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.
This week our morning bike ride/walk has hit a snag. As our four and half-year-old has become more adventuresome riding over bumps and stumps, he popped the chain off its track. After repairing this twice on our long Saturday path, we had to call in reinforcements. The ride in the back of Dad’s truck after he came to rescue us was worth it!
This morning while he was trying to go down and around an obstacle in the road, he ran full force into the wheel of the stroller and popped the chain again. Because we were on a path that had a bit more traffic, we couldn’t stop and repair the chain. And so he had to push the bike back home. As we were walking, we were talking about what happens when things don’t go as we planned.
“We get frustrated!” he responded.
“Yes, it is frustrating, but is it a big deal or a little deal?”
He paused for a moment thinking. “It’s a little deal.”
“That’s right. We are safe and we are together and we’ll be home a little bit later than we thought, but not so much later.”
This language of big deal and little deal is language we have used with all of our children. It’s language that asks them to think about what’s really important and what really matters.
It’s language that I’ve started to internalize too, especially during this time of homeschooling and balancing more roles and responsibilities. It’s centered me and sobered me as I reflect on the number of people who are fighting a virus that there is no known cure for and who are grieving losing someone they love who has died from this virus.
Even as it started raining on our heads, we talked about the fact that we had dry clothes and towels at home that we could change when we made it there,.
But first, we had to keep walking and keep pushing the bike.
This morning as we started out for our walk, we came across this in the bed beside our house. I had seen the hopeful signs that we might get just one more bloom before the summer ended and overnight, out it bloomed!
By the time we returned from our walk, the bloom looked just a little bit different. Can you see it? The opening of the center?
Isn’t it interesting how a little morning light can open us to the new possibilities and to receiving warmth and energy for the day? Isn’t it interesting how stopping and looking and practicing that each morning can remind us that each day is a new day?
These are disciples and practices that center and ground us reminding us that we are not alone and that we are connected to the daylilies and to the world around us. Thanks be to God for little whispers of the Divine all around us.
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.
I just started listening to Michelle Obama’s new podcast and it is wonderful. Her voice is honest and challenging. I knew that I wanted to tune in after reading her book Becoming last summer.
In the second episode (the one that has gotten so much press because she says that she has been experiencing low grade depression), she speaks with Michele Norris and says:
I hope we don’t go back to normal. I hope we go to better.
This is such a challenging statement, especially as I hear more and more people talk about “getting back to their lives” or asking whether they are just “not supposed to live their lives” because of the virus. All of this speaks to the way we are trying to process that really we have no experience to process. We don’t know what is right. We don’t know whether what we are deciding is mitigating a normal amount of risk or putting us into more risk. The uncertainty and the politicization of this virus have us all second and triple guessing what we are deciding to do and how we are moving around in this new world.
I hope that we will have the strength to sit in the not knowing. I hope that we will have the courage to say no to things even when others are saying yes to things so that we can reflect on the way we used to live life.
I hope that we have the compassion to understand that even as we are making choices, many, many families are having choices made for them. They can’t see their family member who is in the hospital. They can’t schedule a funeral that their loved ones had planned. They can’t feed both themselves and their children. They can’t go to work and care for their children.
May we look deeply and honestly at the way we used to live life and vow not to get back to normal, but rather get back to better. Better care for our neighbors in need. Better, more courageous choices to counter a culture that benefits some and oppresses most. And a better understanding of how our choices impact others.
As we were on our morning bike ride and walk, our four-year-old stopped just up ahead and of me. He waited until I caught him to him and then looked at him with a glint in his eye, “Did I do it right?” he asked me. I waited unsure of what he was talking about until he explained that he kept his eyes on the road, he stayed to the side and when he glanced back and saw that he was getting too far ahead he stopped and waited. I smiled and affirmed, “Yes, yes you did. Good job, buddy!”
These are all the things we have been talking about over the last six weeks as we have transitioned from walking together to walking and bike riding together. These are all things that have caused redirections when he didn’t do one of these things as well.
I can’t help but wonder if his question today, is really a question that most of us parents are asking ourselves: “Did I do it right?” Should I have enrolled my child in school? Should I have homeschooled instead? Should I have provided more space or more boundaries?
The back and forth and constant mitigation of risks is exhausting. The collective grief of hearing story after story of people dying because of the global pandemic is overwhelming. We are all functioning on too little sleep and too much stress.
“Did I do it right?” will be a question that we can continue to ask ourselves as we continue to understand more about this virus and about how living with this virus is changing the way that we parent, work, and educate our children.
As you are trying to balance it all, I wonder if the words that I offer our four-year-old when he doesn’t do it right might provide some peace, “Tomorrow is a new day and we will try again.”
Last week, I went to the church for my weekly check of the building. On my list was organizing the non-perishable food donations that were collected through porch drops in order to pack bags for our neighbors in need. Also on my list was checking messages, checking the mail, and something I had been avoiding for weeks, cleaning out the refrigerator.
Mainly I didn’t want to be reminded of that refrigerator filled with food for after worship, fifth Sunday fellowships I didn’t want to be reminded of the Sunday baked goods that would serve as our Wednesday Bible study snacks. I didn’t want to see that moldy communion bread I was sure was in there.
But it was time.
When I opened the refrigerator, I found what I expected: moldy communion bread, moldy potato salad from our last fellowship meal, and stale baked goods. I couldn’t hold back the tears that came. The way we get together, the way that we are church together, and the way that we help our neighbors in need has all changed so drastically in such a short period of time. While I was sad, I also was overwhelmed with gratitude for a congregation who is committed to keeping each other safe and committed to continue to worship virtually until it is safe for ALL of us to come together in person.
I tossed the communion bread in the trash. Sometimes communion bread is blueberry poptarts, sandwich bread, or whatever else we can find in our own homes. As I walked out, I saw the food items piled up ready to be distributed to those who are hungry and thought, “Oh wait…that’s our communion. We are offering food in the form of peanut butter, granola bars, and soup to those who are most in need right now. We are offering the miracle of Jesus’ body and blood by recognizing the great need that surrounds us in these uncertain times.”
This do in remembrance of me.
I found this on Instagram posted by a teacher friend and immediately felt a wave of relief wash over me. I quickly posted it to my stories and followed @miles_of_pe who shared it. (If you know who created it originally, I’d love to give credit!)
After I posted it, I received so many comments and responses from fellow parents. Parents who have been worried about sending their children anywhere because they aren’t sure that it is safe. Parents who don’t have a teaching background wondering if they are engaging their children enough or whether they are falling behind. Parents who have made the decision to keep their kids home for the fall. Parents who are planning to send their kids to school in the fall and are worried that the stint of e-learning last Spring caused them to fall behind.
What if…it’s enough?
What if…our very concern over the well-being of our children is enough to help them know that they are loved and seen? What if…our sleepless nights and early mornings fitting in work before they get up and after they go to sleep is enough for them to understand that we are doing whatever we can to make sure they have time with us? What if…all those walks and outside time and playing in blow-up pools in the backyard is actually they’re absolutely favorite thing to do even though they have done it every afternoon?
What if, dear parent, you are not just enough…but more than enough?
As we were doing our weekly grocery pick up, our four-year-old asked which walk we were going on. I reminded him that we were going to get the groceries and he insisted, “But which walk way are we going?” He was trying to orient himself and determine where he was in relation to our house and to our neighborhood. Over the last four months, the majority of our mornings have started with a walk. We’ve developed loops and turns and he has given each of the walks a name.
Now that he is exploring these same ways that we have walked on his bike, he has developed some favorites. Just yesterday I told him that he could choose the way we went. He was so excited to show us the way for a change. As we go I’ve always pointed out the different roads and the different ways that would take us back to our house. I was so impressed that he led the way on a 2.5-mile loop without ever making a wrong turn.
As we have been in this period of quarantine, our community of faith was finishing a study of Acts. Something about the followers of the Way took on a new meaning for me as we were literally developing a new way of life, learning, and being together.
Acts 9 talks about Saul who was persecuting followers of the Way saying:
so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
This new Way was so threatening to the establishment that they were bringing in followers to try to stop the movement.
We are developing a new way of life. It is a threat to our capitalistic, individualist society because it means we are valuing time together, time outdoors, and simple acts of kindness like food left on a neighbor’s porch. We are finding paths and ways in our neighborhoods rather than traveling out of our communities.
This is the Way of caring for each other and being community together. Let us walk bravely into this new Way.
As I was cleaning one of my bookshelves, a notecard fell off the bookshelf. It was from a time when I would write quotations on notecards from books I had read to remind myself of the way those words had spoken to me. This one was from Thoreau’s On Walden:
The surface of the earth is soft and impressionable by the feet of [humanity]; and so with the paths the mind travels. How worn and dusty then the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.
As the reality that our world is changing all around us and we will not be returning to the “normal” we used to know, I see this more and more. People are digging in their heels white-knuckled from holding onto what they used to know with a fierceness that threatens violence towards those who would remind them of the changes that are happening.
What if instead, we taught our minds not to cling to tradition and conformity, but instead to look down at the impression we are making on the earth and indeed on the world and wonder if that’s the impression we want to leave behind? What if we taught ourselves wonder and awe at each new day?
I want my steps to tread lightly, disappearing as the wind and rain nourishes the earth. I don’t want my steps to be preserved in concrete reminding the world that it was more important that I walk the way I always had rather than step around the wet concrete with awareness and intentionality to reroute my steps.
Perhaps you would say there is no real significance to the notecard “appearing” at this point in time and space and it’s more a testament to my bookshelf being too full. Perhaps you are right, but for me this is the whisper of the Divine nudging me to remember to tread lightly, to notice everything around me, and to step intentionally into this day.