Coffee. Teach virtually. Work out. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. That had become my relentless cycle of life over the past ten months. So many weeks would pass without physical contact that the occasional hug felt awkward. The world became very small. I became smaller.
The unilateral impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is global disruption of the daily routine. The best laid coping strategies of mice and men have been leveled in the wake of the social hurricane to the point where Socio-Emotional Learning strategies have been given a relevant platform in public schools. While my brother’s family has happily survived quarantine in a home activity-based bonding utopia, other kids have lost their safe haven. Without school, they don’t get to escape their home lives and experience positive, edifying relationships in the form of teachers and friends.
We’ve had almost a year to adapt to the new normal trifecta: masks, sanitized hands, and social distancing. We’ve capitalized on technology’s stronghold, learning how to operate businesses and educational institutions to weather a biological threat with too many question marks to plan ahead for the secondary functions that made the work worthwhile. We live to work, and we work to work. Working to live doesn’t seem like an option right now.
Forced isolation upset my Arcadian rhythm, in a figurative sense. The reality was that I had ultimately withdrawn from personal relationships about the same time I stopped blogging over two years ago. For nearly four years, I’d been writing a weekly chronicle of my growth as a woman and writer. Writing through hardships typically meant discovery through self-reflection. When initially diagnosed with a mental illness, my response was reclusive. I was ashamed and embarrassed, immobilized by fear of stigma and rejection. If I could not write about what I was going through, I couldn’t blog at all. It wouldn’t be authentic.
It was about a year after my diagnosis that schools closed. That’s when the world got small and I got smaller… because I’d designed a world where all my social interactions and relationships were tied in to a job I no longer went to, with people I would no longer see. I’d been hiding in silence, and now I existed in silence. And in the silence, humbled in the darkness of my desolation, after many months of quarantine and seeking to fill a never-ending appetite for something ever elusive, there was God.
I could cook a hundred new dishes to try and quench the hunger, plant a dozen gardens, paint my dreams in acrylics, or binge-watch every binge-worthy show on Netflix, and I would still be left dissatisfied. It wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. I’d been hiding in the same pew for years, in a church I never really felt at home in, keeping silent and keeping still. I didn’t want anyone to see me.
With the coming of the New Year, I decided to try out a new church. Having checked out seventeen before COVID-19 closed churches, I didn’t have high expectations. I started with the next church on that old list, and from the second I slid into a pew in the middle, I felt like I had come home. Hampton Roads Fellowship made me feel safe and welcomed, face masks and all. For a couple hours on a Sunday, I was reminded of a woman I used to be, a woman who was a part of a much bigger story. The world was getting bigger.
Then I retreated back to my typical solitude, and the week seemed somehow shorter looking forward to the next service. I met a woman after church who introduced me to the pastor, and he introduced me to a girl I might get to know. It turns out she lives on my street with her roommates, also members. She invited me out for lunch with some people from church, and my world got bigger. She and her roommate picked me up for a five mile walk down Chesapeake Avenue along the bay since Monday was a holiday, and as we talked, the world got bigger.
I attended a Zoom prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and as I listened to other members share words of encouragement and personal trials, the world got bigger. I got to virtually meet my pastor and find out about becoming a member, and I had plans on Friday night for the first time since the pandemic for a singles’ spaghetti dinner. I stayed out too late laughing and woke up too early so that I could walk with one of my new friends, and we spent half the day talking and working at a coffee shop over and matchas and lattes.
It was there in that coffee shop, after a week of safely socializing with new people, that it hit me. Apart from God, no good can come from me. In my silence, no good came from me either. When I share openly about my struggles, trials, weakness, and brokenness, it’s not me that people are looking at. Mr. America, an old family friend (whose name I mispronounced as a child and it stuck) shared at my parents’ small group eight years ago, “God did not intend for us to go through this battle alone.” Those words echo back at me now.
This Coronavirus world is a battle in the wilderness. Absent our busyness and the normal ebb and flow of life before quarantine, I think we’ve had more time to think about our small worlds, and that reflection has a purpose. I saw my desperate need for a relationship with God, and that prompted me to seek out a community, a church family. They put the world back in perspective. With every new person who was vulnerable with me this week, I saw that we are connected in the thorns that torment us. My battle with depression in these recent years has made me able to empathize with the current struggles within a world that keeps getting bigger.
Perhaps the fundamental distinction is that I stayed small. That doesn’t mean my new friends won’t remember my name, I just hope that when they think of me, they are encouraged by my story. Those years I spent hiding and protecting my secret, I chose to be in the battle alone. God wasn’t glorified in my silence. He was glorified when two women spoke of him while sharing a cup of coffee.
We’ve been studying the art of persuasion in my seventh grade classes. The rhetorical triangle: ethos, logos, and pathos. Aristotle claimed that we persuade others by establishing credibility, reasoning logically with facts, and appealing to emotions. Meanwhile, our pastor is teaching the gospel of John, and it is essentially an artful persuasive essay, urging others to believe that Jesus was God. The apostle John persuades through John the Baptist’s testimony and the recounting of Christ’s miracles in an effortless Aristotelian argument, documenting facts and observations, building Christ’s character, and introducing a savior.
John the Baptist was “a voice in the wilderness” that pointed to Jesus. My brothers all have Bible names: David, Paul, and Timothy. Their names each have a heritage, a legacy connected to men who lived thousands of years ago who pointed to Jesus. I might not see my name in the Bible, but since “Laura” means “crown of beauty”, I would joke as I child that I was the joyful crown of beauty for the King of Kings. I haven’t been that happy, go-lucky girl in a long time. I don’t feel beautiful.
But the joy of the Lord isn’t a mood or a mood swing. It’s not euphoria or a state of mind. It’s a condition born of the freedom that I’m not the savior, but I have a savior.
Our humility is born in our humanity, juxtaposed against God as man, sinless beneath the skin. Isolation made me see how small I am, like our pastor quoted today, a speck of dust. Pastor then asked what can be expected of dust, and while rhetorical, I thought, “There will always be more.” Every name in scripture somehow pointed to God. I can be silent, or I can be a voice in this distinctive wilderness that points to God. My name isn’t in the Bible, but it’s written in another book that man cannot see because I believe John won his argument that Jesus is the Christ. Not because of who I am, but because of who God is, even a speck of dust can serve His purpose.
I don’t have to have all together. I don’t have to be good enough. I am humbled by my failures and weakness. That’s where intersecting with others in this church family has begun a transformation in my life. These people have been transparent, and I’m not alone anymore in this battle in the wilderness. The conversation always ends up being about who God is, not who we are. You don’t have to share your cup with me, but share it with someone. And if you’ve been looking for something to fill the void, maybe start with the book of John.