For the First Time in Forever {{#lifeinthetimeofcorona}}

Image may contain: 11 people, including Leah Johnson and Courtney Collins, people sitting, child, outdoor and nature

L to R, standing: Me, grandson Peter (14), Birthday Boy Bill (75), DIL Courtney Collins, Oldest (and tallest!!) grandson Hanan, 17, our son Aaron Collins, seated in front, L to R, Paul Silas (10. I think), Abigail (almost 13), our daughter Leah Johnson holding newest (very overwhelmed) grandgirl Mary Becca, almost 1 and lastly, Mr. Luke Ezra the Minion, age 8— at Point Defiance Park Tacoma WA

I wrote last week in this space about our first time back at church in like forever. Actually, it had only been three months since our last in-person gathering, but it seemed much longer.

It was wonderful. And weird.

Superlatives have lost their punch lately, if you know what I mean. #lifeinthetimeofcorona has added a shade or hue of excess, infiltrating daily vocabulary and leaving me somewhat immune to the power of words, especially Unprecedented and Never-Before-Seen. 

But sometimes the words fit.

There  is one First Time in Forever that is actually, factually true. My daughter Leah’s first child–Mary Rebecca Elizabeth–will be a year old next month. After pregnancy challenges over a five year period, Mary Becca’s birth still seems like a miracle, especially since my daughter was 40 years old when she was born.

Birthdays–whether you’re 75 like my husband or a year old like Mary Becca–are cause for rejoicing. But like all celebrations in this season of social distancing and quarantine, birthdays and family gatherings have had to morph into something new.

After quarantining and social distancing from March until May, our family was finally able to all get together in one place for a picnic and party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. But the celebration marked something more auspicious, in my humble opinion.

My son and his family of seven (yes, I already have 5 grands….), my daughter and her husband and newest grandgirl Mary, AND my husband and I were all able to get together last week FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our visits in the past have been with my son and his family, or with my daughter and her family, like a Venn diagram with my husband and I in the middle.

But this time we were all in the middle. ((Well, except for my son in law William who TOOK the photo. He was busy setting up the shot.))Image may contain: William E. G. Johnson, plant, outdoor and nature

Maybe because life is draining and difficult in so many ways lately, the simplest joys mean the most. I pray that will be lesson I take away from this time, no matter how long it lasts.

How about you? What lessons have you learned? (Or maybe you’re still in the process….). Let me know in the comments.

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.

What Forgiveness Tastes Like

tai-s-captures-JiRSy0GfqPA-unsplash
Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

I wanted to title this “The Night We Ate Tacos & Nobody Got Hurt.” Read on to find out why.

Family gatherings around life events are often joyous, emotional occasions; wedding preparations definitely take the cake when it comes to lots of Big Feelings. Mix the mother of the groom, the father of the bride, siblings, relatives—shirt-tail or otherwise—and there is sure to be no shortage of rough edges on the Big Day. Everyone involved has an investment in the couples’ happiness. Or at least an opinion, (“They paid HOW much for the honeymoon?!”)

Pressure for the event to be Pinterest ®perfect is not helped by the fact that those who are invited into the picture are often strangers. The bride and groom know and love each of their friends, but rarely do all the friends and relatives know or necessarily love each other. Even when they’re in the same family.

My nephew was married six summers ago. To celebrate the occasion of her only child, my sister invited my other siblings (there are five of us altogether) and respective spouses to stay with her during Wedding Week. She has a large home in Southern California and we had all visited one time or another, but never all at the same time; this would be one great sleep over.

Mornings and evenings were chillaxing times over meals, telling the same old jokes, teasing each other the way only family can do. There was an ease about the early morning coffee quiet and comfortable dinner table conversations. We enjoyed late nights on the patio listening to a backdrop of crickets or inside listening to the electronic ‘plink’ of Words with Friends (on our separate devices while sitting in the same room. Of course.

Part of the celebrations prior to the big day was a luncheon my sister planned the day before W’s wedding.  It would a sort of an ice-breaker/get-to-know-each-other time with the groom, his Best Man from college in Texas, and…her ex-husband. This could a very tricky situation.

To Be 94 {a #poem}

I’d sure like a cup of coffee.
The grounds go in the top, but where?
And here is the glass pitcher
6 cups full of water
but I don’t remember
where to pour it.

My mind is like a leaky bucket,
a sad sieve that saves 
less and less these days,
an empty, worn-out basket.

If I could stop up the holes,
plug the places
where my mind has slipped out
perhaps I could remember 
where to pour the water.

I DO remember this–
I’d sure like a cup of coffee.

~~~~~~~~
Caring for my mother in law who is at home with us… Changes are coming faster than we would all like.
It is hard for us to watch, but it must be awful for her.  Writing in this space helps.

Songs/Life

My brothers are strumming their guitars in my sister’s living room and I’m thinking of the miracle of it all, how our mother loved to sing and each of these men taught themselves to play beautiful music because of that gift and their love for words and song.

The miracle is I’m here to witness it, when I think of our collective pasts, the five of us siblings bereft of parents at an early age, fatherless as teenagers, motherless soon after.  We ultimately raised ourselves, me as the big sister and chief Bossy Person and always in charge. My mother worked, we were left alone a lot. Our father gambled, we were poor……the list goes on and on.  Alcoholism affected us all.

I thought it was all on me, this care and concern, but listening to the stories we shared last weekend as we were together, it’s clear there was a hand larger than our own keeping us all these years.

I heard a song right before I left on our trip to see my family for this wedding weekend occasion–a recording by Amy Grant and my all-time, from way-back-in-the-past favorite vocalist–James Taylor.

Just hearing his voice takes me back to my teenage years and the memories flood in of life in that landscape of wandering….God was with me through it all.

Some online friends and I have been discussing the fact that many of us grew up feeling unworthy–of having any joy, of feeling important or valued or loved. Is it okay to want my dreams? Do my needs really matter? It is an area in my life Jesus is beginning to deal with and heal little by little.

The words of this song (Don’t try So Hard–Amy Grant, with James Taylor) brought the tears streaming down my face as I stood in our kitchen, thinking about God’s great love for me, right there, right then, through the words and music.

We’re lovely even with our scars.

Don’t Try So Hard-Amy Grant, Benjamin Glover, Capitol Christian Music
Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
‘Cause it’s a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim
Pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright
Even brighter now
Wish I could tell myself
Don’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDo you remember how the summers felt when we were kids?
Ah, we didn’t think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time
Beautiful leisure
When did we start
Trying to measure up
When all this time
Love has been trying to tell usDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDon’t try so hardDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace
You can’t earn it
Stop thinking you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hard