Staying Connected

One of the things that has helped me through this time of pandemic and physical distancing is staying connected to my friends. I’ve been using Marco Polo to check in with my friends each day and see how they are doing. But I’ve also made it a priority to keep up with this blog and with my newsletter.

If you are new to this blog or been an avid reader for a while, I invite you to sign up for the newsletter using the link below. In the newsletter, you get a little more personal update along with some book updates as well (although, just for full transparency, the book has been put on hold for right now during this pandemic. But when the book is finished, the newsletter subscribers will have the option to become beta readers).

Link to Sign Up

Here’s the link.  If you sign up before Friday, you will get the April newsletter.  Hope to connect with you soon!

Show Me The “Meme”ing Of Being Lonely

Maybe it’s the fact that it has been almost a complete two months since the COVID-19 conversation entered into our home. Well over a month since we have been social distancing. And week in, week out of stress and anxiety in a way we have never experienced before.

But I thought I would do something a little fun and share some favorite memes.

As an introvert, I haven’t had a really hard time adjusting to staying home. I’ve been a homebody for as long as I can remember. It has been a little challenging with my son. He was getting into a fun routine of playdates, trips to gyms and parks, as well as other activities. And all of those had a hard stop. Now I’m his play-date. Every. Single. Day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending this time with my son. Seeing him discover, learn, and grow has been absolutely amazing. It’s just that there is a limitation on where we can go and what we can do. And it’s also important for mama and son (and dada as well) to have the ability to recharge, especially if we are struggling that day, which requires some creativity, communication, and compromise. One way to combat the more challenging days is to keep from falling into a constant rut.

I am a creature of habit. I love structure, and I don’t mind doing the same things over and over again. But if I wash those dishes one more night….. Just kidding, sort of. Usually when I get to that point, I try to change up one small thing, one little interruption in the flow. The other night, when I just couldn’t see myself washing the dishes after dinner, I went upstairs and Marco Polo’d with a friend for 20 minutes. Then, feeling a little better, I started with just emptying the clean dishes from the dishwasher. And before I knew it, I was done with the kitchen. It helps to take care of myself in those moments before trying to tackle the task.

Exercise, sleep, and general self-care have mostly been met. It’s really hard on some days, knowing that I won’t be seen at all by anyone outside of these walls. I haven’t so much as put on eyeliner a single day in well over a month. I miss my workout classes, and I’m using YouTube as a substitution. It’s okay, but it’s not the same. And sleep is probably the one thing I can usually get enough of, unless my anxiety is peaking, like the night before I go to the grocery store.

Despite my own challenges, I also know I have privileges and advantages that other people don’t have. I am truly grateful to my amazing, supportive husband, my son who injects joy into my life on a daily basis, the things in my life (like my garden) that bring me peace, and the friends who are willing to check in with me, even as I slowly descend into perpetual slap-happy silliness. Also, I am adjusting to the new rhythms and finally finding some time to do a little reading which I thought was never going to happen. Really grateful for that.

I also know that everyone is having different experiences and different challenges during this unprecedented time in our country’s history. But we are all in this together. And we will get through it together. Even if it is one meme at a time.

Things I’m Learning from COVID-19

It’s been well over a month of social distancing so far. There is so much I’ve learned about myself and my family and my community, living in such an unique and unprecedented time in this generation. I’ve seen a few similarities between this experience and the experience of pregnancy loss. It makes sense because both situations contain abrupt, unexpected change and grief. But there are a couple other similarities, as well.

We are all having varied experiences. While there are cases in every state of this country, I imagine that the experience living in an urban city is very different than the experience living in a rural city. Also, different states gave shelter-in-place orders at different times, affecting social and economic communities differently. Though we are seeing more and more loss moving into all sectors, some have experienced it longer than others. Some places seem to have better access to healthcare than others, which affects both anxiety and the ability to recover from the disease

The same is true in pregnancy loss. Women experience loss at different times in their pregnancies. They may experience multiple losses. Even those losses are different from each other. And access to healthcare and support can also be different among women experiencing loss, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and a whole host of medical problems.

We are all having varied responses. Primarily, I believe, because we have such different experiences and beliefs, and a lot of fear of the unknown. We don’t know how this will all play out in the months and years ahead, how it will affect our economy and our health in the future. There are people who say we aren’t doing enough, while others say we are overreacting. And in all of the confusion, there are hurt feelings and loss on both sides.

This happens within the pregnancy loss community as well. I can’t tell you how many times people had an answer for what I was going through. Whether I wasn’t trying hard enough, or there was something I wasn’t doing right that was causing my loss. Or that I was overreacting about my loss and needed to move on. None of these responses were helpful, and I can imagine they aren’t helpful in this situation either.

How I Navigate It All

Since seeing the similarities between the two situations, I decided I would try to incorporate some of the thought processes and techniques that helped me through pregnancy loss into this experience as well. These worked for me, and they are great reminders, so I thought I would share them. But, disclaimer, they are in no way an exhaustive list, or a how-to list.

  1. I trust the opinions of my doctors over the opinions of my friends. I know this is a controversial idea. It helped that the doctors who took care of me through each pregnancy had also experienced loss and high risk in their own pregnancies. I think the same is true in this pandemic. We are all experiencing this together, and I think doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers want this to be over as quickly and safely as possible, just like we do.
  2. I also gave grace to those same doctors. They are educated and, yet, they are still humans. They don’t have all the answers, but they are making choices in an effort to save lives, whether pandemic or pregnancy. I am willing to sit in the tension and support those that have made their life’s work to take care of the sick and heal them and prevent others from being sick the best they can.
  3. I practice gratitude. I wish I could honestly say I do this intentionally every day. I do it, most definitely, when my anxiety is high. And it does come naturally to me in quiet moments when I’m making food for my family or folding clothes or interacting with my son (okay, that’s not as quiet of a moment). But gratitude has to be more than just being thankful, it has to breed generosity and kindness.
  4. I use whatever gifts or resources I can to encourage others. Again, this isn’t done perfectly. I could do this better. It’s a day-to-day struggle with my tendency to introvert myself into a hole versus keeping my eyes open to the needs of others. But I’m not too hard on myself, there are glimmers of who I want to be sprinkled throughout my day, whether that is checking in on a neighbor, sharing an encouraging word with a friend, or keeping a generous mentality over my resources. Or just providing safe space.
  5. I give space for others to grieve how and what they need to grieve. Our situation is different than other people’s situations. We all seem to be grieving just a little differently, but if I have learned anything from the pregnancy loss community, it’s that everyone has a right to their grief without others belittling it. I may not completely understand their experience, but I respect it and I honor it.

Of course, leaning on God and allowing him to guide me is interwoven into each of the above 5 things. My trust begins with knowing God is in control and sees a bigger picture than I ever will. That allows me to trust others with grace, find gratitude, generosity, and kindness in all things, and give space to others in their own journey. I don’t have it all figured out, and never will, but God is greater than my understanding, and I can rest in the hope of his promises today, and every day in the future.

A Simple Request

Last fall, my family took a trip to Illinois. Part of our trip was in the Chicago area, where we each got to do something fun. My pick was to travel to Evanston to visit the Page 1 Books store. I like to visit independent stores whenever I travel, and I had been following them on Instagram for a while.

Page 1 Books started (and still is) a subscription service where you give them a list of books you have enjoyed and then they send you a surprise book that you might enjoy. You can also order books through their store, bookish goodies, or a little of both in some of their book bundles.

When I visited their store on my trip, it was the most magical experience. The store is nestled in a quaint row of shops. As I stepped in, I was pulled into the pictures I had seen on their Instagram. Quotes on the wall, books on the shelves, even the sweet little kids section. I was a total fangirl.

Then, I met Brandy, the owner, who was just as awesome in person. We talked for a bit, took pictures, and then something magical happened.

I knew I was going to buy a book. That was something I did any time I visited an independent bookstore. Brandy offered to help me decide. I talked about some of the books I had read recently that I really enjoyed. I was skimming the shelves as I talked. There were several books on the shelves that I thought might be interesting, but nothing seemed to be just right.

I had been reading books about books and bookstores, really enjoying this niche genre of sorts. That’s when Brandy opened drawer in the shelves and pulled out the book that was sitting by itself, Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay. Not only did it fit what I was looking for subject-wise, but it took place in Evanston, the perfect souvenir book for this special trip.

Like many, many other small businesses, Page 1 Books had to close its doors to the public due to social distancing. You can still purchase bookish goodies and subscriptions on their site. And you can also purchase books as well through Bookshop.org. But because of this pandemic, they are still struggling to make ends meet. That’s where we can make a difference. Here’s Brandy with more:

Click here to donate and help Page 1 Books bring the magic of books to many more readers.

Don’t forget those businesses that made a difference when you walked through their doors. Whether you order delivery from the local restaurants, or purchase gift cards at your favorite shops, you can make a difference. This whole experience has opened my eyes, and it’s changed how I will purchase things in the future. Not just in books, although let’s be honest, that’s where most of my money goes!

Do you have any favorite small businesses? How is everyone holding up?

March Books

So, the last two months, I’ve been reading 4 to 5 books a month on average, but this month, I barely read 3 books, and two of those books I started at the end of February.

I think that’s indicative of how much has changed in just four(ish) weeks. As I was trying to figure out why my reading amount had gone down, I realized some of the differences this social distancing due to COVID-19 has brought to my life.

  1. Because my son no longer has outside activities, I no longer have that time to read, or really doing anything like write my blog, clean my house, plan meals, work out, etc. So, I have to pick and choose what I want to do during his nap times, or my early morning time or right before bed time.
  2. All of the “free” time I just mentioned is subject to change. Sometimes my son sleeps longer, sometimes he doesn’t. So, I make a list as quickly as I can and chip away at it throughout the week. Reading tends to be pushed to the bottom of the list or left off completely.
  3. And finally, the reason reading is such a low priority is that I simply don’t have the mental energy for it right now. There are bursts of time that I will read a lot, but the bursts are getting farther apart. It requires turning off the anxiety and the to-do lists that are constantly running in my head lately. Fiction seems to be a better fit for me at this time. Nonfiction can’t seem to keep my brain from wandering to a to-do list.

Now, overall, I’m doing okay, and I did manage to enjoy three books this month. Here they are:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells – This was the Life’s Library book club pick. I don’t usually read science fiction, especially set in space or dealing with half-human robots. The first half of the book (which was only 8 chapters) was a bit slow as it tried to build the world, history, and politics. But the second half of the book was amazing and well worth trudging through the first half. It follows a SecUnit who is assigned as security for a research team on an unknown planet. Several unexplained glitches happen and the team starts to realize that there may be someone or something trying to sabotage their mission. It was really good. I will definitely lend it to some of my science fiction friends who may not have read it yet.

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson – Excellent ending to this murder mystery trilogy. There were so many reveals, even at the beginning of the book. And so many plot twists. I got so invested with these characters that I was even mad at Stevie at one point because I just wanted to shake her for some of the assumptions and decisions based on those assumptions that she was making. Which, to me, indicates a good book. Highly recommend this trilogy.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi – So, this is the second book in her series based on African mythology. As always, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but this book definitely gave me that typical second movie in a trilogy feel. It had a lot of war, a lot of politics, and a lot of information about the world. And it ended on an excellent cliffhanger. I did struggle in this book as well with a desire to throttle characters who made prideful decisions that could have avoided certain outcomes. Of course, pride does that, but it was done so well in this book. Looking forward to the next one!

I learned a lot about myself through my reading experience this month, or lack thereof. I think I will be focusing this next month on more of my preferred genre, since we are living in strange times. Thankfully, I have a few on my shelf I haven’t read yet. Here’s hoping to a better reading life in my new rhythm in April!

Have you noticed a change to your reading life in this social distancing world? What books have you read lately? Do you have a preferred genre?

Fear and Faith

My life has had some pretty pivotal moments of anxiety and fear and hopelessness. When I turned to God, sometimes he answered my prayers in ways I hoped for, and other times he answered my prayers by walking with me through the pain, grief, and uncertainty.

In this point in time, in our world, we face a lot of uncertainty. I have been here before, on a personal level. Every pregnancy I had was wrought with anxiety and uncertainty. And I had people, well meaning people, tell me that there was nothing to be anxious about. That I needed to get a hold of myself, implying that my anxiety meant that I wasn’t being a good Christian.

At the beginning of this year, I started a study in the book of 1 John. Honestly, I picked the book randomly. The only real requirement was that it was a shorter book because I was going to be reading it in different translations and using the reference verses provided by my Study Bible. In this book, there is a verse that can be a little misused in times of uncertainty and fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

We are called to love God and love one another. In fact, in the very next paragraph, John says just that. But I think the Perfect Love he is referring to is God. God is not afraid. He is in control and he sees a much bigger picture. And though he doesn’t want us to fear, just like we don’t want our kids to be afraid, he doesn’t discount us when we are.

It reminds me of the story of Gideon in the Old Testament. God told him to go conquer the Midianites (Judges 6-7). And Gideon makes excuse after excuse. He’s afraid. But God remained faithful. God even pared down Gideon’s troops to show who was really the conqueror.

As I started to work on this post, I was reminded of all the times I turned to God. All of them turned out differently. When I gave over the mess of my dating life, God responded with the relationship that would eventually become my marriage to my husband. When I didn’t get the job I thought I would after graduating college, and ended up doing odd jobs just to pay the bills (which didn’t actually cover all my bills), I turned to God, and he connected me to a well-paying, stable job that I loved helping other people. I was even able to continue doing that job when I moved to another state, working from home. Even though I no longer work there, I still think of the people there as my friends and family.

But it didn’t always end up the way I thought it should. I still had my miscarriage and my two stillbirths, even though I pleaded with God for a miracle. But he never left my side, and he revealed so much to me about hope, community, and love, even when I was afraid and anxious.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s okay if you are afraid about what’s going on in the world right now. It’s okay if you are uncomfortable with uncertainty and aren’t as flexible as other people hoped you would be. But truthfully, God is bigger that other people’s expectations and he’s not about to walk away because of your anxiety. He didn’t walk away from Gideon, or Moses, or Abraham, or Jacob, or Elijah, or Jonah, or Peter, or any number of people in the Bible who were afraid, who may have even said or did the wrong thing because of that fear.

No matter how our circumstances, our lives, our normals may change, God is unchanging. We can put our faith and hope in him. And when we are afraid, he is ready to listen to our anxieties, hold our hand through our panic attacks, and whisper his love in our ear when our fear feels overwhelming. I’m right there with you. I feel it too, but I know that we will get through this together with God leading us every step of the way.

COVID-19

The Coronavirus, as it is commonly called.  What a week, or should I say month, huh friends?

I’ve gone back and forth about what I would actually say, if I would actually say anything about what is going on in our country, let alone the world.  But for my little corner of the internet, I thought it would be appropriate to tell my story, my experience, so far, as a little memory capsule for years to come.

So, in my normal routine, I get supplies for the house about once a month and groceries once a week.  Starting at the end of February, Michael and I decided to go ahead and get March’s supplies and two weeks’ worth of food for the pantry, plus a few nonperishables.  At the time, I’ll admit I thought I was being a little overreactive, but even at that point, there was no hand sanitizer on the shelves and very little Clorox wipes available either.

Then last week happened.  The Stock Market started tanking.  The first states to be hit with the virus started shutting down and taking more extreme measures.  The President addressed the public several times.  The CDC went from just washing hands to social distancing recommendations.  And the number of people affected by this virus in our area started to climb.

My dad works at one of the biggest grocery chains in the country.  He told me stories of people waiting by the stock room door for pallets of toilet paper to come on to the floor.  They get picked up before they even make it to the shelves.  By Saturday, every department was hit with empty shelves as people continued to buy in double the normal average amounts.

But the reality is this.  We are not running out of food.  Employees are working overtime to make sure we can get the things we need.  And I am so grateful for them.  And I’m also reminded that I need to not let myself succumb to the hysteria while still being alert and informed.

There is a lot of unknown and scary right now.  Anxieties are high.  My anxiety has gotten the best of me several times.  I’ve had to designate phone-free times during my day.  I’ve also had to designate clean-free times as well, because I will stress-clean (as my husband calls it) obsessively.  I have to be really intentional about down time and self-care.  I haven’t finished a book in over a week because every time I try to sit down and read; my brain won’t turn off.

One funny example from last week, I made myself some tea and was going to curl up in bed with a book while my son napped.  But first, I needed to clean off my bedside table, and then my headboard, and the other bedside table, and might as well wipe down the dresser.  I knew I was in trouble when I found myself kneeling on a chest wiping down the frames on the wall.  So, I have started using timers. I also bought myself some puzzles.  For some reason, puzzles can take that obsessive aspect of my brain and keep it occupied.

And of course, I’m leaning on God.  He is revealing things about His nature through this experience.  His faithfulness to our family, His love and strength.  I am so thankful that He is in control, and no matter what happens in the next few weeks and months, I know He won’t leave my side.

I hope you are finding ways to bring calm and sanity into your life.  Whether it’s gratitude for the hard-working men and women at the grocery stores or organizing and structuring your life to keep you from obsessively cleaning (or is that just me), or leaning on God morning, noon, and night.  I hope you stay safe and healthy and find new ways to stay connected to both God and the people around you.

And as always, wash your hands.