The Wonder Report: June 18, 2021
Late Spring Interlude Volume 2
Happy Friday! I’m squeezing in one more “Late Spring Interlude” because come Sunday, we’ll be welcoming summer. And doesn’t the idea of summer sound wonderful? Especially the summer after a year of quarantine and social distancing and lock down. Summer is when we get out and do more things anyway, and now this summer we’ll be getting out and doing all the things simply because we can.
At least that’s the summer I thought I was going to have. We had camping trips planned, and beach outings and barbecues. This was the summer we were going to get together with friends and family more; we were planning to visit 12 state parks this year after hitting our goal of 10 in 2020. I had projects around the house planned, too: landscaping, painting, and organizing. I was going to bake a pie every weekend and finally perfect my homemade English muffin recipe. And I was going to read novels. Oh, was I ever.
So much of life is lived in the expectation and not in the experience. And that’s the case this summer. I’m glad I spent months dreaming about what life was going to be like this summer. Those dreams helped me endure some dark days of winter and early spring. But I’m equally glad that instead of camping trips and days on the beach, I can spend time with Mom during these hard days in the winter of her life. This is not the life we expected; this is the life we can only experience.
As I prepare for the weeks and months ahead, I recently read Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. My friend Ann Kroeker recommended it, after reading it during a difficult season in her own life. I found Gawande’s blend of storytelling, fact-sharing, and straight-shooting to be exactly what I need in this season. He tackles the issues we’ll all face as we come to our later years and eventually our final breath. He looks at the goals of modern medicine and identifies which ones actually run counter to dying well. And he invites us to ask some hard questions that may just make our last days richer and better.
What are our biggest concerns and fears?
What goals are most important?
What trade-offs are we willing to make and what ones are we not?
But as I attempt to carry on with my own life while watching my mom lose hers, I’ve been asking myself similar questions. What are my fears and concerns in caring for her? What’s important now in this transition? What trade-offs am I willing to make in my own life? And as I ask these questions in this season, I keep thinking about all the fears and goals and trade-offs in other seasons of life, those times when I wasn’t paying such close attention. I wonder how things might have been different if I’d acknowledged my concerns at the time, learned to prioritize my goals instead of treating everything as equally important, and recognized that there’s always a trade-off. Every yes requires a no. What if asking these questions isn’t just about dying well someday but also about living better now?
Here’s the thing Gawande doesn’t address in his book: Being mortal isn’t as big of a burden as it might seem. Yes, our bodies have real limits. Yes, the aches and pains come more frequently the older we get. Yes, the losses feel all-consuming and overwhelming. Yes, death is a reality we’ll all face.
But the day before we enrolled Mom in hospice, our lectionary reading at church was 2 Corinthians 4:13-18, which I’ve included here from The Message:
We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
On the outside, things do indeed seem to be falling apart on us as I visit with Mom each day while also trying to hold my own life together. I’ll admit that’s where my concerns lie. But there’s far more here than meets the eye. That’s what’s most important. And when it comes to helping Mom cross the great finish line, to be at last in that part of life that we can’t see but will last forever? That’s a trade-off I’ll never make.
How often do you think about the end of your life?
A memento mori is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. According to Duncan Hilton, memento mori also is a Christian practice that has its roots in scripture and Roman culture. Even the passage above from 2 Corinthians could be used as a memento mori as we meditate on the inevitability of our own death as a way to embrace our lives more fully.
Here’s the challenge: Read Hilton’s article from Bearings Journal about “The Practice of Memento Mori (Remember You Must Die).” Then, using Atul Gawande’s questions as a prompt, think about:
What are our biggest concerns and fears … about death and life?
What goals are most important … in death and in life?
What trade-offs are we willing to make and what ones are we not … both in death and life?
Summer Reading Club
Join me this summer for a special Wonder Report book club, where we’ll read Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
Congratulations to the following winners who will receive a free copy of Jen’s book (if you haven’t send me your address, please do so soon so you can get the book in time for the Summer Reading Club):
Our reading begins Monday, and here’s the Reading Schedule in case you missed it last week:
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
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.
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.
This week I wanted to share three resources to help us celebrate Juneteenth, a new Federal holiday just approved by Congress and signed into law by President Biden this week.
1. Juneteenth Is Now A Federal Holiday by Alana Wise for NPR. In case you’re new to Juneteenth or wonder why it’s now a federal holiday, here’s a brief explainer.
From the article: “Juneteenth is celebrated annually on the 19th of June to mark the date some of the last enslaved people in the Confederacy became free.
“While Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to free enslaved people in Confederate states, it was not until two and a half years later that many Black people still held in bondage in Texas were told that the order had freed them.”
2. Oh, Freedom: Words & Music for Juneteenth by Ruth Naomi Floyd for The Rabbit Room. This beautiful multimedia collection evokes the pain, struggle, and joy of Juneteenth. It’s full of art, history, and poetry. This would make a great personal reflection on Juneteenth, which is tomorrow, June 19.
From the essay: From an African prisoner of the forced labor system of American Slavery, 100 years old, Born in 1810, Enslaved in Alabama & Texas:
Interviewed in 1910.
“When you were a hundred years old, you see the stars fall, and the other night when I went out I saw all the stars drop from the sky. I was at a wonder when I saw it.
Oh the stars in the elements are falling,
And the moon drips away in the blood.
“We looked out on the red fields where men guided the mules in the plowing. It must be a hundred years ago. I have seen and heard a sorrow and trouble, but it is over for me. I thank the Lord that I am free, that us all, children, and women, and men are free.”
3. 2021 Juneteenth Cookout Virtual Potluck. This post from Candace Boyd, the Chief Foodie & Creative Director behind FoodLoveTog, includes recipes from more than 40 Black creators who contributed to a collaborative menu as a Juneteenth tribute. I’ve printed out the Instant Pot Baked Beans by Marwin Brown to make for my family this weekend.
Nature Outside Your Door
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.” — Rachel Carson
For the next several weeks, I’ll offer a summer series called “Nature Outside Your Door.” In it, we’ll talk about ways to connect with nature and appreciate God’s creation even if you can’t leave your neighborhood.
This week, let’s talk about weather.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
I’ll kick off the series with my own explainer and prompt. When I write …
I usually look for connections between the things around me that might not otherwise be obvious. Once I’m paying attention, suddenly a conversation with a friend, an online article, and a sitcom on TV all might contain a similar thread, and that’s the topic waiting for me to write about. I like to think it’s a version of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or Frequency Bias, where something you recently learned or paid attention to suddenly appears 'everywhere.’ For me it happened when I started noticing red Chevy Equinoxes all over the road only after I started driving one. You might also just call this practice "following your curiosity,” or allowing something interesting in one part of your life to give you the eyes and ears to find it in other parts.
Now you try it. When something piques your interest this week—whether in a sermon, a discussion, or even a story told over dinner—make note of it. Write it down, even. Then pay attention to see how that theme shows up in other areas of your life, and write those down too. (If nothing shows up, then you might have to go looking a little, but trust the process.) Once you have three or four things written down, do some free-writing about the connection between them. Be creative. Don’t edit yourself. If you sense even the weakest thread, pull on it and see what unravels.
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,