All posts by Sarah Griffith Lund

About Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

The Deadliest Virus

“Grandma, what do you think of…?” This is how most conversations began with my 99 year old grandmother. Alert and thoughtful, she read the newspaper every day until the day she died.

I wish I could ask her now, “Grandma, what do you think of what happened to George Floyd?”

“Grandma, what do you think of what the President did in front of the church?”

“Grandma, what do you think of the protests?”

“Grandma, what do you think of the curfew?”

Grandma died on May 16, weeks before the brutal police murder of George Floyd. One of the last questions I asked her was, “Grandma, what do you think of the Coronavirus?”

She said, “It’s hard to believe it’s real. You look outside and you can’t see it.”

But now I wonder what she would say about a different virus, a more deadly virus that’s been infecting people for more than 500 years. Anti-black racism is the deadliest virus to infect the soul of this nation. We cannot build immunity to it. It continues to kill black and brown people while sickening the souls of white people. Racism is our nation’s original sin.

When Grandma suddenly fell seriously ill, we prepared for her to have a good death. To protect the health and safety of family members from contracting COVID19, we limited the number of family who could be present at her bedside.

Before her death, I led prayers for the dying on Facetime. I guided Grandma’s first born, my mother, in anointing her with oil, making a sign of the cross on her forehead. Spiritually, I was present and in the room with Grandma. A couple of days later, she died peacefully in her sleep at home.

As a local pastor, when I called my Grandma she always asked how things were going at the church. She’d listen closely and then say, “don’t work too hard.” My church last worshipped in-person on March 8, and since then has become an online church. I did not leave my house, apart from neighborhood walks, for almost three months.

When it came time for Grandma’s graveside memorial service our family decided to limit the number of people. We didn’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID19. Again, I stayed home and joined the family using Facetime to offer a scripture reading and prayer.

COVID19 kept me physically away from Grandma in her time of dying and in our family’s time of grieving her death. Mourning the death of a loved one is an emotional, spiritual and physical experience. Even though we are physically distant, our bodies still grieve, even when alone.

Just days after Grandma’s graveside service, George Floyd was killed. A call to action went out to all local pastors where I live in Indianapolis. Come protest. Wear a mask. I looked away.

I didn’t want to contract COVID19. I didn’t want to be a spreader. After three months of saying no to leaving the house, how could I change my mind now?

I got a direct message. Then I got a text. Then I got another text. Come. Are you coming? Black and white women clergy friends wanted to know. Can we count on you? Will you join us?

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what should I do?”

What a hypocrite to leave my house now! Why didn’t I go out then, if I am thinking about going out now? What has changed?

I went to God in prayer, “O Holy One, show me. Help me. What should I do?”

I wanted to go to Grandma’s bedside. I wanted to go to Grandma’s graveside. But I knew I could not.

I did not want to go to the protest. I did not want to be exposed to COVID19. But I knew I had to go.

Black lives matter.

Prayer changed me. In prayer, God guided my steps. God said to go.

With God’s help, I do what I cannot do alone.

With God’s help, I go to places I fear.

With God’s help, I speak when I have no words.

With God’s help, I give my life.

Leaving my house during the global pandemic in order to join hundreds of strangers to protest was an act of rebellion. I did not want to do it. But I had to do it. I did not want to go. But I had to go.

While the threat of COVID19 is very real and deadly, the threat of anti-black racism remains the greatest threat to the lives of white, black and brown people. Until we eradicate this vitriolic virus, we will continue to spread the virus for generations to come.

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”

A respected and beloved family member contacted me after seeing my social media post about attending the clergy protest at the Indiana State House. She rightly questioned my logic. How, she asked, could I go to be with thousands of people, yet I wouldn’t come to be with family at a time of our greatest need?

Millions of people are taking to the streets across the world peacefully protesting. COVID19 is still a threat. Health experts predict a surge of COVID19 illnesses and deaths from these super spreader events.

Yet, for us all to stay safe and stay healthy at home is not safe or healthy at all. Not really. How safe and healthy is it to continue to live in a nation where the anti-black racism virus has nearly a 100% infection rate among whites?

In a global pandemic, people are risking their lives fighting the deadliest virus of all time. We are concocting the vaccine together, in our bodies, in our cries, in our protests. In the streets and in the voting booth, there is hope for eradicating the deadliest virus.

“Grandma, who art in heaven, what do you think?”

“Go. Wear a mask. Stay physically distanced if you can. I couldn’t believe in the coronavirus because I couldn’t see it. But this virus you are fighting I’ve seen my whole life. Go and do your part to stop it.”

Photo by Jerrel L. Farries

Mental Health Pandemic

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. COVID-19 is infecting our brains. Even if you don’t test positive for the virus, it’s making us all, even the uninfected, mentally sick. It’s safe to say the mental infection rate is nearly one hundred percent.

Our mental health depends on three primary areas: strong social networks to prevent social isolation, strong personal connection to fight off loneliness, and strong financial health to fight off stress from money worries. This virus has attacked every single one of these areas and in major ways. Who hasn’t had their social networks, personal social connections and finances infected by this virus? Some of us are more negatively impacted than others—women, people of color, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities.

This mental health pandemic will last much longer than COVID-19. It will be with us for generations because of the trauma that is rewiring our brains as we speak and reshaping our DNA. Now is the time to put into place measures to help us recover from the mental health pandemic.

Now for the good news. We know what mental health requires of us. We know that strong social networks, personal social connections, and financial health promote mental wellness. Using this information, we can be proactive about treating this virus that infects our mental health.

Here are five key investments to make during a mental health pandemic:

1. Invest in your social networks. Being connected to peers who share our interests, hopes and dreams gives us a sense of belonging and affirms our sense of purpose. This can be a professional group, a recreational group, a recovery group or a religious group. We are wired to belong to others. Find your people and stay connected in safe and healthy ways.

2. Invest in your personal connections. We are dying alone and we are dying from loneliness. Friendships affirm our sense of self-worth and self-love. It’s hard to love ourselves when we don’t feel loved. A friend is someone who loves us. A friend is someone we love. This simple love can save us from despair.

3. Invest in financial wellbeing. Worrying about money is a huge stressor. Unemployment is at an all time high. We define our worth by how much money we make. That’s a lie. We have value no matter what. Take time to create a new budget to follow during the pandemic. What are the bare essentials? What can you make do without? How can you save money and cut down on expenses? How can our communities with surplus finances help others so that everyone has enough? There is enough if we share.

4. Invest in caring for your body. Moving our bodies improves our mental health. Drinking water and eating healthy food is good for the brain. Our brains need sleep. Naps are good. Be mindful of how your body feels and treat it gently. Your body is a temple. Your body is holy.

5. Invest in caring for your mind. Cultivate positive emotions to balance out the negative ones. We are filled with sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear these days. Take breaks from the news cycle. Turn off electronic devices. We can reclaim our humanity by intentionally focusing on what brings us joy, contentment, pleasure and awe. The truth is we can acknowledge despair and joy at the same time. Our mental health suffers when we are consumed by despair. Be intentional about creating time and space everyday for noticing what is good, even if it’s only the goodness of our very breath, a ray of sunlight, or a single wildflower pushing up through the concrete. Be present in the moment and let go of what you cannot control.

Remember that you are not alone. You are loved. This pandemic will not win. We will overcome despair by coming together. Our love for ourselves and for each other is what will save us. We are saved one day at a time.

Global Anxiety Pandemic

Right now we are living through a global anxiety pandemic. This situational anxiety is the result of the COVID19 global pandemic. If you haven’t already, now is the time to look to mental health experts and to people with lived experiences in recovery from anxiety. These people are heroes, too.

In my family, we are survivors of post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. The good news is that each one of us can take proactive steps to slow the spread of the global anxiety pandemic. Even if you aren’t feeling symptoms now, taking these steps will improve your resilience and positively impact your health.

Here are five easy and healthy ways to manage symptoms of anxiety that my household finds helpful:

1) Get plenty of sleep. Take naps, more than one nap a day is okay. Nap on the couch, in bed, in the chair, or on the floor. Sleep helps the brain recover and reset.

2) Drink lots of water. Mental health is physical health. We need water to help keep our bodies clean on the inside.

3) Move your body. Anxiety is physical. It lives not just in your head, but throughout your whole body. Some people feel it in their shoulders and neck, some in their abdomen. Moving our bodies unlocks anxiety’s grip on us. Tell anxiety to take a hike! Simple movements help to relax muscles and empowers your system to overcome the “fight or flight” reflex. Stretching, walking, yoga, choose what feels best to you.

4) Express your feelings. Keep a journal, talk to a friend or loved one. Talk to a counselor or therapist. Anxiety often stretches the truth. We need the perspective of other people in order to find balance. Instead of black or white, realities are often shades of gray. Sorting through repetitive anxious thoughts and releasing them helps to free yourself from their power.

5) Embrace the now. Anxiety is often triggered by fear of dynamics in the future. You have the power to focus on the here and now. Deep breathing practices can help us be present in the moment. Make it a daily practice to pause throughout your day to take three slow deep breaths.

Did you notice how much of managing anxiety relates to our physical bodies? This is good news because it means that how we choose to use our bodies impacts our mental health. We can each choose to treat our bodies with compassion, kindness, gentleness and love. We can also slow the spread of the global anxiety pandemic, one mind and one body at a time. It starts with you.

Mental Health Resources: •National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) http://www.nami.org, •National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml, •United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCCMHN) http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/?m=1, •Suicide Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255