Holes in the Duct Work and Other Things We Found in Quarantine

When our building closed back in March, the wonderful folks who maintain it decided to do much needed maintenance. We have a child care centre that rents from us five days a week, so getting to work in those spaces is difficult. With the centre closed indefinitely, our property team went to work on a long overdue task: replacing our duct work.

We had a sense for a while that the ducts needed some TLC. Some rooms were constantly freezing and others were constantly hot. But with the day to day busyness in the building, there simply wasn’t the opportunity to dig underneath the floors. We kept going, day after day and year after year. When someone finally crawled under those floor boards, however, it was still a bit of a shock to find how bad things had gotten:

ducts

Some of the ducts were totally rusted through. One piece had a hole in it the size of my head. It turned out to be a really good thing that we finally had a chance to look at those ducts. Because there were holes. Big, huge, gaping holes. And it took a quarantine to get them fixed.

Now here is where I move to a very pastor-y moral of the story.

For a lot of us, this quarantine exposed holes in our duct work.

I’m not talking about the physical ducts you have in your home. I’m talking metaphorically about the things running underneath in our lives. A lot of us discovered that we needed some real maintenance.

I have heard the same theme again and again as I talk to people: “This has been hard but I also like things about it too.”

“I like getting to eat dinner with my family each night instead of rushing to the stadium.”

“I like the downtime we have in our routine now.”

“I don’t miss all the running around we used to do!”

It turns out that, like our church building, a lot of us have been running pretty inefficiently, doing more than we can maintain. We lived lives that were exhausting and constantly busy. And it made us tired. We were expending a LOT of extra energy, because there were holes in the duct work of our lives. We were doing too much, too often, with no time to look underneath at what we really needed.

Today I write to all of us with an invitation. If this quarantine helped you see some “holes” in your own duct work, let this time be a gift to you to do some upgrading. If life as it was had more exhaustion than energy, do a service check. And throw out the stuff that was rusting through and leaving holes in your life.

I know we live in a culture that tells us being busy means we are important. I know that for parents we feel we are letting our children down if we don’t give them every opportunity in life. We don’t know if it is really okay to say “no” to extra activities. We don’t want to miss out on things.

But sometimes those things are just rusting us through. And this quarantine gives us a chance to reevaluate. Let me say this clearly. Even when all restrictions lift, you don’t have to go back to life the way it was.

You can choose family dinners over the competitive sports league.

You can choose downtime over more nights out.

You can choose time to walk, rest, read, or have leisurely visits with your neighbours over marking things off your “to do” list.

You can choose boundaries in relationships that aren’t life giving.

You don’t have to walk around doing all the things you feel you have to do until your energy sources are rusted out. You can choose relationships, board games nights, Saturday breakfasts, Friday night movies, dinners in, daily walks, going to church.

You can change the duct work.

If you find yourself looking to life returning to a new normal and you find yourself thinking of all the things you wish could stay the same, hear this: Perhaps a lot of them can.

This quarantine has given us a chance to look under the floorboards of our lives. Let’s let go of what was rusting us out – and start fresh with something new, and better for us.

My 15 Year Pastor-Versary

On June 1, I celebrate fifteen years since I started in the role as Lead Pastor at Mount Hamilton Baptist Church. (Yes, for those of you wondering, I started when I was 15…Insert polite laughter here for CLASSIC PASTOR JOKE!!!).

But seriously, I started in this job when I was 27 and most days I still shake my head when I think about the leap of faith that this church took hiring such a young, inexperienced and opinionated pastor. I also shake my head when I think that I have been here for fifteen years. I never planned for this. I didn’t want to stay at a church a long time. I didn’t want to pastor a traditional church. I didn’t even want to live in Hamilton!

induction
A photo from our induction (welcome service) in 2005.

Yet, here I am, so thankful that God gave me all the things I thought I didn’t want.

This week I can’t help but think of the things that have changed since I started at MHBC. Our church is different than it was when I started 15 years ago. Three quarters of our 300 person church joined in the last ten years. We have gone from having almost no kids to trying to figure out where to put our slew of toddlers and preschoolers. We did a big renovation project. We went from pews to chairs, we removed the pulpit, my office moved three times. We changed our worship service. I stopped wearing suits (yes, there was a time I did this). We began an online service.

We went from staff taking unpaid vacation to make the budget balance to asking how much more we could give to others from generous givings. We went from phone trees and an 8-page bulletin to facebook and instagram. We went from two pastors to three. We incorporated. We re-wrote by-laws. We started new ministries, we got rid of old ones. We went through changes that were often painful, and that made me wonder if things would work out.

And while all of these changes happened, ministry went on. People died. Babies were born. People left. People joined. Those children in the nursery grew up. I officiated the weddings of kids who started in our youth group. I buried people that I loved. I performed 56 baptisms, 32 weddings, 42 baby dedications and 45 funerals (including one for our day care’s skinny pig with a congregation of 20 four year olds). I preached hundreds of sermons.

And my life kept going. I got ordained. I had two children. We bought two houses. My sister died. My hair started going grey. All while I served at Mount Hamilton.

A lot happens in fifteen years.

And now here I am fifteen years after my first day at MHBC, working from home and missing my people and thinking back to so many beautiful memories made with a church family that I love and that I have been honoured to lead. I didn’t anticipate anything about this time fifteen years ago. I didn’t anticipate still serving here. I didn’t anticipate how a lot of those hard things would turn out. I didn’t anticipate what God could do with us. I didn’t anticipate loving it.

If I have learned anything about ministry in the last fifteen years at the same church, I think what seems most fitting to remember today is that lesson: we rarely can anticipate what God will do.

I need to remember that.

As I look at the days to come, I wish I had all the answers. I would like to know when we can be together in a big group again. I would like to know when we can do more baptisms, weddings, proper funerals. I would like to know how ministry will look, and if it will work with all the changes still in front of us. I would like to know what God has in store – but I don’t.

What I know is that God had a more beautiful plan for my life fifteen years ago than I could have imagined for myself. That it started in a situation where I didn’t entirely want to be, and didn’t entirely plan to stay too long. I know that I can look back and say “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.”

As I step into year sixteen, we are in a season unlike any other and I have no idea what is ahead. Ministry looks like nothing I signed up for. It pushes my skills and limits every day. It’s not what I anticipated. But I am certain of this: One day I will once again say: “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be part of it.”

Here is a random gathering of some favourite MHBC photos and memories (*that I had on Facebook and didn’t require me to find our hard drive with old photos…)

 

 

The Extroverts Are Not Okay (*But We’ll Get There…)

When I started my Masters program, one of the first tasks we did as part of one of our courses was completing the Myers-Briggs personality inventory. One of the markers on this inventory is “Extroversion” or “Introversion.” When I did the test and met with the facilitator afterwards, I found out that I had scored ALL extrovert and NO introvert. 40 points on one scale, 0 on the other. “I’ve never seen this before,” the instructor commented…

hello-my-name-is-extrovert

But I wasn’t surprised. I love being with people, and that’s what being an extrovert means, right? Extroverts like being with people and introverts like being by themselves? But then she explained to me that it was a little more nuanced than that. She explained that it was about where people get their energy. Extroverts are energized by being with people and the introverts are energized by time on their own. It has nothing to do with liking people or preferring your own company – it’s about what the presence of others does for you. Does it drain or renew you to be with others? I was VERY VERY high on the renew side of things.

Without getting into the pros and cons of personality tests or the Myers-Briggs itself, I can say that this understanding of myself and others was like a light bulb went on for me. This explained why I came back from large gatherings revved up, ready to take on anything. This was why a day all by myself could leave me feeling malaised instead of refreshed.This was why my introverted husband asked for a break after we had seen friends three nights in a row while I was saying: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we lived in a triplex with ALL OUR FRIENDS?”

And this is why I super duper duper duper HATE social isolation.

Even though I have known this about myself for a long time, it still took me a while to put my finger on what has been pushing back at me for the last 10 weeks. My need for social engagement is high and without it, I simply don’t feel like myself. For 10 weeks, I have been without the thing that energizes me and gets my juices flowing. Working alone at home, seeing people only through screens, losing the engagement of big gatherings is not only lonely for an extrovert – it is downright draining. It’s like walking and walking in hot weather without being able to pause for a drink to get filled up. 10 weeks of isolation for an extrovert is like 10 weeks straight of birthday parties for an introvert without ever having a night off. Without our people, we are running on empty.

Now to be clear, I know that I have things really good. I have a great house and good health and a beautiful family to sustain me. I am grateful to be able to work in a way that is safe in this season, thankful for the gift of working from home.

Which is why for the last ten weeks, I have so frequently been frustrated with myself. “Why can’t I just focus on the good things?” I think to myself. “Why do I have so little energy?” I wonder. “Why can’t I seem to manage to do and accomplish more?…” “Why am I so often despairing when I have so much for which to be thankful?”

And then I realized something. Besides the obvious fact that, you know, we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and life is chaos (home schooling sucks, yo), I am an extrovert. FORTY OUT OF FORTY ON THE SCALE! I don’t do so well without people.

And that meant I had to accept something else: this is not a season of strength for me. This is a season where I will feel the pull of my weaknesses, where it will often feel like an uphill battle, where I will need to accept that my energy is lower and my sense of self is challenged all the time (this also is MY LEAST FAVOURITE THING – accepting limitations is high on my list of things I hate).

To my chagrin, I admit: This is hard. I can’t do as much these days. It’s weird for me to acknowledge. I have said “no” to more things than I have in years. No to things I would normally love to do – like gathering people to support each other, or meeting with someone who needs ideas or taking that extra course I thought I could manage. I have low energy you guys – I’m on the introvert-equivalent of day 71 of a birthday party, and it is a lot.

But here is the good thing – it is teaching me! I am learning:

  • Not being able to do all the things is okay
  • How introverts have felt for the last forever in an often extrovert-friendly world (I AM SO SORRY!!!)
  • To let others operate in their strength in a season when I feel weaker (shout out to my husband and co-workers totally shining at this time!)
  • To lean on God’s strength (God actually has a lot to say about being strong when we are weak…so there is that).

The reason I write this today is not to ask for your sympathy. I write this because I’ve talked to a lot of you feeling just like me, fellow extroverts on uncertain footing. You have also struggled in this time, and you have struggled with the fact that you are struggling. You are frustrated and baffled, weary and worried. And I want to say – it makes sense that you are out of sorts. We have lost what energizes us – we are not ourselves.

So let’s be easy on us. We don’t have to do all the things. We don’t have to make this time successful. We don’t have to be strong. We’ll be us. And we’ll get through. We’ll let go of some things and learn some things.

(And later, we will throw some serious parties. We will chat to people in stores and in lines again. We’ll visit on the school yards. We’ll have face to face meetings and get off task all the time talking to people. We’ll be the last to leave church as we hang around the lobby and our kids ask us to hurry up already. We will love being with the people!!!).

In the meantime, like so many others finding this time hard for their own reasons, we will struggle a bit. But we’ll keep at what we are doing because it is what we are called to do in this season and doing our part is important.

Keep going extroverts. We’ll get there!

Burning a Bridge and Burning Ourselves: Reflections for My Fellow Challengers

diary
Me and my grade 8 diary. And, yes, that is an “I Survived the 30 Hour Famine” sticker from the VERY FIRST World Vision 30 Hour Famine.

I have the great blessing/horror of having kept very detailed diaries throughout my teen years. They are quite entertaining, but the truth is that when I read them, I spend as much time cringing as I do laughing.

I have always been what you might call a “challenger.” I am the person who asks the waiter what’s going on when the food is taking a long time. I am the one who will speak up in a meeting to address an issue that seems to be overlooked. I say things that I feel need to be said. This has gone all the way back to the days of my teenage diaries, and I assure you: it wasn’t always pretty.

So many entries in those diaries share about a conflict I was in with a friend. Someone was not talking to me. A friend was mad at me. And always the entry went something like this: “I don’t know why they are so upset. I only said what was true.” I challenged – a lot. And I hurt people – a lot. And I did damage – a lot.

And so often as I read those notes I want to scream at younger Leanne: “Don’t you see the damage you were doing??”

And the truth was – I didn’t.

Being a challenger isn’t innately a bad thing. If you love a challenger, you are probably glad when they are willing to step up to fight for justice, or when they say the thing you weren’t sure you could say. Challengers will fight for you as much as they’ll push against you, and that can be a beautiful thing in a relationship.

But our need to challenge can also lead us to places we don’t want to go, something my grade eight self did not always understand, and my 42 year old self also needs to remember.

I was reminded of that this past week as I was studying for my sermon, preaching from a book called 2 Corinthians (specifically, for you Bible readers out there 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11). Let me give you a short summary of this situation. There is a little church in a place called Corinth, formed a few years before by a man named Paul. Paul started the church and then, as he usually did, he continued to travel to help start churches elsewhere. To support them, he sent letters, which is what the book of 2 Corinthians is – a letter from Paul to the church he started in Corinth.

As we read this letter, though, we realize something: Paul and the Corinthians are going through some tension. He had promised to visit them and instead of visiting, he had sent them a letter. This has not gone down well. They are now accusing him of being fickle and unreliable. The start of this letter addresses this. He explains why he hadn’t come to visit, and the reason he feels was that God led him not to. But why would God do that?

We see as we read that there was an issue in Corinth that needed to be addressed. We don’t know what the situation was, but we know Paul felt it needed to be dealt with. BUT Paul felt that if he came and addressed it in person it would make the situation worse. That’s why he didn’t visit and sent a letter instead. This, he felt, would be better for all of them, and it’s what he explains in this little section of the Bible.

Now, this may not seem like a very profound story. But it really knocked my socks off this week, and here’s why. I recognize in Paul a person like me: a fellow challenger. Paul had no issues stepping in to confront something that needed confronting. However…he also paused and asked himself “How can I do this well?” And he chose, in wisdom, to do what would protect the relationship.

Even as I type this, I am convicted again.

Did you hear it? As a challenger, Paul realized that being right wasn’t all that mattered. It also mattered that he cared for the people he loved.

Something else Paul says here really got to me:

“For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice.

He basically says: “Here’s the thing guys. If I came and confronted you in person, it would have made things worse between us and then I wouldn’t have your friendship and I need you guys.”

He says: “I need to protect this relationship, because I need you.”

You know what it is easy to happen when you’re a challenger? It’s easy to burn a bridge. It’s easy to get fixated on being right, on just HAVING to make that comment, “needing” to point out a flaw.

But sometimes, in our need for rightness, we burn bridges. We push hard and we hurt people. We say things without thinking through how it will impact someone. And we will justify it!

“I was right!” we’ll say.

“I only said what needed to be said!” we’ll say.

“Why are they mad? What I said was TRUE!” we’ll say.

We justify that burnt bridge in all the ways we can, but deep down – we grieve. We grieve because we actually really needed that bridge. We needed that relationship. And in hurting someone else, we ended up hurting ourselves.

That’s what Paul gets here. This story isn’t saying not to confront someone. It’s not even saying that we shouldn’t confront someone in person – that’s just what was right in this situation. What it is saying is that we need to be wise when we have something hard to address. And that this is for our own sake just as much as it is for the sake of others.

Let me be clear, challengers: we aren’t called to stop being exactly how God made us to be. Keep challenging injustice, untruth, and unfairness. Keep being honest and direct and forthcoming. Be you.

AND.

Let God lead you so that you can be all those things without doing damage you never meant to do.

I think this story gives us some practical ways to do that:

Wait

Paul doesn’t RUSH to speak to the Corinthians. He takes time to figure out what is best. We can also wait. I know when we get riled up we can barely stop ourselves from jumping in, sending that email, making that comment. But when we learn to wait a little, we can find that our responses will not only come with more wisdom, but often with more kindness as well.

Seek Wisdom

Pray about it. Seek the advice of others. Discern what needs to be said and doesn’t and let more than your own passion guide that.

Ask: “How Can I Protect the Relationship?”

We can make this question part of our repertoire. Instead of just asking “How can they hear ME?” ask: “What would be effective to say what I think needs to be said AND keep the bridges strong and healthy?”

 

You know what was most painful about those grade eight diaries? How sad I often was. I would lament that people were mad at me. I was baffled and I was lonely. I didn’t want to burn my bridges and I didn’t see the damage I was doing.

I can’t go back and help grade eight Leanne. Like all of us, she had a lot to figure out. But I can let God help 42 year old Leanne, and keep praying that my challenges can build bridges, instead of burn them.

When You’re Feeling “Non-Essential”

When the tide turned a few weeks back and we started to see the rounds of cancellations beginning, our church, like many others, had to ask the hard questions: Should we cancel our in person worship service? How big a deal would that be? Could people manage without them?

Soon, we paused our in person gatherings. As hard as it was to admit, we were “non-essential.”

What about me? Did I need to “go” into work? I didn’t. My city didn’t “need” me to run my weekly Bible study, or visit people in hospital, or plan a big Easter celebration. The world could survive if I didn’t show up.

I was “non-essential.”

Soon, my kids didn’t need swimming lessons. We didn’t need to sit down in restaurants to eat. We didn’t need haircuts. We didn’t need to go to the dentist.

All of the above = “non-essential.”

It’s been weird, hasn’t it?

I get the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential,”and why it is important at this time. Our essential workers really need all of us that can to stay at home so that we can get through this time of crisis. I’m happy to do it and thankful that I can do it.

But there’s also that little niggling feeling that comes with that “non-essential” distinction, that little voice that says: “See? You’re not so important after all.”

After all, if we are non-essential, what does that say about us?

Does it mean that the things we do don’t matter?

Does it mean that we don’t actually make much of a difference?

Does it mean that it never really mattered in the first place?

These are hard questions and I think it makes sense that we might find ourselves wrestling with them at this time. In fact, I think that some of the anxiety and stress we are feeling may actually come down to one really big question: Does it matter that I am here?

I admit I have wrestled with this question in the last few weeks. It’s been interesting to process that pastors fall in the non-essential category, especially since there was a time that wouldn’t have been the case. There was a time pastors would have been deemed as critical to the cause as any frontline worker, but the world has changed. And that can give us some well-warranted pause.

But in those moments of pause I think there is something we all need to remember:

NONE of us is “non-essential.”

You never have been non-essential. You matter. You matter because you are you. You are more than your job. More than your hobbies. More than the things you do to fill your time. More than the titles you put on your profile pictures.

And while your job may fall in the non-essential category, your role at this time is not non-essential. Our skills may feel insignificant in light of the doctors saving lives, but we can do the things we can.

The Bible has an image of the church that says we are like a body. It says some of us are like hands. Others are the feet. Some are the eyes. It says “Don’t think that because you are not a certain body part that you are not important!” It points out that we each have a part to play. We can each use the gifts we have, even if there are seasons when they feel more non-essential than others.

For me, I can’t cure covid. I can’t work a respirator. I can’t even drive a semi-truck (of this, I am certain).

But I can write a blog that may encourage a few people who need a lift. I can phone someone and ask how they’re doing. I can lead a service online to help people in my church remember God is with them. These things may not be essential by many definitions, but they are how I am made and they are what I can give. So I will.

You can do things too. For some, it can be as simple as the gift you give to those on the frontlines by staying home. You’re not just “doing nothing.” You’re helping protect a whole lot of people.

You can call and reach out to people who need it. You can care for your family. You can check on people that others might forget.

You can do what you can.

Not being an essential worker doesn’t mean you’re not an essential person. (We only have to think of all the things we miss so deeply to realize that those restaurant workers and hairstylists may have been more important to our well being than we thought). There will be a time we are back to normal again and we will be so grateful to have ALL of our essentials back.

In the meantime, we all have a part to play. Let go of the comparison game and be your own essential self. That will be enough.

non-essential
Here I am doing my little essential things in my now-very-essential spare room.

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Losing Easter

I know it may sound a little trite in light of the much more serious losses all around us right now, but I’m just going to say it: I am sad about losing Easter.

Easter is my very most favourite holiday of the year. And at our church, we do Easter big. I literally started planning for Easter 2020 on Easter Monday 2019. I have a google doc called “Easter ideas” and I have been adding to it for months.

At first a little part of me thought Easter would still happen in the way we were used to. When services were first cancelled, we were talking “three weeks,” and that left a little wiggle room. “Imagine if our first Sunday back is Easter Sunday!” I shared excitedly with our staff. “That would be amazing!”

But bit by bit it was clear this wasn’t happening. Bit by bit the reality hit home that we weren’t gathering to celebrate Easter. We weren’t gathering together for a long time. It made my heart sad.

This week I am thinking of all the things I will miss about doing Easter in our usual way. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I will miss:

  • The haunting quiet of the church after we turn out the lights on Good Friday
  • Praying with people after they receive communion
  • Eating Good Friday hot cross buns in the gym
  • Getting the call from our decor team to “come and see the decorations” (because they love to surprise me)
  • Seeing our church look the most beautiful it looks all year
  • Colour coordinating my outfit with the decorations (and-full confession – asking the worship team to do the same!)
  • Easter lilies filling the Sanctuary
  • Sending out parking and seating reminders because we would normally be SO FULL
  • Hearing a room full of people shout back to me: “He is risen indeed!”
  • The worship team leading us in “Happy Day”
  • Kids in cute Easter outfits
  • Treats after church
  • The excitement (and slight fear) to present the Easter skit
  • Seeing the joy and reactions to all the Easter surprises
  • Dinner and service debrief with our dear friends
  • Hugs

The list is long. Easter and how we do it has become so special to us as a family, and as a church, that when I realized we wouldn’t have it in this way, it felt like something had been stolen.

The interesting thing is that a few weeks ago, when life was still chugging along as usual, we had been talking about Easter one evening at a board meeting. Someone commented: “I can’t wait to see what you guys are planning. We’ve come to expect big things!”

Now he was excited and meant this as a compliment, but I admit that comments like this usually make me feel a lot of pressure. A lot of people say things like “How are you going to top last year?” We never actually try to top any sort of year. Each year we seek to create a space to celebrate with joy that Jesus is alive. And each year it feels big. But the next day I said at our staff meeting: “Some days I think that maybe we need a year where everything totally bombs so that we can avoid celebrating Easter becoming too much of an idol for us.”

Yup. I said that.

(And now I want to scream: “I didn’t MEAN it, God, COME ON!”)

An idol, if you are wondering, is not necessarily a statue. It is anything that takes the place of God. It is something that we end up worshipping above God in our lives.

And here is the thing with idols: they ALWAYS let you down. Idols fail 100% of the time.

I don’t think the way we do Easter had become an idol just yet. But this year all those things I had been excited about have let me down. They can’t happen. I have hated losing these things.

And yet.

This year I also realize that in losing Easter, we do have a gift: the gift to remember that we don’t need any of these things to actually have Easter.

I have loved the streamers and the confetti canons and the rap songs from Aravind and Heavy D (video available upon request…). And I look forward to next year when we can have all those things again. (Yes, I am already planning….). But for this year, I accept that in letting go of these things we may actually find ourselves appreciating the reason we do all these things in the first place.

This year, we can remember in the most tangible way possible WHY we need to have hope. This year we are part of the story of longing in ways we don’t always have space to experience. This year, more than ever, we need to remember: Death does not win. When stories feel over, there is more to come. We live in shadows, but light is coming.

We haven’t lost Easter. In fact, in losing so much of what we do during Easter, we may discover we actually find it.

So let us declare, from our couches, our living rooms, our kitchen tables. Let us declare from behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Let us declare from homes without parties and churches behind computer screens. Let us declare with joy because it is still true:

HE IS RISEN! 

He is Risen indeed.

(It’s not our usual Easter service, but if you are looking to join us celebrate this year, our church will meet online at 10:30 Easter Sunday on the Facebook page “Mount Hamilton Baptist Church.” The service will also be aired later on YouTube).

A Covid-crap-ular Week

Week one was busy.

There were so many things to figure out. There were new routines and constant processing and dealing with what was right in front of us. It was moving to our online worship time and calling everyone in church and a thousand meetings. I didn’t have much time to think about anything.

Week two was keeping up.

It was putting the systems in place and thinking big picture. It was helping people use technology and dealing with glitches during live streaming. It was figuring out some version of “homeschool.” It was getting through it.

Week three was…emotional.

This week was planning an Easter service we could do online and letting go of months of other plans. It was preparing for a spring where our church won’t see each other in person. It was having hard talks about finances and projects and what pastoral care will look like when people start getting sick, or even dying.

It was parks being roped off. It was announcements to plan for this to last until June. It was cancelled trips.  It was realizing this really was going to go on a long time. It was letting go, over and over and over.

This week it started to feel like too much.

So this week in my house was lots of tears. This week was cries of “I can’t do this anymore” and “I miss my friends too much.” This week was breakdowns. This week was “Can you rub my back until I fall asleep?” This week was “I hate this!” This week was “Talking online isn’t the same!” This week was “Sure, you can watch another episode of Duck Tales” – because that’s about what we could manage.

This week, we have declared, was covidcrapular.

covidcrapular
The youngest’s feelings about this covidcrapular week…

There was so much sadness in our house this week and it seemed pointless to pretend we weren’t all feeling the same way. When my daughter cried, I said “I’m with you, honey.” When my family got to feeling overwhelmed I said: “Let’s eat popcorn.” “Yes,” I said, when we saw the mountain brow roped off, when the new school dates were announced, when we thought about the months of this ahead: “This is COVIDCRAPULAR.”

It’s true that we are not on the front lines, and that our experience of this time likely seems insignificant in comparison. I am not trying to compare. But I am trying to make space for the feelings all of us have in this season, including those doing what they can by staying at home. I am trying to make space for my own feelings. For me, this week was rough. I miss my people. I miss my routines. I am struggling to parent my overwhelmed children. I feel useless. I don’t want to do this anymore.

I don’t think I’m alone in struggling this week.

This tidal wave of reality seemed to hit a lot of us hard this week, and with that came the waves of grief, loss, sadness and fear. I think all of this is normal. Until now, we were in crisis management mode. We were letting the adrenaline carry us. But there comes a time when those things crash and we have to face the covidcrapular long term. This week seemed to be that time for lots of us.

That meant that this week we had to figure out how to get through it, because while this week was hard, it’s also not the last one we’re going to have when the emotions get overwhelming. We have a lot of weeks ahead, and they will definitely have lots of covidcrapular moments. Here’s what we are learning:

Make Space for the Feels

This week we agreed together that we can feel whatever we are feeling. Sad is okay. Worried is okay. Exhausted is okay. This is true for all of us.

You are also entitled to any emotion you are having. So are your kids. Your feelings might not always make sense. There are people who have it worse. AND we can say “I feel sad.” We can say “I am struggling.” We can say “I find this hard.” We don’t have to brightside it or undermine it or pretend we feel anything but what we do. Let the crap be the crap. Eat popcorn. Watch Duck Tales. Lament to a friend.

These are extraordinary times, the likes of which we have never lived through before. Of course we don’t know what to do. We’re all just muddling through. Don’t beat yourself up on the days you have to throw the routine aside. Don’t be hard on yourself for needing space to be sad.

Celebrate the Covidtacular

We started a second word in our house this week: Covidtacular. Covidtacular is defined as: “Something that normally wouldn’t be that big a deal but in light of everything it feels awesome.”

We had lots of covidtacular moments this week. We tried to create them and name them and celebrate them. They included: having an afternoon tea in our backyard, phone calls and messages to my daughter who really needed them, flowers left on our front step by friends, pizza delivered to us by someone we love, eating a box of leftover Christmas chocolates, sunshine, and – as mentioned: Duck Tales (Thank the Lord for Disney Plus!).

I don’t know what week four will bring. I am learning to let each week be what it is. And I am slowly accepting that we have a lot of weeks left to go. I know some of them will be covidcrapular and I know that’s okay. I know we can also find the covidtacular. And I know God is with us in both.

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“My Husband Types Too Loud” – And Other Reasons I Need to Let Go Of Easy Anger During Covid-19

A few months ago I mapped out the series of sermons I would preach for the next few months. I wanted to talk about a simple concept: love.

Each week we would consider what love looks like in a real way. And each week we would look at parts of the story of Jesus to see examples of that love.

Things were going along just fine, and then a little thing called covid happened. Our church closed. Our services went online. Everything we were doing changed.

I asked: “Should my sermons change, too?”

I looked at the topic I had planned for the week in front of me. It was a teaching from the Bible that says “Love is not easily angered.” Hmmm…Was a lesson about anger still fitting for these new, strange times?

With bashfulness as I looked at my own life, I knew the answer was a resounding YES. I had had a week where I was easily angered – a lot.

I was easily angered when my kids made too much noise when I was trying to do online meetings.

I was easily angered when someone stood too close to me at a grocery store (SIX FEET, PEOPLE!!!).

I was easily angered when I saw videos of people flaunting their disregard for social distancing – angered at strangers who were still walking our local stairs, people still having games nights with friends, people saying we were all “overreacting.”

Let’s be honest. This is a season where it is easy to get angry. Some of us are working in cramped, close quarters and it starts to get too cozy. (Actual quote from me to my husband this week: “Have you always typed SO LOUDLY?”). Some of you are out on the frontlines dealing with issues that are infuriating and exhausting and there’s a lot to make you justifiably upset. (Not having enough face masks when working in a hospital is a lot worse than too-loud typing!). For many of us, this season is scary, and it is easy for our reactions to jump to anger when we are frightened.

easilyangered

Of course we are going to get angry. That’s normal.

The question is, how can we show love that is not easily angered?

If most of us are certain of anything right now, it’s that we need all the love we can get. And we need love that is real and tangible and more than a meme saying “we’re in this together.” We need to love each other as well as we can – and I think that includes working to step back from our easy anger.

The story of Jesus I mentioned gives us a good example to follow. In this story, Jesus is peacefully praying in a garden when a crowd of soldiers and religious leaders show up to arrest him in the middle of the night. They are carrying weapons. They are sneaky and underhanded. And so Jesus’ friends jump into action. One of them says “Should we fight them?” And in a valiant effort to protect Jesus, he reaches out and cuts off the ear of one of those there to take Jesus away.

I think this anger is warranted. Nothing that was happening was fair. It was unjust and unreasonable and it made sense that Jesus’ friends got defensive. I would have, too!

Your anger in this time is also warranted. Of course you get annoyed when people are insensitive or acting selfishly or putting others at risk. It’s normal to feel upset when your kids are going off the edge or when your loved one refuses to do social distancing or when you feel like your workplace isn’t looking out for your safety. However, while our anger may often be justified, we have to ask ourselves if our responses in those angry moments are as justified as we may want to believe. That’s when I have to take a pause and know that mine often are not.

But how Jesus responds inspires me here. With the guard’s ear still dripping from its injury, he tells his followers to stop. He tells them to put their swords away. Then he does something truly incredible: He reaches out and heals the ear.

He heals the one who is there to harm him! He heals the one about to take him away to his trial, and to what will be his eventual death. He could have easily chosen violence. It would have protected him. But he choose peace.

As I look at this story, I see that we have a choice of who we will look like in angry moments. We can be like the disciple who attacked. We can choose violence. I don’t mean physical violence (though that is possible of course!). We can choose violence with our words, our comments or our tweets. We can choose to attack. We can choose to namecall. We can choose to shame others. We can choose to say “look at this idiot!”

Or.

We can be like Jesus.

We can choose healing. We can choose to reach out. We can choose to respond gently to someone else’s rage. We can choose to consider another person’s perspective. We can choose not to lash out. We can choose peace. We can choose love.

I know it’s not always easy, but this is a time to put away our weapons. This is a time to let go of our easy anger. This is a time to seek healing in all the ways we can.

This is a time for love.

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Of Course You’re Tired: Why It Makes Sense We’re All Exhausted This Week

I had some great intentions for this week.

My kids, I had planned, would have lots of things to enjoy despite all the shut downs. They would stay engaged in learning. They would not sit in front of screens too often.

We would do online museum tours!

We would have family games nights!

We would BAKE!

This has not happened.

My job, I had planned, would have the space to explore big ideas.

I would do some visioning!

I would revamp some programs!

I would read, research, reflect!

This has not happened.

And my HOUSE! Well…

I would sort through the too small clothes with the kids!

I would organize the basement!

I would finally paint the bathroom!

This has not happened.

I have not rested more. I have not enjoyed a new netflix series. I have not organized, planned, cleaned, or home schooled.

And, yet, at the end of this first official week of social isolation and working from home, I am so tired. I am completely and totally pooped.

At first it baffled me.

“Why am I so tired?” I asked myself. “I’ve been home all week! I wear slippers all day. We haven’t had to drive the kids to anything. Half my stuff is cancelled. I’m not working in a hospital or a grocery store. Those workers should be tired. Why me?”

tired
Mood.

Then I started to talk to others who have felt the exact same way. Over messenger and email and on the phone we have commiserated: “I am so exhausted! I thought this would be downtime!”

That’s when I realized that I’m not alone in my weariness and I started to consider why this is. Here are some of my thoughts:

Working From Home is Still Working

For most of us, this isn’t actually time off. Even if you are working from home, you still have to get the same amount of work done – only you have to do it in new ways, and in a space not organized for your job and with kids around asking for you to get them soup or crayons or toilet paper. Adjusting to new things is physically and emotionally draining, and we are doing it all the time. One more time for those in the back: WORKING FROM HOME IS NOT TIME OFF. Of course you’re tired.

Online Meetings Take More Energy

There are studies that show online meetings are actually MORE tiring than meeting face to face. Looking at screens for a long time, monitoring where voices are coming from, helping your coworker figure out how to get their sound back on for the 6th time…all of this takes effort. If you’re like me, you’ve lived on Zoom this week. Of course you’re tired!

Struggling to Step Back From Work

When working from home, the lines between work and home life blur more than they do normally. People are in contact more often and throughout the day over social media, on the phone and through text. Beyond that, this is a time of crisis for many professions. As a pastor, I’ve been scrambling this week to set up ministries that work for people in our church. Our staff has been trying to care for a lot of people who are worried. We’ve had to reassess how we do everything… And at your job, you are probably in the same boat. You’ve had to manage a lot of change this week. Of course you’re tired!

Your Kids are at Home

For the parents out there, we are trying to support and engage our kids while we are working. It’s a lot of extra work. This, to put a clear label on it, sucks. Even if you are a stay at home parent or have this time off, you are still caring for kids who have had all their programs cancelled, who can’t see their friends, and who are just as scared as you. Of course you’re tired!

Emotional Stress

This has been an emotionally overwhelming week. We are worried and anxious and tired and still not sure what the future holds. We are worried about getting sick. We’re worried about finances. We’re worried how long this will last. And we are doing this without the physical support of people we usually lean on. We are doing this without the systems and programs and routines we usually cherish. We miss going to the gym. We miss our weekly coffee dates. We miss yoga class and dinners with friends and playdates and small groups and swimming lessons. We miss our lives.

Of course we are all tired.

So my friends, let’s not be too hard on ourselves if week one of isolation didn’t feel very successful. Let’s not judge ourselves for feeling exhausted and needing a weekend just as much as any other week.  Let’s cut ourselves some slack about the amount of screen time we gave the kids.

It’s been a week.

Of COURSE you’re tired.

(Author’s Note: With some feedback from those of you who are still working SO HARD at our many essential services, please don’t take this post in any way to compare to what you are doing and the level of tiredness you must feel. Thank you to all of you working and putting yourself at risk every day in the public sphere and who would like nothing more than to be in slippers all day. This post is geared to those of us at home feeling like we’re doing a whole lot of nothing and wondering why we may feel more drained than we think we should. But we know it does not compare with what you’re going through. We’re grateful for you!)

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Social Connecting in a Time of Social Distancing

Sign

A lot sure has changed since last week.

This time last week our staff was meeting in my office, talking about things like our upcoming Easter service and our next round of small groups, breathing near each other all willy-nilly with not a care in the world…

One week later we are all working from home, no one is meeting in any size group, and our big Easter service has been put on a pretty distant back burner.

Our online staff meeting this week was different. We were asking different questions:

What is our call as pastors right now?

What does it look like to lead in this season?

And the real biggie:

How will we help our community stay connected?

We all know we are supposed to be socially distancing. Physically, we have got to take that not-breathing-near-each-other thing REALLY seriously, and we are loving our community as a church by honouring this directive.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop connecting, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a place to help people do that. In fact, in this season, I believe our call to help people support one another is even more important.

If you are a pastor or leader asking the same questions, let me share with you some of the ways our church is encouraging social connecting in a time of social distancing.

Online Worship Time

Like lots of other churches, we are live streaming our Sunday service. What may be a little different about us is that we have been doing this for the last year. We already had a live streamed service using Facebook called Sunday at Home. For those of you new to online worship services, here are some things we have learned and found helpful if you are about to start live streaming:

  • It can (and, I believe, should) look different than your normal service

We decided early on we didn’t want to just record our regular service. We wanted it to be GEARED to the reality of people watching from a couch in their living room. We wanted people to be able to engage in a more intentional way and not just be spectators.

Don’t feel like you need to get your whole worship team together and set up a service that looks just like your normal Sunday. I actually think people watching a service posted to an empty church can be more disconcerting than comforting for many.

Sit on a couch. Talk to people like they are in front of you. If you don’t have music, use other spiritual practices like prayer, lectio divina, guided readings. Keep your sermon a little shorter as watching on a screen is different than being present in person. Imagine you are sitting next to someone having a coffee and talk like they are there next to you. Be a bit more relaxed.

Give pause for people to participate. Pause for people to pray on their own. Ask people questions they can answer in the comments section so they connect to others. (Having a moderator keeping this conversation going is helpful – and can be done from anywhere. They don’t have to be in the room with you).

sundayathomepreaching
A screenshot of a regular morning at Sunday at Home.

 

  • It doesn’t have to be swanky

I assure you we don’t do swanky at MHBC. There were many weeks early on we used a phone. And that phone was my Samsung 6. That’s it. It didn’t look as polished as lots of places but that’s okay. We aren’t polished. Set your phone up against a book, sit back, talk to your people. It’s enough.

  • Pick the right platform and help people use it

For us, the right platform is Facebook Live. It’s easy and a lot of our people use facebook and engage with it. For you, it might be youtube. Youtube doesn’t feel like as right a fit for us (though we will post the video there afterwards). Of course that means lots of people say “But I’m not on Facebook!” This is true – no source will be used by EVERYONE. But explain why you are using what you are using and then invite people to join you. The reality is, people CAN use Facebook if they want. That’s their choice.

But we may need to help people a bit. For those that struggle, we have put some people “on call” to help those that need it. This week I have already helped someone on the phone figure out how to watch our videos. That’s okay. Sometimes pastoring is helping one of your senior members figure out technology so they can be part of what you’re doing. This, too, is ministry.

Covid Care Team

This week we asked the question: What do people in our church need right now? We realized the answer wasn’t yet food delivery or meals or help when sick. That may come. Right now, the biggest priority is making sure people are CONNECTED.

If we’re doing church online, do people know how to use it?

Is everyone on our email list?

Do people know who to call in our church if they need help?

Over the next week, we are doing a round of church calls to ask these questions. We are making a list of everyone who calls our church home – especially new people – and making sure they know how to stay part of things in the weeks to come. The great news is that getting people to help with this is also a good way to help people engage.

Online Ministries

You can use resources online for more than just your worship service.

For the last year we have had a regular weekly prayer time we call “Intermission.” Every Thursday at 12:30 we go live on our (private) Facebook page (we have a private and public Facebook page) and people join in prayer together. The pastors lead people through guided prayers as we pray for prayer requests, church needs, and our world. It has been easy to do and effective to gather people to pray from anywhere.

intermission
Here is a screenshot of Intermission. It ain’t fancy – it is meaningful.

In the next few weeks, we are going to do this every weekday instead of just once a week. We will do 15 minutes of guided prayer together each day at 12:30 and already many have joined us.

We also are planning special “online” small groups. We are asking anyone who would like to be in a group of 5 or 6 to sign up and we will provide a study to use online for these groups. We will lump people into groups based on preferred medium, such as Zoom, Skype, or Messenger. (Isn’t it amazing how many choices we have??). And again, we will have people available to help people learn how to use these mediums if they need support.

Side Note: This is a season where people may actually have TIME to do things that normally they are too busy to do! Why not use this time for good?

Resource Sharing/Stealing

Maybe these things still overwhelm you. Maybe you’re a small church and even these things are a bit much. The great news is LOTS OF OTHER CHURCHES will have these things available. Share and “steal” the things that help you! Pass on videos and resources and readings and blogs and reflections to your people that have been meaningful to you. Connect them to another’s church’s livestream if you still feel that’s too much for you to do. Do what YOUR church can do and let others help you do what you can’t.

What’s most important is that we remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social separating. Isolation doesn’t have to mean loneliness. As pastors, leaders and churches, we can help prevent those things from happening.

This, in this time, is the Lord’s work.