We All Fall Down (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

Friends, it is a cluster.

A legit, what-the-heck-nightmare-did-I just-wake-up-in cluster.

E-learning, I mean, for those of you who have no idea what the HELL ON EARTH I’m referring to.

E-learning in, Jamie out: today, in the face of 1st grade literature and 4th grade art, I lost it.

To my credit, it was the first time I’ve lost it during the entire course of the COVID affair. I’m kind of proud it took me this long.

For about 30 minutes this morning I was just flat out angry. Angry with the kids for fighting. Angry with the dogs for barking. Angry at Google for creating a terrible classroom program. Angry at the disease that led us to this place.

We started at 9am and by 9:57, I was in tears. Not that the kids noticed, but I was.

Teachers are trying their hardest. I believe administrators are as well. But this is new to everyone, and the learning curve is steep. Do we watch the videos first or look at the messages? Why am I still getting stuff on Dojo? What’s with the 404 error—I was just there 2 seconds ago!

And I’m an over-educated, tech savvy SAHM. I can’t imagine what this mess is like for non-English speakers; people working, whether from home or not; those doing school on cell phones in parking lots to use the wifi; disabled students; special education students; and the list goes on.

This is hard.

But we’re doing it. We’re all doing it. We’re going to get it right sometimes and wrong other times, and I think that’s okay. No, I know that’s okay. Really.

But I digress.

At some point in the mess of today everything kind of clicked. I grabbed onto that moment and hung on for dear life, rushing to write down the daily schedule that I hope will work for us over the course of this Corona School adventure. I beg you—please, please, please don’t breathe on it; if you do, it will fall apart. It’s only tied by a thread.

I’m 100% sure that this is easier than it seems. Truly. But the universal “we” are overloaded and can’t get the brain power together for just One More Thing. One more is too much. It pushes us over edges we didn’t know were there until it was too late to turn around. So, we fall.

Do you remember playing Ring Around the Rosie? It was supposedly written in a time of plague, but that actually isn’t true. It was simply a game.

Today, in our own time of plague, I can’t help but think of that song. Not as a representation of us all carrying posies to ward off disease or falling to our deaths, but instead as a representation of our common plight and the support we’re scrounging deep inside our own disheveledness to find for one another.

You know the part where it says, “we all fall DOWN!” and everyone collapses into a giggling heap, thrilled with themselves and maybe slightly dizzy from holding hands and spinning around? Well, that’s us right now. All of us across America. OK, maybe not holding actual hands because, you know, coronavirus, but nonetheless holding metaphorical hands through text chains, social media, Zoom, and FaceTime. Watching the whole world spin around us, knowing that any minute we will fall, but also knowing that’s okay, because we won’t fall down alone: we will all be in that dizzy heap together. And when we’re done laughing at our collective ridiculousness, we will lift each other up, finding our feet under us once again.

Today isn’t over yet and I don’t know what the remaining hours will bring. Whatever it is, however, I may forget. Because the COVID memory I will put to words today is one of a child’s game, a playground and friends standing close, laughing, singing a song of roses and ashes that ends not when the players fall, but rather when they help one another to rise.

Things Best Not Forgotten (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

Today we played badminton and cursed the wind, chasing the birdies through the year’s first grass before the dogs could get them.

Today is the last day before online lessons are given for a grade, but my fourth grader finds herself wanting to do the optional ones anyway, to do work she could choose not to do. But still she wears pajamas, fights me about brushing her hair. We are, after all, at home.

We counted the days of online school to come, clocked it at only 12 though it somehow feels an infinite number before us. In counting we assumed a return date that isn’t set in stone, but rather in each other and how well Americans manage to stay at home.

I call this Day 18.

Eighteen days of togetherness in which everything has changed: How we eat, sleep, shop, parent. How we read the news, communicate, say our prayers, and breathe.

I’ve yet to sew a face mask.

I have a machine, and cloth, and thread, but lack discernable sewing talent and so I doubt I’ll be posting pictures of colorful face coverings anytime soon. But a sincere thank you to those whom God has blessed with the gift of stitching us together, weaving half measures into whole.

I just found out our neighbor is an ER doctor. I didn’t know. But now a neighborhood email has been sent and read that tells me this is true. Tomorrow we will gather outside his home as he returns from his shift at a now empty hospital, the calm before the storm that is projected to hit our state in 16 days. Which is fewer than the infinite 18 in which we’ve lived fully into our homes.

I still see neighbors walking their dogs with one another. Kids riding bikes down the empty streets. I shake my head and close the curtains with a sigh.

When did we start judging people for how close they stand to one another as they amble in togetherness? And when will this judging stop? I wonder.

The day so far is beautiful, despite the wind. My three children are enjoying the sun together, dodging dogs and their messes, laughing as the wind carries a birdie ten feet away one minute, then backwards the next. My youngest has worn the same clothes five days now; he wants to set a record. I told him he already has, but he just laughed and kept them on: Florescent green shorts and a maroon Razorbacks shirt handed down from a cousin whose sister just cut his hair because all the salons are closed. I was impressed with how well she did.

My mom has a mask. One mask. She uses it for Kilz and sawdust and the other noxious fumes and particles of construction. “Should I ask Collin if he wants to wear it when he goes out for us?” she asked me this morning. Collin is in his 20s and likely the best suited of us to risk exposure.

“I don’t know,” I said. Because I don’t.

There’s so little I know these days, other than a schedule really helps, but so does pretending it’s not a schedule at all; else the kids might revolt. I’ve learned if the house isn’t tidy I can’t do this thing we’re all doing together separately. I’ve learned to hit refresh on Prime Now to snag a delivery spot as soon as one opens, and how to wipe down a box of cereal to make sure it doesn’t kill my mom. I’ve learned we’re all amazingly resilient, but I also wonder how that day will feel when it finally comes. The day the kids return to school. The husband to traveling for work. The house as empty as it ever is, which is to say it’s down to 2 adults and their barking dogs. That moment, when it comes, will be strange, I think. Happy but a little sad, a celebratory moment of peace, but also a moment of loss, as I send my kids away.

For now, I’m keeping them in check with prizes. They draw post-its from a once-red bowl, now orange from time and washing. These post-its hold their next task, whether fun or work, and they earn points upon the task’s completion. At the end of the day, or perhaps two, they are rewarded prizes for how well and nicely they performed their tasks. So far the rewards have been gifts purchased for birthday parties never held: the virus has halted even the earth’s movement around the sun.

Andy and I agreed last night that it will be a shame when we go back to how things were. Moments of rushing and shushing to get where we’re supposed to be. To hurried bedtimes that happen right after tired dinners that happen right after Andy gets home. To times when I can’t—or think I can’t—sit in the shade of a beautiful day, watching my three laugh over failed serves, fighting against the sun dots dancing before their eyes.

It is wonderful. And quiet. And joyful. It’s all the things parenting should be. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing this so early in the day when there are still so many hours left to come: This is a moment to hold on to, to reread in coming years. There is much to remember about these crazy days, but the sun and wind and laughter are the ones I hope to remember most.

badminton

In Which I Am Tired but the Dogs Don’t Care (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

The kids and dogs are outside.

The house is quiet and not a little boring.

It occurs to me that instead of scrolling Facebook and reading dire, apocalyptic articles that don’t tell me anything I don’t already know, I should probably Do Something.

I don’t feel well enough today to do anything that takes physical energy or that even requires me to take multiple steps (i.e., pay a bill that I have to look up on the computer and then set up bill pay with my bank. That’s TWO WHOLE STEPS), so I decide I should start a COVID-19 journal. I’m sure all the cool kids are doing it, and you know, that’s what I do: I write.

I’m always complaining there’s not enough time or mental energy in the day to put words to page, but here it is: a golden opportunity. So okay. I’ll do it.

April 2, 2020,

 The emotional toll of this pandemic is not at all like 9/11, or —

Wait—is that the backdoor? Yes, that was definitely the backdoor. I hear paws on wood, and then footsteps.

Collin comes through the living room, typing furiously on his phone. Without looking up, he says, “Uh oh, Mom. Muddy paws. VERY muddy paws.”

Well, shit.

(There’s something about this pandemic that makes me curse. I have no idea why.)

I assess the damage and it’s worse than I thought.

Both dogs, looking rather pleased with themselves, are covered in mud. Their paws, their bellies, their shaggy rear-ends. And, to make matters even worse, I just gave them their monthly bath TWO days ago. AND cleaned out the giant whirlpool tub I bathed them in. This takes effort, folks. Lots and lots of effort. If I remember correctly, the doggy bath two days ago resulted in my being covered in water from neck to knee, and cleaning the tub involved me kneeling inside the tub in a bathing suit and holding a bottle of bleach. I cannot do this again a mere two days later. This is not okay.

I try a towel on their paws, which involves illegal WWF moves and lots of “come back here you mangy dog” from me. The dogs were not impressed.

So, I will save my first journal entry regarding this historical pandemic for another day.

Because I refuse to consider that this—this muddy moment of atrocity—is day one of such an important recordation for posterity.

Parents, You Are Rocking it Right Now. I Promise.

I’ve spent more time on Facebook and the interwebs in general in the last two weeks than I have perhaps all year. Not because I’m cooped up at home—I’m always home anyway—but because I so desperately want to know what’s next in this whole mess. Hitting refresh on pages or chatting with friends online or posting on Facebook helps pass the time but also helps me feel better somehow. Like since none of us know what’s next then it’s all okay. Which makes zero sense but there it is.

In my new life of Facebook binging, I’ve noticed several common COVID-19 themes:

  • Lots of accusations of parents hating their children because said parents are complaining about being with their kids
  • Lots of comments about alcohol consumption regarding those complaints
  • Lots of frustration by homeschooling parents at the use of the word “homeschool”
  • Lots of support for one another in this stupid crazy time

So. Let’s take them one by one.

1) Parents do not hate their kids. Parents love their kids. A lot. Parents are complaining for a multitude of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of love they have for their kids. This s**t is hard, folks. We are home 24/7 with kids who we love, but who are kids and therefore are not meant to be cooped at home and are thus going crazy just like we all are. They cannot (presumably) drink their frustrations away like many parents appear to be doing (more on that later), complain on Facebook about their crappy parents, or get in the car and go for a drive. All they can do is complain bitterly and turn up their music and rudeness level (teens); whine and ask for snacks, screen time, and answers to when this will end (pre-teens); and bounce of the walls, cry, complain, and protest their parents-turned-teachers demanding they sit down and work when home is supposed to be a place of refuge from the pressures of school (little kids/all kids).

We don’t have kids without thinking and then complain about them. We have kids, love them, complain anyway, then snuggle them to sleep. I mean, do we ever complain about spouses/jobs/pets/cars/houses/etc.? Of course. Does that mean we hate them? Nope! So parents, ignore those saying you hate your kids because you complain. Go ahead and vent because that’s what keeps so many of us sane. If it makes you feel better, add an obligatory “I love my kids but …” but know that you don’t have to. Most of us get it. We get you, because we are you.

2) Do folks really drink as much as the memes would imply? I had no idea! I’ll admit that does worry me a bit, and it worries me too that our kids (universal) will see the memes and jokes and think drinking is a way to solve problems. But, see number one above. Jokes are jokes, and many of these memes and comments are likely just that. I personally find it strange, but a strange without the teeth of judgment behind it. Hope that’s okay.

3) We are doing school. At home. So, given the rules of compound words, we are indeed homeschooling. I think we get that what we’re doing because of school closures is not the same as what those who homeschool on a daily basis are doing. There are co-ops and apps for that. Play groups and specialized resources. We are not there. But it’s semantics, folks, and this is no time to argue semantics or be offended by the use of a sensical combination of words to explain what we are doing to keep our children from suffering educational losses. It’s okay, really. So homeschool away, everyone, and may the force be with you. All of you. No matter what.

4) Oh, there are hearts. And rainbows. And chalk art and Zoom groups and driveway tea times and my kid had a playdate with the neighbor kids from literally across the street: He stood on one side and they stayed on the other and they called it playing “together.” We are in it to win it, folks, except maybe for those who are price gouging TP and hand sanitizer. (Seriously, today I saw a 12-pack of TP for $75 on Amazon!) The stories of support and caring are legion, and I am beyond impressed. For every story of craptasticness, there are 10 of awesomeness. So keep being awesome. I’ll try to as well, but on occasion I’ll likely complain about my kids. Maybe even my husband. But I promise that I love them.

For real, there is an increase right now in child abuse, domestic violence, and other horrific things. This is real stress about real things, and even though this too shall pass, it isn’t clear yet what it will look like on the other side. For some, like me, things will be nice and rosy. For others, not so much. Please, let’s hold each other in prayer, and in so doing, please remember our school districts and our teachers who are struggling along with the rest of us, deemed “non-essential,” yet working from home with their own kids screaming in the background and their own issues to deal with.

And now I will go because Jeffery, my Instacart shopper, is texting me that 800 of the items I ordered are out of stock and no, butter lettuce is not a sufficient replacement for a grain bowl.

Perhaps $75 for TP isn’t so bad after all.

A Weary, Teary, and Dreary Day (At home. Again. With No End in Sight.)

I have, unfortunately, been through a lot in life. Because of that I tend to disassociate and over-compartmentalize, which is a cross my husband too often bears when he’s stressed over something and I’m like, “eh, no biggie.” But Tuesday was the day that I finally began to feel what’s going on in America and across the world, and each day since (okay, the like 1 day and a few hours since), I have felt it more acutely.

Today I woke up feeling “off.” I don’t sleep well in spring or summer despite black-out curtains and sleep aids. Last night I tossed and turned, and this morning I woke well before anyone else but stayed in bed so I didn’t wake the dogs. Of course, that eventually ended, and our 6th day of distancing began.

I’ve been staying up each night to make the schedule for the next day. Yesterday we were a bit more loosey-goosey and home-ec-ish, and we had more fights and snappiness then usual. So, today we’re back to academics. Andy and the kids are walking the dogs right now, and I’m supposed to be setting up STEM projects because that’s what Aaron’s first subject is on Thursdays at school.

But then I realized we thankfully we have lots of Kiwi Crate boxes on hand, and so instead of setting up ropes and levers and magnets and pullies, I’m writing this.

I find myself on the verge of tears today, but I’m not quite sure why. It is true I have a family member (who lives elsewhere) who almost certainly has coronavirus given her symptoms and recent travel. But she’s in her forties and quite healthy so I’m sure she’ll be fine. It is true that I love having my kids at home, but as an introvert, it’s difficult to give up the seven hours of kid-free time to which I’ve become accustomed. It’s also true that all my attempts to grocery shop online are failing, even at Amazon, due to shortages. And yes, I may just end up paying $11 for a bag of sugar because options are limited and I need to be able to bake.

The same shirts needing to be hung have been on my couch since the weekend.

And today it’s wet out. No biggie, but it’s dreary.

I’m doing my makeup every day. Putting on sweats (as is my usual), and starting the school day at 9:15. I’m still having my 1:30 coffee, and we’re still putting the kids to bed on time.

Those are good things. Routine is good. So is being willing to leave routine behind for something different. For whatever this moment in time is to you.

Overall, I’m not quite sure where the teariness comes from. Are you feeling this way, and if so, do you know why? Or maybe it’s like my feeling … a slight overwhelm (if a “slight” overwhelm can exist?) not rooted in depression but … in something else. A feeling of not-quite-rightness that has no concrete end in sight. I am a creature of habit but habits have no place in an isolated, quarantined, and locked-down world. I am developing new habits, though. Habits of dog walks, being more careful with my resources, being sure to reach out to others, and to appreciate those who reach out to me.

So reach out. Let me know how you are. Post it here in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter. If you know me personally, send me an email or a text! Phone calls are harder because, you know, kids. And dogs.

And in this moment, I hope you are making it through okay.

(Oh—and don’t forget to wash your hands!)

Love in the Time of Corona

This morning, I, like so many others around the world, worshiped from the confines of my home. I wore sweats, folded laundry, and did dishes, even as I prayed the Lord’s prayer, sang Amazing Grace, and passed the peace.

While I type these words, my youngest son is in the basement playing Legos. This may sound mundane, but it isn’t: he’s also having a FaceTime playdate while he sorts and builds.

As we all know, and we’ve certainly all been told, these are strange days.

Strange isn’t necessarily bad.

I loved my time of worship this morning. I managed to do chores, take in the Good Word, and spend time with my community by sending hearts and thumbs up and quick messages at the bottom of a tiny screen, all while in my slippers and without wearing a bra. What could be better than that?

As I listened to the sermon, my mind started making plans to stop physical church altogether, choosing instead to worship virtually while on the treadmill or cooking, thinking of all the time and energy I could save I didn’t have to shower, dress (appropriately), or spend time making small talk each week.

And then I remembered my Lenten sacrifice: to forgo complacent isolation. To take my community seriously instead of for granted, and to give in to the societal expectation of jeans and yes, even uncomfortable undergarments.

Several years ago, I discovered what I call my life verses:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (emphasis added) (Acts 2:4-6)

My love for these verses isn’t surprising. As a lawyer, a writer, an editor, even a Sunday School teacher, everything I find satisfaction and joy in revolves around language. The language of law, of stories, and of speaking into the vernacular of children and church. To me, these verses are powerful and validating. They represent the essential need of humans (and the church) to recognize, hear, understand, and speak to the spiritual and emotional needs of others. Through this, hearts are touched, healed, and filled. This is what language can do.

But I, you see, am an introvert—note the word “sacrifice” attached to my commitment of non-isolation. My preferred language is written, not spoken. I love to interact online and by blogging, but call me on the phone and you’ll find a socially awkward woman who isn’t quite sure when it’s her time to speak. This is an exaggeration of course; I’m only a little awkward on the phone, and I certainly love face-to-face interaction, though generally only on my terms. The days when the stars of
coffee,
and NSAIDS,
and sleep,
and spoons
have aligned.

But this morning, folding laundry while my pastor spoke to an empty room, looking out at faceless pews, nothing needed to align. I was isolated and in my element. My youngest was not crawling under the communion table, threatening to knock over the baptistry, or making fart jokes at the alter. It was good.

But it wasn’t church.

Because see, a few verses above 4-6, we read, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (emphasis added)

This morning when my pastor spoke of Abram and Sarai, we were not all together in one place. We were not sitting in a house soon to be filled with the violent wind of the Holy Spirit. I was here, and they were
there,
and there,
and there.

But nonetheless—and perhaps by now you see where this is going—while we may have been there and there and there instead of a common here, this morning’s service wasn’t not church.

In this moment of semi-forced isolation and distancing, I am faced with a choice: will I be complacent in my isolation, relishing the excuse to hide behind my door, or will I refuse complacency and reach into the scary places of phone calls, check-ins, sharing toilet paper, and sparing canned goods?

Watching a Facebook live stream isn’t a scary place. It’s easy peasy. But it would be even easier to shrug it off; who would even notice if I wasn’t there? Likely no one. And I likely wouldn’t notice if so-n-so didn’t watch, but actually, according to the numbers we had about as many viewers as we tend to have at in-person worship.

We showed up.

And in the act of showing up, we hearted and thumbs-upped one another, shared comments from our couches, and prayed together. We showed our screens to our dogs, let our kids hold our phones, gave honest feedback about the video feed. Knowing that in our private homes so many of us logged on and gave back is a tremendous gift. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so at first mention, but when the individualistic nature of American society is considered, paired with the amount of entertainment options in our homes, it truly is a countercultural decision—a gift of time and presence—to choose church and in so doing, to choose one another.

In a way, even for those of us who love language, who love to type away at our screens and turn pages until the wee hours of the morn, it is incredibly difficult to choose online church. Not because it’s easier to go in person, but because it’s easier to use this time of physical distancing as an excuse to relish isolation. For the healthy, COVID-19 provides excuse-free time to drink cocoa, read books, watch Netflix … even to break up fights between siblings.

But as life likes to remind us so often, easy isn’t always right.

It will be hard for a phone-hating introvert like me, but as a deacon for my church, I (and others) will be calling to check in on fellow church members as the days at home drag on. Even now, having only sent a handful of (non-scary-place) emails, I have heard stories of loneliness and frustration. Confusion and fear. And in my community, this is only day three of “distancing.”

For those of us who love our jammie-and-coffee time, all day every day, it will take work to overcome our natural tendency to settle in for a good read. But it is necessary work: even in a time when crowds are disallowed and gatherings are frowned upon, the task of speaking to one another’s heart does not end.

So friends, good luck making it through this journey, and if you want to talk (or not), you I know where to find me you.

An Email to My Husband so He Knows I’m as Tired as He is

Subject: Timeline of events between 5 and 6:30 this morning, because I know you’ll want to know

5:14am—Aaron gets in bed with us

Some point after that—Oscar scratches the bedroom door because I fell asleep without crating him and you likely didn’t think about it, which makes sense since I’m the one who wanted a dog and you told me from the beginning you weren’t doing dog-chores and Oscar doesn’t listen to you anyway

Some point after—you wake up and let Oscar in the bedroom. He immediately joins us in bed, circles 827 times, then tries to dig a hole in the mattress.

Aaron sniffs, snorts, coughs, and spoons an unwilling Me, while I lie very still and try to sleep while also trying to will Oscar and Aaron to sleep. I’m unsure of your sleep status, but I assume it isn’t good

5:54am—Oscar licks Aaron because Aaron moved slightly in his sleep, thus indicating a willingness to be licked

5:55am—I get up with Oscar so maybe you and Aaron can stay asleep, and also to avoid any later comments about perhaps “not getting another dog in the first place”

5:56am to 6:16am—Oscar frantically searches for Bear until Bear gets up and scratches at the basement door while barking one bark every 42 seconds

I don’t know Nana is downstairs getting her robe on to take Bear out on a leash, so I let Bear out in the backyard, unleashed. He immediately barks because that is what Bear does.

Every.

Single.

Morning.

Nana comes up in her robe, but only after tripping on the big beanbag and grabbing onto the armchair for support, which then falls on top of her

Nana heroically stops Bear from barking simply by yelling his name through a crack in the backdoor

I watch backdoor number 2 from my position at door number 1. Nana is at door 2; the plan is to let Oscar out door 1 as soon as Bear goes in door 2.

I pat myself on the back when this works beautifully, but then realize Oscar ran straight out of door 1 and into door 2.

I sit, knowing you are awake and feeling very sad about that, yet am hopeful that Aaron has fallen asleep and you are at least comfy in bed.

Many random things occur, mostly involving dogs

I write this email.

6:17am—You cough, and I realize sadly that at least 5 of 6 household inhabitants are awake. 😦

The end

 

The Problem with a Woman’s ‘No’

Like most women I know, I am a woman who “does things.” Whether in the church, classroom, or community, I volunteer for activities and events because I enjoy doing them.

The problem with this (one of a few) is that once a woman gains a reputation of saying yes to things, even more requests for stepping up come her way. There is some good that comes with that, but also some bad. The requests begin to broaden in scope until they encompass unenjoyable, un-called-to things. They also begin to pile up, as two hours of help turn to three, then ten, and before you know it, a whole month has gone by. Sleep is lost, kids ignored, husbands relegated to last in line for attention. Nutrition and exercise fall to the wayside, and, perhaps, stress begins to manifest in physical ways.

Hence the market for self-help books teaching women the seemingly-easy skill of saying no. There are actually books—plural!—that contain hundreds of pages explaining how “no” is a word women shouldn’t be afraid to say. Those two little letters, that tiny package of a word, is truly a linguistic barrier to a happier, healthier life. If we women who “do” things could just learn no’s value, the books claim, we could better live into our actual calling, better love ourselves, our husbands, and our children. But wait! There’s more! We also wouldn’t lose friends, professional opportunities, important roles in the community, or any of those other things we’re afraid of losing should our yesses stop coming.

It isn’t just books: Pastors give this advice. Therapists. Friends. TV doctors with good intentions. And I agree with them: no-saying is a necessary skill for those of us living in a world with too high expectations and too few people to fill the roles we’ve spontaneously created then deemed essential.

But knowing intellectually that we should balance our yesses with a handful of nos is one thing; putting it into play is another.

It’s hard to step back and let something fail, go fallow, or not be done to our personal specifications. It’s even harder to let go of things that fulfill us, that intellectually stimulate us, that give us more to talk about over dinner than laundry and homework. But sometimes there are reasons we must say no, even if we’re left not just with more family and “me” time on our hands, but also with isolation, unpracticed talents, unstimulated minds, and deep sadness.

A couple of years ago I was really sick. Like go-to-the-hospital-bi-weekly sick. In that two-year season I posted on this blog a grand total of FOUR TIMES. I couldn’t even write while at home in my PJs sipping cocoa! I was living off prednisone and even with that most hated of the best loved drugs propping me up, I still just couldn’t go on being someone who “did” things.

So my husband and I decided it was time I just said no.

I emailed heads of boards and bowed out of roles. I spoke for hours, days, years it seems, with my (very supportive and understanding) pastor about church roles I could no longer fill. I let folks at my children’s school think I’d fallen off the edge of the world. I rejected clients. I just … stopped.

So I’ve been there, and you can trust me when I say that sometimes saying no is way, way harder than the overburdening of all the yesses combined.

Being out and about in the world I knew without being an integral part of how it ran was devastating. Not because of the loss of control, but because some of us, like me, were created to be in the ranks of those who do. I thrive on the yesses.

But then … it got easy.

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t like easy easy. Just … easier. Enjoyable, even. After the boredom and sadness passed, I started to feel better. I went off the prednisone. I had the energy to switch to a vegan diet (one of the top five best decisions I’ve ever made, by the way. Feel free to ask me about it.). I watched TV. Read books. Had an actual conversation with my husband. And then I was able to go off the immunosuppressant medication that kept me living off antibiotics.

Through this I learned that while the yesses might be life-giving, saying no can be lifesaving.

But I’m sad to say I learned another lesson as well.

I learned that the books are wrong. That our well-intentioned friends are wrong. That the TV-doctors and celebrities are wrong. Even our religious leaders are wrong.

The hard truth is that few people want to hear a no.

While many are sympathetic to the need to step back, many are not.

I was told I didn’t care about my church.

I stopped hearing from friends I’d made through shared volunteer activities.

I was excluded from certain conversations and actions I still wanted to be a part of.

I was stunned.

I readily admit it’s true we can’t always have the best of both worlds. In some roles you’re either in or out; there is no in between. It’s also true we can’t expect place holders: we snooze, we lose. And, of course, there’s the issue of reliability: will she or won’t she back out at the last minute?

Showing up is crucial—when one takes on a role or task it’s expected that she will perform it. How, especially after repeated cancellations, can others continue to rely on and trust those who no longer seem reliable? Likely they can trust that the intentions are good, but good intentions never cleaned the church kitchen, taught a Sunday School lesson, or edited a manuscript. You need an actual person for that.

So this isn’t a bright line issue.

There’s a burden on the chronically ill person to know her limitations and establish firm boundaries, even if those boundaries are disappointing. Being on a particular board may be something really relevant, important, and desired, but if all the meetings start at 8pm and you need to be asleep by 8:30pm, then not accepting the board position to begin with is essential.

There are other roles, however, that are more fluid. Roles someone can more easily step into on the fly if needed, roles that can be quickly understood and executed. Roles where a bit of delay won’t actually cause as much of an issue as others might like to think it will.

There is definitely nuance to the conversation.

But the point here isn’t to delve into each possible scenario, rather it’s to bring a hard truth to the surface for conversation: though we are taught, preached to, advised, and counseled that “no” is a viable and even respectable option, the response received to it does not always correlate with that position.

As I write this, I’m wondering if some will think this is a pity party or indictment of my various communities.

I reject both of those notions.

Let me say that I am writing this only because I hope that by bringing a real-life experience to light, those on the receiving end of “nos” may reflect on their own responsibilities as leaders and respond the way we’re taught to believe they will: sympathetically, warmly, and with understanding.

I also hope that by reading this, those who need to take a step back from some responsibilities can go into the process as better-informed decision makers. Are there things you will lose, perhaps long-term? Will some—even those you think of as friends—respond with criticism? Will people second guess you? And worse—will you begin to second guess yourself? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding … maybe.

All this begs the question: should you say no if you don’t feel up to a yes? Yes! And should you say yes if it may sometimes be dotted with nos? Well, yeah, I think you should.

My mentor, who has her own chronic health issues, explained it this way: we don’t forgo our work in this world because of illness. Yet we don’t necessarily need to live it out in times of flares or in ways that push us to the brink. Instead, we establish systems and supports that can be put into place as needed. That is one of the many things community is for, and part of successful ministry is learning to use the strengths of community wisely.

As hard as some things have been post-season-of-nos, it was worth it. I got a significant-if-limited portion of health back, reconnected with my family and myself, and made radical life changes that I will continue to reap the benefits of in the years to come. There is nothing more important than that, even ministry, as we cannot give of ourselves if there’s nothing left to give.

 

 

Fiona Hill’s Defense of Women

Democrat, republican, or a member of the who-gives-a-damn party, anyone watching Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony yesterday was surely impressed. Having watched the impeachment hearings from start to finish (I’m recovering from surgery so have had plenty of time on my hands for TV watching), I can say emphatically that she was the most impressive in a line of impressive witnesses. I use the word “impressive” here not necessarily referring to the content of testimony but rather to the poise and intelligence of the witnesses (even Sondland, whom I otherwise take issue with regarding both character and veracity).

But Dr. Hill… she blew them all away. Her no-nonsense attitude, clarity, poise, steeliness, and resolve were gratifying both because she’s a woman and because her expertise is a credit to career civil servants. I don’t know her politics (though she referenced both non-partisanship as well as leftist ideals in line with the UK, not US, definition of “left”) or personal history beyond what she disclosed. On the face of her performance, however, I stand by my complete takenness with Dr. Hill.

Importantly, Dr. Hill stood firmly in defense of herself, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and Congresswoman Stefanik in the face of sexist treatment. These women have been bullied by primarily white, primarily male politicos, and, in Stefanik’s instance, support of male bullying by those on the left who would—and do—cry foul at similar treatment of women by the right has reeked of hypocrisy. I have little doubt that Dr. Hill has faced bias throughout her career in a male-dominated field. Knowing this, I wondered if this bias is what has led, at least in part, to her steely, no-nonsense demeanor. Men often label women’s anger and indeed any show of emotion as histrionic, and women seeking respect and career advancement must quash emotional responses, whether those responses are warranted or not.

Earlier this morning, President Trump stated on Fox and Friends that he was told by others in his administration they had to be “nice” to Ambassador Yovanovitch because “she’s a woman.” This is disturbing whether it’s true President Trump was actually told this or whether it’s a fictitious account. No, women do not need to be treated “nice” because they are women. Kindness is a trait we should all work to demonstrate, but in the hard-knock world of politics it’s absurd to expect genteel kindness based on gender. President Trump’s statement furthers discriminatory treatment and hiring practices by giving credence to a belief that women in the workplace will require special treatment and kid gloves lest they break down in tears, scream in anger, or lodge a harassment suit against unkind treatment.

Dr. Hill’s testimony lays this myth bare, exposing it for the fiction it is. Anger at times is warranted, such as when one is being undermined in their jobby others acting in direct opposition. In this precise circumstance, Ambassador Sondland characterized Dr. Hill’s anger as “emotional,” to which Dr. Hill replied, “Often when women show anger, it’s not fully appreciated. It’s often, you know, pushed on to emotional issues or perhaps deflected onto other people.”

Indeed.

I applaud Dr. Hill for refusing to allow that kind of disregard and disparagement go unchecked, whether it is against her, her colleague Ambassador Yovanavitch, or congresswoman Stefanik. Sexism is not bound by political party and our reactions to it should not be, either. Dr. Hill’s across-the-board calling out of bias is either proof of her non-partisanship, proof of her deep belief in gender equity, or proof of both. As we continue along our political journeys in a deeply divided United States, I strongly urge us all to remember and emulate her example. Disagreements over policy, candidates, and politics are one thing, but disagreement over equitable treatment of our shared humanity is simply not debatable.

A Way to Help

The following is a testimony I gave at my church earlier this year. I have provided an update at its conclusion.

I spent summer and winter of 2018 in a state of rest that we half-jokingly called my “sabbatical.” This was a time for rest and healing and, as the balm of those two things took hold, of active listening for the Word of God. In those months I lost many things I knew I could not get back, but I also knew that as I healed, God would call me when and where I was needed. I now had time on my hands and space to breathe; all I needed was God to point me in the right direction.

A couple of months ago, Andy and I got an email from a local advocacy group asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor a family seeking asylum. The family was in Tijuana and wouldn’t be allowed to cross into the US unless someone on this side would promise to get the family here and help them out once they arrived.

I had time. I had space. I had resources. I emailed back within minutes. Andy and I would be happy to help, I said.

This last Tuesday the mom, whom I will call SJ, and her three children arrived on a red eye from San Isidro after spending several hours at a McDonalds where ICE had dropped her and children. Gratefully, through a network of concerned individuals, we were able to secure overnight respite in the house of a well-placed angel willing to help a family in need.

At 7am Tuesday morning, I watched SJ walk through the airport, carrying a one-year-old baby and an extra-large duffel bag—did I mention yet that SJ made this journey without a stroller? That means she was lugging a one-year-old from Tijuana to San Isidro to Maryland.

So perhaps it goes without saying, but SJ is an amazing woman; her children are, too. Her oldest is a brilliant artist and has handily beat my daughter in chess many times. Both she and SD have made ample fun of my Spanish skills. The one-year-old is a champion sleeper and the eight-year-old boy and my son hit it off immediately, speaking a boy-language of shoves and wrestling moves and video games.

When SJ and her children left their home behind, they also left behind two bunnies—both named “bunny”—a chow puppy named Chowbella, and a big yard to play in. They now live in a two-bedroom apartment with a total of 10 people. The 10 people are spreading what money and food they have between them, but ten mouths are a lot to feed.

Andy and I are continuing our sponsorship of this wonderful family and are learning as we go how to best do that. Tomorrow I take SJ to see an immigration attorney and Wednesday I will drive her to enroll her kids in school. Thursday Andy will take them to Baltimore for their Immigration check in. Beyond that, we’ll play things day-to-day.

On this day, my sponsorship activity is this testimony. Both so you can feel the joy of a successful story—against every odd they made it to the United States—and also so I can ask you to consider what you might be able to do to help this family get on and stay on their feet.

Their main needs right now are adequate housing and assistance with daily expenses such as groceries and toiletries. If assisting this family is something you feel called to do with the time, space, and resources you have, please let me know.

Most importantly, please remember this family in your prayers, and ask for God’s providential care over them as they begin their new life in the United States. Remember too, that when we slow down and listen, God will speak.

Since I wrote these words several months ago, much has changed. The two school-aged children are thriving, making friends, learning English, and becoming accustomed to a different way of life. The baby is confident, smart, and obsessed with our puppy. Most importantly, SJ and her children have found an apartment to call home. Each month is a struggle to make ends meet; SJ’s income does not cover essential expenses and we are often scrambling to find a way to ensure each person’s basic human needs are met. To that end, we have established a Go Fund Me page to help this family with their day-to-day expenses. Any amount helps, and I ask you to consider whether a donation to this family is right for you.