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If You Give a Woman a House Project During a Pandemic

The other evening I ended up on my roof. This wasn't because I was trying to escape my family members. Well, not exactly. No, I was on my roof because I made one decision: I chose to paint my front door.

It started so simply -- at least, after the deliberation between 30 paint chips, it started simply. I settled on a shade called Triumph Blue, bought a quart, laid down a drop cloth, taped off the doorknob and hardware, and then got to work. Two coats later, I stood on my front porch, head cocked to the side, uncertain. The new color wasn't terrible, but I wasn't yet convinced that Triumph Blue was entirely triumphant. Maybe it would be better titled Mildly Victorious Blue, or Perhaps Not Entirely a Failure Blue.

Something was throwing me off. Was it the sudden change after 14 years of looking at a classically red door? Was it the clash of the green painter's tape? Was the blue too bold? Too bright? Too light? Too something I couldn't put my finger on?

In this spirit of deep introspection, that's when I noticed our shutters. They were supposed to be black, but years of exposure to the elements had faded them to a washed-out gray. Maybe the contrast was off-kilter. Maybe the blue door would look better if the shutters were actually black, I mused.

That's how I ended up removing eighteen shutters from my house to spray paint them black. It's also how I ended up scrubbing the siding on my front porch because, without shutters, you discover a decade and a half's worth of filth. (And a wasp's nest, but that's another story involving a can of Raid and bad aim.) And that's when I noticed that the bench on our front porch, after enduring the removal of gunk and debris from the siding, also needed a fresh coat of paint.

Essentially, that's the full tale of how painting my front door led me to also paint a bench and eighteen shutters, wash my porch siding, kill a colony of wasps, and ultimately, end up on my roof. (Well, minus the part when I accidentally drove my car over one of the painted shutters that I didn't see laid on my driveway, had to Super Glue the cracked section of the shutter, and then accidentally glued my thumb and index finger together so I thought I'd live the rest of my life unintentionally flashing an "OK" signal to everyone I encountered.)

In other words, I'm relatively convinced that this project went as well as any house project could possibly go during 2020.

Disclaimer 1: Let me tell you, people: the newly-painted black shutters look terrific.

Disclaimer 2: The blue door is growing on me day by day. Triumph! (Perhaps this might also be due to the fact that I don't have any energy to repeat this process.)

Disclaimer 3: As you might have guessed, given my ability to type freely enough to compose this post, my fingers have been released from the snare of Super Glue.

Disclaimer 4: Upon further reflection, hiding from my family on my roof isn't actually a bad idea. I'm tucking this realization away.

Disclaimer 5: I might also paint a room. Please pray for me.

Let's Chat: But Wait, There's More!

Me approaching the blogging mic (tap, tap, tap): Is this thing still on?

My dear people, it's been too long since I've posted here. It's not as if I haven't wanted to write; I've simply experienced a few kinks. For one, my blog temporarily broke, requiring tech expertise that I, as a person who majored in English and Communications, do not possess. (Thank you, you frighteningly smart 22-year-old computer person who invested two hours to fix what would have taken me days, if not months or perhaps years, to still be unable to diagnose. It's a relief that people like you exist.)

Besides the technical difficulties, I haven't written for other reasons, some personal, some larger. From the global pandemic to terrible acts of racial discrimination, I've been unnerved by what's happening in our world. The past weeks have felt like a time when I should be still, listen, learn, and pray, not necessarily speak. But today, I'm hoping you'll sit with me a moment so we can talk.

Grab a cool beverage; it's a hot one! It's finally time for us to chat.

And Covid continues. I've never yet met anyone who thrives during periods of extended uncertainty. Personally, I'm not a fan of having a dozen questions for every answer. So, like the rest of the world, I process reports of Covid and mull over its complexities on physical health, mental health, education, childcare, the economy, social gatherings, family dynamics, and how its presence impacts nearly every decision (both large and small) that every single person makes any given day.

It's exhausting. Everyone is sharing this collective burden of concern, perhaps except for the folks who are surprisingly and irresponsibly unconcerned, but I won't fall into that rabbit hole here.

Who isn't asking hard questions right now? What will our jobs look like? What will school look like next year? How will families manage child care? What will happen if (or when) we revert to yellow or red phases? How will people recover from financial devastation? How is this impacting the morale of the younger generations? What about young adults who are attempting to launch their independent adult lives but can't get jobs? How will teachers navigate the nearly-impossible demands of teach in person and online simultaneously? Who's caring for the medical personnel who are on the front lines? What's the status on a viable vaccine? When will there be a semblance of normal again? Will there be normalcy again?

There are more questions than answers right now. It's uncomfortable.

Black Lives Matter. Since the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I've read heartbreaking accounts of past and present racism against black men and women. As painful as they are, we need to hear and carefully listen to these stories. We need to grieve over these stories. We need to talk with our children about these stories. (As I type, I realize that as a white woman, I'm privileged even in this. My husband and I can discuss racism with our daughters in age-appropriate ways. Black parents don't have that luxury of being delicate when their babies are going out into the world; they're forced to have extremely hard conversations too early.)

Because of my skin color -- which is something I had no choice over -- I'm not at risk of making a headline for getting shot while going on a run or being videotaped as an officer kneels on my neck while I plead for my life. Because I'm white, I'm not a target for microaggressions or suspicion when I do the most benign activities, like strolling along a sidewalk or browsing merchandise in a store. But black people are. I have dear black friends who I love, who I've worshiped with at church, who I meet at Wegmans to share dessert and chat about writing, whose babies I've held. I think about the dozens of young black men who my husband works with, these bright and strong student athletes who (pre-Covid) hung out at our house each week all summer long, sat on our back porch, played with my kids, and thanked me for my cooking.

So much needs to change to bring justice and healing: revisions of systemically-racist policies and practices, without a doubt, but also adjustments within individual hearts and collective consciousness. Heaven help us. God let our nation repent of this evil, and let there be change.

When I feel like losing hope. Crikey, these are hard times. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. For peace of mind, I avoid social media panic-scrolling (it's way too unsettling) while still continuing my practice of screen-shooting great memes and sending them to my friends. These are a few of my recent favorites:

Memes aside, during these past few months, I've struggled to laugh at the days to come. I've been tired, fearful, worried, and tense about all the unknowns. My mind has spiraled into overdrive as I vividly imagine worst-case scenarios for a multitude of issues, the most painful of which revolve around the well-being of my children. Certain days, my emotional status quo can best be described as low-grade dread. I distract myself periodically, but panic threatens to spill over at any moment.

This is why I run to Jesus. This is why I must keep running to Jesus, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. When my emotions go haywire and fear threatens to consume me, I remind myself that God is for me, not against me. I turn to the Book of Psalms, which I've heard described as the most tear-stained book of the Bible, and cling to the reassurance that others, like me, have come to God in the lowest of states. They've poured out their hearts and concerns, laying it all out on the table -- deepest worries, darkest despair, ugliest experiences of shame, and the heaviest burdens of discouragement.

It's all in there. When I read the psalms, I'm not alone. In every account of brokenness, where someone is weak in the knees from misery or bound by anxiety, we see God's response. And his response always reveals his protection, provision, and presence.

From the psalms I learn that "in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling" (Psalm 27), and "the Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped" (Psalm 28). I stand on the promise that "the Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace" (Psalm 29). I'm comforted that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," and I'm reassured because "a righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all" (Psalm 34).

I remember that I have to be active, too. We're told to "cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22). Each time I read this verse, I envision a fisherman casting out a line, not just once, but time and again, casting and re-casting, until the line doesn't come back empty. Then I picture myself casting each care on the Lord, flinging it away from myself, time and again. Later in the same psalm, I read, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." (I love the wording. It's not "if I am afraid," but rather "when I am afraid." The diction acknowledges that fear is normal and human.) 

What do I do when I'm afraid? I cast my cares and I trust in Him. I rely on God to be my strength, my shield, my help, my comforter, and my deliverer.

And, ten minutes later, when the pandemic cloud rolls in again and I feel crappy, or I worry about some new way that my kids will be permanently screwed up for life, or I envision a whole new set of undesirable outcomes to a whole new set of problems, I cycle through the process again.

It's not pretty, mind you. There's no serene still-shot of an angler's silhouette as dusk settles across placid water, like A River Runs Through It. No, it looks a lot like regular life, with me moving about the house, detonating landmines of of my daughters' pre-tween, tween, and teenage hormones and attitudes. I'm folding laundry, doing dishes, teaching online classes, noticing crumbs, spending two hours on the phone with the insurance company, and trying to knock out house projects. But, in the midst of it all, I'm casting and re-casting my cares.

Moment by moment, I come to God as I am. From that place of dependency, I repeat truths that are truer than what I see with my natural eyes: God gives me strength. He's close to me. He delivers me from my troubles. He blesses me with peace. When I don't feel any of it and I still worry, because that happens too, I remember that these problems are temporary: Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal.

My dear readers, as we wrap up this chat-from-a-distance-as-I-type-and-you-read, this is my prayer for you. In the midst of your real and messy days, with whatever problems loom over your head and hearts, I pray that you'll find help and hope in the hard times as you run to Jesus, again and again.

And if you happen to find any good memes, please send them my way, will you?

Thanks for visiting with me. In the days to come, I'll try not to be a stranger to the blog.


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 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
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