Let’s face it: these past few years have been tough... Who of us could have imagined that we would live through a global pandemic? Consider the ways in which your life and how you interact with the world has changed? Consider this sobering reality: some children entering the 2nd grade this year had not been in school in person yet.
The pandemic, alone, was more than enough to wear our souls….but add to that the grief, political tensions, relational landlines, and now the heartbreaking news from Ukraine. I am sure that I am not alone when I say that my soul has grown weary and feels tattered. These past few years have been brutal in every way we can possibly consider: mentally, physically, emotionally, politically, financially, and spiritually. Each of us has a story we can share about this time, how it has affected us, and the ways we’ve dealt with the incredible stress it has put on our lives and our families. Here’s my story.
Rewind to the spring of 2020. I was serving as an essential worker in foster care in Austin, Texas, and life for my family had been crazy for months. In March, we packed up and sent home our third foster child to live with her biological family, and our hearts, though happy she was with them, were grieving. My daughter Gracie was remote learning, and her severe asthma condition caused us to take every precaution we could to ensure that she wasn’t exposed to COVID (including putting off foster care indefinitely for our family to protect her). My parents lived next door and again, we were very concerned with ensuring that they were safe and healthy. Right after lockdown began in April, my husband, D.G., was diagnosed with acute onset diabetes, and our amazing doctor discovered a very large and rare mass on his bladder. Though thankfully it wasn’t cancerous (which was a beautiful surprise to everyone) it required a team of surgeons to remove a third of his bladder and a week-long recovery in the hospital. In the last week of June D. G. was sent home with tubes and drains, and I went back to work making home visits to see my foster kid clients and families. Three days later, when things finally felt more settled, I received word that all my coworkers in my small office had tested positive for COVID-19.
I knew with a certainty like I had never felt before that I had to protect my family, and that meant that I had to leave. I had to no idea how long I would be away for, and I could not wait for a positive COVID result. But that didn’t matter, I had to leave. D.G. saw the look on my face as I spoke with my coworker, and I immediately went to my bedroom and packed my belongings. I called out to my husband as I walked out the door that I would call him from the car. And thus, my own experience with COVID began. I spent the next 26 days in a hotel room, by myself, sick with what I knew was COVID. I lost my sense of smell and taste, experienced fatigue I could only describe as crushing, had dark purple eyelids, dangerously high heart rate, diminishing oxygen levels, and difficulty breathing. I simply do not remember much from those days because I was so severely sick.
I truly know that having to work saved my life because I was forced to wake up to work, but even that, I do not remember. I would set an alarm to wake up to work and serve as a foster care case manager. By this point everyone in the office was sick, but still we had to check on our kids. I would update on Facebook how I was doing each day. I only had the strength to be able to share it with my family once and didn’t want people to worry about me.
When I look back and share my story now, many comment on my ‘strength’ and how incredible it was that I ‘fought COVID alone’. But what I quickly say to them is this: I was NOT alone. I had a constant companion: God. It sounds trite possibly, but God ministered to me in ways that I still struggle to comprehend or explain. Throughout that experience I found such great comfort in His presence. I was sustained by God, and also by virtual community found in family and friends who kept vigil with me and for me. When I emerged from that hotel room after 26 days, I found that not only had I changed, but the world itself, changed I emerged with hope and sheer amazement in being alive, while the world, in contrast, seemed fragmented and angry.
We have all endured and survived things that no other generation has experienced quite the same way. Social media, even, has connected us in ways we simply cannot comprehend. Though we were isolated physically, we were also connected-for better or worse. Even as we take steps toward ‘normal’, we are all feeling a myriad of emotions like anxiety, frustration, anger, and weariness. There’s a reason that we all feel frazzled and tired and sometimes ‘not our best selves’. We have all experienced trauma whether we realize it or not. Whether we want to admit it or not. But there is an important thing that we must remember: We have experienced this event together. It is easy to forget that, right? I think that many of us have forgotten that regardless of our interpretation of the events of the last 2 years, we have ALL in some way or another, experienced this time together. And sadly, what could have brought us closer together, has, in many instances, fragmented us more. By forgetting that we are all going through this tough time collectively, it’s caused many of us to act in ways that we never would have acted before. And to treat each other in ways we never we never would have before.
So how do we tend to our souls in a time when they are tested and aching? When we feel disconnected, and angry, and anxious, and stressed? The first thing I would say is, remember that we have NOT been alone no matter how much it might have felt that way. Not only do we have each other, but God has been with us and will continue to be with us. This loving and steady presence must be the basis of everything that we think about when we talk about soul care. We were not made by God to face challenges alone. Yet, for so many of us, that’s the way we feel. For the 26 days in my hotel room, and for the days before and after, God has been with me. He has been with each of us whether we have realized it or not. And if you really embrace that fact, it has the power to change everything. No matter what happens, lasts, no matter what other people might think, or do, or do not do…… the constant in this is God. And that changes everything. It is the foundation of soul care: knowing God loves you and is with you, no matter what. God is hard at work long before you even realize it, and will remain there even if you never realize it. God cares for you and for your soul. I pray that each of us knows, with a sincere and deep knowing, that no matter what we might be facing….God is with us. May that resonate deeply within your soul.