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?

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“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

 

Social Distancing and Loving Your Neighbor

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.  -Colossians  3:12-14 (Phillips)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the new Christians at Colossae a town in what is now Turkey. He urged them to live out their beliefs as they interacted with those around them.

I taught a class on the Sociology of Religion this past summer. We read about one of the reasons why Christianity spread so effectively through the ancient world. These early believers lived out their faith. They helped others who were in difficulty. They cared for the sick, dying and aged. They loved their enemies.

Remember, the ancient world didn’t have a faceless state to take care of it’s citizens. No Social Security Administration, Obamacare or Medicaid. If the plague came to your house, tough luck.

The plague has now come to our world. It’s an opportunity, in the midst of fear and panic, for people of faith to put their money where their mouth is. Is your Christian faith a hobby or a way of living?

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho

To remain healthy and keep this plague from spreading one thing we must do is keep our distance from others, especially in large numbers.

To keep others feeling safe and secure, loved and accepted, heard and connected, we must find ways to shorten the distance between us. Replace all the idle fear chatter with some concrete ways to reach out and draw near to those who need it most.

Now is a time to be thankful for all this technology at our fingertips. Talk on the phone more, text often, send an email to as many people as you can think of. Especially be conscious of older people you know, people who are feeling marginalized.

“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.” ― Golda Meir

Help people who are suffering in all sorts of ways to bear it:

  • Pray for peace, a good night’s sleep and protection
  • Make more frequent contacts
  • Share some extra toilet paper??
  • Send a card in the mail
  • Send some groceries to an older person

You’ve probably already thought of dozens of better ideas. Do something right now to help make someone else’s world a better place. Tie that golden chain around someone else.

“When there is a crisis, let your heart pray, but let your hands work.” ― John Kramer

 

Turning Loose

“The beginning is always today.” ― Mary Shelley

Saturday arrives and I’m reminded of so much that’s missing from my life right now. I even made a list. Of course in moments like this I don’t think about all that’s been added by friends and family to my life. So many good things that ought to be put on my list. But that doesn’t fit the immediate narrative.

Bad news comes to all of us. Sometimes it’s relatively minor but still very hard, can you imagine being quarantined on a cruise ship? Life threatening diseases, auto accidents, or economic disasters can drastically change everything in a moment or take long years to devastate.

“But in real life things don’t go smoothly. At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn’t always the case, but from experience I’d say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn’t the messenger’s fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality.”  ― Haruki Murakami

I was in the grocery looking at items I would never buy again (tomatoes). On Saturday mornings I always used to cook tomatoes for my wife’s breakfast in bed.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” ― John Banville

While gazing at those crates full of Saturday morning memories, I thought about that man I had just passed in the parking lot. He was sitting out just past the parked cars. It looked to me as if he was wearing pajamas and a ski cap. I think he was waiting for someone to come and pick him up. He was sitting there patiently in his wheelchair.

With that “poor me” list in my head and pushing my cart through the produce section I realized that guy in the parking lot was a dramatic sign. He was a message for me about my here and now. I think there are signs like that all around us and we usually miss out because our spiritual eyes aren’t attentive enough.

You and I both know how the past can hold us back from moving on:

  • unforgiven friends and relations
  • people and places you missed
  • conflicts that never got resolved
  • wonderful memories that can be no more

Some of the most difficult obstacles in anyone’s life involve dealing with the past in healthy ways. Problems like these are part of the human condition.

“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” ― Paulo Coelho

Who wants to spend today, sitting in the crippling past, waiting for who knows what future to come? Instead, get up each day and make something new out of your life. That’s my challenge. Find something new in the produce section to buy! On this trip I bought some bok choy.