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The Wonder Report: June 11, 2021
Late Spring Interlude Volume 1
Happy Friday! It’s still technically spring, but the temperature and humidity are feeling more like summer. I hope you’re staying cool wherever you are.
I mentioned last week that I have big summer plans for The Wonder Report, which will begin June 25. More on that below. So the two weeks until will serve as a kind of interlude … a gentler, quieter Wonder Report as we cross over between literal and figurative seasons.
Speaking of seasons, we’ve entered a difficult one in our family over the past few days. After an overnight hospitalization a couple of weeks ago, my mom, whom I’ve cared for in various capacities for the past six years following a stroke, is now on hospice. As I explained to her, this new phase doesn’t mean she’s dying now or will die any sooner that she would have otherwise. It just means that she needs different resources and care in this season, and so do I. The group we are working with has been masterful at that so far.
When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer almost 14 years, one of my deepest regrets as I faced down my own death was that I wouldn’t be around to care for my parents in their old age. Thankfully, in his grace, God kept me around to do just that. I wrote an essay years ago after my dad’s open heart surgery, when I had the chance to care for him in his days of recovery as he had for me during cancer treatment. And these past six years, and however many days Mom has left, I’ll continue caring for Mom as she also did for me both as a child and during those 10 years in my 30s and early 40s when I endured one health crises after another.
During those difficult days, I remember thanking her over and over, marveling that she would take time off work, neglect her own housework, and spend her days with me, helping me to the bathroom, holding drinks to my mouth to sip, and cooking whatever food I could stomach.
“No need to thank me,” she’d say. “You can just take care of me some day.”
I’m truly grateful I can. But that doesn’t mean the days aren’t long and hard … just as I know they were for her. As I’ve been anticipating the difficult days ahead, I’ve been reminding myself of the ways I experience God’s grace when things otherwise feel out of control and overwhelming.
For one, I need to lean in to my habits. Morning prayer and coffee, reading good books, making my bed, moving my body, eating healthy food, drinking water, reaching out to others. When the world tilts and everything seems off kilter, it’s tempting to go into all-out crisis mode. And I might have to in the short-term. But my role as caregiver will continue on for a while, and if I’m going to show up and be there to offer the care Mom needs, I need to rely on the structure of my habits to sustain life for me.
That’s one of the reasons I decided to spend a good chunk of the summer reading Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith with you all . As we emerge from pandemic life into whatever comes next for each of us, the habits of our life and faith will carry us.
I also need to experience wonder on a regular basis. My whole connection to wonder and nature began a few years ago during a particularly stressful season of caregiving when I decided to spend more time outside as a way to ground myself. In the years since, as my attention has been tuned to the word wonder and the concept in its many forms, I’ve found that in Scripture, God often uses wonder to get people’s attention. And I think God uses wonder in the same way in my life. Caregiving can be all-consuming. And even though I see caregiving as God’s call on my life, it can be easy to jump in and try to do it with little thought of Him. I need wonder to keep me attentive, focused, and yielded to God.
“So I think, be out, get out, look up, walk where and when you can, and be curious, and be astonished by the world. Live in what John Muir called a storm of wonder for a few minutes or a few hours each week.”
How do you regularly experience the grace of God in your life?
As I mentioned above, during seasons when we feel out of control or overwhelmed, it’s tempting to give ourselves a pass on our normal habits and routines because they can feel draining. But for me, the opposite is true. While I enjoy making time to read my Bible normally, when life goes haywire Bible reading is my lifeline. Same thing with getting enough sleep and taking time to exercise.
Here’s the challenge: Whether you are in crisis mode or not, take time to identify what practices or rituals keep you close to God. Some of them may seem more “spiritual” than others. For me, even making my bed each day is high on the list. Make your own list, and be sure to stick with at least a few of those things even when it feels like the whole world is on fire … maybe especially when it feels that way.
Summer Reading Club
Join me this summer for a special Wonder Report book club.
This summer let’s read Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus. Beginning June 25, The Wonder Report opening essay will be about that week’s reading. There will be discussion questions here in this section, and the Monday “I Wonder …” emails will help us think more deeply about the themes coming up that week. Oh, and later in July, we’ll have a Zoom discussion for all who are reading along to talk in more detail about the book.
Here’s the Reading Schedule:
Week 1 (June 19-25): Days 1-5
Week 2 (June 26-July 2): Days 6-10
Week 3 (July 3-9): Days 11-15
Week 4 (July 10-16): Days 16-20
Week 5 (July 17-23): Days 21-25
Week 6 (July 24-30): Days 26-30
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
Oh, and one more thing: I have five copies of the book to give away! Leave a comment by midnight ET Tuesday, June 15, about one of your longest habits of faith, and you’ll be entered for the drawing. As with other drawings, I am paying for the cost of the books and postage myself, so unfortunately, I need to limit this giveaway to residents of the U.S. Thanks for understanding.
This and That
Here are a few articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
1. Medicine and the Ministry of Presence by Jennifer Leah Goetz, James W. Lynch Jr., Richard Gunderman for Comment. This beautiful essay explores the importance of spending time as a key to healing and hope. It’s written by doctors, and the premise is that doctors need to spend more time with their patients. But I also see the value of ministering presence to each other in the midst of all kinds of hardships.
From the essay: “So often, as doctors, we want to do—we want to prescribe meds, cut out tumours, stop the bleeding. And all of that is necessary. But what’s often missed in modern medicine is the healing power of being present with another person.
“It’s not medication that saved my life (though it has helped enormously). It’s not therapy that saved my life (again, it has helped tremendously). It was her presence in my life. It was in no longer being alone. Only then was I able to truly start my healing journey from the darkest depths of depression to what is now a much brighter, more hopeful future.”
2. A Long Letting Go: Meditations on Losing Someone You Love by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I’ve had this book for a while, and apparently even read it back in 2018 (I found it on my list of books I’ve read). But I needed it now, and it has been a great encouragement this past week.
From the publisher: “This beautiful volume of reflections by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre is for family members and friends who are doing the life-changing work of accompanying someone on the final stretch of his or her journey. In quiet counterpoint to our hurried lives, A Long Letting Go invites caregivers to slow down for reflection and prayer as they prepare to say good-bye to a beloved friend or family member and grieve that loss.”
3. What Robots Can—and Can’t—Do for the Old and Lonely by Katie Engelhart for The New Yorker. This is a fascinating essay about giving robot pets and other companions to the elderly to help stave off loneliness. I’ve thought a lot about aging and its effects as I’ve spent hundreds of hours with my mom in her her nursing home over the past few years. I found this article to be insightful, disturbing, and thought-provoking.
From the essay: “In 2017, the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, declared loneliness an “epidemic” among Americans of all ages. This warning was partly inspired by new medical research that has revealed the damage that social isolation and loneliness can inflict on a body. The two conditions are often linked, but they are not the same: isolation is an objective state (not having much contact with the world); loneliness is a subjective one (feeling that the contact you have is not enough). Both are thought to prompt a heightened inflammatory response, which can increase a person’s risk for a vast range of pathologies, including dementia, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke. Older people are more susceptible to loneliness; forty-three per cent of Americans over sixty identify as lonely. Their individual suffering is often described by medical researchers as especially perilous, and their collective suffering is seen as an especially awful societal failing.”
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report! Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,