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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,
Robin

Do the Next Right Thing

One day, many years from now when I'm old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair and watching a sunset, I imagine that I'll reflect on my life. As I slowly rock, I'll remember specific phases that weren't enjoyable, yet taught me something valuable even though those lessons were hidden at the time and nothing made much sense.

That's where I am right now: fog is slowly lifting, but my vision isn't clear yet. I'd like to say that I've handled some recent struggles with maturity, grace, and unwavering faith, but that's not entirely true. I've had moments of maturity, small displays of grace, and mustard seeds of faith, but these highlights have been coupled with behind-the-scenes whining, crying, doubt, fear, prickliness, and other permutations of bad attitudes and sadness. (You know your struggle is real when every song on Christian radio -- even the unequivocally cheesy ones -- now cause you to cry ugly tears while driving to work because they're exactly what you need to hear.)

Let's all pause for a moment to say God bless my husband. He is such a good man.

All that being said, even in my clunky failures, of which there have been many this past month, I know to cling to Jesus. When I don't know what else to do, trusting God always is the next right thing. (Let's also acknowledge that your struggle is real when Anna's song in Frozen II where she bravely climbs out of a literal pit becomes one of your new life mantras.)

Do the next right thing. One next step, one next moment, one next choice. That's good advice.

For me, I recently took on a small project that looks insignificant on the surface, but turned out to be a "next right thing" for me in principle: I painted wooden blocks. These wooden blocks, to be exact.


Over the past month when I had an hour of free time, I've turned on music, laid out a flattened paper bag to prevent splattering my table, poured myself a Dr Pepper (which probably isn't the "next best choice" but felt right at the moment), and began the slow process of transforming those multi-colored children's blocks into something more mature, something quite heartfelt.

Let me tell you: this DIY project had moments of doubt, especially at the onset, just like most every DIY project I've completed. My expression looks serene in this photo, but my internal dialogue was yammering about how meaningless the activity was:

Why are you doing this? How many sides are on each one of these stupid blocks anyway? Six? Six whole sides? Are you serious that these blocks need three coats of white to cover them sufficiently? Three coats of paint on six sides? That's like, eighteen sides per block! And you've got dozens of blocks! Besides, you're not even painting the letters yet. You're not even to the point when you're touching up the gray on the white, or then touching up the white on the gray. This is going to take a stupidly large amount of time. Seriously, why are you doing this? 


But I'd do the next right thing. I'd slip on my unnecessarily frilly pink and white polka-dotted apron that I had been given at an event, then I'd dip my paintbrush onto my palette, and then I'd paint another side.

Block by block, I kept painting. My inner dialogue quieted. I'd sit calmly, focusing squarely on the task ahead of me. One by one, the blocks started to transform before my eyes. I finally reached a day when all of those "next right things" -- all those single paint strokes, all those single sides on every single block -- had transformed the entire batch.


And do you know what you can do with a collection of decorative DIY painted blocks? Honestly, not that much. You can spell words. But when you spell words, you can give yourself reminders to adjust your attitude in healthy ways:


You can write out messages to your spouse and children to declare that even in your imperfection, you'll remain by their side for the long haul, always:


Or, in case mental telepathy isn't working, you can even drop not-so-subtle hints about what you're really craving for dinner:

 

This slow, steady, and sometimes painstaking process of painting was unexpectedly therapeutic. Bit by bit over a course of weeks, the blocks changed before my eyes.

Bit by bit, situations change too. Transformation doesn't always happen suddenly. In fact, transformation most often is the byproduct of one next right thing, one next right step, and one next right choice, done again and again until there's a noticeable difference.

Thank God that He's in the long-haul transformation business with our lives and circumstances. I imagine that He's not concerned about how many touch-up strokes will be needed, or how many sides He has to cover, or how long the process will take until things look different. He already envisions a final product. He already knows that we will emerge different and better.

I started painting these blocks merely to kill time. Looking back, perhaps this is one of my favorite DIY projects to date.



When You're Hurting, This Will Help


My dear readers, I'm writing to inform you that I'm currently not having a mountaintop experience. In fact, in several ways I'm having a lie-on-the-basement-floor-of-life experience, and then realizing that my basement has a leak. And a mold problem. And a horrifying monster. Details are irrelevant, and my humor and faith are still intact, but it's sufficient to say that I'm currently in the weeds. (I realize I'm now mixing metaphors given that my leaky, moldy, monster-inhabited basement suddenly also has a weed problem -- deeply-rooted and dark weeds, nonetheless -- but you're smart and I trust you can make sense of things.)

I hope you're not in a similar life situation. At the same time, perhaps some of you are. Some of you might be deep in the trenches, and some of you might be crawling out of the trenches, and some of you might eventually be headed into them. Troubles in life are equal-opportunity, it appears.
 
Given this, I'm sharing several supportive thoughts that are helping me. I hope they help you, too.

1) Know that there's no shame in being human. This gets me every time. When I'm in a rough patch, I still feel like I should be able to instantly dust myself off and function well, rather than, say, cry through an entire church service, need extra sleep, and require time to process and heal. A friend recently shared, "You don't need to apologize for being human and having emotions," and yet that's exactly how I had started our conversation: "I'm sorry I'm a mess right now."

Being human means that we'll have messes and sometimes be messes. During those times, it's okay to ask for help, whether help comes in the form of a listening ear from a trusted friend, support from a counselor, or medical intervention to restore balance. It's brave and wise to seek help. Seeking help is a step toward healing. And while you're at it, it's also okay to cut yourself some slack and not be on top of your game.

There's no shame in being human. We all are. 

2) Finish sentences with "right now." In the midst of hard phases, those days or weeks when you wake and experience 30 seconds of grogginess before the crushing weight of problems collides with your consciousness, it's hard to remember that you won't always feel this broken. It's hard to remember that it's not permanent.

That's why we actively need to remind ourselves that our trials are temporary. This isn't glossing over heavy issues. This isn't making light of real problems. Rather, it's speaking life and perspective into those problems. It's acknowledging that the situation is bleak "right now," but then declaring that "right now" is not the final result. I'm taking great comfort from this profoundly encouraging video by Kristina Kuzmic:

"So here's a tip: add right now to whatever is frustrating you about parenting or life in general so that you're not putting a permanence on it. You're realizing that whatever is difficult right now doesn't have to be difficult forever. So, for example, 'I'm not getting enough sleep right now. My toddler is throwing daily tantrums right now. My teenager acts like he hates me right now. This divorce is so excruciatingly painful right now.'

This is right now. This is not forever. You are not stuck. A bad year or two or five doesn't equal a bad life. It equals a bad year or two or five. Hard parenting days won't last forever. Hard life days aren't permanent either.

It's not permanent. It's right now."

- Kristina Kuzmic

3) Name your blessings. When life looks bleak, it's easy to focus on what's wrong, creating a hall of mirrors that echos the tough predicaments and bounces pain again and again, creating an infinity loop of our troubles. This isn't good. One remedy is to pinpoint what's going right -- or, even more precisely, to identify one specific thing that has gone well today.

It doesn't need to be huge, but it's good to think about all the things that are, quite bluntly, not terrible. Today I'm thankful that I don't have a head cold. Today I'm grateful that the tech guy came into my classroom to fix the broken computer before my class session finished. Today when I took a walk, the one house far up the hill was burning its wood stove, and I breathed one of my favorite smells. Today I feel encouraged that the sun is shining. After multiple tries the past few days, today I finally spoke with a person -- not a machine -- at a doctor's office, and I'm one step closer to making that appointment.

These are all good things. Not everything is bad right now. Naming my blessings concretely reminds me that while many things are hard, many things are also working just as I'd like them to be working. This changed perspective changes so much. 

4) Look out for others, even in the midst of your turmoil. In the midst of our own pain, it's surprisingly healing to find a way to brighten someone else's day. Granted, sometimes we don't even have one extra millimeter of emotional bandwidth and we must attend to our own wounds, curl up in our beds, or protect our time and hearts. But it's also therapeutic to step out and help someone else who's careworn.

In the midst of my troubles, I don't want to forget that people around me are going through stuff, too. I have a friend facing a troubling health issue, and one whose store just shut down, and one who recently lost her father, and multiple folks who are in the thick of challenges with their kids ranging from behavioral problems, to severe food allergies, to learning disabilities, to bad choices, to stress and anxiety.

When I take my thoughts off my own hurts, I'm able to see their hurts. Then, even in my limited capacity, I'm able to offer something small -- if only a kind word, a whispered prayer, or a brief encouraging text. This habit, just like the "name my blessings" strategy above, takes my thoughts off of my own predicaments, even if momentarily. Please note that this isn't a callous exercise of self-flagellating to "suck-it-up-buttercup" or to suggest that because other people might have it worse than you, then your hurts don't matter. They do matter.

Rather, it's an exercise in compassion, and I notice that when I extend compassion and encouragement, it tends to bring me joy and hopefulness too. That helps.

5) Believe that comfort will come, and it'll expand your ability to offer comfort. The other day when I was really low, I simply had no strength to stand so I didn't even try. I wouldn't deem it an outright collapse, but it certainly was a crumple. I hit the floor and cried until tears no longer flowed, until I was empty and rung out. From that low place, both figuratively and physically, I felt God speak directly to me with this thought: "When you survive this, you're going to have a greater capacity to minister to people who are going through something similar."

These wounds? They'll eventually heal into scars. And those scars? Well, I'll be able to point to them, show others, and say, "I once wondered if a wound this deep would ever heal, but look at how it's healed. I'm not hurting or broken anymore. If this healing happened to me, it can happen to you, too."

One of the promises I treasure from the Bible appears in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and states, "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."

It's beautiful to think on this. These hurts we experience? They're not for nothing. Not only will we be consoled, but when we encounter someone else who's troubled, we'll have the capacity to extend the comfort we've already received.

6) Stand on a firm foundation. The more life I live, the more I know -- not merely cognitively, but experientially -- that when I hit rock bottom, Jesus is there. And landing on Jesus is the firmest foundation I could possibly land on. Even though we might feel like we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God Almighty is with us. Right now, I'm reflecting daily on the qualities of God -- how he is a healer, a deliverer, and a counselor. How he is the Prince of Peace. How he's an ever-present help in times of trouble.

I need God to show up in my heart and circumstances now, and ever faithful, he's showing up. When everything around me is shaky, Jesus remains a firm foundation.


Friends, I hope your days currently are filled with more joys than troubles and that everything I've written seems distant for you. If that's the case, I'm delighted. But if you, like me, are struggling, consider this post as a sincere hug. (If only I could somehow get you chocolate, too!)

As many times as needed, repeat these statements to yourself until they become as real and vivid as your pain and circumstances: "I am human, and that's okay. These troubles are right now, not permanent. Even in the midst of pain, many things are still going well. I will be comforted, and I'll eventually use that comfort to help others. None of this will be wasted. And, without a shadow of a doubt, God is walking with me -- daresay, carrying me -- every step."

Rest assured, I'm going to be okay. You are too.

_____________________________

I rarely end posts this way, but if today's blog encouraged you, I invite you to share it widely. If you have a friend who's hurting, would you pass it along to them? And if you'd like to connect with me, please reach out to me at my Robin Kramer Writes Facebook page.  ♥

Going Through Stuff

It hasn't escaped my notice that people who are alive are going through stuff. And when I say stuff, I mean hard stuff, the kind of stuff that takes the wind out of our sails, or keeps us up at night, or, in most acute forms, causes us to double over and cry until we feel hollow and limp inside.

These precious, hurting souls still have to function in their daily lives. They still have to report to work, take care of responsibilities, fold laundry, make meals, and put one foot ahead of the other even when they're experiencing the pain of a divorce, the uncertainty of waiting for a biopsy result, the heartache of a child who's gone prodigal, the sting of rejection, the terrible burden of depression, the acute emptiness after losing a loved one, or the waves of panic and anxiety that roll through their heads and hearts, unbidden and unwelcome. When these dark nights of the soul happen to us (as they sometimes do) we realize that doing something "simple," even stepping out to get groceries, can be a herculean feat.

It makes me want to show all the kindness in the world to those around me. When looking at someone's outside, we can't automatically discern what's going on with them inside. And, Lord-have-mercy, we all hit periods when we need softness and grace from others. We all have times when we're members of the walking wounded and we plod through days with hearts that are confused, breaking, and raw. We all have times when our best prayers look something like this:


Today if you're hurting, know that I'm praying for you. May God comfort you. And if you're feeling well, rejoice!

Everyone, eventually, goes through stuff. So let's be good to each other out there today.

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