Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why THIS is so Hard

2001 was the year I graduated from college.  I'm gonna be honest, the fact that I'm turning 42 at the end of this year and that college graduation was 19 years ago, seems surreal.  

After college I came to Visalia for the summer and stayed with my dad and step mom.  I assisted the youth pastor at the church before heading to Colorado that August for a one-year Discipleship Training Program.  This was not the normal Bible training, because most of the experience was working as live-in help at a residential care facility for troubled teens.  

To say that it was a hard year is seriously an understatement.  Immediately, it was hard.  The training we received two weeks before moving into the house, couldn't come close to preparing me for what I was in for, but that could be said of getting married and having children as well.  We never know what something takes until we actually do it.  

My first moments on duty were hearing someone making noises in the bathroom and going in to find a girl had snuck in a razor blade and was cutting.  We definitely hit the ground running!  Each day we got Bible training while the teens were in school and we met with the on-staff counselors.  The beauty of that experience was, we had a plethora of encounters each day to offer up and get help on how to be better.  

It was also intense because we were on 24 hours a day, 6 and a half days a week.  You read that right.  We each got 12 hours off a week, that was it.  We were bound to the property, except for weekly trips to Costco, that a few got to go on each week, or any other outings that were part of the program.  

I always tell people it was experience that I wouldn't take out of my life, but I'd never do again.  It was hard on so many levels.  Being stuck in one place means you can't run from challenges or things you want to avoid.  I remember watching the daytime staff drive off one evening and wishing I could go too, being in the same place practically every day for a year was a intense.  The good news was, I wasn't alone.  We had plenty of interaction with everyone living there, care staff and residents, and I do feel like now, 19 years later, I'm connected with those people in a unique way, because we went through it together.  

I jokingly posted to those friends last week (I think it was last week) about how we should be experts in this COVID-19 quarantine because we've done this before.  Then I found myself leaving the grocery store in tears, because I remembered the hardship it was to lose your freedom.  I shouted out to God as I left the parking lot, "I told you, I didn't want to do this again!"

Yes, there is beauty in this shelter in place season, but comparing it to my year at Shelterwood has had me doing some soul searching into why it was so hard. Here are some of my thoughts and really some food for thought for us all as we navigate this challenging time.  

1. Loss of freedom - As Americans we can for the most part do whatever, whenever we want.  Yes, there are rules but when compared to other, less free, nations, they are fairly easy to live within and give us a lot of decision making ability.  So to be told to stay home and to cut ourselves off from the world, without any say in the matter, feels foreign.  It's a hard place to be.  Lack of control is challenging to say the least.  

2. Loss of interaction - I love the Holderness Family, and they said they hated the term "social distancing," because really its "physical distancing,"  we are still social online, and with those in our family, but we can't have physical interaction with people in our lives.  Nothing like a quarantine to show you just how many people you encounter everyday.  Hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, close conversations, lunches out, coffee dates are just some of the ways we engage with people, daily.  Obviously, the extroverts like myself, have a much greater list, but that human contact feeds an emotional need.  We aren't just physical beings, we have a soul and we have needs that go into the emotional and spiritual realm.  Losing some of that does affect us, maybe even more than we ever realized.  

3. Loss of time and purpose - Do you know what day or date it is today?  Being left without the schedule that marks our days and weeks, means it all meshing together and that can keep us from feeling anchored in our lives.  The difference with Shelterwood was that we were on our own compound and had a daily and weekly schedule.  I also knew when my time was up.  I signed a year contract and when times got tough, I could count down the length of time I had left or the time til my next 12 hour break.  With this current situation, we don't know how long this will go on.  Not knowing is hard because there is no way to build up the proper endurance to keep going.  Also, without tracking our weeks, we can lose a sense of purpose which can impact our emotional health.  

4. Loss of finances - Many families are living in uncertainty because they have no idea how they are going to make ends meet when neither spouse is working, or one spouse is working, or knowing how long they will be able to sustain their temporary solution.  Small businesses are being affected and that not only effects individuals, it affects us all.  Our communities, resources and emotional health are all affected in this financial problem.  

Did you notice, each item uses the word, "loss," that is because there is some grief involved in this process.  We are mourning the lives we had before the new norm of shelter in place.

So is that it?  

Are we just going to look at the problems and why this is so hard?  No.  So much of this is out of our control, but so much is in our control.  Understanding what we are feeling helps to identify the solutions.  Once we understand the issues at play, we can turn our focus onto what we can control.   

We need to be mindful of not only our needs, but the needs of others.  We have an opportunity to build community like never before.  We have a chance to think outside the box and build financial success in new ways.  We can create a calendar of activities and goals that we build into our weeks so that it isn't just some time dump with nothing but isolation.  We can embrace the people stuck with us or face the stuff we've been avoiding.  We can celebrate the slow down and refocus our goals and what truly matters.  

What thing have you wanted to do, try or change?  Where can you focus and build new habits or develop new skills?  What family members have you not talked to in awhile?  What are you doing to monitor your own emotional and physical health?  

You get to choose if you will give in to depression or put things in place to fight against it.  You get to choose if you will be more intentional with working out and caring for your body or giving into the snacking and gain more weight.  You get to choose if you will stay on autopilot with your parenting or get more involved in a real relationship.  

Yes, there is definitely a lot of suck with all of this, but there is also hidden blessings.  My year at Shelterwood brought passages of the Bible to new light.  I felt like the 2D words had 3D meaning in my life like never before.  Once again, I see that with our current situation.  I already mentioned that I felt more connected with the people that survived it alongside me, and I'm seeing more connection and less division online.  We needed that! 

Can you find the hidden blessings and go for the best experience?  Are you finding the depth of scripture like never before? I find asking God, "why," is not nearly as beneficial as asking him, "what now?"  

So that is my final question for you?  What now?  Take some time to think about what is the hardest part for you in all of this.  What can you learn about yourself and how can you move forward?  Will you make the most of this opportunity?  Only you can answer those questions. 

If you need someone to talk to, I'm hear.  Just reach out.  
Happy Wednesday! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What Will Your COVID-19 Story Be?

Hello friends, its safe to say life has changed drastically in a matter of minutes.  Our world is not the same as it was even a week ago.  I see a lot of information, panic, memes, and opinions all over the news and my social media feed and the one thing that seems clear - we will remember this.  

This strand of the coronavirus will come and go, but the public reaction, financial and political happenings will stay with this.  This time in history won't be forgotten.  The question is - what will your COVID-19 story be?  

Twenty, thirty, forty years from now when you retell your story of what happened and how you reacted, what will it be?  

Today, I was scrolling through the crazy and found a poignant post from a high school friend.  When I read her post, I asked if I could share because her answer is magnificent.  She agreed, so read with me the beautiful words of Laura Simon, then decide how you will respond.  God bless you all, if you need anything, please reach out.  I am here.  Take it away Laura...

On a beautiful, cloudless day in September of 2001, life as I knew it collapsed with two towers in New York. I was nearly 23, living in a brand-new apartment with a brand-new roommate, and student teaching for my final semester of school. (Yes, if you’re doing the math, I was doing the 4.5 year college plan. College was not my finest hour.)
One minute, life was beautiful and uncomplicated. Then my cooperating teacher pulled me aside, told me something terrible had happened, and sent me to the counseling office to watch live while she took charge of the eighth graders. It was a gift to me that I didn’t have to see that unfold with an audience of young eyes; I certainly wouldn’t have handled it well.

The following days very much resembled the ones we’re living in now. Crazy rumors led to runs on commodities that we feared would be in short supply. Instead of toilet paper, we lined up for miles to get gas. Gas stations sold out and shut down. We rushed to the grocery for non-perishable food. (In case you’re wondering, my provisions included cases of Dr. Pepper, M&M’s, Lucky Charms, and ramen noodles. Nothing else, really.) We were afraid to go to large, public places for fear that the terrorist next door (they were everywhere, we know) would target them. A rumor flew around that a large-scale attack was planned for malls nationwide. Schools felt vulnerable and many people kept their kids home. We were, quite literally, afraid to breathe, as if the air might be laced with explosives.

My roommate was housesitting for friends, which left me alone in our apartment, sprawled on the couch watching around-the-clock coverage of all the things we thought we knew. (As you can probably imagine, time revealed that much of that early reporting was completely inaccurate, but I didn’t have the perspective to realize it.) I didn’t even have cable, but I did have Dr. Pepper, which I consumed in abundance. The isolation was probably the worst thing that could have happened to me; lacking any good personal habits for dealing with anxiety, I watched, ate, and tried to find anything that would make me feel better.
It turned out that two things were quite helpful in doing just that. The first was shopping. As the fog lifted and things re-opened, the country began to realize that life probably would, actually, continue. The malls, desperate to lure in wary shoppers, offered deep discounts. Apparently, I am willing to risk death by suicide bomber if there’s a chance to score Express jeans for half price. A new wardrobe improved my mood remarkably, so I shopped often, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t getting paid for my student teaching gig. That’s why God invented credit cards, no?

The other opportunity that soothed that fear in my heart was happy hour at the TGI Friday’s right down the street with my new colleagues. Only it wasn’t really an hour – it was more like seven. For someone who’d rarely ever had a drink, that was a lot of alcohol. And all that alcohol masked the fact that my newfound community – which I desperately craved – wasn’t really what I was looking for. They were good people, but not on the path I wanted to be on. Still, it felt good to be with someone – anyone – in those early weeks, so I found a boyfriend in the happy hour crew and let the alcohol fix my misgivings.

Eventually I got rid of the boyfriend, and eventually I paid off the debt. Life went on, and offered me more personal 9/11’s. Each time, I flailed and writhed and grasped for anything to make me feel better. Each time – as it always does – life eventually moved on.

But the last one – just two years ago – finally changed me. That time, when my world bottomed out, I leaned in to God. Instead of binge-watching Friends, I walked the darkened halls of my house, opening my hurting heart to a father I barely knew. I read the actual Bible, and found a lot that I didn't know was in there. Friends – real friends – came alongside me and spoke truth. I found a counselor who was willing to ask the right questions, to look below the surface, to help me see things in myself I didn’t want to see. I begged God to fix things, and instead He opened my eyes. I was begging for a bandaid when I was bleeding out from a full-blown puncture wound. I didn’t know who He was or how He felt about me. The people I was trusting weren’t worthy of my trust. I was trying to earn what was freely given, and letting shame bully me into ignoring the truth.
God began to show me how to come to Him first, how to rest in what He was doing instead of fixing things myself. He began to show me that I can trust him, regardless of what people on earth decide to do. He began to rewrite my response to things that cause me anxiety.

And then last week happened. And this week. Every day, life as we knew it seems more and more impossible. If I let myself linger on social media, the bad news hits in regular waves. Just like 2001, the future we imagined seems gone forever. And just like 2001, my body is riding waves of anxiety. My appetite is gone. I’m tempted to stare at my phone all day. Sometimes my body just shakes. All day long, I just want to sleep. And then at night, sleep eludes me.

I’ve been given the same opportunity I was given almost 20 years ago, but this time I know this is where God is. In the scary and uncertain, He will do things I couldn’t imagine just last week. He will mold more than just my external situation; He will change my heart in these moments.

I still hate it – all this change and uncertainty and, most of all, the isolation. But I also know this is where we find him. If we’re brave, this is where strongholds finally break and victories finally happen. This is where we change. And this time, I’m here for it.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9   

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Winco Field Trip From God

Up until last year I was a youth pastor, so my job was planning events for the teens.  Several years ago as I sat at my desk wondering what conference to take the youth group to the following year as I planned the budget and calendar.  I came across a conference in Monterey put on by Organic Outreach International.  I sat at my desk and asked God if this is where we were supposed to go.  I looked over the speaker list and was drawn to one of the speakers.  So we went.  I sat there completely overwhelmed by the realization that I was exactly where I needed to be.  It was an amazing event, but more importantly it was the start of something amazingly new for our church.

I came back sharing the principles of Organic Outreach with the leadership of our church and thankfully they caught the excitement and got on board. We had a group go do the intensive training they offer and began to launch this new way of operating at our church.  We hit some bumps in the road as people moved away and new leaders emerged, and this year I was placed in charge of our Organic Outreach Team.

So what is Organic Outreach?  Its not a church program but a new way of living and thinking.  So many people go to church instead of being the church and they plan potlucks and socials for their members and it can get to a point where the church feels more like a country club.  That isn't what God intended.  Organic Outreach encourages us to engage with the people that are in our lives.  To be out there in the world loving people and sharing Jesus with them in a way that is natural.  That happens when we experience the love for the world that Jesus did.  We have to care for this whole thing to work.

I lead an Organic Outreach meeting last night and yesterday morning was a crazy day.  I had car issues and a few other things that had me enveloped in my own world.  Still I sat at my desk to prep for the meeting.  I had to make a change in my schedule so the grocery shopping that was going to happen today, had to happen yesterday so I ran out at lunch to get that errand checked off the list and get back to my work to-do list.

I had no idea I was on a God field trip.  He wanted my notes for the meeting to be authentic so he had a surprise waiting for me on my trip to Winco.

As I pushed my cart through the aisles I saw lots of people and usually I end up running into the same people repeatedly, but as I went past the yogurts I noticed a mother and her almost grown daughter by the orange juice.  I can't tell you why they stood out to me, but they just seemed cool, positive women.  I went on to grab some frozen corn and then headed to check out.

As I approached the lines, I scanned to see which aisle was least ominous and saw the same mother/daughter duo in a not so long line so I pulled up behind them.  As they put their groceries on the belt, I got a chuckle at the mom's shirt and let her know I liked it.  They seemed to carefully weighing the options of what made the cut and what didn't.

I immediately asked God, "Am I supposed to help them?"  You may be saying, help everyone, but truthfully giving to everyone isn't always helping.  I wasn't sure if mom was teaching daughter to be responsible and if I rushed in to help, I could be ruining a teachable moment.  So I waited as they checked out and began to bag their groceries.

When it was my turn I noticed several items by the cashier and asked if they couldn't afford them.  She confirmed that was the case so I told her to add it to my bill and just set it there at the end of their stuff.  She verified that is what I really wanted as she rung up each item.  Honestly, I don't know how much it was but I doubt it was much over $20.  I assured her to do it.  When the ladies got to the items they didn't pay for they came to the register to ask what happened and she informed them that I had paid for it.

This is when things get interesting.  The mom said thank you and started to cry.  She came over to me and hugged me so tight and repeatedly thanked me in between bursts of tears.  It was a hug I'd expect from someone who just got the big check from Ellen, not from someone who just got a couple of items free from the store.  The hug told me there was more, so I held onto her equally as tight and encouraged her and reaffirmed God loved her.    She then got all of her stuff and headed out the store.  Her daughter thanked me as they left.

As I left the store, I began to cry because I was the one who was blessed.  I didn't plan any of that and God used it to show me how much he loves all of us.  He knows the life behind each of us as we pass mindlessly on the street, in stores and public transit.  Small things can have great impact for those with great need.

When I got home there were a pair of shoes at my door that I was supposed to buy from a friend.  Instead of waiting for me to come pick them up, she dropped them off for me. She knew about my car trouble and decided just to gift them to me, so I know there are so many kind-hearted people out there paying it forward and allowing God to work through them.

This blog post isn't about me and "look what I did," instead its about what God did.  For all of that to happen, everything was timed.  God had a plan.  I didn't have to obey, but if I hadn't I'd be the one to miss out.  I also got connected with the heart of people - not the void of bodies roaming, but a woman with a need that I could bless and blessed me in return.

I was now ready for the meeting.  Sure, my notes and copies were lined up ready to go, but the real prep work was in my heart in the middle of that grocery store.

Are you connected to humanity?  Are you available to go where God leads?  We get asked to give a lot and I believe that non-stop request line has most of us pretty checked out with the needs of those around us.  I don't blame us, we've been overloaded and have barricaded our hearts to survive and ensure we don't get used, but the down side is, we miss the human moments.  Ask God to prepare your heart for what he is doing and when you get those moments, go for it.  Feel free to share it with me, I'd love to hear about it!  Happy Wednesday!