Loving your Neighbor

I grew up in the Christian tradition and we talk a lot about the idea of “loving your neighbor.”  If you are Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or not religiously affiliated I know we all have a similar idea, just with different words.

It’s this idea that we are – to use another Judeo-Christian phrase – are our brothers (and sisters) keepers, that we have some responsibility to one another as members of the same human family. 

We have that responsibility to our immediate circles, yes – to our parents and children and siblings and cousins, those related by blood. Also to our chosen family, the dear friends we love and have built deep relationships with. We also have a responsibility to our communities – to the people we don’t know intimately but live in our neighborhoods and cities and towns.  And zooming out further – to the whole human family. Glennon Doyle has this great saying – “There is no such thing as other people’s children” – and that is so true.  There is no such thing as someone else’s friend or grandpa or elderly neighbor. We belong to each other. We are all connected in undeniable ways.

Well this sure seems like a poignant time to be reminded of that.  

To be reminded that we are literally dependent on one another for survival – that I as an individual need the doctors and nurses to keep providing healthcare and the grocery store shelf stockers and clerks to keep stocking and selling me groceries.  I need the garbage collectors to keep rattling down my street collecting my trash to keep us healthy and keep society going. I’ve never been more aware of our interdependence and reliance on each other than in this surreal moment we’re all navigating together – it’s beautiful and terrifying.

There are so many thoughts swirling around my head about this time we’re living in – one is that this is in many ways a test of our individual and collective moral compass.  Will we as individuals make sacrifices – of choices, freedom, weddings, graduations, long-planned family vacations – for the good of people we may never meet?

In The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (a fantastic book if anyone is making a #quarantinereads list) she retells a Native American folktale about the difference between Heaven and Hell. 

In Hell, there is a circle of people sitting packed closely together (clearly in a pre #socialdistancing era), so tightly they can barely move their arms. There is a large pot of stew in the middle of the circle, and everyone is starving – they have long spoons to reach the stew, but they can’t move their arms enough to get the spoons back to feed themselves.  They are starving and they can’t eat, tortured for all eternity.

In Heaven, there is the same tightly packed circle, the same stew, the same awkward wooden spoons.  And yet. And yet in this circle everyone uses their spoon to feed the person across from them. Everyone is feeding each other – and being fed by one another – and no one is starving. It’s not torture, it’s a feast – a community celebration.

I was talking to a dear friend the other night (yay for Quarantine FaceTime dates!) who lost her mom to cancer when she was 16.  She was telling me about a conversation with another friend who also lost a parent at a young age, and his perspective on social distancing is that he knows what it’s like to lose someone you love in a way you have no control over, so he was on board the social distancing train from the start.

I hadn’t made that connection, but yep, that is true.  When you know what it’s like to lose someone you love – to cancer or a heart attack or a car crash – and someone tells you “hey there is actually something you can do to help minimize the likelihood that another human being will experience such a devastating loss” – sign me up.  

I want to acknowledge that the losses are real – there is an entire cohort of young adults who aren’t going to get to experience their high school or college graduation. There are couples who have planned and saved for their weddings who aren’t going to have them. There are people who were about to make a career change or embark on the trip of a lifetime or buy a house or try to get pregnant and now life is so uncertain – it feels like our collective hopes and dreams and futures and plans are on pause.  

The day to day is hard too – I am an extrovert who loves to hug, I’m not loving this situation. I get it, I really do.

That’s the thing, though, about love – real love requires sacrifice.  Think of every great love story – the love between a couple, the love of a parent for their child, the love of two lifelong friends.  True love – the kind that taps into our deepest hopes and dreams as human beings, into our souls and hearts and spirits – is the kind that lays down its life for one another.

We are in a unique moment.  I can’t protect my 70 year old mom or my pregnant cousin or my precious asthmatic five year old nephew or my immunocompromised friends on my own. But you can. And it is my joy and my honor to get to help protect the people you love.

The most loving, sacrificial, heroic thing we can all do right now is to stay home, stay safe (#washthosehands!), stay vigilant and recognize now more than ever that we belong to each other. It is terrifying, yes, and holy freaking crap it is beautiful.

This weekend I have big plans for some quality FaceTime dates with friends I haven’t connected with in way too long, a long 6-feet-apart run to the Ocean and to whip up a #quarantinecake. I’ve got a homemade Funfetti cake planned, because if ever there were a time to celebrate the sweet gift of life, it’s now.

Stay safe, friends. Grateful for you all.

To Sift

The origin of the word “crisis” is the Greek word krisis meaning to separate or to sift.  When I hear the word sift I think, of course, of sifting flour to bake something carb-y and delicious – a loaf of crusty bread, a birthday cake, warm biscuits topped with butter and honey.

I think of a mound of silky flour nestled in a sieve, and the tap tap tap of the palm of my hand against the smooth metal rim, watching a shower of smooth white particles land in the mixing bowl, leaving the odd lumps behind.

Sifting separates the fine flour and the lumps that are left behind.  It helps you see the difference between the two in a way you couldnt when it was all mixed together in the flour sack.  Sifting makes it easier to separate what you want to keep from what you want to discard.

A crisis, I’m finding, does the same thing.

My sifting started two weeks ago at work, when the response to coronavirus made its way to my work and team. I was suddenly plunged into what I can only describe as a vortex  – necessitating quick decisions and action, day and time be damned.

It was a crisis and all the normal rules and parameters of “work life balance” went out the window – I was on 7pm Saturday and 7Am sunday phone calls, checking email for updates at 2am. And I wasn’t bitter – this wasn’t a work emergency – aka “my boss needs this preso done by the end of day” – this was an emergency emergency, a whole different category. 

I was looking at agendas from pre-Coronavirus meetings and was struck by how silly it all seemed “Aww I used to be worried about creating that presentation, how adorable!” #perspective indeed.

The sifting started to hit even closer to home a week ago, when I started making tough decisions about what parts of my life I would have to change – like working from home (which I do not enjoy – I miss my work buddies and the routine of an office) and cancelling a long-awaited trip to Hawaii for a family wedding.  That sifting was hard and painful.

There was some good sifting too, though.  Things that were worrying me a few weeks ago – how’s this date going to go? when am I going to do my taxes? – seem adorably quaint now. “Aww, how cute that I was worried about my taxes!” #perspective

You know that “What would you do?” question that you pose on a long road trip or to get to know someone better on a date – “If the world was ending in 24 hours, what would you do?” I feel like we’re all living that to some degree right now, and here’s what I’m finding myself doing:

  • Talking to my mom on the phone every day, sometimes twice a day.  Even if I just have a few minutes before I need to start working or go to sleep, hearing my mom’s voice helps me stay anchored to the fact that the world isn’t actually ending.  
  • Texting/calling all my friends to tell them I love them and see how they are doing.  I literally went through my contacts list alphabetically yesterday – because my brain is fried from work – to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. If you’re reading this and I missed you, I’m sorry #friedbrain and I love you lots. Text me! 🙂
  • Prioritizing caring for myself – with sleep and exercise and deep breaths – because I know if I don’t put on my own oxygen mask first I can’t help anyone else

When I was 22 my dad died suddenly of a heart attack, so I’m no stranger to the reality that “tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us” – but even though I say it often, it’s easy to get swept up in the day to day and forget how precious and precarious life is. The blessing embedded in crisis is it sweeps away the noise of daily life and leaves us with the heart of what matters – the people we love and caring for each other.

Here’s the truth I have to keep reminding myself of and grounding myself in – this too shall pass.  

Is it serious? YES. 

Do we need to take extreme measures like social distancing, cancelling events and vacations and dramatically altering our way of life in ways that just kind of suck (I’m an extrovert who loves hugs, I get it people!!) – YES. 

Are we all going to be trapped in our homes under mandatory quarantine until 2032? NO.  

This is not forever, this is a tough and scary and surreal and difficult season  – but it is a season. Season’s change, they ebb and flow, sometimes so slowly and imperceptibly that it feels like it will last forever – but they don’t.

When I lived in NYC, there was one year when winter lasted 6 months – it was freezing and dreary and depressing and I literally thought I would never see the sun again.

And yet.

And yet so slowly that I almost didn’t notice it, the ice began to thaw and the snow began to melt.  And one day I looked up and I saw the sun starting to peek through the clouds. And before I knew it, one day I was outside in the park with no coat, shoulders unhunched, feeling the sweet warmth of the sun on my upturned face. Spring always comes.

So in this hard season of fear and crisis, I am doing a few things.  

I’m trying to remember to take deep breaths and treat those around me – and myself – with extra patience and grace. We are all under a lot of stress and anxiety, and we’re all doing the best we can.  There has never been a time when we need to be more kind and patient and gentle with one another.

I’m staying connected (yay for technology!) to the people I love and telling them how much they mean to me, and making sure we’re caring for each other.

I’m loving my neighbors – literal and global – by following all the recommendations about social distancing and hygiene  – even though it’s not fun and requires self-sacrifice and inconvenience – to do my part to reduce how quickly this virus spreads.  

I’m praying with my whole heart for the heroic healthcare workers who are on the front lines, for people in positions of power (the CDC, WHO, every global governmental body) to have sharp minds and soft hearts as they make decisions, and for everyone who is living with fear and anxiety to experience peace and hope.

And I’ll probably do some baking too.

Nothing to Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear.  

The things I’m afraid of in my own life that are deeply personal (what if the people I love get hurt? What if I wake up at 85 with deep regrets about my life? What if I never get to be a mom?)  and the macro fears swirling around in our broken and beautiful world. The coronavirus and upcoming election are rising to the top, but the “standard” fears are still with us – the poverty, homelessness, refugee displacement, racism, violence.

So much pain, so much fear.

Last week was Ash Wednesday, and our church has a beautiful tradition of setting out planter boxes of dirt for congregants to interact with during the service.  The best part is the kids who are really living their best lives being told that playing in dirt is sanctioned at church. There was a bowl of acorns next to the planters, meant to represent something we needed to bury in the dirt this season of Lent, to make way for new life (I know, there are some very creative people in my church – I love it.)  As I knelt before a planter box, joyful kiddos being hushed by parents on either side of me, I let the damp earth fall from my fingers and thought about Lent.

In years past I’ve given up different things for Lent – social media, online dating – and I have experienced the value of changing my default routine and making space for a different way of thinking and being, making more space for reflection and connection with God.

This year though I’ve been reflecting on how my default personality is to be a rule follower #enneaagramoneinthehouse  I start to think that the path to salvation is paved with to-do lists and a strict flossing regimen. Rules are my crutch, a place where instead of turning to God for help and peace in the midst of my fear, I turn to my own ability to tow the line to protect myself and feel safe.

So, adding another rule or regulation for Lent isn’t going to deepen my spiritual practice this season.  I was thinking about this as I played in the dirt and I pondered what – if anything – I should give up for Lent. The word sprang to mind immediately – fear. I reached for an acorn, thinking I would “bury my fear,” that I should double down on self discipline and force myself to not be afraid (I know, I see the flaws in this plan too).  I stopped though, and the phrase that sprang to mind next was “What if there is nothing to fear?

Is there pain in this world?  Hell yes. Is there loss, tragedy, unspeakable grief and suffering? Alas yes. I’m not saying there is no pain, no loss.

And yet.

And yet if I truly believe the gospel, then the worst has already happened – Christ conquered death, and we have life and hope through him. If I believe the things I say I believe, then the reality, the truest truth, is that there is nothing to fear.

God has me and the people I love and this whole broken, hurting world cradled gently in His hands of love. I can be human, I can feel fear and grief and anxiety and loss – I can feel those things but the reality is that there is no “worse case scenario” that is beyond God’s reach.

As I knelt before the Lenten dirt, I dropped the acorn back in the bowl and instead scooped up a handful of earth and let it slip slowly through my fingers, thinking about the circle of life –  “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I thought about my dad, and how losing him suddenly was the most painful experience of my life – and yet the bottom didn’t drop out of my life.  12 years later, his love in my life continues, our family continues, the love he poured into me is still here. There is pain, yes, but there is also so much beauty and so much love.

As I went back to my seat we sang the closing hymn – it was a song by Audrey Assad called “Nothing to Fear.” I started laughing out loud – I love when God loses all subtlety and really hammers a point home. Got it, God, message received. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

And the depths of the river shall not overwhelm

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

Ooh, ooh

In the depths of your sorrow, I wept beside you

When you walked through the shadow, I drew you near

And yesterday, today, tomorrow, always the same

I am the Lord, I am the Lord

And there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

There is nothing to fear, nothing to fear

For I am with you always

The next morning I opened my bible to my favorite passage, 1 John 4:7 and I noticed a verse I had never noticed before.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us….There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”

There is a scene in the Harry Potter books when the students are fighting a boggart, a shape-shifter which morphs into the thing each student is most afraid of.  In Harry’s case it becomes a dementor, a creature which feeds on fear and unhappiness and sucks the joy out of its victims. When Dumbledore realizes this is the thing Harry is most afraid of he smiles at him and says, “Well Harry this shows that the thing you fear most…is fear. Wise indeed!”

Fear can bring out the worst in humanity – or it can bring out the best. One of my favorite #wordnerd gems from a book I read once was learning that the word “crisis” comes from the Greek word meaning “to sift” – as in it forces everything that doesn’t matter to fall away. I have experienced that in spades this week – I’ve never been more grateful for my coworkers who are dropping everything to jump into action and support each other.  I’ve seen the very best come out in people and it’s beautiful to watch.

So, my plan in this season – of Lent, of Coronavirus anxiety, of election uncertainty – is to fight fear with love.  I was sucked into a Coronavirus-preparedness work vortex this week that will likely continue for awhile and I’m trying to root and ground myself in the same question – how do I love well today? How do I love this person in front of me, how do I respond to the fear and anxiety not with more fear and anxiety, but with love? 

Fear can’t survive where love flourishes.

There is nothing to fear.