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One Way to Look at Mother's Day

The other evening I dropped off a small gift at a friend's house. Her whole family, including her 15-year-old son, came to the door during my visit. Later that evening she shared that when an electrician had come to fix their stove earlier, her son anxiously had locked himself in his room, but he stayed the whole time to talk with me. When she asked him why, he replied, "I just love Mrs. Kramer. I'd risk coronavirus to see her."

I texted back immediately, "That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me!"

Then I read her text aloud to my kids, not just once, but twice, because I wanted to remind them that some people actually like me.

Moms, on this Mother's Day if you're locked in a house with your kids who may or may not be welcoming your continual presence, rest assured. Some other kid living in some other house still likes to talk with you.

Happy Mother's Day!

Why We Need Support Systems

It's a dreary day, and I'm sitting in my bedroom wearing leggings, a gray tee shirt, and an oversized nubby olive green cardigan that might be cute or might make me look homeless, I'm not sure which. I feel as inspired as an empty paper bag. I never intended to become a lackluster once-a-month blogger after a decade of consistent writing, but in addition to feeling the general uncertainties of quarantine these past few months, I've also faced several painful personal and family struggles.

Some are too close to home to share. Others, like one of my daughters being diagnosed in January with a complicated ongoing health problem, are a little easier to disclose.

Regardless of specifics, I haven't written much lately because I'm sad and exhausted. I submitted semester grades earlier this week, which finally placed a period at the end of this strange "emergency remote" semester of teaching. There was no sense of accomplishment or relief, though. I simply felt numb, especially since I have a little over a week to prepare two new online summer classes and start again.

Despite these legitimate challenges, I've still felt like I should be doing more or better. I should stop my children from watching eight hours of television on a school day, for example, and I should put my foot down more firmly when somebody eats potato chips for breakfast. I should do more art projects with the girls in between my Zoom classes and online grading. I should be more intentional in contributing to their educational, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

But who am I kidding? This morning I stayed in bed until nearly 10 A.M. after being awake until nearly 4 at night. I drank a large McDonalds sweet tea for breakfast, and well, you already know how motivated I am to dress well. I'm not at my best (who is, really?), and I don't feel capable of consistently helping others be their best now, either.

And that confession reminds me of a certain tree. Let me explain.

On campus (which, you know, is a place I used to regularly visit to teach groups of college-aged people in real classrooms) there's a gorgeous sprawling tree. Beyond the massive size, its most defining characteristics are the wooden props that support its extended limbs.

I'm no arborist, but I don't think a tree reaches this magnificent status unless it has external props. I don't think a tree can extend its reach quite this far without strategic support.

These wooden props are there for a reason: they prevent the tree from sagging and snapping under the heavy burden of aged limbs. In our own lives, different forms of support are there for a reason, too: we're not strong enough to carry some weights on our own. Certain burdens are too heavy for us to bear alone.

I'm not sure what you're personally enduring right now. Maybe you or a loved one has been physically ill. Maybe you've lost reliable income. Maybe you're scared, bored, careworn, unable to muster cheer, or have no desire to do science projects with your kids. Maybe you're emotionally unhinged, binge eating, and barely sleeping. Maybe you stare out your window while you brush your teeth each morning, wondering if you'll ever have a normal day again. Maybe quarantine has triggered a long-standing battle with mental illness, or maybe you've experienced serious depression or anxiety for the first time.

You need support to help you bear those burdens.

Maybe it's the opposite. Perhaps you love the extra time at home, and you now bake your own bread and knit your own socks. Maybe your closets are cleaner. Maybe your family is thriving with regular game nights, devotions, foreign-language acquisition, and increased cardiovascular fitness. Maybe you joyfully welcomed a pandemic puppy into your home. (That's a thing, I think.)

Your energy can help you bear other's burdens.

Maybe you straddle both of these worlds: making the best of things one moment and feeling like you're falling apart the next. I text my friends curated compilations of funny memes, then curl up on the couch, utterly despondent. I laugh, then abruptly cry, at every episode of John Krasinski's Some Good News. Most days after waking, I take 20 minutes (sometimes 30) before I muster the desire to climb out out of bed. 

Yet, in my lowest moments, friends come beside me, like sturdy wooden props under tree branches, and hold me up when I want to melt into the floor and stay there indefinitely like a slug. I think of how family has prayed for me, propping up my weary limbs.

Some days, we are the props for others. Other days, we need to be propped.

Anne Lamott once wrote, "The more I think about it, the only reason various societies work is because we’re not all depressed at the same time.” This seems true. We're strong for others when needed, and others are strong for us when needed. We're all part of support systems. Sometimes we support, and other times we're supported. I imagine that's by design.

I think of Moses watching a great battle with his arms outstretched, and how Aaron and Hur, one on each side, came to prop his arms aloft when he grew fatigued. That's how the battle was won. Two people served as strategic props. They carried the weight that Moses couldn't carry himself. They lifted his arms when he no longer could lift them on his own.

If you need support right now, there's no shame. I'm right there with you. Find that support. Lean into it. Let others bear some of that weight until you can get your footing again. And if you're offering support to others right now, well, you're amazing. You're like those essential wooden props. Your very presence is keeping people from sagging and splitting apart. And if you spend these infinitely long quarantine days toggling back and forth between being a "prop" and needing to be "propped," I think you're extremely normal.

Trees aren't the only things that need support systems. We all need support.


Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you.
Psalm 55:22

Keep Calm. Sunday Is On Its Way.

If you didn't know the end of the story, I imagine those days from Good Friday to Easter morning must have been unendurable. There was the obvious horror of the crucifixion, of course, followed by the creeping terror of hopelessness. Sunday was on its way, but the disciples didn't know that. 

I sense that some of us might feel like we're living between Good Friday and Easter morning right now. Perhaps we're facing an obvious horror, something that's too terrible for words. Maybe we're sagging under the weight of discouragement. Perhaps we're just tired and bored and unmotivated and apathetic and irritated and fatigued with social-distancing, home-sheltering, and remote-everything-ing, feeling all kinds of weird feelings because our lives, as we knew them, have been flipped upside down, and it seems like nothing, ever, will get any better (even though the memes have been pretty excellent recently).

But Sunday is on its way. Those middle days of waiting and weirdness, this holding pattern of confusion and quarantine? Those times when problems seem impossible and answers doesn't seem visible? Those darkest circumstances when it feels like dawn will never break with some relief and light?

Those are the middle days. They're not the end of these stories.

Keep calm. Jesus is reminding us that Sunday is on its way.

Let's Chat. From a safe distance, of course.

It's safe to assume that The Virus That Shall Not Be Named has flipped your world upside down these past few weeks. Given this, let's sit and chat (from a socially-appropriate distance, that is) because, people, life is unprecedentedly weird right now.

Go ahead. Grab yourself a nice beverage and settle into something friendly and familiar.

I am now teaching my college classes online. Last week I converted my courses to online modules and synchronous video meetings. I'm brand new to online instruction, but so far, it's gone well enough.

I'm learning a great deal, including, but not limited to, how haggard I appear on live video (do I look this way generally, I wonder?), and how any given class session -- like most of regular life now -- feels like a bizarre dream sequence that's being narrated by a child:

One day last week I was teaching a class, but all of my students appeared on screens. And some of my students were in their bedrooms! One girl's room had bright blue walls, and one student was covered by a blanket, and another student was petting her cat while we talked. A real cat! Then one kid coughed and we all noticed him because his video screen was highlighted. At one point I remembered that I wasn't even wearing shoes. And then I stopped the meeting and everyone instantly disappeared. The end.

At least my new commute is short. From my bed to my new workspace, it's one step. Maybe one and a half if I'm dragging my feet. That's all it takes. Let's do this.

That brilliant idea to sell Girl Scout cookies to my students. Several weeks ago, I asked one of my classes if they'd like to buy Girl Scout cookies, and hoo boy, did they ever! I explained that I'd deliver all the cookies -- and collect the $310 dollars they owed me -- when we returned from Spring Break.

Sigh. Rookie mistake. I honestly hadn't anticipated the escalation of a global pandemic so we would never return from Spring Break. But in good news, I now have 77 unclaimed boxes of cookies and all the time in the world to sit in the confines of my own house, so this can't possibly end badly, right?

I can't sort my email inbox. And I can't handle much social media. Information overload is real. I haven't been able to fully process the dozens of updates and resources on teaching listservs that I receive daily. Couple this with my children's individual teachers and administrators each emailing about their individual plans for remote learning, and then log onto social media to see too many ways that too many people are organizing their new lives at home, which is an interesting continuum of rigid schedules, or looser schedules, or no schedules at all for those feeling free-spirited or rebellious, I can't tell which.

It's all too much. It makes me want to shut down, rocking slightly and thinking about those 77 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Then I remember that I don't have to do everything that every other college professor is doing, and I don't have to model my household schedule off of another household's schedule, and that we're each going to muddle through this as well as possible, given our own circumstances, constraints, and temperaments. And that's okay.

This is weird. We're all charting new courses. Our email inboxes and social media streams are going to reflect that, so if you  -- like me -- need to back away for the sake of mental health, so be it.

Part of me loves not going anywhere. I mean, I like people -- well, most people. I have a career that hinges on socializing. I don't fear public speaking. All that being said, I'm an introvert. I'm filled up by spending time alone. So if you asked me if I'd like to spend a week with some good books and without having to engage with anyone outside of my house, I'm not troubled.

In some bizarre way, it's like I've been preparing for this opportunity my whole life. Introverts unite! But do so quietly, and from a distance.

Another part of me knows I need a daily walk. Have you been ending your days with bad headaches, too? Every night, I need to take Tylenol to combat the throbbing, which likely is induced by much more screen time than normal. My regular exercise schedule is disrupted, and I haven't been disciplined enough to do any legitimate online workout, but I still can walk.

This has helped me. It doesn't need to be far -- maybe just a mile loop -- or perhaps it will be quite far, like the day I spent over two hours on a path on a local mountain. Either way, nature calms, quiets, restores, and refreshes. Daresay, we can all use that right now.

I read these verses yesterday, and I loved them so much I put them on my refrigerator. Maybe they'll speak to your heart today, too.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour our your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

No chat is really a chat unless the other person talks, too. I'd love if this went beyond a monologue. How are YOU holding up? Is your life like a weird dream sequence? Have you eaten through all your snacks already? Do you have a favorite quarantine meme? Much more importantly, are you healthy? Are you well? I sure hope so.

I'd love to know. Drop me a comment and tell me about it, my dear readers.

Together in isolation,
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