Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep

Today begins phase one of reopening here in Spain. The first step toward the new normal. And of course every country is doing it differently and everyone has something to say about it.

Is Spain doing it right? Are various states in the USA doing it right? As much as we like to think we know, no one does, and we all have a different perspective.

There’s the idea that we don’t really react to the weight of something until it affects our personal life. An issue doesn’t really take up space in our brains or hearts until it comes knocking at our door or in our neighborhood, affects us or our friends or family. To an extent, it’s true.

Our experience inevitably changes how we approach, see, and handle an issue or situation.

Here in Spain, corona (that’s my favorite name for it) is not far from any of us — both physically and emotionally. I’ve had friends who have been hospitalized with corona, others who have held the hands of those dying alone in nursing homes, one who has worked long long hours in the hospital, another whose mother passed away. And of course the physical health aspect is just one part.

It’s knocking on my friends’ door and affecting their lives.

Feeling certain effects of something doesn’t necessarily mean we know what the right, best, or good course of action is. Likewise, being removed from a situation doesn’t automatically mean we see it more clearly and can make the right call.

Both simply mean we understand different things, feel weight in places other people don’t.

Does anyone know the perfect way to handle shutting down or reopening in any country? No. Is everyone’s opinion influenced by the people they know, where they live, and how they’re affected? Yes.

None of us have the wisdom to know what to do or what is best. But, we can know a few important things to do and I think one of those things is this:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” -Romans 12:15-16

Right now some are weeping and some are rejoicing. And some are trying to rejoice over events that should be commemorated with a celebration but are not.

While I can (and should) think critically and share opinions and look at the big-scale picture, I’m not sure that’s what really matters right now. Humbly supporting and loving — through the good and the bad — the individuals I know and “not being wise in my own eyes” is what I want to focus on.

Empathy?

Here in Spain, the little ones are getting their first taste of this different and unsettling world outside of their home. Four days ago was the first time kids have been allowed outside since coronavirus hit the second week of March.

I’m trying to imagine what an 8-year-old thinks when they’re face-to-face with this for the first time: everyone in face masks, no friends to play with, empty streets, and forbidden playgrounds.

I didn’t have to imagine too long before I got a glimpse of what it might be like for them. On my walk home from the grocery store, I passed a mom with her daughter scooting along on a scooter. When the girl saw me, she hopped off her scooter, whimpered, and grabbed onto her mom’s leg. She could see only my eyes and not the smile I gave her. It must all be so strange and scary for the little ones. It was for me the first couple of weeks, too! I wanted to say to that little scooting girl “I understand! I know what it feels like to see all of this for the first time!”

I’ve been thinking about empathy.

It would seem that we should all have more empathy than ever now, right? Since almost no country is untouched, we are all living through coronavirus and quarantine and we can empathize; we can understand what each other is going through.

We say “I know what you mean…” and launch into how we totally get it because, of course, we are being affected by coronavirus, too.

We understand. Or at least we think we do, and I think that’s the problem.

True, we are all living under the effects of this crazy pandemic. But I think we are empathizing with others when we really have no way of understanding what they’re actually going through.

All of our lives are being dramatically affected by the same virus, but the way it plays out in each of our individual lives is radically different. We can’t even begin to compare one story to another. We can’t empathize as much as we think we can.

Some are working like crazy, others are suddenly jobless. Some are on lockdown, others are social distancing. Some have mental health challenges, others have physical challenges. Some have cancelled weddings, others have cancelled trips. Some have lost loved ones, others have been untouched. Some are barely coping emotionally, others are trucking right along.

I could go on, but you get the point.

We are all living through coronavirus but our lives are quite different and our hurts and struggles are as well. Let’s not pretend they’re very similar.

Less “I know, me too!” and “I know exactly how you feel.”

More “Wow, I’m so sorry, that stinks” and “Tell me what this is like for you.”

Three Things To Do

Jasper is chill. Confession: I am not always quite as chill about lockdown and everything going on around us as he is.

La imagen puede contener: gato y texto

Some days are fine, others aren’t the greatest. Without being able to go outside and walk off some of the grayness in the soul, I’ve had to get creative. Here are three things I’ve always known but never quite put into practice like I have during these weeks. The truth is, I’m still trying to get these things into my brain. Writing this will help me do that.

We don’t have to wait until we feel like something to do it – in fact we shouldn’t wait for feelings. We should act in order to change our feelings about something, not wait for our feelings in order to act on something. Knowing that, I’ve tried to do these three things when I can tell my heart needs them, if not even more regularly.

1. Singing

Singing like I mean it and singing things I believe. Also singing silly songs while I cook and dance in the kitchen (the neighbors don’t mind). This isn’t just jamming to music, it’s me singing! It’s not pretty, but I love it 🙂 I think in some mysterious way, it’s good for us humans. Makes sense that God tells us to do it.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalm 59:16)

2. Caring For Others

It’s good for them and good for me (great how it works out that way, right?!).

This one is admittedly a bit hard when we’re truly stuck at home and can’t even wave to a friend from across the road. But you’re underestimating humanity if you think we can’t still think of interesting and creative ways to show love to the people we know (or people we don’t know). It looks different and it doesn’t have to be BIG. It just has to happen. Structure is okay for this. If you have to set a reminder to send a gift to so-and-so or call your grandma (ahem, that’s me), it doesn’t negate the goodness of what you’re doing.

I need to remember that things were never about me and they still aren’t. I’ve not suddenly become a queen and I’m not trying to act like it. Instead, I want to look at others and think of them as the kings and queens!

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Phiippians 2:3)

3. Being Thankful

Thankfulness is not the same as toxic positivity that negates reality. I think we can be thankful, joyful, and peaceful while still sitting in the middle of junk. Thankfulness is not just being positive because we know some “bad” thing will eventually end, it’s being joyful in the middle even when there’s no end in sight.

Over five weeks ago, I started a “Coronavirus Thankful List” that I’ve kept adding to as I think of things. This list has all sorts of things on it, including taste buds, thunder, technology, that we have a balcony, Jesus, chocolate, that I still have a job, and that I enjoy cooking. This list helps me.

Thankfulness roots my heart in humble gratitude and I’m able to see and enjoy the gifts I have all around me. Plus, since I know Jesus, there will always be something for which to be grateful.

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Joy to the heart

Well today was a joy-filled day. I love Easter. It’s one of my favorite holidays.

Yes, I prefer celebrating it with a group of family and friends. Yes, I like to see the sun rise on this Sunday. Yes, gathering together to worship and sing is best and good for my soul. And yes, holiday traditions are special and meaningful.

But I realized this morning that the reason this day brings me joy has very little to do with those things. In fact, the joy shone even a bit more brightly on this strange Easter Sunday precisely because what I normally do on this day was changed or gone, so the day was stripped down to WHO and WHAT I celebrate. And it was more than enough to rejoice in!

The world is bleak. There’s no doubt about it. This Easter Day doesn’t deny suffering nor does it simply provide a weak positive message of optimism.

As my pastor in Lexington said this morning, “Don’t think happy thoughts. Believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead… That it actually happened. And it happened as a preview and a guarantee of the destiny of every single one who trusts in Him.”

That is hope for another life and so much joy and peace and identity for this life. That infuses joy into this day and into every other day as well.

We acknowledge the heartbreak of this life, the difficulty, the impending death… and hold all of that in tension with the longing for the way things are meant to be, for God’s design and creation to be as it should. And rejoice in Jesus who is alive!

Life Today

I rolled out of bed with a headache this morning. Things are starting to catch up to all of us at this point.

The world continues to reel and we are dizzy with the spin of it. I ache for my affected friends and pray and continue to sit in my home.

My back is rebelling against all that time sitting combined with the unusual living room workouts I’ve been doing. Can’t sit and can’t stand and “I can’t wait until I can go for a walk to work out the kinks,” I thought to myself. Instead, I got creative with a standing desk for today and mentally braced myself for a few more weeks of this.

It is easy to feel as though this life we are living right now, this daily movement confined to a few hundred square feet, is a sort of half-life. Like life is on hold until things return back to “normal.”

But it’s not on hold! This very day is my life. This is no half-life! This is the real deal — today.

Henri Nouwen wisely said, “While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will get better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with deep trust that God will never leave us alone.”

And so while I long for future wholeness, I live in the present. Maybe a heart full of hope means not thinking about tomorrow much at all — not worrying about the hardships that are sure to come, nor pining with flimsy optimism for the good days we want.

Instead, I should live firmly planted in the present day, the life I’ve been given. I will ground my feet to the earth (or in my case, the floor) that’s beneath them and live this day as I’ve lived all the other ones of my life: with the grace and strength I’m given.

C.S. Lewis gives a great reminder for our overactive minds: ”Remember, one is given the strength to bear what happens, but not the 101 different things that might happen.”

I have strength for this very day and I’ll live it as if it were the realest day of my life! And it is. I was, quite literally, born for this day.

I’ll live this day in the same way and out of the same identity as I’ve lived all my other days. There is strength and mercy for this present day. Tomorrow morning I’ll get more.

‭ “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations‬ ‭3:21-23‬)‭

Palm Sunday in Lockdown

It’s Palm Sunday and the lockdown-life carries on here. Laundry is hung, kids are inside, streets are empty. Things move along at the same pace, now with a bit more of a cloud, knowing that we have another three weeks of lockdown or, as we say in Spanish, “confinement.”

But, today is Palm Sunday and I haven’t forgotten. Nor, it seems, has this city, where the roots of Holy Week tradition run deep. From the balconies and windows on our street, a few people beat and blow on the drums and trumpets typically played for Holy Week processions. I heard them as I sang and prayed and read scripture in my own living room. Let the King receive honor, regardless of where it comes from.

I went to listen and leaned dangerously far out of my window to get a glimpse of our drumming and trumpeting neighbors (and to catch sight of the sky if I could). As I hung out the window, I could hear the song of the birds as clearly as I heard the trumpets — them flying and chirping their own constant praise to their Creator, as easy as their breath. No doubt nature thanks Him more incessantly than I do.

The rocks are praising as well. If only I could hear all those stones and what they say, what they sing! There is so much beyond my scope of understanding, beyond my eye’s ability to see and my ear’s ability to hear.

Even with the cloud that has settled over the earth during these weeks, I rejoice with a constant hum of hope in my heart because the King came here. God did not wait for us to earn our way to Him, he came to earth and there he sat on a donkey. Hosanna, here is our saving, here is our shepherd.

Smile Lines

Who knew that I would come to love smile lines?

On Monday I stepped out of my apartment for the second time in 15 days. I slipped on the face mask that was given to us before we started stacking boxes at the food pantry. Four other pairs of gloved hands lifted boxes, handed them to me as we made a human chain. Four other pairs of eyes, smiling at me with their smile lines. I got to know them by their eyes and knew they were grinning when the beautiful wrinkles showed up.

Wearing that same mask, I went to the fruit and veggie store. The sign on the window reads: “Please, only one person inside.” After waiting my turn outside, I backed away as an elderly man, also wearing a face mask, exited. As I let him pass, I lifted my eyes and showed him my best smile lines. His crinkled up, too.

Inside, Julian the fruit man had his own mask. His muffled voice asked how many peppers I wanted and if I was going to eat both of my avocados today or wanted a less-ripe one for later this week.

I can’t wait to see the smiles behind these smile lines, but I also won’t forget to love these wrinkles — every single part of these beautiful faces.