On finding margin in a maddening world

I’m weary.

The last eighteen months have been unlike any others, and I just want to curl up in a ball with my dog until it’s over, especially in the face of more potential pandemic-related restrictions, new virus variants, and overwhelming uncertainty.

I suspect you feel the same.

Recently, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement launched a movement to make a concerted effort to ask patients what matters to them. In my current nursing role at a large city hospital, the responsibility for asking that question—what matters to you?—falls on me and my co-workers.

After interviewing tens of hundreds of patients over the last six months, overwhelmingly the answer to this question is, “going home.” No matter what the diagnosis–appendicitis, major abdominal surgery, cancer, or worse–the most important thing to patients is to be able to go home. 

I considered this in the context of our collective anxiety about the pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones to the virus. Some of us have contracted the virus and survived. Others have lost jobs, goals, futures, and more. Our mental and spiritual hearts hurt just as much as hospitalized patients hurt physically. 

We just want to go home. 

Of course I am speaking proverbially since most of those reading this are likely at home, or will be home at the end of the day. But indeed, our hearts ache for a season wrapped in a quilt of peace, sitting beside a hearthside of certainty, nestled in a cozy room, familiar and safe and secure. 

Home. 

No one can say how long this pandemic will linger, how many viral variants we will face, or when–and if–things will return to “normal.” In the midst of that, we must find ways to live with hope in spite of our circumstances, to find a heart-home of peace that allows us the margin to find joy. Fortunately, the Bible has a lot to say about that. 

1) Home is peace.
While we are promised trouble in this world, we are also promised peace in the midst. Our secure dwellings may not be made of bricks and mortar, but indeed of something greater: peace in quiet resting places with the Lord. 

What does this look like in the midst of a global pandemic? I’ve been searching for that answer as well. Pushing aside the overwhelming onslaught of news and social media, I’ve found peace in the smallest of things: butterflies lighting on my coneflowers, abundance of zinnia blooms, a goldfinch visiting our feeders. Even more, I’ve found a comfort in the way light reflects from favorite books on bookshelves, the graceful slouch of an afghan over the arm of our sofa, of a counter full of snacks for our young adult sons. We are together and we are well. That is peace. That is home.


My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
Isaiah 32:18 ESV


2) Home is presence.
In the same way that peace is found in the cozy shadows and gardens of our physical houses, home is a feeling when the detritus of the world falls away and we can be truly present with our loved ones.

Since we know that our God is a God of community, we can also know that the pressure to isolate, whether physically or more subtly with masks and headphones, is a threat to the bonds God intended for us have in order to encourage each other. That’s not to say that masks and social distancing are not appropriate–as a nurse on a designated COVID hospital unit I acknowledge the importance of this more than most. What I propose is that we continue to be diligent in our friendships and community with others, so that together and with wisdom we continue to discover joy in the midst of all this hard.


By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4


3) Home is eternal.

As I type, I’m sitting on my beloved back patio. Wind is rushing through the tree limbs, cardinals sing, and the last rays of sunlight dapple the world around me. I give thanks many times a day for the little home we’ve renovated and worked so hard to make our very own. At the same time, I know this bricks-and-mortar home is fleeting. Natural disaster, unforeseen financial difficulties, and anything in between could remove it from our lives forever. 

In the same way, the pandemic threatens all of us. Nothing is for certain. Not our earthly homes. Not our physical well-being. Nothing. Nothing except for the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:1, which assures us that our true home is eternal and in the heavens. 

This is a difficult concept to grasp, let alone surrender to, when faced with the horrific realities of life on earth in the midst of a pandemic. However, how much sweeter our fleeting time will be if and when we can realize that there is a hope–indeed a HOME–beyond all this, and a Father who longs to comfort us there for eternity.


For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV

***


I pray these three reminders–hope is peace, hope is presence, and hope is eternal–help redirect the anxiety in your heart toward the faithfulness of out Lord, and that you discover a heart-hope of peace as we navigate these uncertain days together.

Quarantine journals: April 30

When I was younger, I had a terrifying, recurrent dream. I can’t recall the circumstances, only that we were standing in a line at a school waiting for MREs, our only source of food. It was the sort of dream where your conscious is telling you in the midst that “it’s only a dream,” but you are so scared that you fight your way awake in the middle of the night.

This morning I drove by a local elementary school, and I was struck by how much it looks like the one in that old dream.

I know, it’s ridiculous, right?

We’re going to make it through this, right?

Some moments of my day, usually when I’m building or painting something, I don’t think about the virus. I don’t think about my patients at the hospital who were sick and anxious enough without COVID-19 to worry about. I don’t think about how so many of us are months, or weeks, or even days, of needing help to pay bills and get food.

But many moments–too many moments–I do think about it.

I wonder if my grandparents and great-grandparents felt like they were free-falling when the Great Depression hit. Because that’s how I feel–like I’m free falling. Like I’m in a dream and I know I’m in a dream, only this time, I can’t make myself wake up. I can’t make it go away.

I want to be able to get my nails done again. I want to get back to the treasured Saturday morning breakfasts out with my husband. I want to hug my patient who just received devastating news. I want to hug my friends again. I want to know that we aren’t headed toward bread lines and MREs and another Great Depression and things won’t get so bad that we’ll have to sell our house or go bankrupt or lose everything but the shirts on our backs.

I had anxiety and PTSD before all this, and I just wish it would all go away.

Now, I’m fully aware that a lot of the things I listed above are #firstworldproblems. By and large my family and I are doing okay. But everything is relative for everyone. A crisis to one person might appear as a blessing to another. We can’t judge the things that make each of us unravel.

We can only acknowledge that we are, each of us, unraveling about something in the midst of this madness.

So what can we do?

There are the obvious: acknowledge that your hurt and worry are real, and more importantly, valid. Seek mental help–most doctors are taking virtual visits, if not seeing serious cases in person. Do things–even one thing–to take care of your soul, whether putting up a bird house, reading a long-neglected book, trying a hobby you’ve been putting off, taking a bubble bath by candlelight.

One thing is for sure: We are not all in this together.

Some are suffering significantly more than others. Many–too many–are dying.

But we are all in this with God.

He has not changed.

He has not left us.

He has seen us through wars and famines and plagues. He has never promised us escape from these challenges, but He has promised us victory over them–either here on earth or in Heaven.

“…fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

The other day, I had the privilege of being at my cousins’ dairy farm when they opened the north pasture to grazing for the first time this season.

The gate opened, and the pretty jersey cows with their big, brown, puppy dog eyes just stood there, blinking, ankle deep in muck.

“Go on now,” the farmer hollered, encouraging them.

Still, they stood there and stared.

It’s as if they’d forgotten all the springs before and the freedom and sweet, honey taste of the emerald green pasture.

“Go out before them, walk all the way back over the bend of the hill,” my farmer cousin said to me.

The cows blinked some more, postures guarded, as they watched me walk farther and farther out into the pasture, my legs shin deep in the lush, green grass.

But then slowly, one by one, they walked toward the pasture.

They picked up their pace, little by little, until one, and then another, started to run–skip, really–their impossibly enormous frames light with glee when they finally realized what the farmer was offering them.

Freedom.

Honey sweet nourishment.

Goodness.

Love.

It was a Malachi 4:2 sort of day:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

The sort of day the Lord has in store for each of us, when this winter, this virus, this season lifts.

Be safe, dear friends.

Know you are loved and beloved.

Know that you are not alone.


 Lead Me Home is a novel inspired by my cousins’ dairy farm. It’s a story of two families and a town faced with immeasurable loss,  and how they find hope in the midst of it. You might like to give it a try, if you’re looking for the same:

Quarantine journals: April 9

432,596 confirmed cases

14,831 deaths

24,245 recovered

*****

I took a walk

around the yard this morning.

Birds sounded louder.

Flowers looked brighter.

The grass glowed emerald

despite the hail that beat it down

hard last night.

How impossible it has been to look up and around and

outside the hyper focused panic of this pandemic,

where mercy reigns

and grace reins in

my wobbly heart.

Last night I sang and sang and sang until

I finally started to believe the words that

We are surrounded

by more than the monster before us. Rather,

we are held

fast by Him.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (ESV)