Sharing spaces

Big Knife Provincial park, less than an hour from home, has become one of our favourite places to get away from the busyness of life. We’re just back from enjoying three days of peace and quiet there. 72 hours without cell phone or internet. No news. No politics. Just us and nature!

We certainly weren’t alone, however. We shared our camp spot with a very busy pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. I’m not an avid bird watcher, but these two piqued my curiosity and I had to do a bit of research as soon as we got home. Here’s what I learned.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker that breeds in Canada and the north-northeastern United States. It makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker  laps up the leaking sap and any trapped insects with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old.

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That’s Mr Sapsucker in my photo. His Missus looks almost the same except her bib is grey instead of red. With thousands of trees in the area, why they chose one in the middle of the campground, I’ll never know, but they were clearly quite comfortable sharing space with us. Apparently, our trailer was in their flight path between this tree and the woods surrounding the campsite, but Mr quickly took to flying directly under our awning even when we were sitting there! Thankfully, there were no collisions as he went back and forth all day long!

We also shared our space with chipmunks and squirrels who checked the site from time to time to see if we’d left anything edible lying around, and a couple of rabbits who just passed on through.

One of the things that we love to do at Big Knife is kayak on the Battle River. Yesterday, we discovered the spot where Big Knife Creek feeds into the river, so of course we had to explore it. The slow moving creek was shallow in spots, but navigable. We went as far as we could (up the creek with a paddle!) until a huge fallen tree blocked our pathway and we had to turn around.

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Pristine, untouched wilderness!

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We quickly discovered that even here we weren’t alone. This time we were sharing space with beaver. Lots of beaver! They obviously weren’t as comfortable as the sapsuckers were with the idea of sharing space with us though. As soon as we got anywhere close, tails hit the water with thundering splashes and they disappeared below the surface. I managed to get a picture of this one just before he gave his warning shot and disappeared from sight.

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Emerging

6b418a7e1c894727282ae55335b6bb1aLike butterflies coming out of cocoons, we’re gradually emerging from the Covid-19 shutdown and figuring out what living in this new world is going to look like. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m finding it a little bit unnerving. My cocoon was comfortable. I knew exactly what to do and what not to do. I wasn’t worried about contracting  the virus because we easily kept our distance from other people and almost never left our county where there hasn’t been a single confirmed case. Thankfully, I was able to fit the local golf course into my cocoon!

Even though Alberta entered the first phase  of a three stage relaunch strategy back on May 14, nothing really changed for us. Now, with the introduction of Stage 2 on Friday, a week ahead of schedule, bigger changes are happening. In addition to those businesses that were deemed essential and never closed, as well as those that reopened in Stage 1, theatres, libraries, places of worship, casinos, bingo halls, arcades, and recreational facilities including gyms and pools, as well as many other similar facilities, can now be open. Personal services, including skin and body treatments, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and tanning are also allowed now.

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Life at this stage is a bit like the newly emerged butterfly; somewhat fragile and facing many unknowns. As we step out of our cocoons, we need to decide which of the many available options we feel comfortable resuming right now and what precautions should be taken when we do.

Though we’re being reminded to remain diligent about social distancing and to wear masks when that’s not possible, I’m concerned that many people seem to think the crisis has passed and are becoming lax about following the recommendations. If that continues to happen, I foresee an upswing in Covid cases and possibly a need to shut things down again. Though my cocoon was comfortable and safe, I don’t want to have to hide away in it for any longer than necessary, so while we spread our wings, please let’s do it with care and caution!

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The time before

It’s been over ten weeks since the World Health Organization officially declared the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 a pandemic and countries began to shut things down. More and more I hear people expressing nostalgia for “the time before” and wondering when, if ever, life will return to normal. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel fortunate that my life has not had to change as drastically as many others have. As a retiree, I don’t have a business to close, a job to lose, or children at home. Nevertheless, life is different now and I’ve been pondering the things that I miss.

In the big picture, most of the things I miss are small, but small things are often what bring interest or significance to our lives.

I miss browsing our local thrift stores and perhaps finding a treasure or two. After cleaning out our storage room and kitchen cupboards as well as doing my seasonal wardrobe switch from winter to warm weather clothes, I also miss being able to donate the items I no longer want to keep.

I miss impromptu lunch dates with my husband at The Wooden Spoon, our favourite local eatery. We usually go at least once or twice a month.

Although I enjoy being at home with hubby, I miss spending time with other women. Whether it be dropping in for a cup of tea and a chat with a friend, a morning coffee time with women from my church, or sipping wine and visiting with my “craft night” friends at our monthly get togethers, I need my girlfriends. Thankfully Zoom has helped, but it’s not the same as being together in person.

Though we’ve been enjoying online services from the comfort of home, I miss gathering together with our church family on Sunday mornings.

We don’t live close enough to see our grandchildren on a regular basis, so two months without seeing any of them hasn’t been too hard to handle, but there are babies close by who are changing so quickly that I’ll hardly recognize them when I finally see them again. And then there’s the one that was born late last week. How I’d love to visit and hold her!

Though I’ve learned to live one day at a time, I miss being able to plan ahead. Not knowing if or when we’ll be able to travel internationally again is especially difficult for a wanderer like me. Half the fun of traveling is the planning that goes into it.

Perhaps more than anything else, I miss having things to look forward to. Never before has the calendar page been so blank! In fact, the only thing I’ve written in for the entire month of May is the morning that the nurse comes to give me my monthly injection! I don’t mind life slowing down a bit, but at the moment it seems almost to have stopped and there’s a sameness in our days that’s getting rather tedious.

Perhaps when life finally returns to normal, or the “new normal” that everyone is talking about, we’ll have a greater appreciation for the things that we’re missing right now. Or will we quickly get back into routine and begin to take them for granted again?

What do you think? What do you miss the most from the time before?

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100 pounds!

I started lifting weights in the early 1990s. It was never my intention to become a body builder, but I had recently entered my 40s and I thought that it might be a good idea to do something to try to keep in shape. We already had the equipment in the basement and hubby, who was a phys ed teacher at the time, had been lifting for several years, so I had him set up a routine for me and my lifting days began. I would never have foreseen that I’d still be lifting all these years later!

Unlike many serious lifters who work out year round, we only lift from mid October until the end of April each year; the months that the golf course is closed. We have a short summer season here in Alberta and we want to spend as much of it as possible engaging in outdoor pursuits, not working out in the basement! Over the almost three decades that I’ve been lifting, I’ve had good seasons, bad seasons, and  even one when I didn’t lift at all. We spent that year teaching English in Japan and rather than seeking out a gym to join, we spent as much time as we could seeing the country and soaking up the culture. There were also a couple of partial seasons including the winter that we headed off to China to spend a semester teaching there.

My best year to date was the winter of 2005-2006. I was 53 years old and many years pre cancer. At the end of that season, I was bench pressing 97.5 pounds. Why I never pushed myself to add just 2.5 more pounds and press 100, I’ll never know! I suspect that the golf course opened and I probably thought that I’d be able to push that little bit further the following year. In ensuing years, however, I never made it past 90 pounds again. That is until this year!

Each of the past few years, I had a midwinter PRRT treatment that set me back strength-wise, but I kept on pushing myself and refused to quit completely. Am I ever glad I did! I guess I didn’t realize how much those treatments were actually taking out of me, but I haven’t had one since last June and I cannot believe how strong I’ve felt this year. Today I did something that I gave up hope of ever doing a long time ago. I bench pressed 100 pounds! That might not seem like a lot to many more serious lifters, but to me, at 67 years old with two cancers, it was huge!

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It was back in February that I first caught a glimpse of potentially reaching a new personal best. It was definitely on a distant horizon, but barring injury or sickness, it might just be possible. It was very shortly after that thought crossed my mind, however, that we got the call telling us that my father was dying. We had to drop everything and head for Vancouver. With that interruption, I thought the possibility was gone, but when we got home, I picked up where I’d left off and soon realized that it might still happen. I’ve continued lifting later into the spring than I normally do partially because, with the Covid-19 shutdown, there wasn’t a lot else to do, but mostly because I was so close to reaching my goal and I simply couldn’t let it slip through my fingers this time.

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Definitely feeling pretty proud of myself!

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What is freedom?

As the restrictions imposed by Covid-19 drag on, I’m seeing more and more on social media from people who are convinced that this is all a nefarious plot to permanently rob us of our rights and freedoms. These are people who, like me, have lived privileged lives; people who have no idea what true lack of freedom looks or feels like.

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photo: The Guardian

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the iron curtain ceased to exist, Eastern Europeans jubilantly celebrated the freedom that they had long been denied. Sadly, however, some of the first “freedoms” to be exercised in these formerly communist countries were indulgence in pornography, prostitution, drugs, and organized crime. So what is freedom? According to many, it seems to be the right to do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whomever I want. How incredibly self-indulgent!

Freedom means many things to many people. It may mean having the opportunity to vote for the ideas, people, or parties that best represent our views. It may mean being able to freely express our ideas and opinions without fear of reprisal. To some it may mean being free of debt and having the financial wherewithal to buy whatever they want. To others it may simply mean being able to live without constant fear of violence or persecution.

Is being told to social distance or to wear a mask to enter certain businesses really robbing anyone of these rights and freedoms? Are temporary school closures and having to worship online instead of in person really endangering society as we know it? I hardly think so!

During the current pandemic, those of us who are willing to temporarily give up some of our freedoms for the good of the community and who dare to suggest that others ought to do the same run the risk of being labelled socialist. That’s an insult that’s commonly hurled about by those who fear that their freedoms are being forever taken from them. I pay it little mind, however, as they clearly aren’t political scientists!

The Bible has a lot to say about freedom. In fact, it’s one of the central themes of the entire Word. John 8:32 tells us that “the truth will set you free” and later, in John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” True freedom is found in relationship with Him.

This freedom is both freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from the things of this world that enslave us: earthly desires for wealth, success, and status; jealousy and envy; lust and perversion; rivalry and hatred. Freedom to be everything that we were designed to be, to do what we were made to do, and to serve God by serving others. Galatians 5:13-14 sums it up this way, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

So how does this apply to Covid-19? Like true Biblical freedom, our political and social freedoms are also responsibilities. They don’t exist so that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want. They exist for the good of the whole. Freedom provides opportunity and reason to serve whether by delivering groceries to doorsteps, making phone calls to ensure that neighbours and friends are faring well, sewing masks, or simply practicing social distancing and keeping our school and church doors closed until the threat of spreading the virus has lessened.

I don’t hide behind rose coloured glasses nor do I blindly believe that everything that our political leaders do is for our good, but I also don’t believe that Covid-19 is an evil plot to permanently rob us of our rights and freedoms!

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photo: National Post

At least these ones are social distancing!

 

Obstacle or opportunity?

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Before the onset of Covid-19, we had planned on leaving on a spring vacation this week. We were going to walk the historic streets of Boston, explore some family history, see the sights of New York City, and visit friends who live in the area. Instead, we continue to shelter at home waiting for our province to gradually begin lifting some of the restrictions that have been put in place to protect us and to keep our health care system from being overwhelmed. There’s absolutely no question that for most people on the planet, the Covid-19 pandemic has been an obstacle to living life as we knew it before the middle of March, but has it also been an opportunity?

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“Even in the darkest experiences we can uncover creative options.” wrote Samuel R. Chand in Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth.

On March 18, the day after Alberta declared a state of emergency and started shutting down non essential services, I wrote that I didn’t want to look back on this as time wasted. That was seven weeks ago. Rather than lamenting over a vacation lost and other obstacles to normal living, I’d rather look at opportunities seized. I truly believe that a positive attitude is vital to maintaining good health and overall well-being. That’s proven to be true throughout my journey with cancer and I think it’s just as true in present circumstances.

So how have I been using the unexpected extra time that I’ve been given by the pandemic shutdown? Here are a few of the ways…

  • Cleaned and reorganized the kitchen cabinets and set aside a number of items to take to our local thrift store when it reopens.
  • When I could no longer find the mixes that I’ve been buying for years on the grocery store shelves, I reverted to making my own pancake mix and baking biscuits from scratch. I doubt that I’ll ever go back.
  • Experimented with adapting a bread recipe until it turned out just the way I wanted.
  • Read several books.
  • Wrote more than usual including 11 blog posts in April as opposed to the 6 or 7 that I usually post.
  • Used Duolingo to study Spanish every day learning more than 1000 words so far.
  • Enjoyed several Zoom chats with family and friends.
  • Walked over 80 km (50 miles) partially on the treadmill, but mostly outdoors.
  • Found 7 geocaches.
  • Played a lot of 7 Wonders Duel.
  • Completed some yard work that wouldn’t have gotten done if I’d been busy planning and packing for a trip.

Does all this mean that I’m happy to have been essentially shut in for the past seven weeks? Does feeling positive about how I’ve been using my time mean that I’m oblivious to the effects that this period of time has had on the economy, on businesses, on the lives of others? Of course not, but neither have I been anxiously straining at the bit for it to come to an end. I’m happy that the health authorities in our province feel that we’ve reached a point where we can cautiously and carefully begin reopening, but I also realize that it will be some time before things are back to “normal”. I sincerely hope that we’ll be able to reschedule our trip someday, but I know that it won’t be for quite awhile.

So, how have you been coping during these most unusual days? Have you been focusing on obstacles or looking for opportunities?

Essential or non-essential?

As the Covid-19 shutdown continues and spring finally comes to Alberta, I’m hearing more and more discussion about essential versus non-essential services particularly amongst my fellow golfers. I have a great deal of respect for Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Deena Hinshaw, but there are many who are taking strong exception to her declaration that golf courses are non-essential and must remain closed. This has been made worse by the fact that courses in our neighbouring province of British Columbia are open.

I love golfing and I eagerly await the opening of our local course each spring, but I would have a difficult time arguing that it’s an essential service. On the other hand, it definitely contributes to physical and mental well-being and it’s an activity that could quite easily be done while still maintaining appropriate social distancing. Adaptations could be put in place to ensure that golfers are not touching surfaces such as flag sticks.

One of the greatest sources of frustration for many people is the inconsistency in what is being deemed essential and what is not. For me, the most obvious example is cannabis shops. How is it that a substance that was illegal less than two years ago is now essential? Grocery stores, yes. Pharmacies, of course. But, cannabis stores? I don’t think so! In fact, I was even a bit surprised to see liquor stores remain open.

I realize that there are those who use cannabis medicinally, but like any other prescribed medication, they were able to access it legally long before it became available to the rest of us in October 2018. There’s no reason why it can’t still be accessible to patients who need it during the pandemic without the shops that cater to recreational use being open.

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There would definitely be a lot less grumbling about following current public health orders if they were consistent. Golf or cannabis? Why one but not the other?

One day at a time

I’ve been pondering why it is that I don’t seem to be as stressed out by the Covid-19 shutdown as many people around me are. First of all, I acknowledge, as I have before, that I have it easier than many. As a retiree, I don’t have a business to close, a job to lose, or children at home. Trusting in a God who makes manna also makes all the difference in the world, but I believe that there’s another factor as well.

For most of my life I was a long term planner to such an extent that I tended to live more in the future than the present. When I retired a little over a decade ago, one of my primary goals was to learn to live more in the moment. I didn’t anticipate that cancer would be what it took to teach me that, but when we’re not guaranteed a future (none of us really is), we start to look at life quite differently and each day becomes a gift. What I’ve discovered about myself during this unusual time is that I truly have met my goal! While people all around me are worrying and making dire predictions about how long this is going to last, I’m finding myself quite unbothered by that aspect of it. I’ve learned to inhabit one square on the calendar at a time and I’m not giving a lot of thought to what the future will bring. It’s very much a “que sera, sera” attitude, but it seems to be serving me well!

I’m sad that I won’t be able to celebrate with two grandchildren who have birthdays in the next couple of weeks and that the trip we were planning for next month had to be put on hold. I’m also hoping that we won’t have to miss a whole season of camping and golf, but mostly I’m just living one day at a time and not worrying about what next week or next month might hold.

An old Merle Haggard song keeps running through my head:

One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from you.
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine,
So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time.

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In closing, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not suggesting that everyone should be experiencing this time of uncertainty in the same way that I am. Of course, I’m deeply concerned for those who are living in fear and for whom the outcome might be quite devastating. I’m simply enjoying the fact that I’ve met my goal and learned to live in the present moment.

Stay home, stay safe and I hope that you can find some joy in this day!

The power of the written word

The Bible has a lot to say about how we ought to use our words. The book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings about the power of the tongue.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.  Proverbs 17:27-28
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Proverbs 12:18

feather-pen-vector-546939It was English novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton who, in 1839, wrote “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Today, when most of us are holed up at home waiting out the Covid-19 pandemic, the written word is being used more than ever. We FaceTime and we Zoom, but we also use written platforms like Facebook and Twitter to connect with one another.

For some of us, writing is our preferred method of communication. We find it easy, but others may struggle to express themselves clearly. Without the visual and auditory clues that go along with face-to-face communication, misunderstandings can happen very easily. We definitely need to cut one another a bit of slack.

For example, a friend recently responded to something that I said on Facebook with a comment that could easily have been taken in two completely different ways. I had no way of knowing whether it was written in jest or meant to be extremely hurtful. If we had been talking face-to-face, I would have been able to tell based on her body language, facial expression, volume, and/or tone of voice. To tell you the truth, I still don’t know what her actual intent was, but because I know her and I don’t think of her as a mean person, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed that, even if it fell a bit flat, her response was meant to be funny. Had I concluded that she was being nasty and responded in kind, I could have easily destroyed a relationship!

I love a good online conversation where people can express their views, have them heard, and willingly listen to the views of others. Unfortunately, however, what could have been a meaningful dialogue often becomes nothing more than a battle of words. Why is that? What can we do to prevent hurt feelings and misunderstandings? I have a few suggestions. If you have others, please add them to the comment section below.

  1. If you disagree with something that someone else has written, don’t react immediately. Take time to think about it first. Is there any truth in what they’ve written? Did they actually mean what you thought they meant? If you’re not sure, ask for clarification instead of immediately going on the defensive.
  2. Avoid getting sucked into arguments. Sadly, some people are willing to go toe-to-toe online in ways they’d never dream of doing face-to-face.
  3. Understand that your sense of humour isn’t universal and that, without cues like facial expressions and tone of voice, what is intended to be funny might not come across that way.
  4. Don’t comment on someone’s spelling or grammar. Sometimes the English teacher in me wants to take a red pen to the screen, but this is just plain rude! It’s also a tactic that’s often used by commenters who simply want to belittle someone they disagree with.
  5. Edit your responses before you post them. (There’s that English teacher again!) Read over what you’ve written. Does it actually say what you want it to say? Is it clear or could it be open to more than one interpretation?
  6. Distinguish between fact and opinion. Just as we should all know the difference between a news article and an editorial, we need to be clear when we’re the writer. If you’re declaring something to be a fact, be prepared to back it up. If it’s opinion, say so and remember that everyone is entitled to have one even if it’s different from yours. What a boring world it would be if we all agreed on everything!
  7. Remember, posting online is the same as speaking in public. If you don’t want something to come back and bite you, don’t say it online!
  8. Don’t be that person who always has to have the last word.
  9. Don’t drink and tweet! If you’re impaired in any way, whether it be from lack of sleep, a fight with your partner, or one too many drinks, you run the risk of saying something that you’ll regret. Resist the urge and wait until you’re in a better frame of mind.

Fear and Covid-19

Yesterday’s post generated a very lengthy discussion on Facebook. As the conversation went on it became very clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a great deal of fear. I found it very interesting that people were not expressing fear of the disease itself. No one talked about being afraid of succumbing to the virus or even of loved ones getting sick. Instead, they expressed fear that a vaccine, once discovered, will be forced on people against their will, fear that churches, now closed, might not be allowed to reopen, fear of economic collapse, and fear that our personal freedoms are being eroded and that we’re headed down the same road as Nazi Germany. It seems to me that what people are really afraid of is change, the unknown, what life will look like when this is all over.

Some of the fears that were expressed in yesterday’s conversation may seem pretty far-fetched, but I don’t want to make light of anyone’s fears. Fear is real and it can be debilitating. It feeds upon itself and it isn’t necessarily logical or realistic. After all, the author of fear is the great deceiver himself. The Bible calls him Satan.

I once preached an entire sermon on living without fear, but in a nutshell, the antidote to fear is trust. When we put our trust in our jobs, our institutions, our relationships, our rights and freedoms, what happens when those things are stripped away? That’s what we’re finding out now.

Our devotional this morning came from Proverbs 16. The second half of verse 20 jumped out at me like a flashing neon light… “blessed is he that trusts in the Lord.” When everything in life is like shifting sand, He is the one and only constant. Total trust in God is the only true remedy for fear.

The Bible is full of admonitions not to fear.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

In these uncertain times, when trusting in the things that we usually depend on fails us, we need to trust in the only One who knows what the final outcome will be, the One who will still be with us when Covid-19 is a distant memory.

The Bible also tells us that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). As human beings, we may not be capable of perfect love, but we are certainly capable of reaching out to others in love even while we social distance. While the circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in fear for many, they have also brought out the best in others. Whether it be singing and waving signs outside the windows of a long term care centre, dropping fresh baking on a neighbour’s doorstep, picking up and delivering groceries for someone who is self-isolating, planning a drive by birthday parade for a child who can’t have a traditional party, or just taking the time to pick up the phone and call someone who’s living alone, people are finding creative ways to reach out in love. Maybe, hopefully, this world will actually be a kinder place when this is over!

So if you’re feeling afraid, don’t just hunker down with your fear and let it fester. Trust in God and reach out in love. And if you’re truly feeling overcome, please reach out and ask for help.