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.

An open letter to survivors in the midst of COVID-19

Once upon a time I had a duck.

Her name was Pricilla.

Well, she wasn’t actually my duck.

But, she had built a nest in the bushes under our tree, so I considered her mine.

She was a delightful mama mallard, all dappled brown feathers and chocolate chip eyes. My sons were tinies at the time, so we would carefully inspect the nest from a distance, waiting excitedly for the day when the ducklings would start breaking their way out of the eggs and into the world.

Sometimes when we checked Pricilla was there, sitting on her precious eggs.

Sometimes she wasn’t.

Either way, the eggs seemed safe there, under the tree, tucked between the bushes, in our yard.

Then one day I went to check on Pricilla and the eggs were crushed.

All of them.

Cracked open, contents splayed all over the nest, not a one spared.

And Pricilla was nowhere to be found.

I stood there sobbing for quite some time, and for days I could not talk about it without choking up.

Now, Indiana’s mallard population was not then and has never been at risk. No doubt such an attack on duck nests is a regular occurrence in the wild. So in hindsight, this was a slightly over-the-top reaction. Breaking the news to my young boys was difficult, but they recovered in minutes, eager to get back to their imaginary dinosaur worlds or Matchbox adventures.

Also at that time in my life, I was in the early stages of working through trauma processing of the childhood sexual abuse I endured for many years, and so I asked my counselor about it.

He studied me with his ever-kind eyes, nodding empathetically as I relayed the horrific duck egg attack. Tears streamed fresh from my eyes. “What is wrong with me? It was just a duck?”

“Could it be,” he said with same sage seriousness he always offered, “that the unwanted attack on Pricilla and her eggs’ ‘innocence and vulnerability resembles the unwanted abuse you survived?”

All at once, my seemingly melodramatic and excessive emotions made all the sense in the world.

Fast forward to the pandemic we are all facing.

As my other recent posts have conveyed, I have been having a terribly difficult time processing this virus and the necessary world response to it. The depth of anger and dread and ambivalence I’ve been feeling are as much of a battle for me as the situation itself, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Maybe I haven’t shown it much on the outside, because I learned to fake it a long, long time ago, so much so that I am often able to fake it to myself.

But then I remembered Pricilla.

As survivors for whom PTSD is a lifelong battle, it makes perfect sense that we would have an extraordinarily strong response to COVID-19 and all its ramifications.

We didn’t ask to have our freedom and joy stripped from us as children then; we didn’t ask for freedom and joy to be stripped from us today.

We didn’t ask to be attacked by abusers then; we didn’t ask to be attacked by a violent virus today.

We didn’t ask for the lifelong aftereffects of abuse that cause overwhelming anxiety and dread whenever something real or perceived threatens us; and we didn’t ask for that same ingrained response to overwhelm us in the midst of this threatening pandemic.

We were as innocent as Pricilla and her sweet eggs underneath the shade of that tree before our innocence was stolen and all normal boundaries annihilated; and the same is true today as we learn to deal with a microscopic annihilator of our life was we knew it before COVID-19.

Maybe your abuse was not childhood sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve survived domestic abuse or narcissistic abuse or rape as an adult, or any other unsolicited, extreme trauma.

The PTSD is the same. The PTSD is real. And the struggle you are having to processes and find balance in these awkward and indeed dreadful times is real, too. 

So what now?

To be quite honest, I’m still trying to figure that out.

But I’m trying.

Decades of hard work with my counselor, as well as dear friends, have taught me to reach for “my tools,” those things proven by research as well as my own trial and error that help me cope with I’m feeling especially triggered. Here are some of mine:

  • Get outside at least once a day. Even though we must respect social distancing, we can still walk to the mailbox, walk around the block, or take a walk in the woods. Fresh air and moving our bodies is always good medicine.
  • Make the bed. Maybe that’s all you feel like you can do right now, and that is enough. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something (and you have), and your room will look better, too.
  • Take up a craft you’ve set aside. It’s been a long time since I painted just for fun, and the other day I decided to paint barns, because barns make me happy. Today I intend to get in my workshop and build frames for them. And after that I’m going to paint the upstairs hallway.

And finally,

  • Go to God, even when He’s the last person you want to talk to. I didn’t want to go to church (online) today, but I went anyway, and I learned just like the times I’ve done that in the past that I’m always glad I did. He is quite big enough to handle our anger, our dread, our fear, our ambivalence. He is also quite ready to swoop in and meet you right where you are, to hold you as you kick and scream, to whisper hope to you as you cry, and to love you in the midst of your unbelief and beyond.

What about you, dear friends and survivors?

How are you feeling?

How are you taking care of your souls?

***

Also, if you need extra help right now, please visit my dear friends at RAINN. They have free counselors 24/7, and so many expert resources and links to connect you to people who know and understand.

OVC_SM_ENG

 

 

 

 

 

small

Strongholds are hard,

risk required

to break the generations

of shame declaring the healing worse

than the barbed wire chains of pride

encircling the light-bearers like hawks

searching for the small, burrow-ers

making their way among the vines and weeds

towards truth.