There’s a national debate taking place in the US of A about raising the minimum wage. While the politicians argue over the idea, some businesses—from major retailers to banks to private universities—have grown impatient and taken matters into their own hands over the last few years. Amazon increased its minimum wage to $15/hour almost five years ago now. This “resulted in a 4.7% increase in the average hourly wage among other employers in the same labor market (commuting zone).” Amazon says that research shows these kinds of increases fuel local economies and create growth.

Where I live, there’s no shortage of jobs available for people. There does seem to be a shortage of people who want to work 40 hours a week and still live near or below the poverty line.

For reference, because it kind of shocked me, the poverty line for a family of four is $26,500. A person who works full-time at our current national minimum wage earns $15,078 annually.

People point to the increase in the unemployment benefit this last year as the reason no one wants to work, but even before COVID, there were plenty of places hiring that couldn’t attract enough workers.

I’m not an economist, and I’m not that into politics most of the time, so why do I care about all of this? Because Jesus cares about fairness, and sometimes the Holy Spirit shoves stuff in front of my nose and says, “Write about this.” So. That’s what I’m doing today.

In the last couple of weeks, I read Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds. The story follows a woman—Elsa—born in Texas right before the Great Depression. After years of trying to save the farm and stay on the land, she migrates out of the Dust Bowl with her family to California, the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. Except California isn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Elsa wants to work, but the locals are afraid the “Okies”—the domestic migrants from the Dust Bowl—are going to take away their jobs and destroy their local economy. They are afraid they carry disease. They are afraid they will steal from them. They are afraid what they have will be taken and they’ll have nothing left. 

It’s a scarcity mentality.

The people in the book who landed in California want to work. They desperately want to provide for their family. They don’t want to take the government’s handouts, but they have no other choice. Because there is no work that will pay them enough to survive, they have to take government relief aid. The alternative is starvation. The workers are willing to work for nearly nothing in order to just have something. Farm owners take advantage of their need and the glut of desperate workers available and keep dropping what they’re willing to pay.

Just last night, Brandon and I watched Episode 5 of Country Music, a documentary from Ken Burns available through PBS Documentaries on Amazon Prime. In it, Merle Haggard says, “The human being has a history of being awful cruel to something different. ‘Okie’ was not a good word, you know? They were talked down to, looked down on, might’ve been something comparable to the way they treated the blacks.”

“He dreamed of something better, and my mama’s faith was strong
And us kids were just too young to realize
That another class of people put us somewhere just below;
One more reason for my mama’s hungry eyes.”
“Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” Merle Haggard

Haggard was born in 1937 near Bakersfield where his parents had lived for three years, after a fire had destroyed their farm in Oklahoma. According to the documentary, Haggard’s father had found work on the railroad but still needed to find a permanent place to live. “There was a lady named Ms. Bona, who owned a lot with a boxcar on it, refrigerator car,” Haggard reflects. “And she said, ‘If you have the mind to be a hard enough worker you could probably make this into a pretty nice home,’ she said, ‘but I’ve never heard of an Okie that would work.’ And my dad took a little offense to that and he said, ‘Well, ma’am, I’ve never heard of one that wouldn’t work.’”

Aren’t these the words we’ve heard to describe “those people,” whoever they are, the low-lifes, the down-and-outs, the lazy whatevers who are riding the government dollar, taking advantage of the system, the people who just don’t want to work?

I’m sure there are “those people,” but just like everything broken in the world, people who are born down and out aren’t always given a beacon of hope to show them what it looks like to get up. They only see what’s working (or not working) around them and assume that’s it. This is how the world works. “Without vision,” says the Teacher in Proverbs 29:18, “the people perish.” Without someone to illuminate an alternative pathway, all we can see is whatever steps have been taken by the people immediately ahead of us.

“But those jobs,” we say about minimum wage gigs like food service, hotel housekeepers, personal care assistants, childcare workers, and retail workers, “were not intended for people who needed to make a living off of them.” We think of those positions as “supplemental income” types of jobs, and maybe for some people, they are. But teens don’t want those jobs—they have sports and clubs and babysitting gigs that pay cash-money, homey. 

The teens and adults who want those jobs have to work. The teens have to work while they’re in school instead of playing sports or marching in the band or acting in the play, to try to help their families make it on below-poverty-level incomes, to try to buy a rundown car, to try to pay their way into community college, to try to escape the poverty they were probably born into. And the adults who need those jobs aren’t doing it for fun. They’re trying to patch together two or three different gigs to make ends meet while they raise their children single-handedly.

Right after I finished The Four Winds, I picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years now because a friend of mine has a chapter in it, called Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith & Justice. The very first chapter is about Cesar Chavez, who was “a shrewd union and community organizer who, with gritty creativity, sustained a quest for justice among farmworkers,” writes Daniel P. Rhodes. Cesar was an advocate for people like Elsa in The Four Winds, like Haggard’s family outside of Bakersfield. He worked alongside the fearful farmworkers who were stuck in a horrible loop of poverty and abuse to get them fair wages and unity against the corrupt farmers who had been taking advantage of their labor.

“Chavez always understood the movement to be about more than wages or contracts; it was a spiritual campaign. For him, the work of the union was woven inextricably into a fabric of religious significance,” writes Rhodes.

So what does Jesus have to do with it? Enter the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, or, as Kenneth Bailey in his wonderful book, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, preferred, the Parable of the Compassionate Employer:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

We are in the habit of valuing someone’s worth based on how much they can contribute, how much value they add. The vineyard owner in the parable is the great leveler who values all of the workers equally, no matter how much labor they were able to contribute. 

The circumstances of the parable are not unlike the circumstances of the migrant workers in the West: they sat in a particular spot each day and waited for an opportunity to work. Of those who were hired last, Kenneth Bailey writes, “All that remains for the brave few left in the market is the humiliation of returning home to an anxious wife and hungry children with the bad news of another day of frustration and disappointment.” 

He continues, “‘Equal pay for equal work’ is a centuries-old understanding of justice. But that is not the issue here. This parable presents the overpaid, not the underpaid. The story focuses on an equation filled with amazing grace, which is resented by those who feel that they have earned their way to more.”

The denarius was a full day’s wage, and all of them received that same pay. “This is not the cry of the underpaid,” writes Bailey. “No one is underpaid in this parable. The complaint is from the justly paid who cannot tolerate grace!”

In the face of the one who cries out, It’s not fair, God’s justice is scandalously generous, full of mercy and compassion.

Once again, I’m no economist. But if I take Jesus at his word, then as a follower of Christ, I must resist the scarcity mentality. I must not be afraid. If someone else gets more, that does not mean I’ll have less, or be less.

Maybe instead, I can help someone down on their luck draw a few steps closer to hope.

The compassionate vineyard owner sees the value of a soul, and gives him his daily bread, no matter how small or great the job.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

This Makes Me Uncomfortable

We have two teenagers in our house right now, and there are many, many, many conversations we’d rather not have with them. It would be so much easier to just… let it be. They’ll be fine. They’ll figure it out. Maybe if we ignore it, it’ll go away.

There’s a model in the Bible for this exact parenting tactic: King David.

One of the most gut wrenching stories in Scripture is that of Absalom, Amnon, Tamar, and David (2 Samuel 13-18). The number of wrongs committed in this section of Scripture is kind of appalling.

Absalom and Tamar were brother and sister, and Amnon was their half-brother. The three of them were David’s children. Amnon fell in love with Tamar, tricked her into being alone with him, and raped her. Wrong #1.

When Tamar’s brother, Absalom, heard what happened, in the millenia old tradition of silencing violated women, he told her, “Shh, be quiet.” Wrong #2.

When King David heard everything, he was mad. But no one did anything. Wrong #3.

Two years passed. Not two days, or two weeks, or two months. Two years. All that time, David ignored his son’s sin, his other son’s fury, and his daughter’s desolation. Even at the invitation of his son, Absalom, David refused to spend time with him, avoiding a confrontation. Wrong #4.

So Absalom convinced David to send Amnon and the rest of his brothers along for a sheep shearing and coordinated the murder of Amnon. Wrong #5.

David grieved the loss of his son, Amnon. And the loss of his son, Absalom. Chapter 13 ends with these words, “After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.”

Absalom stayed away three years. There was no reason why David couldn’t go to Absalom. In the next chapter, Absalom returned to Jerusalem and lived in the same city for two more years without seeing his father’s face. He has to literally light a field on fire to get the king’s attention. The story of Absalom ends five chapters later, when the commander of David’s army, Joab, kills Absalom, even after the king had asked them to spare Absalom’s life.

Perhaps the most anguished cries in the Old Testament come out of David at the end of chapter 18, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (2 Samuel 18:33).

David mourning for Absalom. 1873. Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What stopped the king from going to his son? Fear of confrontation. Conflict avoidance.

David resisted the hard conversations, and by doing so, he ignored his daughter’s pain and lost both of his sons. Absalom’s anger festered into bitterness and grew into vengeful fury. David’s fear and sorrow snowballed into grief upon grief upon grief.

Brene Brown offers this tactic for breaking through and telling our stories: preface what’s going on in our minds with this statement: “The story I’m telling myself is…” This is what’s going on inside of me.

Desmond Tutu offers a fourfold path to forgiveness in The Book of Forgiving: Tell the Story, Name the Hurt, Grant Forgiveness, and Renew or Release the Relationship. This is what happened, this is how it made me feel, I forgive you, I release you. 

David gets stuck in step one. He can’t even look “what happened” in the face.

In our house, the tactic that’s working best for me these days is this introductory statement, “This makes me uncomfortable, but…” and then I ask whatever it is I need to ask, or say whatever it is I need to say. There are so many questions I don’t want to know the answer to these days because of how badly I know it might hurt if the answer is something I would rather not hear. 

But questions are gateways to healing, health, and hope. If we don’t go there, then “there” is the untended garden where the seeds of bitter roots and giants go to grow. 

As a parent, it’s my responsibility to pay attention to the unasked questions, create a safe space, and then ask the questions.  I’ve noticed you’re struggling. I’ve noticed you’re avoiding me. You know I love you and will never reject you. What is going on in your life?

The God of the Universe models this same tactic. In the face of Elijah’s fear, God meets him in a gentle whisper, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12-13).

How can I help? How can I walk with you through your story?

Hold out hope in its brightly lit lantern so you can see just beyond the terrors and fears you're facing.

Parenting teenagers is harder than any other stage of parenting we’ve encountered, with far more tears and fears than either of us anticipated. In the midst of those fears, we must not be like David. We must be brave, remind them they are loved, and hold out hope in its brightly lit lantern so they can see it just beyond the terrors and fears they’re also facing. We have a longer view on their future; we are farther ahead on the road. Don’t allow fear of confrontation to wrest those that matter most from your life. Ask the hard questions. Even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Photo by Anatolii Kiriak from Pexels

Destination: Mars

I’m participating in the #NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day during National Poetry Month. So far, it’s off to a fun start. I’ve been using Carolee Bennett’s poetry prompts, and today’s I thought I’d share because it’s so wacky and off the wall and not at all the kind of poem I normally write (although, you’ll note, it does feature birds and nature and water and my children and my husband, so I suppose it isn’t that much of a departure from my usual stuff).

Here’s the prompt:

Pack for a difficult journey
You’ve been selected to travel to Mars and allowed to pack two personal items, a supply of favorite snacks and a selection of digital media: one song for the in-flight playlist, a movie you’ll watch over and over and videos of three personal memories. (Yes, there’s “room” for more than that and you’ll have lots of time on your hands, but just play along. It’s a 2021 version of “what’s your desert island band?”)

Write a poem in which you prepare for the journey to Mars. In the poem, you could also prepare for any difficult passage, like sitting with a loved one who’s ill, watching someone you care deeply about make a big mistake, digging into your own dramas with or without the help of a therapist, etc. Bonus points if you can mention why the selections/sounds of a fellow passenger really piss you off.

Carolee Bennett, 30 energetic poetry prompts for napowrimo

And here is the result of that prompt:

Destination: Mars

I’ve become somewhat of a fanatic
for the feathered, so I bring
binoculars and a bird watching
field guide, even into the galactic

for this one-way trip to Mars.
They say they’ve found evidence
of H2O on the rocky red surface,
but I don’t expect to spot any mallards,

herons, swans, egrets, or pelicans.
Maybe some robins, a macaw or two?
I brought Rio, just in case the view
does not afford a habitat that birds can

tolerate. Blu is afraid to fly, and
if I’m being honest, so am I, which
makes this space trip seem amiss.
The guy in the seat next to me can’t

figure out his earbuds. He’s watching
2012 over and over. I’ve about had it
with John Cusack and can’t imagine
another seven months of this. I think

he brought tuna for his one snack, too.
I’ll have to find another seat partner.
There are few things I’ll miss on Earth—
spring greens, fall leaves, morning dew—

but the ones I love the most I brought
clips to watch, my cousins in the creek,
my husband river walking our first week,
our children skipping stones. I thought

of all the water memories, all the waves
and ripples, trickles, streams, and falls,
all the waterfowl and wildlife calls
we’ve heard and how in so many ways

the water has saved me, here I am
abandoning the planet where it flows
so freely. I see it shrinking out my window
seat. Now, I can’t stop weeping. Ma’am,

I call the flight attendant, can I get
a couple tissues and a can of Pepsi
to go with my Chex Mix? I’m so thirsty.
I pop in the one where my sopping wet

children pick up pieces of shale rock
and frisbee fling them over the surface
of bound molecules and they bounce.
I watch it in reverse and it’s as if the rocks

are magnetically bound to my children,
bound to the water, bound to the Earth,
drawn back in by gravity. For what it’s worth,
I’d be happy to see even just one house wren.

Do you think they can make that happen?

There you go! Today’s poem exercise. I hope you have a chance to play with creativity today, whatever form it takes, for no purpose at all except for the sheer delight of creating.

Cover photo by Miriam Espacio from Pexels.

The Pace Car

Growing up, my family watched a lot of NASCAR. Our driver was Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, Bill Elliott, and we would cheer him on every Sunday, whether he was the #9 Coors car, the #11 Budweiser car, or the #94 McDonalds car. I had t-shirts and posters, people. It was serious.

Whenever there were wrecks, which of course is what us kids were really there to watch, out would come the steady and reliable pace car to make sure the pack took it easy while the accident was cleared. It was literally the car that set the pace. Eventually all would be good to go and the race could resume, until another inevitable wreck.

These last two months, I‘ve mostly followed the rules of my pace car, called POTS, and when I haven’t, I’ve paid for it with trips to the pits to refuel and restore. There has only been one crash or maybe two that sent me back to the garage for a week or so until the next race.

Okay, I’m not feeling this metaphor anymore.

The point is, I am learning how to navigate my new life as a freelance writer with a chronic illness that seems to wave its finger at me any time I try to push beyond what it thinks I should do.

There is no magic word.

Although there are lots of things I can’t do anymore, I’ve been focusing on all the things I can do that are bringing me so much joy. Preparing meals for my family, taking walks with Brandon, Henry, and Izzy (the other two don’t really like taking walks, although I’d certainly welcome them), exploring area parks, drinking tea, reading, and most of all, writing. I am doing so much writing!

I’m now a contributing writer for Root & Vine News, where I’ve been able to write everything from spotlights on business owners who are doing beautiful things for their community and the earth, to devotional entries, to book reflections, to movie reviews. I am excited to join this community and look forward to seeing what develops there in the coming months. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates.

I’m also writing occasionally for God Hears Her, a women’s ministry of Our Daily Bread, and continuing to write for Spire.

Aaaaaand, I started writing a novel. This has been my passion project, something I’m totally obsessed about. I’m writing about my grandmother on my dad’s side from her point of view, learning a lot through research and having so much fun experimenting with fiction for the first time. I spend entirely too much time on ancestry.com.

And that’s about it. That about defines the current pace of life. It is different. And it is good.

If you’d like to check out some of my recent projects for Root & Vine, you can find them here.

The Things We’ve Lost and Where They’re Found

The pancake batter bowl is missing.

I have twice opened and shut every kitchen cabinet drawer it could have been stuffed into by one of three children annoyed by the daily chore of unloading the dishwasher groooooan. Maybe it was the jesterly husband with all his high-minded opinions about where and how certain dishes ought to be stacked. Perhaps an unaware parent, eager to help but unsure where her grown daughter stores such vessels, placed it in the most unlikely place.

Why is the place they think makes the most sense never where I would have stashed it? I’ve even searched the other realms where our children hide things: bathroom vanities, the basement sink, the “Man Cave” where all the empty snack bags and candy wrappers congregate.

I have asked all three children and, wouldn’t you know it, none of them know the whereabouts of the pancake batter bowl. It has gone the way of other things that have disappeared this year: the lid to my husband’s travel mug, cookie cutters, the KitchenAid mixer bowl, one of four African dwarf frogs from our fish tank, the functionality of my autonomic nervous system, 45 other halves to unmatched socks, the 872 words and actors and movie titles I’ve misplaced, enough bits to make a villanelle to rival Elizabeth Bishop.

Add it to the long line of leavers this year, the grandparents and songwriters and lovers, the lost jobs and lost businesses and lost health and lost dogs and lost balance, everything Lost now huddling somewhere together safely and sadly but soundly in the Found.

One of them is hiding my pancake batter bowl, I just know it.

There are other bowls, of course, stainless steel and glass in various sizes and depths, but this one had a handle and spout. It had a flat bottom perfect for mashing bananas with a potato masher, perfect for every Saturday banana pancake morning, perfect for pouring onto the electric griddle where the batter sizzled and bubbled and popped in its puddle of melted butter. It’s what we hoped to do this morning, my youngest son and I, make the banana pancakes, pretend like it’s the weekend now, Jack Johnson style.

We must make do with a lesser container. The metal of the masher smacks against the curved edge and misses large chunks of banana. My youngest son cracks the eggs and begins whisking the batter while the griddle warms. He doesn’t seem to understand my distress. While he whisks, I open and shut the cabinet drawers I’ve already checked once more. He is nine. The last ten months of remote learning have been divine hours spent home with Mom and Minecraft, making banana pancakes and pretending like it’s the weekend just about every day. We pray and hug and ritually kiss forehead then chin then cheek then cheek then nose then lips each night. He prays for the virus to go away, prays for the vaccine to come, prays his mom will feel better, prays the sick people will be healed, prays the leaders would just listen for once, prays for friends and children of Lost ones to be comforted. 

It is cruel, the way so much has been stolen, whether snatched from us or trashed, or abandoned in the fort the kids built in the woods (I still suspect the conniving wide-eyed convicts who live here), so much just simply and profoundly lost no one in all this remote and distanced space can find the space to make sense of it. The writers send perilous tweets and private messages, abandon hopes of narrative. The artists paint faces with missing appendages. The satellite news commentators fill the screen with ticker tape and numbers I fear will start turning over as I watch, like an old-fashioned trip odometer, turning over in real-time like the real-time loss that’s actually happening instead of the quiet, sad update a graphics coordinator must do during commercial breaks.

I search my bookshelf for answers but come up short on titles I must have lent to friends, this one you must read, I said, missives of hope and light packed tight between paperback covers. These ones aren’t lost but borrowed, perhaps passed on and dog-eared, each one a little gospel I’ve sent and preached as powerful against the darkness. I finished one such book today by Brian Doyle, a writer lost to cancer, the posthumous work One Long River of Song aptly subtitled, Notes on Wonder.

“Lost” something one gets inside these pages, “lost” somewhere one finds oneself again.

“I think I am a miracle,” my youngest son says, while whisking the eggs and banana and vanilla and peanut butter that will turn from frothy liquid into solid, flat and flippable cakes we’ll smother in maple syrup in a minute. “I think I’m a miracle, because when I give you Henry hugs I make you feel better.” 

All, it turns out, is not lost.

I have lost the pancake batter bowl, or the pancake batter bowl was taken, or the pancake batter bowl is stashed in the most unreasonable place and will turn up again someday, after it’s been replaced, the interior scratched from these last 17 years of being beaten for pancake batter. It will limp up the front walk with a crutch under its one handle. It will have that look in its eye, that look that knows nothing can ever be again as it once was, but at least it’s home. At least it’s home.

Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

An Invitation to Best Society Post-Pandemic

Do come in for a spot of tea.
I have not seen you for so long.
Emily Post, Etiquette, in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922)

After the throes of a global pandemic,
who wouldn’t dedicate 38 chapters
to defining Best Society’s etiquette? 
There’s so much room to write the rules 
for social life when socializing comes
with a side of Spanish flu. I want to be
four years removed from anti-mask
debates, death counts, and dining room
curfews, immersed in curtsies and bows
and the proper ways to dress my maids
I plan to hire with a butler, his suit 
tailored and ready to receive my hoards 
of visitors. These days, I spend long hours 
handscripting invitations to the attention 
of dozens of different couples, dates 
left blank in case of new coronavirus 
variants. Be ready, friends, to talk only 
of what we all find pleasant, no more ills 
or misfortune, our laughter absent 
of cynical wit. Instead, we will spend
long hours sipping a spot of tea and perpetually 
shaking each other’s perfectly clasped hands.

Old-Fashioned Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels 
Woman at Laptop Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels

Making Space

At the beginning of 2020 and again at the beginning of the advent season, I wrote about the call to “make space” this year. This phrase manifested itself in a dozen different and surprising ways this year, but perhaps none more unexpected for me than my decision to step down from my role as Director of Content Marketing at Spire.

If you had told me a year ago that in 2020, I’d decide not to work full-time anymore, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve always worked full-time, ever since Lydia was an infant. I have always loved the thrill of accomplishment, of taking responsibility and ownership for the things entrusted to me. I love leading people into whatever next steps they see for themselves, instilling confidence in those who need a boost to take those next steps. I love every member of my team at Spire, love the values and vision and goals we’ve worked hard to define and work even harder to achieve.

And yet, here I am. After months of prayer and a million small doubts and worries resolving themselves in serendipitous and mysterious ways, I have a real sense of peace that this is the right thing for me and for the Spire team, as hard as it is.

I’m happy to say that this isn’t goodbye, but it is a shift out of leadership to provide more space (make space, right?) for recovery, for my family, and for writing. I am so grateful for the people that I’ve been able to work with these last four years, honored to have served so many different organizations in Ashland and beyond, and thrilled that I will be continuing to serve the team in a freelance relationship however I can contribute. I’m also excited about what this new year will bring for Spire. I think there are very exciting things on the horizon for Spire, and I’m glad to still be a passionate cheerleader for all that Spire does.

Here on the home front, I see many days ahead with Izzy tucked close to my side as I click-clack away on my keyboard, a hot cup of tea within reach. This has been the pattern of most days this year, too, except the work occupying my mind and the pace at which I take it next year will look different. I look forward with hope to even quieter days, even more peace, ever gradual recovery, and space. More and more space made for whatever the Lord requires of me.

A Christmas Poem

I remembered this poem this Christmas Eve morning as a I cracked an egg from our friend, Bill’s, chickens to make cinnamon rolls as part of our family tradition of cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. There are so many little miracles every day, the holy incarnate among us, if we just keep our eyes and hearts open. Merry Christmas, friends!

I took the fruit
of some body,
mixed it with
the fruit of earth,
birthed harmony
in each small cookie—

Mary’s sowing,
reaping, crushing,
sifting, the cow
with milk to give,
hen with eggs to
fold in. This season
announces the melding
of flesh with spirit.

our miracles blossom from trauma

and this baking is
beating ingredients,
dough in heaping
spoonfuls, elements
egg and sugar,
wheat and water.

Bite in, lick
the crumb
from your upper
lip, partake in this
communion. Now
we are all here:
laborer, consumer,
life-giver, hovering
over the tray.

from Pruning Burning Bushes

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Hope: Closer and Louder

We’re entering the season of advent. The days of advent are traditionally not days of celebration—they are days of longing for the light and voice of God to be heard through the darkness, for peace and justice to reign over oppression and violence. Before the time of Christ, the people of God were living in God’s silence, waiting and hoping for the Word of God to speak once more.

Normally, our family skips the longing of advent and leaps right into a month-long celebration of Christ’s arrival in the world. We plan advent activities centered on joy and delight, magic and laughter. As the darkest days grow darker and darker leading to the winter solstice, we’ve used the season of advent to beat back the night and bring light to our lives.

In our small corner of our community, longing and hope are closer and louder this year. My children long to have sleepovers with their friends. My husband longs to play music with friends. We long to have extended family in our home, gathering with all the joy and celebration of long-held traditions. We long for our family, our friends, and our community to be safe and stay healthy.

This season and first Sunday of advent is perfectly aligned with realtime, real-world longing. Even with the knowledge that Christ has come 2,000 years ago and brought with him the hope of salvation, never has the season of advent seemed more real. It’s dark out. We desperately want it to be bright again.

I’ve returned over and over this year to Scripture for comfort and hope. Humanity needs hope, and God is a god of hope. The Bible never shies away from the reality of suffering; God knows the pain of his people and answers with the hope of love, resilience, and restoration. Isaiah prophesied:

“This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

On this Sunday of hope, let’s make space for lament. Let’s make space for grief. This December will be different than any we can remember. We can’t deny the losses. God hears and meets us in our grief and disappointment. He also turns the darkness into light. He makes a way in the wilderness. He brings streams into the wasteland.

We can’t stop at lament.

As a cousin of mine put it, “It’s okay to be grateful and angry at the same time.” Hope does not disappoint us. As we long for brighter days, we already have the light of Love with us, even in the midst of our suffering. We already have the joy of our salvation, even in the midst of restrictions and limitations.

Grieve, mourn, and wail. And then give thanks. And then give praise. And then hope for reconciliation, hope for the peaceable kingdom to come, hope for the divided world to heal.

We’re going to continue our advent tradition of leap-frogging into Christmas because that’s the kind of joy we need infused with our lament right now. With all that has been taken from us this year, so much has been gained. In the last days of 2019, I wrote that God was whispering to me to be prepared to make space in 2020. Make space for what, I wondered, and here we are, at the conclusion of 2020, with so much space made. Space for deep, intimate joy with my immediate family. Space for long days at my parents’ farm this summer. Forced space for recovery and rest. Space for leisurely walks with my husband and our dog. Space for sunrises and sunsets, backyard fire pits, baking with my kids. Space for studying God’s Word. Space for deepened friendships over Zoom calls. Space to realign my priorities toward whatever God is calling me. I began 2020 anxious and depressed, hormonally off kilter. I’m ending 2020 filled with a peace that truly passes understanding and all the space in the world to go on living and loving this small corner of the world given to me. These are reasons to rejoice, even in the midst of longing and lament. There are reasons to rejoice.

May the longing and lament of this advent season be infused with hope and joy!

Photo by Darshak Pandya from Pexels

My Ongoing Journey with a Suspected Case of COVID

It’s now been six months since Brandon and I got sick with low grade fevers and fatigue for 14 days, me with shortness of breath that was enough to be thinking about going to the hospital but not enough to feel like I might die. Tests were in short supply and reserved for the very sick, so we were told to assume it was COVID based on our symptoms and seek emergency care if it got worse. 

Thankfully, it didn’t get worse. We regained energy and began living like everyone else under new stay-at-home orders. Except when we took walks, I struggled to talk and walk simultaneously, stopping to catch my breath. Then other weird symptoms started – rapid heart rate and chest pains and lung pain that persisted for weeks, constant thirst, dry throat, fatigue. Then the tingling in my hands and feet started, numbness in my face, daily headaches, dizziness, brain fog and forgetting words or exchanging “golf cart” for “golf course” without realizing the slip. 

I’ve been working for months with my healthcare provider who gratefully takes my complaints seriously and has ordered test after test, the expense of which I’m aware is high if it wasn’t for the great insurance we have. Before all of this, I saw a doctor once a year for my annual appointments and that was it. Now, I have a neurologist and a cardiologist. 

Yesterday, finally, I got a diagnosis for what’s been happening since March, a common diagnosis that many self-proclaimed “long haulers” who had Covid and didn’t get better have received: POTS, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. 

Living in a small rural town that has hardly been touched by COVID publicly makes recovering from (a suspected case) of COVID particularly isolating. I feel surrounded by anti-maskers and COVID-deniers who still believe it’s just like the flu, while some COVID patients do not recover within a couple of weeks of illness to potentially become long-haulers like me, trying to figure out what’s wrong with their bodies and when they might return to normal, if ever:

“In July, a survey conducted by the CDC found that 35% of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and had symptoms of Covid-19 — cough, fatigue, or shortness of breath — but were not hospitalized had not returned to their previous health two to three weeks later. Among those between 18 and 34 years old who had no previous chronic conditions, 20% felt prolonged signs of illness” (“Seven months later, what we know about Covid-19 — and the pressing questions that remain,” Statnews.com, August 17, 2020).

Ohio continues to develop 1,000 new cases a day. If we reduce that 35% of people down to 10%, this means 100 new people daily join the ranks of likely long-haulers who have potentially weeks, months, or years ahead of them, trying to figure out what’s wrong with them and how—or if—they’ll ever return to what was normal for them before. And that is just in our State of Ohio. If we multiply that 100 number out over a month, that’s 3,000 long haulers in September, 18,000 long haulers since March. 

There were three neurologists available for me to book an appointment with in the next three months. Neurologists don’t grow on trees, and people like me are going to be looking for answers, and treatment, and hope. There are long-term implications for individual health, and there are long-term implications for public health: Who will take care of all of us who continue to struggle with health issues we never dealt with previously?

All of this to say that when I am out and about and see friends and family or strangers who buck against the public health requirements that will reduce the spread of this virus, even denying COVID is a thing, bragging about how they won’t live in fear, I force a smile under my mask and weep a little (I am also much more prone to crying since COVID. I don’t know if that’s an actual side effect or just who I am now lol.).

I do not live in fear; my trust is in the Lord. Jesus implores us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The phrase, “do not be afraid,” appears 81 times in the NIV. But Scripture also has another common refrain: fear the Lord. The phrase “fear the Lord” appears 132 times in the NIV. Here’s just one example: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NIV).

What does this mean? How do we reconcile “do not be afraid” with “fear the Lord”? Do we cower in the presence of an angry God? Flee his presence?

No, this fear is respect, the same way we respect powerful and majestic unknowns—the ocean, the hurricane, tornadoes, thunderstorms, fire, the wilderness. We don’t stand outside in the middle of a hurricane. We don’t sit next to a window and watch an approaching tornado. We don’t stick our fingers into the heat of a blazing fire. We don’t enter the wilderness without preparing for what we might encounter in the woods. We don’t just carry an umbrella by our side while the rain soaks us to the bone. If we did these things, people would call us foolish and reckless (and silly, in the umbrella example), not brave.

This kind of fear is awareness of how much bigger and overwhelming and mysterious the Lord is, all of which demands respect and humility in his presence, the same way the natural world demands our respect and humility.

This same attitude—not cowering, but respecting—needs to be adopted by us in order to flourish as a community, in all things, but particularly in this season we are in. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Approaching this virus with respect and humility brings care for one another while we continue to take steps to contain and eradicate this life changing virus, eventually leading to a vaccine that will help us return to some kind of normalcy.

Now that I know what I am dealing with, I am hopeful to begin the long, slow journey to recovery, building up endurance and strength to live with POTS. I want to take long hikes, walk a 9-hole golf course, explore parks, and bike ride with my family again without feeling like my heart or head is going to explode or collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the day. 

I believe I can get there, but also maybe I won’t. Maybe I will be the other half of adults who develop POTS as a result of a viral infection who do not recover to their normal lives after five years. And that is okay too. This quiet space with hard constraints that insist on rest is holy, sacred room to be in the presence of the One I fear and love, and to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I am surrounded by those I love. I have all that I need. Joy and gratitude pepper my days. There is hope that, no matter what, all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. 

If you are someone who is in the middle of this long-haul journey, you aren’t alone. Connect online with one of the many long-hauler groups on Facebook. There’s hope for answers. You aren’t crazy. You don’t just have anxiety. You aren’t just stressed out. Your symptoms are real and physicians and scientists are learning more and more each day. 

Wash your hands, social distance, wear masks. Respect the virus. Life goes on, even with a piece of cloth across your face. I promise.