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?

Quarantine Diary: Tendons

Before I had time to think, we were holed up together and uncertain of a time when normalcy would ever return. What a rude awakening.

Just days before, I was sitting in a hospital waiting to have a scheduled surgery. My husband and I were watching the news that morning as the virus was beginning to make its way into our country. It was before there was a guidance to cancel all elective surgeries. It was before there was a stay at home order. It was before my kids’ school closed. I was put to sleep and woke up to a different world.

It’s been two weeks since we’ve existed in the world like we always did: taking up space, going where we wanted, buying all the food we needed for the week, hugging the people we love. My surgery went well, but it confined me to the couch as I recover ever-slowly with four kids running circles around us as we try to make money, do schoolwork, maintain a 4.0 GPA in college (just me), keep a trace of sanity. Whenever the sun’s out, we make them run in it. Whenever we see a familiar face on the screen, we bask in the joy of seeing someone new that has been in our life for years but is physically inaccessible to us. Whenever there’s a moment of silence, we relish that we’ve made it this long together.

The word “Coronavirus” comes out of my kids’ mouths in their innocent voices, and it’s like it makes no sense. What world is this? Why is everything twisted and rearranged? Will we make it? I carry stress well most of the time, but lately, I don’t. I’m anxious in my gut thinking of people I love and like. And if I hear another sermon about it all I might barf. Or cry. Or fall asleep. I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I don’t think any of us were.

I crawled back into this space to write because this is what I know how to do. I know how to show up and deliver on eloquence and deep emotion that resonates with others. I have no idea how to do anything else when it comes to this virus. I feel paralyzed and exhausted, which is an oddity considering how little I have done for two weeks.

However, in the darkest days of my life, I showed up to God with a pen and said, “Tell me what to say.” Some of it felt like pulling a splinter from my skin. Sometimes it feels like gliding on a swing like a little kid being pushed by her daddy. It is a reassuring practice of finding freedom in a moment when I feel the most captive, most trapped, and most terrified.

You aren’t me. But we all have something that spiritually connects us. I think even for those of us who aren’t believers in Jesus know exactly what I mean. There are things that we do that connect us to unseen greatness. Passions, talents, skills. It’s like walking in shoes that were formed for our feet, doing something that feels to us like it’s in our skin and bones, molded into every fiber of us.

To tell you the truth, we have a lot of time while we wait. I invite you to join me in doing the things, the small things, that give you the most joy. The things that remind you of you. The things that connect you deeply.

I think you’ll see God. And if ever there were a time to want to see Him, I trust you know it’s now.

Muscles & Bones

My alarm goes off, and I reach over to silence it. Maybe hit the snooze button a few times. I get up, and begin the trek upstairs to my boys. Sometime in the last few months I’ve noticed something new: my muscles ache and my bones crack in the early morning as I walk up those stairs. An honest reminder that no one, especially me, is getting younger.

Truthfully, it’s okay. Until I forget and drink a latte way after 5 PM and regret it at 12:35 AM as I’m staring at the ceiling. That was me, last night, scrolling through years worth of blog posts that are posted right here in this beloved, sacred space of mine. My, how God changes us when we let Him. To see His work in our own lives is like seeing beauty for the first time. It’s breathtaking.

I’ve been studying the book of Esther for the past eight weeks. As part of my study, I read through commentaries from other people, specifically people from different countries, parts of the world, races, and contexts. They weren’t reading from the mindset of a 29-year-old white, Midwestern woman. They read the Bible through a completely different lens than I did.

Somewhere between now and 16 years ago, I started to believe that differing perspectives were difficult and testing, not beneficial. It’s taken years to see it as otherwise.

The past year has been trying and conflicting for me and my world. I’ve known for some time that this moment in life and faith is meant to grow and change me into who I am meant to be. But it hurts, like the way my muscles ache and my bones crack in the morning. I’m trying to wake myself back up because I’ve been sleeping on too much for too long.

For the first time in a while, it feels like I’ve stepped into the right place. Like the tension of the world and heaven has created a tightrope, and I’ve finally gotten it. I can feel how all that surrounds me could make me fall, but my feet have memorized how to move better, more steadfast, with confidence. For a long time it felt like walking through a wall of rain and fire. But now it feels like walking with the rain and fire is what has made all of this easier.

The dimensions of Christianity are complex, but truthfully, you and I have to blame for a lot of that. For too many of us, living a life for Christ means standing with straight spines, neat appearances, measured steps, plastered smiles, and kindness that feels like dead air.  We speak words that fall on deaf ears because our words are pretty dead themselves. Aren’t they? We speak with no action, we love with ulterior motives, we pray with plans already made. We’re complicating something that is not so complicated.

And my goodness, no wonder I don’t fit in with it.

I think about Jesus in the Bible and the way He behaves with people. Not only is He so self-sacrificing, but He is so aware. His back is bent to reach low. His words are like oil on rusted wheels, getting minds and hearts moving towards a Kingdom they know can be theirs. He doesn’t walk with dead words. He walks and embraces and hugs and loves like it is the simplest thing in the world.

As I was studying Esther, discovering this book over and over for eight weeks, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head: He is relevant to all of us in all of our complexities. He is applicable to all of us because He is so acutely aware of us and who we are. And He does not back away from us. It’s quite the contrary: we often back away from Him, sure He’s a liar, sure He’s a thief, sure He’s not really who He says He is. We’d rather look like those with rigid appearances and dead air than we would look like a king who serves like a slave.

Sometimes when I’m standing in worship at church, I close my eyes and pray with any fervor I can muster. Sometimes the Church looks like a bunch of sleeping buffoons, and by God, I don’t want that for them. I close my eyes and start letting the Spirit speak for me. I invite Him in, like rain and wind and fire, and ask Him to get us moving towards Him, whatever it takes. That we step out of line a little bit, get out of our minds the idea that we have to look and be and do as all others do. I pray for Him to weave among us as we stand in our spaces, afraid to move for fear of being wrong.

If there ever were a time to begin moving in the world like Jesus did, it is now. If there ever is a time to be unashamed of the gospel, it’s today. Otherwise, you’re looking at a life lived with dead words coming from your mouth hitting dead air and deaf ears.

It’s time to wake up.

Steps Toward the Creator

Before I knew what I was doing, I was being who I was. There’s a lot less fear when you are unaware of the effects of living a free life. Not that there are ramifications, but when you are newly free, you aren’t easily jaded by the circumstances you find yourself in.

As time goes on, the fear of being seen and judged is heavy and uncomfortable. I don’t want it from anyone. I want to walk the way I’m supposed to, but fear gets stuck at the bottom of my shoes, slowing me down, reminding me of what I think about before I fall asleep some nights.

The devil is not stingy when it comes to us. He knows what we would be capable of if we jumped and ran, so he dishes out fear in multilayered pieces. He snakes in the cracks and plants seeds that grow into thick weeds. He will give us the best he’s got because it’s all he has. And isn’t it a shame that we let him win? Especially when we can look to our right and see a Man with blood-stained hair and holes in the palms of his hands. That Man has more power in his right pocket than the devil has in his whole being, but for some reason, we crumble under the weight of the power of a crumbly being.

I’m working on it. I’m not here to say I have fear in its place and that freedom is every bit of how I walk with Jesus everyday. I do know Whose I am and who I am, but there are many days between here and there when I don’t know where to turn to be rescued from fear.

I’ve seen what believers do to each other when they fail. I’ve seen the condescending words trickle from their mouth to unbelievers. I’ve heard it in my own mind and heart. This soul is scared to death of what the Church will do to her if she ever speaks her mind. I would rather cozy up with fear. So I do.

Hallelujah that the Lord knows my innermost being. Praises escape me when I recognize that I am not in a prison, that I am not bound to fear, that I am made right with a King who loves His girl. I may toss and turn in the night and cling to what I want to throw past me, but He is rooting for me. I’ve already won because I’ve got Him. Yet now we move, into the space where we can make brave movements towards a God who is always moving towards us.

I see You. I’m running.

The Wind

Standing before me is a mountain I have never asked to climb. It isn’t one I want to die on, nor is it one I’d like the world to witness. But lo and behold, here we all are standing before mountains we never asked for and lives we never envisioned, with troubles at every valley and short-lived glory at the peaks.

And the wind.

It can be a force to be reckoned with or a push forward. It can be changing and forceful, and like the pockets of the ocean as they rise and fall in the waves, so is the wind. It hides and weaves, hits like a wall and pushes like its strength is unceasing.

On the mountain, the wind can make all things better and all things worse, sometimes all at once.

I read the other day that leaders must lead. They mustn’t sit idly by when someone needs to stand up and say something. Silence is agreeing that whatever is happening is fine.

While I was sitting in my living room, scrolling through my phone, I stopped there: Leaders must lead. I looked up at the wall in front of me. The wallpaper seams can still be seen under layers of paint from decades ago. This house has seen many faces before mine because this house is older than I am. I studied the seams and thought, “Who has sat here before me and wondered if history would be kind to them?” I was looking around and behind me, searching for the leader that I know was sitting right in my seat.

And here’s the thing: I am not just anyone.

As a woman who stands in Christ’s blood, I set myself to a standard that is to God and God alone.

You see, this moment we are in is crucial. And I’m afraid most of us are scared that what is familiar to us will be lost, or what has always been must continue to be. If you think that isn’t you, I think you’re lying to yourself. Because it’s me. It’s me, looking in the mirror, seeing where I am and the people I’m with, thinking, Why would we change what has always seemed to be right?

I imagine Jesus is looking at His Church wondering who she thinks she is.

His Church isn’t one made up of people who won’t listen to people of another race. His Church isn’t made up of people who yell horrid things over a keyboard. His Church isn’t made up of people who value one type of person over another. His Church isn’t made up of people who see “American” and see the epitome of God’s creation. His Church isn’t made up of just us, and I’m afraid none of you believe that.

There’s too many people we have overlooked. There’s too many who are crying out in righteous anger, and too many who are willing to ignore it because it doesn’t look like your anger.

Too many mountains. Too many burdens I wasn’t made to carry.

We can’t fight every battle. But we can agree that there are battles that must be lost and battles we can certainly win.

Leaders, lead.

We often don’t ask for mountains. We look at them and disdain them, as though they are the bane of our existence and only show our weakness. But there, where we are crawling with fingers gripping the rocks and climbing because we must go higher, we become strong. The wind will hit like waves, throwing my hair around my face, pushing me to the next step, giving me breath to see the moment I need to be in.

We don’t ask for trial. But without it, we don’t know God. Without it, we don’t know how to become stronger. With it, we can see what the wind can make of us.