First Day, Tired Eyes

I’m never going to sleep again.

It always felt that way. The next day, the first day, was always a day heavy with tired eyes because I never slept well the night before.

When I started having kids, I rarely thought about the first day of school because it was far enough away that I didn’t need to worry about it. Now we’re in the swing of school-aged kids, and I welcome the start of school with relief and also wish its banishment when I realize the end of summer has arrived.

This year, for the most obvious reason, is much more complicated.

Five months they have been home. Five months since they have sat in a classroom with friends. Five months since the world was turned on its head. And as the time for them to begin again draws closer and closer, I lay awake a night, thinking, I’m never going to sleep again.

When this happened to me as a kid, I would turn on Animal Planet and watch whatever show was on at the late hour. I loved watching Steve Irwin on his show. It was such an odd comfort to me when I was a kid to watch his show, like a distraction from what was coming with the morning light. Now I hold my phone and distract myself of sleeplessness with endless timelines, opinions, information, upheaval. I drown out anxiety with another form of it, until I fall asleep praying to forget what is distracting me so.

This year, our boys are staying home for school for a while. For an unknown amount of time. When I knew I would have a choice, this one was the automatic gut response, like my intuition and God Himself were telling me so. I was reluctant to choose because the finality of it felt damning in some ways and terrifying in others. How do I know what will work? How am I supposed to aid in their learning? Is this the chance to grow as a teacher in ways I didn’t know I need skilled? What if they hate it? What if I hate it? What if they learn nothing? What if…?

We sat down to dinner a few nights later, and I laid it all out for them. These boys…they are more empathetic than I realize, and they are more forgiving than I am. I told them we wanted them to stay home, that it seems right. And I’ll never forget how much they wanted it for themselves, too. Not because I said, “You must do as I say.” It’s because they really do want to be here. And by God, they want to be together. Their brotherhood is something I’ve always prayed would grow every year, and somehow they’ve loved every second of being together (outside of their arguments and physical altercations–remember, they’re boys). They are their truest selves here, and they still want to stay. It is a unique privilege that they want us and that I get to be with them for more time than I anticipated. My fears and “what ifs” changed, morphed into a realization that I get to do this. To be their mom and their teacher at a time like this is not a burden, and that alone leaves me speechless with gratitude.

With that in mind, every night I lay awake. The anxiety in my stomach is persistent. When everything is about to begin, I feel like all I want to do is hide.

But it hit me, quite unexpectedly, yesterday. I was standing with one of my boys in my dining room, and like whispers, I remembered. If there is anyone equipped for these boys, it is me. The anxiety I feel is not because we cannot do this; it is because I am afraid I will neglect to do this well. The standards I feel we must meet (and I expect to fall short in)? Standards put on me by an unseen force working against our good. These kids are not worried about a thing. They are not concerned about this not going well. They are more excited than ever. The sleeplessness in my mind and my body is a whole lot of fear with not real foundation of truth.

So I pray. A lot. I rest, more than normal, to give myself space leading up to this “unprecedented” moment. I remind myself that this abnormal year does not mean I must perfectly respond. There is no perfect response. There is a lot of grief, anxiety, unwanted circumstances. And with that, I must remember we are all doing okay and not okay, and God is here with us through it all and in between.

I wish so much that I could retreat from this world for a while. I wish I could find a place alone in the wilderness with my family, separated from the turmoil and stress. But I am reminded that the luxury to retreat from pain is not a luxury at all when we are all reeling. We all want to flee this, do we not? If normal could return in an instant, I think we’d all flock to it. But as of yet, we’re all riding these tumultuous waves, holding on for dear life without losing our sanity and ourselves. It is a unique comfort to notice that I am, in fact, not alone in the slightest. We are wading through uncharted waters with a total lack of experience all around. If anything, we are learning the terrain and working hard and finding out what we’re made of.

We’re all doing okay and not okay. It might feel like we’ll never sleep again. But you will. We will. And right before sleep overtakes me, I realize that this unprecedented life is changing me in the way I’ve always needed to grow and become. The pain of change is that it breaks us and remakes us into the people we must become for a world like this one.

The Fresh Pain of Change

Given what time does to us, it is remarkable we forget what we do. The pains of childbirth, the aches of running when we are not runners, the strain of pressure we thought we could handle but recognize far too late is not our cup of tea.

Again. And again. Our minds recoil and snap back to a reality before our downfalls, and we repeat the same mistakes, the same pains, and the same heartbreaks. Again and again.

I forget how painful change feels until I am past the point of no turning back. The change has occurred, a few steps ahead of me I move, and only then do I look back and realize the cutting off that has occurred. Like deadheading a rose on a beautiful bush, we prune what is slowly dying to begin to grow something new again. It changes the dynamic of our soul, whether we agree to like it or not, and it is a shift in our nature to move toward the sheers of cutting and dismembering to only recreate and regrow.

Like slicing through flesh to expose the infection, we gravitate towards fresh pain to enact a necessary change.

We sat this morning on our couch, like we have for Sundays on end to be with the Church virtually. It has not been easy. For people like us who actively serve in the church body every Sunday, we have been shoved in a different direction, where our service is forced outside walls that are expertly crafted. Instead, we attempt to engage with others who are much like us in these days of COVID where time is irrationally slow and impossibly difficult to remember. We rise to greet the screen, and I find myself surprised every time when God meets me where I am courageous enough to meet Him. We resist change when it feels like a war against our familiar. Yet that’s what we see our Creator doing, page after page after page in His story. Pruning, cutting, destroying, only to rebuild to create something better.

It is painful to change what we didn’t agree to lift the knife to embark on new life.

The moment it happens, the test begins. We don’t like the pain of change because it means revealing a truer part of ourselves that we can easily hide when we’ve memorized the landscape of our expectations. When we know the way, we take the easier path. It’s when the blade is through that the path changes, the landscape shifts, and the vision we held is lifted. Instead of being clothed with our belongings, we’ve got nothing to hold onto. We gather ourselves and everything our arms can hold. The fresh pains of change are like a dismemberment of our capabilities, reversing what we’ve always known, giving us a backward sense of what we’ve always believed to be true.

To sum up my world for this day and nearly every day for a year, it would be this: fresh pain of change.

I forgot what it was for things to shift nearly out of my control. I forgot what it felt to be uncomfortable in a new natural order of things within my life. I forgot what the pain of pruning feels like on a weary soul.

No one likes this much. It reminds me of the moments right before my youngest, Rosie, was born. I was careening in pain through the contractions. I remember laying on the bed, exhausted from feeling ready to meet this new life and also terrified at what it means to give birth. The contractions stopped for a moment. I was helpless to the pain. I was helpless to the inevitable. Whether I wanted it or not, this baby girl was coming into the world. But I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to escape from the pain and reality that was seconds within my reach.

What is fresh pain is also an avenue for the way forward. A birthright to our life. A coming of age into our own humanity. It hurts like hell yet dawns on us a possibility of becoming.

The fresh pain of change means new life is coming.

The Call of This Wild

Day after day I decide my approach, my knack, my fear. I give pleasantries to my worries and anxieties and head out the door for another day, another time, another downtrodden walk toward what feels monotonous and obtuse all at once.

There is much to be frustrated, angry, bitter about. There is much that makes me long for a vase to throw at the wall. Some days feel like a blow to the face. Other days are like a blow behind my back. And yet I remember that we are all facing blow after blow, unless we are living in a whole other world altogether. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be hidden away from reality and away from you all.

The togetherness is what makes it sweet amongst all the bitter, bitter fruit.

Navigating the parameters of a pandemic, racial injustice, changes in my personal life, unknowns, motherhood, choosing schooling for my children…It is a never-ending cycle of grief. It’s hard to spot until it hits me in the gut. Some nights I lay in bed and wonder how this is real. How the world flipped upside down. How my world changed. How much I long for what was. Grief tangled with stress, partnered with change is like a cocktail of unknown proportions, forced down my throat as I’m shoved back out into my life and expected to exist as happily as ever after.

The trick to navigating the cycles we’re in (for me) is processing what’s happening before me. Cry when it’s unexpected. Speak when I want to hide from it. Face what feels unsurmountable. I don’t know what’s best for anyone, let alone myself. So I lean to my left, cradled in the arms of God hoping He is strong enough to withstand my overwhelming sense of doubt. How did we arrive here? Who are we? Why does the Church sound like this? Why am I exhausted day in and day out? Will we make it to the other side?

It is all far too much for one person, and yet it is our call, this wild. This is an untamed reality we are in where fear is at the summit, and we often venture to the top expecting our words to ring out in piercing truth. But we have missed it. The Church forgets that where the world weeps, there we should be. We think we should be above the fear and pain as holders of everlasting truth, but we forget that we are not the Source. We are not the hope. We are not the bearers of ultimate truth. We are not saviors by any means. We are broken people who were lucky enough to be drawn in by a mighty God. And He sends us that we might be His meager hands and feet, showing a semblance of His glory when we can get past ourselves and actually reveal it.

This is not what I wanted. I wanted a different reality. But this wild is ours. To crawl away or hide from it, to smite it as though we are too holy for it, to condemn it is to discredit your witness. It is harmful to the witness of our beaten, murdered Savior for us to cry above the world without crying within it. The pain is palpable if you open your palms to it.

I could tell you anything. I could give you any piece of advice and hope you take it, but I won’t. The work of the Holy Spirit is beyond me, and He will convict hearts that are soft enough to listen. You best trust that if you haven’t felt an ounce of conviction for some time, it’s because your heart is like stone in your ribs, sinking slowly and weighing you down with every step.

I see it in the words we tout on social media, our soapboxes of our own creation where we think our words must be heard and hold the greatest value. We forget the greatest work is in loving our neighbor. Instead, we chastise them and berate them for not rising to a standard they don’t know exists.

The world quakes and moves, whether we are above it or among it. It would be a shame to excuse ourselves from the pain of our surroundings simply because it isn’t our pain. It would be a travesty to ignore the reality and history of others because it doesn’t affect our life. It would be a sin to ignore your brother or sister just because they don’t know Jesus like you do.

This is the wild you were called upon to enter. Resist the urge to build hedges around yourself from the people who are craving the acknowledgment and love they need.

The call of this wild is yours to know and yours to step into. If ever there were or is a time you are needed, it is now.

Quarantine Diary: The Fear

So here’s the thing. We’re all afraid of something.

A pandemic is revealing. And whether you like it or not, I think our fears reveal a lot about ourselves.

Like, for instance, the fear of a virus. Or the fear of dying. The fear of isolation.

Naming our fear takes guts and humility.

More fears? The fear of acknowledging what makes us uncomfortable: racism, being a minority, being told what to do, having to listen to authority, losing our freedom.

I’ve probably lost some readers at this point.

My fear is being totally honest and what someone will think of me as a result. Saying what I mean and meaning it is terrifying. Chances are I’m going to lose someone. At least, that’s what it feels like in my gut. In reality, this fear never pans out. The last time I lost someone to being totally honest? It actually hasn’t happened. Yet the fear is like an overbearing, oppressive weed that takes over much of my mind.

I’m not really afraid of what’s happening right now with COVID-19. However, I don’t take it lightly, either. When hundreds of thousands of people die from a highly contagious disease, I’ll choose the wisdom to do what I can to prevent others from getting sick (note: highly contagious). One thing I read over the past few weeks that has stuck with me is this: Wearing a mask is a sign of humility. It means I’m willing to lay down my rights so others won’t get sick (and I keep my germs to myself). Did you know that’s actually biblical? Paul talks about laying down rights in 1 Corinthians 8 when he discusses sacrificing food to idols. Clearly, that’s not something we’re doing in our modern day. We are, however, made up of people who struggle with different things. For some, it is easier to navigate this life of faith. For others, it isn’t. For some, they are at a high risk of severe illness by contracting COVID. For others, they aren’t.

Here’s the kicker: we aren’t here to maintain our rights. We’re here to lay them down for others.

And on top of this pandemic, we’re stuck in our homes to ponder the other issues in our world. Like a black man named Ahmad Arbery being gunned down senselessly on a jog. Or a black woman named Breonna Taylor who was killed senselessly while laying in her bed.

Listen, this pandemic? I’m stuck at home with kids who run me ragged. Evan and I have spent quite a few hours in the past eight weeks talking about faith, life, and injustice and what we can do. It troubles us when white people are silent about racism. It troubles us when the biggest concern many have is being told what to do. I’ve had time to think and time to listen.

I’m listening to black men and women in our community because if anyone knows what it’s like to lay down their rights over and over, it’s them. And they’re tired. If you listen long enough, the weariness in their voices is palpable. Being an anti-racist means being against it. Saying nothing is a privilege I know far too many are willing to take.

There’s not much to do these days but decide to care. To listen. To hear what’s happening in the world. To maybe wear a mask and consider it a symbol of solidarity for the person who could become deathly ill otherwise. To maybe speak up for others. To care. It might not cost you a thing but your breath.

I’m willing to lay down my rights, you know? I am working on unsettling my fear of being heard and the impact my voice might have because the truth is, it is costly to be silent.

Quarantine Diary: Tears

Today I drove for the first time in four weeks.

I picked up coffee from the coffee shop at our church.

And I cried when I drove home, when I walked in the door at my house, and when I told my husband how hard it is to see the people you love without truly being with them.

My heart aches a bit, you know?

Throughout this time of separation, it’s easier to discern what actually matters to me over what I choose to care about. What actually matters are the things and the people that leave aches in my soul, like holes that were punctured by someone’s fist. What I choose to care about are things that I can live without: a haircut, takeout, shopping at Target once a week. Those things don’t leave aching holes in my soul. Being without what matters most makes me feel a bit incomplete.

We’ve been watching church online for the past month or so, and while it isn’t the same as being with our family, it does reveal what I often bring to the altar in hopes that it’s good enough for God. I don’t realize I do things with the expectation that God will be pleased. Don’t we all? And isn’t that why so many don’t go to God to begin with? We have cemented in our minds an idea that we need to do something, bring something, and be something for God to be pleased with us. It’s how we navigate being in relationship with others, often considering our selfish desires over the desires of someone else. I am close to God, and I am so delighted to know Him. So to realize that I still have these misconceptions tells me that so do the rest of you. I am not a better believer because I know Him. I am still learning, and He is still teaching me.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! Romans 8:15-17, MSG

What’s next, Papa?

Often when I am in a church service surrounded by other people, I find myself raising my hands to God because it makes sense to me. In the comfort of my home, however, there is a shift in the way I worship. My arms don’t go in the air towards the heavens. My body doesn’t sway to the music like it does when I stand in a crowd. Instead, I find myself closing my eyes and sitting, soaking in His presence and His trustworthy love, arms in my lap, tears filling my eyes. The world is not what I want it to be, and I revel in believing that He is still the same.

He touches my spirit, and He confirms who I really am. I am not a poster child for the perfect believer, one who stands in a crowd of worship and displays affection for the Father so others can be a witness. I am His girl, wrapped in His lap, and only comforted by who He is to us: a Father who sees and knows, who endures the pain with us and absorbs our pain as we weep in His arms.

What’s next is probably more suffering, more pain, and more separation. I’ll cry more tears, and I will ache daily for the presence of the people I love. What makes me weep is that even in my discomfort and grievances, He is still the Father, still the comfort, still mine. He is closer to me than my breath, and I grieve with hope knowing He grieves with me.

We know who He is and we know who we are: Father and children. You know, nothing is outside of His vision? What happens to us and our world has passed through His hand. My vision is not pain, and neither is His. But if anyone can direct my path amid grief, it is a God who willingly sacrificed Himself to a painful death so I could live. Pain is not for nothing. Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). Suffering is not unique to those who endure it. Suffering is what it means to be human. And redemption is what it means to be His.

Certainly, we will be with Him. Do you believe it? Certainly, He will be with us. Pain comes, grief exists, and yet the God who knows and loves us has never left us for a moment. That is love.

Quarantine Diary: Love Letters

Sometimes it’s the simplest words that say it best, you know?

I remember when Evan and I were preparing to get married, we agreed that we wanted to write our own vows. It’s no surprise to anyone that we’d do something like that. I had been writing letters to him for the two years leading up to our wedding. I’d write them to remind him I loved him. I’d write them to remind myself of what we were heading towards together. Writing my vows to him was like finishing the letters I had been writing for years.

I distinctly remember sitting down to write those significant words and feeling like I had said so much already. What I wanted to say would only take a few sentences. It felt like it wasn’t enough in some ways, as though I should have had a long letter of love to share with him. But he already knew so much of what I would say. We’d been saying them to each other for months. So when the time came to share my vows with the kid I was marrying, it was only a few sentences, filled with more meaning than I realized.

Today we’re celebrating nine years of marriage. Nine years! Evan turned to me last night while we lay in bed, and he said, “We’ve been sleeping in the same bed for nine years. That’s a long time to share a bed with someone.” I laid there thinking about it, while I was also thinking about my sprained shoulder (that I injured at a doctor’s appointment yesterday, go figure). It is weird that we have spent more time together than we have apart. Soon we’ll be together longer than we’ve been without each other. We grew up together in many ways. From learning who we are as people, parents, and citizens, to discovering why we believe, Who we believe in, and for what aim. We’ve discovered ourselves and each other again and again over the years. It’s a sign that change is unavoidable, and I wouldn’t want to discover myself, this world, or our God with anyone else.

We’ve been stuck in our house for 26 days with our kids, and we haven’t wanted to get a divorce. I’d call that a win, wouldn’t you? I think it’s because we’ve fought for this, and we have fought for it often. Falling in love as teenagers and getting married was the easy part, to be honest. Staying in love, learning to love, and wanting to love are what make me like the guy even more every day.

There is one thing I’m certain about when it comes to marriage: it’s worth the work. And what’s more, it isn’t worth being selfish over. That truth transcends marriage and falls over every relationship. Loving someone is easier when it’s not for our benefit. It can take years for that to take root. When it does? Your world changes. The way you see the world and the people in it changes. If Evan has taught me anything (and trust me, he has taught me a LOT), it’s that selflessness makes a difference. I married one of the most selfless people I know. He is first to serve without recognition, willing to do for others what no one else will do, and will always take the time to ask how you’re doing in the process. He cares for others. And he cares for me better than I sometimes care for myself.

Happy nine, Hotness. Every year is better with you.

Quarantine Diary: Courage

I told a friend last night that it is annoying how this moment can yield two different experiences.

For my kids, this is the best time of their life. They get to be home, they get to be with their parents all day every day, and they don’t have to go to school (although, school has come to them via the Internet and their new teacher, me).

For me, I wrestle with fear, boredom, and overstimulation. Being with the same people all day every day makes me cranky and easily frustrated. The noise that comes with my kids overwhelms me easily, while sometimes it is easy to ignore. I’ve started watching neighbors walk by, trying to figure out who they are, what they do, and if they should befriend my husband because they have the same sense of style (what else is there to do besides play friend matchmaker?). The reality of sickness scares the hell out of me, and when I started sneezing a few days ago, my gut prompted me to panic. Turns out I was just sneezing.

Deep breaths.

On Saturday, I spent half of the day outside timing my boys as they did sprints for nearly an hour. We threw a football back and forth, and I taught them how to hold it right so it would spin on every throw (special thanks to my brother for the technique). We laughed together about how funny it looks when someone trips and falls, and we snuggled in exhaustion after a long day in the sun. We celebrated Finn’s birthday with a birthday parade the day prior, and we ate two helpings of cake because quarantine means indulging a bit more than normal. We enjoyed the noise, the together-ness, the love. Some days are hard, others are not.

While these days are long and arduous, I am not here to write to give everyone a piece of encouragement. I just can’t muster it most of the time. I drag myself to my Bible to just keep reading. Do you ever do that? Opening the page feels like lifting a weight: heavy and complicated, even though all you want to do is just read. I’m praying before I sleep so I can sleep. I’m praying when I’m reading the numbers because there isn’t anything else to do. My only encouragement in this is that Jesus is my Jesus, and I have Him. He is consistent. He is faithful. And if I sneeze tomorrow and fall into a virus slump, I will have Him. I keep reading the Bible because I love Him too much to quit. I just read with no agenda, not even a pen in hand. Like a still lake, I float in the words and let them sink into my skin. I don’t have it in me to thoughtfully analyze every bit of Scripture because it isn’t the comprehension I crave. It’s Him. Nothing else makes sense but His persistent love.

Deep breath.

For the time being, I’ll keep writing and wringing my hands. I’ll float in the Scripture waters and let them keep me afloat. I’ll pray, and then I’ll call the people I love. I’ll stare out the windows at my neighbors as they walk by. I’ll stay home. I’ll find a peace that one day this diary will close, and I won’t have to write about it anymore.