How To Spend The Time

Since my state, Louisiana, is under orders for the citizenry to stay home except for essential tasks, I have to consider how to spend my time. I am not spending the time listening to presidential news conferences that seem mostly useless. I am not engaging or prompting social media arguments, which no one has ever won. I am not eating out in restaurants anymore, but we can order delivery or take out. I have done my part to support the restaurants that are trying to survive by ordering a few lunch orders to go.

Probably many of us, although I can only speak for myself, have spent the first weeks of this imposed sheltering at home, attending video chats and Zoom meetings. I have accepted every Zoom invitation I have received. Soon, I will need to find an online Zoom support meeting for Zoom codependency.

And I walk. A lot. I have a foster dog who has not entirely decided that my dining room is not her toilet. We walk whenever I think she has an eye for the far side of the dining room table. Thus far, I haven’t seen a reduction in using the floor, as she seems bent on finding relief in the house once a day. That’s not terribly bad, but zero is the goal here. Since Daisy is recovering from a hip injury, our walks are slow with lots of time to sniff and investigate the ground.

House
Creole cottage next door

Although it’s technically trespassing, our walks tend to be in the extensive grounds of an empty Creole cottage next door to me. The house has been on the market for over a year, with only occasional visits from realtors, visitors or a lawn care crew. It’s perfect because there are no cars, no driveway, and lots of shady space. Since Daisy likes to chase cars, walking on the streets is not the best place for a dog with a hip injury.

I am reading, too. I just finished A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. Why have I not read this book before? It’s a small, well-crafted novel set in 1940s Louisiana. This was the last book I checked out of the local library before it closed for the duration.

Now l will have to read on my Kindle. Last night, I downloaded The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History by John Barry. I actually had read a free sample a few months ago, before the craziness began. Now that the times have changed, I think I’ll indulge in a little light pandemic reading.

One thing I want to cultivate more is gratefulness. It’s too easy to wallow in self-absorption since I live alone. I want to be grateful for my life, the lives of my family and friends, and the small miracles that I see each day. Soon, we may be in the thick of knowing family, friends and acquaintances who are sick. I had some concern this week, as my niece was showing signs of the virus. Since she has a genetic disorder that causes her to have low immunity, her doctor ordered the test. Last night, I received news that the test was negative. For this news, I am grateful.

Later today, I will pick up an order from Walmart. There were no paper towels available when I made the order on my phone app yesterday. I’m trying to forget that I have only one paper roll in reserve at the top of my cupboard.  It’s disturbing.

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Louisiana live oak tree next door

Then, after putting away groceries, Daisy and I will return to the cottage grounds next door. The old oak tree next to the house provides a shady canopy that shields from the warm afternoon sun. Overgrown azaleas and magnolias growing along the fence line provide lots of curious sniffing for Daisy as we amble along.

As I stated above, the property is for sale. I believe they are asking about $400,000 for the cottage, barn, and extensive grounds. Won’t you be my neighbor?

 

 

Ups and Downs

The U.S. attained the #1 spot in the number of reported corona virus infections. We’ve jumped ahead of China and Italy. We’re up to more than 82,000 infections as of last night.

As everyone knows, the stock market has been mostly down. I have some retirement accounts that I haven’t given much attention because I don’t want to see the downward slide. I just have a bit in stocks, but still, who wants to see even a modest dip?

Louisiana now has over 2,700 infections, mostly in the New Orleans which is just a hop and skip from where I live. Again, another statistic I would prefer to be down, not up. New Orleans is in the higher category of infections nationwide.

Personally, I am doing well. My general mood has been up, not down. Aside from a slight obsession with paper towels, which are in chronic short supply in the stores, I am doing fine. I don’t feel the same obsession with the other paper product, toilet paper, which seems to occupy the minds of many Americans. There’s enough toilet paper in my cupboards to last a month or two.

In fact, during this present crisis, I have been mostly upbeat. Facts have not been my enemy, although perhaps, I am just a little over informed. However, I haven’t had a turn downward toward fear or panic.

My state of mind hasn’t always been upbeat. In fact I have experienced a lifetime of ups and downs, highs and lows, upper swings and lowest lows. My doctor calls the condition bipolar disorder. I often don’t see myself as bipolar, but I have to admit, something in my wiring is not quite right. I think, though, my case is somewhat mild.

My highs are rare, but not very much out of the ordinary. Just fleeting times of rapid thoughts and speech. When under pressure, sometimes my thoughts are illogical, even a tad grandiose.

More frequently are the black dog days. I have weeks and months when everything seems dull and moribund. Sometimes, I feel like death would be preferable to living. My lows can be quite low.

So there. The cat is out of the bag. Since my diagnosis 30 years ago, I have been rather private about my condition. It didn’t seem to warrant much discussion. I accepted it. I have lived my life as well as I could.

Now, the news is out for anyone who care to read and comment. I’m not publishing this post on Facebook, where I have a different set of friends than here on the blog platform. I’ll pause a bit before writing that post.

It Will Be Alright

Several years ago, I downloaded and read A Journal of The Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Defoe wrote a fictionalized account based on his early childhood memories of the plague that swept London in 1665, claiming over 67,000 lives. It was a memorable read. I never expected to write, or contemplate, even facetiously, about a plague in modern times.

Of course, our plague year cannot compare, even in a joking manner, to the Black Death. Mainly, it’s just quiet around here as the schools and most businesses are closed. The nearby city of New Orleans is emerging as the epicenter of the Louisiana outbreak. It seems like Mardi Gras was our undoing, causing the city and surrounding parishes to give rise to a troubling number of afflicted residents. Currently the state has over 1,700 reported cases and 65 dead. In the city of New Orleans, 827 cases are reported, and thirty-seven have died from the virus.

I’m introverted by nature, so solitude hasn’t been a hardship although I haven’t taken the warnings to stay home that seriously anyway. I find reasons daily to get out and about, whether it be to our local small market, the drugstore, or the post office in my small town. While I am not hoarding food or supplies, I do tend to buy stuff almost every time I venture out. My cupboards are overflowing with soup cans, pasta and lots of dairy creamer among other things.

Last night, I participated in a Zoom telecast with a group, Seeds and Souls, for an Ignatian Meditation. The idea is to listen as a moderator reads a passage of Scripture repeatedly and slowly. After the readings with pauses to reflect, participants reflect on what stood out from the reading.

Last night, the leader, Brian, chose verses from Matthew 6. The theme was not to worry about tomorrow. What stood out to me as he read from the Message translation of the Bible was the phrase, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax.” In my mind, I pictured Jesus gently chiding me and offering me the chance to relax. I don’t need any more soup cans, nor do I need to worry about getting paper towels. I am worried, you see, about paper towels as I only have one extra roll in reserve. The local market doesn’t have any in stock. Neither does Walmart or Costco, at least according to their online sites.

Where will I get paper towels? I don’t know. When the time comes the store may have some or not have some. I can always clean spills with a towel I suppose if none are available. Funny thing is, I don’t use paper towels very often. That’s why I have only one extra roll in the house. I prefer to mop up spills with rags or a mop. So why worry about it? As Jesus’ words say in the extraordinary Message translation by Eugene Peterson, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax.”

Early this morning, after my 5:30 am coffee and 6:00 prayer service online, I took Daisy, my foster dog, for a walk. We took it slow, as she is recovering from a hip injury. I gave her ample time to put her nose to weeds and flowers growing along the ditches that line our streets. I gave myself time to notice the beauty of the wildflowers, some white, some yellow, and some a beautiful shade of lavender.

In the same batch of verses that Brian read repeatedly last night, he said, “walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp nor shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? . . . If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers . . . don’t you think he’ll attend to you . . . do his best for you?” 

I am going to do my best to avoid looking for paper towels today.

Foster Love

Non-essential workers in Louisiana are asked to stay home. That’s me – a nonessential worker. I am trying to keep that order to stay home as best I can. Thus far, I have not been able to stay at my residence as much as I should, as I generally find an excuse to leave my house and mingle in the public almost daily. I know I can do better.

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up a foster dog from the local humane society. Maybe a dog around the house will help with my restlessness to leave the house. Daisy is a medium-sized mixed breed who is recovering from a hip displacement. She loves belly rubs above all things. I’ve had her less than 24 hours thus far, but aside from begging for belly scratches, she mainly wants to nap. I suppose the kennel at the humane society wasn’t a peaceful place to recover from an injury.

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Daisy the foster dog 

Daisy isn’t the prettiest girl, but she has a certain charm. She is affectionate, docile, and somewhat obedient. We are working on the obedient part.

We got up before dawn. I had set my alarm for 5:30 to prepare for a 6:00 a.m. prayer service online with my church. That gave me time to fix coffee and take Daisy out for a brief bathroom break.

After the thirty-minute prayer service ended, I read the news online a short while. Prince Charles of England has the virus. Our Dear Leader, Trump, wants to relax social distancing. His goal is to have the churches packed on Easter morning. I don’t think that’s realistic as virus stats for places like New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans are climbing quickly each day.

After reading the news, Daisy and I took a walk down the street. She’s pretty good on a leash, but she’s going to need practice to walk with me. She needed lots of prompts to stay to the right, but I wasn’t overly forceful, at least not yet. There’s time to break her into a proper leash walk.  There were plenty of stops along our residential street, as she smelled the wildflowers growing along the ditches, and of course, mailboxes and light poles got a thorough inspection. Aside from a lawn guy cutting grass next door, we didn’t see a soul. Even my neighbor’s chickens were mostly quiet as we walked by.

Maybe my normal activities are considered non-essential, but at least for now, I have one essential duty. I am taking care of Daisy. And that’s good enough for me.

Nonessential Services

I am normally involved weekly in a number of endeavors: tutoring kids at Sylvan Learning Center, teaching English as a Second Language, and volunteering weekly as a receptionist at the local food bank. None of these are considered essential in Louisiana right now. The food bank is still serving clients, but the lobby is now closed. Instead of having a bevy of opportunities to serve and work during each week, I now face an empty calendar because everything I did is now considered nonessential.

What can I do then? I am filling my time with walks in the neighborhood, weeding my flower beds, and catching up on household tasks. Yesterday, I brought my bicycle to a bike shop for a tune-up. I can ride the pathways on the Tammany Trace, a dedicated hiking and biking trail that was once a railroad line throughout the parish.

I can read the book that I can’t return to the library. I checked out A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines before the tsunami of state closures shuttered the library system. I planned a few reads by African American authors for the month of February. The Gaines book was on the list but I didn’t check out the book until March. Last month, I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass.

Since I live alone, I thought it would be a good time to share my house with a pet. I planned on fostering a pup from the Humane Society, but I haven’t received a call back from the good folks there. Repeated phone calls go unanswered. I may drop by later today, and I can ask if my help is needed at this time.

I don’t think I am overreacting to the situation at hand. If anything, I have been somewhat lackadaisical in my response to the virus. I was eating out the very day that the state closed restaurants, limiting them to takeout and delivery. I am still visiting my eighty-six year old mother, despite my misgivings. I get out nearly everyday, interacting with the public in some way: getting groceries, visiting the hardware store, etc. It’s been nearly impossible for me to spend an entire day at home.

The governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, shared news and advice in a one-hour broadcast last night. He has been active in directing the state response to the corona virus. As of yesterday, there were 1,172 positive cases of COVID-19 in Louisiana. Most of Louisiana cases, 562, are in the city of New Orleans, 562 cases. Louisiana is one of the leaders in the country with infection rates when the number is case rate is considered per 1000 people. Louisiana only has about 4.5 million people. The city of New Orleans has about 400,000 residents

Governor Edwards shared that today he would be in fasting and prayer for the state. I can do that. I suppose something I do today will be essential as I join many in Louisiana in prayer.  Here’s the Bible verse that Edwards used to end his remarks:

I am the Lord your God,
    who holds your right hand.
And I tell you, ‘Don’t be afraid!
    I will help you.*

I suppose I can feel like I am doing something essential today. I am joining the governor of Louisiana in prayer and fasting. What could be more essential than a moment or two of meditation and asking God for favor in these times?

*Isaiah 41:13 Easy to Read Version

 

Love in the Age of Covid-19

The new coronavirus, also called Covid-19, is drawing comparisons to the flu pandemic of 1919 as well as, gasp!, the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. I’ve never heard it compared to cholera, but the title is apropos. You must admit my take on the title is catchy.

With non-stop coverage by the media of the worldwide pandemic, it’s hard to escape the barrage of messaging: wash your hands, keep your distance, don’t panic, but do be prepared for a host of issues. Prepare to stay home for 2 weeks or longer, get sick, lose your 401k in the stock market crash or die. All are cast as possible if not probable. Above all, don’t panic. Imagine that? Don’t panic.

I lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I remember those dark days. I’ve lived through one of the worst natural disasters in this hemisphere. What did I learn? I recall that during the weeks and months preceding the Cat5 hurricane that swept in from the Gulf, I had two songs that were always in my head: Dwell by Casey Corum and The Times They are A’changing by Bob Dylan. When the storm had passed and we were in recovery mode, I reflected on those songs. God’s presence was dwelling with me and yes, times had definitely been a’changing.

Now in the time of Covid-19, I have to remember that God is always with me, and times have surely changed in just a few short weeks.  Another thing that stuck with me in the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina was that serving others become a way of life for me and my church community. We fed the community, first responders, and later, teams. There were scores of volunteers who needed shelter and food as they came to help our neighbors with flooded homes and businesses. I had no time for anxiety. I was too busy.

So how do I love in the time of Covid-19? Here in Louisiana, all restaurants were closed last night until further notice. All schools, colleges and universities are closed. Gatherings are limited to 50 people or less. In New Orleans, the limit on social gatherings is even more restricted. A certain level of anxiety hangs in the air.

A few days ago, I talked for a bit with an anxious neighbor. Mary is an older lady who lives in a home without electricity, running water. She doesn’t have a car. She rides her bike to get groceries or to the gym for showers.  I can be kind to all my neighbors, including Mary.

My little town, Abita Springs, is collecting names of folks in our town who need help with meals, groceries or lack of transportation. They want to help. I can make donations or deliver groceries for my neighbors.

In the big city of New Orleans, a hotspot for the virus, my former church is serving today as a site for grab and go meals for children. New Orleans is a locale not only filled for music and  good food, but also a place rife with poverty. With all the schools shut down, a meal is a good place to start.

So, that’s what love looks like right now. It’s about having hope and sharing hope. We can all do that, can’t we?

Win-Spring

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Azaleas in bloom in Abita Springs

In southern Louisiana, we’re in the season of Win-Spring. My cousin invented the moniker to describe the clash of seasons we’re experiencing. Camellias and azaleas are in bloom this month, a full six weeks ahead of schedule. Oak trees are budding, and pollen is developing. Yet, later this week, we’ll have two or three mornings with below freezing temperatures.

Everywhere you look, nature is budding with ambivalence.  Even a two-season climate doesn’t seem to follow the norms. In Central America, there’s just two seasons: wet and dry, or if you prefer winter and summer. My friends in Honduras are having rain although it’s the dry season right now.

Nature run amok. Now, if you excuse me, I need to pluck dandelions in the flower beds as well as check my supply of firewood. Strange times.

 

Sugar and Amazing Grace

IMG_0209It’s that time of year again when chocolate, candy and flowers become the language of love. As a sugar junkie, it’s a dangerous time of year for me. I love sugar. Not so much in candy, but I can’t say no to chocolate, ice cream or cookies.

I volunteer at the local food bank as a receptionist. Last week, a lady came in to donate  food. She had 2 packages of frozen cookie dough that was calling her name. She had an urgent need to get the stuff out of her house. I understood her pain. One pack was open as she admitted to eating some the night before. Of course, we couldn’t accept an opened package. She was desperate to not go home with the cookie dough. She wanted me to take it home. I declined. I did, however, accept the unopened package to give to one of our clients. 

This weekend I purchased a small heart-shaped box of chocolate, and on a whim, frozen cookie dough. I guess the ladies’ plight at the food bank was somehow buried in my subconscious. I ate all five pieces of chocolate from the heart-shaped box in one sitting.  Then, I ate five squares of frozen cookie dough too before I put it in the trash. I eat certain types of sugary stuff like an alcoholic needs a drink. I can’t stop myself. 

This morning I have been thinking about Jesus’ words that are sometimes called The Beatitudes. In the Message Bible, the passage starts, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” 

I am pretty much at the end of the rope when it comes to sugar. Sometimes, I feel like there’s no hope for me when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy relationship to food. If I understand Jesus’ words, then I am actually blessed by knowing I’m at the end of my rope. 

Jesus fills in the cracks left inside me from the self loathing that drains me. That’s how it works. So in the upside down way of God’s kingdom, I am blessed when I am feeling the least amount of confidence in myself. 

That’s the kind of grace that makes me shake my head in amazement. It’s why I posted the quote by Brennan Manning on the sidebar of my blog. Brennan Manning’s life, when examined, makes one wonder anew at the centrality of grace. I don’t want to detail his life’s path in this blog post, but know that he didn’t lead a perfect life.

Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. Brennan Manning

This week I won’t buy any chocolate, cookies or ice cream. I’m going to walk wobbly and weak-kneed through the Valentine’s aisle at the supermarket.  I am not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. 

 

The Purpose-Driven Blog

Where there is no vision, the people perish.  Book of Proverbs, The Bible KJV.

question marksI have been meandering through a variety of posts on this blog these past few months. There has been no one set theme to my writings. Of course, I gave myself wide latitude in the naming of the blog, Gumbo Ya-Ya, wherein I could scribble posts about whatever topic I happened to light on that week.

In general, writers with a particular focus and intended audience tend to be more successful.  The reader knows what to expect from the printed, or in this case, digital page. The reader then can anticipate and look forward to reading something that fits in the general subject area of the writer.

For example, one of my favorite columnists, Rick Bragg, writes a monthly feature for the magazine, Southern Living. Bragg focuses on humorous, folksy stories about his life in Alabama. His writing tends to center around his family, most notably his mother, or food, or sports. Another one of my favorite writers, is Anne Lamott. She writes achingly personal details about her life with a heavy emphasis on the spiritual lesson that she learns in some way from the conflict in the re-telling of her life’s small (and sometimes big) dramas.

What is the central theme of the Gumbo blog? Who is my audience save for the paltry few whom are shown in the comments and stats?  I am re-thinking the focus of the Gumbo blog. Perhaps, no focus IS the focus. I don’t know. Feel free to offer counsel or comments.

Was Your Life Changed By A Book?

Last week, a friend wrote on Facebook about a challenge from the New York Times. The Times is asking for entries to answer the query: Was your life changed by a book?  Readers are encouraged to submit an entry of 200 words or less about a book that has influenced your outlook.  I’ve been thinking about this question. What one book would I choose?

On my bookshelf there are many books that helped shape my way of thinking. I thought about Rich Thinking about the World’s Poor by Peter Meadows which helped shape my views on poverty and missions.  I considered a humorous book of short stories by Bailey White, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Or, perhaps I would select a book from my childhood enticing me to enjoy novels. I particularly recall my delight at ten years old reading The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.

My mind kept returning though to the obvious book: The Bible, the book of books. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the dramatic, inspirational, and practical dynamics of the sacred book of books. The Bible has inspired multitudes of persons in its uniqueness among books. But let’s keep it short.

My first true encounter with the Bible was almost absurd. I was probably eleven years old at the time that I read excerpts from another book, a bestseller at the time, The Exorcist. My oldest sister had a copy, and I glanced a bit too long at it.  I was scared, maybe even scarred,  by the story of the demonic possession of Regan, an eleven year old girl. I had trouble sleeping for fear that I would share the fate of Regan.

At this time, in the early 1970s, the movie was released, too. I felt like I even resembled the actress, Linda Blair, who portrayed the demon-possessed girl. I was doomed.

My sister assured me that it all was a story, make-believe if you will. However, I knew just a smidgeon about the Gospels mentioning demons. So, I looked up instances in the Gospels of demonic possessions.  Not only did they exist, but they had the power to possess the body and mind. I was terrified even more than before I read the Bible’s accounts.

Demons existed!

So my first forays into reading Biblical texts made me a believer, not of the love of God, but in the power of the devil. If the Bible had accounts of demonic possession, then I could not idly dismiss the existence of such evil personified. I felt terribly hopeless.

My heightened fear of potential demonic possession eased, but a general malaise stayed with me. I had no hope. All life seemed purposeless. It wasn’t just the specter of Linda Blair that frightened me. It was just life in general. What meaning did my life have?

Then, I heard something when I was around 12 years old.  I heard a man speak at my  church who seemed to have an unmistakable sense of the divine about him. It was as if he spoke from a different perspective, not his perspective but from God’s.

I was convinced that the man in the front of the church had something more powerful than words with him that night. He offered me Hope. And I, like John Wesley, felt my heart strangely warmed. I reached out and took hold of Hope.

After that day, the Bible was no longer a book that just offered evidence of the power of the demonic. It offered a story of the One who was more powerful than any demon. I read the Gospels with new clarity. How had I overlooked it before? You see, Jesus did indeed confront demons but he had power over them. People were liberated from the power of the devil.

Since then, I see the Bible in so many ways. It’s not a book to condemn but to set free. It’s about light, not darkness. It’s a book of hidden treasures, with new insights to be gained daily from its reading.

I am certain that the New York Times is not looking for essays on the efficacy of the Bible in influencing a preteen girl both towards fear, and later, freedom. We, in the United States, live in a post Christian world. That great and glorious best-seller, the Bible, has been relegated to a place where it’s influence can be explained as a history lesson, a cultural milestone of years gone by. Current Bible enthusiasts are regarded as oddities, stuck in cultural backwaters that is being swept away by the modern cynical age we live in.

I remain, though, convinced of my convictions. The book that has changed my outlook more than any book I’ve ever read is the Bible. No matter how trite or how inane it sounds, the Bible remains my bedrock and foundation as the most powerful book in my life.  It’s words are like my daily bread, new every morning.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 

Isaiah 43:19

If you want to submit your entry about a book that has shaped your life to the New York Times, you must do it now. Entries must be submtted  by 10:00 a.m on January 15.