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Hey there, Gather Mamas!  God put something on my heart today, and if you’ve ever had a moment like that, you know better than to keep it in, no matter how vulnerable or scary it may feel.  It’s now November 2020…Eesh.  When Covid hit 8 months ago, I would’ve called you CRAZY if you told me it was going to last this long.  We thought our daughter would be going back to school sometime last spring! Clearly, that’s not the way it worked out.  In fact, she’s still in virtual school, and looks like it will be that way for quite…a…while.  *Sigh*  Before I get too far, I should explain my situation a bit.

Like many of you, I lived in the DFW area just a year ago with my husband, our 8 year old daughter and our pup.  We were transplants from snowy Wisconsin, but had made tons of friends and built community in the three years that we called ourselves Texans.  They helped us through our struggles and lifted us up when we were down.  They taught us what it truly meant to be loved, known, cared for and encouraged.  At the beginning of December, my husband got a new job, and we were completely uprooted as we moved across the country for a second time.  We pulled into our new home in San Jose, CA just a few days before Christmas.  We were excited for a new adventure and hopeful for our futures in the Golden State.  We had no idea what lay ahead of us, much like the rest of the world, as we stepped into 2020.

On March 13, I got an automated phone call saying that schools were closing unexpectedly, and we were supposed to pick up our kids immediately.  We didn’t really know for how long or what to expect.  Four days later, the city of San Jose, and really the entire Bay Area completely shut down.  We were the epicenter of the virus and our numbers were skyrocketing.  There were so many questions at first.  Will really everything be closed? Will we still be able to get food?  Do we need to panic buy?  Will we get arrested for going outside for ‘unnecessary’ reasons?  I remember texting my family in Wisconsin and friends back in Texas our earth shattering news.  It wasn’t too long before state after state followed in our footsteps and the entire country was at an eerie standstill.  The first month or two were actually kind of novel.  We hunkered down, stayed in pajamas and became “home people.”  Being new to our area and surrounded by amazing natural beauty, we reveled in the opportunities to explore. As natural areas began to open up, our weekends were filled with hiking mountain trails, biking along the rocky ocean coast, picnics, bike rides around lakes and visiting the beach.  We barely even missed being able to do all the other inside entertainment activities that we were missing.

As the pandemic sank in, we started talking about how it was affecting different groups of people.  Of course daily routines were altered.  Working adults forced to work from home, some without adequate space or the peace and quiet required to do the job…Children forced to attend school virtually, many with working parents, not able to help…Stay at home moms who were abruptly given the role of “teacher,” whether they felt equipped or not…Elderly people in nursing homes, unable to receive visitors to buoy their spirits…People not able to visit with family members for support and socialization.  But in addition to these routine changes, we reflected on how many people were probably struggling.  I mean really struggling.  The people who already have issues, or maybe have recovered from issues but the stress of the pandemic or the isolation would push them right back into their mess.  I’m talking about alcoholics, drug addicts, those with mental illness, low self esteem, loneliness and a whole host of other very real problems.  It wasn’t very long before I found myself in that group of fragility.  As a person with a history of depression, anxiety, PTSD and an eating disorder, my stability quickly came into question.  All the worries and what-ifs of the pandemic, our new surroundings and lack of support and community bubbled up to the surface.  All of my old demons that had been dealt with, tucked securely into bed and then locked in a closet, eeked their way out one at a time and started to wreak havoc on my life. Old coping strategies surfaced as I did my best to deal with the unknowns that surrounded our daily life. I felt frail, alone and hopeless.  Living in California meant not only living with the fear of catching the pandemic.  6 years ago I was diagnosed with lupus (as well as a handful of additional, related autoimmune conditions), which puts me at higher risk of complications should I contract the virus.  This meant I didn’t leave my house for the longest time, out of fear. My husband would go to the store to get groceries, and then promptly come home and scrub, scrub, scrub,  bless his heart.  On top of that, all of us here in California are in the middle of fire season.  Around August, the Bay Area got hit with a lightning storm and everyone FREAKED OUT. I didn’t understand, it was just lightning.  Well, it’s rare here, and when it strikes it can be devastating.  It started multiple fires in our area that lasted for over a month.  As they raged, they pressed inward on San Jose from both the east and the west.  Ash rained down from the sky, which had taken on an eerie, apocalyptic orange hue.  There was so much ash in the atmosphere that you could look directly at the blood red sun in the middle of the day, without hesitation.  Our evacuation bags were packed, though we had no idea which direction we would head if it came down to it.   Throw power outages, heat waves,  firenadoes (they’re really real!), earthquakes, civil unrest, protests and racial cruelty into the mix and it was about all this girl could take.  I was spiraling fast and knew I needed to get my life back into control.  But why is there still such stigma with “not being ok?” Why is there such pressure to have it all together?  I wish I had those answers.  But what I’m here to say is that’s ok. It’s normal. It’s expected. In the words of the band ‘We are Messengers,’ “Maybe it’s ok, if I’m not ok.”  Wouldn’t it be downright concerning if we WERE ok during such a time as this?!  The song goes on to say “Cause the one who holds the world is holding onto me.”  Doesn’t that provide you with such comfort?  I don’t know about you, but when I start thinking about the universe and the perfect balance of the planets, stars and moons, I quickly get overwhelmed.  Like one misstep could send us all spiraling into oblivion.  But then I remember that God is holding it all.  And you know what? If he’s holding onto that, he’s surely holding onto each one of His precious children.  The very hairs on our heads are numbered and we are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Luke 12:7).

            Now, personally, I know it’s easy to throw biblical truth at someone and think that everything is all fixed.  But for me, I need practical, daily steps to get myself out of the funks that I get myself into, even when I know deep down in my SOUL that God has this.  I need help in the day to day.  Here’s a quick list of 5 principles that I’ve lived by and have pulled me out of the depths.  They encompass positive physical, mental, relational and spiritual wellness, and will give you both biblical truth AND practical steps for moving forward.  I hope you can find them helpful for whatever season of Co-vid you’re currently walking. 

1- Set and Maintain a Routine

Now don’t get me wrong, I relished the days when no schedule meant staying up too late watching Netflix,  sleeping as late as I could, wearing pajamas or workout clothes all day, missing showers and flying by the seat of my pants to get through the days.  But at some point, I lost my zest for the lazy lifestyle, and lost my zest for life right along with it.  Motivation to do much of anything decreased and so ensued the guilt with wasting my days.  We know the bible tells us to “Make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).  Our days are numbered on this earth, and no one wants to live with regret, so get up and seize the day no matter how much evil may be happening around you.

Practical Steps:

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time everyday
  • Get dressed for the day’s events
  • Make a to-do list each morning to keep you focused and motivated
  • Set up ‘zones’ in your house (work, play, rest) and don’t intermix them!
  • Leave work at work, ie: when your work day is done, truly be DONE! (tricky when you’re working from home)

2- Stay Active and Plan your Meals

            We all know that movement and proper nutrition is critical to overall health! In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the bible says “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must honor God with your body.”  When the pandemic hit, I heard about so many people gaining the “Pandemic 15….or more!”  Why is it that when stress hits, our routines are the first to go?  Our gyms are closed and we get derailed.  We are down and worried and don’t feel the need to take care of our basic needs like proper nutrition and movement.  In my case, I broke my elbow (again!), and so my weight training workouts and yoga were off the table for at least 6 weeks.  For me, working out is my therapy.  It gives me energy and calms my worries and anxiety by flooding my brain with endorphins.  Just think outside the box to get your body moving. Try something new.  For me it was relearning how to rollerblade with my daughter, and reverting back to running, something I hadn’t done in over a year.  Just move, everyday!

It is so easy to let our stress and lack of routine facilitate comfort eating, seeking quick energy boosts, and easy meal choices–ie: fast food or delivery service.  Of course, take advantage of these once in a while, but making your meal planning a priority to ensure good nutrition during stressful seasons is so important.  After all, not only does cooking at home benefit your physical health (and bank account!), but healthy food choices also boost your mood.

Practical Steps:

  • Try something new, activity-wise
  • Play with your kids outside
  • Explore nature
  • Family walks/bike rides
  • Play with your pet
  • Plan meals ahead of time

3- Socialize Safely

            We are social creatures, and no matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, after 8 months of staying away, we NEED people in our lives.  Women even more so, as we tend to process and analyze things out loud, with LOTS of feelings involved!  Our family is big on family Zoom calls, and we’ve made this especially fun for holidays and birthdays, with each family being especially festive with decorations and costumes, etc.  It really helps close the gap!  I’ve found it to be so much more “connecting” when you use a video chat app or something where you can hear the other person’s voice (such as telegram).  I connect with my best friend in this way daily and hearing her voice is so life giving, and so much more fulfilling than just reading a text.  My women’s bible study that I had barely joined before Covid has been meeting the entire time via Zoom, and I am so, so grateful for the technology, despite it having its downfalls.  We are just now starting to meet in person, outside with social distancing.  All that to say, we are meant to live in COMMUNITY, so get creative and make it happen.  After all, Hebrews 10:24-25 says,  “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

 Practical Steps

  • Social distance gatherings
  • Zoom gatherings
  • Video chats

4- Be kind to Yourself 

As women and mamas, we can be so hard on ourselves. We set the most ridiculously high expectations for ourselves and then feel awful when we don’t meet them.  When you’re in a season of personal struggle, it is of utmost importance that you are KIND to yourself.  The bible tells us to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”Proverbs 4:23.  Guarding our hearts and beating ourselves up just can’t coexist. This concept played out in me as we started virtual schooling.  Our daughter is in 4th grade now and is very responsible and bright. But, just like every kid in America, virtual school quickly lost its luster and she started to struggle.  She became combative, argumentative and was so bored.  I cannot tell you how many days I was at my wits end with her and her ‘tween attitude.  Now, this was especially damaging to my self esteem, because I used to be an elementary school teacher, and I couldn’t even manage to help ONE 4th grader learn.  Talk about a bash to the ego.  I found myself missing the mark in so many areas of life that I used to have “handled,” and I started to feel really, really bad about myself.  My house couldn’t stay clean with everyone home all the time, I couldn’t manage to order my groceries without forgetting something each time, I wasn’t sticking to my quiet time or workout routine. Why did it seem like I was failing at everything? I needed to be kind to myself, remove the “shoulds” from my vocabulary and I needed time to myself.  That is something I have never been very good at, and I’ve always felt guilty about doing.  Some people will say that a pedicure or trip to Target is their self care, but it’s different for everyone.  Take time and explore what feels good. And I don’t just mean buying all the stuff and then feeling bad and empty about it (I’ve been there too!). I mean what really FILLS YOU UP.  Just last weekend, I had a minor meltdown and told my husband I needed time to myself. Being the 24/7 teacher, chef and playmate for our daughter who seems to hates me half of the time was killing me.  So yesterday I filled my cup.  For me, it’s nature, so a 2 hour hike in the mountains recentered me completely. Just me, the trail and the trees, and a whole lot of silence. I came home and felt like a completely different person. Something had flipped.  I encourage you to find not only what you enjoy, but what truly recenters you.  Make it a priority and ask for help to make it happen. It’s crucial to be the mom you want to be.

Practical Steps

  • Ditch the guilt
  • Take out the “shoulds” and give yourself grace
  • Find out what truly fills you up and do it (self care)

5-Seek help and support

            If you are anything like me (and many women), it is really difficult to ask for help, and accepting help is even harder.  But in seasons when you feel like you’re in the trenches, and constantly being beaten down, it really is necessary.  Now I’m not saying that you need to bear your soul to everyone you meet in order to feel better.  I certainly did not have the luxury of having a tribe to help me through the stresses of the pandemic here in CA. Having not made many friends here before Covid, and definitely not close friends, I was feeling very alone and isolated.   But what I did have was a best friend 2,100 miles away.  She’s one who I can be myself with, who always meets me with Truth and points me back to the Lord.    Someone who I can be completely transparent with about all the garbage in my life.  Matthew West talks about how we always say “I’m fine” when we’re really broken inside, and how the truth is rarely told while we’re keeping up the mask of “fineness.”  Reach out with your struggles, even if it’s only to that one special person who you trust with all of your stuff. Allow them to “Carry each  other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2. 

In addition, find a way to prioritize your time with the Lord, keeping in mind the grace of step 4. Your quiet time may not look the same as it did pre Covid. It may mean praying in the shower, because it’s your only time alone, or worshipping behind the wheel on the way to work, or listening to Psalms from the bible app because you can’t sleep at night because of your anxiety, but spend time with the Lord. We know we are our strongest when we are close to Him and that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” -Psalms 34:18. 

  During this crazy pandemic season of life,  your entire family’s daily routine looks different.  Ask your spouse for help. Maybe he’s working from home a couple days a week (like mine) and can help ease the burden of lunch making or folding a basket of laundry. The little things are so helpful during the days when it seems like your to-do list is never going to end.  My husband doesn’t always “see” what needs to be done (like many men) but is more than happy to help if I just ask, especially if he can ease my stress. 

 Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional. I hope one day that the stigma of counseling is forever banished, but until then, be brave.  If you’re struggling and can’t seem to get the ground to stay under your feet, reach out.  If even that seems too overwhelming, ask a friend to help you make the call.  Sometimes some professional training, a different perspective and even just time set aside to process feelings can do a world of good for our emotional health. 

Practical Steps

  • Hold tight to your “person”
  • Seek the Lord
  • Ask for help at home
  • Don’t be afraid to seek counseling

So, Mamas…the main thing I want you to know is it’s ok.  You’re not weak or pathetic.  The struggles our society is facing in this world are REAL, as are yours.  Just like the Israelites roaming the desert, sometimes we feel a little lost at times and wonder if we’ll ever come out on the other side.  But Psalm 23 says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Things may be hard, but we do not have to be afraid.   Even more importantly, we are reminded that we need to walk THROUGH these struggles, not camp out in them.  Keep moving forward,  take it one day at a time, lean on the Lord, and soak yourself in the promises of God and try implementing one or two of these suggestions.  Remember, “Maybe it’s alright if I’m not alright.. ‘Cause the One who holds the stars is holding my whole life.”  He sure is, dear sister, He sure is.  And that’s where we put our faith.

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