“Good riddance, 2020.”

I think so many people across God’s green earth would agree with the sentiment of “Good riddance, 2020.” “Peace out.” “Fuck off.” “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”


Twenty-twenty was a year. And damn, does it feel good to be about three weeks away from it, to have 2020 growing smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. One of the things I mutter under my breath as I drive away from the shitstorm that was 2020 is, “It’s the year you will always remember but the one you want to forget.”

However, I think there is a danger in really taking that to heart and erasing 2020 from our collective human psyche. Just like anything we put on the Internet, it’ll still be there forever.

I think many people, perhaps for the first time, experienced long-standing grief and trauma at all levels. To some extent, that grief and trauma are not quite done with us yet. The thing is, processing all that has happened and bouncing back to some sort of normalcy can’t occur if we pretend it never happened.

Historically (and not-so-historically), Americans are really good at pretending shit doesn’t happen. So much I could say here, but let’s talk about death and related rituals for a second. Towards the middle of the 1800s, we started outsourcing death and all its routines to undertakers and funeral homes. People used to prepare their own family members and loved ones for their eternal resting places, but that practice now seems absolutely absurd and, well, morbid.

We purposely distanced ourselves from the very practice that may have made the process of grief easier to begin by seeing our deceased loved ones and touching their bodies in order to prepare them for their burial. Instead, we may or may not see them die, or immediately after they’ve died, and it’s not until they’re pumped full of chemicals and hair and makeup done that we approach them.

For a long time, I was freaked out by seeing the deceased in an open casket in a mothy, poorly lit funeral home, attended by men in suits whom I did not know. I thought that after years of this aversion, I thought I should just “get over it” because it seemed silly. Did anyone else feel that way? From my second grade teacher Miss Renfro’s visitation when I was ten (which was on the heels of my uncle’s unexpected death earlier that year) to my great-grandmother at age 12, to my grandparents at ages 19, 26, 29, and 32, I really thought something was wrong with me.

As it turns out, embalming bodies is just unnatural. By definition. And no wonder I had such a hard time working through my grief – my loved ones were made to look as they did, in life, while they were breathing and walking and laughing and talking. But they were not alive. And had we had different practices surrounding death and what comes after it until they, or their cremains, are lowered into the ground, maybe I would have not needed so much therapy. (Debatable…)

The point is that the farther we get away from the events that hurt us, the less closure we have, the more we close ourselves off, the longer it will actually take us to even begin the healing process. Sure, that Year from Hell might look great as it disappears into the headlights and sunset behind us, but it might come back full-force as we’re trying to get to sleep, or when we see a picture dated “2020,” or when we remember a birthday or holiday from that year.

There is a different level of comfort for everyone when it comes to naming and claiming our grief. I think that’s a natural part of who we are as humans. We’re all on this journey together, but some of us travel through deserts, through tundras, through lush forests – that is, all of us have different experiences that may help or hinder our moving-forward.

But we have to. So many have hope that 2021 will be a better year. I think it really can be, but only if we truly allow ourselves to grieve, process the pain (and the joys! I’m sure you have at least one) and gently close the door with a wave and understanding smile instead of slamming the door and shouting expletives. Let’s give 2020 the leave-taking that it, and we, deserve.

Coping through COVID

Every day seems like a new opportunity to observe, rework, and rewire the workings of my mind. When there is so much changing and the change doesn’t seem to quit, it can feel like a daily attack to my human brain that likes to predict everything.

“Taking things day by day” hits a little too close to home right now. But that’s really what I need to do. At the same time, I have to look ahead because lessons and meals won’t plan themselves. I find that there’s some solace in routines.

I have changed both schools and grade levels this year. My work demands and schedule seem to change constantly. My great-grandmother passed away in August. Holiday plans have changed. Our church has been through some intense changes in the past several months – going virtual, receiving a new pastor after ours retired.

For one thing, I have to believe that there is good coming from all these changes. I find I’m more satisfied at work now that I’m back in secondary and am not assigned to multiple schools all over the county. I’m happy that my great-grandmother is no longer sad from having outlived so many loved ones. I’m okay with being in my own house for holidays this year. I am thankful for our church family and being able to worship together this past Sunday, the first time since March.

For another thing, I have to let go of yesterday, last week, last month. Someone pissed me off today at work? That’s fine, but I have to let it go before tomorrow morning. I had an intense conversation with a family member? Okay, but I gotta let it go and not dwell on it. Students weren’t attending class or participating in the lesson I spent 45 minutes creating? Oh well – there will be another lesson. Make modifications, introduce a new strategy, et cetera.

I keep coming back to the Four Agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

Always do your best.

Don’t make assumptions.

Don’t take anything personally.

I read the book awhile back at the recommendation of my therapist, and she definitely didn’t steer me wrong. I think I could spend my whole life trying to master these four agreements. Some days are definitely better than others. I started trying to apply these way before COVID, but now they need to be even more in focus. Guess I’d better put my glasses on.

Time and space

I’m beginning to think that sleeping in is overrated. Not only is there science to back this up (REM cycles and all that) but I feel so much more at ease in the mornings if I give myself more time to wake up, enjoy coffee, and read a bit. On days like today, I’m promised the possibility of a nap, so it makes waking up early that much easier.

There’s something incredibly serene about coming downstairs to the soft light of the end table lamp, making coffee, and getting some thoughts out either in silence or with the dryer tumbling in the background. Most mornings I’m working on my side hustle(s). I have some of my best ideas right when I wake up.

Growing up, I always thought it was crazy that my dad would be up so early, usually around 4. Actually, what do I know? I was sleeping when he got up so I have no idea when he usually wakes up. I have specific memories of waking up early and the coffee pot would already be on and full of heaven’s nectar. In the winter he’d sometimes be sitting on the register when the furnace came on. Now when I visit, I actually try to get up early so that I can join him on the porch for coffee, deer watching, and a chat.

In general I’ve been trying to give myself more time, provide some “spaciousness” as a yoga teacher might say. Along with therapy I’m trying to make allowances for anxiety that I experience. I almost said “deal with” or “combat”, but anxiety is dare I say a part of me that is trying to tell me something:

Slow down, Elizabeth. It’s all going to be okay. The world is not on fire. Take your time.

I tell my students these things in so many words on a daily basis. I teach English for Speakers of Other Languages and part of helping them acquire language is giving them ample “wait time”. That’s science, too. Increasing wait time shows them that it’s okay for them to take a little longer processing, that what they have to say or write is important even if we spend a little more time on that part of the lesson.

The other day I didn’t wear a watch to work. It felt rebellious and irresponsible. But I realized that there are clocks everywhere. On the wall, on screens, on my computer, on my phone, on SmartBoards, on bank signs as I drive by, literally everywhere. The world reminds us that we are owned by time. And here I am dictating it to myself as well throughout the day.

No wonder I’m stressed and anxious about getting everything done. But recently even with all the things I’ve committed myself to, I haven’t felt as stressed as usual. I’ve been honest about the things that actually take time that I’ve been forgetting, and I’ve been making allowances for that: putting dishes away, folding a load of towels, going grocery shopping, getting my work bag ready, turning down the bed, making the bed, even stopping for coffee (I’ve really become a Dunkin’ girl lately…)

My point is that everything takes time, but our little agendas and Google calendars can only fit in so much. I’m beginning to learn what is really a priority to me and what makes me feel at ease, and giving myself that time. Making space. Really though, I’m not making space – you can’t make time. So I’m reserving space. And I feel so much calmer.

It was evident to me yesterday, the beginning of November and it seems also the beginning of the holiday season, that people are stressed. People are pulled in all different directions. I refuse to let myself not bask in the joy of the fall season, and soon, Advent. This is my favorite time of year, and I’ll never be “too busy” for admiring the trees, the gray cloudy skies, trick-or-treaters, making my home a cozy sanctuary, or enjoying a conversation with someone I love.

When we all look back on life at the end, whether we know it’s the end or not, I believe these are the things that matter. The little moments. The moments that disappear as soon as you become unaware of them and rush on to the next thing.

The Day After

Long have I despised the day after Christmas. All the hype, expectation, and anticipation ends even before midnight on Christmas, because soon we understand that the magic of the season is over.

This is the attitude about the days following Christmas I grew up with. Often as a family we would take down and put away all the Christmas decorations the day after. If I’m not mistaken, there was even a year we began on Christmas night.

As an adult in my own house with my own family (of three) and my own traditions, I keep up the decorations as long as socially acceptable, which for me is right before I go back to work as a teacher, or even the weekend after that. It’s an act that has rebellious roots, and it’s an external way for me to keep the spirit and warm and fuzzy feelings of Christmas alive in light of my childhood traditions and the after-Christmas sales.

The truth is, the wisemen were still searching. Purportedly, it could have taken them up to two years to finally visit Jesus. In a cursory search about this, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the length of the wisemen’s journey. What I take away from it is that after Jesus’ birth, they were still searching. The story wasn’t over.

Another external observation that helps me not fall into a post-holiday depression is that the days are now becoming longer, if only by a couple minutes. This year the winter solstice really meant something to me. The longest night of the year was far from the darkest: there was a full moon. In another cursory search (I’m ashamedly a fan of these quick Google searches…), it’s believed that the sun dies and is reborn. In fact, in .many cultures, a god or goddess of sun is born.

So on the day after Christmas, I’m still pondering what it means that God was incarnated onto the Earth in the form of Jesus. It brings all of Advent, and quite frankly, this whole crazy year of 2018 into perspective.

Signs

Today I just had a feeling that it was going to be a weird day, a sign. Usually when I experience this, I do in fact have a weird day. I waited for a call for school to be cancelled due to the impending Nor’easter bound for the East Coast. No call came. Some schools cancelled. During our faculty meeting this morning, our admin announced kids would be released early, which usually means we would be, too.

It took me two hours to get home when it usually takes me 23 minutes, give or take. The free hours I had in my afternoon soon dwindled down to just minutes. It took my husband an hour to get home when it usually takes him 10 minutes. Since we got home, power’s been flickering on and off. Our sump pump somehow became dislodged from the hole it sits in in the crawl space.

Despite all these signs and then events of a day gone weird, I’ve been strangely calm. This is highly uncharacteristic for me. Even on my two-hour journey home, I only got angry once when some jerk cut me off. (Just once… I’m improving…). Even when the sump pump was askew and not doing its job, though my mind went to the worst case scenario of “Oh shit we’re gonna spend our Friday night, possibly weekend, and hundreds of dollars to get this fixed,” I stayed calm and somehow my lizard brain didn’t get to see the light of day.

I’m not sure what’s happening. It could be maturity, it could be that my broken heart is healing therefore so is the rest of me, it could be the good amount of savings we have in the bank, it could be God’s peace, it could be the zen following me off the yoga mat. But slowly I’m evolving into the person I had wanted to be when I was freaking out. During the years my heart was torn into pieces month after month. During all the lonely months when my husband was literally halfway around the world.

Signs.

Yoga made me cry.

As I was standing in the last tadasana of my practice with hands at heart center, it hit me how actually close to my heart I had become. In the third floor ‘bonus room’ of our new beautiful house, with windows open and sweat (or humidity) dripping off my body, I realized that more unity had been cultivated between my mind and body in the past several months than I realized. This realization brought on tears that I didn’t expect.

I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

When one’s body doesn’t perform or operate as it should, it’s frustrating. I would even say that it can be damaging to one’s psyche. I’m no psychologist or clergyperson, but I can imagine that without unity between one’s body, mind, and soul, the body is no longer revered as a ‘temple’. What I believe is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit  but I’ve been defiling my temple for a long time.

When I think of not loving my body, I first think of hating how I look in the mirror, scoffing at the number on the scale, or eating copious amounts of whatever food will bring me comfort. But — always, always, always — these seemingly superficial manifestations of the lack of self-love stem from a deep-seated disunity among mind, body, and soul.

I’ve medicated with food, with alcohol, with running, with CICO (calories in, calories out). And all these things help a little bit, whether it’s by dulling the pain, creating more pain, or giving a sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, however, I have to find a balance and heal myself from the inside out in a way that’s sustainable in the long run.

This isn’t about healing my body so that I can carry a child. Friends, that ship has sailed and is half way around the world by now. What I’m discovering is that my mind-body connection, my temple, has to be healed for me. And then, from there, I can fulfill my purpose in life. I can then pour into my marriage, into my students, into relationships with colleagues and bosses and neighbors and fellow congregants.

So, how do I fix a broken temple? How do I rebuild? Truly it’s not built in a day. It took weeks, months, years of deterioration to destroy what God created as good — my body, mind and soul — and therefore it’ll take time to rebuild.

I’m not saying I have to cry and show emotion like I did in my yoga practice in order to rebuild my temple. But for me, that’s how I roll (I’ve mentioned before how much like Kristen Bell I am), and that’s how I know something’s working. Something’s hitting a nerve.

In yoga (and I’m an amateur so hear me out), your body can never be far from your mind. Even in savasana, you feel the ‘earth’ beneath you and are aware of the air, the noises, the breath.

What I absolutely love about the end of yoga practice is that no matter how aligned or how klutzy I was, I just spent time with my body in a positive environment seeking new challenges and bringing things into alignment. I come from death back into life, and it’s a new chance to honor my temple so that I can do the work meant for me since the beginning of time.

A bigger promise

I have failed miserably at writing here every day. But I do that some thoughts that have emanated from my daily devotional on the YouVersion Bible App.

The current plan I’m going through now with a friend is all about devotions that speak to real-life. Really, that’s what I look for in any devotion. But one day so far struck me in particular.

Waiting is a tough thing. It can try the most patient person, and the type of waiting can really make that period of time hard to bear.  In the midst of it, we have to remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.

This is a noble thing – and we should take hold of it, remembering God’s promises. But the way it was presented in the devotional text was not pleasant. It discusses different life events that can cause us to wait or question God’s promises, including infertility:  “When there’s no pitter-patter of little feet, remember Genesis 30:22: ‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listening to her and enabled her to conceive.'”

This sounds like a nice thought in theory, but I think it’s where much of the ‘Christian narrative’ says that if you just pray enough, or wait enough, or remember the promises enough, God will give you what you desire. That the happy ending is coming. And I’m sorry to say this in case someone hasn’t heard it yet, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen.

I can’t tell you how strong my desire was (is…?) to have our own biological children. It was (is…? still working this out) immense. Overwhelming, all-consuming. Even as recent as a few weeks ago, I would be bee-bopping along in my actually really great life, then all of a sudden see a little girl with dark brown curls marching down the hall with her adorably too-big backpack and BAM. I was hit with that desire and emptiness that is sometimes so strong it could knock me to my feet in tears. I wish I were being dramatic.

So, considering our infertility, according to this idea in the devotional, did we not pray enough? Wait long enough? We have to look at this promise of God in context, as it’s specific to one woman, one situation in all the history of infertility.

The attitudes and apparent words of reassurance around the subject of infertility need to change, not just in the world, but especially in the church. There are probably millions of hurting women that instead of finding understanding and solace in the church when they confide their fears or feelings about their infertility are met with these one-off quotations of Scripture that really do nothing but cause more pain, at least for me.

We need a bigger promise. More than just God will enable us to conceive, because as I’m a first-hand witness to, sometimes it doesn’t happen (and maybe there is not some mysterious reason.. it could just be), and I firmly believe that our failure to procreate has nothing to do with our level of faith.

My promises from God have to be bigger to encompass and devour my fears, my emptiness, my sorrow over children lost, however intangible those children may be. My promises from God have to ensure that He holds me, He knows me, He loves me and has important and impactful work for me to do that does not involve being a biological mother or spreading my ‘maternal instinct.’

I will quote another part of the devotional that I found to be the most comforting: “When hope is scarce, remember Luke 24:6-7: ‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,… ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” That is the bigger promise. That is the promise.

March 23 | Grief

How appropriate that today’s word is ‘grief.’ I took a little hiatus from my daily posts (but not from Bible reading) because life got a little topsy-turvy after my grandmother died two weeks ago today. I went to Illinois for the funeral and time with family and then when I got back, we had family from my husband’s side visit for the week. They left this morning, so before I travel out to Seattle to see one of my sisters, I have a couple days to regroup and gather thoughts (and do laundry).

My grandmother Jane was a lovely lady. I know this, and my family knows this, but what I found out by standing in the receiving line at the visitation is that everyone who knew her knows this. For almost two hours I introduced (and re-introduced) myself as ‘the oldest granddaughter Elizabeth’ to people who played cards with her and my grandpa, people who attended to church with her, people who cooked with her in the church kitchen, people who worked their land, and I’m pretty sure that her entire floor of the retirement home came to pay their respects. I wish I could have recorded all the nice things people said about her in that line.

Her full name was Eleanor Jane, but she always went by Jane. Eleanor and Jane mean respectively ‘bright shining one’ and ‘God’s gracious gift,’ and let me tell you, she embodied her name. My husband and I had our children’s names picked out for years, but I told him the day of the funeral that if we ever had a girl, we would name her Eleanor Jane in place of the name we’d picked out. He said he wouldn’t even argue with that. I lightheartedly told him that was a good decision.

My grandmother left an amazing legacy of faith that was quietly and steadfastly lived out. During the memorial service the pastor read her statement of faith that she wrote in a Bible study class, and in it she said that when she was a young girl, she went to church when she could, with family members, with the neighbors. She loved to be in church. She always encouraged my faith, and I tried to go to church with her when I was in town, especially after my grandfather passed away.

She didn’t suffer. I’m happy for that. I’m also overjoyed for her present victory, but so overwhelmed at times with grief that this world (and I) lost a bright, loving, giving soul. God gave her an earthly vessel for 87 years. That, coupled with heartache, loss, and joy, makes for a long full life. I can only hope to come close to that.

I’m grieving still. My family is grieving. My dad has now lost both of his parents. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. It’s especially hard when I want to call her to tell her about our recent visit with family, or about my upcoming trip to the West Coast. My heart aches when I realize that I can no longer speak with her.

But I don’t think I’ve ever understood our eternal destiny in Jesus more until she passed. I have never had such a sense of the truth and power of the Resurrection, nor have I ever had such a concrete moment in life attached to the Lenten season.

The message at church this past Sunday talked about how disciples suffer with Jesus. Our pastor, just hours before church began, lost his brother to a long battle with cancer. In the midst of that, he spoke about how we can’t have light without darkness. We can’t have the true and full joy of the Resurrection on Sunday without the tragic and sometimes infuriating events of this holy week. The timing of all these events is not happenstance; it’s the mysterious workings of God, perhaps to remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and what our purpose is while we’re here. There is darkness, death, grief, and sin in this world. But Jesus has already overcome it. We can have freedom and resurrection with Him.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

My Grammie and me

On the plane I try not to cry so I clench my teeth

Seeing the flat land of my birth below fills me with grief

I know that this is real, this passing on

I know that her soul like a bird has flown

On this cusp of spring when the earth soon will bloom

For all of the stories of love and affection, I would never have room

With warm coffee in hand I watch her face so fair

As she tells me stories, and I’m content to sit with her there

And of my rich history, now of this I do know

Of the generations of people who came before me, long ago

Throughout my life I see the pain and loss she endures

But praise God, there comes a day when peace and rest are now hers

This day we celebrate a life fully lived

We take comfort in the fact that she gave all there was to give

With one last breath her soul gives a heart cry

Now under the wings of an eagle, with our Lord she now flies

–for Eleanor Jane Rhoades Little, 1928-2016–

grammie and grandpa 1966
Grandpa and Grammie, 1966

grammie and me 1988
Grammie and me, July 1988

grandpa8
Grandpa, me, Dad, Mom, Grammie, June 2008

March 2 | Emptiness

Emptiness

Today marks two years since my husband came home from deployment with the Army. He spent nearly 10 months overseas. That was the longest we ever went without seeing each other.

There is a specific type of void in life when one’s spouse or significant other is gone, even for a short period of time. An emptiness. As painful as the emptiness can be at times, it’s amazing how instantly it vanishes and life goes back to some semblance of normal once he returned. It took probably six months for ‘us’ to get back to normal, but we were together.

In other ways, the past two years have been difficult. We’ve had lots of job changes, financial decisions, a cross-country move, and of course, we’ve been trying to expand our family the (mostly) ‘natural’ way. So far, nothing but emptiness. Literal emptiness.

“And the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.”

Joshua 5:12 (NASB)

Within this struggle, I’ve been surviving on the manna given to me every day. I haven’t had the mental or emotional energy to begin planting and harvesting my own crops. I’ve been tending to my most basic needs. Now, I’m turning a corner. I have hope that it will rain, the sun will shine, and my crops will grow. I can look back at the desert not with disdain and regret, but with joy that I got through it, or in other words, that I was carried through it. I can look ahead to the river valley and see that there is opportunity.

A part of me will always feel empty.  And that’s okay. Being healed doesn’t mean that there aren’t scars or reminders. Even with the scars, healing is one reminder of the great grace we’re shown by a compassionate, loving God, Jehovah Raphe. And for that, I’m so thankful.

by Keller Hawkins

she was perched on a branch

feathers withered,
crumpled
her head hung low

she sang with sorrowful earnest
a song
that sent shivers down her spine
and deepened the ache in her heart

she sang and sang
waiting for someone,
anyone
to hear

until one day
she remembered:
she had wings.

so she flew.