Naming our Losses {#lifeinthetimeofcorona}


IMG_20200501_080547When Washington State brought the country’s first case of novel Coronavirus to the US, we had no idea what had begun. While the sudden deaths of loved and aged family members was a shock, the nursing home tragedy was still an hour and a half away from where I live.

Things moved quickly, tho’. Suddenly the virus was way too close to home and there were deaths of a different kind, no less significant. Travel plans were curtailed and questioned everywhere. A writer’s retreat I’d been looking forward to for a year was prayerfully and tearfully cancelled. I would grieve for weeks.

Folks were elbow tapping each other the last time we were together at church. And just like that, a week later we were under #stayathome orders.

The last time I was able to get a latte at my favorite family-owned coffee shop I stood in line with folks outside (each of us on our blue-taped line), chatting about the sudden changes. Gatherings of more than 10 people were cancelled overnight and those aged 65 and over (raising my hand) were cautioned to stay safe inside.

Most significantly I was heartsick about not seeing my children and grandchildren. We were expecting a visit from my son’s out-of-town family over Spring Break; needless to say, that didn’t happen. My daughter’s newest pride and joy, Mary Becca, did some adorable thing each week and I counted down the days without seeing her in person. While I’m grateful for the daily photos my daughter has been texting, you know how fast a baby changes….

Well, we’ve pivoted, to use the latest term. Virtual visits with friends and loved ones have proliferated thanks to Marco Polo and Zoom calls. “Church” sprang up via Facebook Live and video chats now replace in-person conversations. Yes, life in the time of quarantine has had a weirdness all its own.

On May 4th, 40 days from our first #SelfQuarantine guidelines, our Governor began a return to sort of normal, definitely new. There will be phases, the end of which could take us into July. I don’t even want to think about how long away that is.

….

Quarantine is from the Latin ‘quarantina’ for 40.

Forty days in the Biblical narrative has always connoted some kind of cataclysmic change–Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain, Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, His reappearance in the 40 days after His Resurrection. Each period was marked by a definite before and a very particular after.

According to the Liturgical calendar, we are now in the season of Easter. It seems appropriate and wildly significant that we too would be changed on the other side of this sudden and drastic turn of events.

A lot has happened in forty-plus days, sometimes at warp speed. We can hardly keep up, never mind process all that we are grieving. But it would unfair for us to compare losses in a time like this. I have four friends at church that took sick with #covid19 and thankfully recovered. A dear pastor who lives out of town said she spent 10 days in bed, dreaming through the window. We have all been affected, whether we know a family who lost a loved one, had someone ill and recovered or whether we are simply heartsick in another way.

  • Children had to say goodbye overnight to classmates and playmates at school.
  • Seniors who graduate this year had activities yanked right out from under them, not the least of which is commencement for the class of 2020.
  • Small businesses have shuttered their doors and thousands may never open, including my favorite coffee shop.

To say because no one I know has died in this pandemic, that it pales in comparison to the ache to see my grandchildren would be unfair. Each loss we face is valid and matters to the heart of God. The playing field is equal for all and every lesson we remember from this time is all gift.

Forty days is hardly an eternity, but it can bring a change on the other side if we let it. May we remember the hard-won lessons from #lifeinthetimeofcorona, to take nothing for granted, rejoice in the smallest pleasures and treasure the people in our lives, those who are close and those far away.

Dear God, may it be so. Amen.

*****

These thoughts aren’t nearly as compelling on the computer screen as they were in my head, but I decided to hit ‘Publish’ nonetheless. I hope they provide a glimpse of what I meant here, that there is no scale for how deeply we feel the losses we’ve been facing–they all matter to God. And to us.

When You’re Drowning in Words

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My friend Kim and I were talking about words the other day. She mentioned a haiku she’d written, following the form of three lines of verse and a pattern of syllables- 5 in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the last. We discussed the simple fact that when you are limited by form it forces you to be concise. Word choices become intentional in order to convey meaning and evoke an image for the reader.

When I ventured out to my garden with this in mind, I took the above photo to discover via PlantSnap (my plant ID app) what this white-petaled flower was. My husband asked a neighbor who was renovating their yard if he could dig up the unwanted greenery–‘yes, of course’- and successfully rehomed them in my perennial bed.

I didn’t know what the plant was named and was delighted to learn something new.

Annual, family ‘lunaria’, common name ‘honesty.’ A plant named honesty. Well, that’s something to ponder.

It seems like we’re drowning in information in this #lifeinthetimeofcorona. Yes, that’s a hashtag; you can Google it.

Everywhere you turn online there is someone else with another opinion about What’s Really Important to Know Right Now. It’s overwhelming. Should I wear a facemask in public or not? How is this virus actually spread? Should I wipe down my plastic bags when I get home from the grocery store? And how long are we going to be asked to #stayhomestaysafe?

It’s hard to be brief when we want to communicate what really matters–we’d rather just talk on and on. Or maybe that’s just me. Experts in every field have an opinion to pay attention to these days.

The overwhelm is real, and leaves me feeling like anything I have to say doesn’t really matter. In a weird way I feel like I’ve run out of words… so many syllables swirling in the atmosphere, they’ve all been used up. Or the virtual air is overcrowded and my thoughts seem unnecessary compared to everyone else’s.

In this season of self-isolation and social distancing, my soul can feel squashed. There’s extra mental energy required to cope with simple daily tasks like grocery shopping or going to the drugstore, and I easily feel like I’ve run out of creativity of any kind. The subtle lie creeps in that seeking to create is a waste of time when people are dying. 

But creativity is often an act of defiance. To choose to find beauty in the middle of a pandemic–whether it’s noticing the way one enjoys the budding of spring or the joy in a baby’s smile–can feed the soul. Penning a few simple but purposeful lines to capture that beauty is a choice I’m willing to make anyway.

We are makers, God’s poiema–His ‘made thing’. 

Even small bits of creating–trying a new recipe, writing a note to a friend, sending a text, beginning a piece of handwork, planting seeds–anything that honors and affirms life right now is an act of defiance, a way of using our words (and actions) to declare what really matters.

Let’s be honest. Let’s be makers.

****

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Finding My Name~an Easter Week Story

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When my mother was taken by cancer at the age of 55 and I was 33, there was no estate to divide, no money to deposit, no silver to share. After she was gone, I wasn’t saddened by the loss of anything tangible like an inheritance, but because there were questions I would never have answers to.

For instance, where did my name come from?

When my mother passed, I felt unsettled about this piece of my life. The older I got, my identity and family history became more and more important. I had never heard the background, the whys or whos of my name.  There was no connection to the past, no legacy left via family stories with the particulars. This left me feeling un-moored– although I’d been Jody as long as I could remember, certainly she had intentionally chosen the name Joanna, but why?

It never occurred to me to ask my her while she was alive.

My mother was Helen Elizabeth. Names matter; and I got neither name. I really would have liked Elizabeth, perhaps for a middle name. No, I was Joanna Lee–Where did ‘Joanna’ come from? And how did I become ‘Jody’? (Of course when I was little I was called by my ‘in trouble name’, “Joanna Lee!”)

The question remained, Who was I named after? So imagine my joy when several years after my mother died, I read the name ‘Joanna’ in the passage in Luke recalling Jesus’ resurrection story. 

Celestial Bodies {a #poem}

My weary eyes need reminders to
view the galaxies aright. Focused on
the sliver of moon, they forget an
entire orb hides in the dark.
I gaze at dull concrete, traipse
around the observatory, past
an entrance where God stands in the
doorway beckoning me to peer,
Galileo-like, past roofs, across
trees, into velvet sky.

As feet pause on sure ground,
a whisper beckons to dream
above, beyond to distant beauty.
Consider the immeasurable
heavens inside, reckon my
need as I’m handed a telescope.

Brightened eyes rest and remember.


This poem was written as part of Poems for Ephesians, an online project of D.S. Martin at McMasters Divinity College. I was particularly taken by Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verses in Chapter 1: 17) “I ask the God our master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, 18 your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, 19 oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength! 20 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21 in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments,” 

How appropriate this passage is for these times, #lifeinthetimeofthecorona, where we cling to the truth that God is “in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments.” And, that as believers in Jesus, we would be urged to “grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life.”

I want to reckon my need as I’m handed a telescope, to rest and remember the power of Jesus in me and on display in the world, from the particular to farflung planets. He is over it all.

We Were Made for Connection

IMG_20200605_130201Last week I wrote about#loveinthetimeofthecorona–illuminating what or how we can embody love in the world in these very challenging times, especially as believers in Jesus. (And? Did you know, #loveinthetimeofthecorona is actually a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. If you are on either of those social media platforms, type in the hashtag and be inspired.)

I was originally going to title this wrap-up, “Thank you Al Gore for the Internet” (which is partially true. Thank you Wikipedia). People all over the globe are working and connecting and chatting via Zoom and Facetime, Facebook live and Marco Polo videos and so on, all thanks to the world wide web.

How starved we are for the sight of our friends and loved ones’ faces! And a voice–who knew how we would miss that? I was serenaded last week via Voxer by a friend on the opposite coast as she sang “It is Well” in her lovely alto voice and tears rolled down my cheeks as I harmonized with her.

Our church has live streamed “services” from an almost empty sanctuary (with stuffed animals in the audience) and the attendance last Sunday was nearly double what we have on an ordinary Sunday. This week our pastor shared a message about Jesus calming the storms, with a painting on the living room wall behind him as spoke from his home. Viewers were given his cel phone number to text in answers to trivia questions from the Bible and even the young kids got to play along. Necessity is the mother of invention, yes? Virtual or not, is a great way to be connected with those we know and love.

In that vein I’d like to share some of the goodness I’ve found online with you–a quiet word on how to deal with sadness or fear, and talk to your kids about their feelings. Orchestral music via Skype, a library tour with poet Malcolm Guite, the Quarantine Song from two very talented Grandparents, never before seen photos of crystal clear canals in Venice, Italy and opera singers and everyday folks serenading from their balconies and plazas.

I hope you’ll take some time to listen and watch; maybe you’ll find a way to connect just a little bit more with the beauty and goodness around you.

Love in the Time of the Corona

IMG_20200319_084623It has occurred to me during this time of worldwide change and upset that although we have been told to isolate and keep our distance from one another, we may in the long run learn how to love each other better. Poetry has been my method of processing the world lately; here’s a few lines from my heart to yours.

Love in a Time of The Corona*
Although I cannot touch you, care goes deeper
than skin–invisible; it cannot be taken away.
Love underground, like somnolent bulbs
shedding their skin, unstoppable eruption.
Forced into the open, colors like tentative,
defiant flags unfurl, waving for all to see.
Bent by the wind or subtle as a tepid breeze,
flying colors that will last down deep in the
dark to live another day.
——-
When my daughter Leah and I were in New York City on September 11th, like the rest of the world, we saw communities of care sprout up overnight as neighbors, families and friends reached out beyond their fears and need to help one another.

The camaraderie and sensitivity lasted a good long while (certainly not long enough) and eventually we all went back to our isolated selves, each waving our own flags of independence.
God did not make us to live alone–we are made for community and each other.
I pray that the catastrophic changes we are experiencing now will, as Eugene Peterson says in The Message (James 1:3), “force our faith life into the open” for all to see. That our fruit of love will remain.
Amen.


*’corona’ is of course, Spanish for ‘crown.’ One of my niece’s led us in a prayer last week at church (our last gathering for a good long while) that those who are “running in every other direction because of the Coronavirus would run to the one who wears the crown, Jesus.” Isn’t that a great prayer?

Speaking of prayer, if you missed my thoughts about pinecones, planets and prayers you can read those here. And don’t forget to sign up for my Random Acts of Writing–quarterly-ish thoughts straight to your virtual Inbox. Just click HERE; You can unsubscribe any time.

Be well friends, be wise, and take a walk to look at Creation waking up. Easter is coming–you can’t quarantine the Resurrection!

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