While California Burns, I Find Myself Planting

Thousands of acres in California are burning. Trees and plants, homes and fields. It tends to happen at this time in the year when the land is dry and rains have not come for months on end. But this year stands as one of the worst for California fires in recent history.

This morning I found that friends of mine are evacuating from a small town less than an hour’s drive from where I live. With more than two million acres laid waste to fire, the devastation is vast.

My child commented yesterday about how many years it will take for these places to recover, to begin to grow again.

Yet also this morning I knelt before the ground and planted seeds. I took a small succulent that has been soaking in water in my kitchen, slowly growing roots, over the past week, and set it into a clay pot. It had broken from the larger plant and would have shriveled and died if not placed in water.

Now it stands on my windowsill. Beyond the window, the sky looms gray. It has looked that way for weeks. We need rain to quench the fires of California, rain to clear the sky. 

Who knows how long until that rain finally arrives? Who knows how long firefighters in California by the thousands will work day and night to protect land and fields and homes and people? 

A part of me grieves for the loss. Pictures the wildlife seeking safety and unable to find it. Sees children and parents leaving places they’ve called home for years, not knowing if they will see those places again. 

Part of me feels distant from the loss and the grief because I am not personally affected by it. For this, I feel guilty. For it does affect all of us, the strings unseen that pull and stretch and break, touching us all in some way whether we recognize it or not.

I say a prayer for my friends and for strangers who have lost their homes to the fires, and for those who continue to battle the flames. And I feel ashamed that the prayer is not long enough, not deep enough, does not have the heart it might if I and my household were in the direct path of the flames.

Yet I planted the seeds, and I hope they will grow. I potted the succulent and I smile at its small beauty.

I recall that some seeds of some trees need fire before they will finally begin to grow. It takes the heat of flames for them to break open, awaken, grow root and take root.

But after the fires fade and the rains finally, mercifully, fall … under some scorched ground, seed will meet rain and the light of the sun. 

It will spread and root and take in water and life.

It will unfurl and grow toward the sky.

Church, Coronavirus, and the Comfort Level of an HSP

On Sunday, I went back to church for the first time since early March. My husband had been attending for several weeks now, along with whichever of our kids wanted to go. I stayed back with whoever did not want to go.

In truth, I did not want to go to church.

Maybe it’s because I’m a highly sensitive person, but the idea of gathering together again, wearing a face mask for safety and the comfort level of other attendees, practice social distancing all the while, feels to me like an exercise in futility. After all, the messages have been made available on social media and we have been watching regularly as a family.

It actually turned into a fun Sunday tradition: watching the Sunday School message at 10:00 am, making a special brunch at 10:30, and eating while tuning into the 11:00 message.

In all honesty, the last few months have been totally my “worship style.”

As an HSP, tuning into inspirational podcasts at my leisure while working out or tidying up, listening to contemporary Christian bands on YouTube when organizing, and watching sermons online are simply easier for me.

I find it more natural to connect with God and to receive from the song or the message or the text when I can focus on it completely. And I can more completely focus when I am not surrounded by people.

At church, I automatically tune into people’s actions or reactions … or the noises they’re making … or their interactions with others. Or I tune more into my children and trying to make sure they’re not disturbing anyone.

These months of staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic have been challenging for many; they have been challenging for me, too. But church from home has been a blessing in disguise.

Obligation and Depth of Processing Information

Then, our church started gathering again: face masks and social distancing in place, but still there at church. And although I skipped a few times, I have simultaneously felt obligated to attend because of my family.

And at the same time, I have felt guilty because attending church feels like an obligation rather than a joy. What is wrong with me? I wondered.

As a highly sensitive person, I have a different makeup … different ways of processing information. I get overwhelmed easily, and even a small church can cause those overwhelming feelings. I can’t deal with crowds. Feel anxiety rising if I don’t immediately see a place for myself and my family to sit. Hate walking through what I have dubbed “the gauntlet” — a group of people standing around outside waiting to “greet” people as they walk into church.

The Power of Introverts, The Tension of Introverts

Not long ago, I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking , where she discusses this very problem. The book provides amazing insight and helped me understand myself as an introvert far better than ever before.

It also helped me feel a little less guilty about my ambivalence regarding going to church as an HSP with a strong depth of processing. Of course, that’s not what the whole book is about; she only discusses churchgoing and evangelicals briefly, but that part had stood out to me because it spoke to that part of me that has always struggled on Sunday mornings. One quote states:

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

Now, I support the idea that fellowship and gathering with other people of the same faith can be a positive experience. (I also believe that respectfully connecting and gathering with people who have very different beliefs and walk different paths is a hugely important aspect of growth and empathy … but that’s for another post.)

The Inner Tension of Church Attendance

But what I mean by the above comment about attending church seeming like an exercise in futility is that in some ways, for some people or groups of people, the idea of attending church during COVID-19 has become yet another politically-charged event. It has turned into a “freedom” cry … and the kind of freedom being cried out does not feel much like the message Jesus gave when he walked the earth.

Of course, that’s getting into a whole ‘nother topic … and I don’t really want to go there. What I do want to do is get to the heart of this tension within myself – my desire to go along with my family and simply enjoy gathering together with others at church, against the all-too-frequent reality that I don’t usually enjoy it.

I get so much more out of a Bible passage or message I listen to on headphones from my phone while I’m out walking our two dogs.

And I don’t think I’ll figure this out any time soon. In the meantime, I will get up and get dressed and smile and greet others; I will chat and those who see me doing so will never guess how much of a struggle it is, as a highly sensitive person, to do this week after week.

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

Maybe there’s a special blessing in store for HSPs who make that extra effort to gather with people.

Maybe it is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

I hope that, if nothing else, I am providing for my children a place where they learn to call home and feel comfortable with people they know and love … which is the main reason I return to church week after week.

I did not have that “place of belonging” when I was growing up … and I feel that it is far better to feel a place of belonging, even though it comes with awkwardness and discomfort, than to have no such place.

Turning to Love in Times of Fear

When I was growing up, I remember being taught that faith is the opposite of fear and if you have enough faith then you cannot be a captive to fear. I spent much of my childhood teen years and even early adulthood captive to fear and anxiety, and often assumed it was because I did not have enough faith. No, I no longer believe what I had been taught.

Faith Is Not the Opposite of Fear.

Love Is.

There is a lot of fear speaking out today in so many ways. And it seems strange that we are fearing it because terribly fearful things are already upon us, are already happening.

Today, we are suffering a worldwide pandemic in COVID-19. You might even call it a plague. This is something that has not swept the world in hundreds of years. A year ago … even a decade ago … just the idea of something like this happening would have been preposterous. But here it is.

And here we are.

And in many ways, we are succumbing to fear. Not succumbing in that we are growing agoraphobic and that fear is keeping us home. In fact, what is keeping us home, for the most part, is the mandate to do so for our protection (or if you are not concerned for your own health, then for the safety and protection of the more susceptible members of society).

No, we are succumbing in that although we are facing fearful things and we could be responding with courage and hope and support, many are responding with anger about the coronavirus and the blame game.

I understand. It is frustrating. I have barely had a moment to myself since this started. Before COVID-19, my personal schedule was more conducive to my needs and personality. I had some “me time” several times a week … but no longer.

I also lost roughly 80% of my income due to the coronavirus pandemic and on top of it had to homeschool a few students for the last quarter of the 2019 to 2020 school year while still paying for their school fees.

There are uncertainties, frustration, and unrest, to be sure. But I feel encouraged by the many who are responding with hope and ways to reach out such as a child sewing and donating masks for people who need it and other people performing acts of kindness during the pandemic.

I suppose that during this time … as in all times … one primary choice before us is what we will tune into. Sources that dispense fear and ignorance and hate will always be there; yet, so we’ll be sources that spread hope and charity and love.

From Fear to Faith to Love

I’m trying to think when and how my mind made the transition to what the opposite of fear is. I think it was when I became a parent.

There is an anecdote about how faith is trusting the hand that holds you even in the dark, like a child being led home through a dark forest. The only thing he has to hold onto is his parent’s hand.

But that faith in the parent must be predicated by the love of the parent. If that child was not confident his parent loves him then he could not have faith that the parent would lead him home. Although his hand might have been momentarily grasped, he would be afraid that the parent might let go of him and leave the child alone.

Sometimes as a child, and sometimes as a teenager and young adult, I found myself like that child, suddenly without a hand to grasp onto, and I was afraid.

But when I became a parent and felt an intensity of love that I had never felt before, I realize that that love was the foundation of faith. And that it was the antidote to fear.

I think this is a thought I’ll have to unpack more as I spend more time thinking on it but for now, maybe the task is to think about it. To consider what love is, what faith is, and what fear is for you during this time.

And perhaps think about ways that you can find sources that dispense love and faith. Tune into those rather than sources of anger and fear. Because, as cliche as it might sound, right now we all need a little more love.

Looking Up – Attentiveness Amidst COVID-19

What will people think when they look back on this time?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, fear, anxiety.

What do we think, we who are in the midst of it now?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, anxiety.

I wonder if we do think about it as we should, as we might. If we consider and contemplate it enough.

It is hard, yes, because there is just so much to reflect upon, so much to think about, to process and try to understand.

And there is so much we will never understand.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, understanding.

And there are so many conflicting messages, each message containing perhaps some truth along with a lot of fear and tension, anxiety about the future.

Perhaps the call for us at this time is to stop, even in the middle of the chaos and the conflict, to look around us … even, if possible, to step outside – mentally if nothing else – and take stock.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, looking, thinking, understanding.

What do we see when we stop scrolling an endless news feed and look up?

Yesterday I stepped outside. I looked up and saw a bird, sitting on a ledge, a strange shimmering substance in its beak. At first I thought the bird might have been searching for material to make a nest. Then it came to me that midsummer is not generally when birds build nests.

I looked closer and realized the shimmer belonged to a dragonfly’s wings. The bird had been hunting and caught a dragonfly midflight. I delight in watching dragonflies skirting through the air, following some strange patterned flight that is theirs alone. But this one now had become food, sustenance, for a bird who had met it in that place both creatures claim – the air.

Within a few seconds, the spectacle had ended. The bird consumed the whole of the dragonfly and, an instant later, took flight once more.

I looked up at a sight that was at once both sad and sacred. It was as if, for a moment, some parts of me also had wings – my sight or my soul – and I beheld this thing in wonder.

COVID-19, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

And I have no direct analogy for that thing I saw. No great and deep revelation. It was a thing that takes place a million times in a million ways. It was, that is to say, mundane and ordinary.

But at the same time, it was one in a million. Beautiful and captivating and fierce, this single sampling of nature the moment I looked up.

We surround ourselves and are surrounded by so much that brings sorrow in its fierceness, in its strangeness and the unexpected way it comes upon us.

Yet we are also surrounded by the wondrous and the beautiful.

Beauty, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

Perhaps a way to see ourselves through this time, to look back upon it one day with a heart that takes in all the complexity of all that we are seeing and experiencing, is by looking up.

Letting our thoughts take flight, and our hearts.

Or simply beholding some mundane yet sacred portion of nature. Looking, taking it in, and giving thanks for the moment.

J. K. Rowling Is Not a Single Tweet (And Neither Are Any of Us)

Several days ago, J. K. Rowling commented on an article, with largely negative backlash from many former fans of the Harry Potter series. A New York Times article set up the story by providing a one-sided back story and added the negative response of several Harry Potter fans – those agreed in calling her reaction transphobic.

J. K. Rowling wrote an essay in response to the backlash she received, which explores many angles of the issue and provides history. Unfortunately, I believe that the only part of her essay many people saw were the portions retweeted or shared on other sites.

I encourage, no, urge you to read J. K. Rowling’s whole essay, especially if you have read the Harry Potter series and are unsure of what to think of her as a person now due to the vast majority of negative, hateful things appearing online about her.

As a highly sensitive person and an avid bookworm (book dragon), I have taken refuge in the world of Hogwarts time and again. Recently (re)rereading the series as an adult, I am in awe of the research, care, and passion J. K. Rowling put in creating the world of Harry Potter.

I feel grieved at the harsh attention she is currently receiving, including death threats and calls to boycott all things Rowling.

More than this, though, I feel a deep concern as to what this severe reaction reveals of our society. In this era, we tend to believe that we know everything about a person and their views after reading a single tweet or perusing one article about them. We fail to take the time to truly understand people, especially when they happen to fall outside the line of our own views.

I will not grow as an individual if all I ever do is surround myself with people who agree with my views – whether religious, political, or societal. J. K. Rowling is not a single tweet or post or essay, just as none of us are. Each of us, I believe, could fill up a thousand books with our thoughts and stories, our hurts and our fears, with those things that have made us who we are.

By doing this, we are only hurting ourselves.

When we reduce another person to nothing more than a label, such as transphobic, we only reduce ourselves as well. If we believe that someone is nothing more than a single word or phrase or label, that means that we ourselves can also be reduced to a label. This is harmful because each of us is so much more than a single label or name or title.

As a highly sensitive person, I am both blessed and I might say cursed with depth of processing. I think on things deeply, and on people too. Because of this, I know that we are comprised of far more than can be easily described or labeled in a single article or tweet or Facebook post.

And we are, each of us, worthy of love and respect.

We are, each of us, in the words of a song I love, Glorious.

Finally, a word on the New York Times article title: “Harry Potter Fans Reimagine Their World without Its Creator.” Something about this type of reimagining sounds familiar. Reimagining a world without a creator.

An author might have no power over how a story and its characters are seen after publication. A gathering such as the Harry Potter Fandom might result. So many views and beliefs and fellowships might result outside the direct oversight of the author.

This does not change the fact that the author did write the story, create the characters, build the world. And when an imaginative world such as that in which Harry Potter lives – or an enduring world like Narnia or Middle Earth – is created, we might do well to think a little more deeply on the story’s author.

Because worlds do not appear out of thin air, and the more complex and nuanced the story, and the characters in it, the more complex and nuanced the author of that story. I believe J. K. Rowling deserves more than an across-the-board dismissal, a haughty declaration that, “We’ll keep the story but we don’t need the author.”

We’re adept at removing authors from the stories they have written.

But I would hope to believe that, in this world where we now live, we know enough … understand enough, to realize that we are each a combination of so many stories, so many experiences, so many hurts and unrealized dreams … oh, so much.

And when we encounter another person full of so much of the same, I would hope that we’d respond with grace, with acceptance, with kindness and love.