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I am on a spiritual journey in which I'm questioning everything I think I know.

Book excerpt: The Wide World of Anger

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

One of the biggest factors underlying today’s extreme polarization is the bottomless pit of seething resentment and rage running through our society like hot lava.

I mentioned in a previous post that many people I encounter these days seem more cranky and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. We have Road Rage, Airport Rage, Parking Lot Rage and Starbucks Rage. We have Climate Wars, Health Care Wars, Class Wars, Mommy Wars and even Worship Wars. We spew our in-your-face venom onto everything from t-shirts, lapel pins and bumper stickers to coffee cups, refrigerator magnets and doormats like this one sold at Amazon.com:

“The easiest thing you’ll do all day is get ticked off at something,” Jeffrey Kluger writes in a Time magazine article titled America’s Anger Is Out of Control (link HERE). “Someone cuts ahead of you in traffic? Ticked off. Guy in front of you at Starbucks needs his entire order remade because his mocha half-caf, double frap had the wrong frigging number of espresso shots in it even though you know full well nobody can taste the bloody difference? Exceedingly ticked off. We’re all that way – and that’s a problem. Anger is … quick, it’s binary, it’s delicious. And more and more, we’re gorging on it.” 

The gratuitously nasty responses to a popular bumper sticker handed out by school districts offer a perfect illustration of this free-floating over-the-top anger. Personally, I think proud of my honor student bumper stickers are a nice way for schools to show appreciation to hardworking students and promote academic achievement. But apparently some folks beg to differ, judging from their own bumper stickers. My kid beat up your honor student and my kid got your honor student pregnant are just a couple of the snarky “statements” that leave me shaking my head. Good grief! If we don’t want our young people using drugs, joining gangs or making other unfortunate choices, why the hostility toward kids who are doing something right?

Lloyd Vries at CBS News (link HERE) shares, “A reader wrote to me, ‘Just do the country a favor and shoot yourself.’ … How angry does someone have to be to write something like that? And ‘Mr. Go Shoot Yourself’ is not atypical. Surf the Internet for a second or two, and you’ll see the venom pouring out from those who verbally attack each other.” At my computer I type the words, “Why is everyone so angry?” The Google search yields nearly 150,000 entries and an inescapable conclusion: Vries is correct. There sure are a lot of angry people out there.

A short browse through just a few of the 150,000 entries reveals that the population of folks gorging on anger isn’t limited to the U.S.

The British are vexed about Brexit, among other things. Some display their fury in ways that rival their U.S. counterparts on the rage-o-meter, according toan article for The Daily Telegraph in London (Short-Fuse Britain: Why is Everyone So Bloody Angry? – link HERE). Judith Woods writes, “Last weekend, my children and I were nearly knocked into the canal by a cyclist incandescent with rage that I was walking by the canal. He was followed by a peleton of similarly rude men in a tearing hurry who refused to give way to pedestrians, as they are supposed to. I was sorely tempted to lie across the path in a gesture of defiance, but I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t have pedaled straight over me, leaving cartoon tyre marks, so instead I shouted at them. Of course I did: I’m as cross as everyone else.” 

What do people get cracked about in Australia? Blogger Jacqueline Lunn (link HERE) relates: “In the space of a week I’ve seen people get twitchy at each other as they wait in the line for ice cream. I’ve seen scenes of obvious, quite nasty, frustration due to an elderly man exiting a bus. I’ve watched three grown men, not one but three, push past my 10-year-old daughter to be served before her at the counter. Brows furrowed, on a mission, about to snap. Her older sister had to stand with her so pushing past was thwarted. I’ve completely cracked it because the dishwasher wasn’t unpacked when I’ve come home from work. Cracked like an egg rolling off a benchtop.” 

In a feature article on the Web site Modern Ghana (link HERE), Nicholas Ameyaw-Akumfi recites a litany of angsty issues that will sound familiar to most Americans. “Why are people so angry these days?” he asks.“It seems as though everything challenging in life is hitting them faster and from every direction. Changes in technologies and communications have caused their lives to move faster. Unemployment prevails as the cost of living keeps rising. Sleep doesn’t come as easy as it used to.” His account of how Ghanaians respond will sound familiar as well: “A spilled cup of coffee in the morning can ruin the better portion of a person’s day and a ringing telephone or barking dog can set their nerves on edge.” 

Meanwhile in India: “How have rage and vitriol become so addictive?” asks blogger Manika Raikwar Ahirwal, managing editor for that country’s NDTV (link HERE). “We need our daily dose of rant. And if it’s angry and full of abuse, even better. … In this new world of hatred, your mission, if you so choose, is to destroy without prejudice. Anything, everything is fair game. We will target you and by association anything we can get our hands on.” 

As my husband would say, “Ay, covfefe!” And to think some of us here in the good ol’ U.S.A. thought we might be able to escape from our own Fury Festival by fleeing to another country …

All this frenzy calls to mind the parable of the boiled frog – a cautionary tale most of us will hear sooner or later if we attend enough business conferences or stress management seminars. The storyline goes like this: If a frog is suddenly tossed into a kettle of boiling water, it will jump out and save itself from impending death. But if the frog is happily swimming around in lukewarm water, with the temperature turned up gradually, it will not perceive danger and will be cooked to death. 

Turns out the boiled frog story may actually be nothing more than an urban legend. In reality, say some experts, the frog will be smart enough to hop out of the water in the nick of time, no matter how slowly one turns up the heat. I’m left wondering, however, whether we humans will be so sensible.

Questions for readers: What factors do you see leading to so much anger? If you live outside the U.S., is there similar anger and polarization going on your country? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

God’s other book: Ice sculpture

When I looked out the picture window in our living room on New Year’s Day, my first thought was, “I hope this isn’t a sign of what 2021 is going to be like.” In central Illinois, the year started out with … an ice storm.

But I had also pledged to start each day finding something to be grateful for and I had to admit, the ice really was pretty. Especially since I didn’t have to go anywhere that day and could stay warm and toasty inside while enjoying a feast of hoppin’ john and greens with my husband.

So I got out my camera and pointed it out several windows to see what the lens might capture. The thin coating of ice turns twigs into a work of art.

In our driveway, we have a small tree we call “the clubhouse.” Dozens of birds gather there, and we can hear the chorus of chirping as soon as we walk out the front door. Even the ice didn’t deter the birds from having their regular “meeting,” but … BR-R-R-R-R!

I love how each of the berries on our neighborhood crabapple trees has its own icicle.

If you look close, you can see a bead of ice hanging from every single one of those berries. Just. Wow.

And I was certainly grateful the sheet of ice that covered everything, including the electrical wires, was only about a quarter inch thick and we didn’t lose power.

So, may everyone have a blessed and happy new year!

Recipe: Hoppin’ John

For several years now, Pete and I have enjoyed a New Year’s Day tradition of inviting friends to our house for hoppin’ john, greens and cornbread.

Hoppin’ john is a traditional southern dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, and is said to bring good luck if eaten on New Year’s Day. My husband, who grew up in East Tennessee, brought the recipe with him when he moved to Illinois. 

As usual, I’ve modified the recipe somewhat to meet my dietary restrictions. For my version of hoppin’ john, I use brown rice – the frozen kind for convenience. I’ve actually come to prefer brown rice for its nutty texture. Plus, it has more healthy fiber than the more heavily processed white rice. I cook the bacon separately and drain off the grease before adding it to the recipe, which allows me to add some delicious bacon flavor without so much saturated fat, and I sauté the onion and pepper separately in olive oil. I use Tony Chachere’s no-salt seasoning blend in place of salt. Low sodium chicken broth adds flavor.

We serve the dish with greens and cornbread, which are said to further ensure prosperity for the coming year. For the cornbread, I use Martha White self-rising buttermilk corn meal mix, and follow the recipe on the back of the package. This brand of corn meal mix does NOT have added sugar, which not only makes it better for my diabetic diet, but also more authentically southern.

Most years, our friends bring their own favorite dishes, along with their musical instruments, making for a great potluck feast and jam session. What better way to start the New Year off right?

Unfortunately, this year we’ll be celebrating with just the two of us because of the pandemic. But our friends will be with us in spirit, and the leftover hoppin’ john freezes very well.

This recipe makes about eight one-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen whole grain brown rice
  • 1 12-ounce package frozen black-eyed peas
  • 3 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tony Cachere’s no-salt seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 32-ounce carton low-sodium chicken broth

Directions

Combine black-eyed peas and chicken broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Thaw the brown rice in the refrigerator overnight, or heat in the microwave oven following package directions.

Cook the bacon on a plate lined and covered with paper towels in the microwave oven for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp, and crumble the bacon.

Sauté the onion and pepper in olive oil until tender and caramelized, and sprinkle in the no-salt seasoning, red pepper and black pepper.

Combine rice, black-eyed peas (with broth), bacon and sautéed vegetables. Add one cup water and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour into baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in 425-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Stir again and serve hot.

Nutritional Information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 38 g | Protein: 8 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 3 mg | Sodium: 125 mg | Potassium: 305 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 20% | Calcium: 1.5% | Iron: 6% 

Ah, 2020!

If anything good can be said about this past year, we must admit it has generated some hilarious memes.

Since 2020 has lasted about 10 years, retailers have surely had enough time to introduce a 2020 Barbie. Not to mention the inevitable commemorative Christmas ornaments. Alas, this might not have been the best year to let our imaginations run wild when it comes to anything from Halloween candy to relaxing drinks to baby food. And Time Magazine may have missed a bet when designating their Person of the Year.

Enjoy.

And on a more serious note …

Our annual Christmas letter

Dear Family and Friends,

We certainly don’t need to tell any of you what kind of a year this has been! It’s been a year like none other in our household – even that year when the Cubs finally won the World Series. Our little “QuaranTeam” (two humans and two cats) has been holed up in our home since March – which seems like last week and 10 years ago, both at the same time.

The good news: We’ve been learning lots of new things – like how to get our groceries delivered and how to use technological marvels like FaceTime and Zoom. We’re learning new recipes, because we’re eating at home all the time now, something that hasn’t happened before in our adult lives. We’ve started doing yoga at home too, since our exercise class for seniors went on hiatus when the pandemic hit. Who knew yoga could be so much work? We’re even relearning how to style long hair. Debi’s hair hasn’t been this long in 20 years, and Pete’s hasn’t been this long since his hippie days in the 1960s. 

In October Pete did a presentation for a virtual history conference (over Zoom, like everything else this year) for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The title was “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860,” and he’s thinking of expanding it. In the meantime, it keeps him busy with something more constructive than posting political memes on social media. The photo here captures Pete doing his Zoom presentation from the comfort and safety of our home.

We have decided to use the enforced downtime constructively to write the books we’ve been threatening to write nearly forever. Debi’s book, with the working title We Need to Talk, will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and share her personal search for an appropriate Christian response. She has gotten several excerpts written so far, which she’s publishing on her blog Seriously Seeking Answers. Pete’s been blogging, too, and there may be a book in the offing. Not that we’re competitive, but in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep, Pete has sometimes been detected outlining a book about Swedish immigrants (an expansion of the paper he presented for the virtual history conference) and quietly humming “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” 

Despite the lockdown, we’ve continued to “attend” church every Sunday. Although our building has been closed for all but a few weeks since Lent, a dedicated team of volunteers quickly learned the technology necessary to make our virtual services happen. We’ve been able to participate in weekly Bible study and book group meetings via Zoom as well. Our community service committee has developed several creative ways for us to help people in need in the larger community. And we learned how to use another new technology – iMovie. Here, we made a video of ourselves sharing the peace, to be uploaded and used in an online church service.

Debi has also been busy cleaning the basement, garage, closets and cupboards, and Pete has been chipping away at the archaeological midden in his office. Who knows, we might actually come out of this quarantine having achieved one of Debi’s life-long bucket-list items – a meticulously ordered household, with a place for everything and everything in its place, even in the garage and the basement.

Oley and Champaign have provided their usual endlessly adorable companionship during this shelter-in-place adventure. They continue to be their sweet, lovable, ornery, mischievous selves, thus making our isolation much more bearable.

So we all wish you a “Meowy” Christmas, and what we HOPE will be a much better New Year!

Blessings,

Recipe: Fruktsoppa

Fruktsoppa, a fruit soup using dried fruit, is a traditional dessert in Sweden and Norway. 

When I was growing up, this dish was a staple at extended-family gatherings during the holidays. But fruktsoppa is so tasty, why reserve it only for Christmas? 

The soup may be served as a side dish at breakfast or as a dessert at other meals. What a delicious way to help meet our goal of 3-5 servings of fruits or vegetables per day!

The original recipe calls for added sugar, but I totally leave it out. Because the fruit itself is naturally sweet enough, who needs the added carbs and calories?

The soup can be frozen up to three months, which makes it great for batch cooking.

This recipe makes approximately 10 half-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup dried prunes
  • 2 apples, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 6 cups water

Directions

Soak apricots in the water for at least a half hour. 

Add the apple slices, cinnamon sticks, tapioca and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add prunes and currants and continue to simmer until all fruit is tender.

Serve hot or cold, depending on your preference.

Nutrition information

Calories: 115 | Carbohydrates: 30 g | Protein: 1 g | Fat: .3 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 7 mg | Potassium: 383 mg | Fiber: 3.5 g | Sugar: 22 g | Vitamin A: 12% | Vitamin C: 4% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 4%

Book excerpt: How the Culture Wars affect us

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my previous excerpts, link HERE.

Some would argue that the extreme polarization in our society is normal and relatively harmless. We must simply learn to ignore the drama. Turn off the TV. Spend less time on social media sites.

If only it were that simple. 

Around the tables at 12-Step group meetings, people say it’s important to distinguish between “normal” and “healthy.” Some situations and behaviors considered all-too-normal in our society are actually anything but healthy, they warn.

For example, it would be bad enough if the tide of anger and disrespect swirling around us served merely to put people in a surly, antisocial mood. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop there. On a societal level, our finger-pointing epidemic leads to everything from Congressional gridlock and loss of trust in our institutions to violence against individuals who belong to maligned groups. On a personal level, people report damaged relationships and higher levels of stress. Perhaps worst of all, our children are watching us. 

Here are some of the ways I see the Culture Wars affecting us, both personally and as a community.

  • Our relationships. In a study published by the journal PLOS ONE (link HERE), about 20 percent of respondents reported that political animosity had damaged their friendships. Nearly 40 percent of registered voters – both Democrat and Republican – surveyed by the Pew Research Center (link HERE) said they do not have a single close friend from the opposing party. I’ve watched some of my own Facebook friends – both conservative and progressive – shred each other on my news feed to the point where I needed to block them. Others have pressured me to “unfriend” or stop associating with people who voted the “wrong” way in an election. I’ve fretted about who to invite to gatherings at my house because I worried that one of my more opinionated guests might insult or offend another guest. Sadly, I’ve had loved ones decide they’re “done” with me because “we don’t agree on anything” politically. 
  • Our livelihoods. Polarization can impact our jobs, along with our ability to support ourselves and our families. At the national level, our elected officials regularly threaten to “shut down the government” unless they get their way on hot-button priorities. In the past few years, government shutdowns have resulted in workers getting furloughed until the impasse is resolved. In Illinois, where I live, social service agencies were forced to conduct massive layoffs when our legislators and the governor held the state budget hostage for two years while fighting over ideological agendas. 
  • Our civic engagement. The Culture Wars may boost TV ratings and generate clicks for social media advertisers. But the toxic nature of our conflicts leaves too many of us wanting to drop out of the civic arena entirely. Hidden Tribes (link HERE), a survey of public opinion by the organization More in Common, says two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans belong to a group the authors have dubbed “the Exhausted Majority.” Although members of this group have many political and ideological differences, they share fatigue with the current state of U.S. politics. The relentless back-and-forth arguments have rendered many folks just plain fed up and wondering if the U.S. can move beyond division, according to the report. At least a quarter (26 percent) of those surveyed report feeling detached, distrustful and disengaged. On a personal level, the warring factions leave me wanting to grab a good book and a flashlight and dive under the bed with my cat.
  • Our conversations. No matter how innocuous or trivial the topic, many of us have become reluctant to express our true thoughts. Personally, I’m not afraid that people might disagree with me, which is fine, or even that someone might prove me wrong, which I can live with. But I do tend to avoid speaking up in situations where I might get name-called or otherwise bullied, and several friends have reported having similar experiences. I don’t think this makes us snowflakes. It means we practice good self-care. Unfortunately, this situation puts a damper on our ability to engage in anything more than the most superficial small talk with others.
  • Our credibility. Name-calling, flaming, trolling and other rude behavior don’t just stop genuine discussion in its tracks. Obnoxious behavior invites others to take us less than seriously. When we lash out with insults toward those who disagree with us, we only give others an excuse to discount us and dismiss our message. 
  • Our ability to profit from advice. Lately I’ve noticed that the constant vitriol has made both me and others more reactive, less able to tolerate even the mildest, most constructive criticism. I don’t think this is entirely a matter of our having overly delicate egos. What passes for criticism is so pervasive and so relentless that we all feel like we’ve had our lifetime quota and cannot bear even one more iota of “feedback.” How many times can we hear words like “moron” and “Nazi” directed toward ourselves before even the most thick-skinned among us gets defensive and shuts down?
  • Our ability to fix or learn from mistakes. People these days find it almost impossible to admit when they are wrong. Again, I think this goes beyond fragile egos. I suspect one factor is that the punishment so often exceeds the crime. We don’t just ask people to repair the damage when they make mistakes. We sue them for everything they’ve got so we can make an example of them. We don’t just fire people. We seek to ruin their entire careers in the name of “accountability.” We “call them out,” target them for public humiliation and attempt to “cancel” them like credit cards. No wonder people are afraid of even the appearance of being wrong.
  • Our ability to resolve real problems. While we bicker incessantly, genuine problems go unaddressed. Raging war in various global hotspots creates millions of refugees. Thousands of children worldwide die each day of starvation and/or totally preventable diseases. Nearly a third of all children in the U.S. live in poverty. Because of Congressional gridlock, our elected officials are completely unable to come up with sensible policy on issues ranging from immigration, health care and our crumbling infrastructure to criminal justice reform and how to manage a pandemic.
  • Our trust. We don’t trust anyone these days – not the government, not the press, not the police, not doctors or scientists, and not even the church. According to a recent Gallup poll (link HERE), barely half (51 percent) of Americans expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the medical system. Fewer than half expressed similar confidence in the police (48 percent), the church/organized religion (42 percent), public schools (41 percent), the Supreme Court (40 percent), banks (38 percent), or large technology companies (32 percent). Fewer than a quarter expressed confidence in the criminal justice system (24 percent), big businesses (19 percent), newspapers (24 percent) or television news (18 percent). A measly 13 percent of us expressed confidence in Congress.
  • Our physical health. It would be nice if our elected officials could sit down like mature adults and work out a comprehensive policy to ensure appropriate health care is available to everyone, regardless of income or pre-existing medical conditions. Instead, members of Congress insist on turning our health care into a political wedge issue. Disastrously, the Culture Wars have rendered our national and state governments totally unable to effectively address either the medical or the economic fallout of COVID-19. The tricky part for the rest of us is figuring out how to separate the progressive-versus-conservative political spin from the medical information we need to know in order to protect ourselves from a potentially deadly virus. 
  • Our mental health. In “Stress in America 2020,” an annual survey published by the American Psychological Association (link HERE), 68 percent of adults named the current political climate in the U.S. as a source of stress. Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to say this was true for them. Three in five (60 percent) say the sheer number of issues America faces currently – ranging from racism and immigration to health care, the economy and climate change – is overwhelming to them. As anxiety arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has been added to our tension over these already existing conflicts, our stress levels have skyrocketed to the point that APA has sounded an alarm: “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”
  • Our faith. The Culture Wars have literally split congregations down the middle in recent years, and major denominations have faced schisms over such issues as LGBTQ rights, abortion and the role of women. How do we have conversations about genuine moral issues such as racism or poverty when important Biblical passages are labelled “too political” and therefore off-limits for discussion? For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing hurtful and gratuitous snark on Christian social media sites gives the increasing numbers of young people who identify as “none” ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion. 
  • Our safety. Taken to extremes, polarization can promote dehumanization and lower the threshold for violence. Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Republican Congressman Steve Scalise were shot by mentally unstable individuals who took our society’s heated political rhetoric too literally. Other elected officials from both parties routinely receive death threats in response to their policy decisions. We have groups on both the left (such as Antifa) and the right (such as the Proud Boys) who endorse violence as a legitimate way to achieve political ends. Perhaps more disturbing, a Voter Study Group survey (link HERE) found that 16 percent of ordinary Americans felt that violence is sometimes justified to advance political goals. We’re not even safe in our places of worship – mass shootings have occurred in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques and a Sikh temple. 
  • Our children. Do we really think our kids don’t notice the mudslinging we’ve come to regard as normal for political campaigns? Or the car with the middle-aged driver and the bumper sticker that tells us what we can eat if we don’t like the owner’s driving? Or the (alleged) adults who consider “flaming” a popular sport on social media? Or the talk show host who refers to ideological opponents as “wackos”? I’ve heard parents and teachers alike share concerns about children and adolescents watching political debates because of the abundance of name-calling, constant interruptions and generally uncivil behavior. Young people looking to adults for an example of how to behave could be excused for concluding that rudeness is clever. Kids who take their cues from their elders might also get this message: Consideration for others is passé.

So, is extreme polarization normal in our society? Unfortunately. Is it healthy or harmless? Hardly.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? How do we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on this article. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

My gratitude list for 2020

One of the ways I like to celebrate Thanksgiving is by reviewing my blessings. So … time to create my annual gratitude list. 

First, I’ve got to be honest. To say this past year has been unsettling would be a huge understatement. The pandemic has upended every familiar activity and routine in my life. Visits with family and friends – cancelled until further notice. Dulcimer group – cancelled until further notice. Choir practice – cancelled until further notice. Stay Fit classes – cancelled until further notice. Groceries – delivered to our home. Church, Bible study, book group and even some doctor appointments – all online. 

Then there’s the stress. My husband and I are considered to be in a “high risk” group because of our age and underlying medical conditions, which means we’ve been staying home since March. As the number of COVID-19 cases has skyrocketed in our community this fall, my anxiety level has risen along with the numbers. 

And yet I do have plenty to be grateful for this year:

My husband. As usual, Pete tops my gratitude list. If I must be stranded on a desert island (or in my home during a months-long quarantine, which sort of feels like the same thing), I can’t think of a better person to be marooned with than my sweetie pie of 35 years. I love that man to the moon and back!

Our kitties. Oley and Champaign have provided their usual wonderful companionship during this shelter-in-place ordeal. They’re cuddly, entertaining, delightfully ornery and endlessly adorable. They make isolation much more bearable.

Family and friends. Perhaps it’s our increasing awareness of life’s fragility, but it seems like we’ve all made a greater-than-usual effort to stay connected this year, even if we can’t get together in person. I’m not sure God expects me to be grateful for affliction – after all, I’m not a masochist. However, I’m certainly grateful for the people God puts in our lives to help us through the scary stuff.

Our church. Although our building has been closed for all but a few weeks since Lent, our congregation has been able to “attend” church online every Sunday, thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers who quickly learned the technology necessary to make our virtual services happen. We’ve also been able to participate in weekly Bible study and book group meetings via Zoom. And our community service committee has developed several creative ways for us to help people in need in the larger community.

Our spiritual director. For three years, prior to her death this fall, our beloved Sister M helped Pete and me with our spiritual development. She listened to my litany of doubts about everything from denominational dogma to God’s existence itself without negative judgment – at least none that I could detect. She was patient as I grappled with questions some would say I shouldn’t even be asking. 

Zoom and FaceTime. These amazing technologies have helped us stay connected with family, friends, our church community and the rest of the outside world in spite of our quarantine. What a gift!

My health. I’ve absolutely stopped taking my health for granted, especially during a year like this one. Because the lockdown has forced us to cook all our meals at home instead of eating out all the time, we are actually eating much healthier these days. 

Our home. If we must shelter in place for months on end, at least Pete and I have a beautiful home to do it in. The large eat-in kitchen, the fireplace I sit next to during my morning meditation, a sunroom filled with plants, and the flower beds in my backyard add up to a perfect sanctuary for our little quarantine team.

Financial security. I’m so grateful Pete and I are both retired and have a secure source of retirement income. This means that, unlike so many others, we haven’t had to worry about losing a job or a business during this pandemic. Nor do we have to go to work and risk exposing ourselves to a potentially deadly virus on a daily basis. 

Essential workers. Thank God for the people who deliver our groceries, provide our health care and otherwise make sure we all have what we need. These amazing generous people continuously remind me that being able to shelter in place and stay safe is actually a privilege, not something to gripe about.

Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old. Especially after the adventures of the past year.

And last but not least … our scientists. A VACCINE IS COMING!!! This quarantine won’t last forever. There really is an end in sight.

For all of this, God, I thank you.

And so, I resolve to keep reminding myself each day: Today is the day our Creator has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Blessings,

An early Advent

Perhaps they’ve been seeking an antidote to the harrowing nature of 2020 so far, but an unusual number of my friends have started the Christmas season early this year and have been posting photos of their trees and other decorations on Facebook.

Most years I make a practice of declaring to anyone who cares to listen, “I don’t even think about Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving. One holiday at a time, folks.” 

And I studiously have NOT shopped on Black Friday for years, both because I hate crowds and because I don’t want to enable department stores that make their employees leave their families in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner so adult customers can get a head start on fighting over the latest must-have toy. (I certainly don’t intend to do so this year either.)

But I must admit I’ve been having more than my usual share of “Bah! Humbug!” moments with the pandemic surging again. In fact, I’ve been so depressed I had seriously considered not even bothering to put up a tree or decorations this year. After all, being in lockdown means we won’t be entertaining any family or friends at our house. 

So I decided it wouldn’t hurt to follow my friends’ example and start observing Advent early this year myself.

We have a small artificial tree that fits on a table, the better to keep curious pets away from the ornaments. 

I love to go all-out in the sun room. The blaze of lights brings so much cheer on cold, dark mornings.

As if it could read my mind, our Christmas cactus actually started blooming early this year. (It usually doesn’t start blooming until December.)

And the peace lily, which usually doesn’t bloom this time of year at all, has decided to add its contribution.

A ceramic Nativity Scene my mother made for me has a place of honor in our china cabinet. Yes, that’s a cat next to the manger. We all know how cats have to be in the middle of things whenever something important is going on, and what could possibly be more important than the birth of our Savior?

At our house, we have an annual tradition of listening to Handel’s Messiah all the way through while putting up the tree and decorations. My favorite part is the Hallelujah chorus, which I could listen to over and over again like a teenager.

There, I’m starting to perk up already.