There is no denying that this year has had its challenges. However, instead of begrudging this season of uncertainty and misgivings, why don’t we take the next couple minutes to sit back and ponder all the gifts that this time has brought us? Yes, I said gifts. I know it seems preposterous to think that anything good could come out of a global pandemic like Covid-19. However, I would argue that it is not only possible, but has already happened... if you choose to see it.
Beyond the obvious blessings like: wearing pajama bottoms on Zoom calls, and not having to make awkward small talk with that one crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, there are gifts that we have been given that will last much longer than our stretchy pants or dusty workout equipment. There are gifts that we receive that are not delivered to our door by Amazon, but are fostered by connection, reflection, and love.
These are the gifts that we are going to focus on as More Than Lupus presents to you,
“The Twelve Gifts of Covid.”
The first gift of Covid is: PATIENCE
"The lessons we learn from practicing patience cultivate our character.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Did you know it takes certain types of cactus 75 years before they grow their first arm? Saguaro Cactuses are known as one of the most resilient and patient of its species. It is amazing that plants can be more resilient and patient than most humans! I mean, do you think you would be able to withstand not growing for 75 years in the sweltering dessert? I know I wouldn’t. We can’t even stand “sheltering in place” for a few weeks.
Sometimes it is difficult to view waiting on something as a gift. I mean, I know many of us are waiting on a lot of things right now. Waiting on schools, restaurants, and churches to re-open, waiting on a vaccine, waiting on a new political climate… it feels like the waiting game has gone into overtime! However, did you know cultivating patience is not only a skill but can be extremely beneficial to you? It’s true! When you push off immediate gratification, not only does it help you gain perspective on what really matters to you, but it helps you bridle any impulsive behaviors. It also teaches restraint, self-control, and intentionality.
Covid-19 has been a part of our lives for about a year now, and in that time, I am sure many of you have had to show patience in one form or another. I encourage you to make a list of situations that you have had to show patience towards, and follow up that list with what you have learned through each season of waiting. You might be surprised to find out that your mother was right all along when she said, “Patience is a virtue” because it is.
The second gift of Covid is: QUALITY TIME
Our most precious commodity is not money, but time, and Covid-19 has given a lot of us just that.
“I realized that no matter how much time we think we have; at the end of the day, what I came to appreciate was that we simply don’t spend enough quality time with our families...” -Tomislav Georgiev, UNICEF Photographer
The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention. I know that may sound like a sappy line from the latest Hallmark Christmas movie, but it is #truth. In fact, child psychologists for decades have studied the link between quality time and healthy emotional and cognitive development. Why is it so important? According to one study, children who received appropriate quality time with their loved ones were less likely to develop behavioral issues, participate in risky behaviors, and exhibited better physical health as well. But, quality time doesn’t just benefit children. It is good for us adults, too. We, as a species, are wired for connection. Whether it be an event, or a virus like Covid-19, we are wired to connect with each other during difficult times.
A moment of quality interaction can have a lasting impact. Who knows, maybe one year you will look back on 2020 as the year you grew closer with your family by making unique memories, not the year of the mysterious virus.
If you want to give the gift of quality time, remember that it’s quality not quantity that counts. Keep it simple and connect with your loved ones in a way that makes sense for your lifestyle and relationships. Share mealtime together, play a game, be silly, have conversations without technology interruptions.
We have been given the gift of time - time to use it wisely.
The third gift of Covid is: CONTENTMENT
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” -Helen Keller
Let’s be real, finding contentment during Covid-19 may feel challenging. However, as Bernard Williams once stated, “We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory.” Contentment can be found right now, in your crazy Covid life. Because contentment is finding joy and satisfaction in what we already have been blessed with. When you choose (it's a choice) to find contentment, there is a freedom gained in not feeling the pressure to compare yourself to others. It enables you to experience gratitude, it can reduce stress, improve your outlooks, and make life (even during Covid) more enjoyable.
Finding contentment despite your circumstances, despite your suffering, despite your lupus, despite Covid - is no easy undertaking; however, there is a stark reality here. The reality is, through this season you are either going to step-up or stumble. Author Richard Rohr said it best, “If you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it.” Begrudging this season will only keep you stuck in the sand. However, learning to explore your current situation, ponder it, and use it to better yourself and help others will benefit you greatly.
“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty” —Socrates
The fourth gift of Covid is: SAFETY
Friendly reminder: you are not stuck at home, you are safe at home. Covid has given you a gift of being “safe” on many different levels. Besides lowering the risk of you possibly picking up another virus like the common cold or flu (levels are at a historic low in the US), being home has actually been proven to be good for the environment. Some states are seeing 30% drops in pollution levels! It might not seem like it at first, but being in “Covid lockdown” can have many safety benefits according to UC Davis Road Ecology Director Fraser Shilling, “ The reduction in traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities is a bit of a silver lining for people who are staying at home and who are impacted by the pandemic,” he stated.
At the end of the day, the goals are simple: safety and security. -Jodi Rell
Another astonishing aspect of “safety” that I have come to appreciate is our medical institutions ability to create and test a vaccine in such a short time frame. How marvelous is modern medicine and technology! All this to stay, categorizing “safety” as a gift of Covid may seem a bit odd, but it’s true on many levels!
Note: I would be remiss if I did not mention those that are not as fortunate to find safety in their home. And if you are reading this, and feel unsafe in your current living situation and need help, please click on this link.
The fifth gift of Covid is: GRATITUDE
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others." -Marcus Tullius Cicero
Having gratitude does not minimize or ignore the hardships and complications of life or Covid-19; it simply calls us to recognize the goodness that exists in the middle of it. Research on gratitude has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude experience improvements in their physical, psychological, and social well-being. These benefits include: stronger immune systems, reduced stress, decreased depression, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and increased feelings of joy, optimism, and happiness.
The Covid-19 global pandemic has forced us to see more clearly the blessings that are right in front of us, and for many.. how easily those blessings can be taken. As of this week, over 300,000 people have lost their lives to this virus. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandfathers, best friends, significant others…have been taken. Don’t take for granted a moment that you have with your child, grandmother, sister, husband, friend...because you never know what tomorrow brings.
Here are a few ways that you can practice gratitude during this season: keep a gratitude journal, share your gratitude by reaching out to friends and family, reframe the negative, and cultivate generosity. When you appreciate the simple things in life, like going for coffee, meeting a friend for a socially distanced hang, or riding your bike - your brain develops resilience, and it nurtures our ability to adapt to different situations and better cope with stress.
"A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being." -James E. Faust
Before Covid-19 there were no guarantees in life and there will be no guarantees in life after the virus is eliminated. Time to be grateful for what you have now:)
The sixth gift of Covid is: CREATIVITY
But out of limitations comes creativity. -Debbie Allen
Covid-19 just dropped a time bomb in most of our laps. Whatever skill you’ve wanted to learn - cooking, running, technology - NOW is a perfect time. Is there a class you have been yearning to take? Several schools, gyms, museums, and studios are offering classes and opportunities to enjoy services virtually, many free of charge! Reconnecting with an old passion, or taking this time to improve a craft or skill is not only a stress reliever, but a positive spin on “sheltering in place.”
I have seen so many fun and creative things emerge from sheltering in place; therefore, I acknowledge “creativity” as an official gift of Covid!
The seventh gift of Covid is: MINDFULNESS
Whether you are working from home, crisis schooling, being a full-time parent, or otherwise- it might feel like you have been stuck in survivor mode most of the year. It’s important to schedule time for a mental check-in and very imperative to be mindful of when your body needs to take a break. Try setting aside scheduled time for self-soothing that may include: listening to music, reading a book, doing stretches, exercise, or taking an Epsom salt bath.
Be mindful of why you are choosing to participate in self-care when you are doing it. You might need to repeat a mantra to yourself like this, “I need to do this for myself, because my body is worthy of being taken care of.” Take a mental inventory of what you choose to do, how it feels, and what you feel like after.
*If social isolation is beginning to change your mood and wear on you, try reaching out to a mental health provider and scheduling a virtual therapy session.
The eighth gift of Covid is: OPPORTUNITIES TO KNOW BETTER AND DO BETTER
“It is true – this crisis has taken its toll on humanity. However, it also provided an opportunity for generations to unite and perhaps began to shape our younger generations to think differently about their own individual roles and how we as individuals can all contribute in our own way to find a solution to collective problems,” says Tomislav Georgiev, UNICEF Photographer.
During this important moment in history there is an extraordinary opportunity to learn and to choose courage over comfort as we seek ways to improve our understanding of structural racism. Together, we can and must find ways to grow in unity with our BIPOC brothers and sisters in the lupus community near and far.
How can we do this? By a movement of the heart. Rich Villodas, of New Life Church in Brooklyn, NY, laid it out in three steps:
Leave your world. Let go of the familiar, take the risk, and step out (especially with regard to race and culture).
Enter into someone else’s world. Practice active, humble, and curious learning.
Allow yourself to be formed by others. Open up to their worldviews while holding on to yourself. (The Deeply Formed Life, Rich Villodas, Waterbrook Press 2020)
The ninth gift of Covid is: RESTORATION OF RELATIONSHIPS
Let’s face it, most of the time we try and avoid feeling our own pain. In this process, we often avoid feeling the pain of others as well. When this happens it’s virtually impossible to reconcile and restore the broken relationships in our life. But, we are called to “weep with those who weep” and forgive because we have been forgiven. As Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
People are hurting right now and it is time to put into practice the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Or as I like to call it - Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Simple, yes, but not so easy for the majority of us. However, if you don’t enjoy having others make judgmental assumptions about your lupus and your life decisions admist Covid, then you need to put out love and not discord into the universe. As one of my personal heroes states, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” - MLK
I call it the “Stop, Drop, and Love” mantra. You stop the perpetuation to exchange hate for hate by dropping the issue, then, turn around and forgive and love the person instead of judging them. Try it sometime. Instead of attempting to get an instant “judgy” fix of fleeting gratification, doing the right thing will surprise you with an overall sense of peace. It might be the first step towards restoration.
The tenth gift of Covid is: SEEING A NEW PERSPECTIVE
“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus.
Take a moment to ask yourself, “Who would I be if I changed and grew with the experience of Covid-19? And who would I be if I didn’t?” Do you want this experience to make you better or make you bitter?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” - Mary Oliver. Tell me, how can we take in the good of our experience and allow it to provoke positive transformation in our lives? Because “if we don’t transform our pain, we will surely transmit it.” Richard Rohr
David Kessler, in his new book, "Finding Meaning" gives some thoughts that may guide you in the process of seeing a new perspective and finding meaning in it:
-Meaning is relative and personal.
-Meaning takes time.
-Meaning doesn't require understanding.
-Even when you do find meaning, you won't feel it was worth the cost of what you lost.
-Your loss is not a test, a lesson, or something to handle...it is simply what happens to you in life.
-Meaning is what you make happen.
-Only you can find your own meaning.
-Meaningful connections will heal painful memories.
The eleventh gift of Covid is: SERVICE
“It is through giving that we receive.” - Saint Francis of Assisi
A study done at the University of Virginia found that merely witnessing acts of kindness, loyalty, and heroism created a significant elevation in mood and increased the desire to perform good deeds. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, those that participate in helping others have a generally more joyful attitude. She states, “There are lots of consequences that come from showing kindness that make you happier and help you stay happy.” She adds, “…and being happy is the key antecedent to joy.”
During this time, there are so many opportunities to serve others. It could be dropping a meal on someone's doorstep or sending a note of encouragement in the mail or by text, but whatever it is, serving someone else will save your spirit! People’s prayers, well wishes, and visits are incredibly uplifting, to you and to them.
The twelfth gift of Covid is: HOPE
"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is good news. Where there is a dark shadow, there has to be light somewhere. Because shadows do not exist by themselves.
If this pandemic has felt like a dark shadow in your life, keep looking towards the light. Keep moving forward and know you are not alone. As long as you keep your focus on the light, the shadows cannot hold you back. The valley that Covid-19 may feel like to you is but a passageway, not a dead end. And when you reach your peak, your radiance will be that much brighter, and the hilltop hour will be that much more rich and beautiful.
The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse. - Helen Keller.
Struggling with Covid-19 isolation? Feeling unsafe at home? Here are resources that may be able to help:
Get immediate help in a crisis
Disaster Distress Helpline: CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat
The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116 TTY Instructions
Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat or text: 8388255
Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
Treatment Services Locator Website
Interactive Map of Selected Federally Qualified Health Centers