tennessee.

Football.

It’s hard to even say the word right now because it sounds pretty optimistic, right? Yet we need some optimism, even if it’s misguided. So I’ll ask the question on many minds, are we really ready for some football? 

I know I am, no matter what it looks like, but I wasn’t always so enthusiastic. To provide a little context, I have a complicated history with football. Many years ago, the silver lining in a global pandemic would have been the cancellation of not just football, but ALL sports. Yes, that’s a true and difficult confession, but it’s an important chapter in my story.

For a large part of my life, I actually hated sports.

In elementary school, I hid behind trees in the outfield during recess softball. In middle school, some overly demanding (ok… brutal) P.E. teachers exposed my complete lack of athleticism in basketball drills. Literally, it has taken me years to resist flinching at the sound of the scoreboard buzzer in a gym. Truth be told, the only thing that made P.E. bearable for me was the square dancing. 

As I child, I managed to generate some sort of family loyalty to the Crimson Tide because that’s what you do when you grow up in Alabama. But deep down, I didn’t really care. I just didn’t want to hear about Auburn beating Bama for weeks in the hallways of school if God forbid, the Tide lost the Iron Bowl.

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Let’s be honest. Have you ever seen a bigger dork proudly sporting her Alabama Crimson Tide jersey?

In the South especially – and not just Alabama – football is a larger-than-life passion that is shared in some way or form by almost everyone. It is a place where community happens, emotions are elevated, and talents of all types are on full display. Love or hate football, it would be hard to deny the strong and colorful thread it weaves through the fabric of our country.

Football is a uniquely American experience.

So that brings me back to the now of football and IF we’re going to have a now 2020 season. So far, there is promising news on all fronts, but I don’t want to jinx it. For my family, fall represents only one reality that remains firmly planted somewhere between two goalposts. I did not choose this sport and this life of first downs and touchdowns (I know the difference now, okay!?). Through my circumstances, it chose me. That’s why I can now say that I love football, and here’s why.

I am married to a high school football coach. I have two sons who play football. One plays for his Dad in high school and one plays in college. Football has given us security, a large extended family that transcends towns and schools, and a banner under which our family unit will always be on the same team. It has given my husband a way to process a difficult childhood into a worthy calling to influence and shape boys into men.

I have seen the literal transformation of players who couldn’t even make eye contact develop into young men who stood taller than they were and pushed themselves beyond their abilities. I have seen giant guys let down their defenses and weep into each other’s arms following the big wins and losses. I have seen tender, young hearts choose Jesus and embrace that new relationship in baptism. 

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Coach training up our wild little boys early.

Football has gifted my sons with equal parts confidence and humility and always with perfect timing.

It has built their physical strength and mental fortitude in a world that too often celebrates and justifies weakness.

It has taught them responsibility and strategic thinking far away from their phones and video games.

It has served up accountability and resiliency in the place of blame game theatrics.

It has allowed them to have a healthy and appropriate place to channel their adolescent aggression.

And football has given them relationships and a brotherhood that can only be found through adversity and teamwork in the trenches.

Yes, I acknowledge and am very aware of the risks of this high impact sport, but I live with that. I choose to leverage those risks against the rich blessings that have been showered on them on this path. 

Has football been the great cure-all for our family and made my sons, who won’t cut their hair or keep their rooms clean, into perfect children? Far from it. But like any good football parent, I know that our years have been far more meaningful with it than they would have been without it. The same would hold true for all sports and activities that build character and develop confidence in our children. 

So to clarify, I know it’s unlikely that my words would ever sway the votes of lawmakers and educators and officials for football or in-person school. I don’t pretend to understand the data. Who can interpret something that changes almost hourly it seems? I DO value our safety and health and I pray daily that some intersection of knowledge and common sense will serve our schools and students well.

For my sanity and for my people, I just needed to say these words out loud for all the boys and coaches and fans and cheerleaders and band members and families and anyone who occupies some kind of space on or near the gridiron. I had to offer up one small rallying cry from someone who has also been transformed by football. That someone is me – a (still) proud band and theatre geek who is also now a football geek. Yes, it’s a thing. I am proud to be that combination with cowbell in hand, and I’m not afraid to ring it! 

cowbellmamas

My “More Cowbell” spirit was not lost on the Nashville, TN TV news. I am thankful for other football moms and wives like my dear friend Jamie (pictured here), who have taught me everything they know.

 

How to get past the pandemic blues

 

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Professional photos aren’t in my budget, so I volunteered myself as a “tribute” for this photo to illustrate my pandemic blues. Note I am NOT a “Happy Camper.” Photo credit goes to my son, Canon, who is still making fun of me and refused to take any more (see outtakes below).

My usual bubbly perspective has lost its fizz lately. It isn’t easy for me to admit, but I think I may have been suffering from a case of the pandemic blues.

What, you say, are the pandemic blues?

Go put your sweatpants back on, watch about 30 minutes of any 24-hours news channel, and BAM… you’ll be right there with me. The thing is, I’ve tried to fight the blues by wearing real clothes and make-up, making plans, venturing out, exercising, avoiding the news, and relying on optimism, prayer and cinnamon gummy bears to get me through this waiting game.

But as I’ve been dodging and pretending, I’ve realized that I can’t will this new reality away. It’s not really summer, it wasn’t spring, it apparently won’t be fall, or even the winter we have always known.

For now, it’s simply pandemic season.

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. You see, everything that makes those other seasons distinct and memorable is linked to the places we GO, and the things we DO, and the people we SEE. As the pandemic season is gobbling up our seasons (including the possibility of football season, I can’t even go there yet), there isn’t much going, or doing, or seeing. Pandemic season has its own dimensions, rhythms and rules.

With a valiant effort, I pushed this unwelcome season away for a few weeks. We all did in our attempt to convince ourselves that “hey kids, it’s summertime!” But it’s still pandemic season. Make no mistake. It is very much here and it demands our attention, no matter what we believe about its threat.

When I really let this settle in my heart, it hurts. I miss family. I miss friends. I miss the comfort of community that I clearly took for granted. Yes, we still see each other in short bits and spurts – on screens, behind masks, elbow to elbow, through windows, six feet away – but these are far from the deeper connections we crave.

Never before have I truly appreciated the value of presence, of humanity in the flesh, of hugs without hesitation.

It’s why we’ll never have a cyborg family that can serve as a substitute for the real thing. My apologies to those working in Artificial Intelligence, but you have much more work to do.

Last night, I was absorbed in a pity party for one. I didn’t have any grand 4th of July plans. Most events were cancelled or scaled down significantly. At our house, we were a bit weary, so we stayed in. I soon wandered outside, drawn to the sounds of fireworks that began exploding right after dark. Honestly, it sounded like Baghdad. I was curious, and maybe a little unsettled considering the state of the world.

It’s our first summer living in this house, which appears to be the epicenter of all fireworks in the state of Tennessee. From every direction, we had a spectacular show. I was running around outside like a kid, trying to find the best place to watch. My husband teased me, “Um, haven’t you seen fireworks before?” Together we sat under a brilliant sky and laughed at the competition among the neighbors. I heard a baby cry, and cheering, and dogs barking, and crickets. In the dark, it felt for a moment that summer was back in its rightful place. Briefly, it was if the coronavirus and the unrest in our country had been a terrible dream.

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View from our front porch of the free fireworks show we enjoyed on this memorable, but very different 4th of July. Thanks neighbors, whoever you are!

But even with reality looming in the back of my mind, I was thankful for those loud, colorful bursts in a way that I’ve never been before. I was thankful for the lightning bugs with their tiny golden sparks that accompanied the show. And then, God lit up the sky with flashes of pink and blue lightning for the finale!  

The sights and sounds were a symphony of peace that my soul needed.

And then I cried, of course, but I believe that tears are a built-in release valve. Release is what we need! Yes, we’ve lost much, but we haven’t lost it all.

There is a great Protector who is holding you and your place in your story as you wait patiently for the page to turn. Don’t give into the temptation to skip over this chapter, to withdraw and become numb. Or worse, to become angry. It’s not easy, but it’s important that we feel our way through this discomfort and come through stronger and wiser on the other side.

Because feeling is living!

Be an encourager for others and allow them to be an encourager for you. Feel with people and be with people in whatever way you can. It’s always the right season for loving one another.

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If nothing else will cure you from the pandemic blues, this ridiculous photo shoot might do the job. There was a lot of laughing (at myself) under that mask and probably some from my neighbors. My sons were horrified and were not sure if they should have called for help.

 

A tale of love and loss and books

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Alan Levine/Flickr, npr.org

Yesterday was Father’s Day and although I haven’t seen my Dad since February thanks to the threat of COVID-19, I spent some time talking with him. I spent some time thinking about him.

There’s an entire book (or two) in me featuring him as the main character, but that’s writing for another day. Today I’m thinking about my Dad and the gift of reading.

Around 18 years ago when I was in graduate school, I casually mentioned a book to him that was an assigned reading called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. It’s the story of a man and his son who travel across the country on a motorcycle. It’s an examination of life and how we live it, and according to a review on Amazon, it’s “one of the most important and influential books written in the past half-century.”

My Dad is a retired electrical engineer who has always enjoyed tinkering with things. Naturally, I thought he might enjoy a conversation about the book. I even suggested that he read it, even though most of his reading consisted of the newspaper and Reader’s Digest.

Nevertheless, he read it. In fact, he devoured it. Then he couldn’t stop talking about it and he was hungry for more. At that moment, at the age of 63, my Dad became a book lover!

My Mom had instilled this same love in me that she and I shared, but now Dad was part of “the club.” She had to make room on her bookshelves for his growing collection. To date, this admittedly methodical reader has read more than 100 books and counting! He mostly reads non-fiction, and says that the more challenging it is to read, the more he likes it. He even keeps a reading journal.

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Dad and one of his many books that explore the big ideas in life – life, death, God and man.

Reflecting on this special awakening in our shared history brought me to reflect on my own relationship with books. Over the last decade or so, I have felt like an imposter. To be clear, I LOVE books! I love to smell books, touch books, and yes, BUY books. I have boxes of them that my groaning husband has moved from dorms, and apartments, and offices, and too many houses to count. Besides the fact that they are ridiculously heavy, his groaning comes from asking me the same, tired question – “Are you really ever going to read all of these?”

Well YES, obviously! As if!

But then I’ve packed and unpacked those same books, over and over, many with bindings still untouched. I’ve had to accept that I may never read them all because I’m hardly reading at all. Somewhere between becoming a mother and becoming an almost empty nester, I’ve lost my devotion to reading that was once an unyielding passion.

Yes, I’ve continued to sprinkle reading throughout the years of ballgames (so many ballgames), deadlines, church commitments, family commitments, career pursuits, and just the everyday demands of adulting. And I’ve enjoyed many memorable books over the years. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve consumed far more stories on my Netflix watchlist than from my must read list. 

Over the weeks of quarantine, something stirred within me to start intentional reading and writing again. I suppose it’s because life slowed down long enough for me to live in the discomfort of that longing. I could finally define that missing piece of me that has been vying for my attention for years. I rediscovered a connection to story that yes, can be enjoyed on the screen, but is often much more personal and transformative on the page.

And so began the process of dusting off the books.

With bookstores and libraries closed, I used my mailbox as a book trading hub with book loving friends. For months now, I’ve been reading fiction, non-fiction, and personal and spiritual journeys. I’ve found blogs that challenge and engage me. I’ve resurrected this blog and pledged to keep writing. The words don’t always flow easily, but they come easier each time I open the vault. It’s like I’ve reunited with an old friend who was patiently waiting for me to return.

I guess you could say I’ve been reunited with words.

I’m retraining myself to favor paragraphs and punctuation over the glowing, bubbling screen. Occasionally the two intersect, and when they do, it can still be an inspiring and magical place.

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A stack of some of my quarantine reads.

Today, I am simply thankful that I found and rescued that weird little reading girl who took up residence in her bedroom closet with her books. I am thankful for those books. I am thankful for writers. And I am thankful for readers – readers like my Dad.

The novice who became the expert.

The inspired who became my muse.

Thanks Dad. I hope the stories never end.

Dad’s Top Ten Reading List (so far…)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
The Tracker – Tom Brown, Jr.
The Day the Universe Changed – James Burke
Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step – Edward de Bono
Beachheads: Alabama to Anzio, 45th Division – Charles M. Kirkpatrick
Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
Four Religions of Asia – Herbert Stroup
God Against the Gods – Jonathon Kirsch
Escape: A Memoir – Carolyn Jessop
Think Like a Fish – Tom Mann & Tom Carter

Blogs that fellow Bibliophiles might enjoy:
Reader Witch

The Bloggess
A Life in Books
Leanne W. Smith – A treasured friend and talented author
Gathering Around BooksAnother talented friend with so much to offer

BUY books and support writers and the wonderful world where new words can take us!

BUY books from your local and independent bookstores!
Find a bookstore near you

 

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Me and my Dad looking for adventure somewhere. 

 

Learning to laugh in 2020

Cat photos and silly memes have kept me from officially losing it this year. I feel this poor guy.
Cat photos and silly memes have kept me from officially losing it this year. I feel this poor guy.

I may have picked the wrong year to start a humor blog.

To be clear, I’ve never intended to call myself a comic, but I certainly thought my writing would never take itself too seriously. Like a turtle, I retreat into a shell of funny when life doesn’t make sense. It’s a defense mechanism for sure, but it’s also the only thing that feels natural when nothing else does.

I’m pretty sure that the year 2020 falls directly into the doesn’t make sense category.

And so here I find myself, flailing around, trying to figure out where my cat memes and words of the absurd find their place in a world that grows more serious by the day. I’ve read back over the last several weeks of this blog and realized I was finding less and less to laugh about. Sometimes, it didn’t even sound like ME.

Mostly, I was just processing. I was processing all the chaos, fear, hatred, love, damnation, forgiveness, isolation, frustration, grief and hope – just like everyone else. The events that have unfolded over the last several months have been slowly chipping away at my chipper exterior.

So that’s why I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet for a few weeks. I haven’t felt like laughing much at all. I’ve felt even less like writing. Instead, I’ve spent these days praying, listening, and hopefully, learning.

Learning to accept why you wear a mask, or why you don’t.

Learning to see racism in uncomfortable, familiar places.

Learning to challenge myself to challenge the status quo.

Learning to see people instead of politics and hashtags.

Learning to smile when sadness creeps in.

I’m still humbly seeking to learn all these things and more every day, but saying them out loud is a great place to start.

That’s the beautiful thing about writing. Even though the rules of writing give us structure, it’s breaking the rules that gives us all the feelings. When we can unleash a passion from within that brings someone to action, to tears, or even to fits of laughter, that’s powerful stuff. When we purpose to use it wisely, that’s the good stuff.

Thank YOU friends for listening, learning AND laughing with me.

Embrace the sun this summer

Hilton Head Island, SC, Summer 2020

Is it plagiarism and lazy if you steal your own blog article that was a guest post on someone else’s blog from two summers ago? I hope not. I’m on summer vacation and this post seems especially nostalgic and appropriate for right now. Although I’ve given it a 2020 update, the sentiments are the same.
Thanks to my precious, longtime friend, Betsy Pendergrass, who invited me to write on her blog and reminded me that I need to make words more often. Betsy has an amazing website, a podcast, inspiring products and a wonderful community to join – check her out at Gathering Around

Summer. 

The word is packed with so much potential! The idea of summer always holds the possibility for unforgettable moments. When I think about the summer memories I cherish, they range from the mundane to the spectacular.

Just this morning, I’m sitting here on a summer vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina with my husband and two sons. We’re vacationing in the time of the coronavirus. The limitations of that make me especially grateful that last summer, we took an epic two-week trip out West when it was possible to travel with no restrictions.

Living in the moment  – especially now – is more important than ever. 

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The Grand Canyon, North Rim (Summer 2019) and The Grand Canyon, South Rim (Summer 1985)

Over the years we’ve spent together as a family unit of four, I realize I’ve been borderline obsessed with making every summer special. I inherited this charge from my parents, who took me and my brother on a variety of memorable trips without ever getting on a plane.

I recall a cross-country trip in the 1980’s when my family left Alabama in a large yellow Buick bearing a ROLL TIDE bumper sticker and a handmade California or Bust sign in the window.  Clearly we weren’t trying to blend in on our journey West. On this trip, I somehow became the only witness to a shooting in South Central L.A. We were lost. There was no GPS. There were no cell phones. These were simpler times. Thankfully God had plans to keep me around to create equally terrifying and terrific memories for another generation. 

Even with the way technology has changed the way we travel today, my family has enjoyed and endured many similar adventures. We’ve packed a lot into the 20 years since my oldest was born. We’ve done the tourist traps at the beach and the mountains, we’ve been to a Yankees game, we’ve eaten Chicago deep-dish pizza, we’ve done the theme parks, and we’ve sailed on a Caribbean cruise. We’ve overspent and perhaps overcompensated for who knows what, but I still wouldn’t change a thing. 

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New York City, Summer 2011

As awesome and photo-worthy as those memories are, I’ve found that some of the sweetest memories have been much simpler, closer to home, and cheaper. When I was blessed to be a work-at-home mom and the boys were little, our summer days were magic. After they slept late, we would eat Cream of Wheat for breakfast, fill up the baby pool, and read stories at night before bedtime. We rode bikes, went to story time at the library, and slathered hydrocortisone on mosquito bites.

It wasn’t fancy, but it was good.

Years later, summers started filling up with sports and activities, but I still purposed to capture something meaningful. We would go swimming with friends, enjoy longer visits with their grandparents, and stay up late every night to watch movies and make popcorn.

As the years raced by and the boys naturally started gravitating toward more time with friends and their teenage interests (PS4 and working out — need I say more?), I’ve found myself sometimes feeling lost. Where do I really fit in anymore? In a true “Hail Mary” attempt to keep our evolving relationships intact, we bought a small, used camper several years ago. It was my desperate effort to make the most of what was left of our dwindling summer family time.

As possibly the least outdoorsy family to go camping EVER, we went for it and never looked back. Fast forward and I’m proud to say we’ve enjoyed several camping trips together. They were not without challenges such as getting locked outside the camper, toilet problems, rainy campsites, no heat, an incessant smoke alarm, and grumpy hiking treks. I also should mention that my family did not even fit comfortably in this camper that barely slept four (see update in photo below). To call us happy campers all the time would have been a stretch.

But regardless of how imperfect our summer memories may be, they are OURS and ours alone. For me, summer is perhaps the most defining part of childhood. It’s a condensed version of the highs and lows that define every family dynamic and it’s deeply personal. The point of summer isn’t to make it Instagram worthy or spend the most money, it’s just to make it uniquely YOURS and embrace every second.

Make precious family memories while you can in this brief ray of sun. It only shines for a season, but its warmth will stay with you forever.

The camper that was. In my normal spontaneous manner, I bought this camper before doing even five minutes of research. It is a “low profile” camper, which means the ceilings are lower for garage storage. With the exception of me and my youngest before he grew a foot and a half, we are not low profile people. We have since sold the camper since my 6 foot+ husband and boys have zero head space inside. I am looking forward to another camper with more vertical space in our future!

It’s time we got busy

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Over the past few weeks, many of us have re-entered society in some way. Like zombies, we are all dragging our bodies back into places where the people are, and we are hungry for people! At least I know I am.

All gross Walking Dead references aside, it really feels that way. The world has changed into a Bizarro version of the world we once knew. It also feels different because our rhythms aren’t the same, familiar spaces are marred by arrows and instructions, and we’ve all developed new social norms in our efforts to social distance.

In stores, people look weird in their masks and they act even weirder. We’re learning to read “eye language” – how strange is that? I watched a woman gently escorted out of a store while yelling the entire time about her stimulus check. I don’t know the whole story, but I found myself searching for the nearest exit.

I thought, we aren’t ready yet. But ready or not, here we are.

At home, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of wearing real pants and jewelry for the first time in over 30 days. I felt like an alien in my own closet. I couldn’t find my favorite earrings or my go-to belt. It’s impossible to retrace your steps when your last “steps” were almost two months ago.

When I finally put myself together, I went back to my office last week. The first thing I noticed was my plant in the window. Poor guy. He was barely hanging on. I had failed to bring it home pre-quarantine and now it was headed for the trash. Lesson learned.

But then I thought, why not try to save it? So I watered it, tore away the dead parts, and gave it a chance to reach for the sunlight again. In just a few days, tiny new leaves were emerging on its stems. The surviving leaves were full again.

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The outcome was very different because I chose to see life instead of death.

I chose to reimagine what the ending could be.

As insignificant as that wimpy plant is, it’s also the perfect representation of our current state of being. To borrow a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption – 

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Although “busy” may represent something brand new right now, it doesn’t have to be what it used to be. If I learned anything while sheltering at home, I learned that I have used “busy” as an excuse to store my passions away on a shelf for decades. Decades!

Instead, I should use “busy” to focus on my priorities and realize that everything created by God needs nurturing and pruning. That everything includes me – my relationships, my interests, my faith, and my journey. What that looks like is subject to change, but that’s the best part of the process. Something new is always growing! And growth means we’re doing something right.

FUN FACTS: The film “The Shawshank Redemption,” produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, was based on the 1982 Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” (PHOTO: https://www.the-solute.com/the-shawshank-redemption-at-25/)

 

 

Keep running to end racism

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Ahmaud Arbery (left) and the 2.23 miles #IRanWithMaud yesterday, 5/8/20.

Normally I stay far away from all the controversial topics – religion (not to be confused with faith), politics and social justice. I have views like everyone else, but the online world can be a dangerous place to engage these subjects. It’s shaky ground. So here I am, taking a very cautious step, praying the floor doesn’t collapse beneath me. So be gentle friends. This comes from a sincere place.

By now, you’ve likely seen the video or heard the story of Ahmaud Arbery. In February, this young, black man was gunned down in the middle of a Sunday afternoon jog on a quiet, Georgia street. His attackers were two white men in a pickup truck on a vigilante mission to “protect” their neighborhood. Thanks to public outcry and the video, those men have finally been charged with the crime and arrested – 2+ months later (!) – although their fate is far from sealed. Once again, we’ll have to rely on a justice system that has failed every race and gender, despite the commendable efforts of many good men and women with a badge or a gavel.

After forcing myself to watch the shocking video of Ahmaud’s very public death, I am completely shaken. It isn’t that I haven’t seen violent crime before, but the brazenness of this act and the complete lack of accountability are staggering. None of us are immune from random acts of violence. Danger is everywhere. But this crime seemed far from random. So that leads me here with the need to say something, anything, to try and make sense of this completely senseless crime.

Short of storming the courthouse in Glynn County, Ga., what can I do? What can we do? Our outrage and our hashtags are needed, but where is the solution? Where is the remedy to heal the sickness of racism that has been spread – yes, like a virus – from one generation to the next? It may mutate and infect people differently, but the symptoms are the same.

We can’t tiptoe around racist attitudes in our country anymore just because we don’t engage in intentional racist behavior and our friendships extend beyond our own race. Its ugliness continues to shape and stain our country and our collective experience.

If we aren’t willing to face this evil in the harshest light, and own it, it will never change.

I see the best opportunity and hope for lasting change in our children. We have a lot to learn from the next “greatest generation.” My two sons have taught me so much about tolerance in their short time on earth. They’ve helped me recognize my own implicit biases, even when I couldn’t see them for myself. They may not pick up their wet towels or make the Honor Roll, but they are good people who love their friends, regardless of race. That love reveals the most beautiful part of them, and our humanity, because they care.

Because that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? That we actually care about our fellow man, all of them? That we truly love one another as God designed us and demands from us, despite all differences?

When we are honest and intentional, then real change can begin. We have to push back on institutions that insist we are so very different. Our churches, our schools, our social ”playgrounds” and our politics are places that focus on our differences. The establishment of “us” and “them” is not okay.

Over the past year, my oldest son has experienced a radical shift in his personal experience with race. He began his college football career at a large public university in Tennessee after attending predominantly white, private schools his entire life. On the team, he became the minority overnight. I thank God that this opportunity will continually open his eyes and heart wide and give him a valuable perspective – one that I embrace when he shares it at home.

During his first semester of college, he shared a revealing story with us. One night, he went to meet a tutor, but a GPS mix-up led him to the wrong house on the wrong street. When he rang the doorbell, a man opened the door quickly and glared at him. My son retreated, realizing his mistake, and apologized as he safely returned to his car. It was an innocent and thankfully harmless error, but the truth of that moment hit him hard – what if that had happened to one of his black teammates? Knowing that such a small mistake could potentially end in prison or death is something that no one should have to fear in a country that we call free.

Growing up in a small, all-white town in Alabama, I didn’t have opportunities in my childhood to form any authentic relationships outside of my race. I feel cheated that I didn’t know a diverse community until adulthood, but I’m forever grateful to my parents that I wasn’t raised to hate.

It’s in recognizing where we can stretch and grow that our culture can actually change. It’s in our everyday living that we can truly make a difference. We have a moral obligation to examine ourselves, our hearts, our motives, and our actions – even the subtle ones that can leave unintended misunderstandings. We also have an obligation to speak up and share truth. Especially with our children. Because our country will never be truly safe or free for everyone until stories like Ahmad’s are sealed in the past.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” – I John 4:11

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Land ho! Remember the journey

One of the places where I slow down and reflect on life. My neighbor doesn’t have much to say, but he’s a great listener, especially when I bring apples to the conversation.

Reflecting on life has become an almost daily occurrence in my current situation, which could be described as a reality show that I’ll call Suburban Survivor. Outside of cooking, sanitizing and filling my grocery pickup basket AGAIN, I find myself frequently taking inventory of my little world and the people in it.

Deep thoughts won’t give me any rest.

And it isn’t that I’ve been given extra hours, even though each day feels almost twice as long. It’s because there is finally a break in the noise from the frantic parade I was chasing every day. Trying to keep pace with the lineup was distracting and exhausting. Most days after working and parenting and adulting, I was just too tired to think. This would probably explain my affinity for shows like The Bachelor and Married at First Sight.

So…in reflecting on our collective quarantine experience, I picture the RMS Titanic before it sank. Cue Celine Dion, do you hear her?

RMS Titanic

Photo Credit: Brittanica.com

It’s a bad and unfortunate analogy, I know, but it’s what my mind sees. I see a colossal ship sailing across the ocean, heading toward a port where we hope to arrive soon. It’s one man’s prison and another man’s escape. It’s luxury and retreat for some, and it’s survival and sadness for others.

But together, we are all passengers on this unfamiliar and unpredictable journey. We must ALL wait patiently before disembarking to find where this vessel has landed. Because let’s be honest – the place where we boarded some six to eight weeks ago is not the same place where we’ve arrived. We have traveled to a distant shore that looks very different from the homeland we once knew. 

And thankfully, unlike those aboard the Titanic, most of us will make it to shore.

Nautical clichés aside, I hope that when we slowly and cautiously rejoin the world, that we don’t forget the journey and what we learned along the way. Hopefully we learned that not everyone is meant to be a chef, a singer, an artist, an athlete, or TikTok famous… and that’s okay (stay in your lane bro – at least you tried).

Hopefully, we also learned resiliency, self-sacrifice, the practice of slowing down, and what it means to be a good neighbor again.

Ironically, it’s trips like these – when we feel like we’re stuck in a station wagon with the Griswolds on some remote, scenic highway – that change us forever.

Let’s not walk away from this journey unchanged.

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My family’s version of National Lampoon’s Vacation almost one year ago. It was equally exhausting and amazing, but trips like this stay with you forever. Ride on!

Are you over it yet?

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Actual photo of me hitting a wall and my hair in its current quarantine natural state. This has to end soon.

This week, we hit a wall. Did you feel it?

I think it’s safe to say that any novelty related to our country’s pandemic lockdown has officially worn off. Toilet paper jokes are no longer funny. Our children are starting to resemble the children from The Lord of the Flies. We’ve made everything we know how to cook, and then we’ve made it again. Our home gyms are not getting the job done. We’re becoming a disconnected society all while scrambling to fight for a Wi-Fi connection in our neighborhoods.

We’ve reached a boiling point, and we’re wearing on the nerves of our household, and let’s be honest, ourselves.

It’s time… or is it? To roll the dice and reopen the world? Just a little?

Protesters who were once fighting for other causes are spilling out into the streets. The team spirit we enjoyed with memes and hashtags just a week ago seems a little less spirited this week. The Disney Family Singalong?? Yeah…even that felt too late and a little out of touch, even for my Disney-loving self. 

The replaying of the same routine, day after day after day, has finally pushed us all to ask ourselves – how much longer can we bear this burden?

I’m not a research scientist or a world leader, so thankfully the tough decisions won’t rest with me, or you. The consequences of these choices will prove to be serious in one way or another, to one group or another. Who plays God and decides who is the least of these? Again, I’m glad it’s not me.

While we all sit idly by, waiting and wondering, let’s cling to the semblance of unity we enjoyed over the last several weeks. And let’s not forget it. Resist the temptation to choose sides and brandish a bullhorn. Opinions are fine. It’s America after all. But regardless of where you stand on these serious issues, be kind, don’t judge, and show some grace. It may seem like we’re all in the same place, experiencing this crisis in the same way, but we’re not.

We can only defeat the virus if we focus on it as one very real, common enemy together. We must give it our best fight as ONE.

Until the day that we celebrate that victory together, stay safe and stay nice America!

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Bojangles, my obese cat, who now has his own Instagram page thanks to my boredom during the quarantine. Yes, it’s come to this – Follow him at @mrbojangles21!

Searching for peace on the ground

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Rocks and a hollowed out piece of wood found during my quarantine escape to the woods.

A week ago, my family made a spontaneous escape during this new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. We rented a lake cabin in the woods that wasn’t too far from home. It offered a welcome change of scenery while allowing us to maintain plenty of “social distance.” The day after we arrived, our governor declared a stay-at-home order, so the cabin became our new home for a few days. I can think of worse prisons.

While making lemonade out of lemons, we did the usual activities – fishing, hiking through the woods, reading, resting and eating a lot of calorie rich food. My favorite thing to do, hands down (other than consuming gooey desserts), is the hiking. My family is not as fond of that activity as they should be…but I love them just the same.

Every time we venture into the woods or near water, I start lagging behind because I’m on the ground finding stones, sticks or shells. Many of them make their way home with us. This hobby once delayed us at an airport while I unloaded my treasures that put our luggage over the weight limit. That’s a special memory that my family still loves to bring up every time I hoard more nature away in my backpack.

I don’t know why I like rocks. Or sticks. Or essentially… dirty things on the ground.

I think it must be their connection to the earth, which is also a connection to its Creator. I don’t feel particularly spiritual in these moments of digging and gathering, but back at home they provide a direct link to a path, a sandy shore, a mossy seat underneath a tree, a memory. They remind me of our uniqueness, and how diversity is essential to nature and humankind. They strip away the counterfeit and trivial, and provide me with a hands-on experience that is tangible and authentic. They convict me that God is as real as a rock in my hand, even when He feels very far away.

In all situations, we can find something to touch, see, smell or hear that reveals His presence. In the midst of this current season of uncertainty, or any that you will face in our lifetime, take hold of the very real things – laughter, tears, music, art, food, animals, literature…or a piece of driftwood, to name a few. Hold them close and relish in the simple, but honest beauty of these creations. I pray that you can find a quiet and reassuring peace, knowing that God is also holding and admiring us.

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How the Coronavirus might cure us all

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As the days turn into weeks during this new reality of the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ll admit I’ve participated in my fair share of mindless activities. I’m doing my part to “flatten the curve” while also working from home and trying to homeschool a 16-year old and a college freshman (I’m not qualified!). I’ve sucked down some whipped topping from the can. I’ve become catatonic watching daily news conferences. And while I haven’t watched Tiger King YET on Netflix, it’s next after finishing Love is Blind.

Although I don’t have much to show for this time, I feel like I’ve found some clarity in the midst of the chaos. Now that the daily “to do list” in my busy, American life seems largely irrelevant, I am listening more to my mind, and to my heart, and actually… (wait for it)…THINKING. In fact, the abundant gift of all this extra time alone with my thoughts has forced me to reflect on life in a pretty poignant way. My guess is that I’m not alone.

Over the last few days, I’ve reflected on my disdain for research papers even though I was once really good at them. My son has been working on his first major college research paper and OUCH… revisiting MLA format and navigating those waters with him has been a real downer during this quarantine.

This time has also been incredibly insightful because his paper is titled “The Effects of Technology on Learning and the Brain.” For years, I’ve been suspect that our society has essentially invited the “fox into the hen house” when we welcomed the magic of smart tech with open arms. We hardly paused. It can be so intoxicating! But now that the buzz has worn off, what’s left? Is our current state of dependence irreversible?

Ever since the invasion of the internet and its amazing devices, I’ve been confronted with my own lazy brain and a growing fatigue for reading books or processing complex information. And I don’t think it’s because I’m aging. My 80-year old Dad discovered a pure joy for reading books later in life, and guess what (?) – he doesn’t have OR want a smartphone.

So before I lose your attention (because let’s be honest, I’m competing with cat videos and karaoke in cars), I encourage you to read up and form your own opinions (see links to some of the source material for my son’s paper below). When we no longer have to “shelter in place,” what will we have learned? Despite the very real and tragic losses of this pandemic, maybe we’ll also walk away with something gained – a much needed reality check.

While we can’t go back in time and throw the baby out, I want to believe there’s still time to refresh the bathwater. Maybe we’ll finally turn something off and tune back in.

Is Google Making Us Stupid? by: Nicholas Carr
(And to think this is over 10 years old – telling and a little scary.) 

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction by: Matt Richtel

How Classroom Technology is Holding Students Back by: Natalie Wexler

Why we need to hear NO

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One thing is a constant from childhood through adulthood. Sometimes the answer is just NO. Your teenager says NO to an opportunity that you know would boost his confidence. Your boss says NO to the great idea you’ve been so passionately pursuing. Your jeans simply say NO to buttoning up. No matter what the issue, a NO always stings in the moment. And in that moment, no matter what our age, we will momentarily declare to ourselves…

That’s. Not. Fair.

And you know what? It probably isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair that you put the work in for that promotion or job, but the opportunity went to someone else.
It isn’t fair that you have to delay a family vacation to repair the roof or fix your car.
It isn’t fair that you just started exercising again only to step in a hole and sprain your ankle.
It isn’t fair that someone has written you off, when you know the motives of your heart and actions were good.

In all those situations and so many more, we won’t always get the YES we’re looking for, but all isn’t lost. In fact, I’m convinced that NO’s are essential for our survival.

Consider the archetype of the “spoiled brat”  – the little monster we all love to hate, but can never see in ourselves. This kid can’t even process the word NO. The brat pitches a fit and demands that the NO be changed to a YES, and right now! This child insists that the rules, the environment, and essentially the entire world shift on its axis to accommodate the concerns that are critical to him or her.

Watched the news lately? Does this logic sound familiar on both sides of the political aisle? Ever heard the terms “snowflake” and “safe space?” The world is full of Nellie Olsens and over sensitivity. Perpetual victimhood is exhausting and teaches us nothing. We have to tap into our maturity and wisdom and use them to our advantage. If we don’t, we’ll miss the greatest gifts that come with the NO’s.

When we hear NO, suddenly the gray areas of our life become black and white.
When we hear NO, we learn more about ourselves and what we value the most.
When we hear NO, we can move out of gridlock and make the hard decisions.
When we hear NO, we can better accept our lack of control and acknowledge a God who is IN control.
When we hear NO, we identify the people in our life who are truly in our corner.
When we hear NO, we can steer our ship toward a definitive YES on a different shore.

Imagine if every NO you’ve ever heard in your life had been a YES? Would your life look the same? Would there be a huge It’s a Wonderful Life kind of gaping hole in the life you lead every day? Would you even be with the same people?

While we all hold some regrets and might desire a do-over or two, looking back affords us the perspective to find purpose in our disappointments. When we don’t handle our NO’s gracefully, we risk becoming the unholy terror who always gets what she wants, but not always what she needs.

The next time you hear a NO, don’t throw a fit or a pity party. Remember the immeasurable power it has to transform your life. Allow it to lead you away from the kids’ table to the front of the adult buffet. Before you know it, you’ll have so many wonderful YES’s to choose from that you’ll be coming back for seconds.

 

 

 

What we’ve missed looking down

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Over the course of the last few years, I’ve grown increasingly unhappy with my relationship to and dependency on technology. I don’t know if it’s laziness, complacency or insecurity, but I’m slowly forgetting how to just BE. I fear that by mostly looking down instead of all around, we are becoming numb to real emotion, real relationships and real experiences. There’s no room for discomfort, for confronting the hard things, and for handling life as people, not profiles.

To avoid introspection or a potentially awkward human interaction, we binge watch another TV show or lose sleep agonizing over the hidden meaning of a LIKE or the absence of a LIKE. Are those people really praying or just Facebook praying? If you use emojis do you ever have to be in touch with your real emotions? Really? Our society has come to this? It’s a recipe for judgment overload and social anarchy. I don’t think anyone can deny that civility is dying a cruel death on every front.

Since I addressed social media specifically, don’t misinterpret my feelings. I have a lot of love for social media and I’d be a hypocrite if I denied it. I enjoy keeping in touch with friends far and near. I am thankful for the ability to capture and archive moments as they happen. It’s a powerful channel for looking back and remembering in great detail some of the best memories of our lives. But where’s the boundary and when does it become too much? It’s probably a different answer for every individual, but just consider … if we all continue capturing EVERY moment in edited perfection, will we even recognize our own lives 20 years from now? What was real, and what was manufactured? When does the presentation of the moment outshine the moment itself? It seems unfair to our actual memories to get second billing.

I can’t remember the last time I managed to read a book cover to cover in a reasonable amount of time. I’m a fast reader and my supposed LOVE for books surrounds me on shelves, in boxes and ironically on my Kindle. Yet they’re all collecting dust. Why? It’s a part of me lost to distraction. I read books in chunks, and when I finally get to the end (mostly out of guilt), I lose track of important details that take too much effort to recall. I can’t hit refresh and get back what was lost when my attention was diverted. And my attention span grows shorter each year. Sure I’m over 40, but I don’t think growing older is the problem. It’s more that I’m growing away from the things I truly love and I’m replacing them with a shallow substitute of mind numbing content on a glowing screen.

Finally, I think about where this hits me the hardest. My family. I LOVE my family, but if I’m being honest, there are many days I probably spend more time on Facebook than I do in face time with them. Even if I’m talking about them, I’m not really WITH them. We have memories, but is anything ours alone? I won’t always get this balance right, but I’m going to pause more before posting this year. If I want to save a moment for me without sharing, I can always change my settings or do something crazy like print my photos or write in a journal! Mind blowing I know.

Please don’t misinterpret the tone of my rant. None of it is intended to be a guilt trip or a technology trash talk. These tools provide us with so many amazing ways to connect in the world. They give us access to information and experiences that we could have never imagined just a few decades ago. The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m using a tool of technology to share this, but at least I’m writing again – something I once enjoyed that predates my insta-babble. We just have to be cautious and not confuse this still very new frontier with humanity. Technology may fulfill some human needs, but it doesn’t have a heart and it doesn’t have the capacity to love you. No matter what you’re watching on the Sci-Fi Channel, none of it is REAL

This year, I want to remember what’s real. I want to reconnect to my humanity. I want to notice what I might never see when my head is down instead of up. I want to hear more by actually listening instead of staying locked inside headphones. I want to use all five senses again instead of primarily one. What have I missed already? There’s no way to turn it all off, but starting today, don’t be a part of the head down herd. Look up. What’s right in front of you is all you ever truly have to hold on to. Don’t let it go.

Look what I missed when I normally have my head down like everyone else in the Starbucks line. Who knew?