I am allowed…

… to eat marshmallow peeps at Easter because I like them.

… to have a flip flop collection, and to wear them in the snow when I get the mail. If there is any snow, that is.

… to hang a hammock in February and lie in it on every sunny day.

… to sleep on my husband’s side of the bed when he’s on night shift, just because it feels different than my side of the bed.

… to paint any room I want to paint.

… to throw away clothes that make me feel ugly.

… to dote on my chickens and buy them treats.

… to keep buying children’s books even though my children are not little anymore.

… to put as much cream in my decaf coffee as I want.

… to rearrange the furniture in my house when I need a fresh look, even if it’s the same furniture and the same house and other people think that’s funny.

… to decline politely when I don’t want to play a board game, specifically Monopoly or Life.

… to be a word nerd and make lists of good words and think about ways to put them together.

… to spend money on a writing course and take time to practice what I’m learning.

… to plant flowers everywhere in the garden, even in the vegetable rows.

… to laugh at my wobbly shopping cart wheel and show others how hilarious it is.

… to cry when I’m reading a book that touches my heart or singing a song that expresses my longings.

…to hide the Cadbury mini eggs and dole them out bit by bit so that they last for a while, because the Easter season has the best candy.

… to walk the two miles to the garage to pick up a vehicle that has now been fixed for the very last time, I hope.

My walking buddy

Last night one of our writing prompts was “I am allowed,” and that’s where my thoughts went. Are there things you’re allowed?..

Buy the Tulips, a List for Winter

I’ve been thinking a lot about surviving during the long, dark days of winter, even thriving. I have a short list of things that do NOT help, and the top of the list is

  • Aimlessness
  • Accumulated dirt
  • Staying housebound
  • Disorganized snow gear
  • Too much screen time
  • Strict dieting
  • Overwhelming projects
  • Navel-gazing about all the things that are wrong in my life
  • PollyAnna chirping, “I’m so glad I’m not being exposed to harmful UV rays”
  • At the end of the day, the weariness of winter is a thing, the brain fog is a thing, and the temptation to sin with my attitudes is a thing. Facing the challenge and admitting it is not a sin, however. When my mom gave me a stack of notepads from my Grandma’s stash, I found one with this poem on the back:
Grandma lived in Wisconsin and every year she faced this battle.

My list for coping skills is long and detailed, because I have given it much thought over the years, and probably written about it before. I have tried to condense it so I don’t fatigue you with my lofty thoughts.

  • Keep rhythms, but let them be slow
  • Plan fun things like tea parties and game nights
  • Put lights everywhere, twinklies, candles, full-spectrum bulbs
  • Eat sensibly; embrace comfort foods and bright flavors
  • Buy fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits
  • Go to the library often
  • Make gardening plans and order seeds
  • Have spots of color around your house: quilts, throw pillows, pretty dishes
  • Wear cheerful clothes
  • Buy proper gear so that you can
  • Get out of the house every day and
  • Go skating or sledding or just walking in the fresh air
  • Simmer potpourri
  • Play upbeat music
  • Collect houseplants for your windowsills
  • Feed the birds, learn to identify them, keep lists
  • Make things with beautiful yarn or paints
  • Take supplements for the vitamins and minerals you lack
  • Spend unhurried time with friends
  • Bring home some tulips from the grocery store
  • Accept: this is a season and it will pass

That list is what rises to the top when I think about leaning into wintertime. It’s customized to our household. Not everybody is blessed by quilts and bright yellow teapots. I’m sure you have your own coping skills.

Often I don’t realize that my hands are hanging down and my knees are feeble until the slump has gotten hold of me (about the 75th cloudy day in January). It becomes a spiritual battle; I spread it before the Lord, and He graces me with ideas and resources to deal with what is here, this very day, in this place I am called to be. As a keeper of my home, I have choices. I can ooze into the mud or look for the light. And slowly the days get longer and hope rises.

Buy the tulips, my friends.

Noticing

I am in the middle of doing a writing course by Rachel Devenish Ford called Writing From the Heart. Right now we are practicing noticing, and jotting it down. All those tiny sights and sounds around us, as well as the big ones. They all make up life, and I decided it might be fun to do it here. It’s not going to be profound, but it is a good thing for me to do in these days when my default mode is creeping about with a cup of tea, trying to look productive. Here’s yesterday’s twenty minutes of observing.

First thing I look at the forecast, and it is too dismal for my soul to bear. Ten solid days of clouds. I know in my head that it can change daily, but my heart is dismayed.

I arrange a bright quilt on the back of a chair, fill the teakettle, light candles all through the house, and sit down to write, far away from my phone.

A spoon scrapes a cereal bowl, and pages turn as the breakfast eater reads while she eats Life.

My son reads quotes from a Babylon Bee article and mutters that this leftover coffee tastes like old tires, but he drinks it anyway.

The parakeets chirp shrill good mornings as the first bit of light filters into the schoolroom upstairs.

Tires crunch on the lane as my son heads off to work; the tracks on the lane are frozen this morning, an improvement on the squelching mud of the past week.

I glance out the window, see the chickens in the slight glow of the light in their coop, scratching, scratching through the straw. I am hopeful that the fake daylight will urge them to greater egg production.

The world outside is lightening slowly, but monochrome. Trees hold their undressed limbs to the sky, and I can tell by their bones that this one is an oak and that one is a cherry, and the other one is a walnut.

Only the tin signs on my husband’s shop reflect any color: “Pepsi, the taste that beats the others cold,” and “Atlantic Motor Oil,” and the neon yellow “No Outlet.”

My candy cane tea is brewed just right. I pair it with a spiced raisin cookie, iced on top. I smell the cardamom that I ground in my daughter’s mortar and pestle. A morsel of sweet.

Twenty-one Years

Plus one week. That’s how long we have been married. We celebrated last week by camping for two days at a quiet state park that was so beautiful that we couldn’t believe it wasn’t packed out. The Simon B. Elliot State Park has no water features, which is likely the reason the cabins weren’t filled, but in this season of brilliant foliage it was breathtaking, completely quiet except for the rustle of leaves floating loose when the breezes blew.

I got up early one morning to trek to the bathroom watch the sun rise as mist swirled over the sphagnum bog in the field behind the cabin. The bog was ringed by the crimson of maples and the scarlet of sweetgums, with a brushy circle of burgundy blueberry bushes and within that circle there were the cottongrasses lifting tufted silvery seed heads around the very center where the cattails grow. I didn’t dare to walk across the spongy turf, but I stood at the edge while the bluejays scolded and the grey squirrels nearly choked on their acorns. I thought about how fast twenty-one years can move along, and how an onlooker could think that we have some charmed secret for living together so long in relative harmony. (…Anyway… clears throat…)

We don’t have a charmed secret. If there is any secret, it is the vow never to quit, never to give up on each other or on our marriage or on becoming more one. I saw a sweet motto at Hobby Lobby one day, “Together they made a life they loved.” It is what we all want, I thought, and it is not a simple thing to meld two people with ideas and opinions and feelings into one life. But on this anniversary trip I felt like that is where we are: in a life we love.

It isn’t everybody’s idea of fun: staying in a ninety-year-old CCC cabin, pushing the bunkbeds together to form a bigger bed, reading by the fireplace, cooking our own steak and potatoes, hauling water from the pump with a bucket.

This- I thought- this is what it means to dwell together in knowledge. When you put in the time, you figure out what fills each other’s soul and what nourishes the both of you. You learn to avoid the things that do not make the other feel cared for. My husband, who is just a bit of an adrenaline junkie, does not suggest bungee jumping or paragliding as a fun couple’s activity on our anniversary. I love words and writing down what is processing in my head, but I do not insist that he compose me a sonnet. Nor do I ask him to play Fast Scrabble, which he loathes.

We played Canasta instead, late at night, round after round. The first game I trounced him (a rare occasion) and the second round he routed me by a mile. He humored me with a round of “state of the marriage” questions that I found online. We ate peanut butter cereal for breakfast and took a long drive to look for elk. I may have seen one lying in the weeds under a power line cut, or it might have been a brown barrel. In the afternoon we traced the story of the park on their marked history trail, strolled under chestnut trees to look for some spikey nuts to take home for the children. We marveled at the ethereal quality of the light filtering through the birch leaves, reflecting sunshine off the bracken ferns so that the entire woods glowed golden.

We slept a lot on the foam mattresses or in the hammock, or in our z-gravity chairs. I know- tame, middle-aged pursuits and where are the passions of youth? the big ideas? the grand plans? I don’t even know what to do with that question anymore. Something about living life faithfully, day after day doing what is given one to do… it saps one! It takes a firm commitment to do that for years and years, to look out for each other and for the people in our world. We put in the time. We commit our work to God, humble as it is. We offer each other our best years, our dying to self, our willingness to bend and give when the strong winds blow.

I guess that is how it happens.

Together we make a life we love.

Oof

“If you know to do good and don’t do it, it’s sin.”

Oof.

But wait a minute. Can we back up and see what the context is for this verse? James wrote an intensely practical little book that might be subtitled A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. I doubt he was writing about the believers in the Information Age, assigning sin to those who found out daily, hourly, about needs around the globe. He was not saying, “Scroll on and feel guilty because you aren’t fixing the world, you selfish losers.”

His book is full of ordinary works and graces that are a result of a heart that loves Jesus. I picked out some of them. Skim this list and see what you think…

  • Chapter 1: Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
  • Get rid of all filth in your lives.
  • Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts and
  • Do what it says.
  • Control your tongue.
  • Care for widows and orphans in their distress.
  • Refuse to let the world corrupt you.

  • Chapter 2: Honor the poor.
  • Do not favor some people over others.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Show mercy to others.
  • Share your food and clothing.

  • Chapter 3: Control your tongue. (Again.)
  • Live an honorable life, doing good works.
  • Do good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
  • Be pure, peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others, full of mercy and goodness.

  • Chapter 4: Humble yourself.
  • Come close to God; wash your hands; purify your hearts.
  • Don’t speak evil against each other.

And then there it is, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” The last chapter concludes with a few more good works.

  • Chapter 5: Don’t oppress your employees while you live in luxury.
  • Be patient.
  • Don’t grumble about each other.
  • Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.
  • Restore wandering believers to the truth.

James was talking about LOCAL, right at your door, in your neighborhood, in your church goodness. He was talking about being full of faith that spills out in kind ways. It doesn’t matter where you are geographically, this applies. You do not need to be in an exotic location, a war zone, or a “mission field” to have things you ought to do that will change the world.

Jesus said these things too: Give a cup of cold water. Be a good neighbor. Do good to those who hate you. Give to the needy (secretly). Lay up treasures in heaven. I’m starting to see where James got his big ideas.

These are life works. They aren’t easy or posh and they require laying down our lives for others. Maybe you are called to do something really huge and earth-shaking and you know it. Maybe you are called to lay down your phone and read a story to your child and you know it. For sure you are called to open your heart and hear what it is that Jesus wants you to do today.

My favorite good gift of the summer.

And by the way, it was so nice to hear from you folks last week. Thank you for taking time to do some introductions. ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

Just Do It

Our Sunday school lesson last week ended with, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4: 17 (ESV). I’d like to find a better translation that doesn’t kill the flesh quite like that. I looked at that verse in ten different translations, and what do you know? They all say it is sin to refuse to do what you know you’re supposed to do. The Message calls it “evil” but we can agree that’s still sin. I couldn’t find a loophole for saying no, I don’t want to. No, it’s somebody else’s turn. No, they don’t deserve it. No, I’m too tired for that drama. Not one place where it suggested that it’s more important to conserve my own resources than to freely spend them for another.

I know. This is not the American gospel. I have read the books and listened to the arguments and experienced the pinched sadness that comes from selfishness. It’s very easy to be a cocoon of carefulness in our world, and nobody calls us on it because it’s normal. Self-care is the holy Grail and there are 479 ways to do it without one person daring to say, “Wait, that looks a little selfish.”

It’s August, a great time to see how God built spending and being spent into the creation. Every single plant in my garden is doing its best to make seeds so that someone can eat next year. Even the measly kale that I rescued from the under-watered parking lot seller is struggling to grow quickly before winter. The garden is tired, purple coneflower petals dropping, potatoes sending their last energy down their stems as the tops die, stringy beans blooming to make another round just in case the first one wasn’t enough. The plants aren’t looking prime, and it doesn’t seem to be high priority. Being fruitful is where it’s at.

Presumably we Christians want to save our best efforts for spiritual work. The important things. But what if the thing right in front of me, the good that I know I should do, is my spiritual work? (My children would appreciate some breakfast, but I’m a little busy with the concordance here, kids. )

What really is my spiritual work? Surely not the dishes in the sink? Surely not finding another way to feed my family zucchini? Surely not mending a zipper? Surely not canning tomatoes? Surely not listening to my garrulous neighbor talking about groundhogs? Surely not putting gas in my husband’s car so he doesn’t have to leave early for work? Surely not the thing that inconveniences me???

I’ve given up making excuses for being lazy. I know over commitment is a thing and burn out is a thing. I know the world takes advantage of willing people. But I also know in my own heart when I am simply excusing myself from giving freely and living with an open hand.

I would just like to say, we’re not supposed to get to the end of the day and feel fresh as a daisy. We’re supposed to have been doing good work and getting tired. That’s the whole point. That’s what investing ourselves in the kingdom feels like. If we spend our days curating our efforts so that we’re not wasting ourselves on people who don’t deserve us, we’re sinning. This is not what we’re made for.

I’m not sure how it happened, or where you’re finding my blog, but I keep getting notifications of new followers since I started dropping the middle-aged word. I have no idea who you are, but it appears that there is a vast population of people who resonate with being tired and busy. You are welcome here in this place where we talk about duty and work. And gardening. ๐Ÿ˜Š I would love if you’d drop me a comment and tell me a little about yourself. It’s easier for me to write when I know my readers a bit. I know. Bloggers who ask for comments are annoying, but shouldn’t you do your duty? Feel free to be anonymous if you want. ๐Ÿ˜…

Here’s the burning question: How important is doing one’s duty? What if one does the duty without feeling any love for it? Does that even count?

I saw this tree, tenaciously hanging in there, about 30 feet up on a bluff above Erie. Making seeds for another year.

The Annual Slightly Strange List…

…Of things for which I am thankful. It’s a little late, since I spent a whirlwind week trying to catch up and get ahead and then dashed off for 2 days of Thanksgiving fellowship and feasting at my parents’ place with two of my siblings and their families.

Cousins are awesome. We were missing five of them, but this crowd had non-stop fun and games. Alex is the oldest, and he is turning 19 in a few days. Desmond is at the tail end and he just turned 2. So the four of us kids produced 20 offspring in 17 years. Pretty amazing!

Siblings are awesome too. And parents.
And just our immediate family, before we headed home. It was blustery and cold, and nobody wanted to take a quick photo but I rather insisted because otherwise one doesn’t ever get photos.

And now, on to the slightly strange list, the off the cuff things I am grateful for.

Personalities. I love how different people are. It is endlessly fascinating to try to figure out what makes people tick, even people that I don’t like as much as others. Imagine if nobody were organized, or if everybody were micromanagers. What if nobody liked to talk and everybody sat around wishing someone would pick up the conversational ball?

Good healthcare options. This year especially I am grateful that we have options. Not only things that are helpful to slow a pandemic, but also clean facilities and experts who know how to cut out disease or prescribe proper medications to save lives. Also. These digestive enzymes. I have taken a lot of teasing and then some because they are called Bye-bye Bloat, which is just a funny name. Over a year ago, when we moved, my body collapsed with a knee injury and a severe toothache that involved a root canal and a round of antibiotics. I could tell things were out of kilter for months, and I felt unwell every time I ate, no matter what it was. Finally I googled for a digestive enzyme and looked at Amazon reviews, and then I stabbed in the dark and ordered these. I will humbly tell you that they have blessed my innards tremendously. I have taken them for 6 months and when I saw a Black Friday sale today, I felt like I should share a little love in case someone else has similar issues. (FYI, that’s an affiliate link up there. For my full disclosure, see the bottom of the page.)

Mud. I really like mud, that is, dirt to grow things and clay to throw things. Maybe I am just an earthy person. I have suspected as much for years. Oddly, I wear garden gloves when I am digging and I use copious amounts of lotion on my hands after I have thrown pots for a while because I hate that dry feeling.

Libraries. The library in our small town is tiny and very nervous about the spread of germs, even though the librarian is doubled masked behind a clear shower curtain and there is nobody else in the building, much less within six feet of us. Then we discovered that the library in the larger town is only about seven miles away and it is amazing! There is a great middle grade section, and the last time we were there they were selling an encyclopedia set that was only four years old, with pristine pages that were hardly ever cracked. I snapped it up gleefully, because I am a homeschooler who does not want my children to think Google is the only way to research. We missed our very ancient encyclopedia set that was left in a dumpster when we moved.

Thermostats. Seriously, how wonderful is it that we can push a few buttons and have heat? I feel almost embarrassed by the ease, which we pay for, of course, but I am grateful when it blusters and threatens to freeze us. If we ever live in a dystopian setting where we huddle around campfires again, I am sure we will be grateful for that heat too. So maybe I should just say I am glad for the warmth.

Tea. And coffee. And hot chocolate. Hot drinks in general, that bless us down to our chill-blained toes. Or even the toes that are doing fine.

Coziness. Can you see a theme here? I am making a concerted effort to settle in to this season that I do not love. Maybe if I think of soft sweaters and scented candles and fleecy socks, I won’t notice the ickiness. Apple dumplings, made with sour Granny Smiths and buttery brown sugar syrup. Crackling logs in the fireplace. Twinkly lights hung about the house. (Ooh, I might be feeling it… Hmm… Nope, not yet. )

Hope. There is a verse (Proverbs 13:12 ) that talks about hope deferred and how it makes the heart sick. It seems to be referring to our wishes. But there is another kind of hope, where we do not see how it will all work out, but we tenaciously hang on because we know the One who is arranging our lives for His good purposes. “And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:5

I am grateful for all these, and there should be at least forty more on my list, but I do not wish to weary you. Happy thanksgiving! Let’s be busy in our thanks-living!

KBOing

That’s “keep buggering on,” for those who may not have run into that particular initialism. Our family thanks Winston Churchill for the code he had with his wife Clemmie when they were tired of a situation that they couldn’t dodge.

“We must just KBO, all of us,” I think. The situation in our hospitals has not gotten better. Intensive care units continue to overflow, and the caregivers continue to give care to the best of their abilities. Gabriel is working a flex position, so he is getting a six week break in the cardiac ICU.

I have gotten a number of notifications of new email followers, probably due to writing about those very controversial subjects last month. You are quite welcome in this space, but I have to tell you, I rarely feel compelled to pick up hot button issues of our day. There is plenty of outrage in the world without me adding to it. Also I am the offspring of a father who hates controversy and a mother who admonished her children repeatedly, “Sweep your own doorstep first.” What you will find here could be pretty solidly described as a mom-blog, with a sprinkle of homeschool, a lot of garden, occasional links to cool stuff, some marriage advice distilled out of 20 years of living with my love, less parenting certainty than I used to have, but a lot more confidence in Jesus.

The world is a beautiful place full of promise, but it is also broken, groaning for redemption. Every day I can live in a way that adds to the glory in the world, or I can live in a way that adds to the heaviness.

Cosmos from the girls’ garden, finally coming into their own after spending the summer getting tall
instead of putting out blooms.

This is my passion: I have been redeemed from destruction, and I am called as a follower of Jesus to model that redemption. If I add to the hurt and destruction, I am not living as a child of light and love. Somehow this makes decisions easier for me to make. Should I do this, or this today? Should I say this, or not? Should I delete that paragraph?

My career at this point is to stay home, take care of my family, love my husband, educate our children, and from that base I reach out to my neighbors, my church, people in the larger community. I enjoy online connections so much and have made some fabulous friends that I haven’t ever met in person, but I am more invested in the people whose faces I can see when we talk, the ones I can hug when we meet, the ones who plant mums across the street and need help to rake leaves.

When I write, I intentionally prod people to connecting offline. I know, there is a funny sort of gap involved in a person posting admonitions to the world wide web to get offline and find a flesh and blood person. Funny, funny me.

I mostly write because it is how I process stuff. I hope that if there is any “tone” to this blog, it is simply that how we live matters. We get to choose if it is bright and hopeful, dark and self-absorbed, or mind-numbingly boring.

*****************************************

Autumn in northwest Pennsylvania is exquisite! This is only our second season in the area, but I may turn into a fall lover after all. Not necessarily the lover of everything dying while I drink pumpkin spice (I’ll draw the line at pumpkin tortilla chips), but the shining air, the harvest abundance, the last burst of bloom the garden puts out in these shorter days. I bring in loads of flowers because they will soon be gone and I want to look at them as much as possible.

My dahlias lift my spirits every day, and there are plenty of blooms on them to share willy-nilly
with anybody who crosses my path.

I made a cake with apples that you would like too. It definitely adds glory to the world.

You can find the recipe for Sourdough Coffee Cake at Food Network, but let me tell you about some tweaks that will elevate it to the heavenlies.

Mix the recipe just as stated, but then!.. Grate an apple or two, and fold it into the batter (a little over a cup of apple shreds is good). You can decrease the sugar a bit if you like, since the apple adds moisture and sweetness, but do not skimp on the cinnamon!

My second tip is to bake your cake in a cast iron pan. I use a 10 inch skillet, and when this cake comes out of the oven, the people come running. I had it ready for breakfast when Gabriel got home from nightshift last week because if I had to work nights, I would be glum, and I can imagine how cheering it would be to walk into a house scented with apple cinnamon.

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Every day I am given in my hands the raw material for making a beautiful world. The ordinariness of life is easy to overlook as too mundane to mention, yet it nurtures the world. God holds it all together, of course, but He asks me to do some things to help out. The raw materials are simple: cheerful good-mornings, read-aloud chapters before starting math, and learning verses to music. Fresh coffee with breakfast and cups of spearmint tea at bedtime. Sometimes what is in my hands is sourdough starter or green beans and garlic cloves. It may be flowers or paper, pen, and a stamp. Occasionally it is a heaviness I have to carry to Jesus in prayer for days on end, and I don’t even know what He is going to do about it, but I keep praying.

I know the niggardly tendencies of my own heart. When I live out of the kindness of Jesus because He has been so indescribably generous to me- that makes all the difference. He is the one who will heal this weary old world, but He is asking us to pitch in. We don’t get to quit, indulge in a private pity party because everything is just too much for us.

We have to KBO, friends. (Sorry for jerking you from the spiritual to the physical so repeatedly, but I don’t believe in a sacred/secular divide anyway.)

What is in your hands today? Please tell me about the raw materials you have been given.

Echo Chambers: The Way I See It

:::Edit: my husband says his shoulders were slumped because he was heading in to night shift more than the dread of what would await him. It’s when he comes home that his shoulders slump from what the shift was like. I thought I should clarify that. He isn’t discouraged to the point of quitting. But he is tired. :::

Tonight my husband went to work, a work he loves, but I saw the slump in his shoulders that indicated his dread for what he would find when he gets to the intensive care unit. All this summer we kept hoping that this new variant would pass over us and our area would be spared, but things are as bad as they were in the thick of the pandemic last year.

When he got back after four long shifts last week, I could tell he was wrung out, physically and emotionally. I asked him how it is going. He is the one who thrives on the adrenaline of life-saving medicine, who enjoys the challenges of critically ill patients, and who has trained tirelessly for his work. “It is awful,” he said. “This week has totally whooped my butt. There is no time to eat, and hardly time to run to the bathroom. Today there were twenty-seven people stacked in the ER, waiting for beds. One woman waited for three days in another ER before being transported to the small-town hospital. And the patients in the ICU are younger, and they are falling apart for no obvious reason, with no other health issues at all.”

Gabe doesn’t talk much about his work, and up until recently he has remained charitable about the spreading of fear and misinformation online. For a while it seemed that mainstream media was whipping the subject into a frenzy, trying to get more mileage out of a very tired idea. The disagreements even seemed a little funny. I showed him a meme that said, “This Awful Vaccine is doing more harm than Covid ever did,” and he chuckled wryly at the obvious fact that there are not 630,000 vaccine deaths, nor are there any hospitals filling up with patients who have reactions, although of course, there are reactions. There always are reactions, just not nearly on the same scale as the disease. “It’s just how they see it,” he would say. “People should have a right to choose what they want to put into their bodies. It’s a basic tenet of medicine.”

The charity runs a little thin when the screaming from the sidelines gets louder. A lot of the people who need acute care are the same ones who have been booing the medical system for this entire long year. Right now the system is overwhelmed. There are not enough resources for the needs. Obviously this results in lapses in care, oversights, people falling through the cracks. It isn’t just the Covid patients; it’s the ruptured appendix and the stroke victims and the heart attacks too. Staff at hospitals are running, running, all day long. Normal care in an Intensive Care Unit is only two patients per nurse. When that number goes up to double the normal care load, things start to feel out of control quickly for their caregivers. Very, very few people come back to say thank-you, and unfortunately the ones in Gabe’s unit… they often die.

They die, despite the careful monitoring, the endless duties that are involved with total care, ensuring the patient is sedated enough that they will not pull out their lines, but not so sedated that they can’t wake up, the washing, the care for bedsores, checking kidney function, making sure their eyes don’t dry out, etc. etc. They die on the shifts of those nurses who saw the fear in their eyes because their worn-out lungs couldn’t maintain oxygen levels. And guess who has to remove the tubes and pull the plugs when that decision has been made that they will not be able to recover? Yes. It’s the ones who have been laboring day and night to help this patient pull through, who have been on the phone communicating with distraught family members, hoping against hope that this one makes a turn for the better. There are thousands and thousands of these stories of bereavement and loss falling through the cracks. Not the famous or important people, or the influencers, but the everyday hard-working ones whose families are devastated by their loss.

“After every shift, we think about what we missed, how we could have given better care, what went wrong,” he said quietly. “This is what haunts us. The worst is when someone who has no clue what it is like is sure that they could fix everything with the help of a few internet memes and some youtube research. As if they obviously know better than all the doctors and researchers who have spent their entire lives studying the human body, and they are baffled by this inscrutable virus. That is just enough to make me angry!” Friends, my husband has never been this frustrated with humanity in general. And he is only one of many nurses who are near breaking point from the tensions. “People tell me if I can’t handle the pressure, I should just quit and get another job,” he said, “but how would that help the situation?”

My heart is sore for these healthcare workers, and for the mistrust and confusion everywhere in our world. They aren’t asking to be lauded as heroes, but they would really appreciate being heard and respected for their sincere efforts to alleviate suffering and help people heal. And honestly, they would like if everybody at least considered the vaccine with an open mind, and if they decide to not get it, to at the very least do everything in their power to not spread the virus and it’s accompanying sensations.

Here’s a quote from an article that I feel articulates very kindly about how many doctors are feeling. “Many of the unvaccinated people Iโ€™ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasnโ€™t been fair. Theyโ€™re unmoored and donโ€™t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.”

I get it with the disillusionment that is felt for our healthcare system. I don’t really trust that the system has only my good in mind either. I don’t think science is a god that can save us. I do believe in respecting the gifts that our Creator has given men in developing their knowledge and honing skills to improve the lives of so many. If I end up getting Covid, I would do everything I could to try to heal at home. But if I need care beyond that, I will have to trust that the doctors care about my health and will do their best for me.

I also strongly believe that things like vaccinations should remain open to free choice, but I do not understand why that has to include reposting fear-mongering stories of dubious origin or news articles that are so heavy with agenda you can see the slant a mile off. And that goes for both sides of the debate! Why can we not ask God how to make our private decisions, and go on our way in faith? Why do we have to yell about it?

“We all have our own echo chambers, where what we already believe swirls around and that is what we hear,” my husband said. I had told him of feeling scalded by an online debate so nasty that if the people would have been Vikings, they would have been pulling hair and gouging out eyes.

I want to say, “We are better than this!” But the truth is, we are not. I know that I can come up with sarcastic zingers with the best of them, but I have asked Jesus to slap my hand before I write them in a comment thread. I am not joking one little bit. I like to be affirmed, that I am right, as does everybody else I know. Can we please just listen to each other’s hearts without vitriol? Please? Can we say, “I may be wrong, but this is the way I see it…” If the only debate we listen to is the narrative that echoes what is already swirling in our heads, we become more and more self-assured and more and more abrasive in our own defense.

I think about my friend Jeanie, whose dad passed away last year, and how clearly she saw it at his deathbed, “Love God; love people. That’s all that matters.” Hmm. Didn’t Jesus say something like that?

I cringe at all the suffering. I loathe Covid. I hate the divisions and strife. Maybe that is our real test, not so much the physical sickness. Maybe our real test is what we do despite the stresses in our very ordinary life, with our neighbors and the people in our house, and at the store or the post office or the mechanics shop. Maybe we are still being called to a very simple rule: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

Last week after reading that nasty comment thread I talked about, I felt sick in my soul, and I went out to my garden. I picked a half dozen ears of corn and walked over to my elderly neighbors to chat. I found out he can’t eat corn because he doesn’t have teeth, but he would be very happy for some tomatoes. He said he fell out of a tree this summer when he was trimming a branch, and had to have surgery on his shoulder. I said I would give him our phone numbers so that he can call the next time he needs to have a branch trimmed. Then I gave the corn to the other neighbor whom I hadn’t met yet. She was nice, but shy, and she said she has lived there nine years and still doesn’t know anybody. And then Dianne walked across the road to say hi, and we had introductions all around. It was a healing transaction for me; I no longer felt besmirched by the state of humanity. This. Right here. Actual people and a few ears of corn.

I want that simplicity of loving kindness. Please tell me, how do you keep the hubbub from destroying your peace? How do you keep your equilibrium?

The Thing About This Coronavirus

For starters, I am so tired of this coronavirus, I want to hurl it into the Pit. I have had a deep respect for it all along, because I heard what my husband kept saying and I believed him over the scoffers on the inter-webs. But it was an abstract, “I’m so sorry people are suffering” kind of distant respect. Now it has become perilously personal. I debated whether to even write anything, because what we are experiencing is what hundreds of thousands of families everywhere have already experienced this year. For some reason, I have this self-published platform and the inexplicable honor that people keep reading what I write. If our story can convince some naysayers to be more cautious about the virus, I will speak up.

For my mom, quarantine is much worse than the virus. She had a low-grade fever for about 3 days, some coughing, and fatigue. She stayed home, stayed hydrated, stayed active, recovered. My dad isn’t aware of quarantine anymore because he is sedated, on a ventilator, fighting the worst virus of his life. In classic Covid19 style, we live a roller coaster of ups and downs every day when we get updates after rounds at the hospital. Not only that, we are limited to supporting Mom from a distance, across the porch, laying her supplies on the picnic table for her to pick up, comforting her the best we can. It really, really stinks.

It’s been 2 weeks for Dad, and there has been very little improvement. We wait and hope and send out prayer requests. The first four days in the ICU he was communicating with us, telling jokes, responding well to his treatment. He kept saying, “I think I’m over the hump.” Then one evening we got one cryptic text, “I’m going to be intubated tonight. Maybe then I can rest.” What? This was not supposed to happen! Many people have asked, “Was that really necessary? What would have happened if they wouldn’t have intubated him?” The short answer is that he would have died a slow and painful death with acute respiratory distress or organ failure due to lack of oxygen.

This is four days later, and we have been jerked back and forth every day. “He’s doing well,” they say. “He is responding so well to the Remdesivir that we won’t be using the donor plasma at this point. However his blood pressure is high.” And then, “We’ve weaned his vent settings to 50%. His blood pressure has stabilized.” Then twelve hours later we get this message, “He did not do well in the night. His kidney function is deteriorating somewhat and the renal doctor is monitoring it closely. We will be giving him a paralytic and proning (turning him onto his stomach to help his lungs expand) him today.” Last night was more positive, “He handled the proning very well and the vent is now only at 40%.” In a few hours we will hear how the night went. My mom will be sitting with her phone in her hand, her heart in her throat, praying for good news.

My parents were careful; they wore masks in stores; they used sanitizer. They also travelled to another state to take my grandma home after she attended a large wedding on the family home-place. Mom and Dad didn’t go to the wedding. They didn’t hug or shake hands. Nobody was sick on the day they got to my aunt’s house. The only thing we have to be mad about is that they travelled across state lines, and that is pointless. It is what it is now, and we are here, waiting to see what God will do with this situation.

Mom’s quarantine is almost done. She is learning healthy ways to cope with this long drawn-out affair. The first week, when she was sick and worrying about Dad, watching him get worse, trying every immune booster and natural antibiotic known to the home-remedies community (plus a few), keeping him hydrated, checking his blood sugar levels, panicking when he got severe chills that shook his chair despite layers of blankets… that was a week of desperation. His doctor was on vacation that week, and the locum gave them the standard advice to treat at home and go to the ER if he got worse. So that is what they did, and here we are.

Dad is in the ICU where Gabe works. As it happens, he was admitted the day our “vacation” started. Gabe has off for 10 days and will not be going back to work until this weekend, unless he picks up some overtime. It is very helpful, though, to have connections and get the inside scoop on his condition. Gabe will rattle off a list of stats and I look at him blankly, “What does that even mean?” I don’t know what we would do without his translation.

Our hope is in God, and in His ability to give the health professionals wisdom. We wait for Him in a dependance that we haven’t experienced on this level, ever. This is not a bad thing. He is holding the whole situation, and we know it. In that there is peace.

In general we have experienced so much kindness and care. Many people have reached out and asked how to support Mom. Here are a few things:

  • Messages of faith and courage, with no expectation that the person has to reply back.
  • Links to songs that lift the spirit.
  • Local support, in the form of a face on the porch, a bit of fresh fruit, etc.
  • Phone calls only if you are a close acquaintance.
  • Compassion, not pity…and there is a difference. “We are walking with you,” is much more bracing than “You poor dear! How are you surviving this horrible ordeal?”
  • Pray. Pray. Pray.

 

This is the reality of coronavirus for some. If you think it’s about funny memes on Facebook, how somebody sneezed and now they tested positive and the whole world has to wear a mask, I’m here to tell you that you should stop. I pray it never touches you, or that you are one of the many who sail through recovery with little scarring. If you think hand sanitizer is for wimps and the CDC doesn’t know nearly as much as you do about staying well, all right. That’s up to you, but please don’t scorn those who do not see things quite the same way.