Monday, November 1, 2021

Keep Breathing: This is Sacred Space

Three weeks ago, when Jan and I were in Minneapolis for the Addiction and Faith Conference, at the end of a long day of presentations and technology challenges, we took an Uber to the George Floyd Memorial.  I confess that I didn't realize there was a memorial.  I thought we were simply going to see the place where George Floyd was killed.  Since it was after 9 p.m., we asked the person working the hotel desk if it would be safe for us to go after dark, and she said yes, so off we went with our friend, Michelle. 

Our Uber driver dropped us a block away from the intersection, and we slowly walked toward the corner where Cup Foods is located.  When I saw the first sign that said, "Here you enter sacred space," I felt a deep reverence come over me.  For a long time I just walked around the edges slowly, taking everything in.  It seemed disrespectful to talk or to take pictures or even to move inside the barriers protecting the memorial from cars passing by.  I couldn't speak.  

It was a warm night with a light breeze.  The area was well lit with a succession of vehicles passing through the intersection.  Cars aren't permitted to stop there but have to go around the piece of the memorial that now fills the center of the intersection.  There were SO MANY PLANTS and FLOWERS.  Some were artificial, but many were live and others had once been living.  A green house sits to the side of the main part of the memorial.  In an ever widening sprawl sat plants in pots, bottles, and planters.  A garden of offerings:  flowers, candles, stuffed animals, lanterns, signs, photos, coins, graffiti, chalk drawings, paper cranes,  bottles, shells, pieces of wood, rocks, toys, letters, and more.  It was hard to know where to look. Messages of anger, despair, hope.  Quotes from famous people, names of others who died without justice.  

It was both peaceful like a cemetery and overwhelming with stimulus.  I was not afraid, but I didn't know what to think or feel.  I could not process what I was seeing, and so I simply gazed around me. At one point, as I stood on the sidewalk behind the memorial and close to the entrance of Cup Foods, a door in the wall opened, and a woman came out, scowling. I wondered if we were trespassing and if she was coming out to tell us to move along.  She didn't speak for about five minutes, at which point she shouted down the street to a man who eventually strolled up and went inside with her.  Jan told us to stay close, and we made sure to keep an eye on one another.  Later she told me that had been a drug deal.  I can be very na├»ve.  

Writer that I aspire to be, I have not had words to describe this event.  Jan asked me the next day why I hadn't posted my photos, pictures that I had finally started taking in order to remember what I had seen.  I didn't want to trivialize the experience.  I didn't want to read potentially negative comments or arguments.  It was a sacred space, and I've been afraid to disturb it.  Here are some photos.  I will let them speak for themselves.

I haven't known what to say, and so I haven't said anything. 

Lately I have been reading about trauma.  I highly recommend My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem, for anyone who wants to start the process of healing from ancient radicalized trauma.  "We cannot think our way out of racism."  We all have to learn how to settle our own bodies so our lizard brains don't overcome us, leading us to fight, flight, freeze, or annihilate.  We have to learn to breathe and settle our own bodies so that we can be our best selves, even in the midst of conflict.

I've also just finished reading What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry.  It is an exceedingly helpful book that details the neuroscience of trauma and explains what happens to the brain and how we can work toward healing.  I learned from this book that one of my usual methods of handling trauma is dissociation.  I suspect that's what happened the night we visited George Floyd's memorial.  When there's too much to take in, I dissociate.  I cannot tolerate the pain, anger, despair, hurt, grief, and so I go away somewhere.  It's not intentional; it's simply what happens.  It's taken me this long to find any words to share.

Renakem says we need to metabolize our trauma so that we don't blow it through other people.  We have to learn to stay present in our bodies.  Perry and Winfrey say we need to ask "What happened to you?" rather than "What's wrong with you?"
My thoughts on all of this are still incomplete.  I don't have a lot of wisdom to share, just impressions of what I saw and felt.  A memorial to the pain and death of people of color who have died unjustly and too soon.  A memorial to the ways in which breath has been taken from fellow human beings.  A memorial created both to remember and to inspire.

Keep breathing everyone.  This is sacred space.  


Monday, June 28, 2021

15+ Months - Final Covid Update?

At the beginning of May, I began taking a new supplement.  In my online Long Covid support group people have been posting what has helped them.  Many have found that histamines make their symptoms flare up, and so they are on an anti-histamine diet.  As far as I can tell it means you can eat nothing.  Okay, I exaggerate, but of the food that I eat, very little is included in that diet - if that's what I need to get better, I'm doomed.  Other people have posted all the supplements they're taking.  Two emerged as helping many people - CoQ10 and magnesium. For years, Jan and I have ordered supplements from an online company because their multivitamin comes in liquid form, and we find absorbing liquids much easier than gigantic vitamin pills.  I remembered that some years ago our supplement company started offering CoQ10 as one of those things you "should" take to help with healthy aging.  I just thought they wanted more of our money and ignored it.  When I went to the site to look it up, I found they no longer offered it but that they had a new version, one that includes CoQ10, magnesium, zinc, iron, and more.*  It's supposed to support the creation and health of mitochondria.

Let me digress for a moment - I am cheap. I do not like spending money that I don't need to spend.  Although I take vitamins, I have not truly noticed the difference that they make.  When I saw the price tag of this supplement I couldn't imagine forking out that much for a something that probably wouldn't have a noticeable effect.  But in March and April I had come to believe that my Long Covid had turned into chronic fatigue and that I might not get better.  And a friend reminded me that vitamins aren't cheap.  So I decided that I would try it for one month.  

What a difference a month makes!  I noticed positive effects almost immediately.  My energy was better.  I could do more.  I no longer needed to lie down for meetings.  A number of very stressful pastoral situations cropped up, and I was able to handle them.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by everything, and my mood improved.  The string of good days, previously capped at about 3, started growing.  The number of good days outweighed the bad days, and the bad days weren't as bad.  Hope returned as I began feeling better, and my compassion grew for all of those who suffer with forms of chronic fatigue who don't ever feel better.  I ordered another month's worth.  I began taking longer walks, building up to a daily mile.  Last week, Jan and I ventured out of our neighborhood loop and walked about 2.5 miles on one of our walks.  I kept repeating, "Look how far we've gone.  Look at how far we've gone!"    

June 12 marked 15 months since I noticed my first Covid-19 symptoms in March of 2020.  We could not have known then what a long haul it would be.  So many times I've thought and posted that I was getting better, and sometimes I was for awhile, but then the fatigue would come crashing back down, along with a variety of other symptoms.  This time feels different. I'm still a bit cautious with my optimism because of my prior relapses, but I'm hopeful that this will be my last Long Covid update with regards to my personal health.  Many people in my online group are reporting that they're feeling better about 13-15 months out.  

There are all sorts of exciting things about to happen - the opening of a Moo Thru ice cream store, the creation of St. Monica's community, raising the roof on a women's residential recovery-supported house, planning a house blessing once we finally finish unpacking, Camp Spirit Song for children of addiction, Faith and Recovery conference in Minnesota in the fall, and the list goes on.  It looks like I will get to be part of them!  Thanks to everyone for reading about my ongoing journey and for your prayers and support.  I am so very grateful. 

*For those interested in the supplement, it's called Bod-e Ten and can be found here:  

Monday, May 10, 2021

Hope and Healing at SpiritWorks

Thirteen years ago I met Jan Brown when she started attending Hickory Neck Episcopal Church.  I was fresh out of seminary and had just begun my ordained ministry about a month earlier.  No sooner had I learned about her work than I was referring someone to her for services at the recovery community organization that she had started, SpiritWorks Foundation.  Three years later, in 2011, after having partnered with SpiritWorks on a number of projects, I found I was in need of the recovery community myself.  I sought out Jan's advice as I was facing the consequences of a lifetime of co-dependency.  Exhausted, overwhelmed by my need to please every one, be the hero, and save the day, I was running out of energy, health, and hope.  Jan recommended I start attending a 12-step group, and thus began my journey to co-dependent recovery.  

About a year later I began working at SpiritWorks.  Having experienced healing and hope in the recovery community, I wanted to be part of offering that to others.  Since then I have had the great good fortune of participating in the transformation of lives. It is such a huge privilege to walk with people as they make the transition from despair to hope.  The journey from addiction to recovery can be very challenging, and not everyone makes it on this side of the grave.  Some days the work is heartbreaking, and other days are a celebration of milestones achieved.  We offer groups and activities, trainings and education, community and coaching, healing and hope.

The greatest joy of my work has been creating the First Fridays Recovery Eucharist. On the first Friday of each month, our community gathers.  It includes individuals in active addiction and in recovery, parents with addicted children and parents whose children have died as a result of fatal overdoses, friends and family, allies and mentors, members of Bruton Parish and members of other congregations around the area.  Pre-Covid we even had someone who journeyed each month from North Carolina to attend.  We have baptized babies and adults, witnessed marriages and vow renewals, buried those who have died, and had memorial services for those we've lost.  At First Fridays tears are welcome, and we all celebrate joys together.  To me, the First Fridays worshiping community provides a glimpse of what the heavenly banquet will look like. 

SpiritWorks does not charge fees for its recovery support services.  We rely on contracts, grants, faith communities, and donors to keep us funded and running our two recovery centers in Williamsburg and Warrenton.  Each May we participate in a main fundraising effort called Give Local 757.   The past couple of years we've also participated in Give Local Piedmont, the one we were pushing for the Nifty Fifty prize last week. Give Local 757 is tomorrow, May 11, from midnight to midnight.  Our goal for May is $25,000, and we're almost to $5000.  From 5-6pm we will be hosting an outdoor "Happier Hour" at SpiritWorks for people to drop by for some fellowship, snacks, and soft beverages.  Local folks - come see us at 5800 Mooretown Rd. We accept donations of any size, any kind, any time.  But from midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow, we can also receive prizes if you donate HERE.

It is my great pleasure to support SpiritWorks, and Kasee and I hope you will too, if you can.  We're so grateful for so many who are a part of the healing and hope that we offer to people journeying from addiction to recovery.  

Micah, Martha, and Shadow also appreciate your support!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Grateful for Good Days: Long-Covid Update

Everyone wants me to be better.  I want me to be better.  But I've learned to be grateful for good days. 

A year ago today, after having symptoms for five weeks, I tested positive for Covid 19.  My bishop had instructed me to stop working until I was fully recovered.  We couldn't have known then that "fully recovered" might not happen.  After close to a month off, I returned to work, not really feeling better, but not feeling quite as bad.  Of course, I continue to live in hope (or denial) that I will fully recover at some point, that my energy will return, that I will be able to take long walks again and work full days without having to lie down for meetings or rests, that I will feel like me.  Until that time, I will be grateful for good days.

Folks at church have learned to ask, "Is it a good day?"  Sometimes they know by looking at my face or by how fast I'm moving.  Sometimes I look good even though I feel ready for a nap.  Masks can hide a lot.  Nothing pleases me more than being able to say, "It's a good day."  That means I didn't struggle to shower, dress, and drive in.  That means when I walked up the steps of the pulpit to place my sermon or to light the pulpit candles that I didn't get short of breath.  That means that I might have energy to make lunch when I get home instead of falling over in a heap as soon as I walk in the door.  

Last week I was blessed by a series of good days.  Days when I could take a shower when I got up rather than waiting until later in the day in the hopes that it wouldn't drain all my energy.  Days when I could go to Bruton and then SpiritWorks like I'm supposed to.  Days when I was able to make hospital visits.  I don't get lured anymore into thinking that I'm "cured" or that Long Covid has ended.  So when they ask how I'm doing when I arrive at SpiritWorks, I answer, "I'm grateful for some good days."  

Even though I don't think I'm better, it still surprises me when morning comes like it did on Friday, after a week of good days, including preaching on Sunday, and I can't make myself wake up.  I eventually roused enough to shower and eat some lunch and go in to work, but then I found myself needing to lie back down before I could prepare anything to eat, and I slept for two more hours - 11 1/2 total for the day, and I still had no energy.  We had been invited to a friend's house for dinner, and I didn't know how I would make it.  But I wanted to try.  And I needed to eat.  When we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the sound of friends talking and dogs barking and a warm house.  I seem to have developed an oversensitivity to sound and heat.  I joined Jan outside, and we walked carefully down to the stone terrace overlooking the water - I wasn't sure I would be able to get back up the stairs, but Jan said she'd help me.  The view was worth it.

Sitting there, looking at the water, listening to the gentle breeze rustling the new leaves on the trees, I felt soothed.  That's the word that came to mind.  The view and the air and the new growth of spring were soothing, like a balm for my soul.  One at a time friends came down to talk to me - and I could manage that.  I took a picture so I could remember how it felt to sit there - being restored so that I could enjoy the delicious dinner and good company that would follow.  The rest of the weekend was hard, not bad days, but not good days.  Yesterday I had to attend a meeting lying down with my camera off.  

Today, though.  Today was a good day.  I woke up and showered - always the key, if I can get through that.  Worked from 9-7:30 including four significant meetings and took a walk.  

Today was a good day for a much more important reason than my energy level, though.  Today Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three counts for killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.  A white police officer was found guilty for killing a black man.  Accountability.  Police officers risk their lives every day, and I am grateful for their service, but they cannot be above the law, and too many black people have died unjustly.  Today was a good day on the long journey to justice for people of color in this country.  

My experience with Covid-19 is no parallel for the injustice and oppression that people of color endure every day.  But it has helped me understand what it means to be grateful for a good day.  And what it means to know that tomorrow might not be a good day.  Today was a good day for me - but truly I think what boosted my energy was witnessing a tiny step forward in a centuries long struggle - a struggle in which people with one color of skin fight desperately to maintain power over the lives of people with another color of skin, while those people fight to stay alive.  

As I breathe a prayer of thanks, I pray for more good days ahead.  May "justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."  May we one day know that we are all of one blood, one race, the human race, and may we all treat one another as if each life matters.  Because each one does.  Then, at the end of every day, we can be grateful for a good day.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A Year In - Change is hard: Covid-19 Update

Change is hard.  This year has been a prime example of it.

A year ago today - March 12.  I canceled the Women's Retreat I was supposed to lead that weekend, wondering if I was overreacting.  I had my last in-person pastoral appointment for months with a young man who wanted to know more about the Episcopal Church.  Before walking out of my office to meet him, I thoroughly washed my hands.  I was feeling "off" but couldn't identify what was wrong.  Several nights before, I'd awakened in the wee hours to a pain in my chest, deep behind my left breast, but I decided it was an overactive imagination - no way did I have the novel coronavirus.  Just in case, I told my rector I'd be leaving for the day after my 2:00 community outreach meeting.

In my 2:00 meeting, I kept my hands to myself, not picking up a cookie or touching the table or hugging anyone.  We were there to present our tutoring ministry to other churches, and I wanted to support our folks making the presentation, but I could feel my energy starting to fade.  As I walked to my car afterwards, I checked my email and learned that our Bishop had just announced we would be closing our churches.  

The next day I had a burial at the local cemetery.  Only a handful of people were there. By then I felt like I had a cold.  When I arrived I stood way back from the other folks, declined to shake hands or hug anyone, officiated the burial service, and instead of heading for my scheduled day at SpiritWorks, I drove home and laid down.  Feeling feverish with chills and body aches, I wondered if I had this thing after all.  Or, more likely, the flu.  That night the body aches grew worse, and it all went downhill after that.

Thus began my journey with Covid-19 a year ago.  The details of the acute phase are in other posts on this blog.  

This past Monday, I had a Telehealth visit with my pulmonologist.  My heart and lungs are healthy.  I have an uncommon heart condition - LHAS, but nothing to worry about, and my lungs have a slightly restricted capacity, but my use of oxygen is good, so no concern there.  No worries about clots or asthma.  What a relief.  Thanks be to God!

The doctor looked at me through the computer screen and said, "Chronic fatigue.  And I don't really have anything to recommend to you."

Post-Covid Chronic Fatigue.  What I've been concerned about since June.  A year in and they can call it chronic.  The doctor said it was time to start pushing.  But I know from my Long Covid group that pushing is not good for this post-viral syndrome.  I understand that we have to learn pacing.  Which is hard.  Last week, once I'd recovered from the extreme fatigue brought on by my 2nd vaccine, I had 3-4 days where my energy was almost normal.  So, of course, because I felt up to it, I did a lot more.  It felt wonderful!  The tricky part is that the fatigue can hit 12-48 hours after the activity.  So it's very hard to regulate.  But I'm going to need to learn.

Today and yesterday I've also had some dizziness and my chest/back have felt tight again.  This afternoon I told my therapist, "I'm discouraged, I'm frustrated, and I'm fearful."  Discouraged that this is still going on and that it's so unpredictable, frustrated at how hard it is to figure out the variables, and fearful of what will happen as we start opening back up and I don't have the energy to do more than I'm doing.  It's so hard to accept that I can no longer do what I used to be able to do.  

I know I'm not alone.  I imagine that even those who aren't dealing with Long Covid are discouraged, frustrated, and fearful about one thing or another a year into this pandemic.  And yet, at the same time, there is hope.  I've had both my vaccinations, and the US is vaccinating 2 million people a day.  The weather is warming up and new case numbers are dropping.  

I find myself wondering how I want things to be on the other side of Covid.  The truth is, that I want my full energy back, AND I don't want to go back to the crazy schedule I had pre-Covid.  As much as I miss seeing people face to face and hugging loved ones, I don't miss driving and rushing around so much.  I want to learn a new way to be, and that, too, is going to require change.

Friends, what do you want things to look like post-Covid?  Are you hoping for a return to the way things were?  Or are you dreaming of a new way of being?  What might that look like?  I'd really like to hear.

Monday, February 1, 2021

St. Brigid, Wedding, and Ordination Anniversary

One month ago today, I got married, y'all!  I've waited my whole life to be married, and now I am.  And so far, so good.  People asked me before the big day whether I was nervous, and I didn't really understand the question.  We waited until we were ready - nearly ten years!  I was simply excited, and the whole event was unbelievably joyful.  Honestly, the whole thing was perfect.  Although we had not originally planned such a small service and a Zoom reception, for two introverts who are still not at full energy post-Covid, the smaller ceremony and virtual party were just what we needed. None of it was overwhelming or stressful. (Okay, there was one day when I thought only Jan and I were going to be able to be present for the ceremony, and I had a little meltdown, but that dissipated quickly.)  We are so grateful for everyone who helped make it happen. I can't say it was just like I imagined it would be because I never would have imagined getting married in a pandemic.  But I can say it was one of the three most joyful days of my life, and I can't imagine it being more perfect.  If you'd like to see the service and haven't yet, here you go:

Today is also the anniversary of one of the other two most joyful days of my life - my ordination as a deacon thirteen years ago at Bruton Parish.  It was an overcast day on which the rain held off until after the service, and then a storm raged while we were all eating lunch.  That afternoon - rainbows.  As joyful as my priestly ordination was, there was something about that first ordination that I can't describe.  Family and friends gathered, Bishop Sean Rowe preached, Bishop Buchanan called the Holy Spirit upon us, and six of us became deacons.  All on the feast day of St. Brigid.  

St. Brigid might be my patron saint.  I first visited her well in County Kildare, Ireland on a trip in 1996. My dad's great, great grandmother lived in County Kildare, and we visited the site of her home.  I've also encountered St. Brigid in healing prayer on a silent retreat.  Her Irish heritage and being known for her fiery spirit and compassion as a healer have always drawn me to St. Brigid, and so it was a particular honor to be ordained on her feast day.  Last year on this day, our new bishop was also consecrated.  Seems an especially appropriate day for females to be ordained, since St. Brigid may have also been a bishop.  

As I looked through pictures of my wedding and diaconal ordination, I saw how some of the best pictures were with my brother.  He has always made it to the big occasions in my life, and I am so grateful to him.  

One month in, y'all.  We are very happy!

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Vaccine! - 10 1/2 Months In

At this time last year, we had begun celebrating the 15th anniversary of SpiritWorks, Jan and I had started house hunting and planning a wedding, and at Bruton we were in the thick of Lent and Holy Week planning. Who would have guessed that by early March all of that would simply stop?  Who could have anticipated the long-term effect this virus would have on my life.

My last update was at the end of November.  Prednisone for poison ivy had set me back, but I was starting to be able to take walks again.  What I found shortly thereafter was that I could either work or walk.  But I didn't have the energy for both.  So I gave up walking since there were scarcely enough daylight hours in which to walk anyway.  I focused on work and wedding planning and the holidays.  And as long as I rested enough, I seemed to be fine.  Maybe I tired more easily, but no other symptoms.

Until last week.  Whether my post-viral syndrome kicked back in, or whether I overdid, I started having shortness of breath again along with greater fatigue.  I'd been able to be upright in meetings for months, but suddenly I had to lie down to Zoom again.  Now when I say overdid - I don't mean that I ran a marathon or threw a gala or even took a long walk.  I mean that I trimmed a couple of bushes Saturday with the loppers, laid down for 20 minutes, trimmed a couple more, and then rested.  The next day I did livestream church, distributed Communion and led a Zoom Bible study.  By Monday I was worn out and had shortness of breath.  

On Monday I also had a Telehealth visit with a pulmonologist who referred me for a breathing test and an echocardiogram, just to rule some things out.  Now this may not seem like the funny part, but it really was.  There was a cancelation, and I got to do my breathing test on Thursday, much sooner than expected.  I felt like I was on an episode of Call the Midwife as the technician would say, "Now pant" and then she would pant and I would do the same.  "Okay now normal breathing."  "Now breathe out, out, out, and then deep breath back in."  It was cracking me up.  Until I got lightheaded and knew that I was about to pass out.  I asked if I could lay down on the floor since there wasn't a bed in the room.  She looked skeptical until I said I would pass out if I couldn't lie down.  I laid down on the cold tile floor, and she took my vitals.  We both remained calm and chatted until I was able to get back up again.  

This is not the first time that's happened, though it was the first time I needed to lie on the floor.  It also happens at the eye doctor, when giving blood, during my first Covid test, and once or twice when I've made emergency room visits.  So I wasn't worried, but it does seem like if you pass out at your breathing test, you're not going to get an A+!

For much of the week I was feeling discouraged.  I'm tired of being tired, and I long to be able to return to my regular level of activity and walking.  At the same time, when I think of all who have died from this virus, I know how lucky I am.  On the positive side, I was unexpectedly scheduled for the vaccine because of our work at SpiritWorks.  Only reaction has been a very sore arm.  And then today, I felt better than I have all week! Perhaps resting so much this weekend has helped.  Whatever the cause, I'm grateful.  Now if I could just figure out what qualifies as overdoing in this long haul, I'd be really happy!