dating, love

Love in the Time of Corona

I received an e-mail offer from a Christian dating site this week, giving me the unprecedented opportunity to scan through profiles and respond to messages without paying a fee. It makes sense that dating would be a challenge during these self-isolating, social-distancing times, so a website that depends on the dating scene would need to come up with some kind of special to entice potential customers. After all, how exactly would one date during a pandemic? “Hey, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but let’s meet in a park and stand six feet apart and wear masks and talk really loud so we can hear each other.” 

I’m not sure what I think about dating sites, even Christian ones. On the one hand, I believe that if God plans for me to be with someone, he will bring the right person at the right time. On the other hand, God helps those who help themselves and I know people who have successfully navigated dating sites to meet their spouse. I’m not completely sold on the idea, feeling a bit creepy poring over photos and profiles to find a compatible mate.

With Coronavirus running rampant, however, my concept of an ideal dating situation (getting to know someone through e-mail or letters before ever meeting for coffee) suddenly looks like the best way to protect heart and health. So, yes, I’ll admit it; I took the bait. For one solid hour I perused the website, filtering first by distance (within 100 miles), and age (57-69), and eventually by status (widowed). The filtering system felt a little unfair, as I’m certain God has his own system for bringing someone into our lives, and I don’t like to mess with God’s plans.

I admit to having some fun on the site. I even found myself commenting out loud about some of the profile pictures. “You are way too good looking for your own good, fella.” Swish. (that’s the sound of my finger on the touchscreen, people…) Next.

“Puhleeze… You took your profile picture in a gym wearing a sweaty muscle shirt? Is that supposed to impress me?” Swish. Next.

“Ditto on the profile picture in the fancy sports car you probably borrowed for the photo.” Swish. Next.

“This photo is obviously from the 70’s! What do you look like now?” Swish. Next.

“Um, this one’s so blurry, did you take it in a dark alley?” Swish. Next.

I did learn I do have a type, and am drawn to kind eyes. But I also learned some valuable lessons you guys out there might want to take notes on; what not to do when you create a profile on a Christian dating site. Heed my advice if you want more responses than that swish, next.

#1) If you clearly state in your profile that you have no children, and I can assume then you also have no grandchildren, leave the Elmo toy out of your profile picture. You’re 59 years old, for heaven’s sake. Why do you even have an Elmo toy, and what message are you attempting to convey by cuddling up with it in your profile picture? elmo

#2) Ditch the leprechaun suit. The green tights are not flattering, and frankly, the beard dyed to match is just downright scary.

#3) Ditto on the penguin winter hat. Just no.

#4) Making googly eyes in the bathroom mirror? I’m sorry, you don’t look fun. You look demented.

#5) If, in your description, you lament your inability to find a woman “with morals,” rethink the profile picture choice of you at a theme park standing between two scantily-clad women, your arms thrown around their shoulders.

#6) In a similar vein, if you clearly indicate (sometimes with crude language) that you don’t believe in “waiting until marriage,” we all know what you want, and you might consider a different sort of dating site.

#7) Two words: spell check. I know plenty of intelligent people who aren’t good spellers, but intelligent people do know to use spell check for something important, and your profile description is your first impression. “I bean luking for a gud women for a vere lone time.” I wonder why.

I don’t think I’ll go back to that dating site, though I see in my e-mail I have a message waiting for me.  I’m scared to read it. The guy is 81. And from New Zealand.

But he does have kind eyes.

Bible verses, faith, grace, prayer

Thrust Into Stillness

Be still.
I wrote those words in my journal in July 2012, four months after my husband died. I’d been writing daily for weeks, frantically and feverishly. I journaled, blogged, wrote articles and essays. I’d sit on the couch, surrounded by piles of papers, pens, notebooks, and dozens of books written by authors who’d walked this path before me. My children called that end of the couch “Mom’s nest.”

Then one morning, I woke up and couldn’t write a word. “Be still,” I heard, and I knew where the prompt had come from. I’d allowed for quiet, contemplative time, but my mind had not been still. Anything but…because as long as I was writing about David, love, and marriage, I could keep him alive. God knew if he took away my writing, I’d have to face my loss. I’d have to turn to Him. “Be still.” But there’s more to that Bible verse. Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

Know that I am God. I was still discovering how to have a personal relationship with God, was just learning to recognize his voice. God doesn’t shout out commands. He doesn’t force us to follow. No, God is found in the stillness, in a whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12: The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

– That whisper was God.

Because of this virus, self-isolation and social distancing, many of us have been thrust into a state of stillness. Events have been cancelled, large groups forbidden- we might be experiencing a less hurried and busied lifestyle. Others, like those on the frontlines, working those essential jobs of medical professionals, workers in care centers, grocery store workers, truck-drivers- and God bless each and every one of you- are seeing the opposite; longer hours, a busier schedule.

But if you are one of the many who are self-isolating, staying home, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. God is right there with you. Be still. Stop everything right now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen. Is God speaking to you?

Stillness brings you into the present moment. The Now. If we are so worried about what is going to happen, we will miss the now.

I live on Rush Street, appropriate considering I always seem to be in a hurry…Rushing to accomplish more, do more. Be more. While I’ve learned many lessons in the past eight years, I’d reverted back to my ‘keep busy’ mindset. Working from home the past week, when I needed some fresh air, to get out of the house every day after my work was done, I began taking daily walks. I used to enjoy walking with my husband or sister because it meant time talking to them. When I lived near a store or library, I enjoyed a walk to one of those places. But walking just for the sake of walking without a companion for conversation or a place to head to, or even nature to wander in seemed pointless…a waste of precious time…just another “should” to add to a long list of things I should be doing.

I see other people walking; couples, families, pet owners with their dog…they keep their distance, I keep mine, though I admit, when I’m not crying, I meet their eyes, smile, and search their faces for a human connection.

Yes, I sometimes cry on my walks. I was surprised, and quite irritated, the first time it happened, but those quiet moments away from my house, away from work, and my teen daughter, the tears come unbidden. I cry for those workers on the frontlines, for friends prevented from visiting parents or grandchildren, for my family, myself…loneliness exacerbated by isolation, missing my children, my workplace, co-workers, my uncle’s funeral, my granddaughter’s 7th birthday.

I realized one day, when unwelcome tears threatened to spill down my cheeks yet again, these walks are the perfect time for meditation, and that tears can be a form of prayer, a call out to God. I was kinder to myself then and cried less.

flowers

I began noticing things on my walk; buds of flowers rising from the dirt in yards, beauty I would not have noticed before. Christmas lights that appeared on someone’s house overnight, obviously put back up to brighten dark days, an inspiring message written on a sidewalk with chalk. sidewalk

When I stopped to admire the artwork, a little boy in a nearby yard cried out repeatedly “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” His mother tried to shush him- to not bother the lady. I called out “No! I feel the same way, getting out. Hi People!” We both laughed. A spot of grace. A soul connection. I smiled all the way home.

Today, it was hearts on the doors of many houses.

Are you seeing hope in the buds of spring? Feeling joy from the boisterous greeting of a little boy across the street? Are you being the hope in writing inspiring messages on the sidewalk, hanging out your Christmas lights? Taping hearts to your door? I see God in you.

Be still. Listen. Do you hear it too? The sewing machines of women creating masks instead of quilts. Factories suspending usual production to make medical equipment. Music and stories being shared, on porches and online. Art being created.

That’s hope you hear, in the background of despair.

Watch my Monday Morning Meditations for my workplace, Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque Iowa.

 

 

letter-writing, snail mail

Stockpiling and Saving the World…one letter at a time

In these uncertain and turbulent times, our reaction to the threat of illness is one of the few things we do have control over. Washing our hands does little to stem the contagion of fear and panic, however. Like many people, I’ve been doing some strategic shopping, preparing for the possibility of being at home for an extended period of time, though my recent trip to Staples may look slightly different than what you might expect. My paper products aren’t of the variety you see disappearing off the shelves.

stockpiling

I have friends who have isolated themselves by choice and know others who live in care facilities that are on lock-down and not allowed visitors. Many of us will be facing the same sort of situation in the weeks ahead. One thing I can do is reach out to others through cards and letters.

One way I’m handling the heightened anxiety is by journaling more, reading a daily devotional, and writing more letters and cards.

stockpiling2

 

Until there are restrictions on mail delivery, a possibility that concerns me even more than a shortage of toilet paper, reaching out to others through the mail is a way to stay connected while following the social distancing mandate. Here are some simple ways to begin your own snail mail campaign:

(Condensed from Called to Be Creative, to be released by Familius in September)

Debbie Macomber quote

“In this era of texts and e-mails, a handwritten letter might seem an outdated practice, but what if a simple piece of paper and a pen could make the world a better place? Research has demonstrated there’s something beneficial to our health and happiness when we put pen to paper. Writing a letter can be a mindful practice, serving as a way to organize and calm the mind. In one study, Kent State professor Steven Toepfer discovered that having students write three letters a week, spending fifteen to twenty minutes on each letter, decreased depressive symptoms and increased happiness and life satisfaction significantly.

When your letter-writing includes gratitude, the beneficial effects were heightened. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that when participants were assigned to write and deliver a letter of gratitude, they immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, an effect that could last up to a week.

Of course, the letter-writer isn’t the only one who benefits from the exchange. Who doesn’t get a little thrill when they see something other than bills and advertisements in their mailbox? And while we’re unlikely to print out an e-mail and save it, handwritten letters can be treasures in years to come. I recently spent several cold winter days organizing my mother’s letters written to her mother in the 1960’s and those she’d written to me thirty years later into archival-safe sheet covers in leather-look binders. Reading through them was like visiting with her ten years after her death.

Whether you’re a new fan of the old art, or a seasoned letter-writer like me, here are some ideas to help you get started on saving the world, one letter or handwritten note at a time.
#1) Write a thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, but certainly deserves it. Pen a thank-you missive to a former teacher, the nurse who did such a good job caring for your spouse during their cancer treatment, or the barista at the coffee shop who never fails to smile. There are unsung everyday heroes among us who are rarely acknowledged for the difference they make in other’s lives. Your accolades might just make their day, maybe even their week.
#2) Send a letter or card to someone in the military. The website “Operation We Are Here” includes a listing of organizations that receive cards and letters to distribute to the military community, including deployed military personnel, wounded warriors, home front families and veterans. http://www.operationwearehere.com/IdeasforSoldiersCardsLetters.html
#3) Support a cancer patient. Sign up to be a volunteer “Chemo Angel,” becoming a buddy to a cancer patient currently undergoing treatment. https://www.chemoangels.com/ You choose what type of angel you want to be: someone who sends notes and gifts throughout treatment, a card angel who commits to sending greeting cards, or a prayer angel. Another group is Girls Love Mail, sending letters and cards to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. https://www.girlslovemail.com/
#4) Send cards to children in the hospital. My grandson was five when he was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next three years, as he underwent treatment, he ended up in the hospital for days, weeks, and even more than a month after he underwent a stem cell transplant. Greeting cards, small toys, DVD’s, and handheld game systems were invaluable to making his hospital bearable, for him and his mother, who slept on a couch in his room. Ask your local children’s hospital how you can help brighten a child’s stay. This group collects cards for hospitalized children: http://www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com/
#5) Send gift cards to the parents of hospitalized children. When you send greeting cards to children in the hospital, consider their parents, too. While my grandson had meals served to him, my daughter had to eat food she brought, utilize the vending machines in the hospital, or go to a nearby café. The cost of gas to get back and forth to his many appointments and treatment was exorbitant, too. Generous donations of gift cards for local coffee shops, fast-food places, and gas stations were invaluable.
#6) Write to your children or grandchildren. When I left home for college, I’d always check the mailbox at the dorm. My parents and a couple of my sisters did not disappoint; that first year I received at least one letter a week. I still have those letters, some forty years later. Even when I lived a block away from my grandchildren, I’d surprise them with a card in the mailbox occasionally, or splurge and have a cookie bouquet delivered. Now that I live an hour away, it’s even more important to keep in touch. I’m not one for face-timing, but I like to have something in their mailbox from Grandma Mary.
#7) Mail a postcard to Postcrossing. Like postcards? If you want postcards in your mailbox, you can register with Postcrossing http://www.postcrossing.com/ When you send a postcard, you’ll receive a postcard back from another participant somewhere in the world. With nearly 800,000 members in 210 countries, approximately 350,000 postcards are traveling to mailboxes right now in this manner.
#8) Have a secret? Share it with PostSecret. http://www.postsecret.com/ Whether it is a secret regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation, you can reveal anything, anonymously, on a postcard, briefly but creatively. This is a group art project and shared postcard secrets can be viewed at http://www.postsecret.com, where you can also find the current address to send your secrets.
#9) Get creative with envelopes and stamps. You can find envelope templates online, or take apart an envelope and lay it on an old map, decorated scrapbook paper, or even a page from your favorite magazine to cut out your own envelope pattern. Fold, and glue the edges shut. Use blank white address labels or a black marker to write the recipient’s address. As for stamps, ask at the post office what designs are available and purchase those that add a little fun to your mailings. I purchase vintage unused postage stamps on ebay for a discount. My last order was for $50 worth of 32-cents stamps for $34, a significant savings for this avid letter writer. I’ve used Vietnam Wall stamps to send letters to a Vietnam Vet and cartoon stamps for letters to my grandchildren. Since I’m never sure what I’m going to get in these lots of discounted postage, I wonder what the recipient thinks when they see a “Stop Alcoholism” or a 1972 “Family Planning” stamp on their envelope.
#10) Find a snail mail pen pal. “The Letter Exchange,” https://letter-exchange.com/index.html is a forum that includes a print magazine, pen-pal connection listings and fun articles for fans of letter-writing. Another forum for letter writers is
Letter Writer’s Alliance:https://www.letterwriters.org/