Transitions When Life is Always the Same

After a particularly dreary winter followed quickly by a stay-at-home order, spring is finally here. Of course, we can’t plant our annuals just yet for fear of another frost, but besides that potential, trees are blooming, windows are wide open for the majority of the day, and the hope of sunshine and an emergence from dormancy are on everyone’s minds.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The changing weather has made me even more aware of our unchanging days. I’m antsy to hang out with my neighbors without hovering at barely six feet away. I want to run to the store without overthinking whether or not it’s truly an essential trip. I want to host friends for dinner and celebrate birthdays and the end of the school year properly.

Our stay-at-home order has changed to a safer-at-home order which really doesn’t change life at all for our family. But the slightly looser mandate combined with the weather have loosened everyone’s outlook on what safety really means. Folks who were vigilant at the beginning are now choosing social functions over staying home. We all perceive “doing our best” and “safer” differently which, for this rule-follower, is stressful.

One friend recently commented that it feels like the beginning of the end. Frank and I were talking later, and reminded of an article that borrowed Winston Churchill’s quote, we’re really at the end of the beginning. We may have enough hospital beds available in this moment but we are far from implementing longterm best practices to safely reopen in a pre-COVID sense of the word.

In a lot of ways, I’m thankful we can at least say there’s a shift from being totally in an unknown state to one that is seeing some sort of change on the horizon. Any sort of movement feels hopeful. But is it?

Next week is Bea’s last week of school. We’re ending early to give staff time to sort out and clean up from distance learning but it means yet another transition, just as we’re settled into a routine. Summer break feels different, too. We’re not anticipating the same need for rest as in years past. Many of our favorite outings will be closed, at least for a little while longer. We’re not sure if summer camp will still be an option to break up the long weeks.

I’ve been thinking about how we can mark transitions in a time when most of our usual markers have been taken away. How can we shift from learning at home to lounging at home? How will we fill our days anew? I have a feeling this summer will be much more structured than years past. Whereas before I had the loosest of loose routines, now I wonder if we’ll need just a bit more guidance to our days.

Maybe this will be the year for each girl to pick one new thing to learn. Maybe we’ll figure out a family project to do. I’ve never been “that” type of summertime mom but maybe this is the year to not only tap into my homeschooling skills but also my organized summer skills. I want to view this next transition as an opportunity to try something new, even if it’s the only year that makes sense for us to do this.

As I watch our trees sprout leaves and our lilac bushes blossom, I’m not as envious at my own lack of change this year. Maybe I’ll have to be more innovative in the transition but it can still be there, teaching me about myself in ways I hadn’t explored before.

How are you viewing the next transitions, whether seasonally or as your own home starts to open up more? How do you mark your days in new ways?

The World is Good

The days are running into each other. I’m not reminded of Groundhog Day, at least not yet, but my general motivation waxes and wanes by the moment. Some days seem doable and I’m ready to do all the things. Other days, I wonder why it really matters whether or not I get up with my alarm. Spring is blossoming in our yard and I’m thankful for the reminders of growth, new life, and beginnings. But with the warmer weather, I’m achingly reminded that we can’t hang out with our neighbors; that our kids are incapable of riding bikes without getting too close.

It’s an odd season of blessings and loses. All the things I’m so grateful for are simultaneously stark reminders of things we are missing.

Early in our social distancing turned stay at home journey, I watched a sermon from our old church. The opening song was All Things New by Andrew Peterson. The refrain has stuck with me the past few weeks as we have sweet moments and hard moments:

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world is being redeemed

All Things New by Andrew Peterson

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that these days are filled with higher highs and lower lows than usual. Our family is connecting and the girls are playing together in the sweetest ways. But there’s also tender emotions and underlying anxieties that are simmering just below the surface. These weeks – and the weeks to come – are truly a lesson in living in the tension of liminality.

When I first listened to this song, I started to cry. Rachael, the co-pastor of Highlands Church in charge of worship, had slightly changed the lyrics from past tense to present: The world is good. When life feels hard and overwhelming; when I just want an end date; when I want clear directions and guidance from people who know more than me; when my heart aches for those whose homes aren’t safe and who can’t use this time in productive ways, I remember that what gives me hope is that the world is good right now and that the world is being redeemed right now.

But in the middle of the good and the redeemed, we remember the world is also fallen. I don’t think fallen means bad but it is a reminder of how very broken we are. Our systems are broken and are failing so many vulnerable people; our earth is broken and overextended from our constant use; our bodies are broken and unable to fight this disease.

In many ways, I’m thankful that this is happening in the midst of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This is the whole point, right? That our hope is in the redemption. We don’t live in the brokenness, though that is certainly part of reality – both now and in normal times. We remember the goodness of our world now and the world that is to be.

How are you experiencing the goodness in the midst of the fallen? Where are you finding your hope during this particular moment?

Living a Still Life

Our COVID-19 disruptions conveniently began with Spring Break. I spent the week before shopping a bit more – buying an extra bottle of olive oil and making sure we had some veggie soup frozen for later but I really didn’t think to systematically go through my cupboards until an emergency was announced and schools closed a day early.

We went to the mountains for a couple days, a trip already planned and one that seemed to align with the instructions to socially distance from our friends and neighbors. We needed those couple days in the sunshine and fresh air, with blue skies for our hikes and incredible views from our windows.

Now we’re back and still technically on break but a new reality is looming. Our governor has already extended the school closures to the end of April and we’re waiting to hear what online learning will entail. There are a lot of unknowns and I’m thankful that this is coming in this season when I’m used to staying home with the girls and crafting new schedules and rhythms for each season.

I’ve been hesitant to make big goals, for myself or the girls, partly because things are changing so rapidly and partly because I don’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation.

Still Life, Pitcher and Fruit Paul Cezanne 1894

I’ve always loved still life paintings and how they give us a glimpse into what was important at a certain moment in time. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters would create still life scenes to depict wealth and status – each wheel of cheese and vase of flowers told a story about a family. Later, impressionists like Paul Cezanne reimagined still life scenes to show the everyday moments of everyday people. Vincent Van Gogh painted garden flowers and items anyone would find in nearby fields.

Then I read this from The Art of Life by Joan Chittister, in her March reflections around still life paintings:

I, for one, know how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic and miss the power of the mundane, the wisdom of the daily, the comfort of regularity, the unexciting exciting dimensions of what it means to be really alive. And yet my life cries out for more and more and more of it always.

Joan Chittister, “The Art of Life”

I needed this reminder as we stay close to home and lean into the still life mentality. What is important for our family in this season? We’ll do the schoolwork our district assigns and we’ll have a rhythm to our days because we need that. But I want to teach my girls to look for the still life – for the mundane, for the wisdom of the daily, and for comfort in regularity.

I want them to look back on these months as a time we connected as a family, a time that we learned to argue and forgive in ways we didn’t need to before, a time in which we were together.

I think one of the things we’ll do to start this new reality is create our own still life drawings. I want us to create a tangible reminder that this is a moment to observe, to mark in time, and to share what is most valuable to our family.

Will you join us? I’d love to hear what your still life looks like in this moment.