dog days of summer
Honestly, it’s been a long, hot, sad summer, which is exhausting to write because last summer was thick with the same heaviness and despair. These summer skies are covered with thunderclouds on the brink of breaking and flooding the whole world with more hate. To say that the air was uncomfortably humid with restlessness is too light for my feelings. This summer and last, I struggle to breathe.
Perhaps you feel the same. It seems like there’s no good news, no good vibes in the world. Last summer when the Unite the Right took to the streets of Charlottesville, I walked through the rest of the year uncertain of my place in the world and wondering who were my neighbors, store clerks, maintenance men. I grew distrustful of strangers because those men and women marching with torches looked so ordinary. They looked like regular Joes. Who knew that khakis could be more foreboding than starched, pristine white hoods and robes?
Lately, every night just before my eyes close shop for the day, they snap open, and I remember that there are still mothers and fathers at the borders grieving for their children. Will this oppressive, stifling weather ever break? When will the sun shine again? Did it ever?
I really have no answers. But, in my opinion, no matter your political affiliation, I think we can agree that our land seems more like a complicated maze of fences, dividing each of us. Perhaps, it’s time for us to lament so that we can begin to find the joy. Otherwise, we will all drown in a drought of sorrows.
So, I’ve been honest—for me this summer and last summer have been nothing but misery dotted with brief breezes of joy. How do we begin to lament? Our culture doesn’t really do lamenting well. We’re more likely to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps than to sit and cry. We’re more likely to pitch in and lend a helping hand rather than sit and hold the hand of grievers. We're more likely to pray, but rarely, do we passionately share our sorrow. But, might I suggest that lamenting is one of the necessary stages of grief that helps us get to greater contentment, restfulness and gratefulness in our lives? For without the spiritual wisdom of lamenting, how do we know what has made us? Lamenting allows us to name our deepest losses which in turn helps us to recognize the loss in others, which then helps us to be more compassionate.
Jesus lost all His robes, His throne, His heavenly host—His home, in order to be the Son of Man here on earth. His friends wrote that He was often “moved with compassion”. What if His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t the first time He passionately cried out—lamented—His grief? What if during all those times when we read that He went off to a lonely place, Jesus went off to lament and empty Himself so that He could love us more deeply? To me, this sounds like Him. So, dear friends, if like me you’re feeling overwhelmed with heaviness because of the present state of our world, or perhaps your burdens are deeply personal, I encourage you to lament. Here’s the beautiful beginning of Psalms 77 to help you get started:
I poured out my complaint to you, God. When I was in deep distress, in my day of trouble, I reached out for you with hands stretched out to heaven. Over and over I kept looking for you, God, but Your comforting grace was nowhere to be found. As I thought of you I moaned, “God where are you?” I’m overwhelmed with despair as I wait for Your help to arrive. I can’t get a wink of sleep until you come and comfort me…
And, now that you’ve lamented and had a good cry with God, let me share the shards of joy that I’ve found in this world that remind me that we are still capable of basking in wonder, grace and delight.
10 Things that Remind Me that There is Still Joy in The World in the Simplest of Things:
1. World of Dance—yep! It’s a dance TV show with the most amazing dancers from all over the world competing to be the best dancer(s) in the world. I can’t say enough about the joy this show brings my family. We’ve cheered for hip-hop dancers, cloggers, ballroom dancers, Bollywood dancers like Texans cheer for their favorite during football season. You can watch it on HULU and NBC .
2. This Movie Changed Me—a beautiful podcast that is pure and simple. Guests are invited onto the podcast to talk about a movie that changed the way that they think or do life. It’s brilliant and binge-worthy. My favorite episode was with Casper ter Kuile who chose one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail.
3. The Science of Happiness—another podcast (I love podcasts). What could be better than a podcast with action steps? So, each week a guest gives their personal review of a researched-tested strategy for a happier, more meaningful life. Our family actually did the “36 Questions” strategy—36 research proven questions that can be used to help us feel more connected to others. My husband and I stayed up until 2am with our 16 year-old passing these questions between us. Do I feel closer to them? YES!!! It’s researched and proven!
4. Author/Blogger Ann Voskamp—her weekly post, “Only the Good Stuff: Multivitamins for Your Weekend.” Many of you already know Ann Voskamp, the luminous author of A Thousand Gifts. But, did you know that every Friday she does a post that only features stories, articles and videos that remind us that there is more than enough love, wonder, peace, awe and goodness in the world? You just have to go and find it. You can subscribe just to receive this weekly post in your email. Plus, she’s been doing this for years, so there are archives of them. You can literally sit and binge on joy.
5. The Late Late Show’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney—though all of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke episodes are wonderful—Paul McCartney’s is epic!!! I’m married to an Englishman whose parents were teens in the south of England during Beatlemania and we watched this with them. Not kidding—it was transcendent. My in-laws—who I adore—grew 50 years younger before our very eyes. You don’t have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy this. You will enjoy this simply because there is so much joyfulness poured into it. Don’t miss it.
6. Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey—a book by Sarah Shin. One of the campuses of our church is using this book as bible study. My husband and I have been so blessed every week by this class. It’s been incredibly healing and nurturing because this book is inclusive of every race. I think when we talk about racial healing some groups get left out and all that is left standing is black and white. But there is so much more than black and white when it comes to race. Sarah Shin does a remarkable job of helping all of us—including white people—embrace their ethnic identity and appreciate others ethnic stories so that we all have a greater vision of the image of God. It’s a masterpiece!
7. Reading the Bible with the Damned—a book by Bob Ekblad that will change how you read the Bible. This is one of those books that as I’m reading, I have to stop on every page and catch my breath. Almost every page of my book is scribbled with neon green highlighter. But, the book is really simple. It’s the true stories of a Bible scholar who leads Bible studies with some of the most marginalized people in our country—migrants, refugees, the abject poor and prisoners. There are watermarks from my tears on just about every page of my book. What more do I need to say? Okay… I need to say this one last thing: if you’ve been walking with the Lord for a long, long time and you find yourself at times believing you are a scholar and wise beyond your years, read this book. It will give you a childlike wonder about God again. You will see things in the Bible in a way you’ve never seen them before. It will humble you. That’s exactly what it’s done for me.
8. Queer Eye—yep! A Netflix reboot of the original show from back in the day and I can’t say enough about these 5 Gay men who go around Georgia giving makeovers to mostly conservative white Christian men. My family barely got through Season 1 because I cry so hard during every episode. But my dear conservative friends, please believe me—watching this show will not make you pro-gay rights. You do not have to change your beliefs or your political point-of-view to give this show a try. So, if you’re worried about that, don’t be. Just watch Season 1 because you’re human and it’s always good to see other humans beings being good to each other no matter their differences.
9. Woodwick Candles—candles period, really, but I’ve become a fan of Woodwick Candles. The wick is wood and makes a crackling sound like you’d hear if you were sitting beside a fireplace or campfire. I got mine last summer for my birthday and it just burned out. It lasted an entire year!!! And, that’s with lighting it at least once or twice a week. But if you can’t get these candles, get some candles and light them. I do this sometimes for movie nights with my family, which sometimes includes twins named Xaia and Riley. They’re like our goddaughters and we’re nuts about them and often have them over to spend a weekend doing nothing but watching 80s and 90s movies by candlelight. Our latest movie festival was Say Anything by candlelight with ice cream and chocolate. The truth that our teens will never tell us is that sometimes they need us to show them how to live well. Sometimes they need us to care for them like we would if they were babies. The world gets hard for them and sometimes all they want is to cuddle beneath a blanket and watch movies with us. I’ve found that candles are a cheap way to calm scattered, and often overwhelmed, adolescent minds. It’s the equivalent of fort building but instead of blankets, you use candles to make the world feel safe again at least for a little while.
10. Filmstruck—the best movie app! I’m a classic movie enthusiast. I’m not an expert but I have loved classic films since I was a kid. My sister and I used to spend Saturdays watching Fred & Ginger and Shirley Temple movies. We loved the movies Topper and Beach Blanket Bingo. When I was newly divorced and raising my daughter, I'd load my daughter into her wagon and we’d walk to our neighborhood library where I would check out stacks of old Cary Grant movies, the entire Thin Man series and every movie that Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn starred in. Filmstruck reminds me of the shelves of my old library back in Chicago’s Lincoln Square. I’ve had the app for about a month maybe, and I’ve already got 61 movies on my watchlist.
Cheers to All of Us and May Happier Summer Days Come Again!