Threading the Needle with a Camel

“Welcome to O’Hare,” said the flight attendant on the overhead speaker as the plane touched down on a snowy day in March. It was Chicago, after all.

I had zero regrets about the Dodge Dart I rented. My usual forays into Chicagoland were in the suburbs, but that wasn’t on the docket this trip. In fact, no one knew I was here. It was a secret mission.

Many years ago I had gotten a call that one of my favorite ladies in the world was a raging addict who got caught and was currently locked up in rehab. I had no idea she was an addict. None. With my mouth agape, she unloaded on the phone call about her years of secret alcohol binges. A bottle of tequila before 10am? Just another Tuesday. Her addiction imploded her life, as she was fired from her lucrative job and forced into a day of reckoning.

“I’m coming to see you,” I said in between the tears. And I did. Before I knew it, I was on the Eisenhower Expressway heading into the heart of the city.

Whatever thoughts you have about the realities of rehab: the hospital-like corridors, inpatient gowns, a monk-like existence in a semi-private room with someone who bounced around homeless shelters – there was none of that here.

The rich lead a very different life and rehab was no exception.

The rehab place, in the middle of a skyscraper with a view of Lake Shore Drive, was more outpatient than inpatient. I met her in a private counseling meeting. She looked good, maybe a little better than the last time I saw her. We hugged and chatted with the counselor, as she explained the finer details of this terrible situation. We talked about our relationship and how to be supportive. We were going back to her living quarters a few blocks away.

“Why aren’t they housed here?” I asked the counselor. There were plenty of opportunities to grab alcohol at the bodegas or hit up someone on the street for a needle.

“They have to learn how to live with all the temptations of the world,” the counselor replied. “What better way to prepare them for that than to do it here? We drug test them everyday. If you’re positive, we kick you out.”

We left rehab central and walked to the apartments. We passed two bars. “It doesn’t bother you?” I asked. “Nope. I’m moving on.”

We paused outside a Seven-Eleven. “Wait here,” she said and disappeared inside. She returned with pouches of mint tobacco. “One addiction at a time,” she said as she placed one in her lip. Illinois was very strict about not smoking inside buildings. Nicotine was her last holdout.

The apartment was something out of a movie. Another skyscraper, the doorman greeted her like an old friend. The lobby was too pristine to sit in. “Coffee?” she asked. A coffee machine from the future was on a table. In a series of touchscreens, you could order whatever coffee creation your heart desired and it was free. Of course, I grabbed a mocha latte and we headed up to the 15th floor.

“This is home,” she said as she opened the door. My jaw once again fell to the floor. Ultra modern, with sleek natural colors, and floor to ceiling windows in the living room, the views of the city were breathtaking. My kitchen looked like one in an old single wide trailer compared to this one that fell out of a magazine spread. I heard another woman’s voice yelling on the phone behind a closed door. “That’s my roommate,” she said. “She’s a lawyer in the middle of a case. She’s an alcoholic.” Of course. This two bedroom, two bathroom joint cost more than double my mortgage and was half the size of my house. I also didn’t have access to an indoor pool and gym. Or a free coffee machine that made all my espresso wishes come true.

We chatted for awhile before I had to leave. Guests were not allowed overnight. I stayed with a mutual friend of ours to commiserate. I would be back in the morning.

Having never experienced rehab, I got my chance the next day. We met at the main center and they began their day with audio sessions of binaural beats. This helped them focus and bring clarity. I’ve found it’s very helpful to have in the background when writing something difficult.

And then I found myself in my first AA meeting, a requirement here. I sat in the circle and introduced myself when my turn came. Everyone here was highly professional: doctors, architects, lawyers. I was struck by the humanity of it all. They all had the same story: I was in control until I wasn’t anymore. I’m here because my business partners want to buy me out if I don’t get clean. These were highly educated and successful people, and if I’m being honest, one of my loved ones back home fit the bill for an alcoholic after hearing everyone talk. It was like a sucker punch to the gut. Everyone here drove luxury cars. Many had boats at the city marina. And yet, they were struggling just as much as someone living on the streets, only here they had more resources. They didn’t have to choose between basic needs and their addiction. In fact, their lifestyle almost encouraged addiction.

They had it all, but it wasn’t enough.

The Bible often talks about the difficulty of rich people getting into Heaven – more so than the poor – and I was convinced of that when I left the meeting.

I asked if I could take her to brunch and it was granted. The only rule was I couldn’t order alcohol, which of course, wasn’t even an afterthought.

The place was a short, cold walk away. It was crowded and it took us a moment to get a table, but we sat and chatted the morning away over good food. We talked about her family issues, hopes for the future, and she shared more interesting tales of rehab for millionaires. She had made friends with the upper crust of Chicagoian society, which was mind blowing to me. I was impressed with her brutal honesty about her failures, lies, and her unresolved pain from childhood which was probably at the root of this whole mess. I gave her the biggest hug before I left for the airport. I didn’t feel right leaving her, but she was a smart cookie and had the best care offered.

I stopped at ICE, a wine bar, back at O’Hare. This whole weekend had been surreal. A good Moscato made sense.

She was on of the success stories, released a month later. She managed to stay clean, but an opened can of worms included a hospital stay on a behavioral health floor a year later. I’m proud to say she worked the program and has been clean for several years.

I’d like to say she’s around the bend, but in recovery, there’s no such thing as cured. It’s always a conscious decision – a daily bread – not to use.

And I am proud of her for still choosing to stay clean.

God is Not a Lawnmower Parent

My friend and I were chatting recently about how the church of our youth offered a boxset version of God that we all bought into, hook, line, and sinker. All of it boiled down to a logical statement: “If you do X, God will do Y.”

If your first sexual encounter is on your wedding night, then God will bless and keep your marriage strong.

This was ground into us as truth all through high school. There was no other way. Those that were sexual outside of marriage would pay a steep price, which may not be evident until years later. It was as if sexual purity somehow insulated you against the messy onslaught of life, instead of treating it as honoring God, each other, and ourselves. Nonetheless, we took it as the gold standard.

If you are obedient to God’s laws, then God will reward that.

If you followed the Bible to the letter – black and white, there was no gray area with God, they said – blessings will rain down from heaven upon you, in the form of health, wealth, wisdom, knowledge, stability, a godly spouse, children, or some other Christianized version of the American dream. Again, the fairy tale got wrapped up in the gospel; it was taught that you can do things to keep the pain of life away, as if praying the prayer of salvation kept the bad things from happening, an insurance policy against poor decisions or things beyond your control. There were walking talking examples of this in the church – although no one bothered to pay any attention to the prodigal son’s older brother, apparently. And the good people who weren’t living the dream? Their time would come, surely, God would reward it. You know, in His time. There was no room for the pain of unanswered prayers, shoddy luck, or a medical diagnosis without a silver lining.

I have another friend who is going through a bit of a deconstruction of her faith, as the platitudes of her youth didn’t hold up when life happened. The seemingly well-engineered structures crumbled under the strain. The bulwark gave way slowly at first, and then washed away in a storm. And when the raging waters surrounded her, many said, “Try harder. Pray more. You’re obviously not doing something right.” But she did everything “right” – she even sacrificed her well-being, her sense of self, and denied her own needs in effort to make the situation better. And it only made the situation worse. For a woman who was the poster child for Christian obedience and a shining example of sexual purity, she got robbed of it all and then some.

Does God reward obedience? Absolutely. Do sexually pure marriages honor God? Yes, all day long. But I think it is amusing how we assume that obedience yields a reward. Our on-going discussions wonder where God was in the midst of all this. The fervent and frequent prayers yielded nothing of substance, only destruction and lament. I know that feeling, as I went through the infertility phase. “Not my will, but yours,” was constantly on my lips, hoping God would do a miracle on my behalf, as we gave Him plenty of opportunities. I also recognized He could keep us infertile for reasons beyond me this side of heaven – which appears to be His chosen path for us. This wasn’t something I could pray myself out of, although I tried.

God, as my friends and I have found, is not a lawnmower parent. Lawnmower parents are those parents who remove all obstacles from their children, so they never struggle, never suffer, never have to try again. They “mow” the course in front of them so the path is evident, free of rocks, and easy to navigate – the child never has conflict. Of course, helping children, especially the littles, is one thing, but never letting them learn how to work through a problem – or *gasp!* fail! – whether that is feeding themselves, learning a new skill, or straight up frustration when they don’t get their way – they become complacent. It’s learned helplessness. They fall apart if no one is there to “mow down” the obstacle. And many times, we expect God to “make the paths straight,” especially if we accepted Jesus.

I do not believe God abandoned my friend in the midst of her struggles, but I do believe God is not a lawnmower parent. The reason for her pain and rotten outcome may be evident in the years to come; perhaps it will not be fully realized until she is face to face with Jesus. Like a homesteader, I know God uses ever last bit of life – nothing goes to waste – perhaps not all of it for the goodness of our earthly selves. Compost is nothing more than decaying organic matter (it’s full of bugs and smells), but it nourishes the plants like nothing else. Life not always going to turn out like a Christian movie. Sometimes the “right one” never comes along. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t happen. Sometimes the ailing marriage isn’t saved. Sometimes the biological baby never happens. Sometimes it’s not going to ever be okay. Sometimes we will go through life maimed. And we as a church need to accept that and make room at the table for people who don’t get their Boaz and are rejected by their father when they return home, not even worthy enough to be a slave in their household.

Just because we follow the Lord does not mean life is going to be one big beautiful story where we can Pollyanna the pain away. Life is so complex, so rewarding, so disappointing, so painful, all rolled into one amazing story. Our triumphs as well as our pitfalls are all for the glory of God.

Even if we won’t know that glory on this side of the river.

While He never said the path would be a groomed one, He did say would never leave us to be alone in the forest. No matter what.

The Back Lot of North Carolina

In this age of COVID, meeting up with a friend has become an adventure in itself. We decided to meet half way between our houses, a three hour drive for both of us. Our socially distant gathering would take place outside; we would only enter buildings while masked for take away and bathrooming. Our meeting place was a small North Carolinian town on the bay. I had never been there. I planned it out as best I could with Google Maps street view with shots from 2014.

I got on the road early, an hour or so after sunrise. Once I got off the interstate, it felt like I was back in the Thumb area of Michigan – as rural as rural gets – and it made me nostalgic for days gone by. Between the farm fields, the small towns called to me. I daydreamed about renting a room in Beulaville, settling in for a week to write a novel. I’d walk to get my coffee at Duff’s Cafe, have dinner at Ann’s Thai Kitchen, followed by ice cream from IGA. I’d finish up the day writing, sipping a double shot’s worth of Deep Eddy Ruby Red vodka. A writer can dream. Maybe someday.

With my midwestern background, surrounded with only soybeans and corn, the tobacco fields always interest me the most. I’ve been here fourteen years and the novelty hasn’t worn off. The first time I saw a tobacco field, I didn’t know what it was. My friend, with southern roots a mile deep, looked at me like I was nuts. We were on the way to a funeral, but I made her pull off to the side of the road so I could get a closer view of these exotic plants growing in the middle of absolute nowhere. I marveled at how these plants could cause so much damage to a human, as someone who has a thing for distillates of potatoes and sugarcane.

The small towns – some disappeared within a blink of an eye as the cruise was set at 75mph on a byway – gave way to larger towns. I imagine people in the one horse towns would call these large cities. It took me a moment to adjust, too.

I didn’t expect towns this large to be in the back lot of North Carolina.

I didn’t expect them to be as nice as they were either. I have a few on my “must revisit” list.

The drive was easy, scenic, and before I knew it, I arrived at my destination.

It was more beautiful than the pictures and I was sad I didn’t investigate more of its historical significance until after I had left. My heart was singing as I drove through the quintessential downtown that hadn’t changed much from the early 1900’s, never mind the 2014 view. My friend had gotten delayed, so I had some time to explore and get the place wired. I parked right by the water and judging from the morning sky, it was going to be a beautiful day.

As it turns out, the visitor’s center had a large back porch, complete with rocking chairs and a postcard worthy view of the water out of the sun. I couldn’t have found a better place to enjoy the company of an old friend!

As I sauntered through downtown, where everything was clean, friendly, and the ambience made it feel like I wasn’t in 2020. I realized I had forgotten to bring deodorant on this adventure (of all days!), so I stopped in at the local pharmacy. The decor was straight out of 1978, but I found some Old Spice at a very reasonable price (I refuse to smell like flowers or baby powder, I prefer masculine scents). I made a mental note to remember this pharmacy also had an ice cream counter. Sears was going out of business and the sales I saw from the window were difficult to pass up as a bargain hunter, but I truly didn’t need anything, so I kept walking. This town felt like I was lucid dreaming. I also noticed my Great Lakes accent disappeared here. I usually save my southern lilt for patients at work, but it came out naturally in this town.

I walked back down to the water, just as my friend appeared.

I could write a novel in this town too, except I would require a kayak.

Til Death Do Us Part

“Hey, want to go to a wedding with me next weekend?” asked my new boyfriend of one month. His friend Rob was getting married in Raleigh, a city I hadn’t yet visited in my new homestate.

“Sure,” I said, always up for an adventure. “Isn’t it a little late to RSVP?”

“Oh it’s fine, they’re pretty laid back.”

And that is how I met Rob and Jacelyn. These two kind souls were instrumental in helping my boyfriend start his life over after a particularly ugly divorce. Rob and my boyfriend were friends and Jacelyn was like an older sister, disapproving of his idiot girlfriends and making sure he was safe after a night of partying. Their wedding was gorgeous. A simple backyard ceremony, complete with a large tent and the rain didn’t even phase the bride, she was too happy. You could feel the love they shared in the air.

Two years later, the boyfriend became my husband. They were at our wedding too.

We got together a few times over the years, as they have family here in Wilmington, but it wasn’t often. Once they had kids, we rarely saw them. We often joked about their “pool parties,” where a bunch of friends gathered to hold the above ground pool lining as it filled. There was no swimming. Everyone stood around drinking beer, but still a great time.

Last time we saw them was just after Hurricane Florence in 2018. Their church had a big drive for supplies to send to Wilmington, so we drove up there, eager to get out of town. We loaded up our car to the gills with everything from washing detergent to diapers. Our church was distributing it to families in need. We had lunch at their house and it was a fun visit. Their kids were really cool, too, just like their parents.

“I really miss you guys,” Rob said. “We need to get together again soon.” We all agreed.

But you know how it goes – life gets busy and the months slowly become years. Still, my husband kept up with them on Facebook. He made a lasagna last week, inspired by Jacelyn’s lasagna post.


The phone rang and it was my husband. I figured he was calling to vent about work when I picked up.

I heard a sob. “I just got a phone call.”

That’s never a good sign.

“Rob died.”

“Died? From what?”

“Major organ failure.” Another sob.

“From what?” Normal forty-somethings don’t just keel over from major organ failure without cause.

“He was sick for a couple of weeks and then….” his voice trailed off.

I was dumbfounded. Why Rob? Rob was one of the sweetest souls, a man of Christ who actually lived it, not just on Sundays. He was the ultimate family man. He’d give you the shirt off his back. Not Rob. Not now. No.

My heart broke for Jacelyn. And the kids. And Rob’s parents. Once again I was reminded this life isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair at all.


We always seem to go to friends’ weddings in this season of life; we never think of going to their funerals.

My grandfather, who died at 100, often lamented he was sick of losing friends – often twenty years younger than him – to death because they were old. When my friends leave, it’s because they move or get bogged down with life, yet I can still contact them. I’ve never lost a friend to death.

But Rob is gone forever.

Why, Lord?

In my limited human scope of the matter, this doesn’t feel right. Rob had so much more living to do. Jacelyn needed him. His kids needed him. His family needed him. His church needed him. The world needed him.

And we’re just left to mourn.

This was yet another reminder that tomorrow is not promised to us, nor does the Lord make it so that everyone dies in their 90’s in their sleep, after a strong and healthy life. It is so much more nuanced. And the crazy part is He made it like that. For me, I’ll never quite understand why He made it that way.

As I look to the future that may or may not be mine, I’m reminded the quality of life is so much more important than the big paycheck, crazy amounts of stress, and the rat race that comes along with it. As my husband and I plod forward, we find ourselves pulling back from the cultural benchmarks.

I am indeed thankful for my quiet life. Rob’s passing was another reminder of how short and unfair this life is. The moment to live life to it’s fullest is now.

Here’s to honoring the Lord with all the days I have left.

Decatured

As Godsmack once so eloquently said, “Never did I want to be here again and I don’t remember why I came.” It was Summer 2019.

I’m a sucker for strolling down Memory Lane and Decatur, Illinois is a treasure map.

I resisted the urge to turn down Foresyth Blacktop and test my memory of getting to Latham from the backroads – I doubt I could navigate it anymore. Was it Beardstown Road? Bearstown Road? Instead, I turned down the road I knew like the back of my hand.

I can’t come to Decatur without driving past the house.

I turned into the upper middle class neighborhood – by Decaturian standards – and stopped in front of it. It hadn’t changed an iota in all these years. This was his house, he who’s name I’ve successfully forgotten. So many things happened here: I met a best friend, first sip of alcohol and hangover, learned to shoot pool, an invalid pregnancy test. The basement had a false wall in it too, with a secret passage. But like me, he’s long gone. I managed to get myself lost in the neighborhood trying to get back to the main road, much like I used to do when I would jog these streets all those years ago.

Somethings never change, I suppose.

My next stop was Millikin University. It looked the same too. I tried to find his old apartment, but I couldn’t find it. I remember railroad tracks, but there were no buildings by it. Was it razed? Was my memory wrong? It was all a bit hazy. The old bars were right where I left them, seemingly untouched by time. The gas station by campus is where I stopped on my first roadtrip, twenty years previous, nostalgia filled the air. My windshield survey was enough: it was time for lunch.

I found a darling little bistro on Prairie Street and parked my car at the intersection of Main and Main – quite possibly the most Decaturian thing ever. I ordered French onion soup, a sandwich, and treated myself to a martini that was basically summertime in a glass. I slowly sipped the martini and ate every bite of lunch, a perfect end to my Decatur foray.

As I left the bistro, with plans to keep driving south, I noticed my lips had gone numb.

The eight mile run that morning had caught up with me, the only explanation for getting a buzz off a drink with a meal. I logged too many hours working in the Emergency Room to even think about getting in the car, so I walked a mile back to Millikin to sober up.

What else could one do on a hot summer day?

I walked down Main Street – I know what you’re thinking and I was fine – my only encounter was a gentleman who made it known he approved of my curves. I ignored him and kept going as if Jim Millikin was my great-grandfather.

Oh, Decatur.

I cooled off in the main building, Schilling Hall. I forgot a small theatre was here. I paced the hallway, looking at stills from student plays gone by. I missed my theatre days and suddenly had a longing for a matinee. I strode around the “quad” if it can even be called that and sat down next to my favorite Millikin guy: the bronze man on campus, a statue. He was still here, reading the same book.

I thought of my other favorite Millikin guy – the one who’s old apartment I couldn’t find – and if I still had his phone number, I would have sent him a picture of me sitting outside Schilling Hall. “Guess where I am.” But that contact had been deleted a long time ago. I sighed. I hoped life was treating him well, wherever he was.

With my liver downshifting into second gear and my parking meter running out, I made it back to the car, completely sober.

I sauntered through Fairview Park by the Pavilion until bugs got too buggy. A cop pulled me over as I was exiting, apparently I was going the wrong way. He spent five minutes yelling at me about it, but didn’t cite me. He didn’t notice my North Carolina plates or listen to the fact I had only been here with a native son years ago.

And with that, I drove straight to Amish country, too annoyed to stop for custard at Krekel’s.

Oh, Decatur!

Modest Isn’t Hottest For Me

While preparing for a church outing last year to the local islands, it dawned on me that maybe I should rethink my swimwear choices.

I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin and I prefer to be on a beach with as little clothing as possible. My bikini was from O’Neil – a surf clothing line – because it stayed put in the waves and wore like iron. It was street legal on the family-friendly beaches of New Hanover County, but it didn’t leave much to the imagination. My top barely cleared my areola and my cheeky bottoms showed more skin than it covered.

I suddenly became self-conscious about what I was wearing, which hadn’t happened to me since middle school. I ended up wearing a surfing bikini top and men’s boardshorts, my ace in the hole for modesty. The boardshorts cover my belly button to just passed my knees and are super baggy. You can’t see any of my ink and my awesome waist to hip ratio is obliterated (my hips are thirteen inches bigger than my waist measurements). I looked like a box.

That’s how I’m suppose to look, right?

A pastor’s daughter who aspires to be a philosophy major commented on my attire. “Boardshorts, huh?” she said, wearing a cute bikini herself.

“Eh, my normal swimsuit isn’t that modest, thought this would be better.”

She rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. I assure you my dad doesn’t care what you wear.”

Well, that was encouraging.

One of the ladies of the congregation in her mid-50’s showed up in a string bikini. She was a grandmother and rocked it, despite not having a “perfect 10” body. I want to be like her when I grow up.

While still active but not exactly declining modeling contracts at 38, I decided that maybe this year I should dress my age. I found a swimsuit on sale and thought this was the answer. Hello 38, I have arrived.

My new suit is a corsetted surfing bikini that covers, which means my 32B chest is safe and I don’t have to worry about getting arrested after a big wave. The bottoms have actual material that cover the entirety of my butt and then some. There are four inches of material on the sides. Four inches. It’s like granny panties.

They fit perfect in the fitting room, leaving everything possible to the imagination. Fast forward to my road test of the new suit at the beach: I checked myself in the mirror before I left to get a better idea of this new swimming costume.

Well, if it was modesty I was going for, I sure got it.

The bottoms, although they covered all things, cut into the nice layer of fat I have on top of my hips. Yes, I like my ice cream. Yes, I like my rum. Yes, this is a byproduct of that, I’m sure. In the back, it covered everything so the only thing visible was the giant cellulite patches at the top of my thighs. Did I mention spider veins?

Oh. My.

I’m not bringing sexy back. Hot girl summer part deux? Not here. For the first time in my adult life, I felt out of place at the beach. The real test of a bathing suit is body surfing in the waves, and it passed with flying colors. So I got that going for me.

Here’s to visiting the beaches of southern France the next chance I get. That’s more my speed. But until then, I’ll be adjusting to this new normal.

When Hope Is Gone

Back at the precipice of the pandemic, I was listening to a traditional conservative (re: not Trumpist) podcast that was talking about predictions for the future with COVID. “It’s going to get bad,” the guest said. “When this is all said and done, you will know someone who died from this or know someone who lost a loved one to it.” That stopped me in my tracks. What a bold statement to say out loud. Was this fear mongering? Or was this a dire warning?

Those words have been rolling around in my head for the past few months. My husband keeps saying things that sound absurd, but then they happen a few weeks later. “This winter is going to be a difficult one and the time to prepare is now,” he says every time the pandemic comes up in conversation. I’ll spare you the details of his predictions. I hope he’s wrong and it is nothing but the post-apocalyptic fiction he reads seeping into his stream of consciousness. But at the rate of infection, I don’t know.

I have zero faith about all of this. I’m so jealous of my loved ones who do.

If I could redo college, I would be an English major and never set foot in the medical field. Why? Because medical training takes away all your hope.

All of it.

Ignorance is bliss.

And I wish I had it.

If I didn’t know the theory behind my infertility, I’d have so much faith in God, so much hope. But because I know how they came to the conclusion, all hope was lost in a pathology report. I knew how the deck was stacked.

I’m envious of patients who believed they could cure cancer with herbal tea. I’m not God, I’m just the faceless entity compiling reports on the cellular level. The sad truth is lemon balm won’t fix it. I can’t share in their hope – but I certainly would if I wasn’t medically trained.

Miracles are not a default setting.

I’ve found the same to be true with COVID.

This virus doesn’t care about your personal convictions. Epidemiology doesn’t change because you’re bored with protocols. That is why it keeps spreading.

I wish I had the faith of my father – a retired engineer and pro-life Catholic – who’s currently on a 1200 mile bicycle ride, staying in a new town every night for a few weeks. He took a mask with him. He’s not worried. I expressed my concern and he turned off his hearing aids.

If only I had the intestinal fortitude of friends who don’t think twice about hanging out with other friends. It’s not that bad, they tell me. I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. They’re taking “precautions,” but none of those precautions include social distancing or masks. Meanwhile, I’m a broach away from becoming that cat lady.

I would love to have the carefree life of church folk here: pictures of my pastor hanging out with other clergy without social distancing or masks. Friends who would gather to worship in South Carolina when churches were “closed” here. Many friends still attend church events. My heart aches.

I’m jealous my Chicagoian sister goes out to brunch with her friends. Never mind she is a medical provider with known COVID patients. I know better than to call her out. She should know better.

I’m envious of a friend’s mom on social media, who believes COVID is nothing but a democratic tool (she has websites and proof, y’all) and that Mr. Trump’s God-breathed leadership has basically defeated it. She doesn’t need a mask, she is a free American Christian. I admire her dedication. I admire her faith in a man who spent his life buying and selling skyscrapers who clearly has way more knowledge about the subject than any virologist with doctorate degree.

Again, my medical background becomes a weight, like an anchor, that I drag around with me. It slows me down and becomes cumbersome. My last tattoo was an anchor. I didn’t expect it to become to this symbolic, but here I am.

My husband said this and I took it to heart:

“I can’t change anyone’s actions, I can only control me. And so I say nothing. If I am asked, I will give an honest opinion, but they never ask. They will live their life as they see fit and I can’t do anything about it.”

And so I continue what I’ve always done when someone’s faith or lifestyle contradicts the medical facts: I nod. I smile. I keep my mouth shut.

God, after all, has the final word. I’ll let Him do the talking.

Thoughts From a North Carolina Recluse

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I am not an introvert.

I am a recluse.

I haven’t seen anyone outside of my husband and co-workers since February. Last week a friend – who is pregnant, moving out of state, and turning 40 – and I briefly met up. I was masked, maintained my distance, washed my hands like the germaphobe that I am, and thought it is all too soon. I freaked out about her high risk of high risk status, and she waved it off. “Where I work, no one is masked or socially distanced. They don’t care. I do what I can.” She’s comes from a culture that isn’t as uptight as my German lineage. I was uneasy about it. She needs help staging her house to sell, which I am an expert at, and of course offered to help. I’ve decided she is the only person I’m willing to go into another house for at this time, mostly to help her move. And to keep both of us safe, I’m willing to stop it there.

My husband, who has at least 12 pack years from smoking, asthma, and high blood pressure, is a regular among the ER staff. I hate how this point in time has caused my anxiety to spike over the simplest interactions, but I need to keep him safe too.

Caseloads are skyrocketing here in North Carolina.

I’m so far out of the loop I’m not even sure if our church is still meeting. I have no plans to return to corporate worship anytime soon.

The ladies at work go to South Carolina to get their nails done, as our southern neighbor is much more lax. I’ve spoken to several friends who have regular playdates for their kids as the moms chat, a lot of them are hosting dinner parties, and showing up at church unmasked. The general consensus is we need to get used to this virus, live alongside it. Many – and rightfully so – are sick of the social distancing, not going to church, not worshiping corporately, and not seeing friends. And I totally get that, as Christians we are especially called to be in community

And yet, here I am.

But that’s the sticking point – everything is opening, but nothing in terms of epidemiology has changed. Only our patience tolerance has changed. And a scientist, that’s a terrible reason to ignore the precautions.

We are going to do this pandemic the old fashioned way: let it burn itself out.

I found myself on my enclosed porch pondering all this: it could be this time next year by the time I see friends on a “normal” basis. One of the coffee shops here has my all-time favorite and rare coffee drink – an affogato – and I don’t know when I’ll get one. It could be next summer when I meet up with someone for drinks and dinner downtown. The Europe trip I had planned might be next year or the year after that – I might not leave New Hanover County for an entire year. It’s mind blowing for someone like me who goes off adventuring at the drop of a hat. I haven’t quite come to terms with that yet.

As a recluse, I am 100% okay with that if it means it keeps people – my friends and my community – safe.

The weirdest part of all of this is I don’t miss any of it. Sure, there are a handful of friends I’d love to spent time with vis-a-vis, but not going to restaurants, events, church; I’m surprised at how much I don’t miss any of it. I’m happy being alone.

And it scares me a little about what that says about me.

But I am, after all, a recluse.

Praying

After I left the Catholic faith at 16, I left it all, as I fully embraced the Southern Baptist way of life. I was completely blown away by how much I didn’t know about the Bible, how my life spent in church yielded nothing of substance – let alone relationship – and now that I had found Jesus, the Catholics seemed completely misinformed on nearly every level and there was nothing there for me in my walk with God.

Fast forward a few decades.

I slowly backed away from the SBC in recent years for a myriad of reasons: not having their worldview of a young earth meant I wasn’t welcome there (actual line in a sermon), I had trouble faking the smile of everything was fine, and bypassing my pain with “Jesus is good.” Everyone I encountered was happy, healthy, and lead perfect lives – or so that’s what they displayed at church. I wanted something real. I wanted a church that room for doubts, pain, and the understanding that sometimes life just isn’t fair and no amount of prayer is going to change God’s will. I was also completely disturbed by their blind embrace of partisan politics. But I digress.

I hit a low point a few years ago, where my anxiety was off the charts and my home life was in shambles. Even when I held out my hand to Jesus, I could feel His grip slipping. And that’s right about the time I embraced contemplative prayer. It’s usually what most associate with monks: praying with silence before God. It emphasized quiet medication on scripture combined with accessing emotions – something I’m terrible at. Instead of reading the bible in large passages, as I was taught, as if I were sitting down to a meal, what if I read the Bible like sipping high quality vodka? Small sips over a long period of time, carefully taking in every nuance of flavor rolling off my tongue.

The counselor I was seeing had credentials in the medical world, but was also a Christian. She encouraged me, when anxiety was spiraling, to have a rescue verse or memorize a passage of scripture in order to ground myself. I could never be an actor because I’m terrible at rote memorization (I can’t order through a drive thru without stage fright) but decided to take her up on that. I needed something short and to the point. I settled on the perfect passage for someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Psalm 130.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130, ESV

Without pressuring myself, I memorized the first line. I wrote it down and said it to myself throughout the day. I switched it up by memorizing it German instead of English. I slowly added a verse. I would repeat what I memorized in those nights when I couldn’t sleep; I would say those precious words when everything was falling apart. Psalm 130 was the only thing holding me together some days.

And then, as if things couldn’t get worse, we decided to buy a house before selling our old one. With nearly unbearable anxiety over our finances, a friend online had mentioned praying The Offices, just like monks. Morning. Noon. Afternoon. Evening. Night. Monks would stop at certain times for prayers. They made room in their day for nothing but devotion to prayer. I decided to do the same. While I wasn’t about to get up at 0200, I cut the clock into four quarters, and if I was awake, I would make sure I stopped and prayed at some point in those three hour windows.

It made all the difference in the world. It didn’t change the situation, but it refocused my energy on Him.

My prayer life is still far from perfect. I stumble with simple words when praying over meals, while others seem to have such eloquent phrases. I use a contemplative app, Pray As You Go, fresh out of the Jesuit Society in the UK, a Catholic organization. I love how the meditation gives space for thoughts, a scripture passage, and then makes you reflect on the scripture in different ways. My favorite is when they ask you to be among the crowd as Jesus is speaking, observing the looks on peoples’ faces at His words. They read the scripture again, so you have another sip at it.

Even though my faith has mutated throughout the years, allegiance to His word is the foundation of my faith.

Sunday Walks

The cool crisp air of Sunday morning transported me back in time.

I had driven to the beach and then proceeded to walk ten minutes away from the crowds. It’s not just because of COVID, I’ve been doing this for years. I thrive in solitude and coming to the beach for a peaceful retreat only to be surrounded by loud people, cigarette smoke, screaming children, and country music blaring from a radio is, in a word, awful. I love having my own private beach away from the noise and tourists.

And I don’t mind the walk.

This morning’s walk, alone, barefoot in the sand, clad in a bikini, a haute couture beach tunic, and my trusty beach bag, brought back memories of my church walk in the early 2000’s.

Usually clad in khakis, a nice plain t-shirt, and fake leather shoes, carrying my Bible, I used to walk the mile and a half from my off-campus college apartment to church. The mid-spring weather of Normal, Illinois felt exactly like this morning at Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Back then, I walked the main drag until I cut through a middle class neighborhood with award winning lawns and fulfilled American dreams. This took me to the other main drag and my church was a hop, skip, and a jump from the intersection.

Walking and being alone with my thoughts has had a restorative effect on my life and I am thankful I have had this practice since my youth.

“Do you need a ride home?” a church goer would ask, shocked that I would choose to walk all the way back towards campus. Never mind I had a car, I took the extra twenty minutes to mull over the sermon and try to get myself in a cool frame of mind for the upcoming week. It was also a perfect way to enjoy the weather.

I admit it feels weird, walking along side the Atlantic when I would normally be at church. Even though my church isn’t traditional in the sense of dress codes or even a building, it still feels odd. I haven’t been to church since late February. Or maybe it was early March….? I can’t even remember the last time I had communion. Our Bible Study attempted to meet despite the social distancing orders. I abstained. I have a husband who works in the medical field and has all the risk factors for being hooked up to a ventilator. Did one of my patients have it and give it to me, a possible asymptomatic carrier? My own immune system is set on destroying my own tissues, let alone defeating something new and deadly. Too many variables, too many loved ones.

This morning I found myself plopping down on a beach towel half naked instead of conservative clothing in a chair at a semi-outdoor service a bit of a drive from my house. I was so far away from the wooden pews and order of my college church, it didn’t even register. Instead of reading the God-breathed text of the Bible and standing quietly as the hymns are sung (I have amusia), I opened my Kindle to “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a book written by at 14th century monk in England – the whole book written in old English was a bear to read – about contemplative prayer – praying in silence before God. It predates the Reformation – yet the ocean waves lapping at the shore reminded me that God’s word doesn’t kotow to our human constructs of doctrine or time.

I missed my church in Normal. Last I saw, they are thriving. I hope to visit them again when I find myself in Normal on a Sunday. I miss my church here in Wilmington. If I wasn’t working, I’d be out there, offering hope and meals to the unsheltered members of our congregation. I can’t risk their health right now.

My time in Normal was, as I counted, three lifetimes ago. My life is not what it was back then. I’m afraid this virus will usher in a new lifetime – I don’t know what the future holds or when I’ll be back worshiping with my church family. I can tell you that now is too soon for my kind.

Despite all the changes in scenery and norms, the ocean reminds me that He rules over it all. He set the tides. He brings the hurricanes. He calms the waters.

And He alone will lead us all in our walk: on foot, through neighborhoods, beaches, or cities.