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District News & Announcements – August 2021

District News & Announcements

August 2021

“District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by August 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
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In this issue

  1. 2021 DISTRICT CONFERENCE: AUGUST 6-8, 2021
  2. DC Young Adult Worship Service
  3. Camp Pine Lake News
  4. Panora Pancake Breakfast & Ice cream social
  5. Disaster Ministries Building Project, King Lake, NE
  6. Continuing Education Courses
  7. Holiness in our Midst
  8. Leadership Development Musings
  9. National Youth Conference 2022
  10. Feeding America campaign for the Northern Plains District
  11. NOAC Scholarships
  12. CoB Olympic Athletes
  13. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: Campers and counselors acting silly.  Photo by Betsy Kuecker. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 107

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CVII: ON HORIZON-EXPANDING EXPERIENCES

Story Circle Prompt: Do you have a horizon-expanding experience (or experiences) to share?

This question is inspired by an event that happened Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and of spaceflight company Blue Origin, flew into suborbital space with other civilian passengers in a rocket named New Shepard. Upon landing, he was interviewed by NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle about the horizon-expanding experience. 

“It’s amazing. There are no words. I’m not talented enough to put this into words. When you look at the planet, there are no borders,” Bezos said. “It’s one planet, and we share it and it’s fragile.”

He added: “We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build a future. We live on this beautiful planet. You can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space.” (Personal note to Mr. Bezos: Hopefully, you can use some of your resources to make our lovely Earth a cleaner, safer, more equitable place. Note to self: Same message.)

Bezos’ reactions to his flight touched me and prompted me to contemplate my own horizon-expanding experiences. Three came to mind:

  1. When I was in my early twenties, I was a reporter for the Canton (IL) Daily Ledger. A trainer at a skydiving center in Peoria offered to pay for my jump school if I would write about the experience. I went for it! I jumped out of a small aircraft. From 10,000 feet above an Illinois field, I could see a big X where I would land. But all my fears suddenly turned to joy. I hadn’t anticipated the life-changing impact of a minute of free-falling. I hummed “Up, Up and Away” by the group, The 5th Dimension:

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly, we can fly

Caught up in the flying part, I landed with quite a thud, but also with a wider perspective on adventuring through life.

  1. In my early twenties, I was on a vacation trip to the Everglades. I was awakened in my motel room well past midnight by some primal force. I sat on the floor and looked out the large plate glass window into another eon. I was made aware that the world was millions of years old and would be here long after I was gone. The deep, dark, mysterious jungle-y beauty of the Everglades was lit by moonlight. I felt connected to the Earth in a once-in-a-lifetime way. Past, present and future problems seemed insignificant. I stayed there, transported, for a long, long time.
  1. In 2002, I was on a night flight over the Sahara Desert from Amsterdam enroute to southern Sudan. For hours, I could see nothing but a few pinpoints of light. The vastness and darkness of the beautiful ancient land of Africa seeped into my soul and stayed. 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: Have you ever received “postcards” from God? What were the images or messages?
  2. FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CVII.

      2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – July 2021

District News & Announcements

July 2021

“District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by July 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
Windows: right click + Print OR [Ctrl] + P
Mac: [Ctrl] + click + Print OR [Command] + P

In this issue

  1. Camp Pine Lake News
  2. Dave Kerkove’s Turtle Jubilee Birthday Party – July 18
  3. Dallas Center Ice Cream Social – July 21st
  4. 2021 Virtual District Conference
  5. Moderator Moment
  6. Holiness in our Midst
  7. National Youth Conference 2022
  8. Feeding America campaign for the Northern Plains District
  9. NOAC Scholarships
  10. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: Congrats district graduates – Addison Gingrich from Open Circle and Emma Cage, Tom Lee from Lewiston.  Photos by Beth Cage. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 106

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CVI: ON ‘POSTCARDS FROM GOD”

Story Circle Prompt: Do you receive “postcards from God?” How are they delivered? What are the messages/images?

My practice of looking for “postcards from God” began April 15, 2020, the Wednesday after Easter. It was back in the days when all I worried about was a world-wide pandemic. (I have since added the future of U.S. democracy.) 

I had called into the Ames First Christian Church noontime prayer line. During sharing time, I was touched by a member of the circle who had come across 70 picture postcards while cleaning drawers and had used them to send messages of good cheer while life was at a standstill. After the leader closed with prayer. I found myself spontaneously saying, “P.S., Lord, please send us little postcards from you.” (My real prayer to the Almighty at the time was something like: What in the WORLD are you doing? Where ARE you?”  Hence, I did not expect an answer to my request.)

The next day, sitting at my desk, I looked down at a yellow stickie note. It stood out like a neon sign. My first postcard had been hiding in plain sight. The note preserved a quote I saw in the Chat Box during the Easter Sunday Zoom service three days earlier. Former Pastor David Digby had written: “The dog and I walked in the cool and cleansing rain this morning out at Peterson Pits, a bit after sunrise, and we thought long thoughts about Resurrection and eternity and love, and the rain baptized us both with Easter and hope. It was good.” 

More than a year later, I have opened a whole file cabinet in my brain and an actual file on my computer to store all the postcards I have received. My definition of “postcards from God” has become “visual images so moving that I want to frame them or word pictures so strong that they leave a lasting impression.” Receiving them changed my prayer stance from chronic complainer to active recorder of ways God is communicating with me!

Here are some postcards from my “collection”:

In the early evening on Earth Day 2020, the weather vacillated between sunshiny and rainy on a “joy drive” through the countryside. Rainbow conditions, for sure. As I alternately drove through fields of sunbeams, windows down, and sheets of rain, I was conscious of many glorious picture postcards from God. A weathered shed shrouded in swirling clouds. A farmstead on a hill, its two-story house, barns, poplar windbreak and silo silhouetted against the setting sun. A patchwork quilt of fields as far as my eye could see. To do justice to the memory of the images that day, there would have to be a scratch and sniff feature to capture that fragrance of just-planted Iowa black earth when the rain settles the dust. (My Scrabble-playing friends know that this is called petrichor.) Driving past the farm I grew up on near the town of Fernald, I hinted to God that a rainbow over it just then would be a fine touch, a perfect postcard, but no. For the record, a double rainbow hung over my apartment building and adjacent field as I pulled into my parking lot that evening. For real!

…….

A few days later my friend Tony, a geriatric social worker from suburban Chicago, sent his latest round of e-mail photos from woodland trails. He is a modern-day St. Francis of Assisi. Even on his bike, wildlife likes and trusts him, even follows him around. I began categorizing his visual images and word pictures of snapping turtles, salamanders, bald eagles and great blue herons as “postcards from God.” One morning after his sister Debra passed away in October, he woke up early, thinking of her. Along his walking path that morning was a doe with four fawns. 

…….

Around this time, I stopped in at Casey’s on Lincoln Highway in Nevada for my daily papers and treats. Meghin, the associate on duty, was sitting down at her cash register station. “He likes breadsticks,” she said, pointing to her tummy. “Are you eating for two?” I asked, though I could see the answer. She volunteered that she had gotten a sonogram of her ultrasound earlier that day and wondered if I would like to see it. “Yes, of course!” The thought, “postcard from God,” flashed through my mind as I got my first glimpse of little Alexzander (yes, spelled with a z), who already had dark locks of hair. Alex appeared in person on June 17, 2020. Though I have never actually met him, I have followed his visits to grandpa and his attempts to fly before he walked on Mehgin’s iPhone, each image a precious postcard in an ongoing series. In one memorable video, in a front-facing baby carrier, he is kicking and squealing at the fish in the aquarium at Blank Park Zoo. (I just saw pictures from his first birthday party.)

…….

The daily lives of my family members are also a source of holy postcards. An example: the photo my younger sister Jill of the Denver suburbs sent from Mother’s Day 2020. There she was surrounded by her grandchildren with their gift of a clay flowerpot decorated with butterflies and flowers created from their handprints and footprints. Another postcard was from my older sister Janet, who lives in an assisted living center in Dallas Center. In vivid detail, she described a group effort to create a dazzling display of 100 hearts in all colors and sizes to surprise a resident on her hundredth birthday.

…….

For a couple weeks in June of 2020, a row of poster-sized photos of the Nevada High School Class of 2020 was attached to the south side of the school’s chain link fence baseball diamond. More like a banner than a postcard, the grouping withstood all sorts of weather. More than once, I wondered if this class was set apart by God for something special, uniquely strengthened from the bond formed by COVID-19 hardships. Time will tell. 

…….

In the early evening after the derecho on Aug. 10, 2020, my neighbors and I assessed the damage on our street. We were accompanied by the only living being grateful for the storm: Ryder, our apartment building German Shepherd, named after the trucking company. Because she lives to pick up sticks, she had already amassed enough for a bonfire on our lawn. A postcard image is etched in my mind from that walk: Ryder smiling at me while holding a stick in her mouth. Heaven for her is an eternal game of fetch.

…….

On Dec. 21, 2020, I bundled up in the late evening to behold the brilliant light, the “Star of Bethlehem,” from the once-in-800-years alignment of Jupiter and Saturn and pronounced it a “postcard from God.”

…….

Still, in 2021, the postcards keep coming, not every day, but often enough to help me realize that there is an abiding order to the Universe. I often think back to the most dramatic postcard I received. On April 17, 2020, just two days after becoming conscious of the concept. I entered the kitchen at my workplace, Windsor Manor Assisted Living Center in Nevada. I was given permission to visit a resident named Bill in his final hours. As I sat on a chair holding his hand and saying my good-byes, I was aware only of his shallow breathing and a big colorful sign outside his window, which read WELCOME HOME. The thought, “postcard from God,” crossed my mind as I took time to thank him for being so kind to me in my role as culinary server. On my day off, Bill had returned from the hospital, and his friends had put the sign outside his window to welcome him back to his room. But the message was also visible as he was passing. I was able to suggest to the family, as a comfort, that perhaps it was no coincidence the sign was still in place as he crossed over to his Heavenly Home.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: Have you ever received “postcards” from God? What were the images or messages?
  1. FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CVI.

      2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – June 2021

District News & Announcements

June 2021

“District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by June 24th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
Windows: right click + Print OR [Ctrl] + P
Mac: [Ctrl] + click + Print OR [Command] + P

In this issue

  1. Thomas McMullin Ordination Ceremony – June 6
  2. Camp Pine Lake News
  3. Dave Kerkove’s Turtle Jubilee Birthday Party – July 18
  4. Dallas Center Ice Cream Social – July 21st
  5. 2021 Virtual District Conference
  6. Moderator Moment
  7. Holiness in our Midst
  8. District-wide Compelling Vision Bible Study Continues
  9. Feeding America campaign for the Northern Plains District
  10. NOAC Scholarships
  11. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: This tree frog was found visiting the red house at Camp Pine Lake.  Photo by Betsy Kuecker. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 105

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CV: ON ‘HOME WORSHIP CENTERS’

Story Circle Prompt: Describe your Home Worship Center and its meaning to you. If you do not have such a center, imagine how you might create one.

My Home Worship Center has a perfect red maple leaf, two smooth stones and a copy of a letter to God written in red ink by Eileen Sambos, a fellow member of First Christian Church in Ames. They are artifacts from a Fall Women’s Retreat in September 2019 on Lake Koronis in Paynesville, MN. The event was sponsored by the Upper Midwest Region of the Disciples of Christ denomination. 

The letter has a story behind it. Eileen was scheduled to give the pray before Sunday breakfast at the retreat, but she was having trouble finding the right words. As she talked through what she wanted to say, I said, “It sounds like you’re writing a letter to God.” For her prayer that morning, she did present her thoughts as a letter God and later gave a copy to me. 

My worship center items remind me of a spectacular autumn get-away weekend, a time of innocence before COVID-19 complicated our lives. Collectively, they transport me to a time and space truly apart from my hectic daily life, immediately putting me in a worshipful frame of mind. My gift from Eileen reminds me to write my thoughts in a letter to God when I do not know what or how to pray. My small sacred space invites me to come closer to God, as I read my morning devotions and begin my day with prayer.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

Read the above reflection. Describe your Home Worship Center. Why did you choose these elements? How does your center give meaning to your devotional life? If you do not have such a center, imagine on paper what yours might include.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CV.

      2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – May 2021

District News & Announcements

May 2021

“District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by May 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
Windows: right click + Print OR [Ctrl] + P
Mac: [Ctrl] + click + Print OR [Command] + P

In this issue

  1. Thomas McMullin Ordination Ceremony – June 6
  2. Camp Pine Lake News
  3. REMINDER: DO NOT RESPOND TO FAKE EMAILS
  4. Upcoming “Healing Racism” Events
  5. 2021 Virtual District Conference
  6. Moderator Moment
  7. Holiness in our Midst
  8. Leadership Development Musings
  9. Camp Cleanup Day
  10. District-wide Compelling Vision Bible Study Continues
  11. Feeding America campaign for the Northern Plains District
  12. NOAC Scholarships
  13. News from the District Leadership Call Team
  14. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: Ella Stout, daughter of Hosts Andrew and Heather Stout, and Brooklyne Kuecker, daughter of Directors Matt and Betsy Kuecker, oversee the beautiful kingdom of Camp Pine Lake.  Photo by Betsy Kuecker. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 104

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CIV: ON COVID ‘NEGATIVES’

Story Circle Prompt: What insights can you share to help others cope with or face the negative impacts of COVID-19?

(Last month’s Story Circle Prompt was about the “positives” that have come out of the pandemic.) This month’s prompt addresses the very real negatives of this time. This column is my response:

AN EXHIBIT RECALLED: VISUALIZLING 570,299 LIVES 

Until a recent breakthrough experience, I could only begin to comprehend the (ever-growing) number on the righthand panel of my TV screen, the U.S. deaths from COVID-19. 

As I am writing this on the morning of April 22, it reads 570,299, according to CNN. 

Understanding the magnitude of our collective loss— and tending my personal grief— have been a necessary passage before fully entering Life after The Lockdown.

Others’ attempts to give face and voice to individual victims have helped along my process of fathoming the loss. Among them:

  • Nicole Wallace’s daily segments on MSNBC, “Remembering Lives Well-Lived,” often move me to tears.
  • Two national events, a vigil of lights at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to commemorate 400,000 lives lost on Jan. 19, inauguration eve, and President Biden’s address to the nation on Feb. 22 to remember 500,000 souls, were transformative. The former forever linked Leonard Cohen’s anthem, “Hallelujah,” my favorite song, to the pandemic.
  • A wall of 150,000 (and counting) red hearts in London, called the National Covid Memorial Wall by the Thames, captures the love the victims in the United Kingdom leave behind.

I have even calculated the losses in terms I can relate to, like coffee shops and small towns. If everyone in our country who died from the pandemic gathered on a Saturday morning, 30 to a location, they would fill 19,010 coffee shops. As for small towns, we have lost the equivalent of 23 small towns (of 500 persons) in every state. In Iowa, that would be Ellsworth, Collins, Zearing, Radcliffe and 19 more. You get the picture. Just today, by 4 p.m., 519 persons had already died, the equivalent of another small town, gone forever. 

In such ways, I have kept trying to make a visceral connection to the largely virtual experience of COVID-19. Remembering the victims as lights, flags, hearts and quilt squares was a start for me, but it was picturing the victims as “faces” that was the gateway to addressing my deep grief. 

Here is how my turning point happened. A couple weeks ago, I was awakened in the pre-dawn hours by a memory from June 4, 1993. In a waking dream, an exhibit called “100,000 Faces” came back vividly. I had seen it at Scheman Auditorium on the Iowa State University campus. (The photo exhibit was sponsored by the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church — Iowa Annual Conference and the Iowa Peace Network.) Jennifer Lindberg, 24, a Mennonite volunteer and originator of the exhibit, worked with volunteers to cut out 100,000 pictures of children and adults to create two- by four-foot panels for a mural to help people comprehend the number of human beings killed in the Persian Gulf War. I remembered that it took several hours to view only part of the exhibit. I remembered being overwhelmed by the montages of faces: Muslims praying. African women drawing water at wells. Japanese businessmen working in cities. Most of the images were of Americans at work and play because of the limited number of global images in available magazines. Yet the number of deaths became real and personal. (It is another story altogether that U.S. casualties were represented by two panels and other casualties — mostly from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and Palestine— by 448 panels.) In my dream, I understood again the tragedy and scope of overwhelming loss. 

My recent reminder of “100,000 Faces” has been a springboard to genuinely begin grieving the accumulated U.S. losses from COVID-19. It is an aid in imagining an exhibit almost six times its size. Panels with nearly 600,000 faces would create a mural over two miles long! So many lives, so abruptly interrupted! I need such visual imagery to grasp the magnitude of our interconnectedness.   

What do I plan to do with grief on this scale? Three things come to mind.

First, it being Earth Day as I write this, I plan to plant a tree sometime in the next year in honor of the victims.

Secondly, I designed a wristband that I plan to wear for a year. It is black with white lettering and reads, simply: I remember. 

Finally, I feel I owe it to those who are gone to live more mindfully and, yeah, to continue to wear a mask. I want to plan my re-entry carefully, like we were asked to do with vaccines. It is a privilege to just be alive and still invited to be here on Earth. Even though the world seems politically and environmentally quite messy, I have been spared to go out and make it better. And for that I am grateful.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. Answer the following in your journal: What have I learned from this time that might be of value to others?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CIV.

      2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – April 2021

District News & Announcements

April 2021

“District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by April 24th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
Windows: right click + Print OR [Ctrl] + P
Mac: [Ctrl] + click + Print OR [Command] + P

Holiness in our Midst: Session 103

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CIII: ON COVID ‘POSITIVES’

Story Circle Prompt: Are there “positive” outcomes in your life from the pandemic? Name some changes (or one) you would like to take into life after The Lockdown. 

Covid “Positives.” No, I have not tested positive for the virus. I coined the term Covid “Positives” to refer to the good things that have come out of this dark time. The deaths, economic and financial losses, and relationship setbacks are real enough. But I have also experienced shifts in perspective that have offered healing and hope for my future. Is this true for you, too?

Here are some Lessons from The Lockdown that I want to take into the coming era of eased restrictions:

Lesson 1: A Resolution to Limit Choices. Suddenly, a year ago, life as I knew it stopped cold. No more coffee shop breakfasts, in-person worship church services, or library hangout days. Rising prices meant fewer trips just for the fun of it, like going to the grocery store several times a week or cruising the Iowa countryside daily (joy-driving I call it). At first, I was wandering around like a lost puppy. But after a period of wrenching withdrawal, I discovered that some of these activities had been distractions from getting to the tasks at hand each day: cleaning house, advancing writing, completing volunteer assignments, focusing on relationships, being rested for work. Now, as opportunities open back up to resume my former free-wheeling lifestyle, I am vowing to stop and think about priorities, particularly before I spend money. As examples, my religious life must remain a focus, but restaurant visits can be reserved for special occasions. Above all, I no longer take any of these common places and meaningful activities for granted. They have, in fact, become sacred.

Lesson 2: A New Gratitude for Face-to-Face Gatherings. Creating events in both vocational and volunteer roles has brought me great joy. I have thrived on planning and actively participating in conferences, retreats, workshops, church programs, and book forums. For them to be relegated to “Zoom” formats is something I have experienced as extreme loss. I look forward to the day when the exchange of ideas and presentation of entertainment can happen in person again, complete with handshakes and hugs. I will no longer assume that we will always be able to look one another in the eye. It took a lockdown to name the indescribable value of “togetherness” and presence.

Lesson 3: A Heightened Appreciation for the Little Gifts Each Day. This unprecedented moment in time has offered a free crash course in seeing more acutely the little daily gifts outside my window —birds in flight, leaves changing with the season, children playing with abandon. I vow not to lose this ability to look for and celebrate the miracles along my path when life speeds up once more.

Lesson 4: A Conviction to Practice Discernment. Social media sites have become a substitute for real social life during this Covid year. We have come to rely on the Internet for shopping and entertainment. More channels are out there disseminating news. Unfortunately, with all our new choices, bad actors are exploiting the vulnerable with disinformation and misinformation. A new daily need has emerged to discern whether what we see and hear is truthful. What interests are represented by what we are being offered or told? I now ask myself that each hour. I simply trust that I can bring that discernment to life after The Lockdown.

Lesson 5: A Heightened Understanding of Earth’s and My Own Fragility. The pandemic has been like a long Sabbath rest for the Earth, my environment-conscious friends say. That is all to the good. But can I continue to keep our Planet in mind as my choices become more conscious? I hope so. Similarly, I am aware that my year has had a Sabbatical quality to it. I have survived, along with my immediate family members. In response, I trust that I will use my time remaining on Earth to treat the gift of life with the preciousness it deserves. 

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write about both Covid “Positives’ and Covid “Negatives” for you. Which of the two wins out? Why?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session CIII.
  2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.