Wrestling With Monsters

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This morning, I collected our family’s weekly order of library books at the pickup spot in Ilsley Public Library’s back garden (an event that inspires a level of excitement in my children just a notch below Christmas these days.) Included in our bag of books was my book group’s pick for the month: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So today, a cloudy grey day when the temperature has dipped into the 50s and it feels more like the last days of autumn than the first days of summer, I am thinking about monsters.

More accurately, I am thinking about evil. Monsters are the embodiment of evil; beings that give form to our fears.

The past few weeks have been dark ones for our country. It may be June across the nation, but it feels more like November, with heavy grey clouds swirling over our collective mood as we reckon with our evil history of slavery, racism, and injustice. As part of this process, Confederate war memorials have been singled out as objects that give form to our fears: Robert E. Lee is the monster to be toppled.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Of Quizzes and Identity Crises

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My children have done many things to amuse themselves while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have read, read, and read some more. They have logged in countless hours on our trampoline and ninja slackline. They have played games: chess, poker, Apples to Apples, Unstable Unicorns, and Monopoly Deal. They have made art, baked, finished embroidery projects, and all four of my daughters are currently at work on novels.

But one of their most enduring hobbies throughout this time has surprised me: The taking – and making – of personality quizzes.

It started back in March, when a friend emailed me a link to a quiz that inventoried your personality traits and produced an extensive list of the book and film characters you most resembled. Thinking it would be a fun diversion, I shared it with my daughters. Little did I know that they’d take the concept and run wild with it.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Beauty on the Driveway

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For the past 65 days, one of my lifelines has been a quarter-mile strip of sandy gravel. Its surface is mostly white, except for the places where we attempted to patch the potholes with cheap grey gravel. From the look of things, the potholes are winning.

My lifeline has been my driveway.

Our family has developed a daily routine around the driveway. First thing in the morning, while I’m fixing breakfast, my husband takes the dog for a run several times up and down the driveway. After breakfast, I strap the baby into a chest carrier and set out with my daughters for a single pre-school lap up and down the driveway – me walking, them usually on bikes. In the late afternoon, when the baby wakes from his nap, I put him in the stroller, put the dog on a leash, and walk as many laps up and down the driveway as time permits until dinner. Sometimes I’m joined by my daughters, sometimes by my husband, but often I’m alone.

The driveway gives us exercise. It allows us to breathe in fresh air and soak in Vitamin D. It takes us to the mailbox, which holds the treat of letters from the outside world or packages of online purchases more often these days.

But the greatest gift that the driveway gives me is beauty.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Why Keep a Garden, Chickens, or Children?

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This will likely be a short column, because we are in the midst of putting in our garden.

I have a complex relationship with my garden – as, I suspect, do many. Starting around March, a feeling that has lain dormant throughout the winter begins to stir in me: panic. Suddenly, I feel the urge to start drawing up a planting schedule and ordering seeds. This feeling intensifies as the days lengthen. By the time we start planting, usually in late April, my panic has been replaced with a lingering guilt. I feel guilty if I’m not out working in the garden when the weather is fine. When the forecast calls for rain, I am almost always relieved; nobody would expect me to be out working in my garden in the rain, would they?

Yet I will tell you that I love gardening.

This year, our gardening season has overlapped almost exactly with the COVID-19 quarantine. I hear that more people are planning to put in gardens this year, driven perhaps by the desire to have a food source that doesn’t involve navigating grocery stores, or inspired by more unscheduled time at home. But I wonder how many people shared this thought along with me, as I pulled on my garden gloves and picked up my shovel: Finally! Something I can control!

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

The Greater Good

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In order for me to have time and quiet in which to write this column, my husband took all five of our children to ride bikes around their grandparents’ neighborhood.

Once upon a time, this would have been a normal occurrence on a Sunday afternoon, but not today.

This is the first time I have been alone – really and completely alone, without a single member of my family in the house – in over a month.

This is the first time my children have been in a vehicle, the first time they have pulled out of our driveway onto the main road, in over a month.

“I forget what it’s like to ride in a car!” exclaimed my eldest daughter as they prepared to leave. “How do we do it?”

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

God on a Respirator: A Reflection for Good Friday

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I began writing a reflection for Lent back in early March. Then the world got turned inside-out as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, filling intensive care units, distancing us from each other by six feet or more, wiping our calendars clean, and confining us to screens within our homes.

When I went back to take a look at my pre-COVID-19 reflection, I found that I could no longer relate to what I’d written; my words belonged to a former life.

I am going to begin with two assumptions:

1) That Jesus Christ is “God the Son,” and

2) That what we are commemorating during Good Friday and Easter is Jesus’s death by crucifixion, followed by his resurrection from the dead three days later.

I recognize that not all of my readers will share those assumptions, but I am not going to spend time arguing them here. (If you’re interested in excellent, logical arguments in this arena, I’d refer you to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion.)

So.

COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the lungs. It destroys lung cells as it starts to replicate, which triggers the immune system to step in. But the immune response may also destroy lung tissue and cause inflammation, which can lead to pneumonia. As the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to get oxygen into the bloodstream. People who die from COVID-19 are usually dying from multiple organ failure and septic shock due to lack of oxygen.

Crucifixion, which was developed by the Persians around 300-400 BC, was perfected by the Romans and used as a punishment for the worst offenders. It’s death by slow torture: Hands and feet were nailed or tied to a cross, and as the arms and legs gave way over time the victim would bear his entire weight on his chest. This put the victim into a state of perpetual inhalation; death resulted from suffocation or organ failure due to the resultant lack of oxygen.

In other words: Both COVID-19 and crucifixion involve death by asphyxiation.

I have been reflecting upon this over the past week. What it means, if you accept my opening assumptions, is this:

God has experienced firsthand what it feels like to die from COVID-19. 

God has felt the crush of chest pressure, God has gasped for breath, God’s oxygen saturation has plummeted, God’s heart has raced and then stopped all together.

I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m not going to interpret it or tell you how it should make you feel.

You may find it comforting that God in human form underwent the worst that the world can throw at us, and therefore understands what we are experiencing right now.

You may find hope that, in rising from the dead, God demonstrated that death does not have the final say and promises an ultimate resurrection of all things.

You may feel infuriated. “I don’t want your sympathy, God,” you may be thinking. “If you know how bad things are here, why don’t you FIX them already?”

All of those seem like valid responses, good places to start. Let’s approach Good Friday with whatever we’re feeling, be it awe or anger, and let God take it from there. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that we feel something.

Breathless

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I’ve seen several articles lately in which mental health professionals explain the emotions that humankind is experiencing right now – when the worldwide death toll from the COVID-19 virus continues to rise and the social distancing guidelines under which we have been placed stretch out indefinitely – as grief. Collective grief. If this is the case, then it looks like I’ve reached the anger stage.

I don’t consider myself an angry person, but I suppose we are all angry people; some of us just deal with or bury our anger better than others. My own anger is usually hidden deep beneath layers of trying to be “nice” and desperately wanting everyone to like me. There’s something about this global pandemic, however, which is causing my anger to bubble to the surface.

What am I angry at? It’s not that our family’s life has ground to a standstill, our movements confined to our home, and our social interactions limited to digital platforms. We spent a lot of time together as a family before quarantine, we’ve been homeschooling our children for the past four years, our homestead comprises twelve acres and a quarter-mile driveway, I enjoy having my husband around the house, and I’m an introvert. I have very little to complain about in this arena, other than bemoaning the increased time we’re spending in front of screens to maintain extra-familial relationships.

My anger is a result of our family’s experience with illness – illness that may or may not be COVID-19 – over the past three weeks.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Letter From Quarantine

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I wasn’t sure what this column should be about. Then, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write it.

Last week, I thought, “Everyone’s writing about the new coronavirus, so perhaps I shouldn’t. Maybe my column can be a refreshing break from the news of the world.” But it quickly became clear that to write about anything other than the COVID-19 pandemic that’s sweeping the world would be to ignore an enormous elephant in the room, as the number of confirmed cases rose across the nation and entered Vermont, and as the first Addison County resident tested positive.

As the COVID-19 numbers climbed higher, our family’s world got smaller each day. Middlebury College, where my husband teaches, began spring break a week early and will recommence classes remotely. Appointments and events were crossed off our calendar until there was nothing left. Our typical movements around town were restricted as restaurants, shops, and the library closed their doors.

At some point, it hit me – as it probably hit all of us – that this was a BIG DEAL. By the end of the week, I was suggesting that my daughters keep journals to record their experiences during what will surely be considered an historic event.

So, although there’s surprisingly little material to write about in being at home with five children – at least, not much material that I haven’t mined already — I decided to try.

Then we got sick, and suddenly I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to write anything for a long time.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

On February, and the Search for Home

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After a fairly lackluster winter, we had our first big snowstorm yesterday.

Today, the world beyond my windows is gorgeous. Because the snow was preceded by ice, the tree branches bend low and glitter in the sunlight as if they’re encased in glass. Temperatures have yet to rise above freezing, so the snow still lies heavy on the evergreens. I’m unsure of the total accumulation – I’d estimate somewhere between 8 to 12 inches – but the fields are blanketed white, and the remaining hay bales in our neighbor’s field look like marshmallows tipped on their sides. The sun came out today, in a bright blue sky broken by puffy white clouds. To step outside is to experience “the white way of delight,” as my daughters say, quoting from Anne of Green Gables.

Last week, my eldest daughter asked me to send her to boarding school in Florida.

She was joking, I think. But then again, it’s February. Apparently it’s not easy to be a Vermont kid in February.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

American Orphans

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Our children had some friends over this past weekend, and they decided to embark on an outdoor adventure. The negotiations, as I overheard them, went something like this:

“Let’s pretend we’re on the Oregon Trail!”

“YES!”

“And also, some of us could be runaway slaves.”

“Okay, that works; that was around the same time.”

“I’ll be the Quaker person helping the slaves escape.”

“And also, we’re orphans….”

If they hadn’t been so insistent on historical accuracy, I’m pretty sure they would’ve added a couple of Jews fleeing the Nazis for good measure – they’ve played that before. (Jewish orphans, of course.)

I’m not entirely sure why children love playing at being orphans in perilous situations, but I know the attraction extends far beyond my own children. In fact, I remember loving a good orphan make-believe session myself; for at least a year of my own childhood, my friends and I pretended to be inmates in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage from the musical Annie.

Part of the appeal must lie in the sense of independence and courage that comes from imagining facing dangers alone, without the safety net of parents. In this way, games of “orphans in trouble” actually prepare our children for the reality of the world beyond childhood. The world can be a big and scary place, after all, and regardless of whether our parents are still alive, most of us have the sense at one time or another that we are on our own.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.