Preventing a Forest Fire?

The horrible arrest that turned into a murder this week was not the actual cause of the turmoil we are currently witnessing across our country (and even in other parts of the world).

This terrible event was a match that has set fire to a society ready to burn for many reasons:

  1. People have been locked up for months. Know what that feels like?
  2. Whole segments of our society have lost their incomes overnight.
  3. Loss of income also means loss of a host of other related benefits, like healthcare.
  4. Childcare for many people who can’t afford it has gone away when the school system shut down – people who were unable to continue working from home or were furloughed but instead were “let go.”
  5. Government relief did not seem to work well for average citizens. Applying for unemployment benefits has been almost impossible. Financial bailouts seemed to effect large businesses not individual families. It will take a while for all of that to “trickle down.”
  6. Segments of our society already in poor health and the aged were particularly susceptible to this virus. It didn’t strike randomly.
  7. Where are the positive, strong leaders with an agenda to move us forward?  There’s so much conflict and controversy in our politics right now.

The horrible death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday lit a match and set fire to a society that was made ready to burn because of a plague of fear, frustration and lack of hope.

Human beings are prone to distorted thinking called Confirmation Bias. This happens to all of us at one time or another. We get an idea in our head and then stop looking for other information that contradicts that thinking. We then begin to see only what confirms our first belief. We stop thinking.

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.” ― Thomas Stephen Szasz

If you look hard enough you will see that there are and have always been protests and people voicing alternative ideas and opinions in the history of our nation. That’s what our nation is all about! Just think about it.

If you look hard enough you will see that our law enforcement men and women are almost all brave, kind, fair and just. You just have to call attention to the whole story and think about it.

The media today is not the same animal it was when I was growing up. I started out with a black and white TV! There were only three television networks (I guess PBS had news?). The news was broadcast during specific hours of the day. Was it more objective because there wasn’t much time for editorializing and opinions?

Today, the news media is on 24/7. There are dozens of channels pouring out information right and left. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between news and opinion rants from media personalities. Fighting over ratings and advertising dollars may be the greater purpose, not so much getting the facts into our hands.

So I guess what I’m suggesting here is that we all make sure we are putting things into perspective. Use the context we are all swimming in to help understand what’s really going on – avoid the rapids and navigate more successfully down the currents that appear around each bend.

  1. Yes there are racial/class tensions in our society, but they are probably going to be better addressed by solving long lasting problems related to education and family.
  2. Our current health crisis has effects on layers and layers of our social structure and system – this is not limited to healthcare and economics. Events this week have brought some of this to light.
  3. Read more, watch TV/Social Media less!  Talk less, listen more. Pray for people who are different from you. Cross the road and be a Good Samaritan as often as you can (do it with your words too).

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Always Worth Remembering

“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live.” ― Annie Dillard

  • Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
  • Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.  Did you realize it was that recent a holiday? (www.history.com)
  • Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. A “Taps Across America” is planned for this year. Click on the link to learn more. I remember being in Galveston for dinner one evening and discovering there was a veteran who played “Taps” each evening from the balcony across the intersection. All the other residents, business owners and tourists gathered together in the cool breeze and stood in honor for those few minutes, all together as one.

Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. That holiday, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, November 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.'” As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans. In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. (www.military.com)

You have people in your family or circle who have served in the military. Some have given their lives in that service. Of course you always remember them. But most importantly, don’t forget to bear their memory to the next generation. Tell your friends, loved ones, children and their ancestors about who they were. Don’t limit their lives to this tremendous service, open their story and tell some of the details to others.

I’ve got a platform in the classes I teach to talk about world events. World War 2 dramatically changed the fortunes of my family. Every male in my grandfathers immediate family served in the war, and all returned home! It was a very large family. I try and explain to others the dramatic change in fortunes this experience had on our extended family for generations to come. What I don’t do is tell the individual stories enough, how those young men left the hard scrabble of the Texas Hill Country and changed the world.

I just told my daughter that her great-grandfather, who served in WW2, helped to rebuild the bridge over the Llano River back in the 1930’s. It was a public works program, one of thousands that FDR had launched to help get us out of the Great Depression. My daughter is a history teacher, I knew she’d appreciate this part of the story. Also, a little drama, he fell off while working on it!

There are heroes in your life, aren’t there?

What about making your new normal life one that is lived passing down the memory of heroic figures in your life to the next generation? It seems we are surrounded by anti-heroes these days. These make for much better television.

There’s a box on my table that I’m collecting old framed photos into. My plan is to send to a cousin so he can hold these memories as I have. He’s got a young son who needs to hear about his ancestors and who he came from.

Why don’t you decide to hang up a picture, have more family dinners with no technology, make a phone call or write something down? Make an extra effort to remember aloud people who made a difference and whose deeds and values still could? Make a kind of memorial day in your life for the sake of others who need some nourishment.

I made some cookies the other day. The kind my grandmother used to make. None of us are supposed to be eating cookies these days, so there’s no one to share with. The act reminded me of a memory of place. There are people in your life who were significant, but there were also places and times. These should be remembered too. My grandmother had a little narrow kitchen, no appliances to speak of (certainly not a dishwasher!), yet she cooked and baked plain old memories for her family. My version of those cookies don’t seem right, but they did the trick. I remember the place so long ago and how happy it made all of us because we were loved.

“As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes, but it’s just as necessary.”
― Ernest Hemmingway

And then, there’s all the health and wealth that remembering brings to your own self. Don’t forget these people for all of the subtle influence, the investment of time and attention, the examples of character and love. Remember the heroes from the past and what each has planted in the soil of your life.

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts…. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

 

There’s Always Two Sides

I was listening to a video of Judy Collins singing the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” – got me into a very reflective mood. Again.

Surely this great quarantine has also provided you with some reflective moods now and then. What has this incredible shut down forced you to think about while sitting outside under the trees? What fears are lurking around the next corner? What new goals have you decided to set for yourself?  Deciding to be a better person in your relationships (someone else making this decision for you)?

“…how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet” ― Robert Browning

For a long while now I’ve been putting down poems on my phone. Don’t tell anyone. First of all, I still can’t believe I’m the owner of a cell phone. Secondly, I actually know poets. They would be horrified that I was sitting in parking lots letting words, ideas and feeling spill onto my iPhone.

I’m in my first year as a widower. One of the recent stream of consciousness poems I jotted down was the reflection that “everyday there’s a hard part” – doesn’t usually last long, but it’s consistent.

Joni Mitchell’s song makes me think about the two divisions of life that I’ve lived (am now living). You should go read the lyrics with the song playing. Here’s a portion:

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love
Really don’t know love at all

Maybe this terrible time of isolation has shown you another side of life. Another side of your own life? What if one of the hidden blessings of this tragedy is that you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of what’s over the wall?

In my life, this other side of the wall without my wife isn’t going to go away.  Everyday, there’s a reminder out of the blue – the hard part. As far as this “shut down” goes, it will end. We will probably have a new normal – I’m working on planning a different way to do college classes this fall. But, we are all going to come back home to a version of where we left.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

“Both Sides Now” reminds me that there’s always a danger that when I go back to the new normal I could slip back into that automatic living I was doing before.

Shakespeare wrote, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I listen to Judy Collins sing that song (1976!) and for me, it’s true, I didn’t know how to really love. I see that now from this side.

But when this quarantine ends, I’m going to live with as few regrets as I can, because I’ve seen a little bit of both sides of me.

What about you?

 

“Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
And like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind”
― Ray Lamontagne

What’s Your New Normal?

Have you heard about what the “New Normal” is going to look like once the current quarantine is lifted? Mostly it seems that our collective focus is on the strategic rearrangements that will have to take place so that we can get back to work, school and leisure as soon as possible. The media is streaming into our homes constantly with information and opinions about how all of this will or won’t work.

  • More online learning and working
  • No more crowded restaurants
  • Empty sports stadiums
  • Temperature checks
  • Less travel

At least for the immediate and unknown future, things will surely be different. Who really knows how permanent some of the changes will be. What about changes that you have decided to make in your own life?

What’s starting to interest me is how this intense period of social isolation has effected all of us, has changed each one of us in subtle ways that we may not have consciously thought enough about.

Certainly we all know that changes in these areas of our life are coming:

Family – you probably know each other at a new level now. Did you make music videos together or find places to hide for each other? Of course, for many, there are the concerns related to extended family members who needed extra help. That’s not going to go away. What’s your plan for the days ahead?

Friendships – who did you keep in contact with during the quarantine and who was too much trouble? Who kept up with you?

Work – we all now know that all those meetings are going to have to change, but what else? The economic hardships are going to cause painful changes and reorganizations for many. What’s going to change about the way you do business with the people you work with?

What’s your normal going to look like when it comes to some of these other pieces of your life?

  1. Your big goals in life – and all the little ones getting you there
  2. What you choose to get mad about – and complain to others about
  3. How you spend your free time (when you had too much!)
  4. What you took for granted about other people – and your relationships
  5. Your every day conversation with God – who’s talking, who’s listening?

This plague that spread across the globe and our response to it stole so much control from our lives. But as we re-establish ourselves in a post-pandemic life we can make choices and be less driven about by circumstances. Raising your self-awareness puts you on the road to higher levels of self-control.

“In a very tragic kind of way, sometimes things have to be gone before I fully realize that they were ever there.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I was pulling out of the driveway the other day, watching my daughter holding my grandson in her arms. For a minute I thought to myself, hang on to him as long as you can. What I wouldn’t give to have one more day to hold you in my arms like that again – and to not take it for granted.

Your new normal ought to be something that you stop taking for granted.

So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.  – Jesus, Matthew 6:34 (The Voice)

 

 

The Secret Is In Your Routines

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.” ― John Steinbeck

What has the quarantine done to the old routines in your your life?

  • Eating like a Hobbit (6 meals a day)?
  • Sleeping longer (more dreaming, good for thinking!)
  • Cleaning out closets (so there’s room to hide from others in the house)?

Right now we are all living with new and improvised routines.

We see what our lives look like when taken-for-granted routines are removed.

Routines in our lives are often unconscious and automatic patterns that guide daily living and accomplishing simple and important goals.

If not careful, your routines can trap you in ruts that keep you from moving forward or being able to think outside your quarantine box.

 “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ― Samuel Johnson

I’m a firm believer in routines. They enable us to get so much accomplished. When we lean on our automatic thinking, our brain is free to think, imagine and solve in other areas. Routines allow us to liberate our daily living so that we can still accomplish what’s essential without having to sacrifice the dreaming. People who are able to use both conscious and unconscious (automatic) thinking are typically more satisfied with choices they make. We even make BETTER decisions when we use our unconscious thinking!

What about your morning routine? All that you are free to think about that’s coming in your day because you don’t have to be conscious of brushing your teeth or pulling on your socks.

Routines allow you to think about things that are important and urgent

Before the plague hit, I’d been going through a tremendous amount of routine changing. What I used to be able to take for granted I had to pay more attention to, almost daily. This took up too much brain power. I ended up forgetting, remembering wrong and getting facts out of order.

What about you? Has the new normal thrown all your routines out the window?

  • Think about the children in your life. They are even more dependent upon routine to normalize and organize their emerging selves.
  • You’re aware that the future will return our routines to us – but most are telling us that we will not go back to where we left but will instead have to create a new normal.
  • There will be no better time in your life to address your routines (and those of your children).

Have you been making any lists about you’d like to do different in the new normal?

What about the bigger routines, not the mundane chores like brushing your teeth or loading the dishwasher. What about your lifestyle habits? Some routine thinking can cause problems by preventing attention to what matters and/or moving forward with real living (stuck in a rut).

  • Do you remember coming home from work and falling into the same tired habits?
  • Any new people come into your circle in the past decade?
  • Are you reading more/new during the quarantine and would you like to make it a new normal for you?

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” ― Samuel Smiles

While routines are good for us, there is always the danger that they can hold us back from growth and self-awareness

“A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.” ― Erasmus

Why not consciously think about starting some new routines in your life and take control of the your new normal?

What about…

  • New ways to do meals (do the cooking on the weekends) so you have more time during the weekday. Cooking together instead of dividing and conquering.
  • Writing down at the end of the day a big list (you decide what needs to go on it) so you’re not spending time before bed worrying.
  • Downsizing your closet so there’s less energy wasted on deciding what to wear (sorting through all that stuff that doesn’t even fit!)
  • Block out “phone free” times in your day/evening (put it out of reach) and use that time for real people in the room – or reading a book/magazine.
  • What do you think would happen if the TV remote were lost for a whole day?
  • Are you taking walks through your neighborhood, enjoying a new route each week or so?
  • Did you pay more attention to people while confined? Wasn’t that worth making a habit out of – a new normal for you?

What did the quarantine teach you? What did you decide was important that you want to keep in your life? Who do you want your new normal to help you become?

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” ― Hermann Hesse

 

 

Feeling Left Behind?

I

“The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In these weeks after Easter I remain two weeks ago in that resurrection weekend. Our church, like all the rest, is meeting remotely. We hear sermons and worship from afar and then connect with each other in smaller groups using social media. We are “doing” what has historically been called Eastertide – continuing to celebrate the miracle for 50 days until Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit).

At HBU, our faculty in my School of Humanities, have been sharing a devotional twice a week. These have also focused our attention on events after Easter. Today’s devotion was about the Apostle Thomas – who we all identify with and call  Doubting Thomas.

I noticed something today that I had missed before.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”   (John 20:24-29)

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a great number of his followers – to confirm his resurrection. But what I noticed today was this particular special trip that Jesus made. Remember, eight days earlier he had appeared to the disciples as they were hiding out behind a locked door. He gave them a mission to go and share the Good News. Thomas was absent from this gathering.

Jesus returns, eight days later, to find his followers still cowering in fear behind locked doors. They were not following orders. But isn’t it remarkable that Jesus comes back to find Thomas, the follower who was so vocal about all his doubts.

  • The others gathered in the room had seen the risen Jesus, yet they remained hiding in fear
  • Thomas doesn’t have to first prove himself or show his faith – Jesus comes looking for him where he is
  • Remember the parable about the lost sheep? The shepherd leaves his 99 to go in search of the one that is lost
  • I had missed this my whole life – Jesus comes looking for the big mouth who was full of doubts, who spoke up against the rest of the eyewitnesses, the man that offended his friends by almost calling them liars

What kind of lesson is this for me and you? What do we do about our constant need to prove ourselves, to earn our way, to keep God happy with us?

I looked at this passage in The Message, when Jesus came for this second time he focused his attention on Thomas. That’s what hit me between the eyes. The greatest movement in the history of humanity is about to be launched and Jesus returns to see about Thomas. Church history tells us that Thomas was the disciple who took the Good News further than any other – he went all the way to India. That meeting changed him forever.

What would a meeting with God do to you?

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?” ― Mary Oliver

We remember the one-to-one meeting that Jesus had with Peter (John 21:15-17) – who was carrying the guilt of denial heavy in his soul. Paul writes that Jesus also spent time with his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7) – who at first tried to talk his older brother out of his controversial mission but would later become the leader his church in Jerusalem. What did they talk about after the resurrection?

  • Easter isn’t about straightening out my life so that God will like me
  • It isn’t a route to achieving problem-free living
  • It’s not even about joining an extra wholesome new group

Today I realized that one crucial message and meaning of Easter was that God is willing to search for me, like Thomas. As many doubts as I have and express with my words and actions, these are not going to stand in the way (like those locked doors) of him finding me.

What a wonderful message in the story of Thomas – I’m going to stop calling him by that old nickname. Instead he now reminds me that no one is immune to God’s love and search.

We love each other because he loved us first.  – I John 4:19

 

Caught in the Middle

This quarantine has left me feeling caught somewhere in the middle.

We all had a life, carefully built “out there.”

We would come home and engage in our other life – here.

Some people are at home all day, but in this day and age (no longer confined to that little house on the prairie) people have all sorts of adventures out and about. Not to mention all the connections through social media that enable us to venture past the fence and share with neighbors all over the place. I don’t think the term “stay-at-home” works anymore.

“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.” ― Anton Chekhov

Now, during the pandemic quarantine, like you, I am trapped at home (one of my lives) while trying to manage my other life remotely. This is like living in a vast empty space somewhere between. I’m not sure what the rules are while occupying this new territory?  Remember, I live alone.

  • Do I have to wear pants all day long?
  • What time are meals served?
  • When do I have to go to bed or get up?
  • Can I leave the front door open all day? The sounds of the neighbor children are delightful!
  • What kind of value does a daily To Do List provide? Where did I leave my list?
  • I’m paying how much a month for all this crap on TV?
  • I’m paying how much a month for an internet connection that goes on and off all day long?
  • What kind of strategy is best when venturing out of the house, being friendly but keeping my distance?

“We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules.” ― Alan Bennett

When you’re stuck in the middle like this it’s an opportunity to take a gander at what life was really like, back before the crisis that put you here in the first place.

Now, why was I holding all those meetings? To read through a list of items that could have been emailed to everyone? Or was it to create an opportunity for social contact and community? Realize that opportunities are often missed.

Why was I spending so much time here at home in front of the TV or computer screen during my former life? Do I really have a cell phone addiction? I thought that was only teenagers? Sure the weather doesn’t always cooperate and the traffic is going to soon get awful again, but there is a different kind of liberation out there. There’s also a kind of incarceration in here.

What was so important that I stayed up all night thinking about over and over again? What did I rehearse in those email drafts? Who was I talking about behind their backs? What parts of my day in and day out did I take for granted, parts of living that I can’t imagine being gone – like my children, my friends, my trips to Starbucks and even getting my haircut?

Trying to live in the middle with all the confusing rules – for just a month, or two or three is nothing compared to, say the Siege of Leningrad (872 days, 1941-1944!). But, maybe it’s enough time to help us all reflect a little and approach the reopening of life differently in some ways:

  • Maybe we can talk to each other less automatically and pay more care to what we say and don’t say. That paperwork is always going to be there.
  • What about leaving the house more (those screens!) and moving about?
  • All those taken-for-granted people in our lives – service industry, healthcare, public safety, grocery store employees, etc. What about saying thank you more often and treating people differently?
  • How about those connections to your extended family wherever they are – what about doing something more often to reinforce those bonds? A phone call, text, video chat, letter, card, something regular that keeps hearts pumping.

No, we aren’t going to be the same people, neighbors, cities, nations or world that we were before. But what if you and I made some intentional choices about who we were going to be once the crisis ended?

“The beginning is always today.” ― Mary Shelley

It’s In The Mail

“Usually if you pray from the heart, you get an answer—the phone rings or the mail comes, and light gets in through the cracks, so you can see the next right thing to do. That’s all you need.” ― Anne Lamott

Most people right now report having extra time on their hands. Having to get reorganized due to the quarantine, working from home, kids no longer in school,  grocery trips to a minimum, no more out of the house entertainment or eating out…

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know first hand. This is just to set the stage for today’s suggestion.

In addition to your expanding expertise in being shut up and socially isolated, some sort of suffering has probably marched through your life in some degree:

  • People are sick and some are dying
  • There are growing fears as the virus spreads across our country
  • Businesses have shut down and people are out of work
  • Small businesses are facing their own demise
  • Sometimes, necessary supplies are not available
  • Significant events are cancelled and postponed (prom, graduation, weddings)
  • Education in all forms is being remodeled and experienced in dramatically different ways – lots of stress on everyone
  • Families at home are having to strengthen their existing relationships and give so much more space to each other (how did people in log cabins do this?)

Be reminded that the normal problems of life continue even when there is a plague. Cancer, aging, heart disease, and addictions still plague us every day. There are relationship crises that were on fire before the virus came knocking. People problems don’t go away like magic just because a global catastrophe arrives. Sometimes they get even worse.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” — Frederick Buechner

My point, you are probably wading through problems of all sorts these days. You surely know of others who are. Maybe there’s someone who’s in deeper than you.

My two-year-old grandson just dumped out baby powder and tracked it from one end of his house to the other. His mom filmed the confrontation, he admitted and backtracked the whole incident to her. He seemed to reflect in his expression, “yes, I made a mess, let’s just clean it up, what’s the problem?”

Some of the problems we all face do get better when we face them together. Others are not going to go away, at least not quickly enough. There are bitter and dark days ahead.

When you think of someone else who is suffering right now, to whatever degree, I’m suggesting you send a note or card in the mail.

  1. The postal service is still operating
  2. You can buy stamps at the grocery store (Amazon will even deliver)
  3. There are packs of cards at the grocery, Target or Wal-Mart

Sure, it’s so much more efficient to just send an email or text. Even a phone call is easier (and more personal!). Yes, yes, I agree. Please be efficient rather than not at all. But, over the years I have noticed in people’s offices and homes, cards received in the mail. They were saved and kept out – used for continued encouragement and inspiration. A card in the mail becomes an artifact that can give your gift day after day. I know that when we were fighting cancer at my house, we filled a whole wall with cards and notes. It hung there for years, building up our courage each day. It was like real people standing there holding us up.

Yes, it’s a little extra effort (what else are doing right now?)

Yes, you will have to look up a mailing address (updating your contacts instead of watching TV?)

Yes, there are multiple steps involved (actual steps, off the couch, out the door)

When we do things like sending cards in our digital age we are strengthening the ties that bind us together. This is certainly a time in history when we need that kind of strength. Now, start making your list of people in your life that need to hear from you in one way or another. Don’t put it off. Do it today. Get some stamps and send out a card (you’re allowed to buy cards at the store even when you don’t have someone to send them to!). Do something about that tug at year soul.

“I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” ― Robert Michael Pyle

What’s Happening During Your Confinement?

“God’s absence in the carnage is due to one single rather unnerving fact; that at some time past He honored our request that He leave. And if we are not brutally honest with ourselves regarding that choice, it is we ourselves who have set the stage for the next tragedy.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Never before in the history of humanity we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s causing a universal reaction – social isolation and fear. Here in the United States there is hysteria about buying up all the toilet paper and hoarding spaghetti noodles.

How are you handling this new life? We live so fast and immediate that having to adjust to a quarantine without an end seems beyond belief. We cannot imagine it. There are no words for what we are experiencing now. It’s just not in our vocabulary.

What are you doing with your life in this new orbit? Sure, there are things you must do. But there is also so much else that’s going on during your quarantine.  Your life is being rolled up with all these experiences that you would never have chosen. They are now a part of your history, every day that follows. Your children have this inserted into their journey.

This is an un-American experience. We have lost freedom, so few of us are pursuing happiness, control is out of our hands. No one likes to be told where and when to go to church, grocery shopping or running in the park.

This is also a great American experience. Each generation needs a common enemy to draw us together and help us to see what “we” truly are. Sometimes in our past that enemy was the brutal frontier. Then it became wars with foreign enemies. We may not remember our medical battles against dark foes like influenza, polio, bird flu, mad cow disease, and SARS. These brought us together to do battle and save our people (especially children).

What are you doing with your life right now while under confinement? I know you’ve been bombarded with suggestions and even some good ideas. I’ve collected a few and am trying some to see how well they help.

“Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first.” ― Wayne Cordeiro

While you are stuck in your house, you start to pay attention to the place. Maybe it’s time to make some changes?

  • How about moving some of the pictures on your walls around?
  • Don’t you have a closet that desperately needs to be cleaned out?
  • You really are never going to wear those clothes again, why not bag them and donate them?
  • You may need to ask permission, but what about rearranging your furniture?
  • Most Americans have a number of items in the refrigerator that have really gone past their expiration date.

There are probably some bigger projects that you have time to tackle right now:

  • Make some connections with people who need to hear from you (and haven’t in a long time)
  • Aren’t there some books you’ve been meaning to read? Pull them out and hide your TV remote
  • Tax deadlines really will arrive, why not start putting the pieces together? You could develop a system.
  • Anything big out in the yard that needs your attention? It’s only going to get hotter (down here in Houston)
  • Organize your photos, music, contacts, socks?

While you are living a new kind of life pay attention to the quicksand that can happen every day if you’re not careful:

  • Try to set up a routine for each day
  • Come up with some reasonable goals for the week (write them down and post them)
  • Connect with other people during each week, make a list and start to work your way through it
  • Schedule breaks and do something with the people that you love, even it’s on Face-time
  • Don’t let the TV determine your daily routine
  • When you are out, socially distant, smile more often

“An intelligent person, looking out of his eyes and hearkening in his ears, with a smile on his face all the time, will get more true education than many another in a life of heroic vigils”.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson

What about some of the larger and more meaningful projects in your life that deserve special attention now that things are so disoriented?

  • Get in contact with people more often than you would normally
  • Tell people that they matter – when we’re isolated we have fewer experiences that affirm this truth
  • Make a prayer list of people who are especially effected by this disaster
  • Send a meal to someone else
  • Figure out a way to use technology to communicate with others using live images of yourself – let others SEE how well you’re doing
  • Comb your hair, shave your face, make your bed, put on some perfume, act like the real you, not the “shelter in place” you – do who you really are not the who you’ve been forced into

 

Acquainted with the Night
Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

 

 

It Really Isn’t Good To Be Alone

In our new national war on the plague, social distancing is one of our chief defensive weapons. This means we are holed up in our homes with immediate family. We are with fewer daily social contacts than we are used to, and some of us are now spending much more time alone than ever before.

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke through the chimney.”  – Vincent van Gogh

Before this plague arrived I began to notice some of the effects of newly being alone in my own life. I was (and am) forgetting things and having trouble juggling normal daily routines. Here’s what I decided was probably the cause:

  1. I no longer have anyone at home with me to rehearse and review my daily schedule. This taken-for-granted activity has tremendous effects when it comes to reinforcing memory and solidifying routines.
  2. There’s also an important effect that life-long partnership produces, a running feedback on one’s activity and thinking. Sometimes this takes the form of a long and often repeated speech made at the wrong time. I was always good at this. Other times it’s just a smirk or a roll of the eyes. Last week I discovered how important this facet of living was when I assembled a double sized bed frame for a single sized mattress, both sitting in the same room. In the past, that day long project would never have gotten off the ground, argument included.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.”  – Genesis 2:18

I think this means that we are not designed to live like hermits. Social distancing is just for emergencies. Selfishness is what often drives people away from each other (without realizing it at first). Sure, friendship and deeper relationships always come with a cost, but in the long run the payoff is well worth it.

Being alone too long can produce a wide variety of physical, emotional and social ailments:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Poor Digestion
  • Muscle Tension
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Disordered Sleep
  • Social Awkwardness/Panic
  • Mood Swings

Many of these problems we don’t see coming, instead being alone becomes a cause of other symptoms. It can take longer to piece together the causal chain and then even longer to find solutions.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ― A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

In my case, I’ve got to institute some new routines to replace the review and rehearsing that I did each day without even realizing it. Becoming more intentional about daily life can produce a host of beneficial results. It’s a habit we all need to develop. Think about why you do WHAT you do and why you’ve got THAT on your calendar.

“Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.” ― Fernando Pessoa

  1. Start the day with a rehearsal of the big events – talk it over in the car ride to work
  2. End the day with a review of what worked and what didn’t – you should be keeping a journal
  3. Post-it notes are still a great idea – but after two weeks you no longer see them
  4. Talk with someone about something in your day each day – even a text message
  5. Try to check in on others – set a goal to do this each week

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration. ” ― Pearl S. Buck