The weather is finally getting warmer in Maryland. That means I’m looking forward to getting back on the water with my dogs! The thought of more memories along the bay, fills me with great hope as we head towards summer.
Hope—with a capital H and with a lowercase h—is so important for the human soul; it gives us meaning, purpose, and the ability to press on. It’s something I’ve simultaneously wrestled with a great deal, and clung to as my life preserver during impossible days and seasons.
Hope gives us meaning, purpose, and the ability to press on.
I think it’s safe to say everyone has experienced some type of crushed hope or disappointment during COVID-19. How do we cope when hope is lost?
One important step is to realize that our hope can get so intertwined with our expectations for life, especially in the postmodern word where we’ve been conditioned to believe that we can control every aspect of our life.
When we release our expectations (albeit a very difficult process), we can have a more grounded experience of hope. I love how Victor Frankl puts this in his must-read first-hand account of his experience as a concentration-camp survivor, “Man’s Search for Meaning”:
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”
COVID has upended so much that we all are being forced to recalibrate our hopes for the summer and fall. I have personal challenges—as I am sure you do—that are also allowing me to refocus on how to change myself since I cannot change the circumstance. It means I just need to loosely hold on to the hopes that I have: my time on the water this summer may not look exactly the same as last year because of an injury, but I will be okay (not sure about the dogs though!).
Ultimately, as a follower of Christ, I always have my capital-H hope to cling to—promises from his Word that I believe and know to be true. Even if every earthly hope is dashed, God is with me, loves me, and will not abandon me.
Even if every earthly hope is dashed, God is with me, loves me, and will not abandon me.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV
Spring brings reminders that life continually moves along.
And while COVID is still a threat, society is s l o w l y beginning to reopen and move along.
There is much “talk” [sadly, often in the form of angry shouting matches on social media] of getting “back to normal.” When we mean mitigating the virus, and recovering from the disastrous economic and social consequences of the near-shutdown of society for two months, this is a noble and necessary goal.
In reality, this crisis has revealed a great deal of challenges that have been lurking beneath the surface—or have just been ignored in plain sight—for a long time.
This has me thinking about a lot of things on both a personal, community, and public policy level. Of course, a balance for the practical and the idealistic is important! I’ve needed this reminder for myself – it’s okay to wish for the simple things in life pre-quarantine and at the same time desire social and economic change and justice. Both are valid!
Since coffee shops are where I do a lot of my work, and I love the simple pleasure of a latte, getting back to my favorite places is definitely at the top of the list for me!
Here are some of my reflections, hopes, and prayers for this strange season of life >>>
There are rumblings…things are changing People are grumbling…society rearranging I don’t want to get “back to normal” What is normal? What do we really want?
What have we learned? What have I learned? Will we waste the suffering Or let it change us—change me? Allow some good to come of the trials?
Will we let the busy life Be the band aid to our pain underneath? Or Will we tend to the wounds This time has revealed?
Will we tend to the wounds this time has revealed?
For me, I say goodbye to stress I want life without the hustle I say yes to work with purpose To life with boundaries and blessings
I want connection without the screen I want community without the discord I want purpose without the performance I want a future, released of my grip of expectations, Filled with God’s presence and plan
I want a future, released of my grip of expectations, filled with God’s presence and plan
How is it that a third of this year is already gone? 2020 has been one “for the books.” While its been very hard – for all of us – one thing I have enjoyed during this strange season is more time to read! My piles of books (and Kindle) are enjoying the extra attention, I think!
My goal is to make a monthly practice of sharing my three favorite books that I’ve read each month. Why? I enjoy writing about reading, I want to spread the joy of books with others, and I hope this will start a conversation and to get recommendations in return! Each month, I’ll choose a piece of fiction, a faith-based/theological work, and something from the category of psychology/sociology/history.
Without further ado, here are April’s picks!
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel lived up to all my expectations. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tale set in Europe during World War II that follows a young, blind, French girl named Marie-Laure who is evacuated with her father from Paris to Saint Malo along the French coast in June 1940. Her story is intertwined with a German orphan, Werner, who is sent to a special school because of his intellectual aptitude, and is ultimately drafted by the Nazi’s at age 16 for his electrical skills.
Doerr’s writing style is captivating and the reader can’t help but come to know and love the characters he has crafted. The vulnerable and sweet Marie-Laure. The eccentric, PTSD-suffering great-uncle Etienne. The maternal, precocious Jutta. And her brother, Werner, a sensitive, thoughtful boy, a dreamer, who “sees what other people don’t,” whose “soul glowed with some fundamental kindness,” caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with.
Of course this is a work of fiction, but one thing that struck me with this story, is thinking about all those caught up in World War II, or really any war, and the life-altering direction that ensues. Along with the death toll and the geopolitical consequences, there are the individual hopes and dreams dashed because of war. Once Marie-Laure and Werner meet in 1944 while Saint Malo is under siege, (sorry, no further spoilers beyond that!), Werner reflects on what life could be like were the war to go away:
“Could he, by some miracle, keep this going? Could they hide here until the war ends? … He would walk anywhere to make it happen, near anything; in a year or three years or ten, France and Germany would not mean what they meant now; they could leave the house and walk to a tourists’ restaurant and order a simple meal together and eat it in silence, the comfortable kind of silence lovers are supposed to share.”
But it’s not just the challenges of war that these characters face. Marie-Laure is born blind. During the siege and her rescue, Werner remarks on her bravery. She replies:
“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
Whether it is war, a pandemic, or a personal trial, we are all thrust into circumstances that are beyond our control. Our lives take an irreversible direction, and all we can do is adapt; to choose to keep on fighting and living. It may not seem brave, as Marie-Laure demurs, but it is – moving forward in disappointment and suffering is a quiet courage. And we are all called to it one day, one way or another.
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
“What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?”
This is the fundamental question posed by Tish Harrison Warren in her thought-provoking book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She relates our every day practices, such as making the bed, losing our keys, answering email, drinking tea, and sleeping to the life-giving liturgical practices of the church. She challenges the reader to allow God to work in and redeem every moment, especially the ordinary ones.
I really liked her chapter on the Sabbath and the importance of rest, particularly sleeping. At a stressful time when good sleep practices are even more important, I was challenged by her reflections to give my sleep up to God as an act of obedience:
“We learn to rest by practice, by routine, over time. This is true of our bodies, our minds, and our souls, which are always intertwined. About one third of our lives are spent in sleep. Through these collective years of rest, God is at work in us and in the world, redeeming, healing, and giving grace. Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good grace of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of our limits; it is also a joyful confession of God’s limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
This was a well-researched and worthwhile read. Cain provides a wealth of research and social commentary, critiquing the way our society – particularly American culture – overvalues the “extrovert ideal” and how much of our educational and workplace settings are organized around extroversion; when 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts.
I’ve long been aware of my own introversion, but Cain’s book gave new validity to my experience as a child, teenager, and adult. Furthermore, as an introvert, who can adapt into extroversion as needed, I found a lot of practical advice in this book – for both social life and work life. But her research was also very fascinating on the broader cultural implications for fostering flourishing for every person – no matter their temperament. I think it is a valuable read for extroverts as well, particularly if you are a leader, manager, teacher, or parent, to help understand the introverts you are shepherding.
My thoughts on Cain’s work in light of COVID and current events is the simple reflection that ALL humans NEED human connection. There are many broad brushstrokes that apply to the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, but each individual is also unique in what that looks like exactly. Understanding ourselves is key, and that can then help us reach a higher level of understanding of each other.
Her concluding chapter has some great insight, that’s geared towards introverts, but can apply to anyone:
“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply. Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.”
Well, bravo if you made it here to the end! This went longer than anticipated but there was too much to say about these excellent books – hence them being my favorite reads in April!
If you have any feedback – or recommendations for May – drop a comment below! 👇🏽
As April begins, hard times loom ahead, after what has already been a difficult few weeks. I’m lamenting and grieving this reality with all of you.
The simple saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” has me longing for the storms to be over and for the fullness of life and spring to return!
The veneer of how much we thought we controlled our life is gone. It’s hard, I’m right there with you, friends.
And yet it’s an opportunity to open ourselves to something more. To release. To take one day at a time – after all, we are not promised tomorrow.
The Serenity Prayer came to mind this morning. May it be a peaceful and grounding meditation for all of us in this challenging month ahead.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world As it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right If I surrender to His Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next. Amen.
Today is my sister’s birthday! Since she lives thousands of miles away in the Netherlands, we will be doing a social distancing-style celebration over Zoom.
Two years ago, we traveled to Italy for her 30th birthday, hiking along the coast and towns of Cinque Terre. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been!
Being separated from a loved one during this COVID-19 global pandemic stirs a lot of emotions. I’m leaning in to both the grief and the gratitude.
I’m grateful for: • birthdays • family (especially my sister today!) • memories • technology to keep us connected • traveling
I’m grieving: • social distance and isolation • our global suffering – health crisis, economic devastation, cancelled hopes, plans, events, and travel
I’m also longing for restoration and beauty during this time. Hard times like these, I think, reveal that our hearts are hoping for something more – for light in the darkness.
I know I’m longing to hop on a plane, visit my sister, and travel somewhere beautiful! Until that’s a reality, I’ll sit with my feelings, think of the memories and enjoy the pictures – and I hope you enjoy these snapshots too!
A few weeks ago I wrote a reflection and poem on longing for spring – and since then the world has turned upside down!
While our reality and circumstances have changed – our hearts are the same. We all have a deep longing for hope and beauty.
Several years ago, in the midst of a personal trial, I wandered the famous tulip gardens in the Netherlands on a trip visiting my sister. The abundance of beauty grounded me, lifting my heart and spirit. It’s an experience that I still draw on for peace and inspiration. (And I hope the pictures bring my readers joy too!)
While flowers are gracious gifts, they only last a season. In 1 Peter 1:24, Scripture reminds that flowers are temporary – “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
The beauty of nature, God’s creation, can provide hope, but our one true hope is the word of the Lord – God himself. His love and his presence are always with us. What a comfort that is during trying times!
Earlier in the first chapter of 1 Peter, Peter exhorts us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” As spring begins during a national and global crisis, I pray that the beauty and regeneration of the season also ushers in a new season of love for our neighbor!
Enjoy these photos from the Keukenhoff, the Netherlands!
It’s not your typical St. Patrick’s Day. Life has changed practically overnight for all of us. It’s a strange and hard reality.
There is fear, uncertainty, disappointment. Along with resolve, hope, and determination.
When the entire world finds itself in a battle, we must do everything we can to be wise and support one another to fight the COVID-19 virus. (–> CDC Guidelines).
And yet, times like these reveal the uncertainty of life and our need for greater strength beyond ourselves, for a truth that transcends all understanding, and a hope that we are never alone.
Written in the 5th century, St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer is exactly what I need today in 2020, and I hope it speaks to your soul as well.
Praying this for all my fellow humans today! Be wise and look to the source of all Wisdom.
Excerpts from St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer
I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. I arise today Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension
• • •
I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me
I summon today All these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
• • •
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.
March. Day one of a new month. When the calendar transitions from winter to spring, even if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Last year, on March 1, it was a surprise snow day!
No snow today, or even much at all this year…yet I have felt the weight of this winter season.
It’s been a long, dark winter.
Today, the sun shines but the bitter cold still bites
The days are getting longer but frigid gales still blow
The defrosting begins but a snow storm could threaten.
This season, this weather
It mirrors the winter of my soul
How do I survive?
How do I go on?
With hope that anchors the soul.
Spring will come again.
Birds will start to sing.
Buds will begin to bloom.
Bulbs buried deep in the earth will reappear.
Color and newness will emerge.
Life will begin again.
I feel the longing for spring, for newness, for the resurrection of creation deep in my soul. And yet it’s simply a reflection of the ultimate Resurrection – of Christ conquering death and the regeneration He offers all of us. May our yearning for spring point us to Him.
I fell behind in my reading this year; only 24 books compared to 2018’s 42! I suppose starting grad school accounted for the slow down!
Nevertheless, I finished some good ones this year. Here a a few of my favorites and quotes!
Fiction (plus based on true stories):
Beartown by Frederick Bachman – Like A Man Called Ove, very real characters draw you into this story. A failing industrial town is held together by hockey, and nearly ripped apart by an assault and tragedy.
We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – a fictionalized account of the true story of one Polish Jewish family that survived the Nazis. Through perseverance, faith, and a devotion to family, they survived atrocities and horrors that I could never dream of.
The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – another fictionalized account of a true story from World War II. The horrors of Auschwitz are all too real in this story, and yet the ability of many of the prisoners to retain their humanity despite the circumstances, is truly inspiring. In this story, love wins.
(I’m currently in the midst of two of my favorites for the year but won’t finish them before midnight – you’ll have to wait a year to find out!)
Anatomy of the Soul by Dr. Curt Thompson – I’m so grateful for the writings of Dr. Thompson. His insight into the human soul and how God has wired us as humans has been eye-opening and soul-enlarging for me.
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser – this is a book I had to take my time through, the entire year in fact. It is heavy and a lot to take in and it is one of the best I’ve read. The human condition is filled with loss, and Sittser knows it well – losing his mother, wife, and one young daughter instantly in a tragic car crash. Reading his reflections on loss, and how God works in us and through these times, was like sitting down with an old friend, and being known and understood. His guidance on facing our pain and darkness is loving and inspiring.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scarzerro – I loved this book and the lessons within on integrating our emotions with our spirituality. It’s truly beautiful to understand how God has created us as humans; when we understand how important every aspect of ourselves is, we can grow.
Politics and Prudence by Clark Forsythe – This was a realistic and yet hopeful reminder of the value of perseverance and prudence in policy and politics.
A new year lies ahead, with stacks of books surrounding me. I can’t wait to dive in!
We may be entering the futuristic year of 2020, but may we all rediscover the old-fashioned blessing and joy of a printed book.
In August, I started to notice the hints of change. There’s a magical little park I visit with my dogs, an estuary off of the Chesapeake Bay, where we hike and swim. Last month, I began to see a few leaves start to yellow. Then in September, flicks of red began to appear.
Lately, I’ve noticed the angle of the sun has shifted. It’s such an interesting aspect of the seasons changing – it’s amazing how much of a difference it can make in lighting and the way nature around us appears.
And yesterday, as I hiked through the woods, there was a distinct smell of autumn, of dried leaves started to decay. A warm breeze was blowing, as if an attempt to usher in more of fall.
Hints of change.
Glimpses of a new season.
I find so much peace and assurance in the changing of seasons. I love each one in its own way and find great joy in the passing of each season. There is peace and comfort in knowing what to expect – what to look forward to.
I often wish there was such certainty with the seasons of life. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what is coming or when?
Particularly in those very hard times, we want our circumstances, our season, to change. I know this full well.
And yet, what if we embraced the current season and all it had to teach us?
What if we trusted there was a purpose in every process?
We wouldn’t want to go from the lush green leaves of summer immediately to the fallen leaves of winter – we’d miss the array of colors in the autumn foliage.
And yet we can be on the lookout for the hints of change. We can trust that it is coming.
It may be a month, a year, or ten years, but it is coming. Our Lord watches over the sparrows, he most certainly watches over your life.
“But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.”
Our times are in his hands.
Embrace the current season, in all its beauty and messiness.
Be on the lookout for glimpses of the next season.
And trust that one day, there will be a season when all is made right.
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”