As I was making coffee, I went into autopilot and when the kettle went off, I didn’t even look into the french press to warm it up. As I was pouring the hot water into my mug before adding it back to the french press, I noticed that yesterday’s grinds were still in the bottom of the french press pot. I was thankful that I realized this before adding new grinds to the coffeepot.
And then I wondered how would it impact my cup of coffee to have yesterday’s grinds mixed in? Would it make it more bitter? Would it make it less strong? I wasn’t sure about what impact it would have, but I was certain it would impact today’s cup of coffee to have yesterday’s grinds mixed in.
As I took my first sips, I thought this is kind of true about conversations and interactions and challenges in our lives. When we mix yesterday’s worries and concerns into today’s new day, then it is quite easy to forget the promise that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
This doesn’t mean that what happened yesterday doesn’t impact today. It does.
I think instead the inclination is that how we start our day and whether we immediately go to the work that didn’t get done yesterday, the disappointments we experienced or hurt and pain we felt, or whether we look for the morning light and a reminder that God is with us will indeed impact our heart and soul for the rest of the day.
It’s been years since I peeled a pomegranate. I usually take the easy way out and buy the seeds of pomegranates or even the juice, but yesterday I decided to buy a pomegranate to show our four and half-year-old and our twenty-month-old as we were talking about seeds and how things grow.
Something happened as I sunk my fingers into the stem and pulled the peel back to reveal the red, ripe fruit. I was transported in that minute to sharing a pomegranate with a friend in Germany eleven years ago. I was transported to the same place and same time where we were sharing stories of what it was like to be a foreigner in a foreign land.
I felt tears brimming in my eyes for the memory that connected me to who I was to who I am now for the briefest moment. I was overwhelmed with the reminder that our experiences are connected to the here and now in a way that maybe only the mysterious Spirit understand.
In a time and place where connection feels so different and absent, sometimes a simple fruit is the holiest communion.
I wasn’t prepared for the chilliness in this air this morning as I walked out the door to run. Yesterday’s run was humid and hot and I expected this morning to be the same. I knew if I didn’t just start running, I might convince myself to retreat back into the warmth.
Oh, I have certainly not been prepared before. Just last week, I found out that I had never actually purchased on our of the books for a class I am taking. The realization came the day an assignment was due. Many times as a classroom teacher, I would look at my twenty-five students only to realize I didn’t prepare for their questions or have the right materials. Even as a pastor, I have walked into Sunday morning worship and suddenly realized the person who was supposed to lead the children’s sermon was absent and have to put together a children’s sermon together. This modifying and adapting was always fun for me, like a jigsaw puzzle where pieces just needed to be put together.
But this year, I wasn’t prepared for this. has taken on a whole new meaning. I didn’t see a global pandemic coming and I had no frame of reference for understanding how deeply this would impact us all. I didn’t understand how long we would be in quarantine and I certainly didn’t understand how quickly the way we experienced so much of our lives could change. I wasn’t prepared to be a homeschool teacher or a virtual preacher.
As a person who loves a good plan, this year has taught me about my strengths and weaknesses. It has brought me to my knees as I have realized over and over again that we are ash and to ash, we shall return. It has brought me to shouting hooray as I watch the wonder and curiosity as our children discover the world and take all the newness in stride.
I wasn’t prepared for any of this.
For the upcoming weeks, our community of faith will be wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites as we near Advent season. I am terrible with directions. So bad in fact that when I first started driving, I was instructed to check in when I left somewhere and when I arrived somewhere.
Since I started driving, I was used to getting lost and wandering around for a bit before I found my way. Most of the time, it wasn’t something that was stressful to me. It was a way of noticing the world and also a challenge to try to find my way. There’s something about not knowing where you are that makes you grateful for the people who are around you. You begin to wonder whether they will be the kind of people who can help you or not. You begin to wonder which person looks the most approachable and the most knowledgeable.
Nowadays, I get lost a lot less with apps and maps to guide me, I wander much less. Sometimes I miss those days of wandering and longing, wondering if I would ever be called to pastor a church, wondering if we would ever have children, wondering what my life would be like in five years or ten years, wondering what I would be when I grew up.
Wandering is a call to remember that we are not in control, a reminder that we are dependent on God and that we are walking this journey together. Maybe next time I head somewhere new, I’ll turn off the apps and maps and just wander for a bit.
This weekend, we reached another terrible threshold. The death toll in the United States has passed 200,000 people who have died from COVID-19. 200,000 families torn apart. 200,000 patients whom healthcare officials have tried to help.
If you didn’t know that we had reached this monumental number, it’s because there is so much to distract us. There is still school and work and college football to keep us occupied. Already you can see the seasonal displays in stores and on social media feeds. Everything that is trying to make us think that life is semi-normal.
But it’s not normal for 200,000 to die in six months in our country. It’s not normal to not talk about that. It’s not normal for us all to feel that collective grief and not have a place to talk about that weight and why doing simple things seems so difficult.
200,000 is a number difficult to comprehend.
Two hundred thousand deaths is akin to losing the entire population of Salt Lake City or Montgomery, Ala. — a devastation.
We’ve lost the equivalent of whole cities. We’ve lost entire families to COVID-19. Whether we actively think about the deaths or not, we can feel it. We can feel the suffering of people deep within us. We may try to distract ourselves and our minds. We may try to numb ourselves from this reality, but deep within us, we know that there are other humans suffering.
The question is how will this knowing change us?
“Mama, do you have any questions for me?”
Our four-year-old almost always starts his day with this question. He is so curious. He wants to know as much as he can about everything from the names and planets of Star War characters to how and why hurricanes form. He wants to learn every letter and how to spell all kinds of words. He just wants to learn.
When do we lose this innate curiosity? When do we become convinced that the way we learned something is that way everyone learned something? When do we stop wanting to learn?
Maybe it’s because I was trained as a teacher or the fact that I never taught the same grade twice, but there was always something in me that wanted to read a new book and find out about a new place. But there is a subject I would prefer not to learn more about. I have to admit when it comes to learning that I was wrong about something or that I have participated in unjust systems, there is a part of me that wants to pretend like I don’t know.
Austin Channing Brown says in her book, I’m Still Here:
Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origin than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy.
May God grant us curiosity and community to explore what we discover.
This past week the lectionary came from Romans and it talked about loving our neighbor, a concept that we most often associate with the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospel. What struck me about this instruction in Romans is that it comes after the reminder in Romans 12:1-2 to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” and to “renewing of our minds” so that we “do not conform any longer to the patterns of the world.”
Following this passage, in Romans 13 is the reminder that we are all uniquely gifted and beloved. Each of us having something important to offer the body of Christ. The mention of the body of Christ here in Romans might sound like 1 Corinthians 12 and it is similar. Here the indication is that we can’t recognize our belovedness or the unique gifts and talents we have that bring important and good things to the body of Christ.
And then and only then can we love our neighbor. Perhaps the amount of foundational and soul work that has to be done before we can get to the mindset and wholeness is what is really preventing us from loving each other deeply. We can’t love our neighbor because we haven’t renewed our minds and we are beliving the cultural language that creates us vs. them. We can’t love our neighbor because of the cultural influences of consumerism that wants us to believe that we are not enough or that we are flawed in some way that a product or service can cure.
We can’t love our neighbor because there is so much soul work to do before we can get there. There is more to the division and divisiveness that permeates our American society. There are deep soul questions, “Will my life matter?” “Am I worthy?” “Am I good?” “Am I enough?”
May God grant us the ears to hear below the surface of noise. May God grant us the heart to have compassion for those who are seeking answers to deep and important questions.
In the midst of all the changes we are experiencing and the way our sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, it can be very easy to disconnect from our bodies and our souls especially. When we are constantly reacting to decisions and news because we can’t think ahead, then we move into an automatic kind of motion. Our energy becomes chaotic.
Even though there is so much uncertainty, there are ways that we can ground ourselves in our bodies and in the right now. In fact, grounding ourselves is one of the ways that we can stop our sympathetic system from firing incessantly.
Grounding is finding yourself within your body and soul. It is finding your center and holding your center. When we ground ourselves, we let go of wanting to control the things around us. Grounding also ignites our immune system and increases blood flow, something we all need right now. Grounding is reconnecting to the world around you most of the time by touch the earth with bare feet, removing any barrier between your feet and the earth.
We are disconnected from ourselves and we are disconnected from the earth.
Reconnecting ourselves to the earth reconnects us to ourselves. Reconnecting to ourselves reconnects us to each other. This is a reminder we desperately need right now.
Going to the library has always been a part of our weekly routine. It is a place where I always found comfort and a place I knew I wanted our kids to find refuge. One of the last memories of “normal” life was a field trip to the main library branch where not only as there trees growing in the middle of the building, but the lower flower is also all for kids.
I was quick to sign up as a parent chaperone because I knew that I wanted to see our four-year-old as he took it all in. We explored books and then enjoyed a puppet show about the three little pigs while the thirteen-month-old tried to get to the puppets.
I remember sitting next to a fellow teacher who was a doctor and asking her what she thought about COVID-19. I remember being concerned, but none of us knew how much life would change and that in just a few short weeks we wouldn’t sit beside someone in a closed-in space without a mask on. I didn’t know that the idea of field trips would be something that was not a guarantee, but a logistical nightmare because of transporting kids on an enclosed bus and changing locations. I didn’t know that so many of the places that were field trip destinations would be closed to big groups.
At the end of the scheduled activities, the kids were allowed to check out books. Our four-year-old chose a book called My First Book of Girl Power, a book about superheroes and one in series from which we had checked out multiple different books. This book throughout closing school and changing schedules and not seeing our older sister became a companion and comfort. This female pastor and literacy teacher loved that he was clinging to the concept of female superheroes and a book during uncertain and unknown times.
Because libraries closed, we didn’t turn in this book until we got a notice that it was due this week…six months after our field trip and indeed the memory of a life we used to live. We turned it in with masks on at a drive-through window at a distant library branch where we were picking up our hold items, but before we did, we took a picture reminding ourselves of the field trip, this good book, and that we would be able to check it back out soon.
May we pause to remember, even when it’s painful and may we hold onto hope in superheroes and good books.
On Tuesday night during the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama gave a powerful speech. Most striking to me was her reference to her famous line: “When they go low, we go high.” She made an important distinction about what that truly means. She said: “Going high doesn’t mean putting on a smile and ignoring the negativity and viciousness.”
This is an important clarification and one that reminds me of the research I have been doing on toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is defined as:
toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
Researchers have identified multiple layers of problem with this overgeneralization. By always looking on the bright side, those who practice toxic positivity are actually not allowing themselves to feel emotions that are really important. It’s not that they don’t feel those emotions, but rather that someone who has been taught to practice toxic positivity doesn’t have a place to express those deep emotions that aren’t deemed “positive.”
The results are devastating. Denying uncomfortable emotions buries those emotions deep within and can impact sleep and stress levels. When someone who practices toxic positivity denies uncomfortable emotions in their own lives, conversations with others who are going through difficult or traumatic experiences are burdened with hurtful and harmful comments like: “It will all work out. Everything is going to be ok.” Because the person practicing toxic positivity is unable to provide room for those more difficult emotions, they are unable to form real and meaningful connections with others.
I’ve heard toxic positivity invade our discussions of the pandemic in ways that attempt to suppress grief and fear and doubt. While I do believe “we are going to get through this”, I also believe there are families, communities, and professions that will never be the same because of this pandemic. We need to provide space for grief, anger, and fear. We need to not try to cover up or gloss over what we are feeling and what we are experiencing. We need to practice walking in each other’s shoes understanding that we are more connected than we are divided.