Normal

What normal do you want to go back to? Do you really want to return to the world as it was two months ago? What does this give us an opportunity to change? What is happening now that couldn’t have happened otherwise?

My pastor pitched these questions to our congregation as he laid out the final points of his COVID Easter sermon. The first Easter morning, he said, changed everything. Heaven suddenly became accessible to all people from every nation, and death was permanently vanquished. This Easter (certainly the first of its kind to most of our memories) has weight, too. What about this season will permanently change our lives? And what don’t we want to return to?

Before COVID, my life was fairly average. Work, social activities, rest. I tried to balance my priorities as well as I could, dedicating time to each and trying to be fully present for all. There were a few unexpected surprises: the sudden need to find a new home in two months, losing a valued friend and coworker to a different calling, the mounting responsibilities of being friend, photographer, daughter, volunteer, sister, public relations specialist, and (very nearly) girlfriend. As spring accelerated into summer, I was setting myself up for a blurry, fast-paced and full few months.

And then, one sunny March morning, my plans evaporated with the frost.

I packed up my laptop, monitor and keyboard. Moved an extra table into an extra bedroom. Shopped for more items than I knew I’d need for one week. Scrubbed down knobs and counters a little more frequently. The people I saw on a daily basis vanished along with my packed lunches and nice blouses and (on most mornings) exercise routines. It was surreal and sudden.

But you know what?

I’ve called friends I wouldn’t have “had the time” to call, otherwise. I’ve pulled out my camera more frequently. I spent four days working from my parents’ house and sharing meals and walks with them. I’ve cleaned out that “meaning to get to for months” shelf in my closest. I’ve slept better. I’m making made more intentional meals. I’m praying with friends and coworkers much more frequently. I’ve invested a little money in personal interests, like writing and cooking.

Could all of these things have happened anyway, even if COVID hadn’t demolished “normal” life? Sure. The activities I’ve done since the start of the Stay At Home Order, though, are the priorities that have sifted to the top of my quarantine-influenced to-do list. Most days still tend to be full, but “full” just looks very different than it used to.

That’s not to say that during COVID life is somehow better than pre COVID life. The shift in priorities is simply fascinating. There are several aspects of my current lifestyle that I’d like to hold onto after all this is over… and hopefully I will.


Here’s a glimpse into our quarantine…

Haven
Rorschach the Coal-Gremlin Kitty
COVID office (with a door)
My lovely roommate/coworker/friend who has put up with my mood swings since all this started
My most-recent “bake” inspired by Instagram and the Great British Baking Show
Morning light
Twice-warmed coffee
Grapefruit avant garde

Plans in 4.5

Well into the fourth week of Indiana’s mandatory quarantine, B drove 1.5 hours north to tour two Warsaw apartments. It would have gone according to plan (visit apartments, gather various notes, consult with roommate over the weekend) except that, even during COVID, apartments wait for no man.

The minute B stepped inside the Washington House, he knew it was the right place. The left-over washer and dryer, lawnmower and red charcoal grill seemed to corroborate his instinct. But wanting to practice diligence, he did not give the landlady a firm answer. “Can I let you know by the end of the day, after I visit a second apartment?” She agreed, remarking that they were at the top of the renter queue — not because they had toured the Washington House first, but because they had applied first, albeit to a different apartment entirely. Their application solidified their right to lease the Washington House before anyone else.

So B test-drove to campus (7 minutes) and somewhere along the way picked up flowers for his girl (that’s me) before visiting her. Fifteen minutes later, we were in his car and heading back to the Washington House. “This is it, the yellow one.” “Wow, that looks like a real house!”

And then it was onto the next apartment viewing. This one was cookie-cutter standard, smelling slightly of second-hand smoke and looking a bit neglected. It was not *right.* B made notes of all the hard facts (location, size, price, amenities) and called his roommate to make a decision.

“Which one do you think it best? You’ve seen them all.”

“I like the apartment on Washington… it’s a real house.”

“Alright, let’s do it.”

And with a quick confirmatory text to his soon-to-be landlady, B floated to Dunkin to pick up coffee, thinking his day was done and we could take a walk through the trails before he left town. But as he pulled up to the Dunkin window, his phone buzzed. “It’s Gladine. She wants us to sign the lease today!”

Three more phone calls and a U-turn later, we were on our way to the bank. B had never withdrawn so much money all at once, and certainly not money that would be turned into a down-payment on a rental. He parked at the bank to catch his breath. “It’s all happening so quickly.”

By signing the lease that afternoon, they would have freedom to start moving in … that afternoon. It was either sign the lease and start paying for a month of rent they had not anticipated, or not sign the lease and lose the apartment. There was no middle ground. B withdrew the money, and in less than 45 minutes, he was standing in the kitchen of *his* apartment, key grasped in one hand, a signed copy of the lease grasped in the other.

“I want to see how far of a walk it is to Peking.”


From first visit to signed lease, the whole process lasted about 4.5 hours. With a new-and-improved move-in plan (next weekend rather than the first week of May) B and his roommate are taking on a new lawn-mowing, dish-washing, party-hosting adventure.

It seems obvious that those 4.5 hours were orchestrated by God. Our plans are not His plans. Sometimes His plans take decades; other times they happen all at once. On this particular Good Friday, they took 4.5 hours to begin, reach a climax, and resolve.

And am I excited to have My Person a mere 7 minutes away? Unequivocally, yes.

Dots

I highly recommend watching the video at the end of the post to see what sparked these thoughts, as they are somewhat at odds with what I posted yesterday. It’s allowed, I’m an Enneagram 4. Ironically, I just read a line from a journal my mother kept for me (from my birth to 4-years-old) that quipped, “But then, you are always a dramatic child.” Yes, mom. To my candle-lit, lilac-loving, treasure-hunting soul.


The secret of a good story is simple: Don’t immediately connect the dots.

Think about all the excellent stories you’ve read or watched. Did you have to know the ending of Harry Potter to be intrigued by the first line? Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

You could have flipped to the last chapter and found out who died and who lived and what became of Privet Drive. But why do that when J.K. Rowling has such command over the English language and the art of storytelling? Why would you spoil the plot when you could trust the author and be led along one page, one sentence at a time.

The irony is that in most cases, with every well-done movie, show or book I can think of, we have all the dots. They’re just not completely connected until we turn the last page or watch the final minutes. So we lean in, engage with the story, anticipate the final unveiling.

Such is our current COVID reality. All the dots are exist. They are revealed in suspenseful succession, one after another, and it’s only in the looking back that we notice just how well they were connected.

True, we can’t fast-forward to the middle of June and learn about the damage to the global economy, or who dies, or what permanent good results from so much upheaval. But why would we want to?

COVID-19

The COVID-19 global pandemic has sent nearly every part of the world into a tailspin, including our own nation.

Headlines

Rand Paul tested positive for COVID-19

Vote on $2 trillion COVID-19 bill scheduled for Monday

LA beaches still crowded with people, despite orders from state

Biden and Trump snipe at each other. The stock market yo-yos. Meanwhile, Tom Brady swaggers into Tampa Bay. And an asteroid careens past Earth.

Cacophony

Just four weeks ago, the noise level in our country was at fever-pitch and everyone was clamping their hands over their ears (or buying sound-proof earbuds) to escape the cacophony. It was like a Hollywood family shouting match over who is the heir to the fortune. Every person thinks he or she is entitled, and no one is actually interested in listening to the intent behind the will. Everyone is a protected class with “rights” and “feelings.”

And then COVID-19 became an actualized problem for our nation. DNC campaigns were shunted aside. Minorities became part of the majority. Movie theaters and concert venues and churches went dark. People scrambled for whatever made them feel less vulnerable (but really, toilet paper?) and schools closed their doors.

I’ve pondered this switch (because what else would I do? Unlike many in my age bracket, I’ve decided to put my life on hold.) and I’ve made an observation:

COVID-19 has forced our high-speed, isolationist nation to thunder to a painful, economy-breaking halt. And what does it offer, in return? The opportunity to slow the heck down. There are so many self-helpers blogging and writing and speaking on the merits of rest, but the fact is, nothing will truly make us stop our busywork the way COVID-19 already has. And in that way, our virus is also our blessing.


One final thought: We, as a nation, need to humble ourselves and accept the unrevealed will of God. We don’t get the privilege of knowing what’s going to happen next.

Hesitant

It’s tempting to believe that when something feels right, that actually means it’s wrong. I often find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, in a constant state of twitchy tension, hesitant to enjoy life. And yet, I simply can’t deny the goodness around me; it holds the very fingerprints of God. There are so many veins of heavenly gold weaving between people and places and ponderings.

But the act of enjoyment can feel disobedient, like I’m dumping peroxide over an open wound in an attempt to make it heal faster. I scratch and squirm and rip back band-aids and try to rush through joy into hurt so I know I’m alive.

Sometimes, we are tempted to “reason whether God’s promises line up more with His character or our circumstances.” The hope of joy is too painful to let in. It’s actually easier to resist joy and leave ourselves in a messy, dark, melancholy place. Joy would require… what? Everything. It would put everything on the line and quite possibly allow everything to be lost. And the hurt from that would be worse than the original hurt, so it’s better to just be persistently sad.

Can you see the foolishness in that thinking? I’ve started to notice and address it in myself. It’s not a coincidence that praise leavens prayer, lifting it away from selfishness and self-pity. Worship is our best defense against despair, and when we worship — when we pray, when we list out our thankfulness, when we relinquish control — our hearts are unleashed. We are free to enjoy our lives.

Joy isn’t a sin. It’s the natural result of a mind set on Jesus and a heart striving to obey and abide.

//

Christmas ribbon; wrinkled linen; a tumbling dryer; guttering candles; butter on bread; raw honey; a throbbing heart; smudged glasses; peppermint and lavender; chalk dust; grocery store sushi; puddle reflections; amber sunsets; quirky laughter; kinked branches; damp mornings

Wait

What does waiting do for us?

We wait for rain. For tomorrow. For a larger budget, a baby, a text, an apology. We wait for experience to be supplanted by wisdom, and for the cake to finish baking.

Waiting (the scraped-knees in-between, the middle) is home to handwringing, eye-rolling and pacing. We think about eternity or “the next thing” or nothing at all. We yank our minds away from obsession. We seek obsession. We write narratives, create a multiverse of endings, some happy and others tragic. We shout, tell lies, laugh harder or cry.

Mostly, we try to slog through the muckiness. The middle is largely uncharted, so we either dig in our heels and try to turn around, pity our own stuck-ness and build a home in the muck, or try to find a short cut.

But there is an alternative.

I picture Hawkeye and BJ in the Swamp. In one episode, a freak accident leaves Hawkeye with temporary blindness. He’s forced to linger in his tent, in post-op, in a lawn chair. This giant is brought to stillness by a mistake, and he has no choice. He can’t fight it, can’t speed up the healing.

So he listens to the rain. To people slipping in the mud. He absorbs the world around him as he never has before. Obliged to pause over each note that, when strung together, comprise the symphony of a single day, he finds something he didn’t expect.

“Something fascinating has been happening to me. One part of the world has been closed down for me, but another part has opened up. I’m going through something here that I didn’t expect,” he hesitates. “It’s full of trap doors. But I think there must almost be some kind of advantage in this. I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.

When Hawkeye’s most immediate means of pleasure is removed, he “sees” how each minute creates a whole day. Or, on a more abstract scale, how every moment spent waiting links together each memorable, life-changing event.

The concept isn’t profound until it’s practiced. Then, and only then, does it become the best practice. The middle is worth lingering over. Not for how it will change the future but for the value gained from being fully present at any given moment. Waiting for the sake of waiting. And fully, drastically changing the paths in our brains, mending brokenness on a level that will lead to true healing.

We wait our whole lives, actually. Until our hands are veined, our eyes yellowed, our faces lined. Until we’re remembering more than anticipating. Until our souls, tired and multi-roomed as they are, reach their home.

Wrestle with the waiting, but also learn to listen. To notice. To value deeply those parts of life that make all the big moments hang together. The dinners that taught us to love onions and garlic. The conversations that created new spaces in our minds. The people that went from nobody… to somebody. And all of this in the relative blink of an eye.

Tribute

The school year is hurtling towards it’s crescendo. The final hours of lecture and study and late-night flings are here. Graduation day approaches for a handful of my heart strings, too, those few who have changed me inside-out without knowing it. I thoroughly underestimated this work and the ties that can’t be untied and the memories that can’t be replaced. I didn’t realize it would be so redemptive, or so joyous.


To the students who have captured my imagination as well as my heart.

To those anchors, those tethers to belonging and home.

To the open doors and open arms, the physical proximity as well as emotional and mental bonds.

You inspire me daily. I anticipate your visits, seek you out, cheer you on. You probably don’t know how much I want to be where you are. It’s instinctive; a gut-level pull to be present with you.

The evenings are never long enough. The conversations never too deep. The hugs never too frequent.

I didn’t realize I could love you people so much. I want to pour out everything for you, willingly, joyfully, fully. In some small way, that’s what it is to be like Christ. Because when you lean in, I see it there, clear as day. That humanness. That created-and-called-good reflection of a holy God.

Thank you for your messiness. Your dedication. Your scars and triumphs.

Extraordinary magic, indeed.

Blips

Blips has returned after a brief foray into the recesses of my (very busy, very color-coded) calendar! Here are a few bright spots from the past few days:

Que lo Que – Social Club Misfits

Because what is better than rap with Latin flair? Listened to this on repeat today, complete with the desk dancing that my coworkers are definitely jealous of. Can you salsa in your spinny chair? Didn’t think so.

John Crist

If you aren’t familiar, I’ll gladly introduce you. My brother and I saw him live last week. We started laughing when we got there and didn’t stop until we got home. By the way, did you know that laughter increasing the flexibility of thought and can boost your immune system? (In other words, let’s stop taking life so darn seriously.) Clean, non-crass, actually funny humor does exist! I highly recommend following John on Instagram, too. His stories are laugh-out-loud funny.

Micro-Roasted Coffee Beans = Better Coffee

Think of it as curated coffee. Fine-tuned to the roaster’s palette and full of fun variations, micro-roasted beans are a coffee-expert’s playground. And you know who brews a mean cup of micro-roasted coffee? Light Rail. It’s better coffee. Change my mind.

Gospel

Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.

I attended my church’s pre-Easter service tonight. I ran Camera One, headset and all, perched on a platform at the back of the sanctuary.

The service started a bit behind schedule. Due to the practice runs, I’d already seen and heard the service close to eight times… but as with all scripture, it entered my ears in fresh iterations.

It was the same story, over and over. Jesus condemned by Pilot, beaten within an inch of His life, given a cross, grotesquely paraded to Golgotha. Nailed to the cross. Spectators watched His life slowly drain from Him. Upon His death, the earth broke apart, and the sun went dim, and the temple curtain split in two.

His side was pierced by a spear. He was taken down. Nails removed. Covered.

And creation, His followers, God Almighty, wept.

It’s this death, and the following resurrection, that allows the sun to rise each morning, and for babies to be born, and for worms to keep aerating the soil. Without His death, we have and are nothing. Time is merely spinning out to its inevitable end.

But by dying — beautifully, gruesomely — He ensured life into eternity.

I’m not sure anything else matters quite so much.


Extra thought: I’ve been on the tech team for almost a year, and never once have I felt that the lights, cameras and musical prowess are part of a show. Or if they are, it’s only in the loosest sense of the word. It’s creative. It’s emotional. It’s meaningful, and intentional. But it’s not glitzy, flashy or manipulative. All kinds of people enter our sanctuary, and if the high-quality worship and oversized, comfortable atmosphere make them feel at home, then all the better. Some people walk into my church and call it a show; for others, this church is the reason they still believe in God.