I need a distraction from work right now, so I’ve decided to sell some of my photos and donate all of the proceeds to a worthy organization. I have one 5×7 print of each of the photos above in hand. I can order more if needed, it will just take a little longer. All photos will include matting (no frame). I am selling each for $20 (includes shipping).
This month, ALL proceeds ($20 minus shipping) will be donated to the Chandler Care Center. This is a school-based community resource center that serves the families in my school’s community.
The coronavirus pandemic has humbled me. It has made it evident that “I am not in control.” It has caused me to reexamine a lot of things in my life including some bad habits.
One habit I am currently re-working is my inclination to “hit the ground running” the moment I wake. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote,
“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.”
I love the imagery. I am able to clearly envision the tigers (emails), elephants (angry people), snakes (meetings and commitments), lions (to-do items), and the buffalo herd (worries) bearing down on me as I begin my day. These “wild animals” can cause me to go from sleeping to “fight or flight” mode in seconds. It is not a comfortable, or healthy, way to begin the day. My inclination — especially during the pandemic — is to immediately beginning fighting off the aggressors.
Thankfully, Mr. Lewis provided a suggestion for those of us who are so inclined.
“And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”
So, for the past several weeks I have committed to the “quieter life” to start my day. I’m still up early (and I can see those “wild animals” lurking), but I grab my cold-brewed coffee, and take a seat on the patio with Kosmo (my dog). We share a Jumbo Blueberry Donette.
Practice a little Spanish.
Watch the birds.
Shove those animals back.
In the few weeks I have been doing this, I have noticed a marked difference. The tigers, elephants, snakes, lions, and buffalo still show up, but they aren’t as menacing. My quiet morning allows me to maintain perspective.
It prepares me for the chaos of the day by priming my soul with peace.
In case you are wondering, a “Jumbo Donette” is slightly smaller than an average donut. They aren’t terrible, and Kosmo loves them. I receive no compensation from Hostess.
Every week during the school closure (and every other week during the summer) our school has distributed food and supply boxes to support our families on the margins. This is truly a community endeavor. We receive donations from staff members, our own families, district employees, local residents, area businesses, and churches. We have a phenomenal parent liaison who goes above and beyond to communicate with each of our families, assess needs, and arrange a specific time for pick-up. Staff and community members show up, even in one-hundred-plus degree weather, to help hand out supplies.
Tonight was a designated night for box distribution. There are always a few families who need their materials delivered, so tonight I took a few boxes to one particular family. I chose to take the boxes because when our parent liaison called to arrange a pick-up, a family member indicated that there were three likely cases of COVID in the household — a parent, a grandparent, and one of our students. The parent and grandparent were really struggling with viral symptoms. In addition to the food boxes, the family needed disinfectant, hand sanitizer, Tylenol, Gatorade for hydration, and cough drops.
As I drove through the neighborhood I passed by very crowded low-income housing and I was struck by how easily the virus would spread in such close quarters. As with the family on my delivery route, I know that MANY of these families struggle for adequate access to the food, medicine, supplies, and health care needed for prevention or care if COVID is contracted.
I immediately thought of this tweet from Garrett Archer, who analyzes data for ABC 15, Arizona.
Not one of the #COVID19 top 10 zip codes in #Arizona is above the state's median household income.
At the time (June 10), I checked our school’s zip code and calculated that we were number fifteen on the list. I recently followed up with Garrett to see if he had updated information and to ask about our zip code. Here was his response (received on Monday): “Hi, I haven’t checked in a bit, but I don’t think there has been much movement in the top ten. 8#### (our zip code) has 513 cases. Growth rate of 204% since April.”
None of this is necessarily surprising, but it is shameful. Add COVID to the litany of things we can predict based on zip code. There are many reasons for this, but there is no excuse. It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way.
This is also why we have to watch out for one another. Many of the family members in our neighborhood work in essential services. They come into contact with others daily because they don’t have a choice. If we are cavalier with our decisions and fail to take appropriate precautions we potentially expose them to the virus. Many will go home to multi-generational families, where they may spread it to someone who is high-risk. Again, this is predictable.
This virus is bigger than any one individual. We are in this together, and in my opinion, the only way out is together. It is going to require sacrifice for the collective good. Most of us would say we care about our neighbors — our fellow human beings — but are we willing to walk the talk. Time will tell.
There is no ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There is only us. – Father Greg Boyle
P.S. Thanks to our community the family received the supplies, medicine, and food needed, and it was delivered safely — placed at the front door, without contact. I am grateful for the care and support our school has received. We are blessed.
Since March, I feel like a full-blown news station has been broadcasting from my head. Reporters shouting on the phone, old dot matrix printers reeling off incoming reports, typewriters bludgeoning their paper targets, and periodic interruptions from Lou Grant shouting about the next big story. Yes, my vision of a newsroom is firmly entrenched in the seventies (from watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns with my parents).
We’ve been through a lot in the past three and a half months. The coronavirus outbreak. School closures. The tragic killings of unarmed black men and women. Protests. And, now in Arizona, another significant spike in coronavirus cases.
Personally, I feel like I have been operating in crisis mode since March. Managing the school closure and now, attempting to prepare for the re-opening in July. On top of that, a family member was feeling ill, was tested for COVID nine days ago and we still have not received results. Thankfully, whatever they had was mild and they are doing well now, but we still followed the quarantine protocols at home while trying to manage work and our day-to-day lives. Whew.
I’ve also had an unhealthy obsession with following the news and staying up to date with social media — thus the K-Jeff Radio blaring in my mind, twenty-four seven. As I am sure you are all experiencing, the unknown (the things we can’t control) rattle any semblance of peace and erode our strength — physical and mental.
Well, I’ve had enough for a while. Leaving the world behind isn’t really a choice. I believe we have to stay aware of what is going on in our communities. I need to know what the coming school year might look like and plan appropriately. We all need to be cognizant of the injustice and pain that exists in our world. “Checking out,” isn’t an option. But, we also need time to rest. Time to step away. Time to rejuvenate. A chance to turn the volume down.
Recently, I have been reading some of Henri Nouwen’s books. I find peace in his words and guidance. Last night, I was reading from Following Jesus and this passage resonated.
To follow Jesus you have to be willing to say, “This half-hour I am going to dwell with Jesus. I know I will be distracted. I know I will have a hundred thoughts and a million things to do. But I know you love me and invite me, even when I am antsy and anxious. I am going to dwell.”
This passage obviously has spiritual significance, but I think the suggestion to “be still” for a half-hour — in spite of our distractions and task lists — is sound advice for anyone — regardless of your personal beliefs. Especially given our current circumstances.
Right now, I am antsy and anxious and to take time to be quiet — body, mind, and soul — is really hard to do. But, it’s what I need.
I am struggling to stay afloat — physically and mentally.
I share that, not for need of sympathy, but because it is likely that some of you are also dealing with feelings of stress, overwhelm, or anxiety. Right now, it is a challenge not to worry. It is difficult to repress anger. It is hard to find peace. If that is where you are, you are not alone.
And…on top of all that is going on in our world, it is like 210 degrees in Arizona. Sigh.
This evening, instead of reading email, or planning for the upcoming school year I decided to read a book. I’m currently working my way through The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. It is the second book on my summer reading list. I love Nouwen’s writing and I was confident this would be a good one. So far I have not been disappointed.
Given current challenges, this passage stood out.
At issue here is the question: “To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?” Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.
Do you feel at the mercy of the waves? Are you locked in an “anxious struggle?”
Nouwen goes on to say:
The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world — trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.
The current situation in our world has humbled me. It has been a harsh reminder that I am not in control. That I don’t have the answers. That I don’t know the pain and suffering of others. It has made evident the fact that I frequently seek acceptance and reassurance from a world that is broken and unable to offer peace for which I am searching.
I have been trying to get out of Phoenix for some time. For the past couple of months, I have had plans of heading someplace cool, if only for a few hours. However, the school closure has kept me busy, and the coronavirus has kept me close to home. Each weekend, my plans fall by the wayside due to lack of motivation, low energy, or work.
Today, I awoke early — this has become an unintentional habit — hopped in my truck and traveled about two hours East on U.S. 60. I visited one of my favorite places in Arizona. There were trees, cool running water, steep canyon walls, cactus, and complete solitude.
As I waded through the stream, taking in the sights and sounds of my surroundings, I was struck by the importance of such momentary escapes.
We must not forget the world as it often is — indifferent, malevolent, violent, hateful, sinful, and broken. But, we must always remember what God designed it to be — beautiful, loving, merciful, peaceful, just, and whole. That is the standard for which we must strive.
My summer reading goals are always overly ambitious.
As I write, there is a stack of books — at least two feet high — sitting on my nightstand. All books that I pulled from various shelves around the house in hopes of getting some reading done. And, that doesn’t include the books on my Kindle.
So I have decided to identify just a few and commit to reading them. Four just because I want to read them, three books related to my work, and one book I will listen to on audio. I’m a pretty ambitious reader, but this may be a tough list to tackle (especially since my summer may be cut short in order to prepare for the many unknowns of the 2020-21 school year).
Completed June 8, 2020 – the author, Colson Whitehead uses an imaginative means of conveying the horrors of slavery. This was an eye-opening and timely read. For a quick “preview” read this piece by the National Book Foundation. I have also read The Nikel Boys, by Mr. Whitehead, and really enjoyed it.
Note: I have not read these books, so this post is not an endorsement (although I feel pretty safe in recommending the Nouwen book). I have linked to Amazon so you can preview the books. This isn’t a sales pitch. I don’t get anything if you decide to purchase the book.
Tonight I am exhausted, anxious, and frustrated. It is a dangerous time to write. For that reason, this post is unlikely to be a cohesive narrative — just a few brief thoughts as another day comes to an end.
On Thursday, we closed out the last day of school. It was the first time in my twenty plus years as an educator that I have ended the school year without saying goodbye to students. Heartbreaking.
Over 100,000 COVID related deaths (and rising) in the United States. Heartbreaking.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Heartbreaking.
A community — fellow human beings: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends — rightfully saddened, outraged, and crying out for LONG overdue change. Heartbreaking.
This tweet by @drawn2intellect stopped me in my tracks. “We are not okay.” Heartbreaking.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. – C.S. Lewis
On Memorial Day, we express gratitude for the those who have made incalculable sacrifices for the greater good. We give thanks to the men and women who have served our country and put themselves in harm’s way. We honor those who have lost their lives in service to others. We mourn with those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones.
We need to sit with that heaviness, for awhile. Allow it to settle into our souls. We need to grasp — even if by the slimmest of understanding — what it means to give up a life for the benefit another. For most of us, it is unimaginable. Yet the people we honor on Memorial Day did that very thing.
Certainly liberty and freedom were purchased by the blood of these valiant servants, but let’s not forget that utltimately they laid down their lives for the benefit of others. They made an unfathomable sacrifice as an act of service to mankind. There is no greater demonstration of humility.
Our recognition of these individuals shouldn’t be limited to Memorial Day. We can show our appreciation by living with humility on a daily basis. Our sacrifices will typically pale in comparison to those we honor on Memorial Day, but I would argue there is no greater way to honor those who have paid the ultimate price. Look for ways to help others. Seek opportunities to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Care for those who are on the margins. Think of ourselves less.
Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you. – Walt Whitman
Today was the first day since the school closure that I have stepped completely away from work. No email (have I mentioned I’m not a fan), no school-related work, and no incessant phone notifications.
Instead, I wrote a blog post (it was about education, but I enjoy writing so it doesn’t count as work). I cleaned out the pool filters, spent time on the patio with Kosmo (my dog), made sugar water for the hummingbird feeder, went to Dutch Brothers with my girls (large OG Gummy Bear Dutch Soda with cream, no whip), and spent time working in my garden.
My flower and vegetable garden has been a welcomed distraction over the past several months. I’ve enjoyed the little things about it — the way the cucumber and melon plants send out tendrils grasping for purchase, the bright colors and geometric patterns of flowers, and the busyness of the small squash bees collecting pollen (thanks to my cousin for helping with their identification).
The garden is a reminder from nature that even in the midst of our current calamity, life goes on, there is beauty in the world, and it is okay to slow down and soak in the details.
I’m tempted to put today on repeat, and do it all again tomorrow.
Take heart. Stay positive. Things will get better.