Sheltering in Peace–5 Weeks in Puerto Rico

Like so many other people, we had Spring and Summer plans that were dashed within the first week of COVID. I tried to keep my complaining at bay, knowing that people all over the globe were dealing with canceled vacations, tournaments, weddings, graduations, even very sadly, funerals. I think all of us believed this would be very temporary, that we’d be in the full swing of things, surely, by the Fall.

Summer passed serenely for us–full of local hikes, afternoons at our community pool, plenty of TV and a few restorative, short trips to the beach and the mountains and the tentative hope that COVID conditions were improving. And whether or not I believed all the hype, or agreed with the regulations in place to manage the health crisis, it impacted my life and my family’s life whether I liked it or not, and we found ourselves making daily choices not just about our actions, but about our mindset and perspective. The choices were more deliberate and important when my husband lost his corporate job due to a company-wide resource action that terminated 30-40% of its workforce and the school year began, and we were all under one roof, all day from Monday-Friday, clamoring for any quiet spot with good WiFi where everyone could concentrate and focus on their Google Meets or web conferences.

Every day was a practice in focusing on the Lord, of asking and even begging Him to remind me that the world was bigger than what was going on inside my postage stamp of reality. I woke up earlier and earlier to find moments of silence in the darkness before my family woke to hear from Him, to ask for a new perspective that would remind me that His kingdom depended far more on His faithfulness than my feelings of drudgery day to day, the growing sense of despair and hopelessness that this was never going to end, that I’d be shut off from normalcy, from having hope for community and peace in our country again as the social and political scene seemed to be deteriorating by the day. And then I daily repented of thumbing my nose in God’s face to think that my wonderful life could ever be described as drudgery, that I could ever be so ungrateful as to entertain the thought that there isn’t hope. (Sometimes repentance is a one-time surrender and the Lord turns your heart inside out, hiding you from the sin that wants to entangle you. But sometimes, repentance is a regular practice–a daily surrender of your incorrect thinking). In these moments, my husband was a great inspiration to me, as he never lost a step in stewarding his role as provider, and he did it with patience, temerity, and wisdom–trusting in the skills, connections and experience he’d built over time and in God’s proven good provision for us over the years. His hard work and demonstration of putting one foot in front of the other, showed me that he was believing there were better things ahead.

In mid-August, with the start of a school year unlike any other, Bryan and I were talking about the unique set of circumstances we had in this COVID season–all of us being home, we realized that we could really be “home” anywhere, as long as we had good WiFi, stayed within the US and relatively close to the Eastern time zone so that the kids could join their live instructions during the week. By this time, the free hours to think (away from a regular job) had spawned a new business idea that Bryan was ready to develop. His business partners and developers were located in Puerto Rico, which conveniently checked off all our boxes, and my head began swimming with visions of beaches and sunshine and crashing waves–potential moments of natural therapy after a long day of screen time (for the kids), and managing screen time (for me).

Plans were made the way they usually are in our home–me dreaming, scheming and voicing my preferences; Bryan taking the reigns and booking things with a speed and efficiency that would take me a week to implement. We took COVID tests, we set up management for our AirBnBs while we were gone, we packed and arranged rides to the airport (which wasn’t scary at all—pretty empty and pretty easy place to avoid crowds these days. But it allows you to get a peak into people’s varying degrees of COVID freak-out). We arrived at said airport two hours before our scheduled flight only to find out it was delayed and spent 10 hours there before we finally left, arriving in Puerto Rico at 4:30 in the morning on the following day–dead tired with three kids in tow who started falling asleep sitting straight up on a bench as they watched the sun rise in a rental car parking lot.

Approximately 6am in Puerto Rico–been awake for 24 hours.

The weeks following unfolded much like that–full of surprises and schedules and plans that fluctuated from day to day. The constants through it all were my family, the ocean, the sunshine, and the Lord. People came in and out of our lives in those five weeks in Puerto Rico, and it was no small realization to me what a blessing it was that during a time when the world is so closed off from each other, when we are being told to distance, to scatter, the God-given desire to encounter each other and build relationships is still a need for most people. Whether it was the surf instructor two doors down, the single guys on my husband’s business development team, the new families we met in the elite ex-pat community of Dorado, or the local pastor and his wife at the church we decided to try one Sunday, we found people eager to connect and share community. It was a relief to me to see that need alive in a place the media would have me believe is inaccessible.

What may seem like an opposition to those statements above, is that I also rediscovered the importance of disconnecting for my relational health. I spent so many hours staring out at the ocean–pondering its power, the way it beckons, the way it makes one feel small and insignificant but at the same time fills you with gratitude to be a part of creation and witness the beauty of the natural world around you. I have no idea how much time I actually sat there in a Tommy Bahama chair over the course of five weeks, gazing at the surf and breaking waves, observing sea turtles, not talking to anyone except my children, soaking in the simplicity and power of God’s presence. But I do know that every second, every minute was essential for my peace. This world tells us everything is so dependent on us and our decisions and that there can be no peace, when our Savior has told us just the opposite.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I believe in those moments, He was speaking that to me, reminding me that tapping into His peace, which is always present, requires my being still. And seeing the waves and the sea life behave according to their design, reminded me and encouraged me as God alone is the maker, the sustainer and the protector of life, and there is actually very little that depends upon my action or inaction in this world where He is the ultimate authority. He holds it all together. As I silently pondered the mysteries and unknowns of the expansive and deep ocean before me, I sensed His Spirit bringing closure to some of my own struggles with sin, and temptation to put my temporal desires first, to get lost in sinful despair, to have my whims satisfied. I consciously released the stress over unknowns to Him.

The ocean throws its surf and spray violently onto shore over and over again, never tiring, but always leaving behind treasures, little gifts scattered across the sand that are only visible if we’re patiently searching for them. We must remain intentionally patient to find the best shells, the tiny crabs and mollusks that want to run and hide from threats to their environment. Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents. Underneath all the efforts usually lie memories and experiences that remind us that there is reward in seeking community, in claiming peace, much like the reward of a handful of colorful and unique shells after walking the shore.

Finding treasure

Leaving Puerto Rico was bittersweet–to be pulled from a place that served as our escape for five weeks to return to normal life was difficult for us all. We came back with tan skin and blonder hair. My children picked up some Spanish phrases, they learned names of new foods and came to expect a Reggaeton beat as the soundtrack of the day. They gained a knowledge of the ocean and marine life that had not existed before we’d arrived in Puerto Rico. Although our daily life schedule had not changed while away, we pared our essential activities down to school, work, play, basic errands, and simple interactions with the people around us. I began to realize that our lives in Puerto Rico were really the same as our lives back in North Carolina–just with a tropical setting, different people with the same needs and concerns, and ultimately minor cultural differences. Understanding this prepared me for how I could transfer this posture of peace, this sense of gratitude for something so special, back to my home state and see it as special again, and not as drudgery.

Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents.

Christians know that the Lord does not intend for us to live in despondent isolation, but to pour into each other, to enter into difficult places at difficult times with eagerness and compassion. That is why the COVID crisis has been so damaging to humanity–resulting in record numbers of divorces and addictions and depression and weight gain and suicide, because we cannot live without connection, without hope for community.

So my desire is that the being still, the opportunity to shelter in the absence of noise and worry and fear, the peace and hope that God grew in me in Puerto Rico, will bloom gratitude as I remember the way the earth, water and sky bore witness to His presence and faithfulness every day. I pray that, no matter how the unknowns batter me in the next year, however many times I am knocked into the sand, I will remember to look around for treasure in the moments and community scattered around me. I am grateful this year for the answered prayer of knowing, the balance of understanding, that there always are forces and stories much larger than my square of property that are infinitely impacted by circumstances that I may or may not see, currents roiling and churning under the surface. But even though those things may be huge and beyond my ability, your ability to control, we can look for the treasures in the midst and reach out to take hold of them.


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