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?

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.