There are so many resources and disciplines available to feed the soul while connecting our deep gladness with the world’s deepest hunger.
One tool I have used is a weekly Ignatian examen on Sunday evenings. I pause to review the previous week and look forward to the week ahead across all areas of life. After squeezing my heart and mind into various tools for awhile, I now use a template I created that works best for me. This process of reflection comes easy to my personality. Identifying all the big picture pieces of life as they relate to future possibilities is what most occupies my brain space. (Inside baseball: If you’re a MBTI enthusiast, this is called being off-the-charts “N”.)
When the liturgical season of COVIDtide unexpectedly began in March, I began urgently checking in on friends. I craved the weekly green light that all was well in their households – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I found myself sharing and asking the question, “What’s giving you joy while you’re stuck at home?”
Then I began to notice a flood of blog posts, podcast episodes, and Instagram captions engaging with some version of the same question. It seems I was not the only one preoccupied with naming small joys during the disruption of pandemic life. Through all of this, I discovered fun kitchen hacks, recipe ideas, new podcasts, tips for batch cooking, book recommendations, and ways to hunt down beauty in outdoor spaces. (I’ll share links to a few favorites at the bottom.)
So I decided to add a spot on my examen template for “5 specific small joys.” While I kept my standard box for big picture areas of gratitude, I included this separate prompt to name small, concrete joys that are intentionally not tied to what is most meaningful and weighty in life. (Inside baseball: If you’re a MBTI enthusiast, this is called flexing my not-as-often used “S” muscle.)
In this strange season, naming the pure delight of a new lettuce knife or freshly cut roses on our kitchen table has been incredibly grounding and life-giving.
As I share 12 of these small joys, I invite you to comment, message, or Vox me any of the small joys you have been most grateful for during this season of COVIDtide.
1. The Lazy Genius Way Book. I have never-ever won a giveaway! Not for lack of trying. But I actually won a free copy of this book from an Instagram contest. I have found tons of energizing down-to-earth ideas and principles from Kendra Adachi’s podcast and now I am eager to dive into her first book.
2. Buy Nothing Project. At the beginning of COVID, I saw a friend sharing about these online Facebook groups where you can give or receive items from your neighbors. Not long after joining, I was able to snag a brand new cookbook that had been on my wishlist for some time. Many meal experiments have ensued.
3. Wind of Change Podcast. Tim is never wrong about these things. This is an eight-part podcast series based on the crazy question, “What if I told you that ‘Wind of Change,’ the 1990 power ballad from the Scorpions, might have actually been written by the CIA?” Incredibly fun, entertaining, and thought-provoking, I pounded this one fast.
4. Spotify Playlists. Making playlists has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. I delight in making a playlist for each liturgical season, every kind of road trip, and any and every mood. So of course, at the beginning of lock-down, I immediately made a COVID playlist that seemed to represent this year. Only 5 months later, it was clearly not sufficient and required a new one, “The Year was 2020,” to encapsulate the social unrest and hunger for “liberty and justice for all.”
5. Kombucha. I continue to experiment and fine-tune my kombucha-making skills. I’ve done this off and on for some time now and still am not happy with our fizz levels. I am slightly closer after discovering the power of the Arizona sun for the second ferment. We are pretty stuck on a ginger-turmeric-lemon juice flavoring at the end.
6. Batch Cooking. What can I make in bulk and freeze in a mason jar? How can I fill our deep freezer with nourishing goodness that will make meal prep simpler day-to-day? Anything from chicken tinga taco sauce to my dairy-free pesto to chicken broth to lemon juice to bulgogi marinade to turmeric mashed sweet potatoes to soups and beyond.
7. Hammock. For the first half of COVIDtide, taking 10 minutes every afternoon to lay under the tree in our backyard was pure joy. Cool breezes, big sky, singing birds. Now that we live on the surface of the sun – Phoenix broke heat records this year with over 50 days of 110+ temps with less than 4 inches of rainfall – I’m about ready to drag my hammock stand into the house. Instead, we have eagerly made frequent trips to my parents’ cabin for hammock time in survivable weather.
8. Succulents. Again, we began COVIDtide with lovely weather and jaunts out into the desert for hikes among saguaros… and most likely scorpions and gila monsters. Now I stare lovingly through the glass door at the beautiful succulents on my patio. One was a gift from a green-thumbed octogenarian couple from our church who will ask me about it when we return to in-person church. I am determined to say it not only still alive, but thriving.
9. Matcha Green Tea Lattes. I was delighted to receive a matcha starter kit for my birthday in May. This reinvigorated my love of matcha green tea lattes. I bought a large bag of Japanese matcha powder from our local Chinese grocer and while it may not be quite the same quality of all the hipster beautifully packaged options, it is crazy cheaper. Even the process of making these antioxidant-packed lattes is rhythmic and fun.
10. Ginger-Lemon Arnold Palmers. I tried my first standard Arnold Palmer during a driveway, distanced visit with a friend early in COVIDtide. She even threw in some fresh mint from her garden. What a special treat! I came home to a box of lemons from another friend’s tree and decided to try my hand at this delightful beverage. Sometimes I use a black/green tea blend and sometimes I use chamomile so we can have a refreshing non-alcoholic option for the evening. Then I throw in freshly squeezed lemon juice, raw honey, and pressed ginger. Oh yes.
11. Leather Padfolio. Another delightful birthday gift this year came from Tim. I love to make my own templates for everything from my weekly Ignatian examen to various journaling prompts and so on. Tim gave me this lovely hand-made Etsy padfolio gem to keep all of these templates in one beautiful place. I love having them all together and often flip through previous weeks and months, discovering themes and answers to prayer.
12. Psalms Prayer Cards. Okay, this list was meant to be small inconsequential joys, and these cards pack a weighty spiritual punch. But holding these lovely watercolor illustrations that correspond with the chapters of a book that has been a lifeline during COVIDtide is a concrete joy. Most days I select one to prop up or display in a small place card holder on our kitchen table. I have needed to fill our space with as much beauty as possible during this time.
There is more than enough heartache to tend, apathy to rend, and injustice to mend. Let’s be people who refuse to lose sight of every good and perfect gift from the Father above – from the small, concrete, and down-to-earth to the big, transcendent, and life-altering – we make the decision to give thanks in all things. I first learned this lesson when I worked with a personal hero who has given her whole life to the work of mercy and justice in a difficult slum. She would always tell me, “Katie, joy is a choice. Laughter is a choice.”
[A few favorite lists and reminders from others: 10 things Sasheer Zamata Can’t Live Without, The 10 Things Saving Kendra Adachi’s Life Right Now, Tamara Hill Murphy’s Prophetic Resistance of Flowers, Seeing Beauty Through the Eyes of Artist Lanecia Rouse Tinsley]