Friday, September 11, 2020

September 2020: Thoughts on Covid 19

September 2020: Thoughts on Covid-19 

 

Our wall of masks has grown, as Doug brings one home from the hospital after work and hangs it up with the others. A daily reminder of the days of mask-wearing.

The weekly pan of lemon bars makes its’ scheduled appearance. I wonder if we will hate lemon bars once a safe and tested vaccine is available to us? Once a safe country is available to us?

We eat the lemon bars when we watch Father Brown and Schitts Creek at night.

A dozen (at least) yellow finches have been in our backyard the last few mornings to join the other bird choruses. Their delicate song sounds like fairy chimes.

We made one of those dreaded trips to the ER when Doug tore his quadriceps. Surgery followed three days later. His recovery will be long. He is a pleasant patient and I love caring for him. He has a medieval torture device (a brace) on his left leg. It is not pleasant.

I’m preaching for our Tennessee church, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Johnson City. Five weeks of sermons recorded in five different locations. Preaching gives me spiritual exercise.

While Doug was in surgery, I sermonized into my cell phone camera while ensconced in the hospital chapel.

People enter the chapel with pleas to God for the lives of their loved ones. Hospital chapels have such a specific use; prayers for life to conquer death. Covid-19 has made the pleadings in hospital chapels almost impossible. Visitors and family members are often restricted from the hospital, let alone God’s small house.

E-mails, phone calls, and even a few in-person (masked and socially distanced) visits have filled the corners of my days.

The food bank is still the most worthwhile ministry I’ve ever been part of.

Our daughter will be married this month. We will make our way to Chicago and joyfully “marriage” (her word) Lauren to Sylvester Fejokwu. It’s not the wedding they had planned, but it’s still all theirs. The celebration of their nuptials will not be lessened just because the guests are fewer.

So many things have changed for those who marry and those who bury in 2020.  

Time has dragged during these months of Covid-19, at least for us. The news that our President was aware in January of how deadly the virus was, and yet took no action, is beyond the pale. The spread of Covid could have been slowed, and lives saved. That’s the truth.

Hospital and mortuary workers have watched almost 200,000 dead bodies flood their spaces. They are exhausted and traumatized. Some have succumbed to the disease and some have lost their own lives.

It all could have been lessened and this horrific pain minimized.

The President, who strives to instill panic in the American people every single day with false fears and shocking rhetoric, is pretending he didn’t want to panic the American people with the news of a deadly pandemic. His administration supported his self-serving cruelty. He, and they, can’t lie and excuse this away.

Death has conquered too many lives. Prayers were prayed by the bereaved, while their loved ones died alone in a hospital room.

There is no excuse. Everyone making an excuse for the most dangerous President in our history needs to finally stop. Just stop. There are no more excuses to spout. The mouths of his willfully ignorant followers must cease their protestations of what is true: The President chose to let the people of this country spread a deadly disease just by breathing. He chose to let us die.

His followers have been fooled by the greatest and most dangerous fool of all.

Besides the horror of death, jobs have been lost, businesses have been shuttered, schools are now social experiments, families don’t have enough food….

Systemic racism is no longer led by cowards hiding under white sheets. The toxicity of White Supremacy is on full display and led by the man living in the People’s House.

It’s September 2020. In less than two months we will elect a President and specific congress women and men. My prayer is that sanity will be restored by people of integrity and those who desire to be true servants of this country.

Doug and I will watch the happenings of election night, hopefully sans brace, while eating lemon bars.

As a good friend of mine said, "When life gives you lemons, make lemon bars..."

I hope it’s the last pan of lemon bars I bake for a long, long time.

  

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Isolation


Isolation

We were told to isolate.

A worldwide pandemic hit our shores and we were told to stay indoors. No work, no play.

Just stay.

Some people had to go to work, their work was critical. Doctors, nurses, police, fire fighters, grocery store stockers and cashiers, food banks. They had to keep the rest of us alive.

But some of us didn’t survive the pandemic. The numbers are climbing to over 113,000 souls who didn’t make it. Covid-19 suffocated them. There will be more victims.

Maybe they were, or are, unable to isolate.

Isolation is nice for introverts. A great excuse to stay away from other humans. But even the most introverted introverts begin to find themselves going a little insane. Isolation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Zoom meetings might be overrated.

As humans, we are created to be in community. We are created to be part of families and churches and classmates and friends and workmates.

Some of us just don’t like to be told what to do. “I don’t want to isolate.” “I don’t want to wear a mask.” “You are taking away my freedoms.”

“Give me freedom or give me death!” Okay. Maybe think that through.

Some families have done well. A few squabbles, perhaps. Occasional short tempers. Tears once in a while. But it’s not hard to “love the one you’re with.” Moms and dads are learning fifth grade science. Kids are loved and families are growing in positive ways.

Some families have had a rougher time. The news reminds us of the dangers of isolation. Dangers for children and spouses. Children being brought to hospitals badly beaten.

Badly beaten.

No schools to give safety and necessary food. No teachers or neighbors to see what happens in isolation. No safety nets can catch those who are caught in the grip of an abuser.

Verbal abuse. Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. But the people who care can’t hear the cries.

Isolation.

Our country was told to Isolate.

But that was already happening. Not because of the pandemic.

The leader of our country shunned and rejected our allies and friends around the world.

The leader of our country could have told us to isolate due to the pandemic much earlier, when he knew it was here on our shores. He could have saved thousands of lives.

The leader of our country is worried more about re-election than a deadly disease unleashed on the people of America.

The leader of our country refused to order PPE for our hospitals.

The leader of our country told us to take the wrong drugs and inject disinfectant into our bodies.

The leader of our country turned our military on peaceful protesters.

The leader of our country defamed the Bible.

The leader of our country has suffocated us with hatred, fear-mongering, and dangerous lies.

And don't forget, the leader of our country locks brown babies in cages and destroys their families.

The leader of our country is an abuser. 

He is our abuser.

In the midst of a deadly pandemic, an economic catastrophe, lies and misinformation, something else happened…

A black man died. He did not die from the pandemic. He did not die because stock market dropped.

A black man named George Floyd, was killed by an abuser. A dirty white cop who thought he could get away with murder. Not this time.

George Floyd was suffocated out of life. He was calling for his mother.

Our eyes are open. We can hear the cries. And we have cell phones.

Not all cops are bad. Many are heroes. But hero cops aren't enough. We need healthcare for all. We need mental healthcare for all. We need food for all. Those who say no to these things wear the name "Abuser."

And abusers have to go.

Go directly to jail.

There are no more “Get out of jail free” cards.

“We are sick of this shit!” The whole world says. “People are leaving isolation, marching in the streets, marching until they can’t march anymore. Then they rest and march again.”

Our friends and allies around the world have left their isolation after losing so many of their own people (they are still our friends and allies). It’s risky for everyone, marching during a pandemic. But perhaps it’s riskier to stay silent.

Isolation saves lives during pandemics. It’s not meant to be permanent. We are meant to be in community. Community in healthy families, churches, schools, friendships and workplaces.

An isolated human will eventually go mad. An isolated country will live in fear and danger.

We are so sick of this shit.

Donald Trump, the abuser of our nation, must be put in isolation. Not in the beautiful Peoples House, not in one of his garish bedbug properties, not on an island far away.

Isolation in a prison cell is the only place to stop the abuser. The cop, the parent, the spouse, the President.

We have the power. We won’t be his victims. We will rise in solidarity, change the occupants in our government, see peace and equity restored, celebrate the diversity of our sisters and brothers, and help all those in need, so they can be their potential-filled-very-best-selves.

When this many-layered nightmare is over, I for one will get down on my knees, and with thanksgiving I will remember all the lessons I’ve learned, the dangerous paths to avoid, the beautiful new faces I’ve met, the love that has been virtually shared, the heart-stopping moments, the cheers of victory!

And because I’m a woman of faith…I will remember the God who has cried with us in our Babylon. I will also remember the faithfulness of God, who not only guides us, but brings us safely out of our isolation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tastes, Sounds, and Sights During Covid-19



Tastes, Sounds, and Sights During Covid-19

It's been about eight weeks since we've stumbled into a new normal, and increased the use of certain vocabulary: 
Coronavirus, face masks, protective gloves, shelter-in-place, testing, tracing, PPE, ventilators, curbside pick-up, hand sanitizer, "Closed," toilet paper, numbers of cases per day, numbers of deaths per day.

You can add more words.

My husband, Doug, and I have spent the last eight weeks adapting to quick change and constantly new information. Doug works at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI. He is the President of Sparrow Medical Group. Not only is he a physician, he leads physicians who work for Sparrow. His job is stressful, even when there isn't a pandemic sweeping our country. He is in his office every day and has meetings face-to-face, via zoom, and on the phone. Every weekend for the last eight weeks he has had up to six phone meetings. He has rarely had four hours straight without a Covid-19 interruption. He is good at what he does, cares for his doctors, and grieves over what this virus is doing to so many patients.  

The First Presbyterian Church of Lasing is home to an amazing food pantry. (I've written about this before.) For the last eight weeks I have found myself volunteering a lot more than usual. On Monday mornings I head to the Meijer grocery store to purchase what Doug and I need, and also things the food pantry needs.  

Grocery shopping is a more perilous activity these days. It took awhile, but Meijer finally got their employees to wear face masks and put up plastic barriers between cashiers and customers. But I still walk in with trepidation. With my mask and gloves in place, I race through the aisles grabbing items. 

Tastes
What do I panic buy at the store? Bananas. 

Usually three bunches. 

We like bananas. But not three bunches worth. 
There are things I stress-bake every week. The first is something I hadn't made in two decades: Lemon Bars. 
I had lemons on the counter (to use with fish) when Covid showed up. 
In one mad moment I thought, "I should make lemon bars!"
So, I did. And I do. Every single week.

Homemade bread.
Yeast hates me. But my friend, Lori, shared a recipe for bread that tastes like it was born in Italy. 
Yeast likes me now. I make a loaf every single week.

Banana Bread.
(See panic buying above.)

What are the tastes you are experiencing?





SOUNDS 

Every year during Eastertide (also during Advent) I listen to Handel's Messiah. This year is no different, except that it sometimes makes me cry in my car when I hear,
"He shall feed his flock like a shepherd..."
I listen to this when I drive to and from the food pantry.


I also listen to the contemporary Christian singer, Lauren Daigle. Her song, "Rescue" is comforting.

The soundtrack from the musical, "Come From Away" has personal meaning and also reminds us all of a time when we endured another tragedy as a country, but found kindness and grace from strangers in another place.

Phone calls with family and friends far away.

I love hearing the children in our neighborhood playing outside. 

I love hearing our cats purr.

What are the sounds in your life?






SIGHTS

Eight weeks ago, when we knew things were far worse than expected, we hauled out our Christmas lights and re-decorated the three fir trees in our front yard. We decided we would leave them up until there was some semblance of normalcy. (We actually thought that might happen...) We will keep them lit and hope it cheers the folks in our neighborhood as they drive by.

Books I've read or am reading during Covid-19

My new author crush is Lori Nelson Spielman. She is the international best selling author of 

"The Life List" and "Sweet Forgiveness"
She is amazing. 

For spiritual growth I am reading two books by Annemarie Kidder.
She is the Pastor of Pennfield Presbyterian Church, and was an assistant professor at The Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, MI 
She is the author of several books. I'm reading:

"Making Confession, Hearing Confession" and "The Power of Solitude"

Before I go to bed at night I read something light. Thanks to my friend, Linda, I'm crazy about:

"The Mrs. Pollifax Series," by Dorothy Gilman 

(Another sight is the screen of my computer as the Pastor Maggie book #5 comes to life.)

I know it is a challenge for young families to be in shelter-at-home mode. We have a family near us with three beautiful children. One day I heard noise in our backyard and saw this beautiful family laying a handmade bridge over a particularly muddy spot that I tromped through every morning to fill bird feeders. They had built the bridge and the children each painted a picture and signed their names on top. Such an incredibly thoughtful gift! I cross my bridge every day and thank God for parents and children who show such kindness! 

Sights also include the shelves in the food pantry. Each item we will take off and put into a box or bag. We always start with beans. Toilet paper and soap are needed by everyone. Snacks. Diapers. 
The shelves must stay full. (Please donate to your local food pantry.) Our team: Ron, Dave, Erin, Jim, Deb, Charlie, Brian, Barb A., Marna, John.

And lastly, masks. Thank you, Jo Powers, for making masks for us. I wear one almost every day when I might encounter other humans. My favorite mask has kitties on it (Marmalade likes it too!)


But one of the most sacred things in our house right now is the cork board where we have a calendar of our grandchildren, along with notes and pictures from neighbors.
Very quietly Doug has made it the one sight that raises a lump in my throat every time I come through the back door.

Doug gets his masks at work. Each morning he takes a new mask. He wears it all day. And when he comes home, he hangs it on a push pin in the cork board. Each pin holds multiple masks. 

It's the sight of Covid-19 I'll never forget.










GOD BLESS YOU DURING THIS COVID-19 TIME. MAY TASTES, SOUNDS, AND SIGHTS FILL YOU WITH HOPE AND JOY.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

We fed people today... 4/16/20


We fed people today.

Yesterday we wanted to feed people and couldn’t.

Today we wanted to feed people and did.

Three of the large houses where folks are doing the good, hard work of beating addiction, came and got food today. Our shelves were depleted.

We restocked the shelves from our storage room.

Eleven families made appointments to come and get food today. We packed boxes. We found out if they needed diapers, feminine hygiene products, and what kind of meat they preferred.  Our refrigerator and freezers were emptied.

We refilled our cold storage with produce and meat.

A woman in the parking lot asked for someone to pray with her. I went outside. I was wearing my mask and my gloves. We didn’t stand close together.

“What would you like me to pray for?”

“My family. Protection from this virus. A way to get by without being able to work.” She wanted to hold my hands, but I told her we couldn’t do that quite yet.

So, we stood at a distance and I prayed louder than normal, while her two children looked on from the back seat and my amazing workmates brought out her food. (Thank you, Dave and Brian!)  

A parking lot prayer.

Because sometimes we need spiritual food, soul-soothing food.

Five different people walked to our doors without appointments.

“How many in your family, sir?”

“Five. Two adults, three kids.”

“We’ll be right out with your food. What kind of meat do your like? Do you need….?

Our shelves were depleted. Our refrigerator and freezers were emptied.

So, we restocked.

I came home with a glorious backache.

Because today we fed people.

Their smiles and words of blessing fed us right back.

Because sometimes we all need spiritual food, soul-soothing food.

May God continue to soothe all troubled souls, and surprise us with joy as we care for one another.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

We wanted to feed people today... 4/15/20


We wanted to feed people today.

Families called and made appointments to pick up food.

Children are part of those families.

Houses with people working hard to overcome addiction called in their food orders.

We packed boxes. We filled bags.

Because we wanted to feed people today.

Downtown Lansing, Michigan. Our food pantry is open. We are ready.

With food packed, we waited for our clients.

But instead of clients, we saw and heard something else.

Cars, trucks, signs, horns, hate, scorn…

We wanted to feed people today.

But a nonstop parade of people, screaming and yelling from open car windows, blocked our streets and clogged our neighborhoods.

Some got out of their cars and talked and laughed about their big protest. Social distanced from one another? No. Wearing masks? No.

We wanted to feed people today.

They spilled onto Michigan Avenue and created a traffic jam outside of Sparrow Hospital. Doctors and nurses are caring for Covid-19 patients in that hospital.

People are struggling to survive a deadly disease. And beneath their windows, semi-truck horns blared. Car horns were non-stop. People screamed and yelled.

While people tried to breathe.

We wanted to feed people today.

All appointments for food pick-up were cancelled, because our clients couldn’t get to our parking lot.

We locked our doors and waited while helicopters flew overhead. We couldn’t get out of our parking lot.

We saw and heard the cars, trucks, signs, horns, hate, scorn…

Doctors and nurses have a hard job. Their job was made harder today.

Tonight, families will not have the food they thought they would have.

People struggling with life’s difficulties will not have dinner. Or breakfast.

Children.

Because the followers of the most ignorant and dangerous President in our history acted ignorantly and dangerously today.

They were cruel, ugly, mocking, and scornful today.

A day when we just wanted to feed people.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Maundy Thursday in August


It was a hot, sticky day. August can be that way.

He had returned home from the hospital and was resting in his favorite chair, staring at the water outside.

Water was a soothing passion of his. Sailing, swimming, skiing, skipping stones.

He and his brother built their own boat as kids. It floated. I knew this story. He liked to tell stories.

But now, he rested. A misdiagnosis of prostate cancer was finally diagnosed. Too late.

I went for a visit. To have a chat. To stare at the water with him.

I looked around the room and saw his hospital “gift basket.” All the things that had been in his sterile, unimaginative, utilitarian room.  

A small kidney-shaped dish that held a generic toothbrush and toothpaste.

A clear, plastic urinal.

A cup with a sippy straw.

Socks with skid-proof soles.

A plastic, lidless box which had held his keys and wallet in the small cupboard next to his bed.

A stuffed toy meant to give comfort.

And a large, blue, plastic bin which held all these treasures.

I emptied out the bin, and on a whim (my unfortunate default position), I quietly filled the blue bin with warm water and a squirt of liquid soap. Bubbles. I dropped a bar of soap into the water.

I tried not to spill as I walked to his chair. I spilled a little.

Then I sat down at his feet, and he opened his eyes.

"I thought you might like a pedicure," I smiled. Blue eyes looked into blue eyes.

“Well, that's nice. I’ve never had one,” he said quietly.

I removed his slippers and gently put each foot into the tub.

He smiled.

He stared out at the water as I soaped up my hands and took his right foot. I held his heel in the palm of my hand and washed the sole of his foot, the top of his foot, in between each toe.

I held his left foot and repeated the process.

It was sweetly intimate.

I took out some nail clippers and did a job I knew he couldn’t do anymore.

I let his pedicured feet rest in the bubbly water as his eyes closed. Naptime.

The next day it was time for me to leave. I had a plane to catch. A flight from Florida back to Michigan. The days had gone quickly.

Even though he was weak and unable to stand by himself, he insisted on riding along to the airport. His brother helped him get into the car. We drove in silence.

When we got to the airport.  I leaned forward and kissed his gray head from the backseat. “I’ll see you soon, I promise.”

I got out of the car and saw him struggle to open his door.

“No, you don’t need to get out, I’m going in right there.” I pointed to the large sliding glass doors leading to the terminal.

He used all the energy he could muster (his great default position) and finally stood against the car. His arms (they used to be so strong) wrapped themselves around me and he leaned in.

“Thank you for washing my feet,” he whispered.

Watery blue eyes looked into watery blue eyes.

“You’re welcome, Dad.”

And that was Maundy Thursday in August 2001.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Boxes


Boxes

More than twenty boxes wait to be filled. Twenty families will come for food. Families of one and two. Families of three. Families of four. Families of five, six, and seven.
The larger the family, the more boxes they receive. We start with beans. Then more canned goods, pasta, rice, peanut butter and jelly. Bread, baking mix, mac and cheese, ramen, oil, nuts, cereal, snacks. Milk, produce, meat. Boxes stuffed with food. 

Twenty families. But we only have eight rolls of toilet paper. We only have twelve bars of soap.

Who gets a roll of toilet paper? Who gets a bar of soap? They can’t come back for a month. How do we choose?

Which families get what they need today? Which families don’t?

Hospital beds were waiting empty. Now they are full. The patients in the beds need help to breathe. They need medicine. They need doctors and nurses to care for them, even though they are dangerously sick and highly contagious.

Covid-19 is an equal opportunity killer.
The killer is afoot. The killer is on the prowl.

Thousands of patients. But not enough ventilators. Not enough PPE. Not enough of many other needed supplies.

Who gets a ventilator? Which health care workers get the proper PPE? There are not enough beds. There are not enough ventilators. There are not enough masks, gowns, face shields…. There is not enough medicine to induce a coma for the ventilators to be inserted.

Which patients get what they need? Which patients don’t?

We will look back one day and know what went wrong for a country that used to be strong. A country that used to be prepared. A country that was great just a few years ago. We will see each and every word and action, or lack thereof, that allowed an equal opportunity killer to blow through our cities, towns, and country-sides.

The truth will be known.

Until then, I start with beans. I fill boxes. I randomly add toilet paper or soap.
I pray for the people I watch through glass doors as they pick up their food. We can’t help them put food in their cars these days.
They come to us dressed in all their God-ness. We wave. They wave. They are gone.

Doctors and nurses treat their patients. Patients dressed in all their God-ness. They just can’t breathe anymore. Medical personnel do everything they possibly can without enough of what they need to be the healers they are trained to be.
Then they watch through the glass windows as patient after patient dies alone in their bed. They are gone.

Doctors and nurses and first responders are gone, too.  

There are more boxes. The boxes outside the hospitals are filled. There is plenty of death to fill them, there is no shortage. There is not one single empty box. The boxes are stuffed with death.

So, I pray…

God be with the hungry, the poor, the young, the old, the black, the brown, the white, the rich, the lost, the least, the elite, the proud, the confused, the dying.

Fill us like empty boxes. Fill us with you. Fill us with your goodness and your God-ness. May we be some kind of light in a very dark darkness. We are in a scary and unfamiliar place. Fill us with you. Please show yourself to us and through us in acts of kindness and mercy. Fill us with you. We will empty ourselves of your love to those around us and wait for you to fill us again. Amen.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Breath


Breath

Running through the sunny park. Climbing up the ladder to the metal slide
we glide down, one towhead behind the other. Then off we go, my brother and I,
from slide to swings to merry-go-round. Finally, we have to stop.
We laugh and try to catch our breath.

Riding bicycles with my eight-year-old best friend.
Snaking through sidewalks of the university in our town.
It’s a race. She wins.
We laugh and try to catch our breath.

In the pool. Practice, practice. I must swim the entire length under water.
(My self-imposed challenge) It’s a long pool.
Finally, I make it. Unbelievable! I hang on to the rough edge with both hands.
I smile with pride and try to catch my breath.

Is he going to say it? Will tonight be the night the words are spoken?
His eyes look so deeply into mine. I wait.
“I love you,” he says.
I’m surprised to realize I’m holding my breath.  

“Breathe! Pant! Pant!” The nurse doesn’t mean to yell.
But I’m not paying attention. It hurts too much to breathe.
“Breathe!”
I try but can’t. I wait until the contraction is over.
Then I cry and try to catch my breath.

Finally, a tiny voice cries out.
A very first breath of a brand, new life.

I dance. I dance in the seminary chapel. I dance in the sanctuary.
I teach girls to dance. Eight of them.
They dance to hymns and psalms and spiritual songs.
I name them Ruach. Breath of God.
Wordlessly they lift their arms to heaven.
Silently they twirl and link arms and bow down in honor.
When the dance is finished, the sanctuary feels a fresh holiness.
The dancers quietly catch their breath. So does the congregation.

Grandpa can’t breathe. He has congestive heart failure.
He sleeps sitting up in a chair.
He doesn’t talk much, but still smiles.
One day, he doesn’t talk at all. He doesn’t smile.
He breathes his last, labored breath.
He’s been healed into eternal life.
We all try to catch our breath, but tears chase breath away.

Over the years, I walk into hospital rooms.
I walk into nursing homes.
People I love and pastor have oxygen tubes in nostrils.
They have oxygen masks covering half their face.
If they have the energy, they smile with their eyes.
Or cry.
They try so hard to catch their fleeting breath.

I walk into ICU rooms.
Eyes are closed. Hands and feet are still. Machines hum.
Fluorescent green numbers on a small screen flash up, then down, then up again.
A ventilator pumps in a precise and unchanging rhythm. In…out…in…out…
Forced breath. Fake breath. Life-saving breath.

In March 2020, our country waits. We hold our breath.
Something invisible and unmanageable seeks to take our breath away.
It wishes to creep and seep through nostrils, eyes, mouth.
It is the Breath Thief.
It’s enough to take our breath away even before it seizes our communities.

In the midst of confusion and misinformation I choose to do this:
With each breath I will be thankful for the mercies I see around me.
With each breath I will pray for loved ones. I will pray for strangers.
With each breath I will hold on to the God who loves me. The God who loves you.
With each breath I will seek to be a woman of action, not a woman of fear.
With each breath I will take in the reality and prepare for the outcome.
With each breath I will think beyond myself and remember others.
With each breath I will have courage and strive to be kind.
I might even dance, so I can remember how to catch my breath again.
Because I know this certain thing: Each breath is a gift from God. Ruach.

May God’s breath fill your soul with peace and lighten your spirit. Amen.