Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Community in the Time of Covid-19 (Part II)

I was working at my kitchen table recently when a spring storm blew in with an impressive display of rain and wind. For all its bravado, the storm was short lived, and in its wake came stillness—the proverbial calm after the storm. I looked out my patio doors, and the almost eerie serenity brought to mind the above Bible verse. 

I often call on this verse to calm me—to still me—during life’s metaphorical storms. But on that morning of social distancing, an irony occurred to me: What happens when stillness creates the storm?   

How do we respond when we’re cut off—stilled—from our day-to-day routines and activities? From our physical interactions with friends and co-workers? When these disconnects occur, maybe the challenge becomes one of coping successfully with the stillness forced upon us.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned or suggestions I’ve gleaned from others during this time of enforced stillness:
  • Embrace it. Don’t rush to fill the downtime with alternate activities. After a week with the grandsons, I can fully appreciate the havoc closing schools has wreaked upon households with school-aged children. Of all the advice I’ve read concerning coping with this disruption, I think the wisest has been to chill. No, you don’t want your kiddos’ brains turning to rice pudding, but neither should you feel pressured to provide a never-ending supply of fun, stimulating, mind-enhancing activities. Maybe this is a good time to let kids be
    kids—to let them play outside, come up with creative ways to entertain themselves (without killing each other), learn to be alone for a while. Trust me, there’ll be plenty of time and opportunities for them to catch up academically when school resumes. 
    This advice goes for adults as well. No sooner had we gone into social distancing mode than I received numerous notices about online meetings. I’m grateful for the technology that has allowed us to remain connected and have taken advantage of it in many instances. But when I began stressing about arranging times and figuring ways to “attend” these meetings, I came to a decision: Don’t. I decided to use this time to refresh, read, write, learn, catch up on things I’ve been putting off. When the Covid-19 threat has been contained, the world will still go on and no one will care if I missed a ZOOM meeting.
  • Girl, in addition to your hands, wash your face…your hair….
    Change your clothes. Yes, I laugh at those memes about changing from day pajamas into night pajamas, and I’m not opposed to an occasional day off from grooming routines.But the operative word here is ocassional. There’s a limit to how often dishevelment should occur and how long it should last. Personally, when I’m reasonably groomed, I feel better and I don’t feel trapped in my house (even if I am). I’m not talking about movie-star make-up or fashion magazine attire. Just be clean and presentable enough to maintain your self-respect and the respect of others when you go out in public (like to the mailbox or the trash cart). 
  • Keep in contact with friends and family. Social media is fine for casual/virtual friends, but that doesn’t replace personal phone calls and messaging to those who are closest to us.
  • And speaking of social media, don’t overdo it. I happen to think it’s a great social outlet for times like this, but keep the time spent with that community in moderation.
  • Keep moving. This might appear contradictory to embracing
    stillness, but I’m a big believer in balance, so make time for exercise. There are online exercise classes for almost any age
    or any stage of health. Check out my yoga instructor Kara's Youtube classes at Champagne and Yoga. Go for a walk. Now is a wonderful time to practice mindful walking--the perfect opportunity to move your feet and still your mind at the same time.  
  • Last and most importantly, in the turmoil of the enforced stillness, carve out time to establish genuine, inner stillness. And during that time don’t forget to reflect on the second part of the Psalm—“… know that I am God.” The ultimate goal of being still is to be in community with God and to know—yes, know—He exists and He is in control. 
If you have suggestions for coping with the present "stillness," I'd love to hear them. Please share in the comments below or on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Community in the Time of Covid-19 (Part I)

Back in January when I chose community as my focus word for 2020, little did I suspect what significance it would have two months later. As I wrote that post and considered the nature of community, one of the questions that came to me was does it require physical proximity. 

Like many of you, in the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself physically cut off from  communities I hold dear. Church services have gone online and activities cancelled; my gym has temporarily closed; gatherings with writing groups have been cancelled as well as doctor, dentist, and *gasp* beauty appointments. A trip to visit family has been postponed. But one community I haven’t been separated from is that of social media. 
I began forming my personal social media community in 2009 when I joined Facebook. I ventured into the unfamiliar world of social media with much trepidation, having no inkling that eleven years later (that long?!) my Facebook connection would prove invaluable. 

Over those years, my attitude toward Facebook has been mercurial—sometimes being immensely grateful for the friendships both virtual and real I’ve made there; other times—like during election years—becoming irritated to the point of withdrawing from it entirely. (Which beat the alternative of throwing my phone across the room.) But what I’ve come to realize about Facebook and other forms of social media is that, like many things, it is a tool. It can be used for building or destroying, depending on the intention of the person wielding it. Through careful gathering, culling, and scrolling, I’ve managed to create and maintain an encouraging community over the years. 

Although it will never replace my need for physical connection, I’ve enjoyed my social media community and never more than in the past few days. It has kept me informed, inspired, and entertained. (What can be more entertaining than a few thousand toilet paper or home-schooling memes?) It has also helped me maintain  connection with those communities I can’t be in physical contact with, such as my faith and writing communities.
From the ridiculous ...

to the sublime, FB memes can
entertain and/or encourage.
For beautiful and inspiring memes and
 messages, check out my friend Annette's
Facebook page, Squigglyword.

If you’re part of a social media community, I encourage you to use it in a positive and responsible way during this time ... well, all the time for that matter. If you’re not on Facebook or some other platform, now might be a good time to experiment. It might not be a good fit for you, but for many people, it provides much needed connection. And when close encounters aren't available, it provides community.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Fitness Community

In January I chose community as my focus word  in 2020, and in a blog post I promised to share some of the communities that have enhanced the meaning, joy, and quality of my life. I’m not writing about them in any particular order but am presenting them as situations arise. Since the situation of my seventieth birthday arose recently, I’ve been reflecting on and giving thanks for my fitness community.

In 2008, after nearly forty years of working, I retired. Almost immediately, I developed a case of sciatica to accompany my already aching knees. At that point, I determined I hadn’t worked most of my adult life only to spend my “golden” years hobbling about and tossing and turning in my sleep to get comfortable. So I joined a gym and began a pilates class. Gradually, I began to notice an improvement in my fitness level and realized that certain body parts didn’t hurt as much as they used to. 

When a new fitness center opened closer to my house, I joined it. It is a beautiful facility with state of the art equipment and a wide variety of programs. I’ve attended barre and yoga classes there for several years. 

But it isn’t the facility or even the fact that I can now move in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed possible twelve years ago that keeps me regularly attending the classes. Rather, it is the supportive community of women and instructors that spur me to keep on keeping on. 

Yoga seems to be all the rage right now, but you'll be
hard pressed to find a yoga instructor more informed and
more fun than Kara. She keeps us laughing even while
we're attempting torturous moves like the one above.
(You can see for yourself how amazing she is at
Champagne and Yoga on Youtube.)

Carol is our barre class instructor, and her extensive ballet
background is evident. Don't be intimidated, though.
No one else in the class can get this low on the barre, but with
her encouragement and with persistence, many of us have
seen great improvement in our flexibility.

Getting started has never been particularly difficult for me. I’m great at starting things. What I’m not so great at is sticking with routines or habits that are challenging or not a lot of fun (such as diets). But I’ve found if I’m surrounded by a community of positive, like-minded people, I’m much more diligent about pursuing my goals.
That is what my current fitness community does for me. I look forward to visiting with these ladies several times a week as we moan, laugh, and make progress together toward living healthy, active lives. 

I'm not going to divulge any ages here, but Carol and Peggy
 offer proof that exercise keeps you fit and flexible.
My classmates and instructors inspire me and hold me accountable, but more than that they are good friends. And is there anything more beneficial to our health than having good friends? If you have trouble sticking to an exercise routine, I highly recommend finding or starting your own fitness community.   

We don't just exercise together, we socialize.
With the exception of one, I didn't know any of these women
before joining my current classes. Now we go to lunch
on a regular basis and enjoy getting to know more
about each other. Maybe their friendships
have been the greatest benefit I've gained from

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Celebrating Seventy!

Take that, J.Lo!
I just passed another birthday involving a big, fat zero … this one with a seven in front of it. But I’m not depressed. On the contrary, I’m celebrating. Not since my fortieth birthday have I approached a new decade with a sense of dread. Once I got past the ridiculous notion that being young was the ultimate goal of life (how can that even be?),  I became grateful for the gifts that can come with growing—yes, I’ll say it—old.  

As I approached this birthday, I realized my celebratory attitude stems from gratitude—a word, I fear, that has almost become cliche since Oprah’s gratitude journal brought it to the forefront of popular thinking  several years ago. But the value of being grateful was known long before Oprah came up with the journal idea, and the fact the concept has enjoyed widespread popularity as of late doesn’t diminish its importance . 

So here are some things I’m grateful for as I begin my eighth decade:
  • I’m here! So much goes into this observation that it would take a post of its own to do it justice—and that post would be very long. For the sake of brevity, let me say I’m grateful to ancestors who passed along good genes. I’m also thankful to be living in an age and a country where knowledge, good food, and healthcare work in tandem with those genes to promote longevity. I’m aware that nothing is certain and circumstances can turn on a dime. But worrying about what might happen in the future is useless and steals joy from the present. So for today, I’m celebrating. 

  • I’m healthy! The same factors that go into longevity also contribute to a level of health that enables me to enjoy life. I certainly have my share of minor aches and pains and senior moments but nothing that keeps me from celebrating the opportunity to get out of bed each day and pursue both physical and mental tasks.

  • I’m productive! I'm grateful to have things to do that are enjoyable and worthwhile. I’m retired but that doesn’t mean I’m useless. Not working for a salary should never be confused with not working. 

  • I’m supported by family, good friends, and faith! As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been giving much thought to the idea of community and am extremely grateful to have supportive groups of people in my life. I’ll be exploring these more fully in the future, but first I had to write about this significant birthday. 😆
This post is not meant to be an opportunity to brag (although, yes, this picture might be a bit of showing off). I realize I've had very little to do with so much of what I’ve been blessed with. Rather this post is an expression of gratefulness and hopefully encouragement. No matter what age you are or what stage of life you’re in, I pray you can look around and find many things to celebrate and to be grateful for!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Word for 2020: Community

My friend Cheryl and I were discussing what we liked best in a book we’d read when she said, “There’s that strong sense of community.” 

And that’s when it struck me. 
To prove the point I'm making here, this a random selection of
books currently stacked on my messy desk. I've read and
thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I don't think it's a
coincidence that they all impart a strong sense of community.
After reading hundreds of books over the course of my life (and even writing a couple), I became aware that the element which most determines a book to be a personal favorite is the inclusion of a supportive community. I cannot recall a single book I've read and liked in which the protagonist's ultimate success didn't depend in some degree upon community in one form or another.

That awareness started me thinking more deeply about the value of community . . . and the nature of it. What constitutes community? What is its purpose? Does its size matter? Does it require physical proximity? Do communities remain static? Do they require absolute agreement? 

What is the nature of community?

A lot of questions, I know. And more will probably come. Maybe some can’t be answered. Since I’m not a theologian, sociologist, anthropologist, or philosopher, they definitely can’t be answered by me. But I know what I feel, and I feel strongly that community in some form is vital for humans to thrive. So I decided to make community my word for 2020.

Over the coming year, I’ll post from time to time about the communities which are most meaningful to me. I'll comment on the the things I’ve learned about community and things I’ve learned from those communities I belong to. In reflecting on them, I hope I’ll become more appreciative of their contributions to my life and I’ll become a more valuable, supportive member.

Like I said, I’m not an expert on this topic, so I’d truly welcome any ideas or insights you have or any discoveries you’ve made. Feel free to comment (even respectfully disagree) either in the space below or on Facebook. Looking forward to hearing from you now and on future posts.

Wishing You and Your Communities Joy and Prosperity in the Coming Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--Still a Great Christmas Story

I promise I'm not lazy. It's just that this morning at church I was  reminded of my favorite Christmas story (other than the original one), so I dusted off a post from Christmas 2013. The funny, poignant tale of an almost de-railed Christmas pageant still brings me to tears, and the message behind it rings as true as ever. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor. Purchase a copy and make reading it a Christmas tradition

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Does the Christmas Story Confuse You?

What would Christmas be without a bit of confusion? Seven years ago grandson Brooks--two at the time--had this experience. Then a week or so ago, my daughter Kristin received an email from number two son's first-grade teacher explaining that when she had asked who in the class celebrated or knew someone who celebrated Hanakkuh, seven-year-old Bennett raised his hand. The teacher invited Kristin to come and share with the class ways in which she celebrates the Jewish festival.
It was a nice idea, and Kristin would’ve been only too happy to comply, but there was one little problem: She isn’t Jewish. And while she knows a lot about Christmas traditions, to my knowledge she has never participated in a Hanakkuh celebration.
When asked about it, Bennett said, “Mom, I thought you celebrated Hanukkah.” Further questioning revealed he’d confused Hanukkah with Advent—perfectly understandable in a seven-year-old.

I’m still laughing about this, picturing Kristin’s face as she read the email. But this episode also has me contemplating the idea that many Christians—even long-time ones—experience confusion about the faith they’ve chosen to follow. And not just at Christmas time.

And I think that’s okay.

One of the most reassuring statements I ever heard from a Bible scholar was “If you can’t live with questions, you’ll have a hard time being a Christian.” For years, I’d read with great interest books on Christian apologetics, seeking to alleviate my confusion with some of the more difficult concepts of the faith:
—Did all the Old Testament stories really happen?
—How is Jesus fully God and fully man?
—Why do innocents suffer?
—What is heaven like? Where is it located?
I felt I needed to defend my beliefs by presenting the logic or reasoning behind them. And when I couldn’t come up with absolute answers, I was frustrated. 

Being granted permission to have questions brought me to a place of peace and to a stronger faith. I now realize God doesn’t need me to “prove” His existence. He offered evidence of it long before I came on the scene. God doesn’t need me to answer questions people have been asking for millennia. And, frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have all the answers, anyone who didn’t acknowledge a bit of confusion. The Apostle Paul himself admitted to seeing through a glass darkly, knowing only in part.

I still gain Christian inspiration from reading what Bible scholars and theologians offer in the way of explaining difficult concepts. But I read them for my own enlightenment and consideration, not with the intent of clearing up all confusion, whether mine or someone else’s.

The season of Advent is when Christians set aside time to reflect on Christmas—the time when God came to Earth as a baby. A baby who in adulthood willingly became the sacrifice to assure hope, peace, joy, love, and eternal life to all who believed in Him. 

Do I have the answers to all the hows and whys of this supernatural occurrence? I don’t. But I do know it happened. And about that, I have no confusion.

In this season of Advent, may you embrace the Wonder, the Awe, the Confusion, and the Certainty of the Christmas story.