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Sometimes I have a hard time knowing how to attend to the largest crisis before me because of any number of tiny crises holding my hand, whispering in my ear, and pulling at my heart’s attention.
When the world so recently and succinctly shut down with a pandemic, I had a hard time keeping the big picture in focus. So much of that season was, understandably, focused within my four walls, and within the small web of life around me. And then, even more recently and rapidly, amidst our reawakening from shutdowns, returning to life, and creating things anew, our long-festering and properly fomented nation burst into a fire of tense, racial flames. My heart was still spinning ‘round with the world and its fight with a virus, when it was seized with the violence, the chaos, the fear, and the deep, deep hurt of a country raging with riots.
And then, a friend from church communicated that her husband’s cancer had returned. Chemo started ASAP, and he can’t live at home with them due to elevated risks caused by COVID-19 realities. I also learned of a childhood friend whose parents have both been in and out of the hospital with serious health conditions during this risky time in history. She is terrified and broken down by her concern for them, rarely able to see them or be with them because of hospital restrictions. My husband’s friend just gave birth to a baby carried full-term that they knew would die shortly after birth, but they celebrated that sweet, tender, brief life.
My own brother’s family began fostering a newborn baby ten weeks ago with their youngest in the throes of potty training. Parental types, just how hard was it to parent a newborn during quarantine — without the usual means of support and comfort? What about parenting toddlers, or teens?!?
Introverted types, just how painful was it to spend your whole day with your family?!? How did we all do, facing our hardest struggles within four walls? Broken relationships and disastrous, painful fighting does not go away because a virus shows up. People still split up, get abused, get dumped. The first flutter of love might still blossom, and, it might fall flat. Both pose unique challenges during a quarantine.
One of my oldest friends received the unexpected, joyful, and life-sustaining gift of a new kidney halfway through our stay-at-home orders. The whole thing was a miracle; a miracle that my family and I witnessed mostly from afar.
Some of my friends lost their jobs. How do I comfort them, and how do I help? Thank God, one grateful and relieved friend got a brand new job after some pretty tense waiting. How do we celebrate a new job these days?
In fact, how did we celebrate any and all of the large and small joys of life when we could not gather, could not hug? Yes, there are ways to make a parade and drive-by party for graduations, and for turning 40, or 21, or 9. But weddings? Funerals? Baptisms? My goodness. It has been so painful to deal with the myriad ways we have been robbed of our joy, and yet we’ve been equally robbed of the celebrations that call for great joy, and for parties, for kisses and hugs.
One day recently, I heard about a beloved pet that died. Another day, I was told about a mom I know who broke her leg on a hike. Just as we quarantined at home, my elderly neighbor broke his ankle; it required surgery. Another neighbor was in the hospital three times in less weeks for heart trouble and complications.
I love a dear missionary family who is stuck-er-than-stuck in a harder-than-hard situation right now. And, a friend’s close cousin just died of an overdose.
How, oh how, can I keep my heart and energy focused on a world health pandemic and race riots — both of which I legitimately have a lot of heart for — when people in my small, living web of life are hurting so much, in so many ways? I’ve been cross-eyed and tongue-tied, and shattered in spirit trying to keep up with the joys and the sorrows of my everyday, small life. Pandemics surge, riots rage, and I slow to a stop.
I find myself on a rock outcropping at the top of a mountain, and I am overlooking a valley filled with green treetops. The valley forms a lovely basin shape below me, and I remember hearing my spiritual director talk about prayer as though it were a bowl.
There is a bowl there, in the forefront of my imagination, and with loving-care and all trust I place my friend’s husband there who is suffering the side effects of chemotherapy. I tenderly place my childhood friend and both of her parents there in the lush basin of prayer. I put all of my beloved, wounded, scraping-by, heartbroken friends in the bowl. There, I can see all of my exhausted friends, my teetering-on-the-brink loved ones, and those who have lost their joy.
The basin of prayer below me can and will hold all sadness, including my own. There is a vastly far-reaching sense there of our loving God’s arms encircling the deep wounds of hate and downtroddenness that only God can truly, utterly handle and heal. I have placed COVID-19 there, time and again, with each new development and the widespread devastation.
I can put all of the weight and sorrow, frustration and fear right there. There I can see it, and I can fully trust that a knowing, loving, miraculously powered, healing God gazes with me upon the basin. It is God who hems in the basin. And, only God can enter the basin and handle the horrors there, make for change, and still remain whole.
I stand there, on the edge of the rock, placing each hardship, joy, and need right there. Peering over the edge, I recall a lovely image planted in my mind by a Caedmon’s Call song years ago. In the song, Valleys Fill First, when all it at its worst, they also encapsulate the life-giving truth that when God’s life-giving water rains down to Earth, it is the valleys that fill first.
I see the basin below me, filled with the fullness of all my heart’s sorrows and joys, the ones I contend with day after day, and I know like I know that this basin is also a receptacle of God’s life-giving mercy, grace, hope, peace, and all of God’s responses to my prayers.