Snake

A wooden deck with a snake about two-and-a-half feet long undulating across the wooden planks.

A snake came by
To say hi
Not sure why
Never here before
Just outside the door
Hope there are no more
Wouldn’t be my pick
Won’t touch him with a stick
Named him Slick
Gone with morning light
Fading is my fright
I suppose he’s alright
Out there
Somewhere
Best be aware

A wooden deck, with no snake.

Reentry

I got my teeth cleaned today.

My semi-annual cleaning was originally scheduled in March 2020 – just as the pandemic lockdowns were beginning.

Even once the dentist’s office was allowed to reopen, going felt risky, so I rescheduled for June – thinking we would be past the danger by that time.

We were not.

So, I rescheduled for August…then again for November…then again for January…then again for today.

An appointment card for a dentist's office has the person's name and multiple dates listed and then scratched through.

Fully vaccinated, I kept the appointment.

I was a bit nervous.

I’m still not comfortable going into enclosed spaces where lots of people come and go.

Per protocol, I let them know by phone I had arrived, waiting in my car until they came to get me.

I wore a mask, except for the actual period of teeth-cleaning.

I paid by credit card and left the building.

Surprisingly, after such a long delay and despite working from home all year – within a few feet of our kitchen with its all-day snack accessibility – I did not have any new cavities.

A relief…because if there had been new cavities, that would have meant additional trips to the dentist.

As it stands, I won’t need to return until early November.

I still do not feel comfortable venturing out much.

I have been fully vaccinated, but a majority of people out in public have not.

Some state openly they don’t ever plan to be.

And some of those same people are aggressively antagonistic toward the idea of mask-wearing…which is the bare-minimum of decent care for others around you.

We are still learning whether those of us who are vaccinated might still end up becoming infected by those who spurn vaccines and mask-wearing, thereby unknowingly carrying the virus to others and unintentionally causing harm.

It does not feel safe “out there” yet.

This search for “safe” is not just about our own safety – but also the safety of those around us.

It will be this way for the foreseeable future.

So, I will continue to weigh the risks, take precautions, and decide on a case-by-case basis when I will reengage and when I will reenter public places.

I will continue to do this so when I reenter spaces with my loved ones, I will feel as confident as possible that I will not be bringing danger into their lives.

March

Some march for others.

Some trample others for self.

Some demand justice for all.

Some cling to their personal privilege.

What motivates you?

In a nation cut in two…

Do you march or trample?

Do you demand justice or cling to privilege?

When you fight for rights, are they only your own?

When you demand accountability, is it only someone else’s?

In a nation cut in two…

Motivation matters.

Our motivation matters.

March on.

Woman in red coat, with a pin that says "Methodists United to End Racism". A stormy sky and the Washington Monument are behind her.

A Day for Me

Today I took a day

And held it just for me.

A day off, rare, it’s true

Not done so easily.

I asked if it sparked joy

Before I did a thing.

I’m thankful for the chance.

I needed recharging.

Today I:

  • Baked
  • Did my own dance party to Kirk Franklin’s NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert
  • Balanced the checkbook
  • Listened to saxophone music on Spotify
  • Did a word search
  • Walked
  • Watched German TV
  • Made fried potatoes
  • FaceTimed with my parents
  • Read several chapters in a book
  • Watched opera
  • Wrote a blog post

In the foreground is a plate with fried potatoes and a fork. In the background there is an iPad showing a television show scene of a woman sitting on the ground looking up.

Two books: Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen, and a Large Print search and find puzzle book.

 

Image shows a screenshot of a scene in a production of the Metropolitan Opera. A man sings, with a group of other men standing behind him. The subtitles read, "...whatever sorrows he endured will be forgotten."

A Boulder Plan

It’s January!

But only for a few more hours.

Per tradition I began this month with ideas, thoughts, and intentions for being more organized, focused, and productive.

I’ll state right up front: I love new beginnings, first days of school, fresh notebooks, and blank sheets of paper.

The potential!

I’ll confess here and now: I can quickly become overwhelmed with lots of new ideas, projects, and plans… and notes.

Pages and pages of notes.

Computer notes.

Sticky notes.

Emails to myself with things to note.

It’s true:

There is so much to do!

There are so many things needing my attention.

There are so many ideas and thoughts to jot down.

Also true:

There are just 24 hours in a day.

As these last hours of January 2021 tick past I’m thinking back over the month, the flurry of meetings, the deadlines, the projects underway…and I am feeling a bit scattered.

For the past week or two, though, I’ve been trying a new approach to each day.

It’s one I was familiar with but had not practiced; one my parents mentioned recently and reminded me of; one that is already helping me focus. (Thanks, Dad and Mom!)

Boulder – Rocks – Sand

It goes something like this.

You have a container and you have a boulder (or two), some smaller rocks, and some sand you need to fit into that container.

If you put the smaller rocks or the sand in first, the boulder may not fit.

But if you put the boulder in first, you can then add some of the smaller rocks and sand around the edges.

Translation:

Let’s say the “container” is your day.

Each day has lots of work to do, some of it more of a priority than others.

If you fritter it away on the less important, the important will remain unfinished.

That priority (let’s call it a boulder) may be based on long-term impact or simply on an actual hard deadline.

The idea is to build your day around the “boulder(s)” that MUST be done when the clock strikes 5 (or 10 or midnight.)

When it’s time for “pencils down.”

If you fit the boulder in first, then you can probably also squeeze a few smaller rocks (important tasks to keep moving) down into the spaces around the boulder.

And there may even be some grains of sand (non-urgent tasks) you can pour in.

This has helped me focus and prioritize my days.

The beauty for me is to start each day with that boulder identified, permission throughout the day to stay focused, and the grace at the end of the day to acknowledge major progress even when smaller “to-do” items remain on the list.

There are lots of ways to do things.

For me this is helping.

For me, this is the boulder plan.

Rocks, pebbles, and sand stretch across the ground along the side of a lake.

Traveling While Home

2020.

The year I came home from work in mid-March and stayed put.

Pandemic protocol and common sense meant I did not physically leave our house except on a few rare occasions…and then only if masked and socially-distanced from others.

I never ventured more than 50 miles from our house.

Thanks to books, however, I still managed to travel the world.

I made my way through multiple parts of Quebec (and Paris) with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, including visiting a remote and mysterious monastery.

Daniel DeFoe invited me to London as he described one man’s story of surviving the 1665 bubonic plague.

I’ve been to Budapest and Istanbul.

Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck.

Harlem, the Underground Railroad, and the Jim Crow south.

The Dominican Republic.

Ghana.

Erietown.

I accompanied two young girls as they fled from massacres in Rwanda, traveling through several African nations and on to Chicago; and refugees from war-torn Syria through Turkey, Greece and on to the United Kingdom.

Private investigator Kinsey Millhone let me tag along throughout California and beyond as she solved mysteries N through R.

I traveled cross-country from New York City to the southwest Mexican-American border in search of lost children.

I visited the upstate New York home of some childhood friends.

I am thankful for books; for the authors who write them; for the libraries that lend them; and for the worlds they reveal.

Here’s my 2020 reading list:

N Is For Noose (audiobook), Sue Grafton

Finished 1-12-20

A Trick of the Light (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 1-31-20

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone

Finished 2-6-20

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (audiobook read by the author), Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

Finished 2-8-20

Fleishman Is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Finished 2-9-20

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (audiobook), Heather Morris

Finished 3-6-20

The Photographer at Sixteen, George Szirtes

Finished 3-14-20

O is for Outlaw (audiobook), Sue Grafton

Finished 3-26-20

Southern Horrors, Ida B. Wells

Finished 4-5-20

Lost Children Archives, Valeria Luiselli

Finished 4-18-20

Small Great Things (audiobook), Jodi Picoult

Finished 4-22-20

Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer, Adair Lara

Finished 5-3-20

Trixie Belden #1: The Secret of the Mansion (audiobook), Julie Campbell

Finished 5-9-20

Clap When You Land (audiobook), Elizabeth Acevedo

Finished 5-18-20

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Finished 5-24-20

The Beautiful Mystery (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 5-30-20

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Finished 6-7-20

How the Light Gets In (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 6-13-20

Untamed, Glennon Doyle

Finished 6-20-20

The Long Way Home (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 7-3-20

A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel DeFoe

Finished 7-19-20

The Nature of the Beast (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 7-20-20

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, Alice Wong, Editor

Finished 7-29-20

A Great Reckoning (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 8-1-20

Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For, Susan Rice

Finished 8-14-20

Glass Houses (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 8-16-20

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes Next, Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Finished 8-30-20

Kingdom of the Blind (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 9-3-20

Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus, Jim Wallis

Finished 9-6-20

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster (audiobook), Stephen L. Carter

Finished 9-7-20

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak

Finished 9-13-20

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans

Finished 9-16-20

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth

Finished 9-19-20

A Better Man (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 9-20-20

Three Daughters of Eve, Elif Shafak

Finished 10-7-20

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande

Finished 10-10-20

Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi

Finished 10-17-20

P is for Peril (audiobook), Sue Grafton

Finished 10-22-20

Q is for Quarry (audiobook), Sue Grafton

Finished 11-9-20

All the Devils Are Here (audiobook), Louise Penny

Finished 11-16-20

The Daughters of Erietown (audiobook), Connie Schultz

Finished 11-27-20

God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, N. T. Wright

Finished 11-28-20

R is for Ricochet (audiobook), Sue Grafton

Finished 12-17-20

Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety, Walter Brueggemann

Finished 12-20-20

Mary Had a Baby: An Advent Bible Study Based on African American Spirituals, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Marilyn E. Thornton

Finished 12-23-20

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, Kate Murphy

Finished 12-28-20

The Beekeeper of Aleppo (audiobook), Christy Lefteri

Finished 12-30-20

The image shows a book shelf full of books and small knick-knacks. The contents are blurred out except for a wooden block calendar that shows December 31.

Prune

I’ll cut to the chase.

2020 is the “Year of the Prune.”

Not the dried plum sort.

The cutting back kind.

Screen shot from a dictionary entry for "prune - verb": transitive verb 1a to reduce especially by eliminating superfluous matter //pruned the text, //prune the budget. 1b to remove as superfluous //prune away all ornamentation. 2 to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth //prune the branches.

Cutting back can lead to growth.

And if there is one lesson 2020 has taught me, that’s it.

In “normal times” I would be much more mobile and on the go, commuting 40 minutes to work, navigating across the city during the day through crawling traffic for meetings across campus, and commuting 40 minutes home.

I’d be out and about evenings – to choir practice, to my small group, to a movie or campus event.

In “normal times” I would plan itineraries, calculate travel times, and still somehow manage to be double-booked or be late because of traffic jams.

2020 and its pandemic-caused work-from-home reality changed things.

I, the 300-miles-per-week commuter, have pumped gas only one time since March.

For the most part, I have been at home.

I’ve been at home for 250+ days.

I’ve made short trips on very rare occasions.

With masking and social distancing, I have ventured out, but probably fewer times than I can count on my fingers.

It’s been weird.

It’s like part of my life has been pruned back, chopped off, cut away.

There are definite downsides to this reality.

Not getting to physically be with family, friends and colleagues.

Grieving with the thousands of families who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.

Worrying about the stamina and safety of those working in hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services, grocery stores, postal and delivery services, restaurants and coffee shops.

It’s been heavy.

But there has also been opportunity for growth.

I have read lots of books – those available through our library’s Overdrive app, those I’ve ordered online, those I have rediscovered in our home.

I’ve attended virtual worship services far beyond my geographic area.

I’ve streamed virtual musical performances from around the world.

I’ve attended virtual panel discussions and webinars on a variety of topics.

I have zoomed and texted and talked with family members and friends, perhaps even more than before the pandemic.

I have zoomed and talked with colleagues more than before the pandemic.

We can’t see each other.

But we can connect.

Virtually.

And we have.

Rattling around in our house for eight months, I’ve noticed and taken stock of what we really need and what we probably don’t.

If even after eight months of being confined in a building you have no occasion to use or touch certain things, well…perhaps there is more pruning ahead.

This summer we had landscapers come and prune the bushes in front of our house.

They had grown VERY large.

We’re not sure they will grow back.

The landscapers could not guarantee it.

But we wanted to give them a chance.

And in this “Year of the Prune” – the signs are encouraging.

There are signs of growth.

A pruned branch of a rhododendron bush sprouts new leaves.

May it be so for all of us who are living through this weird and heavy time.

May we come out on the other side – different and growing.

Two side-by-side headshots of the same person. On the left it says "How it started 3-20-20" and the person has short hair. On the right it says "How it's going 11-20-20" and the person has longer hair.

 

 

Hold

1-800-DO-I-HOPE

(Classical guitar music – with an indeterminate and generic rhythm…not too upbeat, not too solemn, not too loud, not too soft – plays down the line.)

 “Thank you for calling our ‘what comes next’ hotline. We value your concern and your call is important to us. Due to a heavy volume of calls all of our representatives are currently busy. We will let you know what comes next as soon as possible. Please stay on the line.”

(Classical guitar music continues.)

“Thank you for calling our ‘what comes next’ hotline. We value your concern and your call is important to us. Due to a heavy volume of calls all of our representatives are currently busy. We will let you know what comes next as soon as possible. Please stay on the line.”

(Classical guitar music continues.)

“Thank you for calling our ‘what comes next’ hotline. We value your concern and your call is important to us. Due to a heavy volume of calls all of our representatives are currently busy. We will let you know what comes next as soon as possible. Please stay on the line.”

(Classical guitar music continues.)

“Thank you for calling…”

Purple arrow pointing both left and right. In the middle in white font it says, "Please hold..."

 

Stay

The word "stay" in blue font on black background.

It’s back to work tomorrow.

It’s the end of a nine-day “staycation” – an action that took on new meaning and new form in the midst of a pandemic.

Goal

The aim of this staycation was to unplug – completely (more-or-less) – from work and the world, while remaining within the same building and location where I have been 24-7 for most of the past six months.

Methodology

I moved work email and Teams apps to the second screen of my phone and turned off notifications. (I did not check them once. My out-of-office reply referred people to a teammate and my colleagues knew to text me if something was on fire.)

I moved the Twitter app to the second screen of my phone and aimed to check it less frequently. (I checked it off and on, but mostly succeeded in tuning it out.)

I don’t have Facebook on my phone, but aimed to mostly refrain from logging in on the computer. (I hopped on to send birthday greetings and answer any messages, but mostly succeeded in avoiding it throughout the week.)

I binge-watched several episodes of silly shows on Netflix.

I read books.

I exercised.

Definition 1

This morning, as I thought about my coming-to-an-end staycation, my mind noodled with the various meanings of the word “stay.”

Naturally, I googled it.

The word can be used in many ways, but one entry on the Merriam Webster website caught my eye and my thoughts.

“Stay” can mean “capacity for endurance.”

Staying power, if you will.

This jumped out at me because, in the midst of the soul-crushing trauma of the year 2020, I need such a capacity for endurance.

My capacity for endurance – my staying power – felt very thin and weak as I began my staycation.

I was burned out.

Sadness

On the Friday night of my unplug-from-work-and-the-world staycation, the world shifted.

There was no fire at work, but a sudden inferno in the world.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

I plugged back into the world.

I read the news stories.

I scrolled through Twitter.

I did my best to plug into the shared grief and mourning without getting sucked into the nearly-immediate political firestorm. (I only partly succeeded at this.)

Definition 2

A second entry on the Merriam Webster website also spoke to me this morning.

“Stay” can also mean “to stick or remain with (a race, a trial of endurance, etc.) to the end —usually used in the phrase stay the course.”

Go

It’s time to go back to work and the world.

It’s time to put my capacity for endurance to its intended use.

It’s time to stay the course.

Peacemaker

Horizontal window shade slats cast shadows on a wood panel wall.

The peacemaker reaches out

In all directions

Finding breaking points

And missed nuances

Seeking common ground

And knitting solutions

Transmitting information

Translating perspectives

Transforming – on good days –

Situations of discord and

Frayed relationships

Into forward movement

Of help to everyone.

The peacemaker stands exposed

To anger and resentment

From all directions

And often ends – on not-so-good days –

With nothing but a heavy heart

And a troubled soul

And no peace.