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.

Quarantine Diary: Could Be Worse

Today marks 21 days since we started social distancing, quarantine, and being home.

While yesterday the schools were pronounced closed until the next school year, today we move forward. Yesterday I listened to music and cried. I was folding laundry, and the weight of reality hit me hard. I just cried. It is like the rug is pulled out from under me over and over.

Today, however, is cause for celebration. My son turns five, we’ll see family (from a distance) that we haven’t seen in weeks, and we’ll let the weather remind us that not everyday is dark and dreary.

I mean, we could be hospitalized. We could be on the brink of death. Instead, we aren’t. Instead we are stuck in limbo, like Groundhog Day the movie. It often feels like the same day over and over. Sometimes, rarely, it doesn’t.

The benefits of this are that I’m writing daily. I’m on Facebook more (not truly my favorite benefit, but I’m still calling it one). My kids are together. I get to hug them anytime I want. I can breathe. I see the sun for what it is: warmth and solace. When we laugh, we laugh harder than we ever have. When we feel silly, we get sillier than we were before. We lean hard into the things we used to never have time for. We embrace the simplest of joys.

What a privilege to say it could be worse. Some days I feel like I’m just waiting for the virus to be in our house. Other days I forget about it for a bit. Today I get to celebrate the life of my son. Every so often I remember the kindness it is to live at all.

It all could change at a moment’s notice, but for this moment, it isn’t. I relish in the consistently bored parts of quarantine, remembering that it means it isn’t worse for us when it could be. That is a kindness.

What a kindness it is to live.

Quarantine Diary: Flames

The sun. It shines today, and for the first time in a long time, I can actually feel it.

It didn’t matter much if it shined before. It was hard to enjoy it. There was an ache in my bones that wasn’t warmed by the sun, and there was a rock in my stomach that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. But today, I see the sun.

I’ve been paying attention since this became a reality. My kids are outside playing and riding their bikes, which is so normal and expected of the warmth the sun brings. What isn’t normal is watching them watch their friends and not being able to play with them. They can talk, they can play separately. But we draw boundaries for them, remind them of the distance that is necessary at a time like this. While the sun is warm and comforting, it just doesn’t always do the trick when I’m reminded of the reality of our premises.

Something I have always been fascinated by is the idea of lamenting. Grief and sadness are often seen as something we should avoid, unwelcome feelings in the midst of life. We want to feel happy. When we don’t, we want to run away from it. N.T. Wright wrote an excellent thought on this for Time Magazine just within the past few days, and I dare say I can’t say it better.

The sun is shining. There is warmth. There is beauty today. But it isn’t all sunshine, either. There are thousands of people sick in my city. Thousands more will follow. More will die. I love the sun and what it brings. But I dare not ignore how I feel, either.

I feel without in many ways. I miss what was only a few weeks ago. I miss my mom and my dad. I miss being with family. I miss the trustworthiness of what is familiar. I miss knowing what to expect. And I lament.

We so often miss being in the reality we are in. Don’t we? For those of us who put our hope in Jesus, we mustn’t forget where we are now. We are to keep ourselves poised for eternity and yet uniquely positioned to be here in the world. The most important detail in this is significant: the promises of God for our future do not release us from paying attention to the present. This present moment is one of great suffering on a level that affects us all. Do not be deaf in your tone that you only offer hope without acknowledging the pain we are all feeling.

The warmth of the sun is an invitation to stand in it: we are all in this together. Truly. This is a historic moment of our humanity, and it is painful. The warmth of the sun reminds me. Outside of His palm I’ve never been found. He has me. He has us. And He laments with us as we grieve what is and what will be.

Quarantine Diary: Minutes

Give it a minute. Before this is over, you’ll be changed.

I’m reading the words all over the place: What are you excited to do when this is over? What do you miss since being quarantined? 

My first thought was how excited I am to hug the people I love. All of them. And hugging people is not my first instinct. I think when this is over, it will be.

That’s a change, isn’t it?

I haven’t been able to go on walks with my family because I’m recovering still from surgery. However, like the rest of us, I have had an inordinate amount of time to look outside my window. Many people go on walks by our house every day. In fact, some go by every day, and I have begun to recognize them. My introversion keeps me from bounding out the door to wave hello, but I am quickly becoming familiar with the people that live around me.

That’s a change, isn’t it?

It has been an interesting phenomenon to see in my own life how convinced I become that being the Church means going. It often means leaving, being neighborly with people who are geographically not my neighbors (yet still are, don’t get me wrong). I am conveniently blinded because often I am not here.

Quarantine is an eye-opener. And that is changing me.

I know we are longing for the world to return to normal. Who knows how long it will take for normalcy to return. When it does, I don’t think it will be the normal we remember. It will be scarred by the memories of all of us secluding ourselves, washing our hands, seeing so many without jobs. Normal will be different. As much I want a return to what was, I think is significantly important to recognize that the change this has on our lives is probably one that can be for the better of our souls.

What a discomfort it is to change ourselves. Against the nature of our commonly held routines, we have been asked to step inside for the sake of others. If it doesn’t change you, I’m sorry. It should. We are far too self-absorbed to hope for the world to return to the way it once was. To forget that we are learning to care for others? What a tragedy.

Before this is over, something new has been started. And frankly, this all might be too much change for any of us to bear. The grief of it weighs on me daily. But if we never change, never learn? It would be a loss to not soak in this gaping seclusion and find an opportunity to learn new ways to be. New ways to see others. New ways to be the Church without ever leaving our doorstep. What might seem like a hindrance in your purpose or mission given to you is meant to provide you the opportunity to creatively live out exactly who you’ve always been.

That’s a change, isn’t it?