Life in the Time of COVID

The virus circulating the globe has been a source of unity and disparity, depending on who you ask.  For every voice that tries to put a positive spin on what’s happening in the world, there are five more that make it their mission to tell you that we are prisoners of this disease, that there is no hope of ever returning to normal, that those of us who are “privileged” have no idea what it is to struggle during a pandemic.

I have no interest in fighting to be the loudest or most relevant voice.  But I do have my own experience to catalog, and plenty of questions–in fact, I’ve had questions throughout the entire month that myself and my fellow North Carolinians have been told to “stay home.”  My questions have come and gone, some have remained the same and some have evolved.  Today, our state is no closer to “normal” than we hoped we would be when we were first told to stay put, but I now realize that a complete return to the way things were, the normal I knew before COVID, would be a mental, emotional and spiritual step back for me.

I’ve been asking myself what I’ve learned through this?  I’ve asked my husband, family members and friends the same.  I even asked my children what they’ve enjoyed about this time, what they’ve missed?  Through this experience, the questions that keep coming to my mind are ones that I can’t readily answer.  I believe they are questions that God has been waiting to lay upon my heart during a time when I was quiet enough, still enough, to listen.

Do I really trust Him?  Do I rush to find information and solutions that will assuage my concerns and satisfy my mind instead of practicing the art of waiting?  Am I humble enough to truly accept that I can’t fix it all, know it all, be fulfilled at all times?  Am I ready to see that without the extraneous events, errands and lists in my life, I’m left with a void that only He can fill?  Do I understand how to practice joy in Christ, to make choices to live an abundant life when the rest of the world is telling me to mourn? Do I know how to communicate the joy and peace of Jesus to a lost world that is hurting and searching for answers themselves?

I have learned through the reality of COVID that these questions will continue to sit with me, although they will likely be pushed into the recesses of my mind if I allow my life to resume the same hectic pace as before.

So I don’t write to communicate that I have all the answers or know whether we’ll see a return to the comforts of the days before COVID.  But I know what I and my family have seen to be true for us.

My husband and I chose early on to limit virus discussion to 5 minutes per day, to only check the news in the mornings after waking and at night before going to bed, solely to get the most recent information and anything pertinent to our local community.  We did this because the first few days that COVID was a headline, we devoured every article, and the result was more arguing and worrying, less joy and contentment.  We knew we couldn’t survive this shutdown with a constant flow of despair and conflicting information pouring into our hearts and minds.

We understood that there were rules and laws we would need to follow as citizens, but we also know there was tremendous societal pressure to behave a certain way based on fears of the unknown.  Both my husband and I have been victims of tragedies–he lost both parents suddenly with no warning; I was abducted and raped at 21.  We are no strangers to terrible things happening without warning.  Because of these events, and our witnessing Jesus sustain and redeem us through grief, we’ve made conscious choices not to live fearful lives.

Notice I did not say that we never fear–I said that we don’t LIVE fearfully, big difference.  When fear and uncertainty come, which they regularly do, I make decisions based on prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, logic, common sense and love for others.

The way that played out with COVID was that we spoke to our loved ones, the people around us who we’d be missing the most time with during this quarantine.  Instead of telling them how to behave, what choices to make, we asked them how they felt about their exposure to the virus, where they stood on social distancing.  Instead of assuming motivations and judging hearts, we simply told people we loved them and wanted to see them, and gave them the freedom to say yes or no.  The wide range of responses has been encouraging just in the heart of concern that we see people have for each other.

For those buckling down–web chats brought a convenience and connection that brightened our slower days.  For those willing to stop by and chat in the front yard, smiles and chatter were a taste of community.  Still, there were others who considered quality time worth the risk, who came over for 6-feet apart cocktail hours in the backyard, or cookouts in great weather when the kids could run and play–and with these friends, the time together was life giving and almost seemed unaltered.

I don’t want to forget the way this experience has improved my focus on the Lord’s voice and my family’s focus on each other.  My husband and I have had so many evenings to have real conversations instead of a run-down about what’s happening tomorrow.  Healthy relatives have come to visit with no pressure to return to something urgent. With no school or work open, and travel at an affordable low, we’ve had the flexibility with remote learning to take school and work on the road, renting a beach house as a getaway for spring break.  After a rough return to intensive sibling time, my children are getting along better and creating more imaginative games for each other than I’ve seen since last summer.  I’ve made stupid TikTok dance challenge videos with my kids.  We’ve tackled some home remodeling and organization projects that have been on our list since we’ve moved in.  I’ve discovered a fresh love of running, learned how to sew, read classic Tolstoy, and improved my guitar playing.

Will this virus ever really go away?  Will I be sitting in a crowded restaurant in a month?  Will I be able to get a pedicure for Mother’s Day?  Will our economy be able to recover from the ravages of the virus?  Will small businesses survive the shutdown?  Are the case models accurate?  Did China lie to everyone?

I have no answers, and I probably never will.  And honestly that’s okay with me, because despite all the medical, scientific and political information out there, you and I were never meant to have all the answers.  But we were designed and meant to know the One who does, and He is always good no matter the mystery.  I am so glad that I answer to Him.

God, Marriage, and Justin Timberlake

I can almost hear the eyes rolling in your heads right now.  That title couldn’t be cheesier right?  Is this some article by an obsessive fan who thinks that she has some cosmic connection to Justin Timberlake?  No, not really.  I promise that I have a point and it will make sense if you can just hang with me for a little while.  Let me explain…

I wouldn’t call myself a huge JT fan, more of a nominal one.  I was at the perfect age to become a boy-band-crushing-teenager when NSYNC formed in 1995, a year before I graduated high-school, but I was always more of a 98 Degrees kind of girl.  And years later when all those 90s boy bands started breaking up, I really didn’t foresee a solo future for any of those guys.  But low and behold, Justin Timberlake surprised us all with his knowledge about the industry, musicianship, his vocal range and connections to all the right people.

Even as his career took off and matured, I was still a moderate fan.  I’d listen to his music from time to time, and took a break from it for a while when it was on the raunchier side.  Recently though it seems that Justin and I have regained some common ground–we’re only 3 years apart; we’re both parents; both married; both getting pretty reflective about our pasts and carefully considering the trajectory of our futures.

I’ve found more interest in his most recent album as I feel that it talks about “real” life (as “real” as your life can be when you’re insanely talented, an international superstar and a gazillionaire).   Knowing the life-cycle that rock-stars usually have, I also sensed that his career may be peaking, and with a slew of hits under his belt I thought if there was one JT concert tour that I should see, it would be this one.  So when I found out that he was coming to Raleigh, NC, I spent a little more money than I usually do to get General Admission tickets for my husband and me, so that we could be close to the stage for what I thought may be one of Justin’s best, last concerts.

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But my mind went to places that I didn’t expect as I watched the show.  Justin was handsome, yes.  His feet moved quickly and his body was all fluid, precise, smooth motion.  He smiled for cameras, fist-bumped fans, flirted with his back-up dancers, told us that we were the best crowd he’d seen (which of course was a lie), and all I could think was, yeah this is awesome, but then what?

You see, my husband and I were the minority of those crushed close to the stage.  We were surrounded by Superfans–those who buy their babies JT onesies; who follow him from concert to concert; who cry if he comes within four feet of them.  And yes I was woo-hooing with them all, but I walked away from the concert not marveling about Justin Timberlake, but rather about the awe he produced in about 20,000 people in one night, and realizing that he does this night after night with people around the world.

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And it made me think about whether my/our awe has been misplaced?  What if I, what if we, directed even half of that awe, half of that amazement, toward the One who created Justin Timberlake, the One who gave him his talent?  As fans, we cluster to have an encounter with someone we pay to give us two hours of their time.  (And sometimes we pay a silly amount–especially if you’re sitting in the VIP section).  We might get a fist-bump or a high-five, but does that personal encounter really change us?  Does it take away our troubles, give us a sense of peace, a new identity?  Does Justin Timberlake really know any of the people he touched last night?  Will they ever really know him?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no.  Nothing about the concert last night has changed my reality this morning, and it certainly hasn’t changed his.  I’m the same person, living the same life with the same ups and downs, joys, sorrows, and okays.  I’m not richer or poorer, and Justin has continued on with his life, climbing into his tour bus bound for another city and another concert in front of another crowd of thousands.

But every day I can spend as much time as I want with the God of the universe, who stepped down out of heaven to, get this, PAY for an encounter with ME.  He gave up everything to be with me, and He offers to make me His for life through His Son.  He’ won’t just entertain me–He’ll hold me.  He won’t flatter me with savvy lyrics that speak to my vanity–He’ll speak the truth that gives life and nourishes my soul.  He won’t ever pack up and leave town–He’ll be my Immanuel, “God With Us.”  When He touched people, they were healed.  When He spoke, mountains rose up out of the sea and people fell flat on their faces in true awe.  When He sees you, you know that you are safe, yet you aren’t ever the same.

Isaiah 43:1,  “…this is what the Lord says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

John 10: 14-15, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with spending money to see your favorite singer for a couple of hours.  I think music, dance and fun are gifts from a Good Father who loves to see His kids enjoy life.  I also disagree with those who say that there’s nothing beneficial or edifying that comes from the secular world of entertainment.  Simply because, God can do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and I believe that if we are walking closely with the Maker and Sustainer of all things, that He can use most any setting, environment, crowd and subject to remind us of His presence and His glory.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that one other person could have experienced an awakening by the Living God last night during the Justin Timberlake concert, because God really is in the business of taking our wisdom and ideas of what we think we know to be true, and flipping all of it upside down to reveal HIS truth.  And if just one person entered into relationship with Jesus last night, then Heaven is certainly rejoicing just as loudly as it would after an Elevation or Lauren Daigle concert, and that makes it all worthwhile.

I not only reflected on Jesus last night at moments during the concert, but I also looked to my left at the handsome man that I call “Husband,” and remembered for about the 10,000th time why I’m so blessed to have him.  Bryan doesn’t really care for JT.  He only knows a song or two and we got into a pretty heated argument right before we left the house yesterday, but instead of refusing to accompany me and making me go alone, he got in the car.  That was humility.  He sat with me cheerfully and kept me company during the three-hour wait outside.  That was kindness.  He walked to a nearby restaurant and got us food and drinks so that we wouldn’t be starving after the show.  That was graciousness.  He stood beside me the whole time even though his calf muscles were knotted up and painful after a long run yesterday.  He even danced with me a little.  That was sacrificial.

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I told Bryan before the concert began that even though I might scream and yell at Justin as he danced down the stage, I still think he’s hotter.  He replied, “yeah right.”  But as the concert ended, I knew I meant every word.  Because although Justin is certainly cute, charming and coordinated, he’s a stranger.  Yet Bryan, like Jesus, has demonstrated over and over again that he truly loves me.  He knows me. He takes care of me.  He does all of this so well that he’d even stand beside his wife as she snaps photos and videos of another man.  And he went home with me and was still there when I woke up this morning.  That’s a gift of faithfulness that God and Bryan have both given me, that is far more valuable than any concert ticket.  They make me feel like a VIP.

So Justin, if you read this, (doubtful, but a girl can dream) I want to say thanks for being a vessel for yet another Jesus-takeaway.  I’m sure that’s not what you expected, but I suspect you’d be amused.  Hope you have a great rest of your tour, and hurry home, I’m sure your wife wants you beside her too.

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My silly-creepy “selfie” with JT.