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Hello there, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I started a new full-time job, so life has been busy. In spite of continued challenges with the pandemic, this fall has been a thousand times better than last, because my kids are able to go to school.

Reopening schools in conjunction with the Delta surge has been a tricky thing. I know a number of parents who chose to keep their children in online school for the fall. On our part (and the majority of parents seem to agree), I knew that we simply could not continue with online school. We were fortunate to have the kids in a school that takes covid safety very seriously, with precautions that include a fully vaccinated staff, masking both indoors and outdoors, and air filtration that makes the quality of indoor air comparable to outdoor air. Additionally, we were able to sign our kids up for weekly covid testing. With those precautions, in addition to having all the adults in our family locally fully vaccinated, we felt safe sending the kids back.

Still, my daughter ended up recently having to quarantine after being identified as a close contact of a positive covid case in her class. In fact, about half her class was out as there were two unrelated covid cases at the same time. It was a bit stressful, but thankfully none of us ended up getting sick. I guess those safety precautions must be working well. The quarantine time ended up going by quickly — compared to what we’d already been through for the past few years— and now she is back at school.

Despite the fact that my kids have to wear masks all day, and are worried about the possibility of covid, they are still so much happier than they were without school. Their school is still new to them — my son is a first grader who spent most of kindergarten in remote learning, and my daughter is a fourth grader who just joined the school this fall. Both of them seem to have been making a lot of friends. Paul has been telling me he co-leads a recess “gang” of 5 boys who make booby traps on the playground. (I think it’s playful and safe — haven’t gotten any phone calls from the teacher yet!) My daughter has already been to a birthday party, been giving her phone number out to other friends and asking me to schedule playdates. We look forward to having them vaccinated so we can feel more comfortable with indoor playdates and hopefully someday having masking becoming less necessary.

Even with the return to school, my kids seem a bit stir crazy. Yesterday we set our clocks back an hour, and it was perhaps the first time the extra hour in the day was unwelcome. Our weekends still mostly consist of time spent at home with the four of us. This begs, the question, what were our weekends like before the pandemic? At this point, it’s honestly a bit hard to remember. I think we used to stay pretty busy — keeping my kids entertained seemed to reduce behavior challenges. I think our weekends used to be something like: kids’ soccer/basketball game, Girl Scouts activity, occasionally something extra special like going to the ballet, dinner with friends, chores, kid’s birthday party, grocery shopping, church. We have started going to church again, but most of the other fun activities haven’t been happening anymore, or not as often.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which the pandemic has changed us. Yes it has been tragic and unnecessarily bad on many levels. There have been many traumas and losses. But my dad often used to quote a Spanish proverb to me that says, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” This means, “there’s nothing bad from which good can not come.” I suppose the English way of saying it is that every cloud has a silver lining.

Does this saying apply in mass tragedies, such as the pandemic? It’s cliché and may not be the appropriate thing to say, and I don’t mean it to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do believe that God can redeem the dark times in life — although it often doesn’t feel like it.

One of my daughter’s teachers recently had his house burn down. His family narrowly escaped in the middle of the night, and they lost most of their possessions. This seems like an apt metaphor for what it feels like to live in these times. Much has been destroyed, and those of us who’ve escaped with our lives are both grateful and traumatized.

What good can come then from these times? I believe with the loss of our social patterns we’ve been given the opportunity to rebuild. We can reimagine what office jobs look like, for example. Personally I enjoy the ability to now do most of my office work from home and have meetings via zoom. Working from home can be a much more efficient use of time — you don’t have to commute, and you can catch up on chores during your breaks. Depending on the age and needs of your children, they can be at home with you for some of your work hours. This is a huge benefit for parents, and I guarantee that this is the way of the future. Many employees will not be willing to go back to the office full-time. It allows home to be the most important place in your life, rather than the office, and I think that is a positive for a lot of us.

We can also choose to be less busy and have more downtime. Maybe our kids don’t have to be entertained constantly. (Except apparently mine do or they will drive me insane). Unstructured time for kids — time when they are not doing adult-directed activities or staring at screens — is supposed to be quite good for developing their executive functioning skills. (Read this article if you want to learn more about executive functioning and its connection with ADHD).

I do think one of the tragic outcomes of the pandemic at this time is the loss of empathy we’re experiencing as a society. I read a very sad Washington Post article yesterday where a woman wrote about losing both of her unvaccinated adult siblings from covid in a short time frame. She was angry that they had chosen not to be vaccinated and devastated by the loss of two people she deeply loved. In the comments section, many people callously shared that we should not feel sad for unvaccinated people when they die of covid.

Is it not sad when a smoker develops lung cancer, or someone dies of a drug overdose or suicide? I get it — I also have anger towards the unvaccinated for prolonging the pandemic and endangering the rest of us. But hating people will never get us to a better place. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to focus on loving people. This is a basic tenet of every major religion. Those of us who proclaim to be people of faith, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, need to get back to the basics of loving one another. And maybe that could be a hidden positive outcome of the pandemic — it’s stretching our ability to love people. The Dalai Lama has said that we should be thankful for our enemies because they provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. So…yay for opportunities? Loving people is much easier said than done, and this can be true even for the people you love most in life.

It’s a bit hard focusing on the positives when it feels like our house is still on fire and we’re watching it burn. Still, we have to maintain hope. I’ve been thinking of this quote, from Admiral James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years in Vietnam. He said,

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Do you think there could be positive outcomes from this time for either yourself personally or for our society as a whole?

This summer, the constant background noise of my mind has been the semi-panicked thought loop of, “The schools have to reopen this fall. I cannot have a repeat of the spring.”

Unfortunately for me, this past week our school district made the announcement that fall will be entirely online. I am in a sad/mad/fearful/confused state about this decision. I am angry at the challenges this poses to my family as well as the wide-reaching inequities this exposes — families that can pay for childcare or private tutors will do so. Other families will be left scrambling and be forced to leave kids mostly unsupervised. In many cases, moms will be the ones figuring out how to juggle childcare and homeschooling responsibilities with work, while dads are able to continue working mostly undisturbed.

Children will fall behind academically, but even more seriously, they will be at higher risk for abuse and neglect as support for families reaches an all-time low. Additionally, many kids rely on eating free breakfast and lunch at school 5 days a week. Even when schools continue to provide free meals, families may lack the transportation to come pick up food.

I do take the risks of COVID very seriously, and realize that there is no perfect solution. We can’t avoid risk entirely but we need to minimize it. I adopted mask-wearing in March and wish that everyone would have done so. As one article I recently read stated, “this isn’t rocket science.” We know what we need to do.

I wish so much that I could change the past, that I could wave a wand and our nation could have developed a better response to COVID that would now allow local schools to safely reopen. I wish so much that I could change other people’s choices in the present, that everyone would comply perfectly with mask-wearing and social-distancing so that this nightmare could be over. I cannot change either of those things. I can only control my own response (and sometimes even that seems difficult).

So how will my family get through this next season of remote learning? I’m not sure. Like, really unsure, and because of this, I’ve been praying for help. It’s one of the most basic prayers, “God if you’re listening, please help.” Save our ship.

Since I’ve been praying directly for help more, a few things have arisen. I put my daughter on the list for a fall childcare option that sounds functional, and made plans for my mom to babysit/homeschool my 5-year-old son. I have had a couple of outdoor meet-ups with friends, and just seeing friends in real life made me feel better. A retired K-3 teacher offered to help me with tutoring. My supervisor at work told me they’re looking into ways to support staff with children under age 10.

There aren’t many bright sides to this pandemic, but one idea that’s been resonating with me lately is the Celtic idea of “thin places” — places where the veil between the spiritual and physical world is thin. These are places where we may feel the presence of the divine, or perhaps experience the miraculous.

I’ve been in thin places a few times, or perhaps I should clarify, places that were thin to me. In the trailer where I taught fourth grade at a tiny mission school in northeast Portland, praying with my students daily about their little and big concerns. On a study abroad trip to West Africa, the Holy Spirit seemed almost as present as the smell of diesel fuel permeating the air. Hiking through Mt. Pisgah Arboretum with my family.

Could the idea of thin places also apply to times in our lives, and could this season become one of them for me? Could it for you? I believe that sometimes, when we come to the end of our rope, when our resources are tapped out and we can’t go any farther on our own strength — those are the times when God is able to work most powerfully in our lives.

I certainly feel thinned out, with so much of my sense of control and normalcy missing. What remains when we lose our illusions of control?

Small moments. Great blue herons fishing in the river. Hummingbirds in my backyard. My son giggling. Reading to my daughter before bed. Knowing that I still enjoy spending time with my husband after 16 years together.

Faith, hope, and love.

heron

A magical moment watching a great blue heron fish at Alton Baker Park this spring.

 

I guess what I can say about this awful time is this: It is a remarkable opportunity for spiritual growth. We would be wise to receive it as such. I have a mental picture of humanity entering into a chrysalis and eventually emerging transformed into something better and more beautiful. The transformation process itself is painful, but there can be something beautiful waiting for us on the other side if we allow change to take hold.

I know that we are all antsy for things to reopen. We’d like to move on from this and go back to the way things were before. Unfortunately there is no going back at this point. Reopening is not a magic wand that will make this all go away. If not done wisely and with an abundance of precaution, reopening will simply lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering and death.

I have compassion for the desire to reopen because I am feeling that as well. Even though I do not agree with the decision for faith communities to reopen, I understand the desire to do so.

And yet. While my faith is essential, attending a large church gathering is not. I like going to church and it has been an important part of my life for more than 20 years. I especially like dropping my kids off in childcare so that I can breathe for an hour without being pestered. But it is not necessary for me to attend church in order to connect with God, or even to connect with other people in my church. Since our lockdown began in March, I have stayed connected to my faith community through zoom chats, phone calls, texts, and YouTube livestreams. I have dropped off groceries for homeless youth at our church building (while wearing a mask) and chatted with several other women from church who were also masked. The church can continue and even flourish without a large public worship gathering. God will not be stopped by our sheltering in place. God is not confined to a church building. God is with us wherever we go.

When considering whether or not to attend a church gathering, I would urge you not to look at it through the lens of your constitutional right to gather in worship. Rather, look through the lens of how Christ’s teachings can inform your decision.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:12-13

How does this verse speak to you in light of the question of whether or not to attend or reopen your church?

Different interpretations are possible, but in the current context it speaks to me of laying down our rights to gather in order to protect the lives of the vulnerable in our community. I would also point out that choosing to reopen church doors may not be the best way to share Christ’s love with your community. Many people have been choosing to shelter in place not out of concern for their own health, but as an act of kindness to slow the spread of COVID and save the lives of the vulnerable in their community. Reopening churches = more community spread = putting vulnerable people at greater risk even if they are not choosing to attend gatherings. Alternatively, why not consider gathering with a handful of church friends to watch a livestream of your service or study scripture together?

My family and I will continue sheltering at home for now even though this is making me lose my freaking mind. I will use this opportunity to become more grounded in my faith and emerge on the other side of this stronger and more resilient. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Hope to see you on the other side, butterflies.

 

 

 

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P.S. Not sure why exactly, but this post makes me think of the song Let Go by Frou Frou from the Garden State soundtrack. “It’s alright, cuz there’s beauty in the breakdown.” What song would you choose for this chapter in the soundtrack of your life?

Greetings from Coronavirus Lockdown, Day 12:

Oregon officially started its “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” mandate yesterday, March 23. As far as I can tell, this is a shelter-in-place mandate with an less-scary title. Our family has already been self-quarantining since schools closed, to err on the side of caution. We’re all under 40 and in good health, so I’m not concerned about our health — but I would hate for any of us to be carrying the virus and pass it on to someone else.

In order to maintain sanity, I’ve been trying to maintain a fairly consistent routine with my two kids, ages 7 and 4 (with birthdays comings soon!). Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Daily Schedule for Kids

  • Morning yoga via YouTube (Cosmic Kids for the littles, and if I get up earlier I will do other yoga videos).
  • Breakfast
  • Schoolwork
    • Language Arts & math for my 2nd grader. My preschooler works on activity books which include coloring, connect-the-dots or letter and number identification. He can also have free play time during this time if he chooses.
  • Outside Play Time. Thankfully, we have a backyard swing set and slide. Sometimes the kids ride their bikes.
  • Lunch
  • Free play quiet time (no screens).
  • Science or piano or art
  • Chores
  • Screen time (We try to do educational activities and then give them some free screen time).
  • Dinner
  • Outside, weather permitting
  • Baths & get ready for bed
  • Stories (We are reading Charlie & the Chocolate Factory with P, and Harry Potter 6 with M).
  • Goodnight! zzzz (Maintaining the same bedtime we had before).

The weather was nice over the weekend, so we went hiking one day and for a family bike ride the next. We rode along the W. Eugene wetlands and saw lots of ducks and geese, two red-winged blackbirds, a hummingbird, sandpiper cranes, and a great blue heron. There weren’t too many people around, so it was easy to maintain a 6 foot distance.

Another thing I’m trying to do is maintain some sort of housekeeping schedule. Sure, it’d be great to get a bunch of deep cleaning done. And maybe we will. But as I adjust to this situation, I’m just trying to maintain a basic level of cleanliness:

Housekeeping Schedule

  • Make beds (daily)
  • Dishes (daily)
  • Laundry & put away (daily)
  • Sanitize kitchen sink (daily-ish)
  • Sweep kitchen floor (daily)
  • Wipe down kitchen counters (daily)
  • Clean bathroom (weekly)
  • Vacuum (weekly)
  • Clean up toys in living room (daily)
  • Investigate bad smells (as needed – ha!)
  • Clean mirrors (weekly. My kids enjoy doing this. I use a non-toxic vinegar and water mix).

There are many other potential housekeeping projects we could work on. Too numerous and overwhelming to list. However, my strategy for tackling those kinds of overwhelming decluttering projects is to just pick a spot to work on for 20 minutes. But for now, I’m giving myself a pass on that.

Self-Care

How to make time for self-care while on lockdown with kids? This is a tricky one, but as this season pushes most of us to the edge (or beyond) of our ability to cope, self-care is essential. I’ve been trying to do my own yoga videos and go for runs a couple of times a week while my hubby watches the kids. I’m also enforcing a consistent bedtime for the kids, so that I have a little bit of free time before I go to bed. Usually I just use that time to write in my journal. I need to get some new books to read.

And, squeezing in time to write these blog posts is an important form of self-care for me. Writing helps me to process my feelings, and it also leaves us with a record of an unprecedented experience.

Lastly, spending time in prayer is helping me. Rather than just continuing to talk to my husband about this crisis, and speculate as to how much worse things will get, I’m trying to focus on praying through my concerns. Praying is better than worrying and complaining.

During our bike ride on Sunday, I noticed a piece of graffiti on the railroad bridge. It was just one word, “Relentless.” That word could speak a lot of things to different people, but what immediately sprang to my mind was, “Be relentless in the pursuit of hope.”

In a time that feels hopeless, be relentless in the pursuit of hope.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

We have a future beyond this pandemic. These times may feel threatening, but we will make it through to the other side.

With Love,

Ursula

P.S. If you’re also on lockdown, what are you doing to stay busy? How are you practicing self-care right now?

 

 

 

Greetings from Coronavirus lockdown, Day 7.

I have a vision in my mind of my house as an ark, carrying my family and I along through these uncertain times. In the Bible story, the rains continued for 40 days and nights, but after that it was still 150 days before they found dry land.

We don’t know how long we’ll be in the midst of this crisis, or when it’s subsided, how long the recovery will take. As scary and disorienting as this is, all we can do is focus on the present rather than letting our anxious minds spiral into worst-case scenarios.

I did a quick run to the Albertson’s pharmacy to pick up some medication that my insurance wouldn’t pay for until today. The lady in line in front of me wore a face mask and gloves. There was a sign up that said “This store is out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and thermometers.”

I’m wavering between anxiety for the future, acceptance of what is, and grief of what’s being lost. I’m currently grieving the loss of all of my routines and social structure. But even more, I’m grieving for my kids, who (I hate to admit this) will likely be out of school until September. This was my son’s last year at his beloved preschool, and all of his little buddies will be going to different schools last year.

And my daughter, a chatty extrovert, is used to being highly scheduled with school, sports, ballet, Girl Scouts, and church. For now, all of that is gone. I am so thankful that her ballet class is continuing to meet via Zoom. I almost cried yesterday when we downloaded Zoom and were able to log into ballet class. Marie was so excited to see her teacher’s face.

These are the things I’m grieving now, before the full force of the health crisis has hit our community. Our community will have plenty more to grieve as hospitals reach capacity and fatalities rise in the coming weeks.

Still, in the midst of this storm, I am finding pockets of joy. Carving out time to write is a joy. Finding that my friends and family are still readily available by phone, email and FaceTime is a joy. I’m deeply thankful that we are going through this in a time when we can stay well connected via technology. I’m hoping to schedule some phone calls or playdates via FaceTime or Caribu for my kids.

I’m thankful to have time now to focus on exercise. Sunny weather has made it easy to get outside for walks and runs lately. I’ve also been doing yoga along with YouTube in the mornings.

I’m thankful that I have a background as an elementary school teacher, so homeschooling is not entirely outside my wheelhouse. I’ve been able to stick to a schedule and keep us pretty busy at home with reading, math, art, piano and outside play time.

I’m thankful for the gift of perspective, knowing that someday this will pass, and we’ll move into the joys and challenges of a new season.

I’m thankful for sleep. I have been through other challenging seasons of life, and at times, good sleep was not readily available to me for months/years (any other moms out there?).

Thankful that we’re all in this together.

With love,

Ursula

 

P.S. Just curious, what will you do if you run out of toilet paper? What did people used to do before toilet paper was invented? Hmmm.

 

 

When we were getting ready to go trick-or-treating on Tuesday night, my 2-year-old son was playing with one of his sister’s Disney princess figurines. He put a finger puppet monster on her head and said, “This is her Halloween costume.”

Two year olds can be quite delightful.

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Paul dressed up as a dragon (or perhaps a crocodile), Marie was Snow White, and Spencer and I were milk and cookies. We had fun visiting my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, then trick-or-treating with my mom in her neighborhood. Our trick-or-treating experience was short lived, however, as it was a cold night and Marie was tired out from a busy day at kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating, Marie said, “I have enough candy. I’m done.” We went back to my parents’ house to let each child eat a piece of candy and then we drove home. By the time we got home at 7 pm, Paul had fallen into a deep sleep in his dragon costume. He was so tired he didn’t even wake up when we took the costume off of him and put him in bed. So much for trick-or-treating with my tiny ones!

I have been thinking this week about the origins of Halloween and what it means to us culturally today. I’ve also been thinking about the various reactions to Halloween among those who profess the Christian faith. Our pastors in Portland thought that Halloween was a great opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a fun way, so they would decorate their whole living room in a different theme each year and act out a little skit for the neighborhood kids. One year it was a Peter Pan theme, and the next it was a medieval castle. One the other end of the spectrum, I know some churchgoers who won’t allow their kids to trick-or-treat or acknowledge Halloween at all.

I came across this very thoughtful article about the origins of Halloween on a ministry website. The name “Halloween,” actually comes from All Hallows Eve (meaning Holy Evening), the night before the Christian holiday All Hallows (All Saints Day). In the 9th Century, the Pope scheduled All Saints Day to be celebrated on November 1 to coincide with (and replace) the pagan holiday of Samhain. It was common for the church to place Christian holidays at the same time is pagan holidays — for example Christmas occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Over the years, traditions from Samhain and All Hallows Eve blended together to create what we now know as Halloween.

Personally I do not like horror films, haunted houses, or things that are creepy in general. Nor do I like to feed my children candy. But I do think that Halloween is an adorable opportunity for kids to dress up and create family memories, as well as a fun way to interact with neighbors.

And then I’ve been thinking about this too — Halloween reflects a need we all have to acknowledge our shadow side. If you read my solar eclipse post, you know I’ve been contemplating the human shadow a bit lately. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our world and in our own souls. In her book Rising Strong, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about the importance of integrating light and dark into our consciousness: “Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.” She also writes, “There’s always something foreboding about overly sweet and accommodating ways. All that niceness feels inauthentic and a little like a ticking bomb.”

We don’t have very good mechanisms for processing difficult emotions in our culture. Physical and mental illness, aging, and death, are all topics we steer away from. In the fall we are surrounded by death in the natural world. It is the time of the harvest and the dying away of the light. Halloween, with its imagery of ghosts and skeletons, is one way we acknowledge the season. And it is the one time when we as a culture face our own mortality and even poke fun at it.

P.S. What did the photographer say to the ghost?
You look boo-ti-ful!

 

 

 

 

Today I found a note to myself that I wrote on December 31, 2009. Apparently I had intended myself to read it 10 years later, but 5 and a half years seems good enough.

Dear Ursula (me),

You should now be 36 years old. That means a lot has happened since I wrote this.

I am now 26, happily married for 3 and a half years, living in a nice apartment in Westmoreland and teaching 4th grade. I wonder if I will still be teaching in 10 years? I just hope to be happy in my job, whatever it is.

Also, I hope to still be happily married and have 2 or maybe 3 children. I hope that Spencer will be happy in his job. I hope we own a house.

Most importantly, I hope that God remains at the center of my life.

I think I should write back.

Dear 26-year-old Ursula,

So much has happened in the past 5 and a half years that I can hardly relate to the childless version of myself. I wish you would take a little more advantage of your childlessness. Go to Seattle for the weekend. Go to yoga. Take an art class. That’s cute that you like the Westmoreland apartment. I guess it did have some hipster appeal, with its proximity to Papa Haydn and the neon glow of the Yukon Tavern sign visible from the bedroom window. Soon you’ll find out about the horrible mold problem – really you should just move now.

Teaching is fun though, right? I’m not sure why you took a job that paid so poorly, but then again, I know you were excited just to have a teaching job. And fourth grade really is a great age to teach. I’ve now been married almost 9 years, have two sweet and sometimes challenging children, and am occasionally working as a freelance writer and editor. I do love being a mom and a writer and editor – I just wish I were able to get more consistent work. I am keeping my teaching license and may still go back to it at some point if the right job opens up.

My goals for the future remain much the same – be a good mother and wife, be happy in my work, keep the faith, be financially secure and own a house. Make meaningful memories.  Have fun. Do good deeds. Overflow with joy.

Love,

Me

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been reading the book The Power of a Praying Wife. I was initially a little skeptical about this book because I heard about it from a woman who said we needed to pray for our husbands because “they are our leaders in our homes and in our community.” Hmmm, really? The last I checked our mayor was a woman. I also know of many successful female teachers, principals, medical professionals, lawyers, pastors, etcetera. Yes, men can be good leaders, but so can women. Anyway, I chose not to bring this up at the time as I figured my minority opinion would be consider divisive in the women’s church meeting I was attending. Just because I disagree about something important doesn’t mean I need to get into an argument about it in every situation.

Another thing I initially disliked about this book was the the pink floral-patterned cover. Because, you know, women want to buy books that are pink and have flowers on them. Maybe they could also give away a free Barbie doll with each purchase of this book.

That being said, I picked up a free copy of this book at Bible study a few weeks ago and started reading it and praying through the chapters. I think it’s actually a great book for Christian women, though I may disagree slightly with a few of her comments. Her goal is to help people to improve marriages and prevent divorce, which is pretty important, considering the high divorce rate. Praying for your spouse and children is very important, in my opinion! The book covers prayer topics that I wouldn’t necessarily think of on my own — but now that they’ve come to mind, they seem like great things to pray about. If you can’t think of your own words to pray, you can just read the prayers aloud with your husband in mind. Easy!

We often undervalue prayer and think of it as something you do as a last resort. But truly I think it’s best if prayer is our first resort. Praying about problems before they occur can prevent them from happening in the first place. The further I go on my journey as a person of prayer, the more I believe in its power. It works, not in a God-vending-machine type of way, but prayer can change your heart and the heart of those you pray for and influence the outcome of events. This God-stuff is very mysterious.

I think more appropriate cover art for Power of a Praying Wife would be a picture of a woman running a marathon, or engaged in an intense wrestling match. Or perhaps a picture of a mother bear protecting her cubs. Yeah, that sounds about right. She’s ferocious, and willing to fight to protect what’s important.

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This is my first assignment for Writing 101: 20 minutes of free writing. So it’s not as polished as I would like, but here are my thoughts for today. And what about you? Do you believe that prayer works? Would you like to share an example of a time in your life when prayer has worked for you?

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

Dear 15-year-old Ursula:

Greetings from the future! It is the year 2014. You are a successful film and stage actress and drive a Mercedes hovercraft. Last year you made People’s Most Beautiful People list, and this year you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Okay, just teasing you a little bit. I’m choosing to write to you at 15, because I’m now 30. I hope that in doubling my age I’ve learned a few things about life. Perhaps this means I can soon expect a letter from the 60-year-old me? Maybe by then they’ll have better technology for communicating across the space-time continuum.

First, I will encourage you to enjoy high school for what it is. A time to learn and make friends. Thank you for not caring about being accepted by the “popular” group. That’s very wise and admirable! You’re choosing instead just to make friends with people that you like. This will be a blessing to you during your high school years. Most of these friendships will fade after high school as people move away, so enjoy the time you have with these fun friends. I know you want all your close friendships to be lifelong and some will — but not all. Life is filled with surprises, including the surprises of which classroom acquaintances bloom into long-term friendships, and which BFFs fade into the memory banks.

This is also the year that you’ve started going to church and chosen to get baptized. Thank you also for making these wise choices! Seeking to know and follow God is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do in your life. Your faith will bring you peace and joy and will ultimately lead to you meet your husband and develop many significant friendships. As a sidenote that is perhaps related, thank you also for not being interested in drinking and partying — you will need all the brain cells you can get to help you through the sleep-deprived early parenting years.

Do not be afraid to try some new things and meet new people. I know you’re shy and afraid that new people won’t like you. Don’t let that stop you from participating in activities you want to participate in. Be nice to people and they will like you. Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. (Well, those people are jerks, so you shouldn’t pay them any mind). Also don’t let your fear that you might not be good at something prevent you from trying it. If you want to run on the track team, then run on the track team. Maybe you won’t be very good, but you won’t know unless you try. Likewise, if you want to join the choir or start a photography club — you should do those things! You won’t have as much time and energy when you’re in college and beyond.

Lastly, don’t worry so much about academic success and getting into an elite college. I mean you should do your best in school, but don’t give yourself a heart attack. You don’t really want to go to an elite college anyway — it’s just not your destiny. You’ll get a good education and meet your husband at the University of Oregon. But maybe you should reconsider the journalism degree? Marketing perhaps, or something else with the potential for good pay?

Love,

30-year-old Ursula (wife, mother, freelance writer, substitute teacher, world traveler, ice cream enthusiast)