Covid Re-Wrote My Job Description

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Contemplating our year with Covid, it occurred to me that COVID-19 rewrote my job description. It wasn’t an official act or one that went through the process of leadership analysis. It wasn’t even conscious. One week we were meeting at church as normal. The next Sunday, Daniel and I were at the church building standing in front of a GoPro camera trying to act like we’ve done this before.

Like so many other ministers, we entered into a new arrangement of ministry with a Governmental stay at home order. A whole new set of rules were in place and it was a time of endless adjustments. Looking back, so many of the activities of ministry were put on hold, cancelled, or digitized. The stress of having to so completely rewrite the script of serving a church in quarantine led me to write a post that became the only viral post I’ve ever written: The Coming Pastoral Crash.

Once we started meeting again, there were divergent opinions about everything. Should we meet or not? Should we wear masks the entire service or just as we come and go? How are we going to maintain a social distance? Reading new kinds of medical literature and opinion didn’t seem to help me a lot. One reason is that I’m not a medically trained professional! Another reason is that the medically trained professionals didn’t agree and honestly didn’t know what to do either. I think everyone tended to trust the doctors and writers that agreed with the approach they wanted to take.

For a while ministry was totally online. Later it became a hybrid in person / digital ministry. As time progressed new questions about Do we continue with the online presence? Shifting to digital ministry and then back to a more in person ministry but retaining the digital presence … it’s a lot.

I’m not complaining, just ruminating over the way that COVID-19 rewrote my job description without any negotiation.

Moving forward has its own challenges. The perspective of many is to go back, to try to establish a 2019 church and reboot from there. Personally, I don’t think that’s possible. We have a 2020/2021 experience that has changed a lot of things. The truth is our church spent 2019 preparing for a potential merger that didn’t happen. We had about a month between laying that potential down and a Covid shutdown. In reality, our church would have to go back to 2018 to reboot. I think it is much more positive to relaunch right where we are, knowing what we know, and staging for a post-quarantine (to borrow a term from Thom Rainer) church. But maybe that should be another post.

Most ministers can tell this same story, mine is not unique. But I do think it is worth reflection this week. We are approaching the one year anniversary of the stay-at-home order in Louisiana.

Controversial, pandemic, political, opinionated, deadly … all terms that can describe the COVID-19 experience. And it changed everything.

Below are some posts I’ve written about the experience of ministry in a pandemic if you are interested. Thanks for reading.

That First Sunday

How Are We Going to Heal?

Ministry Moving Forward

COVID: Why We Cannot Give Up

In a Weary Land

Adjustments

We Won’t Know For a While

One Year With Covid

One Year With Covid

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This weekend, one year ago, was the last normal weekend we would see for quite some time – but we didn’t know it. At least I didn’t know it. Yes, we were hearing about Covid-19 and it all sounded rather threatening, but not near. This is the time when we were still asking each other, “Do you know anyone who has had COVID-19?” Nobody asks that any more.

It’s about this time, one year ago, that I remember going into the grocery store and seeing someone in a mask. It was an elderly man. And he was giving me that look. I’m glad I couldn’t see his frown, but his eyes told the story. Talk of masks also seemed distant at the time. That’s the last time I went into the grocery – or any other store – without a mask.

A year ago this weekend, I don’t remember any conversation about whether or not the church should meet. Maybe it’s lost in all the details of what’s happened since then, but I don’t remember it. I do remember that it wasn’t until Saturday night (March 14) that we cancelled services (March 15). Daniel Kirkendall and I went up to the church building and set up a GoPro camera and presented a message together that we posted onto Facebook and his YouTube channel. We’ve come a long way after a year of posting sermons and Bible classes on Sunday and Wednesday for a year. Daniel did a deep dive to help us with the technological issues and processes. I’m thankful for our partnership during this time. But we had no idea we would be doing this one year later. Our church meets together now, maintaining social distancing, and we’re grateful for that. And a weekly Sunday service and Wednesday Bible study can be found on our FACEBOOK page and YOUTUBE channel!

One year ago there were so many things that we took for granted.

  • Hugs.
  • Handshakes
  • Going to worship with the church family.
  • Eating breakfast together before worship.
  • Third Wednesday Fellowship meals
  • Bible classes in classrooms
  • Eating carelessly in restaurants
  • Traveling without wondering what restrictions are in place

One year ago there were several brothers and sisters who gathered with us, who are no longer with us. Some passed away from COVID, others from other causes. The end of 2020 and first months of 2021 have brought heartbreaking losses to our church family.

Our lives changed dramatically in so many ways. Churches have scrambled to try to remain connected – and some smaller churches have struggled to stay alive. As vaccinations proliferate and many have recovered from COVID, it seems we are emerging from the cloud in which we’ve been living. COVID has brought out the best and worst of us. There have been so many changes over this past year.

But God has never changed. He never looked away or quarantined himself away from us. His eternal love has given us strength to make it through this year and will continue.

Just as it’s true that one year ago I had no idea how drastically life was going to change, I do not know what the future holds. I don’t know when I’ll go into a store without a mask or try to keep 6 feet between me and other customers. I don’t know when I’ll shake hands and not look around for a hand sanitizer. I don’t know when I’ll eat in a restaurant and not think about the air filtration system and who is sitting nearby who may have COVID. I know a lot of people just ignore those things and do what they want. I observe them out of love for neighbor, family, and church. And self – not going to lie.

I don’t do any of those things perfectly and I don’t know anyone who does. My mantra for the past year has been to ‘do what you can, but at least do that‘.

However our lives have changed since one year ago, I hope you are coping well. I hope you are staying healthy. I hope we really do get to a place where this all seems part of our distant past.

A year ago this weekend, we just didn’t know.

Grief Accumulates

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We have been going through a season of loss in our faith community. We have said ‘goodbye‘ to several friends. That is not very surprising, since our global community has suffered an exceptional year of sickness and death since COVID-19 became a common term. Most of us know someone who has been impacted by this terrible virus. Of course there are many losses that do not relate to the pandemic. To my friends who are starting a new journey of grief, I want to share a few things with you.

Grief Defies Description

If ‘grief‘ is the experience of suffering a loss, then it cannot be measured nor dismissed. It eludes description. I think that’s what makes grief hard to talk about. It’s difficult to tell a friend exactly what we are going through because it is such a complex combination of feelings, thoughts, self-talk, and ideas that are sometimes changing by the hour. No matter how hard we try, we cannot communicate the depth of our experience, even if we are blessed with an excellent listener. If you are sometimes in a state of confusion because of grief, that’s OK. When my son died someone said to me, “I don’t know what to say.” I appreciated their honesty. I replied truthfully, “I don’t either.”

Grief Brings A Suitcase

It doesn’t come and go like yesterday’s newspaper. Grief always brings a suitcase. It intends to stay. I remember thinking of grief as a stranger who moved into my heart and would not leave. Some days I felt that perhaps I had gained enough strength that grief would not have its way in my thoughts any longer. Then in a grocery store I’d see a food that John Robert liked to eat, and have an embarrassing grief attack on aisle 6. Maybe another day, on the other side of the room, I would see someone who looked just like him. A smell of cologne or perfume, a random thought, a picture that falls out of a book, seeing someone enjoying an activity that your loved one enjoyed – all of these (and more) pick at the edges of our unhealed grief and sometimes it bleeds. A man who had lost his son asked me how long it is going to hurt. I decided to be honest and tell him that the first few years are really hard. His shoulders slumped and his eyes welled up. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was true but maybe it was more than he could bear at the moment. On your grief journey you should know that because the person you lost was someone you loved deeply, there will always be some pain associated with that loss. It will always hurt – it just won’t always hurt like it does now. If you think something is wrong because the pain lasts longer than you expected, know that this is common.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

–Vicki Harrison

Grief Has A Community

The Grief Community gave me great strength. When I walked into a Compassionate Friends meeting, I could almost feel the pain the room. Every person in that meeting had lost a child, just as I had. Oh, they were different ages and causes. But whether their child was murdered or died by suicide or had a disease or overdosed on drugs or died in an automobile accident … there was a connection among all of us. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to keep on living without them, until we met someone who lost their child twenty or thirty years ago. They smile, and they still cry. In GriefShare meetings I met people who had various kinds of losses and walked together with them for a period of time. But whether you join a specific community (and I recommend you do) or spend time with someone who has had a similar loss, you’ll find a new connection that will give you new and valuable insight into the road ahead. There is healing in this connection.

Grief Accumulates

We should realize that grief accumulates. This is probably something most of us realize by now, after the year we have had. Additional losses tend to bring fresh reminders of our deepest grief experiences. These new losses can stay with us and add weight to our already heavy hearts. Someone might tell you that ‘time heals all wounds‘. It sounds good, but it is misleading. The truth is that is how you spend your time that determines if you find healing for the wounds of grief. So what can we do that will give us forward traction in our grief journey? Well, it is not as easy as just ten easy steps, but there are things that I believe might give some relief and assistance as you move forward through the coming days.

Grief is Not The End of the Story

There are better days ahead … sometimes WAY ahead … but hope is on the horizon for every broken heart. Please do not see the list here as “steps” or “cure alls”. See them as companions. Among them may be some things that will help you grow out of the intensity of grief you may be suffering now.

  • It is OK to cry. Tears are God’s gift of cleansing and you have never cried a tear that he did not see and make note of (Psalm 56:8). Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
  • Read your Bible Again. You might notice that it is an account of grieving people who suffered real losses. The first parents of the Bible were bereaved parents. Many of the Psalms express the bitterness of a broken heart. Jesus reached out to the broken and hurting.
  • See a Christian Counselor. I saw a counselor for several months after my son died. Your mental health is a key to survival and growth. I emphasize “Christian” counselor, for all the obvious reasons.
  • Read Christian Grief Writings. There are many resources to read. At GriefShare.org you can sign up for a daily email. It is brief, free, and comes for one year. They also have a bookstore with excellent resources to purchase. I have a page on this blog which is filled with Grief Resources. Look through and read some of what others have to share about this road.
  • Move Around. Go for a walk. Get outside. Ask a friend to go with you. The benefits of putting our bodies in motion are many. It’s easy to hibernate and withdraw when we are suffering through grief. Break that cycle.
  • Don’t Give Up on the Spiritual Life. Some losses shake our faith. I heard a long time ago that if you don’t feel like praying just talk to God about it. For some, going to church can be hard. There are questions people ask and statements people make who are trying to help but who just make it worse. For a while if necessary, arrive late and leave a little early. Sit with a reliable friend. If you need to say something to God, go ahead and say it. He’s strong enough to bear the pain of his children. Just don’t let go of your connection to the Lord.
  • Hang on to Hope. Brighter days really are ahead. It may not seem like it now, I know. Believe me, I know. One day in the future you will awaken to a realization that the pain of loss is not quite as intense as it was. Then you will know healing is happening.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

–Anne Lamott

I hope some of these thoughts will be of help to you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Remember you never walk that journey alone. Your Shepherd walks with you, so you do not need to fear. Out here, hope remains.

Resource of some of the quotes on this page HERE.

The Faith of a Squirrel

A few days ago I was in the back yard taking some pictures of the variety of birds that like to take advantage of my feeders. I’ve enjoyed taking up photography over the past year. Although I still have a lot to learn, I enjoy the hobby. Sitting there trying to be still so I may be able to catch a picture of an elusive feathered friend, I decided to look up. Way up. And there, looking down at me, was a young fox squirrel. He was being very still himself – and I feel pretty sure he was hoping I wouldn’t see him.

Even though I leave a generous supply of black oil sunflower seeds to feed the birds, squirrels, cats, whatever else happens by, none of these creatures has responded with appreciation. My only joy is to get to watch them and sometimes photograph them. I’m sure they observe me filling up the feeders – they are not far behind once I’m through! You would think they would connect my presence to animal treats. But no. Not even this squirrel.

Yet, every time I looked up, he was staring down at me. Maybe trying to decide if I was a friend or foe. I have no way of knowing what was running through his little squirrel mind. Maybe he just wanted me to go away so he could get back to whatever he was doing before I showed up. But I decided to entice him with a fresh pile of sunflower seeds. So, in a spot clearly visible to him, I left the good-will gesture and sat back down to see if he would come a little closer.

As much as I’d like to be this squirrel’s friend, there’s a lot of distance between us. Mostly, we’re so different and have such different capabilities. I don’t really understand what it’s like to be a squirrel – I’d have to become one to really see his life for what it is.

Temptations and enticements, being what they are, appeal to most all creatures. But this is more than just temptation, it was invitation. And my little friend accepted that invitation.

I keep thinking about how God wants to have a relationship with us. Most of us hide from Him, or think we are hiding anyway. He keeps reaching out through blessings, compassion, the Word, Jesus … there’s no way to enumerate all the ways that God has been reaching out to us all our lives. We really do not understand the joy that awaits us until we acknowledge and accept what He has to give us.

Those were some of my thoughts as I observed this young fox squirrel a few days ago. I’m glad he had enough faith to sneak down that tree and enjoy the gift I left for him. I don’t know that I can distinguish him from the other squirrels that share my outdoor space, so I don’t name him nor look for him another day. I just enjoy the beauty that God sends my way each day. I pray that you take a look around sometime today and enjoy the beauty placed in a world that God said was ‘good’. It is.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

Hebrews 11:1,2 The Message

We Won’t Know For a While

I was having an outdoor lunch with some friends today and a thought occurred to me – something I already know but had buried. I often talk about it in grief presentations. I have experienced it in relation to other life circumstances as well. Simply, we won’t know for a while what this has done to us.

There are some individuals who are extra self-aware who may not experience this, but I think most of us need some distance to gain perspective. In the year after my son died, I went through a thousand shifts in attitude, perspective, feelings, and attempts to cope. Even so, it wasn’t until about two years later that I felt myself emerging from the fog of grief. And then about six months later, I had the same sensation. It took a good bit of time for me to understand what had happened to me and what it meant.

I’m sure there is a good psychological term for that, but that’s not my training. I’m just observing that our grappling with a pandemic has been chaotic, uncertain, confusing, and sometimes frightening. So in the conversation today, as I listened to my friends talking about their COVID experiences, I realized that we are all still trying to quantify what this means for us. We can only do that to a point, because we won’t know for a while what this has cost us. What it has meant to our mental and physical health? How it has impacted our faith? What this has done to our children? How it has adjusted our view of the future? What it has done to our relationships with neighbors or even government?

We will be able to answer those questions eventually. Sometime in the future we will have enough distance and see enough evidence to piece it together. So, for today, just try to focus on what makes today worth being here. Faith, prayer, love, service, compassion, friendship, and purpose. Smile (even if behind a mask) and find some joy.

Maybe when we have achieved our distance from the pandemic we will be able to look back and think that we made the best of it, even on the hardest days.

Thanks for reading.