In December 2019, I was talking with my spiritual director about the following fall. For the first time in almost 14 years, I would have no children at home. I thought I was excited about all the time I would have to write and edit, time for which I had often longed. But as I mentioned it to her, I found myself crying instead. I’d had a child in tow for so long at that point that I wasn’t sure who I was without one. So any excitement I felt about the change was tempered by that existential sadness of recognizing how our children grow up and need us less. It turns out even while feeling overwhelmed by the present need you can still mourn the future loss of it.
Fast forward to today, and I have to laugh at the irony of my reality. My youngest did in fact go to school–pre-K at our church’s preschool–but my older two kids are back at home full-time for Zoom school. Maybe in a strange way, God answered my prayers and my longing to have the freedom to write and edit but while still having kids at home.
I’m certain I’m not the only one for whom the pandemic has redefined the phase “stay-at-home mom.” How many of us are in a completely different place now than we had expected–whether it’s in terms of our kids being at home when we didn’t expect them to be or perhaps being at home ourselves instead of an office or other workplace?
To me, it’s one of the biggest struggles of the Christian life: turning over sovereignty to God. Just when you think you know what to expect and plan for, it seems like God gives a gentle chuckle. Not so fast there, little one.
I’ve spent my fair share of time feeling like a turtle lying on her back after these changes and challenges, but in the end you can only mourn the loss of what you thought you were going to have for so long. You have to figure out how to right yourself and start looking for the blessings in your new situation. That’s not hard for me during Covid. Yes, there have been days where I have despaired at getting more than 15 consecutive minutes of work done. Or worried and worried about what was safe and what wasn’t and if my children were learning any math at all and if they’d ever be able to interact in person without masks again. I have shaken my head in stunned wonder as our pandemic puppy wreaked a kind of havoc I would never before have believed possible from a dog who weighs less than 14 pounds. I have despaired at ever getting to see my extended family in person again. Yet as many frustrations and losses as there have been, I have loved this unexpected gift of extra time to spend with my two oldest. I have loved every movie night and family walk and bike ride and reading session on the couch. I have loved this surprise glimpse into who they are at school and how they interact with their classmates and teachers (despite all the varying levels of trumpet playing in the 7 am hour). Even that troublesome puppy brings us all an unbelievable amount of joy.
Life rarely goes the way we think it will. And sometimes we are so caught up in adjusting to the change from where we thought we would be to where we actually are that we can’t possibly see any good in our new circumstances.
Other times it’s only when we’re on the other side of a dramatic life change that we can see any good in it. If you’d told me when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer while I was pregnant with our third child that one day I would see blessings in the experience, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have believed you.
But even that situation, fraught as it was with stress and terror, changed when I changed how I looked at it.
I could have railed about how unfair it was to be struck by this disease, but instead I started to see how lucky I was that the cancer was caught early and that I had access to excellent medical care.
I could have viewed my chemotherapy as poison that would kill indiscriminately. Instead, I viewed it as the weapon I needed to make sure the cancer would never come back.
I could have focused on the danger of exposing my body to radiation treatments. Instead, I decided to visualize them as a strong dose of sunlight, wiping away the cancer in the same way the sun would bleach the stains from the cloth diapers I hung outside.
I could hate my body for being weak enough to get cancer. Instead, I choose to think of my body as strong and to be proud of the way it fought off the cancer and got through all the treatments.
I’m grateful to be alive now. I’m grateful for all the friends I didn’t even know I had, who emerged to help when I was sick and fighting to get better. I’m grateful for my family and how they all rallied around me and for the now five-year-old girl who’s just fine, despite being born to and even breastfed by a mom with a malignant tumor in her breast.
None of that makes the experience any less hard or means that I don’t worry about it coming back one day. It just means that I’m grateful to have gotten through it and for all the blessings it revealed, particularly the love and strength of my family and community and the way God showed his presence so strongly through them.
I’ll bet 2021 doesn’t look the way you once thought it would. Maybe your kids are learning from a teacher in a box on their computers instead of in the classroom. Maybe you are exhausted by trying to do your job from home while parenting your tiny children. Maybe you are sick or terrified of becoming sick or grieving the loss of someone else who became sick.
No matter where we find ourselves in life, whether it’s the situation we expected or one that is far from it, the promise of the Bible is that God is with us. Grace is with us. Blessings are with us.
What are your biggest pandemic blessings?