Returning to Normal

While we were still in lockdown, I walked alone to the grocery store. I passed a park with a grassy area — uncharacteristically sloppy, unkempt, and overgrown, making the deserted streets look even more like a ghost town. Looking up, I saw Spanish flags with small, black bows in memory of the ones the virus has taken.

Last week as I was buying groceries, the entire store fell into a hushed stillness as we paused for 60 seconds to remember those no longer here.

A few days ago I spent time with a friend who told me she still feels a bit “messed up” from the seven weeks we spent in our apartments without leaving. No doubt many of us are, in various ways.

With more freedom to move around and gather, funerals are finally being held for the ones that were buried in a hurry. Tens of thousands of people are grieving right now, even as Spain’s street cafes and bars begin to pulse back to life.

While we return to shop and spend and do business and see friends, to return to “normal” after all of this would not be right or healthy. To move along as if nothing happened would be a mistake.

To skip the step of processing and mourning would be a mistake. Although of course we rightly delight in moving around and seeing loved ones and enjoying life, hurriedly returning to superficial happiness and comfort is not the priority here.

Landing in peace and joy after wading through grief, hard conversations, and a good bit of self-examination is more important right now.

I want myself and all of us to meaning out of all of this. This strange virus is not a random biological event. There is meaning and much to learn and we have to mine for it, sift it out, and be okay if that process involves sitting in some discomfort and awkwardness.

I hope we take a uncomfortable moment to think about life and death.

I hope we treat each other more kindly and tenderly than we used to.

I hope we cherish relationships and look into each other’s eyes.

I hope we stop to ask friends how they’re really doing right now, then listen to the answer.

I hope we learn how to be more human and less like our own gods.

I hope we remember for a long time to come that we can’t count on our perfectly-laid plans for the future.

I hope we reflect on how we want to change and ways that this has shaped us.

I hope we cry with those who are crying and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

I hope we feel our spirit yearning for life and listen to the One who created it.

Heavy Hearts

Today I cried. My heart is heavy, thumping inside of me.

Yesterday I put my boots on and took them walking to try and process everything: Spain’s lockdown that now seems like a dream (a bit of a bad dream), thousands of Spanish families grieving simultaneously, my friends in the US arguing about coronavirus, a man who was killed and the other man who had a hand in it, protests that highlight the hurt, people who riot, and my own selfish heart that I see more clearly every day.

All of these things (and so much more) wrapped into this moment of our existence. I am heartbroken and bothered by all of it.

Silly me! As if all of that can be predictably processed with a pen and paper in one afternoon. As if I could arrive at some sort of clarity after pounding out several miles.

I’ve felt so heavy and so confused the past few days thinking about George Floyd. I’ve prayed formless prayers with long silences. I’m having a hard time sorting through my own thoughts and certainly haven’t had words to say. I don’t know how to be or what to do.

This morning, I woke up to hear that one of the cities I‘ve come to care for was trashed last night. I caught up on news and have watched the riots with disbelief and the protests with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Finally, I cried.

When talking and words seem like too much and not enough all at the same time, it seems like the only thing to do is grieve along with everyone who is grieving — most of all the Lord who is, no doubt, more brokenhearted than any of us as He looks at what we have done with this world and His images. “I’m sorry” is appropriate, because I know I have disrespected the humans in my circle who He loves dearly.

I must take a long, awkward look into my own heart and ask God to “search me and see if there is any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23).

I do that knowing that I am not perfect,

knowing that there are “hurtful ways” in me,

knowing that I need to see what needs to be fixed,

knowing that Christ will clean me and change my heart as I also work to change.

And finally, I have the ability to look inside the dark places of my heart without despairing because I know I am loved by Him in the middle of the whole process.

May I follow Jesus and sacrifice myself, my comfort, and my pride for the good of every person around me.

Empathy?

Here in Spain, the little ones are getting their first taste of this different and unsettling world outside of their home. Four days ago was the first time kids have been allowed outside since coronavirus hit the second week of March.

I’m trying to imagine what an 8-year-old thinks when they’re face-to-face with this for the first time: everyone in face masks, no friends to play with, empty streets, and forbidden playgrounds.

I didn’t have to imagine too long before I got a glimpse of what it might be like for them. On my walk home from the grocery store, I passed a mom with her daughter scooting along on a scooter. When the girl saw me, she hopped off her scooter, whimpered, and grabbed onto her mom’s leg. She could see only my eyes and not the smile I gave her. It must all be so strange and scary for the little ones. It was for me the first couple of weeks, too! I wanted to say to that little scooting girl “I understand! I know what it feels like to see all of this for the first time!”

I’ve been thinking about empathy.

It would seem that we should all have more empathy than ever now, right? Since almost no country is untouched, we are all living through coronavirus and quarantine and we can empathize; we can understand what each other is going through.

We say “I know what you mean…” and launch into how we totally get it because, of course, we are being affected by coronavirus, too.

We understand. Or at least we think we do, and I think that’s the problem.

True, we are all living under the effects of this crazy pandemic. But I think we are empathizing with others when we really have no way of understanding what they’re actually going through.

All of our lives are being dramatically affected by the same virus, but the way it plays out in each of our individual lives is radically different. We can’t even begin to compare one story to another. We can’t empathize as much as we think we can.

Some are working like crazy, others are suddenly jobless. Some are on lockdown, others are social distancing. Some have mental health challenges, others have physical challenges. Some have cancelled weddings, others have cancelled trips. Some have lost loved ones, others have been untouched. Some are barely coping emotionally, others are trucking right along.

I could go on, but you get the point.

We are all living through coronavirus but our lives are quite different and our hurts and struggles are as well. Let’s not pretend they’re very similar.

Less “I know, me too!” and “I know exactly how you feel.”

More “Wow, I’m so sorry, that stinks” and “Tell me what this is like for you.”

Heartache

My heart aches and heaves with the slow pulse of the city. I smell the bleach in the hallway — an olfactory reminder of what we are dealing with. I put my hand on my chest.

It seems I’m always telling my heart to buck up and toughen up — it’s too vulnerable, takes on too much, breaks too easily, cries too much, and bears too quickly the burdens of others.

This time seems no different as tears spring up from my heart that is not broken nor hopeless nor joyless, but simply heavy with emotion. It’s heavy inside my chest, holding hurts that aren’t even directly my own.

I start to scold my tender heart for how quickly it takes on pain and burdens. Then I stop. Maybe the weight is for my good and the good of those I know.

If I let the weight of it all take me to Jesus — on my behalf as well as on behalf of those I love — it’s good and it’s a burden I will gladly bear. There I am, bringing things and people and situations to Him that I wouldn’t have brought if my heart didn’t ache.

And there I find myself with a secure identity and an unshakable joy, held up by Him who never changes and never fails. I will not shy away from the pain around me, because as it sends me to prayer, I bring the ones I love (and the ones I don’t know) over and over again to our kind Father.

We all carry on day by day, unaware of how much our own daily being is sustained and upheld by prayers we don’t even know are being prayed; by God’s intervention whether or not we see it or acknowledge it. I pray my own share of secret prayers, trusting not in my strength to pray them but in the Lord who hears them and cares.

bravery to feel sad

No one really talks about the bravery and strength required to be sad. Probably because we feel ashamed of tears and we’ve been taught to carry on and hurry-away from all the “negative” emotions. 

A few months ago, tired of the same emotions surprising me in my heart, I purposed to process, write, and let myself cry if need be. I told a friend that I gave myself an evening to just feel the sad feelings that I knew were there and she said, “Feeling things sucks, and I am so glad that you always choose the hard and brave way.” 

Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is walk you through the appropriate emotions for what you’re dealing with – not to hit you right away with a rallying cry to get back up on your feet, but instead to validate where you are, cry with you in your pain, then later encourage you onward to health and joy regardless of mountains or valleys.

Resilience doesn’t necessarily mean immediately getting back on our feet. Resilience is not hardness. Resilience is a perfect combination of strength and tenderness. Resilience does mean standing up.. after we’ve walked wisely through the valley and summoned the strength and bravery to feel our hearts break. 

If we aren’t truly feeling grief, anger, heartbreak, joy, and gladness at their appropriate times, we aren’t truly identifying the bad in life as bad and the good in life as good. Call bad bad and good good. Be brave. Be sad when you need to.