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. Chances are he wouldn’t be particularly pleased to hear from me anyhow. 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.

Things I Have Learned Since the Lockdown

  1. My husband doesn’t have much real estate behind his ears.
    As a front line worker, but not in direct patient contact, my husband still has to wear a mask at his place of employment. Many of the masks are too small and pull down his ears, with a Dumbo effect. When he was able to secure some homemade ones with loops behind the ear, the loops were often too thick and pulled his ears down, as there wasn’t enough “back of ear” to support it. He’s taken to ordering some on Etsy and is trying to rehab the ones gifted to him with a sewing kit. I never really thought about the back of my husband’s ears, but it’s a conversational piece now.
  2. Quarantine Recipes means nothing goes to waste.
    Simple syrup and moonshine. Jasmine rice with sauteed onions and cheddar cheese. Eating a bunch of small random things in the fridge as a meal (Tonight was a hotdog, half a can of tomato soup, crackers with peanut butter and jelly, and cheese slices, followed by fresh strawberries for dessert) – I’m trying to save the actual meals I made for the work week. We are freezing bread and milk and stocking up on rice and other long term stable foods. “How much butter did this take?” my husband asks as he eats a homemade meat pie I made from scratch – both the crust and filling. “A cup of butter, two sticks.” “Oh my God Simonne, we can’t go through butter like that.” Needless to say, I’ll be holding back on the cookies and pastries. We worry that supply chains with fresh food might become a luxury instead of a staple if things really get off the rails, so we’re trying to use less of everything and freeze as much as we can. It’s our way of being proactive instead of reactive, that’s all.
  3. I’ve got friends in old places.
    I’ve managed to make connections with my past. A boyfriend from high school contacted me, but it was really a pitch for a business venture, which I am wholly unequipped to do. He was not interested in my technical writing expertise. I burst out laughing when he wrote I would be a great pick for his sales department because of my extroverted nature. Hello? INFJ here and I’m awkward as…well, you know. I suddenly remembered why our relationship never worked. I reconnected with a friend who was a collegemate of mine. I’ve rediscovered her blog and have thoroughly enjoyed our correspondence. A pen pal I had in middle and high school got back in touch with me and we hope to FaceTime soon!
  4. I can’t do church online.
    I got called out for it, but I cannot bring myself to remote into a worship service via my internet connection. The whole thing is unappealing to me. My church did a BYOBAGJ (Bring Your Own Bread and Grape Juice) to a Zoom session during Holy Week and I could not. It felt so inauthentic. I also hesitated to do a Zoom bible study, but now I’m rethinking that, simply because I have no contact outside of my Pray As You Go App – which is about as far as I will go with the online stuff.
  5. I’m not crocheting much.
    Back in the pre-pandemic days of yore, if I was sitting, I was crocheting. I bought more yarn, thinking I would turn out an Afghan a week, yet I’ve barely picked up my hook. With the stress of everything, I am perfectly content to just sit. And be.
  6. Life isn’t all that different.
    If you take away the fact beaches are closed, no more causal grocery trips, no church, and nothing is open, my life is about the same. I go to work. I come home. I putz in the garden. I run. I write. I watch an old German soap opera. Getting together with friends is a Herculean effort that requires much advanced planning in normal times – and now, I’m not going anywhere near them in fear I’m an asymptotic carrier, as I am still working in an office and seeing patients. I’ve basically been quarantining for years. I don’t mind.

In the Desert

I know Lent is the proverbial wilderness exploration in the liturgical calendar, but as someone who doesn’t follow the crowd – even when I choose to – I find myself in a wilderness in the season of Easter, this side of Pentecost.

I’m sure part of it’s the lockdown and lack of social interaction outside of my husband and my co-workers (that I barely see, I’m tucked away in the back). I’ve tried to keep up with friends via text – mostly just asking how they are and how all this is impacting their particular circumstance. I’m still working, I don’t have kids – quite boring compared to some of the cataclysmic situations my friends find themselves attempting to navigate with no outside help.

I’m a perpetually show-up-early-to-everything person, so it’s no surprise I’m hitting peri-menopause in my late 30’s like my mom. No one prepared me for the night sweats and other symptoms. In some ways, I feel like I’m twenty again and in other ways, I am reacting to situations that would have never crossed my threshold for fury before. My husband was convinced I had a fever the other night – but I knew it was just me being warm. I’ve always been an even-keeled person, but predictable hormone surges are causing an intensity in me that is unfamiliar. I’m trying to adjust to my new normal – like a super-power I have to learn to control so it doesn’t control me. I’m sure it will all change again as this phase of life progresses.

If it’s possible to socially distance from yourself, I’m in the thick of it.

I’m far from alone in this. I find myself drawn to the stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church. They lead a monk-like existence in the middle of nowhere wastelands. Their days were spent living off the land, in contemplative prayer, quietness, and offered great hospitality to any traveler that presented at their door. They reflected the love of the Lord to each other and to those outside their community. Except for the hospitality bit (simply because I want to keep those I care about safe from this terrible pandemic), I feel this is where I’m pitching my tent until I figure out where to go from here.

For me, this means pulling back from the fray and spending time in silence before God. My garden has become a source of rest, at times irritation, but ultimately a way to slow down, observe, and partake in the Lord’s creation. My soul isn’t finding rest anywhere else right now.

My circle has gotten much smaller, as I truly believe social distancing will be the only way to survive this. However, I will keep reaching out with what I have and offer it to others.

My next move is to read “The Cloud of Unknowing,” written by an anonymous European monk in the 1300’s about contemplative prayer. In this age of megachurches, online worship, Christian influencers, and an Americanized Jesus, I want to know how those living in the middle ages sought God. How did they use the Bible? How did Scripture sustain them when plagues were rampant, when they didn’t go along with the culture, and how did they worship in a desert? I hope to glean some understanding from the first thousand years of my fellow Christians’ walk with the Lord and perhaps employ their wisdom in my own walk, as I meander blindly into the future.

[Mother] Theodora said, “Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.”

[Mother] Syncletica said, “Imitate the [tax collector], and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water.”

aleteia.org

Loopholes Discovered in Carolina Beach

Today was a big step for Simonne kind in this new normal world.

Carolina Beach is “open,” inasmuch as you can’t sit or play games on the beach, but you can walk, jog, surf, and paddleboard, socially distanced of course.

Oh, and there’s no public parking available. Everything is roped off.

As usual, I found loophole. Public parking might be closed, but the town’s press release said nothing about parking at the chain grocery store and walking a mile to the strand. And that’s exactly what I did with free parking to boot!

I wore a cloth mask I found on Etsy without sunglasses so if I was caught in a “circumstance,” I could at least communicate with my eyes. I walked towards the North End, but even the public beach access had boards nailed across the wooden path. I knew one spot that would be open. I chose to willfully ignore the laminated “No Entry/No Access” signs and smiled at the pedestrian gap in the traffic barrels with rope. And before I knew it, I was back on the beach. My heart sang it was so happy! I walked a couple of miles and encountered only four other humans.

Also, masks get really hot after a few miles on foot.

It was surreal to be on the beach on such a nice day without crowds. The waves looked decent, but I’d have to wear a wetsuit and would have no where to stash my bag and towel – that was illegal too – let alone carrying a six foot surfboard several miles. I stopped by the Boardwalk in search of curbside ice cream and it looked like a post-zombie apocalypse had occurred. There was no ice cream.

I’m pleased to report no encounters with the law.

It made me sad to think this year I might not experience my “Summer Sundays.” Last year, early afternoon on bright sunny summer Sundays, I would drive to Carolina Beach. I’d walk to the store “Go Sauce Yourself” on the Boardwalk and buy a beer – usually “Come Hell or High Watermelon” (which is basically summer in a can) – and take it with me in my beach bag. I’d spent the afternoon sitting – Sabbathing if you will – on the beach, sipping beer, and taking a dip in the ocean. I’d read, let my mind wander over the waves, and recharge with solar energy. If I was feeling especially crazy, I would get ice cream on my way home. I’d only be out there for a couple of hours.

Wait, you’re probably thinking, alcohol is illegal on the beaches here!

Well, there’s a loophole about southern culture that I’ve learned from all my years here: it’s quite gilded (which means a cheap metal is painted in a gold coat to give the appearance of solid gold, but obviously isn’t – appearance trumps everything). As long as you hide the alcohol, and aren’t disturbing the peace with your public drunkenness, no one cares. I had a koozie over the beer can, thus hiding what it was, so I was safe. I find this hilarious. If I ran Carolina Beach, I’d have patrols looking in everyone’s coolers and write enough alcohol citations to fund the town’s annual budget.

But I’m not, so I will gladly enjoy a beer. Obviously, I’m not anywhere near intoxicated.

The fact of the matter is even if the stay at home orders are lifted, our lives will be different for some time to come. Church says we hope to be meeting again by mid-May, and even if that is the case, it’s far too soon for me. I can socially distance myself at the beach – heck, I’ve been doing it for fourteen years now, but I don’t know what the summer holds or how long this virus will linger. I’ll just keep checking for loopholes and keep a low profile. As I do.