Keep Your Distance

I’ve been impressed with the way the media has embraced social distancing.

John was flipping through channels to catch some early morning news and came upon ESPN. (With no sports whatsoever they’re making big deals of trades. Sports with words only.) What was notable was how only one person was in the studio. On a show that typically has three men and/or women giving their opinions about current sports, all three were in different locations.

With the news going overboard on how to do life during this pandemic, it was nice to see people making necessary adjustments to approach every day living with an intent to help put an end to this thing.

COVID19 has taken me off my game. As an extrovert who is an inveterate hugger, I’m finding it challenging to show good friends how great it is to see them. Of course, the fact that I’m not seeing good friends because I’m sequestered at home doing my job virtually should free me from any anxiety about my behavior.

I miss the closeness.

I did have to go to the dentist a few days ago–I broke a tooth. I’m grateful for services that remain available even in these challenging times. The office had sent out an email to all patients that they were doing everything possible to keep up with the cleanliness and precautionary procedures to ensure the office was contaminate free.

I was heartened by their efforts but didn’t hesitate to go; I was tired of my tongue made raw from playing with the broken tooth.

I’ve known the office personnel there for years. They are wonderful people, good friends, and when I show up for an appointment, I typically give hugs all around. Anyone choosing to work in an office that focuses on the mouths of people should be considered a saint.

Everyone kept their distance.

As I stared into the masked face of the gal fixing my tooth, I asked if she felt safe. She wore gloves as she worked, but these are precautions the dentist makes all the time.

She didn’t feel safe so much as sad. Sad that this was how folks had to interact.

The coronavirus has pointed out an issue that has been growing for years. We may have physical closeness with others by virtue of crowds, but we are losing our ability to be close relationally with one another.

Social media has encouraged social distancing for quite a while. If everyone manages an image, how we want to be seen, who really gets to know us? Who do we allow in to ask us the hard questions?

If this global outbreak has proven anything it’s that we have not been created for isolation.

What’s fascinating is the number of families that are now forced to be together because there is nowhere else for them to go. Schools and many offices are closed. Familial connectedness is a reality.

So step close or stay away? Invite in or hold back?

God made us for relationships. To be encouraged by others as we seek to uplift those we care about.

How will you rethink connecting with others now?

After all, everybody needs somebody. Always.

 

Fear Makes Us Do Funny Things

I’ve washed the top several layers of skin off my hands.

Meetings have been canceled; group gatherings are scrapped.

The shelves are empty of toilet paper, water, wipes, and macaroni and cheese.

Here in Florida, it feels a little like preparation for a hurricane.

This is a different kind of bad. A unique kind of fear.

The coronavirus has changed the way we’re living life right now. Here in the U.S., we have the benefit of seeing how this illness has affected other areas of the world, and we’ve been fortunate to learn from the experience of others.

We’re not always good at applying what we know to be true.

Uncertainty causes all of us to react in ways that aren’t logical or thought through. Especially in America, we don’t want to be restricted. We don’t want others–especially those in authority–to tell us we can’t go here or we need to stay there. We are, after all, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It’s not brave to go against restrictions put in place by those who know what they’re talking about. That’s arrogant. There’s no freedom if people who could potentially harm others are allowed to do as they like. That’s callous and thoughtless.

I have the privilege of working with folks who run the gamut in age, from young 20’s on up into their 70’s. If I’m to respect all people, no matter their age or health, I need to realize how necessary those limitations are for the good of everyone. Having people disregard such constraints puts everyone at risk.

Am I happy about this? No. This messes with my plans for the next few months. Everything is more challenging. There is disappointment in many instances. Isley, one of my grands, is in the production of “The Wizard of Oz” the first weekend in April, and that will most likely get postponed or canceled. Not doing what they’d prepared for is disappointing.

John watched ESPN as they canceled March Madness, MLS, NBA, and various other sports activities. Some are only postponed. But for the seniors who would have played in their final season for the championship, this was disappointing.

Uncertainty is hard to deal with. We all long for control over some areas of our lives; that rarely happens the way we anticipate.

In an uncertain world, we have an unchanging God. One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We perceive life and respond as it affects us. God’s perception of all of life is complete; He knows everything, sees everything. Nothing is lost on Him.

Many will ask why He allows harsh things to happen like the coronavirus. If He’s a good God, why so much pain and out-of-control hysteria?

Because He’s not coercing anyone to follow Him. He invites us into His bigger picture, His grand presence. He forces Himself on no one. He allows us to make our decisions–free will is a reality.

And it’s messy.

Choosing to follow God in the midst of the harshness of life doesn’t guarantee freedom from illness or life working out as we want it.

He does guarantee peace.

And right now, that’s better than toilet paper.

 

 

Grand Intentions; Gargantuan Goofs

 

I didn’t mean for it to happen.

How many times in life have I said that?

We had family over for a celebration. The kids determined they would cook dinner. A sweet gift to me. I’d rather play.

The grands all wanted to go outside, so we trooped out back to see what trouble we could get into.

Our neighbor on one side has river rock along their walkway. The littles thought throwing rocks would be a wonderful activity because watching them plop and ripple is fun. I calmly explained that would require us throwing our neighbors’ rocks that they’d paid for into the water. Not a good idea.

We found dead branches near the pond, and it was quickly obvious that pitching little dead pieces of wood was even better than throwing rocks. And it didn’t cost anyone anything.

Well, that’s not totally true.

We pitched small twigs as long as we could find them by the dead bushes. They were the perfect size for small hands. There were bigger branches scattered around as well, and once the tiny twigs were gone, the boys began hurling the big ones into the pond like spears.

Before I knew it, the water was littered with twigs and branches. I knew it wasn’t good, but we all got called into dinner at that point.

And I forgot.

It’s funny how things I’m not comfortable with can be denied or forgotten so easily.

I was graciously reminded the next day that our pond is indeed real–a true spring-fed pond. Not a retention pond, like the majority of water bodies around us. And the mass of branches I inadvertently allowed the kids to throw into the water wasn’t good for the ecosystem.

It was the same feeling as a child getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar and trying to come up with an explanation of how it got there. I didn’t intend the mess to happen. But it did.

So much of what happens in life is the unintentional hurt of others. I’ve said things without thinking (I’m a verbal processor), acted on things I believed to be true, disrespected someone because I responded without knowing the context of a situation.

That doesn’t make me a bad person. Sometimes insensitive, occasionally thoughtless, often unobservant. But when someone offers feedback that is helpful in making me a better person, I need to receive it in the manner with which it was given–graciously.

Moses is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He was genuine and had no problem telling God he didn’t think he could do what God was asking him to do. He didn’t want divine feedback. When God painted a bigger picture of who He was, Moses realized the value and truth of what God had been saying to him.

God is patient with us. He will bring us to conviction when we choose something wrong–shame and blame aren’t from Him but from the enemy of our souls. His feedback is always true. Always helpful in our growth.

Kind of like a spring-fed pond freed of debris so it could flow as it was intended to do.

 

 

 

 

I Really Don’t Know Clouds At All*

Sitting on my porch, the quiet draped over me like a warm blanket softly covering my shoulders. The sun flitted through the clouds, like an old friend playing hide and seek. Or more like a young child who can’t stay hidden for long and jumps out yelling, “I’m here!”

I love sunshine and blue skies, but I’ve always had a penchant for clouds. Not total gray, where gloom feels heavy and no light shines through. Cottony cumulus clouds that morph into shapes. As kids, my sisters and brother and I would lay in our backyard and describe what shapes we saw floating above us. Being four very different kids, we never saw things the same way. Where I would see a duck flying, my brother might see a pirate ship and my sisters would see a dolphin and a bird in a nest. We’d try and point out why our view was the right one. “Can’t you see the wings?” “Those aren’t wings, those are masts!”

Perspective is individual, so affected by circumstances.

So much of how I saw things when I was younger depended on my mood. When I was feeling calm and peaceful, I was more likely to see whimsical images that made me smile. If I was hurting inside because of conflict with family or friends, I’d see darker depictions that matched my feelings.

The clouds I saw as I sat on my porch were fanciful: a flying mouse, a fish with arms, a winged horse.

It had been a good day.

As real as individual perspectives are, I rarely think about that truth when I have disagreements with someone. When I’m frustrated because another person won’t grasp the value of my way of thinking, I don’t consider where they’re coming from, how their day has been, what’s going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about.

I just get irritated.

So much of the time disagreements are merely misunderstandings. When someone says one thing but what is heard by the other is completely different. Rather than embrace our differences with interest, it’s so much easier to become reactive and critical of the position held by others.

It’s why having a God who listens to me, who knows my story better than I do and loves me without me having to become or do something to please Him is so freeing. He knows my brokenness affects the way I act and treat other people. He gets how my mess creates more mess for others. Such acceptance, love, and forgiveness have nothing to do with what I can provide for Him.

He chose to make me whole in His eyes through Jesus, who paid the price for my bad choices and miserable mistakes.

There’s deep security in knowing I’m loved and wanted.

Many struggle with faith conversations. We misunderstand each other and rather than talk, we become uncomfortable with our differences.

We’re like those clouds; our time here is brief, and then we’re gone.

What do we really need to know? That there is Someone out there who is greater and who is worth knowing?

How uncomfortable are you willing to be to ask the question?

 

*From the song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

Celebrate? Why?

photo courtesy of Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

“Dear Mrs. Dayle, I love you and I like you bringing treats to me and Charlie.”

I had a birthday recently, not something I’m all that crazy about. Birthdays are reminders that time keeps moving even when I long for it to slow down. But this little message made my day.

I’ve got a dear friend I meet with weekly, and we talk. Some would call it coaching; it’s really a delightful friendship with an old soul who is a lot younger than I am. She has four sons, six and under, and because we meet at her apartment, I’ve discovered a way to their hearts that makes my showing up fun rather than frustrating.

I bring them cookies. From Starbucks.

On my birthday, three-year-old Oliver wanted to celebrate me. They got me a gluten-free cake, made a delightful card, and visited me at the office to wish me a happy birthday.

I couldn’t have been more surprised or pleased. Celebrating with them was easy and fun. They were delighted that they could dazzle me with this sweet treat and their presence.

My teammates honored me and my birthday twin, also on the team, at lunch. We laughed, talked, and shared stories. They were compassionate and caring and said truly wonderful things about both of us.

Then it got deep. And I began to squirm.

It’s part of my story. It hit me why all these well-wishes were so hard to receive.

Growing up, I was the one who pushed the envelope. Always too far. I’ve been told my personality is a lot like my mother’s, and I managed to get under her skin way too quickly and consistently. My experience with attention became more negative; hiding from hurt became my norm.

I didn’t try to be rebellious. It just happened. The harder I tried to please her, the worse I made it.

As my friends pursued my evasiveness, I joked about being done with their kindness. Having had enough goodness for one birthday.

They didn’t let me get away with that. They pressed in, and I was able to say how being the center of attention was painful.

Some never get the chance to experience others celebrating them. Opportunity doesn’t present itself or there aren’t people who will choose to do it. There are others like me who love to celebrate people but would rather turn the focus of praise on anyone other than me.

Some are able to receive such encouragement and genuine compliments well. I envy their confidence.

The truth is, God celebrates each one of us. Being created in His image, His fingerprints are all over our lives, whether we choose to recognize them or not. He’s invested Himself in the character qualities we possess, in the ways we enjoy life, in the things we do well. But our doing has no effect on whether or not He celebrates who we are.

He delights in us because we are His. And if we choose to know Him, we will experience that delight completely.

We’re all worth celebrating. God says so.

Cake anyone?