Finding the Good

Intentional living is not a new concept, but I’ve never put it into practice more than I have the last two months.

Well before the CDC issued social distancing guidelines, I was preparing here.  We were wearing masks at large public events, buying double our regular grocery list, and evaluating if my routine onco checkup was worth the risk of exposure.

Within days of the national stay-at-home order, the girls and I created a bucket list for our COVID-19 quarantine.  The list was ambitious, a pie-in-the-sky kind of list.  I saw this time together as an opportunity to slow down and do all the stuff we’d wanted to do but for which we could never find the time.  We would view each day home together as a gift.

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And, for the most part, we have.  Well, I’m not sure the teenager in the house would agree with that statement, but the rest of us do.

From putting on a fashion show to tearing up tile, we stayed busy.  At the end of every day, on a slip of construction paper, we each wrote a sentence or two about the best part of our day and added it to a paper chain that eventually stretched halfway across our kitchen.

At some point I began sharing our daily shenanigans on Facebook with the tag #lockdown2020.

Facebook friends were passionate about these posts.  They either adored or detested them.  Readers who knew my complicated medical history were thrilled to see me active and thriving.  After years of following my story, they were on this journey with me, and a good day for me was also a good day for them.

More than once I received messages telling me to slow down because I was making other moms look bad.  This was said in jest, of course.  Usually.

I assured those readers that there is plenty omitted from those Facebook posts, like the meltdowns of a certain teenage daughter, the days I want to end the battle over schoolwork and just lie on the couch with a new novel, and the joint pain I still wake up with every day.

Those posts on social media don’t express the mind-numbing redundancy of these days either.  I feel like all we do is cook, eat and clean the kitchen.  I wear the same rotation of t-shirts and sweats, and when this isolation ends, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to button a single pair of jeans.

But we work to make sure we have something good to write on our slips of paper at the end of every day.  I take photos with the sole purpose of wanting something happy to share that day.

Without a single thought of the phrase “intentional living,” I have been living intentionally, focusing on the good, working to find something positive in each day.

About a month after the shutdown, I finished Stephen King’s The Stand and pulled Do Something Good Today out of my To Be Read pile.  Earlier this year, I had helped create a video entry in HGTV’s Home Town Takeover contest, a spin-off of the show Home Town, hosted by Ben & Erin Napier.  Izzi and I began watching the show as research for the contest but we quickly became avid fans, so when I discovered the Napiers had written a book, naturally, I had to have it.  The memoir sat in my TBR stack while I became very busy adjusting to quarantine with my family. As the book collected dust, I had no idea I was doing the very thing that Erin Napier credits in it for much of their success.

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On their first wedding anniversary, Ben presented Erin with book, bound together with a fabric cover and titled simply Our 1st Year of Marriage.  Using personal photos and old memorabilia to illustrate each month, Ben chronicled the highlights of the previous year.  This became a tradition, and it was these anniversary books that inspired Erin to do something that would change the trajectory of her life.  She created an online journal, which she titled “Make Something Good Today,” as a way to document the best thing that happened everyday.

In the memoir, Erin Napier says, “It’s all in our hands; what we choose to remember, pay attention to, and look forward to… I realized that the only remedy I could find for my fear would be to erase my anxiety with blessings, written down, counted, and remembered…

That year I focused on doing what gave me and the people around me joy… On the bad days –and there were plenty –I’d consciously tried to search out the positive or make good things happen so I wouldn’t be empty-handed at night when it came time to write a journal entry.  I would be accountable to my own expectations and promises and make the conscious decision to forget the things that weighed on or nagged at me, to swim in the messiness of life, to be kind to people who weren’t kind to me…

Writing down only the good moments of each day was my way of controlling the narrative of our life.  Even though I was out of control of the events of the day, writing what I chose to remember changed life as I knew it.  A shift in perspective made a shift in me because the uncertainty of faith had always been so hard for me to grasp.  This was a way to marry proof and faith; as time went on, the good things became more real to me than the bad.  It was a callback to a song we had learned in the church nursery: ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one.’  It was a way to make my faith become more real than my fear.”

I devoured the Napier’s memoir on the 40th day of quarantine here, consuming it in one sitting.  Its full color photos, along with narrators’ Southern drawl and charm, were just what I’d hungered for.  Imagine my surprise when their words illustrated precisely what I’d been doing for weeks.

Unwittingly, thanks to COVID-19, we had cultivated this same habit here.  Our days were largely shaped by our bucket list and the paper chain hanging like a birthday banner in our kitchen.  On the handful of days that we slacked, the days when finding something good to write about was tough, we were troubled by it.  How had an entire day, around 16 awake hours, slipped by without a one thing worthy of recording?  Did we take any photos?  What had we done all day?

I don’t want our collective time to be a blur.  Yes, this is difficult, but when my children are adults recounting their days in quarantine, I want them to have positive words to share, too.  They’ll acknowledge the strangeness of this time and the seriousness of the virus.  Maybe this will be their generation’s before and after event, as in I remember when we used to shake hands, before the coronavirus.  But I hope they’ll also remember that these were the weeks, maybe months, that their mother devoted nearly all of her time to their safety, well-being, education, and entertainment.  I imagine their conversations…

“Remember the time Mom decided everyone in the house needed a bike?” they’ll say.  Izzi was too little to keep up with us, so Mom put her on the back of her bicycle and, oh, I can still see Mom at the bottom of that rock ledge, scratches on every limb.  We thought she was dead, but she was laughing so hard she was crying…

Remember when we dissected that frog and made a video?  It’s probably still on YouTube…

I can identify most of the wildflowers in West Virginia because Mom made us do that stupid flower project.

The Secret Life of Bees?  I remember that book.  We read it together that spring.  It’s still one of my favorites.

When I was your age, my mom dared me to jump in this huge mudhole.  She said if I did, I wouldn’t have to do any schoolwork that day.  She counted to three and I jumped!  The water was almost over my head and it was freezing!  I think it snowed the next day.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I want to control the narrative.

We can’t govern this virus, but, for the most part, we do get to choose which memories we’ll make and we get to cling to the good ones.

Our state has shifted from stay-at-home orders to safer-at-home suggestions, which basically means that while we can make essential trips, we are encouraged to stay home as much as possible.  This isn’t a problem for us.  After all, we have about a dozen more activities to cross off our bucket list.

On my social media posts, I have transitioned from the #lockdown2020 tag to #findthegood2020, still consciously making the decision to live each of our days as what they are.

Gifts.

This time last year, I was a bald cancer patient, finishing another round of chemo.  I couldn’t recognize myself in a mirror.

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Looking at these photos, taken one year apart, I am overwhelmed, seeing how very sick I was and remembering how afraid I was of not being here to mother my children on the next Mother’s Day.

Well, “afraid” isn’t the right word.  I was resigned.  I had surrendered to whatever God had planned.  I trusted Him.  I knew Heaven would be the easiest path for me, but it would also mean the hardest path for my young daughters.  That was what I feared.

But I’m still here.

So on this day –Mother’s Day, in likely the craziest year of our lives, 2020 –I am finding the good, because I get to mother every minute of everyday in unexpected, exhausting, intense, and glorious ways.

And it is a gift.

This is the narrative I choose.

–Jena

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