It all happened quickly. Less than a week before, I had gone grocery shopping and easily found everything on my list.
“I am kinda’ freaking out. There is almost no meat in this store,” I texted my husband. The panic that was coming over me was not something that I wanted to give into, but the emotions from these unexpected circumstances were smothering me. I have two teenage boys who practically eat their weight in food each day. No pasta or even a grain of rice to be found. I felt greedy buying the last bag of frozen peas.
“There is still a lot of food in this store.” I talked myself down. I checked out with a cart full of food, mostly improvised versions of what I had on my list, but we would eat.
Each day when I picked my girls up from school last week, there was a new letter explaining the current reality, overshadowed with looming uncertainty. Then, on Wednesday night, we learned that schools in the UK were finally to close on Friday.
On Thursday, my 16-year-old-son texted me that the exams that he has been focused on since his education in England began were cancelled and he would not be returning to school until September. WHAT?! I had been so proud of us for figuring out this foreign GCSE exam system and now we had no idea what cancelling it all would mean; no one did.
This is uncharted territory for literally the whole world. It seems like a sci-fi movie that I would scoff at and say, “The world on lockdown? That could never really happen!” But, here we are! As each day is more surreal than the one before, I have started to recognize these feelings as ones that I have met before:
During my freshman year of college and my dad called me. “Ames, I have something to tell you. I came home today to find your mom on the driveway. We think that she fell from the (2ndstory) garage window.” She was care-flighted to a trauma unit. A well-meaning family friend called the next day to warn me that even if my mom woke up, she may not be the woman we knew. I wasn’t prepared for the reality that I may lose my mom at age 18. I am so thankful to say that she survived and woke up exactly the same person who we knew and loved, but that Christmas was a different one and recovery took time. It was hard, but we made it through.
After my ultrasound, the doctor said that he needed to talk to me in his office. “Your baby’s brain and organs are all fine. . .” he said and it hit me that the next word out of the his mouth was going to be “but”. “But, it is clear to me that your baby does not have a left hand.” We grieved. I scoured the internet trying to figure out if they would be able to crawl. I longed to be able to feel something besides sadness about my unborn child. And then I gave birth to my beautiful, one-handed wonder who has been blowing us away for 16 years now.
The first time that I went to the grocery store after having my second son, I pushed that cart with steeled determination to be fast and not make eye contact with anyone, because either of these little people could explode at any moment. I had never taken a toddler and an infant anywhere before and it felt insurmountable. . . until one day it wasn’t; it was just my everyday life.
I remember my hands shaking one the steering wheel as I drove to lead my first women’s small group Bible study. I was afraid I wasn’t going to know what to say. I was afraid that I would say something stupid. I wanted to turn that car around and drive home. Now, leading groups is a highlight of my life and I don’t ever want to live without one.
“What in the world are we doing in Ethiopia this summer?” I thought as I scrolled through pictures on Facebook of all my friends with their families at the New Jersey shore. The next day we would meet my daughter for first time at the children’s home and I was terrified. What if bringing her into our family was a disaster? “Adopting her is one of the best things we have ever done,” my husband remarked the other day. . .I couldn’t agree more.
“Where are the semi-sweet chocolate chips?” “Why is ham sold raw here?” I felt insecure and lost in my first solo trip to a British grocery store. The novelty of a foreign country wears off after a week when you know you are not leaving it. Then, a wave of peace washed over me when my eyes fell on a section of Philadelphia cream cheese – just seeing that logo was centering as silly as that sounds. I have felt the panic of not knowing if I could cook in a completely stocked UK grocery store when we first moved here. Now, I know what to buy and where to get what I need. I am at ease in a place that once felt foreign.
This pandemic is uncharted territory, but the fact is, I have done uncharted territory before. And so have you. We have all encountered new situations and experiences that were outside of what is comfortable. There have been other unthinkable moments that went ahead and happened . . . and we survived. The difference with this time in history compared to my other times of uncertainty, is that we are all in this together. I can FaceTime with my friends in Pennsylvania and we are all learning to home school at the same time. The toilet paper jokes are cringy and little too close to home for all of us. (Our family is down to three rolls of the good stuff. . .after that it is 1-ply, so brace yourselves.) There is a boatload of comfort to be found in the solidarity of this particular challenge.
When we first moved to this country, I struggled under a heavy weight to keep my kids happy and to guide them through that difficult time. I am feeling that now too. We want to parent well. I want to create good memories for them while we can’t go anywhere. I am going to take the things I learned then and apply them now:
#1: One day at a time.
“But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.” ~ Amy Carmichael
Deliverance came. Had I never encountered the overwhelming thing, I would not have gotten to experience God’s deliverance. And he has come through for me every single time. I do not need to look ahead and anticipate what may happen. “What if. . .?” takes the gracious deliverance that God has for me out of the equation and invites hopelessness in. I have what I need for today and do not need to worry about the future.
#2: Trust God with my story. When we first moved to England, it appeared as though we had done irreparable damage to our children. Their pain became my pain tenfold. I had this list on my phone. . .It was a list of all of the unexplainable things that God had done to bring us to this country. We knew in our hearts that we were supposed to be here and God slowly enabled our kids to see that too.
In her new book, Try Softer, Aundi Kolber reminds us that “God is a curator and keeper of stories. . .God is invested in the entire arc of humanity.” She points to Psalm 56:8:
“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.”
My prayer is that everyone who is reading these words will be able to look back on the Covid-19 Lockdown and only sustain memories of boredom, no chicken at the grocery store and conservation of toilet paper. Walking through the hard is an opportunity to trust him in a deeper way with your story, so if this world-wide crisis hits your home, you can know that God is with you and loving you through it. My husband gave the illustration of a sailor wrapping his arms around the mast of a ship while it is being tossed about in the storm as a picture of what trust looks like in his message this past Sunday. I keep claiming that picture of how I want to hang onto God no matter what we face.
#3: Be Flexible. On our first day of schooling at home my prepared, hour-by-hour schedule was met with mutiny. I know that I am too type A for a lot of people, even myself sometimes! Not one of my children were looking for that kind of structure and I wanted it so badly. I wanted to not fight for what had to be accomplished and I thought that if I had a schedule to point to all would be well. That whole idea was wishful thinking! In the end, we made a list of what had to be accomplished before screen time could happen and it is working well. Flexibility (aka as humility) is a virtue.
#4: Be Thankful. It is easy for all of us to be discontent about this lockdown situation. For me, this whole deal would have been so much more enjoyable with my kids of 4 or 5 years ago. Teenagers can sometimes be emotional minefields. The weather is fabulous right now and it would be so wonderful to be out and about and enjoying England in Springtime. I know others how have kids far away and they just want them close. There are elderly people who live alone. It is going to be sad to not be able to get together with our church family on Easter.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:18
There is no question what God has for me today is to give thanks while in these circumstances. And there is plenty to be thankful about. I am glad that my teenagers are under our roof and that we have this chance to make memories together.
A verse that people kept sending us and kept popping up throughout everyday life when we moved was Psalm 16:8:
“I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.”
I am going to make that verse my mantra for this pandemic as well. I have done uncharted territory before and my God has kept me from being shaken, so I will wrap my arms around him as a mast in a ship that I know will never go down.