Retro Relief

photo of volkswagen kombi on unpaved roadWhen I was a little girl I remember my grandparents talking about their regular Sunday Drives. Although I understood the concept I really couldn’t understand the attraction. Why would anyone want to just drive around rather aimlessly just to drive around? To my way of thinking, one got in the car to go somewhere specific for a specific purpose, such as driving to the store, a friend’s house, or a vacation spot. I guess I was not alone in that assessment, as for the most part, the Sunday Drive tradition essentially died with my grandparents’ generation. Successive generations were way too busy, too goal oriented, and sporadically too gas conscious to consider such an activity worthy of their time and interest. Until now…

Last Sunday afternoon my husband and I revived that old tradition. Though I confess that it was more by happenstance than actual intent. But no matter how or why it happened it was absolutely wonderful! Since we have been working from home and following all the appropriate protocols of social distancing, we were feeling a bit cabin-feverish (an emotional rather than a physical condition).

We decided that we would order take-out at The Vanilla Bean, a cool little local spot in Pomfret, CT. We pre-ordered and paid by phone and then were instructed to text them when we arrived. They delivered it to our car window. Since it was such a beautiful sunny day, we decided not to simply return home but to (you guessed it) take a Sunday Drive throughout that beautifully pastoral countryside. We ended up at Bigelow Hollow State Park where we drove to a gorgeous spot by the lake and parked for a picnic. We did not get out of the car or even roll the windows down yet enjoyed such a lovely view and lunch. Upon leaving the park, we meandered a bit and found our way home by a different route, thanks to our Waze GPS app.

There was nothing earth shattering or wildly exciting about our trip. But the lift it gave our spirits was beyond measure! We both felt rejuvenated and joyful after “getting out of Dodge” for a bit, all the while being faithful to our social distancing guidelines. Sometimes we can learn a lot from practices of the past. While technology continues to be an important tool for us as we work to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic, we might also consider some very low-tech tools. Take a Sunday or Tuesday or Friday drive.

Pack or pick-up a picnic. See all the beautiful signs of springs (a robin, peepers, forsythia, and daffodils in early bloom) while coasting through the countryside. Give yourselves the boost of seeing that God’s creation keeps on going regardless of the pandemic – all without leaving the safe confines of the car.

As Job in 12:7-10 was reminded when he forgot the wonders of God’s creation “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Who knew such an “old fashioned” idea would work so well? God did…

 

 

What is a Weekend?

man cooking breakfast holding forkThis iconic quip from the matriarch of Downton Abbey raises an important question in this time of house bound pandemic. As we work and school at home it is all too easy for us to lose track of what day it is. I find myself often asking, “Is it Tuesday? Wednesday? How did get to be Friday already?” as one at home day runs into another until they begin to smudge together.

But today is Saturday. For most households Saturday and Sunday have a different rhythm and cadence. We eat different foods, sleep in, go out to activities, watch sports, cart kids around to birthday parties, practices, games, wear different clothes, and attend church. It is a time to take a break (however chaotic it seems) from our “regular” routine of school, work, and appointments. Even at its most frenzied, they two days provide a chance to rejuvenate and renew our spirits, and allow ourselves a re-set before starting it all over on Monday.

Staying home 24/7 makes this even more essential! It caused me to take a minute and reflect on what “weekend” means to me. It might be dressing down on one day and dressing up the next. It might mean special breakfasts and watching cartoons. It might be not being on a schedule. It really doesn’t matter what the details are as long as we are attentive to keeping weekend sacred by doing as many of those special weekend things we did before we were homebound.

Succumbing to the temptation to check work e-mails or do one more thing… “since I’m home not doing anything else” is a dangerous rabbit hole to go down. For as the days and boundaries between work and play begin to blur our emotional and spiritual health will also take a down turn.

Creativity is the key. My husband and I usually have a date night on Friday nights. But this Friday instead of going out for a candlelit dinner in a restaurant, we called of our favorite places and got take out. I dressed for the “date” and had the table set nicely with, you guessed it candles. I played romantic dinner music and we took our time. No, it was not the same as a night out on the town, but to be honest, it filled the bill pretty well.

If you regularly take an outing with the kids, perhaps going on line to find a video roller coaster ride or walk through the zoo might be fun. Getting outdoors for a family game of soccer, baseball, or whatever your favorite is can be fun. You might even have a tiny cheering section. Some of fondest memories are of my sister and I playing “ball” with a broken oar and a beat up softball. Two players, no gloves, one base. Don’t forget to have some game-time snacks afterwards. If going to the movies is a favorite – pick something that you might not usually watch, family videos, or an old favorite from the cabinet and bring the popcorn out. Gathering the family together for “church” is another good way to make these two days a bonafide weekend.

Whatever it is that we do, it should answer the question, “It wouldn’t be a weekend without _____________.” Yes, Mom and Dad deserve to have their choices honored as well. At this time of stress breaking up the monotony of endless days with a “weekend” is as essential as breathing to our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Exodus 20:8-10.

If God can do it, I guess I can too.

 

Getting Beyond the Day 3 Principal

inspirational quotes on a plannerI have noticed over the years that the 3rd day is often the bump in the road on any adventure. Growing up on the ocean I remember my parents talking of and planning for the 3rd day experience. Our guests inevitably were suddenly very tired and hungry on the 3rd day of their visit. We called it the salt-water effect. But I have also observed that Jet lag seems to hit hardest on the 3rd day. Vacations or camps often have the most issues on the 3rd day. Families and friends often find that by the time a 3-day weekend is over they are usually ready to get back to their “real” lives (even if they don’t admit it). And our 3rd day of encampment is no different.

Yesterday was the 3rd day for many families to be working or schooling at home. If it was a bit rough or if you found yourself extra tired and hungry, know that it is normal. Now that we are in Day 4 things will begin to find a rhythm as in our heads we move out of temporary crisis into a more sustained new normal. In all cases we can rest secure that God is with us, as we remember Paul’s words in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to humans. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

So maybe I don’t need to scarf down cookies and ice cream as if we are in a short term crisis (darn it!). Maybe I really do have to continue to do household chores. Maybe instead of throwing up my hands and saying, “What difference does it make?” I can ask for God’s help to resist the temptation to give up and just hang out in sweats with no particular care given to my personal appearance because “who’s gonna see me anyway?” Because it does matter, even if no one “from the outside” sees you. It is a way of helping yourself feel about yourself the way God does. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) When we do that on the 4th day and every day after we will be able to hear as God speaks to us in Song of Songs 4:7 “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”

 

Social Distance…Yes, Please!

woman working girl sittingWhile social distancing is helping us limit our contact with the outside world, it is also bringing our immediate family members in much closer contact than we are used to. No longer going to work and school we find ourselves in 24/7 community with one another. While this can be initially fun and novel, it can also leave us crying for a bit of personal space! Suddenly we are stripped of all that time we had away from one another, interacting with friends, and even just being alone. Let’s face it, as much as we love our partners, spouses, and children – they can get on our nerves.

What is personal space anyway? Personal space is literally the amount of inches needed between you and another person to keep you both feeling safe and unthreatened. But spiritually we are talking about appropriate alone time for time with God, in prayer, or just taking a few deep breaths without having to interact or attend to another. Without it we become emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. It’s the old “put your mask on yourself before assisting another” metaphor.

So what are we to do?

First realize that this is normal. You are not a “bad” spouse, partner, or parent because this 24/7 closeness is causing you stress. Believe it or not, it may be causing them stress as well.

Secondly, remember that we are designed by God to need some alone time. Even Jesus frequently sought alone time as we hear in Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Have a family meeting, or simple discussion over a meal to identify the need for everyone to have some private time. Be ready for a huge sigh of relief as you lovingly name the elephant in the room.

Thirdly, keep in mind that we are all created as unique human beings and the amount of time needed for personal time can vary widely by person, their age, and their anxiety level. Ask each person to reflect on what they feel they might need to feel at peace, centered, and able to give their best to the people they love. Try not to judge initial answers as they may just be said for effect.

Then get creative! Perhaps, finding a cozy spot in the house, a few extra minutes in the bathtub, or even a daily solo walk can do the trick. If space does not permit “getting away” earphones may allow you to virtually “escape.” There are many meditation and relaxation sources available.

Finally, remember that we are not striving for perfection but wholeness. Practice makes progress and the needs and methods we employ are at their most successful when they are flexible. If possible make note of all the positive changes you feel after 5 mins., or 10 mins. Several times a day for a short period might work better than a longer stretch once a day. But no matter how or when you practice alone time, you can rest assured that God is with you in love and grace.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love” Zephaniah 3:17

 

 

 

 

Finding Our Bliss in the Midst of Chaos

Just a note of faith and encouragement in these challenging times.

Our Scripture for today is 2 Timothy 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Disappointment and cancelation of activities is difficult. Resisting the urge to do the things we normally do is hard. But as Christians we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will give the self-discipline to follow the guidelines of self-distancing and staying home.

As always there are things that we can do besides being glued to the news on 24/7 or going down the rabbit hole of poor me. Below are a list of things that can lift our spirits and the spirits of others, until we can be physically together once more.

  1. Limit your time on Social Media – it only adds to worry and anxiety.
  2. Listen to hymns, Christian Radio, or simply rock out to your favorite music.
  3. Watch comedies – laughter is great medicine
  4. Call (not just text) Call or Facetime friends and neighbors. One friend even played a game with her parents in another state via Facetime.
  5. If you need help with technology – reach out to friends and neighbors or your teenage relatives.
  6. IF you are not in a risk group (under 60 and with no underlying health problems) reach out to those who are to see if you can help them with groceries or medicine.
  7. Pray – perhaps even start that journaling that you always said that you wanted to do.
  8. BREATHE – as we get stressed we lapse into shallow breathing. It is amazing how much better we feel when we practice deep breathing.
  9. Get outside – even a few minutes for a solo walk about will lift your spirits.
  10. Tackle one of those “I’ll get to it someday projects” – cleaning a closet or a shelf will give you a great feeling of accomplishment.

Above all remember that God is with us and we will get through this together. Reaching out to one another by phone or video chat will chase away our doldrums.

 

Thinking Outside of the Box

think outside of the box

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

At this time of rising concerns, panic, and fear over the Covid 19 Pandemic we need not fear. Our Christian heritage and teachings reminds us that from the very beginning God repeatedly and consistently instructs us to “Fear Not for I am Your God and I am with you.” That does not mean that we are immune to worldly events, but that we will not be overtaken by them. Even when we cannot see God actively working in our lives, it has no bearing on the fact that God is indeed working powerfully in ways we may not perceive as yet. We can be confident that God always keeps His promises. So we can respond to this challenge without fear.

How shall we respond? Once again our Christian scripture aids us. Jesus’ paraphrases the Hebrew Bible when He calls us to “love the Lord thy God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind and love our neighbors as ourselves.” The World Health Organization has identified “social distancing” as the most effective way to stem the spread of the Covid 19 virus. In keeping with Jesus’ command to love others in that sacrificial way and in accordance with the recommendations of the Southern New England UCC Conference we at New Hope United Church of Christ will be suspending physical church worship services and meetings until further notice. We will continue to pray and monitor the situation and will keep you posted. However we will continue to support one another spiritually through the use of technology. We will continue to provide a weekly abbreviated service on our website. It will consist of: Extinguishing of the Lenten Candles, Scripture Introduction, Scriptures, Sermon, Prayers and Benediction.  There will also be a Children’s weekly story on our website as well. We would love your feedback and commentary on what you found helpful and what else you might like to see. Of course I will also be available by phone, video-chat, text, and email.

During this, or any time of crisis, it is important that we, as disciples of Christ, do our part in leading the community in calm and confidence. We have Biblical directives for both. Please continue to check in on one another and notify me if a need arises. Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns, or just to chat.

As Jesus said in John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Not Again!

snow covered road between bare treesAs I slipped out of my nice warm bed I saw it. The reports had been true. Several inches of sloppy wet snow now blanketed my long driveway and patio, just as I had feared. Several inches of the slushy mess were too much to leave and too little for the snow blower to function. My desire to ignore it (after all wasn’t spring around the corner?) was dashed by the forecast of frigid temps arriving by nightfall. Experience told me that if left unattended the cold would transform the soft slush into cement lasting for weeks. With an audible sigh I resigned myself to rearranging my already full morning calendar. While I was thankful that my husband could also delay his morning appointments to attend to this irksome chore, I was still definitely not happy.

Back and forth, back and forth I went with the snow shovel, coaxing the slush off the paved surfaces and onto the grass. Back and forth, back and forth I grumbled and fussed in my head desperately trying not to give it voice. Back and forth, back and forth I ruminated about my blown up schedule, my once organized to-do list left in shatters. Back and forth, back and forth I tried in vain to placate myself with the thought that it was good for me to get fresh air and exercise. Back and forth, back and forth the tedium shrouding me… and then I heard it. I stopped. Could it be? YES! It was music! It was the most beautiful melody of birdsongs. The birds had returned to break through the long winter silence filling the air once again with joyous sharps and trills. And then it hit me…

IF I had not “had” to attend to the driveway that morning, I would have missed it. I would never have heard their beautiful voices full of promise and joy. They didn’t care that the weather was gloomy.

They didn’t care that a cold front was on the way. They were singing because they could and it was the most beautiful music I had ever heard. My morning was transformed and a new lighter heart was in me. Yes, they sang, spring is coming. Yes, they trilled life is good. Yes, we are singing because we are joyous in the moment regardless of what you are doing or complaining about.

Suddenly the familiar words of Psalm 100 came to me “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God: it is he who made us, and not we ourselves: we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” and fast on its heels Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! and I was convicted and changed.

While I was focusing and fussing about the interruption to my day, my schedule, my wants, my displeasure and my inconvenience, that was all I could see. My world got darker and smaller by the minute. But God in God’s love and goodness did not leave me there. Although I surely did not deserve to be anywhere else. Instead God lifted me up and graced me with a song that in turn made my very heart and soul sing. I was transformed. Instead of passing on my annoyance and frustration to the rest of my day (and everyone around me), I was given new eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to hope, and hands to work. Unearned grace to pass on… Thank you God!

Blessing of Dormant Time

download.jpgAhhhh the craziness of the holidays with all their frenetic activity are over. Most of us have even stuffed all the trappings of Christmas back into their boxes for a year’s rest in the attic or basement. Whew! So we find ourselves in a lull time as we wait for the next physical or liturgical season to begin. However Christians have only 3 weeks or so to wait as Lent heralds spring (even if it does begin February 26th). Thus whether we like it or not, we find ourselves in dormant time. For many this seems like a vast wasteland of waiting. In fact, for some it can make us so uncomfortable that we throw ourselves into boatload of self-assigned projects. While a case could be made that cleaning cupboards and closets, starting a knitting project, or building a log cabin in the back yard might have its merits… an endless stream of to-do’s is not what God has in mind for us as God’s precious beloved creatures.

God has designed the entire natural world to have periods of rest or Sabbath time. A time to breathe and be, rather than bust our behinds on a treadmill of tasks. As much as it occasionally aggravates me, even houseplants take a rest from blooming. As we hear in Genesis 2:1 “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all of his work of creation.” Remembering that creation “days” are not the same 24-hour day that we experience, we can understand that rest periods are God ordained and essential to our wellbeing.

While we may understand that intellectually we humans have spent eons ignoring it. Exodus 16:28 “The Lord asked Moses, “how long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.” A gift? Let’s be honest. I love the feeling of getting so much done. I feel important and valued when my lengthy to-do list gets completed. It is much harder to feel useful and needed when I have accomplished nothing more than a stroll around the neighborhood, a nap, or watching the birds in the backyard. Yet that is exactly what God calls me and you to do. After all we are human BEINGS not human doings. It is a task that becomes even harder when we are “plugged in” to the world through social media 24/7.

But just in case we can’t just take God’s word for it, it has been scientifically proven that taking Sabbath will produce greater peace of mind, heightened creativity, and more expansive sense of gratitude in our hearts. Additionally we will enjoy a deeper spiritual relationship as we are finally available – to listen, to see, to experience God. By taking Sabbath we will also realize more enjoyment in our future activities.

As someone who grew up in a “gotta be busy can’t relax until all the work is done and there is always something to be done” world, I understand how hard it is to stay in the Sabbath mentality – no matter how many seminars I have taken on the subject. And yet… it is worth it. I have experienced it and it is wonderful! Even if I only make half a list, turn off my phone and social media for 4 hours, or climb every other mountain; it is progress. Despite a nagging feeling that I have to justify my existence, I reluctantly experience what God has been trying to tell me all along. “I’ve got this so you can let go.” and “I’ve got you and you are precious even if you do absolutely nothing!”

Rather than being bemoaned, these “dormant” or Sabbath times truly are a gift.

I am humbled and a bit embarrassed at my insistence that the world needs my 24/7 help. How about you? Perhaps I’ll go take a nap…

Wisdom of a Christmas Cactus:despite being seasonally incorrect

IMG_2615As I go about my daily tasks, my eyes feast on a riot of colorful foliage. The sounds of whirling leaves cascading to the ground and the crisp crackle of them under foot is a delight to my senses. And yet I find that the general climate of conversation is less appreciative than apprehensive. More often than not my comment on the beautiful day is countered by “Yeah but: winter’s coming, it’s getting dark so early, I hate the cold that’s coming, or worst of all – Christmas will be here before we know it.” While I sympathize with the loss of the balmy summer light and warmer temperatures, it got me wondering about our appreciation of today.

This was brought home to me this morning as I happened to glance at the Christmas cactus relegated to a corner table that I have mostly ignored for months. Instead of the usual boring dull green foliage weeping over the pot there were miraculously bright pink buds!   This plant suddenly (and totally without my help or notice) was coming to life right before my eyes despite the rest of the world dying around it. It did not care that it is a season of decay and packing our bags for another season, it was going to bloom! This plucky little plant was also clearly not restricted by the human expectation that since it was dubbed a “Christmas” cactus is should at least have the courtesy to hold back from flowering until at least December 1st!

Perhaps this simple plant has much to teach us about letting go of the world’s expectations and ourselves to bloom whenever and however we feel like no matter what the rest of the world is doing.

I confess to getting wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the seasonal changes. There is much to do to prepare for winter. However my “Halloween” cactus reminds me that we can bloom right in the midst of what is going on in our worlds or in spite of it. What ways have I held back a bloom because of others’ expectations or seasons? Why not bloom right now? Why are we waiting for Christmas? or the New Year?, or after the election? Why not bloom right in the midst of it – just because!   Imagine how more beautiful, fascinating and fulfilling our life and the world would be if we just bloomed willy nilly whenever and however God prompted us to.  Perhaps we would be less concerned about what is coming next and more able to appreciate and give thanks for all of God’s miracles and blessings right now.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?

 

red and white led light
Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

It all depends on how we celebrate it. Some simple guidelines can help. Halloween began as a way for ancient pagan peoples to celebrate the harvest and to stave off the trepidations of the perilous winter ahead. Life was extremely hard in those days and many superstitions arose around their fears of darkness and death. Long before the days of electricity houses were lit only by meager oil lamps or candles which cast eerie shadows in the deepest dark.

By the 1800’s Christianity became a strong cultural and moral voice. Pope Boniface IV replaced these festivals of the dead with a church-sanctioned All Saints Day on November 1st. It is still a Holy Day of Obligation for our Catholic friends. On this day the lives of the saints and martyrs of the church are honored.

The American tradition of “trick or treating” goes back to English All Soul’s Parades where poor citizens would beg for food. More fortunate families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in exchange for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.

For many decades the American celebration Halloween was increasingly focused on fun family gatherings, neighborhood trick-or-treating for small children and harvest celebrations. However in more recent times it has become a huge commercial “boo”m! Consumers are expected to spend $9.1 billion for Halloween this year. It is no longer a holiday just for children, with 8 in 10 millennials saying they are already planning something fun with their friends. Gruesome and suggestive adult costumes are big business. Sales of elaborate decorations and house displays which are running a close second to Christmas. It has become an adult holiday with Concerns about safety briefly stemmed the tide but like or not Halloween is here to stay.

Being mindful of a few simple guidelines can allow our children and grandchildren to enjoy the holiday without diminishing our Christian ideals and faith.

Handy Halloween Guidelines

  1. Remember to emphasize the opportunities to give rather than how much one can get. Do not permit your trick-or-treaters to use pillowcases or shopping bags. They will more fully enjoy the experience by stopping at a few houses (preferably neighbors or friends) and getting a little candy. Participate in UNICEF or other charitable activities. It is a great time to do family mission projects.
  2. Avoid ghoulish or macabre masks, costumes, movies or decorations. Christ was the one who rose from the dead – not Dracula or Zombies.
  3. Focus on family and friends. This is a great opportunity for a simple get-together with neighbors you may have been too busy to see regularly.
  4. Emphasize creativity in costuming. Allow your child(ren) to create their own with guidance.(see #2) They may wish to be a hobo for the 3rd year in a row when you had your heart set on that adorable astronaut costume that would surely win a prize.
  5. Donate last year’s costumes to a second hand clothing store BEFORE the holiday. Many families would welcome the selection and price break.
  6. Consider buying candy for financially strapped families, singles or elderly persons and deliver well before They may have a large number of trick-or-treaters but a small budget.
  7. Offer to help someone who lives alone hand out candy. Having strangers come to your door can cause concern for those who live alone. Offer to hand out candy while the adults accompany the children treat-or-treating.
  8. Keep it in perspective. One evening of high spirits, a few black cats, witches and ghosts will not denigrate your child’s faith in God. They will take their cue from you. If you continue to stand strong in your faith and refrain from giving the holiday undue macabre attention they will take it in stride as well.
  9. Remember… Jesus is with us always… even on Halloween.