My husband came back from an early morning trip to the store for ground meat to form into patties and be devoured within minutes by our crew. We had hamburger buns, but no hamburgers. The care and feeding of boys seems like a puzzle these days—a riddle that keeps shifting each time I get close to solving it. I just want to yell, “freeze!” to all the pieces that are constantly moving, while somehow everything else seems to drag on and stand still.
I looked over the bags of groceries, what he hunted and foraged for the weekend, an offering set on the floor of our garage to be separated and sanitized with the last of our precious disinfecting wipes. He remembered the gluten free waffles I had just run out of, but the rest just seemed a medley of randoms and undesirables, like the peas-carrots-green beans combo always left on the freezer shelves. I had ground turkey for tacos but my seasoning had just run out, sauce but no noodles. I wanted to make a list before he went, but knew this wasn’t our plan—it was a quick trip for burgers. We had been making lists upon lists, making all of our meals at home, and our brains were pandemic mush. Still, I worried it was a missed opportunity to get the things we needed.
Frustration formed as tears that stayed stuck in my eyes and they stung. I leaned into my stubborn resolve, this was not worth my emotion, this was not a big deal my inner script read. We would get what we needed or figure it out as we had been. How ungrateful and silly, my husband went to the store for me and got more than we needed, Hallelujah, girl!—this would not be the thing that unraveled me. We had groceries, we were the lucky ones. But it was too late, the thread had been pulled and the fibers began to loosen, my head fell forward and the tears started to slide out the corners of my eyes and down my face as my breath caught in my throat and burned from being held back. I had pushed it all back for weeks—What did I have to cry about?
* * *
Eleven summers ago in mid-July, I laid mostly confined to a hospital bed in the city, an hour from home. I was between four and five weeks into what would become a seven week stay for me, and then between three and six more weeks for our four babies. For three months our family lived apart. I had never thought of that time as a sacrifice of mind, body, freedom to move as I pleased. Friends and family kept telling me this, but it seemed too heroic, too generous. I was doing what any mom would do to keep her babies safe. I was not restricted to my bed, but at this point my twice daily loop around the seventh floor was all I could manage—a glimpse of the United Center, home to my Chicago Bulls, the daily motivation.
Earlier that afternoon I hit a wall, hard. I had grown weary in mind and spirit. I tried everything I knew to shake it—talked to God, talked with my new best friends—my nurses and the woman who came in to wipe down my room. We spoke out real things, heavy things, like my husband being laid off mid-pregnancy and her incarcerated son. We were safe for one another. I think I’m at that point, I told them. They knew I was tired of being away from my husband, my son who was four at the time, our home, my bed. My body felt done. My heart rate began to race in spurts earning me a trip over to high-risk labor and delivery. The epic water retention that would end in my legs leaking all over my sheets waking me in a panic that I had wet my bed, had just started to set in. My blood pressure was holding in there, the babies heart rates looked good. But my soul was tired. The walls had started to close in, visitors lessened as a new, worrisome virus took hold, more precautions were taken as H1N1 became more than a seasonal flu. Rooms were quarantined on my floor and the nurses suited up in protective armor. I started to feel claustrophobic. Baby D needed close monitoring, his growth was restricted. The fear that our carefully orchestrated plans for my boys’ labor and delivery would end in an abrupt middle of the night solo emergency birth, quadrupled, took hold. I wanted control. I wanted to go outside, to Target, home. I wanted to know how it all ended. Most of all, I wanted to know I had given everything I could, absolutely everything.
And then grace walked in wearing scrubs.
My doctor pulled up a chair next to my bed and reminded me of the conversation we had early on about a day like this that would come. He was prepared for this moment. Gently, he spoke of what my body was doing every day, the feats it was performing, the growth I could not see. Every day I stayed pregnant in the hospital was a win. The unknowns were real, as was the fear. He didn’t deny this, but he gave me a vision. He left for a minute and came back with a photo—a picture of four kids standing, arms around each other, smiling. They were seven. They were healthy. It was not a promise, but it was hope—a nudge to continue, to endure.
* * *
We are a weary world waiting to rejoice. And it’s not just lip service to say our roles are all significant. Some certainly more visible and critical, there is no diminishing that, but a surrendered, thy will be done, is a powerful action too. The best I could do eleven years ago was to stay the course, to keep digging in from my hospital bed.
As our stay at home order here in Illinois was just extended through the month of May, I find myself in the awkward between of wanting to pull up my bootstraps, put on my big girl pants, clean and organize all the things like a boss and at the same time, take up my position on the sofa and never leave. There are days I want to improve myself, come alive, do all the things I never seem to make priority. I want to encourage, bring hope and light to others. And then there are days that making the meals, helping move learning forward, and keeping up with the laundry are about all I can manage. To keep pushing the boulder of my work, my business, slowly up the hill. I am learning to refrain from feeling like a failure on those days. To feel for the wall and lean against it, allow the tears. To rest, to stay curious to what might be just under the surface—sometimes it is grief for the world, for hurting friends and family, for our family, other times it’s memories of hard things that seem all too familiar these days. Isolation, self- quarantine, staying home while the world has fun, is not new to our family.
The world kept spinning in our unknown then—it’s what always caught me off guard in every tough season our family went through. Our whole little world may have changed, but collectively, the bigger world kept going. Sometimes it seemed cruel even. But now, the whole world stills as we are all digging our way through a darkness that looks like not knowing what comes next. While not in the same way, we are all experiencing a seismic shift at the same time.
It feels like a metamorphosis, an awakening, unearthing— exposing a middle ground between the desire return to what was and an offering to move forward into an unknown, the unseen. The darkness frightens us as we forget, good things can begin in the dark—the buried seed, the butterfly-to-be in the chrysalis, the baby in the womb, the heart cry to God while everyone is asleep, the world breathed from nothing.
By grace, we plant in the darkness.
By grace, we plant into the unknown.
Through grace, we surrender the outcome.
A glimmer catches my eye on the cardboard lining the garage floor, in all of the dirt that is plastic bags and used Lysol wipes, the rind of a cantaloupe. I pull it up like a treasured prize. He grabbed fruit for breakfast, the boy’s favorite. He came back in and saw my tears, “I’m sorry, I just grabbed whatever else I could. I know it’s not everything we need.”
But it was—a cantaloupe offering, grace for today.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”