Psalm 04 – Processing Our New Normal

Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

4  In your anger do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.

Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will show us any good?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.

8 I will lie down and sleep in peace
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.

 

I am fortunate enough to work from home to begin with, so “sheltering in place” for COVID-19 has been less disruptive to my routine than it has been for many.  I already had my youngest here full time (now her older sister is officially home until August, since the rest of the school year has been cancelled for Virginia), and right now my farm duties consist mainly of keeping everyone fed.  That’s no small feat with three hardworking men in the house (our two farm employees live with us at the moment), but it’s something more or less compatible with watching children simultaneously.

That being said, I feel like we’re living in a state of suspended animation.  The farm is doing well, for now.  We lost all our wholesale business but retail demand has spiked.  How long that will last is uncertain, as economic hardships become more likely for at least some of our customers as time wears on.  Farmer’s markets, due to open in about a month, have been at the very least postponed.  So I wonder what the future will bring, living in a little bubble now with my two girls, doing pretty well at sticking to a schedule that leads us nowhere but down the road for a walk with the dogs, back to the kitchen table for some home-led occupational and speech therapy, and into the garden after quiet time.  It’s pretty much the same day in and day out.  I’m guiltily enjoying the day-to-day of it, except for the rainy days that make outside-time a little less fun and a lot shorter.  But I don’t know what’s on the horizon: will we be able to continue like this for weeks, possibly months?  Will the orders hold, the money hold?  How long til we can go to the playground again, see grandparents again?  Will farmers markets start up in the summer?  Will our restaurants come back online in a way that allows them to order from us again?  All I can do is sit here and wonder.

The dichotomy of spring bursting forth while the world crumbles in on itself is disorienting, as well.  I have gone grocery shopping twice now, and each trip into town it seems like there is a malignancy in the air.  There is a feeling of emergency because the shelves are empty. I’m afraid to breathe, afraid to touch anything.  The produce looks sinister because I do not know what germs might be lingering on the peels and rinds.  But then I get home, and see the remaining daffodils waving cheerily in a warming breeze, birdsong filling the air, and early butterflies fluttering by.  The wildflower meadow I’ve been painstakingly establishing the past two years has lots of new shoots in all different shapes and sizes, promising for a beautiful display starting in a few weeks.  My volunteer strawberries have flowers on them.  A few days ago, I had to turn the TV off after watching a special report on an Italian hospital because it was so unsettling, but that same day I noticed the tulip poplars are leafing out, and my mustard greens were sprouting second leaves.  Fear and joy follow each other in a tight circle right now.

Because of this unprecedented mass pandemic and the global effects it’s having not just on people’s physical health but also their economic and mental health realities, I’m going to set my Lenten reading of Job aside for now.  While Job makes an ever more relatable figure in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I want to take a break from these passages of anguish to focus first on some passages of comfort and encouragement.  Perhaps, given the time, I’ll be able to provide some distraction, diving into some of the Bible’s most interesting stories, or provide an antidote to some of the fear-mongering eschatological readings some zealots like to throw around in times of crisis.  I’ll take it week by week.

Today I want to introduce you to my favorite Psalm, one I’ve been thinking of a lot in the past couple weeks.  It has been one of my favorites since high school.  It strikes the perfect balance between counsel and rejoicing.  I am not always great at self-regulating, and am very quick to anger when hungry, tired, or stressed.  As such, I have felt like verse four, “in your anger do not sin, when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent” is always a needed reminder.  My fuse was very short at the beginning of our shelter in place, in truth I had a bit of a breakdown that first Sunday.

I’m terribly ashamed I let it get to that point, but I’m sure that a lot of people out there have similarly been pushed to their limits of late.  If you are having trouble, ask for help.  This is not some vague call for “self care,” a lovely idea that is often hard to put into practice due to constraints of time, money, and family.  No, this is a call to action.  And yes, there are still resources out there right now, even if person-to-person contact is limited.  For myself, I finally started counseling through Better Help – and guess what? They have an unemployment discount. If you are able to pay in bulk, the price keeps dropping.  They’ve also provided this article on free online therapy, and NAMI has this list of hotline resources for those in crisis or needing guidance in where to turn. I also finally got an anti-anxiety medication filled, too.  These two steps have helped me tremendously, and I’m not ashamed to admit to either.  Taking care of your mental health – in the form of counseling, medication, or otherwise – is of the utmost importance, especially in times like these.  Through these things, God has given me relief from my distress, indeed.

As a person prone to anxiety (and in recent years, insomnia) I especially appreciate that last verse, “I will lay me down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” and will often repeat it to myself in an effort to get to sleep. You see, I’ll fully admit to prayer not being the strongest part of my spiritual practice.  “Talking to God” does not come naturally to me, so I appreciate rote phrases, such as this or the Lord’s Prayer.  (The number of easily memorized, rote prayers is one of the things I find most appealing about Catholicism.)  If you, too, struggle with praying in times of trouble – or just in general – I suggest memorizing the last verse of this Psalm as I have and using it as your bedtime prayer.

I am finishing writing this as the girls watch a movie and dinner simmers on the stove.  With Chris throwing everything he has into farming while we can still make some money at it, I’m only left with stolen moments like these that I have time to write.  I’d love to be doing so much more, but I’ve made peace with it.  If a little writing time is all I have to give up, I’m doing pretty well.  I hope you are giving yourself the grace needed to get through this strange time, and would love to hear from you all on how you’re coping.  I am happy to lend an ear to anyone who needs to talk, provide comfort food recipes or activity ideas for small children, or recommend some readings.  Comment or message me, and be sure to take care of yourselves.  God bless, and I’ll be back with something new next Sunday.

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Psalm 139 – Thoughts for Pride Month 2019

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I’m taking a one-post break from Matthew right now because I didn’t want Pride Month to pass me by without mentioning it, and it’s almost the middle of June!  Also, this seemed like a natural break since I finished Chapter 10 last week, and read Chapter 11 back in December, so we’ve got a gap.

Pride month is rapidly becoming one of those odd events where we focus on the celebration and not the underlying cause, kind of like Memorial Day.  All the barbeques and sales of Memorial Day and beginning-of-summer-fun mentalities seem a little tawdry when you consider we’re supposed to be remembering those who died in service of the country.  Just an example.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good party.  But the original Pride Parade was a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, when tensions between police and the gay community reached a breaking point at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

But now, Pride Month is a profitable, cool thing to do.  Businesses of all stripes are on board. Lots of straight people attend (selfie-ing away in rainbow tees).  And while this isn’t inherently bad, I have several gay friends who make a point to remind people each year that this hasn’t always been some big giant block party.  It came from a real place of pain and inequality, and people have been fighting for fifty years since Stonewall to end violence, increase awareness, and promote equality for our LGBTQ siblings.

So, in the effort to find an appropriate Bible passage to recognize Pride Month, I Googled…well… “Bible passages for Pride Month.”  Psalm 139 was my favorite hit.  “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well,”  the author says.  And really, that is something we can all say, for we are all children of God.  God made each and every one of us perfect, and knows us even before we know ourselves: “You have searched me, Lord, and know me.”  God creates us all, and knows Xyr creation, and loves each and every one of us.

This goes so much farther than just Pride, too.  I found this psalm intending to use it for Pride Month, but it immediately made me think of my Autistic daughter.  My biggest concern for her is that she will not be accepted into society the way she is.  As she gets older, her differences are becoming more and more noticeable.  She doesn’t talk to people, but her echolalia (repeating things over and over and over) is pretty constant.  I actually love it, because I get to hear her voice, and not all moms can say that about their special needs children.  It also gives me a way to interact with her, because I know the “script,” if you will, and we can do a call-and-response sort of thing.  Additionally, she has trouble regulating her voice and reactions appropriately in certain social situations and can sometimes be extremely anxious – if she’s getting overwhelmed she will scream at (and sometimes try to hit) unfamiliar people who try to talk to her. We’re working on things to make navigating this world easier for her, but I am in no way looking to “cure” her.  She is smart, beautiful, funny, and completely cherished.  God made her the way she is (not vaccines or any of the other bullshit people sometimes throw out there related to Autism), and she, too, is fearfully and wonderfully made.  As are we all.

As the psalmist says: even the darkness is not dark to the Lord.  God knows all, and knows us.  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  We are not perfect, and yet we are:  we are perfectly loved and perfectly formed by our God.  Let’s honor that fact by loving others, no matter how they may have been formed – Christian or not, gay or straight, abled or disabled, man, woman, or somewhere in between: we are all children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.  Happy Pride, everyone – God loves us all.

Psalm 32 – What is Sin?

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Lent seems like a good time to have a discussion about sin, since we’re supposed to be doing a little spiritual cleansing in preparation for Jesus’ return.  But what, exactly, is sin?  I want to make absolutely clear that this is just my own opinion.  I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, a little praying about it, and minimal reading about it, other than Bible passages such as this one.  All that being said, let me give you my ideas on sin, repentance, and forgiveness:

In order to discuss sin, I think we first need to (re)establish what I see as the greatest purpose, the greatest commandment asked of Christians.  And that is unconditional love for each other.  In John 13:34 Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  I think all other commandments stem from this basic principle of love.  Resting on the Sabbath?  That is self-care, and when we take care of ourselves we can better care for others.  Honor thy mother and father?  Just another way of saying show filial love and respect.

So what is sin, then? It is a failure to love one another to the best of our ability.  So yes, we are all sinners, because we all fall short in that.  Personally, I fall short when I get frustrated with the kids, when I speak out of annoyance to my husband or parents, when I buy clothes without knowing where they’re made (because they could potentially come from unsafe or underpaid workers), when I don’t recycle (because poisoning the world with plastic is not an act of love for future generations).  As a society we fall short when we don’t welcome refugees clamoring for help, when we turn a blind eye to the harm we are doing to the earth that future generations will inherit, and when we deny the basic humanity of someone based on their skin color or because they pray differently than us.

So how do we repent, how do we change our ways?  It can seem futile, at first – one person cannot stop the all wars, pollution, and hate that is rampant in the world.  And even on a smaller level, we know that we ourselves can’t promise to never get frustrated, never get tired, and never give into less than loving impulses.  So what is even the point?  Let’s return to the parenting analogy I’m so fond of.  I want my girls to be the best they can be.  Just this week Marienne seems to be getting the point of “please” and Betty has been super helpful, cleaning up her playdough and putting her boots away.  My heart bursts with pride at these little accomplishments, and I do all I can to encourage that sort of behavior.  However, they also just today fought over a toy fish and had a hair pulling moment at the rice table.  I corrected them (redirecting for the hair pulling and a “reset,” which is like a pre-timeout, for the fish).  I was not pleased with that behavior, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving them, or that I don’t think they’re capable of more good moments.  And that is how I think God must view us.  Of course Xe is going to get angry at us making a mess of the beautiful earth he has given us, for fighting with and oppressing our brothers and sisters. Xe may even punish us for it.  But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, and think us capable of good.  Nothing melts my heart more than Betty’s little “sowwy, Mommy.”  That’s all we have to do, too.  Turn to God with a heart-felt apology, a vow to do better, and we are forgiven.  Yes, we will mess up, we will “sin,” if you will, but that’s only part of being human.  Xe expects that.  But we can do well by God by earnestly trying to be better.

I admit – acting out of love seems simple, but it can get murky.  There’s lots of different ideas of what is good or bad.  I probably let me two year old do more things than some parents (play outside under minimal supervision, taste the dog food, wear lipstick on her eyebrows) because I think that it’s a safe way to let her learn and grow.  I probably also let my two year old do less things than some parents (I’m still terrified of her eating nuts and lollipops, and I still can’t let her cry it out for more than a few minutes at night).  Am I a “bad” parent for sometimes too lenient or sometimes overprotective?  Some might argue I am, even though I think I’m acting from a place of love.  Scale that difference of opinion up to larger debates like deciding to go to war (are we really promoting democracy or are we propping up an oil friendly regime?), or climate change (are we hurting small business owners by imposing stricter environmental standards?) and you’ll find good people on every side of those opinions.  The important thing is to really search your heart and examine your actions, and if you find you are acting out of greed, distrust, or even laziness instead of love, then it may be time to change your course.

So to recap: the greatest commandment is to love one another.  The greatest sin is to act out of not-love.  We can strive to act out of love all the time, but, being human, we will fail in that from time to time.  But God loves us with a love stronger and more pure than anything we can ever know, and because of that, no sin is beyond Xyr forgiveness.  It’s not a free pass – we need to keep trying to be better and not repeating our mistakes, just like my girls will keep getting time outs each time they bite each other.  But they will also be forgiven afterwards, and we, too, can always turn to God with a contrite heart, ready to be forgiven and start fresh.  Going into Holy Week, the last week of Lent, I encourage you to stop and examine your heart.  Is there anything that’s been bothering you lately?  If so, I encourage you to pray.  Pray to God for forgiveness, if you feel you need it, and pray that Xe will show you the path of love, and pray for the strength of spirit to follow it.  And then keep doing that any time you feel you stray, come up short, or “sin.”  God will always, always welcome you back, because God’s love is greater than any sin.