A Veil of Protection

The weather is cold now. Even though most of the ice and snow from a recent storm has melted, the wind still whips up and over our home bringing the bite of winter. When this season rolls around each year, I can hibernate with the best of the bears. Sleep late. Bundle up in favorite blankets and quilts. Cuddle with our Boxer girl. I honestly have to force myself to complete work other than reading a good book, so daily exercise becomes even more of a punishment than normal. Still, I try to make myself do the “fun” work of getting my heart rate high enough to keep me moving and healthy. 

After a time of walking or dancing or yoga, I am ready for a shower. During the recent ice storm, I noticed again the effectiveness of a thin shower curtain hanging between the warm waterfall of a shower and the chill of the bathroom. When the outside temperature falls into the single digits, the bathroom feels cold as well. How is it that such a thin layer of cloth can contain the steam and heat of the water? Even when I turn off the water, the heat stays inside of the shower with me. The simplicity and truth of this event makes me think about the protective layer of the veils that are in the Bible. 

After Moses talked with God on Mount Sinai, he had to wear a veil because the reflection of God’s presence upon Moses’s face was too spectacular for the people to see. Before Jesus, the temple veil was in place to keep the holiest inner sanctuary separate from the everyday people. The high priest entered that inner area to approach the Ark of the Covenant only once a year, wearing sacred linen garments. In each of these Old Testament situations, a thin covering protected the people from overwhelming situations with God on the inside of the veil. God’s glory was so powerful that humans could not handle being in His presence without being frightened or overcome. 

When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom, which fascinates me. Because of Jesus, humans can experience atonement and mercy and love with not even a thin layer between God and us. The choice to follow Jesus allows humans the gift of the Holy Spirit living within our very beings. While I love the comfort and peace I have from this personal connection, I also appreciate that we still have a layer of protection around us. It’s just that we are now on the inside of the curtain with Him.

A Christian is definitely not exempt from pain, suffering, hard decisions, sin, or heartbreak. The difference is that Jesus promises a way through the negative life events as they happen. From the spiritual warfare happening all around that we can’t see to the physical and emotional trials that press us daily, Jesus offers a veil of protection. The change from Old Testament to New Testament veils comforts me immensely because before Jesus, humans had to be on the opposite side of the veil from God. If we were too close, we were overwhelmed. Not anymore. Accepting Jesus means that we can stay behind the curtain with Him. Together. On the same side. Not overwhelmed by His glory, but saved by His grace. Amazing, isn’t it? If your world feels frozen, and you are vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy, say yes to Jesus and stay behind the curtain with Him. He will protect you and give you a place to stay warm and peaceful even in the midst of the world’s ice storm. He loves you that much!

Revisiting Room 4408–Bed B

In 2005 I was 37 years old, the mother of eight-year-old twins. I experienced many health concerns that year which culminated with a hysterectomy. I felt very young for such a procedure but trusted my doctor as we made the choice to move forward with surgery. The skilled hands of Dr. Rebecca guided the team taking care of me, and the surgery was deemed a success. My recovery in that hospital room, however,  revealed an even bigger purpose.

As I drifted in and out of consciousness on the night after my surgery, I heard their voices. They were there to comfort and to protect me. Although I did not fully awaken until much later, I knew that my husband and my sister were there with the nurses who were caring for me. When I woke up the next morning, my blurry eyes adjusted to a typical hospital room: drab blue walls; the brown pull-around curtain for visual, but not auditory, privacy; the hanging TV; the metal pole with plastic tubing connected to me; the adjustable hospital bed. Even through my hazy vision of the room, I knew that people who loved me were very near.

A short time later, I realized that I had a roommate. Bed B was occupied by a 79-year-old named Helen who obviously had pretty glasses because everyone kept talking about them. They also talked about her surgery—gall bladder removal because of stones. From the conversations about pain medication and limited movement, I gathered that I was feeling better than she did even though Helen’s surgery was the day before mine. I felt fairly strong and ready to go home, and by noon, I was unhooked from my tubing and pain pump. However, she was not. 

When the nurses left us for a while, she began to talk. She had no family…she was the widow of a man with thirteen siblings…all of those brothers and sisters were now gone…she had no siblings of her own…she had no children. Essentially, at that moment, she had me. We learned each other’s names because the nurses used them, and so our talks began. She was funny and kind, with always a sad hint in her voice. We shared pain stories from our surgeries and talked of going home. 

Early on the third morning, my parade of visitors started with a flourish. My husband arrived early and, right on his heels, a basket of flowers. Then came my parents, my pastor, some church friends (carrying bath and body soaps!), another minister, my mother-in-law bringing my children (with more flowers and homemade cards), my sister, and my brother-in-law. My whole day was spent trying to be a hostess from a hospital bed. Exhausted, I kept up my end of the conversations and basked in appreciation for my stream of well-wishers. Through the whole day, though, I realized that Helen had no company.

When mine came, she grew silent and listened. When they left, she asked me who they were and directed me to be grateful for them. The strangeness of that brown curtain that separated us came over me. It created a physical wall while there was also an invisible force that kept us apart because I simply could not understand the depth of her loneliness and because she did not want to take away from my company. I heard her tell a nurse that she had no one at home to help her, and a neighbor would pick her up because she had no family. My mind wandered to my visitors and to “The Schedule” hanging on the fridge at home detailing all of the people who wanted to help me take care of life as I recovered.

She and I were both eating solid food for supper, but the mystery meat made my stomach turn when I looked at it. We both refused to eat. She giggled like a schoolgirl with a secret, a bond of rebellion between us. As the evening grew nearer, our doctors made their decisions about letting us out. She could not go without help at home. I was released into the care of my husband and sisters.

I felt horrible to leave her. Would her next roommate talk to her and share the miseries? Before I left, I inched past the brown curtain to see her for the first time.  Helen’s thick and flowing white hair framed her pretty, but pale, face.  Her eyes sparkled behind those glasses…very striking pink frames. They were huge circles with rhinestones on each side, and the lenses seemed to also be tinted pink. As she looked at me through those rose tinted lenses, she smiled. Helen told me to take care of myself and to enjoy my beautiful twin babies. Her voice had the ever-present hint of sorrow, but her shine of a smile surprised me. She had grace and beauty and an understanding that made her seem very special.

As I rode home, I knew that a large group of family and friends waited for me. They wanted to baby-sit, help with the laundry, bring home-cooked meals, and pray. Helen was still at the hospital. Being alone was so frightening for me that I saw much bravery in her smile.

Even though I never saw her again, she reminded me of an important lesson.  I knew to be thankful for a protective husband and children, for hovering parents, for bossy sisters. But more than that, as I look back now to that time 17 years ago, I learned to reach beyond life’s brown curtains to find beautiful souls who, through rose-tinted glasses, touch and need to be touched. This lesson creates a struggle for me now because pandemic life has highlighted a part of me that loves solitude. If I were in Room 4408 now, would I be so quick to engage? The thought makes me sad because I’m not sure. The line of visitors would not be allowed in a hospital room now, and, by my own choice, my open nature has closed because of life’s events. Revisiting Room 4408 encourages me to open my heart again and follow God’s command to love others. Jesus said this commandment is the most important one, and my rose-colored-glasses friend reminds me even now to be thankful and reach beyond a curtain hung by people or by a pandemic. 

Written October 22, 2005 and January 17, 2022

An Open Letter to Parents about Virtual Learning

18 March 2020

Dear Auspicious Parents,

Bless your hearts. We teachers see you and appreciate you.

In these days of forced eLearning, you are stepping into the gap for us. I know that you might not have a full cabinet of supplies at home and that you will be meeting your own work responsibilities while you are now also sitting with your students. Suddenly, you will be the teacher, disciplinarian, tech support, cafeteria staff, recess monitor, librarian, and janitor. I know that you will be doing your best for your children, and I encourage you to not accept all of these roles for yourself.

From the youngest to the oldest students, your children can step up to help you. Let them make their own lunch and clean up their own messes. After the novelty of this situation wears off and they try to procrastinate and push their work to the side, stay strong. Teachers spend many hours developing classroom management tactics to ensure smooth communication about responsibilities at school, but you have parenting experience on your side. No one knows your children as well as you do. Meet them at the table each day to do the work. You can find many helpful, age appropriate resources that will offer suggestions about setting up a schedule and keeping students focused on their learning.

Beyond those, here are a few suggestions for your older students:

~Find the balance between using technology for school and for social purposes. Many of us teachers make your children put away their phones during class. Even the seniors. We do not allow social networking sites, games, or random “research.” Be aware of what your kids are watching online during school time. Very long, winding rabbit holes are literally at every click and will distract even the best of us. Be prepared to take away the phones. The students will question you but be resilient. You’ve got this.

~Keep the responsibility for organizing and learning squarely on your children’s shoulders. You are not on our class rosters, so you are not expected to do this work. We are providing instruction, and your students will have to be more independent now than ever before. This process can actually be beneficial for the students because they will be more skilled with self-learning than any group before them. Think about how much you’ve had to teach yourself in your adult life. Consider this on-the-job-type training for them.

~Stay out of the emotional arena. You love your kids more than anyone, and they know that. You all know exactly which buttons to push to make each other crazy, and honestly, I fully expect your children to try pushing those buttons before this whole event is back to normal. My best teacher advice for you is to not get emotional. When you show emotions of frustration, anger, confusion, hesitation? They win. It’s that easy. Thirty years of teaching makes me know I’m right on this one. Be stoic during class time. Make them figure it out and do the work. If you refuse to be emotional, their #1 weapon against eLearning will be taken away.

~Be fully interested in their subjects, even if you aren’t. The absolute best gift you can give your students is your full attention when they are explaining what they are learning. All teachers hear so very many stories each day about the subjects that fascinate your kids. The very best of us listen and engage completely in those conversations, making each student think we are just as invested in the subject as they are. Even if you don’t like science, watch and listen as your student completes a lab. Ask questions. If you have no idea what manga is, get comfy and learn. The most important piece you bring to this virtual learning experience is falling in love with the work that your students are doing. Your interest will spur them forward, and you will be amazed at how much they enjoy learning and teaching about their favorite subjects.

We teachers are trying to create lesson plans that will meet standards and allow your children to keep learning through this pandemic. While we are working on our end to learn how to develop and implement the eLearning processes, we have your children in mind. Please know that we miss them. We miss their humor and their ability to surprise us with such wisdom for young people. We are excited that you will get to see your children in this way, too.

Good luck with this new adventure. You can do this!

Blessings to you,

Van

An Open Letter to Young Adults

15 March 2020

Dear Auspicious You,

Springtime on campus should be full of fun and excitement as seniors look to the future, thespians prepare productions, athletes work to bring their best, courses peak with difficult content, musicians rehearse for concerts, and many students plan for a vacation to relax before the final push of the semester. I am so sorry these normal activities have been interrupted for you.

Friday the 13th brought closures, cancellations, postponements, and worries over basic supplies. Now, as I write to you on March 15, Shakespeare’s warning from the Soothsayer to Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March” rings in my ears. I wish I could reset this year and start it over for you. At this point, however, we must all keep doing our best to move forward.

I am so thankful most of you are young and healthy, so this virus shouldn’t harm you. I am also thankful you are smart and recognize that as a carrier of the virus, you could bring it to someone more vulnerable. Your classmates who might have pre-existing conditions and your older family members appreciate your understanding as the social distancing provides a stopping point to prevent their getting sick. My prayer is for our moments of social sacrifice to work so our country won’t have to decide which patients to serve and which to ignore because of too many sick people and not enough resources. I can’t imagine being the triage caregiver to make the decision about who lives and who dies. So, once again, I want you to know I am so thankful you are doing your part.
Still, I hate this for you. You must be angry and wondering about the events that mean so much to you. You have to be so sad for losing the chance to make memories and feel like a part of your life is missing. After all, the American schooling experience revolves around the classes and the events creating the rhythms and traditions of our lives. Rites of passage have been suspended or cancelled for you, and I know those losses matter.

Remember, though, 2020 will be the year you will talk about forever. Even though the memories you intended to make will not happen as you expected, you still have power inside of you to make these days stand out more than any others. You can offer to go shopping for your neighbors and family. You can babysit and step in to provide childcare while schools are closed. I know how observant and committed you are to making this world better, so you will find many ways to step into the gap for someone who needs help. Plus, you can relax. I have seen the stress and tiredness on your faces from the end of winter. Take care of yourself. Walk outside. Read a book.

You talk about how quickly the days pass as you have grown older. These days of social distancing will pass quickly as well. I pray that you can find ways to make this time memorable so your spring semester, while not at all what you expected, will be unique and meaningful to you. No one else can claim this particular season as their rite of passage, but you can. Embrace this different experience as wholly your own.

Blessings to you,
Van