Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Nothing" Means A Lot


Currently, my "office" space is comprised of the end of our couch, a plant stand with a basket of desk supplies on top of it (wedged in between the arm of the couch and the wall), and the area surrounding the plant stand and an end table that sits near the end of the couch. Needless to say, it's a lot less space than the office where I usually do campus ministry and the office I've recently acquired on campus, for the one course I've been teaching.

As I sat on the end of the couch recently--the space where I spend my morning devotion time, where I sit and scroll through social media, where I read and write and watch TV, where I hold Zoom and Facebook Live ministry events--in a particular moment, I took note of the kitsch spread out on top of the end table, and noticed something kind of peculiar. Whenever I am not sharing the space with the cat, so he can look out the window (knocking down as many things as possible as he sits there), 2 little plaques are displayed, and recently, I've been leaving a note card from my sister there, too. All three of these happen to have something in common: the quotations on them include the word "nothing." There's this from Jane Austen: "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." And this from Maya Angelou: "Nothing can dim the light that shines from within." And recently, this scripture verse: "for with God, nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37).

Now, first, the inclusion of "nothing" in all of those statements reminded me of all the times I've read students' essays this semester that talk about "everyone" and "no one" and all the other over-generalizations that young writers are prone to use. (Did you know that all "older" people are opposed to tattoos and unusual hair coloring? Also, everyone of a certain age is under pressure to post everything they do on social media; were you aware of this?!) It struck me as ironic that I've populated my own "inspirational spot" with a trove of (over?)generalized quotations. Are they true? Are they overstatements? Do they have any accuracy? (The writing instructor in me need to consider the ethos of these claims!)

Well, maybe these comments weren't intended to hold up against this kind of scrutiny, and that's OK. In this moment, I think what they all have in common is that, ironically enough, that little word "nothing" actually opens up a crack in the dull hopelessness that creeps in about 11:00 each morning (if not before). If it's true that there is "nothing like staying at home for real comfort," maybe it's OK that I can't be at either of my offices and see any of my students in person. If it's true that "nothing can dim the light that shines from within," then maybe what I'm doing here isn't a complete waste of space and time and energy. Maybe, even though I'm not physically saving lives on the front line of this pandemic, there's some kind of light that I'm shining to make the world a better place, anyway. You see, it's easy to feel like whatever I am doing--and some days, it feels like I'm "doing" precious little, other than keeping my children from killing each other--is just not that important. But a little "nothing" reminds me that whatever I manage to do just could be brightening up a darkness in someone else's life that I don't even realize.

Of course, that last quotation I mentioned, the Bible verse, means something deeper than Jane Austen's statement and a little bit more specific than Maya Angelou's. "For with God, nothing shall be impossible." This "nothing" should be rooting me right now. When I think of the suffering others are experiencing, when I see the unemployment numbers each week, when I read about the dead and the injustices being perpetrated in this country, even amidst the pandemic (#BREONNATAYLOR #SAYHERNAME), things seem pretty dang dark. I don't know or understand all of what God is up to, but it doesn't exactly seem like enough, to me. I pray for the same things day in and day out, and they don't seem like enough. Nothing seems to change. In some moments, nothing seems possible.

But "for with God, nothing shall be impossible." I should be expectant with hope that there is possibility for healing, wholeness, and justice--even when that's not what it looks like, right now. I should be reminded that the things that have seemed unlikely, unreasonable, and even out of the realm of possibility have been happening, from the beginning even until now. After all, this statement, as quoted from the gospel of Luke, was made to a young girl who was about to become pregnant out of wedlock with the baby who would be the Savior of the world. I guess if she could put her faith in it, so can I. Sometimes "nothing" means a lot!

Monday, May 4, 2020

It's Monday Morning. I Already Messed Up.

I started writing more blog posts a couple weeks ago, to give myself something to do, other than scroll through social media and get dragged in to conversations that are better left alone. I was trying to do something that would be positive, rather than stay stuck in the negativity that this time so easily breeds.

Today, before 8 a.m. on a Monday, I had already failed. Rather than thinking about and writing something positive on this blog, I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, found a post I disagreed with, commented on it, then congratulated myself on my superior intelligence and critical thinking. Not surprisingly, I highly doubt that person will be reading what I post on my blog now. Why would they? Was what I said necessary? Was it charitable? Was it how I should be spending my time and data usage?

The short answer to those questions is definitely "no." And I could easily allow that to turn a pandemic Monday into a manic Monday and hate all the things I do that annoy me (imagine what else annoys everyone else, too!). But I'm not going to. I said what I said. It wasn't the nicest thing, though it could have been much worse. I'm not going to engage further. And I'm going to move forward. Just because I messed up at 8 a.m. on Monday doesn't mean 8:01 a.m. couldn't be better. I am determined to make the rest of the day better. It can only go up from here, right?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Care Comes in Packages

Do you remember that book about 5 love languages? I read part of it, or did a workbook related to it in a small group, or something like that, but anyway, it said one of my love languages is giving gifts. I don't know how much else about that book is accurate, but this much is true: I like to give people things. This proclivity is not without its hazards, especially when you have limited resources...

Anyway, today I am celebrating that part of my job--my calling, actually--involves giving people stuff. Usually at this time of year, I'm about to go buy a bunch of snacks and goodies for students, and prepare to make pancakes on a Tuesday night, and figure out how we'll celebrate our graduating students. This year, the pancakes only happen with my family. There won't be a spa night with pictures of pretty awful-looking facial masks. I won't buy a cake twice the size of what we need, in an effort to make sure we have plenty for all the partying we will do for our last week together. This year, I will entrust the "EIU alumni" mugs to the Postal Service, for safe delivery to our graduating students, instead of handing them out myself. It's a bit of a bummer.

But still, what I can do right now is send my students stuff to remind them that they are loved, to give them a break from the stress of the end of the semester, and to make their day a little brighter. I am thankful that I can send them stuff because of the support and care of all sorts of people who give money to churches that support EIU Wesley Foundation and who give money directly to EIU Wesley Foundation. Care comes in packages right now. And that is fine with me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

On Being Hopeful

Yesterday was a horrible day. Let me qualify that: I did not fight to save anyone's life, watch anyone die, suffer any horrible pain, or say goodbye to a loved one, so I understand that my "horrible day" pales in comparison with that of so many other people's day.

Still, both children ended Sunday pretty badly, and Monday morning started with attitude from the 8-year-old and the 4-year-old's super power--being impervious to his parents' requests/directives--in full swing. At some point in the afternoon, I abandoned the children entirely into the care of their father and spent over an hour organizing my beads and jewelery-making supplies...not because I planned to use them, per se, but because doing that seemed no less futile than anything else that actually rightfully demanded my time or attention.

Needless to say, today showed up needing a new infusion of hope and positivity, perhaps like no day quite had needed it before. During breakfast, it occurred to me that our dog exhibits the most enduring hope of anyone in our household, even in the least likely circumstances. Now, it's true that most of the time she is intensely hoping that the 4-year-old will drop his food, or that one of us adults will toss her a forbidden bite of human food goodness. Her hope is far less complex or deep than what I am working on regularly. But still, I suppose it doesn't hurt to see how she hopes, then aspire to something like that: hope that arrives with each new day, each new meal, each potential pat on the head (well, maybe not that last one). Where are you finding hope today?

Monday, April 27, 2020

On Productivity

Let me just say a few words about productivity. I've been hearing a lot about it recently. There's a million tips out there for how to be productive if you're working from home right now. There seems to be a line of thinking that if you are working from home right now, you have a whole lot of free time and should also be learning a new skill or otherwise improving yourself. Then there are those of us who have about twice as much to do, now that we're working from home. And I know plenty of people who can't work from home, and many who are working even harder at their away-from-home jobs right now.

So, yeah, here's what I think about all this conversation about productivity: you do what you have to or are able to do, and I will do what I'm able to, and maybe we can quit trying to tell each other how we're supposed to be doing this thing that none of us have ever dealt with before.

Oh, and I made myself some earrings yesterday because being creative feels like a better thing than trying to be productive all the time.

I wonder what it would be like if we could talk about how to "be" more and how to "do" less. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Learning to Be Loved

Last night, I was part of a wonderful conversation about vocational discernment, led by Grant Swanson of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Now, honestly, I'm at a point where I can really get into talking about vocational discernment because I am at a good place right now. Working in campus ministry has been a goal for a long time and, while I am certainly by no means perfect at what I do, I feel like I am in a place where God has been calling me to be for a long time. It is amazing to feel this way! For years, though, I knew the frustration and pain of feeling like I kind of knew where God wanted me to be, but I didn't have any idea how I would ever get there. Suffice it to say, I know the joy and trial that vocational discernment can be!

We worked on 4 different questions during this conversation, and the first one was to determine a 6-word personal mission statement. If you know much about me, you know that I have a B.A. and an M.A. in English, and that I rarely ever say things in as few words as possible! Telling the "short version" of a story is a pretty foreign concept to me! How can I say anything in only 6 words???? Well, I did, though. I did what I was told to do (because I am also a rule follower), and this is what I came up with: "Learning to be loved by God." It seems kind of incomplete--because 6 words is not a lot of words!--but it is also a truth that I've been working on for some time. It probably sounds weird: how does someone learn to be loved by someone else?? It seems kind of like a basic recognition that I am missing: why can't this person who espouses God's love for all people just know that she is also loved by God? Well, I'd rather not get into all of the answers to that question right now. If you read very far down this blog, you'll probably find some answers. What I want to say is that I think this has always been one of my greatest challenges, and right now, when everything has been turned upside-down, it's even more essential. I cannot do everything I would normally do. There are days I feel like I am failing at both paid jobs I have and all the other "jobs" I try to do on a daily basis right now. And when I get that way, everything feels like it's going to fall apart and maybe I am just a waste of space. So, from here on out, now that I have identified this mission statement, I'm going to pursue it with all I am. I may never be perfect at anything, but maybe I can stop trying for that and start living more like I'm loved. After all, learning how deeply one is loved loved may just be a key to learning to love others more deeply.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Looking for Hope

One of the most difficult parts of this pandemic for me is the prohibition against being with other people. While I am so thankful that I have a home and a family and jobs that allow me to work from home, I miss being able to gather with other people for worship and socialization. (Even though I'm an introvert, I do enjoy being with other people sometimes!!) I highly value community, and I am missing that a lot. Online meetings are good, and the best we can do right now, but I miss being in the physical presence of others.

But there's something going on that makes me feel better and reminds me that community still happens, even if it doesn't look like what I'm used to. I have no idea where this started, but I am loving the hearts that people are putting up in their windows. It makes me feel like we might all be connected, even from our own separate spaces. Even though I don't know the people who live in these houses, I am thankful that they would tape up paper hearts in their windows, that they would reach out to the rest of the world in this little way. It gives me hope. It makes me feel like we are together, even though we're apart right now.


How are you finding hope right now?