Tag Archives: pandemic

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?


Start the new year with gratitude

Living in gratitude can be challenging, especially when the events that usually bring about spontaneous joy and gratitude are no longer present in my life.

I think of get-togethers with friends and family when I would walk away with a smile on my face, simply grateful to have these people in my life.

Or visits to museums or concerts when I am awed by the beauty of what I have seen or heard.

I can get wistful for the simple act of getting together with my sisters for our monthly sisters’ dinner, a tradition that was put on hold as our anxieties over coronavirus rose.

And then there are all the things I used to do for fun that I am not able to do now—travel being at the top of that list.

Pre-coronavirus, gratitude was easy to notice because I felt it so often. My litany of gratitude was an ever-growing list I barely had to contemplate—items just came to mind unbidden.


Over the past ten months, though, that list has shrunk as my interactions with the world have been scaled back. That means I have to shift my focus and be more intentional about looking for joys and blessings.

Reflecting on this shift, I can see that I still have tons for which to be grateful; it just looks different from how it once did.

Where once phone calls and texts were mainly for the purpose of planning get-togethers, now I have to look at them as the get-togethers and remember to take some time after signing off to acknowledge my gratitude.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I did virtual garden tours (especially to the places where I as planning to visit last May—plans that got put on hold), and seeing those beautiful gardens lifted my spirits. As the pandemic ground on, though, I stopped virtual touring, but I have gone back to it as a way of both remembering past travel (for which I am deeply grateful) and dreaming of a future post-coronavirus.

I have also started laughing more—watching funny movies, reading light-hearted books and just laughing with friends. Laughter brings me back into balance, especially when things seem especially dark.


I am fortunate to live near a large lake, and I love walking along the water’s edge at a local park. Ducks and geese bob in the water, even on the coldest, windiest days. I smile at their simple lives and ponder their intuitive nature. They seem to know who they are and what they are meant to do, and I wonder if I could be as true to who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do.

As this new year begins, I want to remember to seek balance through gratitude, to let go of what once was (and the anxieties associated with uncertainty), to focus on what is and to make the most of the reality of my life right now, grateful to be alive.


Finding joy in simple things

We had a streak of unusually warm days a few weeks ago, and I took advantage of them to work in the yard. I removed dead flowers from the garden, raked leaves and pruned my Rose of Sharon. Every warm day found me outside for at least an hour or two.

One day I repotted house plants. Some were clippings I had rooted that were ready for dirt and others were plants that had outgrown their pots. One was a small spider plant I had rooted last winter and planted in the spring. All summer, it sat in its little pot on my sunporch, producing new roots and sending out baby spider plants.

When I tried to lift it out of its pot, I found it was completely trapped and I had to break to pot to free the plant. The roots had completely filled the pot; there was virtually no dirt left. I apologized to the plant (yes, I sometimes talk to my houseplants—they are living things!)

Anyway, I carefully unwound its root system and gently clipped off the excess bits so it could breathe, and then planted it in a larger pot.

As I worked on my houseplants, I was aware of how peaceful I felt, how much I felt like myself, doing something I love to do.

The next morning, I reflected on the peace I felt while repotting plants and how I felt like myself doing that simple task. I can sometimes become busy with work and other obligations and ignore the things I love to do, the things that bring me joy.

I then began to wonder how often my prayer life becomes like that little spider plant—all rootbound, no air to breathe or dirt to help me grow.

Of the many things that have been cancelled because of the pandemic, I think that the cancellation of my annual retreat is having the greatest impact on me. That one week away, completely focused on God, is what I need to shake things up in my prayer life. It is the time I give myself over to God to lift me out of whatever may be constricting, to prune away the excess and replant me in new soil.

Retreat begins with asking for a grace, something I think I need at that time. For me, it is usually something like courage, trust or compassion but it can be anything. Having a whole week to pray with a focus on that grace usually leads to some insight or revelation about where God is moving in my life and where God is inviting me to move.

Retreats, like puttering with plants, are simple activities that can bring new insight and deep joy. Those days in the garden helped me see that I am hungry for times without scheduled activities, times to play in the dirt, to widen my vision and be present to the grace God gives me every day.

What simple activities bring you joy?

Seeking unity

The feast of St. Josaphat was Thursday, a saint known for promoting unity among Christians. My prayer book suggested, “…may we emphasize what unites us as Christians rather than what divides us.”

Good advice, I thought, and not just promoting unity as Christians, but especially at this time, promoting unity as citizens of the United States.


The psalm for the day was Psalm 146, which speaks of praising God all our lives and says, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God…He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked….”

These are similar to the words Mary proclaimed when she visited her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55).

Could these be the words and works that help us find common ground? Could we focus on what we are doing to help others rather than what we want for ourselves?


I think one of the greatest revelations of the pandemic is how often we say, “I want,” as in “I want to see my friends” or “I want to celebrate (insert holiday) the way I always have” or “I want to (insert hobby, sport or activity) like I always do.” Is there really anything called essential basketball or essential block party? Can we not set aside our usual activities and customs and think about the common good?

I am including myself in this—I went away for three days in September with two friends, just to get away. I have asked myself more than once, “Is there any such thing as essential kayaking?” The answer is “no,” and I realize the risk I took by traveling. Fortunately, none of us contracted COVID19, but I am not planning to travel again in the foreseeable future.

The reflection questions for Psalm 146 in my study Bible suggest asking someone what goals are evident from how you spend your time and talents? What do people see in your life that glorifies God?

I am participating in an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, which has only met via Zoom. In our third session, we talked about the Johari Window, and then we broke into small groups and were asked to name a trait that we see in the others. Given that we hardly know one another, I was surprised at the insights we were able to offer.


How much more would people who know me well be able to answer the above questions? To reveal to me something about myself that I may not know or may not realize is significant.

How would people answer those three questions about you?

Keeping perspective during challenging times

I love to read novels and mysteries. Last month, I read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I had requested it from the library before the pandemic, and when it finally came in and I started to read it, I found the subject matter quite difficult.  

American Dirt tells the story of a woman and her son fleeing a Mexican drug cartel and joining other migrants coming to the United States. It is a harrowing story of riding atop trains, making snap decisions about whom to trust and the deep desire to stay alive.

After American Dirt, I needed something lighter and so I read one of David Rosenfelt’s books about Andy Carpenter, a lawyer who also happens to be a dog lover. Rosenfelt’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, and I appreciated the break from the seriousness of American Dirt. I recommend Rosenfelt’s books for some light reading (and an inside look at life in New Jersey).

Then another book I had requested before the pandemic was ready for pick up at the library—The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. A few pages into this book, I realized it was about a family in France during World War II.

Normally, I like to read books about that era because they remind me of how evil can take root and grow in a society.

But my life feels heavy enough right now, and once I realized the subject matter of this book, I was tempted to stop reading. But I didn’t because I think it is important to remember what people have endured, how they survived, and how some can even thrive after enduring horrific atrocities.

The Nightingale tells of two sisters, each facing the invasion of France in her own way—the younger sister joins the resistance movement while the older sister remains in her home waiting for her husband to return from the front. Her home is sequestered, and her life becomes one of daily challenges for food and safety.

Although I was resistant to reading about the difficulties of these life situations, these books were just what I needed to read during this time when my usual routines have been interrupted. There have been times when the grocery store shelves were fairly empty, but that inconvenience lasted a few weeks—not the four years of the German occupation of France.

The requirement to keep social distance and to wear a mask can feel arbitrary because the virus is an unseen enemy. I would know to hide from an invading army driving tanks through our streets and not complain that I was being inconvenienced by having to stay inside if I saw my neighbors dragged from their homes and shot.

These books remind me that most of my challenges are really inconveniences that can be managed. Torture, starvation, and other atrocities of war are real problems. I am grateful that I have not had to face those kinds of trials.

I will gladly stay home or wear a mask to stay safe.

Creating a new life

Do not worry…, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25, but I find myself worrying more now than ever before.

Some of my higher levels of anxiety are connected to my mother’s health, but the pandemic has added layers of uncertainty.

Most everything has been disrupted—my daily routines, work schedules and social life are not what they once were. Even my dreams are filled with anxiety—late for a meeting, lost in a maze, missing a plane, etc.

Worry, like fear, is useless—what is needed in trust; but how can I trust our situation will get better when it just keeps getting worse?

It seems that every time someone tries to return to what life was like before the pandemic, there is another spike in new coronavirus cases.

We live in a new reality, and wishing and hoping for what once was is futile. We need to let go of how things used to be in order to move forward.

People who have had unexpected, life-altering events probably grasp this truth more easily.

I work at a cancer support center and have talked with many people about their “new normal,” a phrase people use for the time after they have moved beyond the shock of the diagnosis and settle into a world of medical jargon and treatment facilities.

Losing one’s hair because of chemotherapy is one part of the physical changes that cancer treatment brings, but there are many others, including fatigue, pain and weight loss or gain. People don’t ask for cancer or choose it, but they have to accept this new reality to survive.

How someone used to be before cancer is not how they are after, and grieving all that is lost because of cancer is an important part of the healing process.

I imagine the losses from the pandemic are similar, and we need to grieve what has been lost rather than wishing and hoping for things to go back to how they were.

Accepting the situation and moving through grief is the way forward. New life happens when we let go of what once was and create a “new normal” for our current situation.

We know the stories about how something needs to die in order for new life to happen—babies leave the security of the womb, seeds drop from pods to become flowers, etc. The pandemic seems to be inviting us into this same kind of transformation, asking us (or perhaps, demanding) that we let go of what once was and build something new.

Some of that is already taking place. Working from home has become the norm for many people who used to go to offices every day. We are driving less, cooking more and spending more time outdoors. Empty office buildings and vast parking lots have become memorials to a way of life that no longer exists.

How are you dealing with what you have lost? What are you grieving? What new routines have you created that will continue post-pandemic?

Living the life I was meant to live

My Rose of Sharon shrub is finally blooming—a month later than usual—and bees are visiting every morning to gather pollen. As I watch them crawling into the flowers, I wonder where they have been during these weeks of waiting for the flowers to bloom. Do bees anticipate nature the way I do?


Nature has been snagging my attention this year more than in other years—probably because I am home all the time instead of spending my days in an office. My sunporch is now my office, and the life beyond the windows fascinates me.

Watching the bees gather pollen this morning, I wondered if they gather only what they need and then leave the flower, even if it means some pollen has been left behind. Will another bee enter the same bloom to retrieve the remaining pollen? Do bees have deadlines for the work they need to accomplish?


The pandemic has given me lots of time to ponder all sorts of things I had not thought of before—like the habits of bees—which has led me to think of how I am going about my work and living my life.

I wasn’t feeling well the other day, and as I rested on the sofa, I thought about the possibility of getting the virus and my possible demise (I am well into the age group most likely to die from the coronavirus).

What is left undone? I asked myself.

Some of the answers are predictable—places I still want to visit, renovating my kitchen, finishing the new garden bed, books I want to read and becoming more proficient in Polish (which is connected to the aforementioned travel—I have a dream of living in Poland for at least a few months after I retire. It is the country of my ancestors, and I love the feeling of connection I have when I am there).

All of these, though, are desires, and I think I could let go of them.

What do I still need to do?

This question gets more to the heart of the matter. Like the bees, I, too, have a job for which I was created. Have I done it? Am I doing it? Am I as determined to fulfill my personal mission as that bees?

After one of my earliest retreats, I read a book about extending the benefits of retreat time, which suggested asking these questions when making decisions:

Is this what I really want?

Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?

What do I think? Feel? Need? Want?

It can be easy to get caught up in the daily activities of life, but this pandemic has stripped away much of that casual activity and I am left with a great deal of solitude.

What do I want out of my life? What really matters?

The words from Micah 6:8 come to mind.


It is both simple and challenging.

What are you pondering during this time?

Silver linings

Someone recently asked me: What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

As a person who believes every curse has a blessing, I have been actively looking for silver linings since this time of social distancing began more than three months ago. Some of the blessings I have seen are:

I have had more time for hobbies, and I have read more books, completed more jigsaw puzzles and knitted more than I usually would. I have already knitted two gifts for next Christmas, which is not at all like me—I am usually knitting frantically the week before Christmas (or giving a certificate for a promised knitted article to arrive sometime after Christmas).

I have exercised more than I usually would. I am a morning exerciser and have still be going for my morning walk, but I think that staying in the house all day can make me feel cooped up, so I often go for an evening walk or bike ride.

Ten years ago, I went on a two-week language immersion course in Krakow, Poland. I had worked through the first part of Rosetta Stone Polish before that trip, and I have taken a couple of Polish classes since, but this time of isolation has given me the space to focus on my Polish. Almost every day, I spend time on Rosetta Stone, and most evenings, I practice what I have learned with my mother, whose first language was Polish. She says I am “coming along.”

My garden has gotten more attention this year because I usually go away in spring—on retreat or a vacation—but this year I have been home. I have also enjoyed my garden more this year because I spend lots of time in my sunroom, looking out over the yard. My sunroom doubles as my home office, another gift of this time. I miss seeing my co-workers in person, but even after we return to work, I may hold the occasional staff meeting in my home office/sunroom.

The other day I was reflecting on how these months at home have given me the space to explore new things. I find I am more open to consider different ways of doing everyday things. One of those is my charitable giving. I receive a fair number of requests from nonprofit organizations, and usually I toss the ones I don’t already support. But over the past few months, I have had the time to look at what comes in the mail. As a result, I have sent contributions to two organizations for the first time, even though they have probably been asking me for years.

These past few months felt like a long pause, and I have taken this opportunity to step back and look at my life. Having this extended period to review and reflect has been a gift, and I hope the lessons stay with me when we re-engage.

How about you? What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

Please, God…

An email the other day asked me to join people around the world to pray for the end of the coronavirus; the accompanying prayer put words to this idea.

Please, God, end this virus…

I don’t want a virus any more than anyone else. But this email helped me to gain some clarity about what I ask God to do for me.

Please, God, I pray, help me to learn from this time of isolation how to be more patient, loving and compassionate.

Please, God, help us as a nation to be more mindful of those who have less and to share however we can.

Please, God, as a people, as your people, help us to share our resources generously with those who are suffering from the impact of the virus, no matter where they are in the world.

Bad things happen in the world all the time; we all suffer—perhaps in different ways and at different times, but suffering is part of life, of all our lives. Praying the suffering away seems to miss the point.

Every suffering, every hardship offers an invitation or a gift—some insight that helps us to become stronger or clearer about who we are meant to be. Every suffering is an opportunity to connect with others who are also suffering, to be generous, and to grateful that we can turn to one another.

I think of the widow in Mark 12:44 whom Jesus compares to those who gave from their surplus. During this time of a worldwide pandemic, how many of us are giving from our need like the widow? Or are we holding onto what we have for fear we may run out?

The widow trusted God completely and so she was free to give all she had. She invites us to do the same.

Yes, I want the virus to end—or at least for a vaccine or some effective treatments to be developed. I also want to learn from this experience. I want to let it remind me of those who are suffering from the virus in ways that I am not, and I want it to remind me that living in fear is not really living at all.