Sleepless until the early morning hours, I suddenly had the thought that it wasn't all real.
The world being shut down.
All the hard things that have happened in our family the past year.
I called my daughter (the one in an opposite time zone, so I didn't wake her up!) to get my bearings. She kindly and compassionately helped me to reorient myself to the fact that it was indeed all real.
It would have been nice if it was all a bad dream.
The reality is that life can be hard.
My oldest son really did commit suicide last June.
A pandemic has shut the world down.
My school has been closed and I haven't gotten to see my students in weeks.
I don't know when travel will open back up and I will get to meet my precious new grandson.
My eighty year old Mom does live by herself across the world and I can't be with her during this time.
When life is hard and our hearts are sad, we do need to grieve our losses. We need to admit our pain. It isn't healthy to push it down and to try to make ourselves "be strong" when we are not.
God created our minds and bodies and hearts to work best when we are honest with ourselves and honest with Him.
During difficult times, we can discover facets of our unfathomable Creator that we had not seen before.
As we admit our inability to control things, we can discover new confidence in the One who is in control.
As we see that we are weak, we can encounter His strength.
When we admit the ache in our hearts, we have an opportunity to discover that our Creator is also our Comforter.
When we discover our need to be rescued, we are more likely to look for the Rescuer.
When we realize our hearts are in turmoil, we have the possibility of finding out that there is One who can bring peace.
Acknowledging our grief isn't the only healthy thing to do, though. It is also good to practice gratitude.
Many of us have had the blessing of having lovely homes, a steady income and the ability to see family and friends whenever we would like. We have been used to going out to nice restaurants for dinner. We have taken going out to movies or going to a ball game for granted. We have been able to enroll our children in ballet classes and attend their sports tournaments.
Even in these corona times we have our comfortable homes, we can order food to be delivered to our door, and we have internet connection to keep in touch with loved ones. Perhaps we have incredible views, or a garden to enjoy, or netflix to keep us entertained. Many of us have our own transport, our own space and our own beds.
Grieving our losses and practicing gratitude are important, but we can take it a step further to use this time to grow us in compassion.
We can allow this time to open our eyes to the fact that many people in the world have lived in hard circumstances for many years--perhaps all of their lives. For them, the pandemic comes on top of years of tough situations. They already know what it is to live in survival mode and uncertainty much of the time.
I would like to introduce you to three brave and beautiful women.
First, meet Alice. Alice is married to Freddy, who was one of my best friends during my teenage years. They live in Zimbabwe, a country that has been rocked by political unrest, economic depression, drought and disease. The last few years Alice has had major health problems. Sometimes Freddy has to travel for long periods away from the family to find work. Yet, Alice raises their three sons with laughter and love. She keeps praising God and looking to God for provision and strength even in the midst of difficulties. She designs beautiful jewelry. I'm always amazed by how she is constantly helping others in her community, even though she herself isn't feeling well a lot of the time. I'm inspired by Alice's joy, hard work, faith and creativity.
Next, meet Shazia. I met Shazia and her three children several years ago at my church. Shazia comes from Pakistan and she is a refugee here in Thailand. As Christians, she and her family fled persecution in their home country to start over and to find a new home. Yet, here she is with her children (now all taller than she is!) still waiting for a host country. She never planned for her story to include years in an in-between country. She never planned for her story to include single parenting. She never planned to spend years in a one room apartment with her three children. Shazia uses her sewing skills to help bring in income for her family. She has worked hard to make sure her children are getting an education. I love when I see Shazia's arms lifted in praise to God. Even with many unexpected events in her life, she has faith that God is taking care of her and her children.
I would also like you to meet Rachael. I met Rachael when her brother was a student in my second grade class when I taught in Ensley, Alabama. She was the very cute little sister in first grade! Rachael and BJ were raised in lower income housing and life was often full of uncertainty and tension in their household. As adults, life still hasn't been easy for them. BJ is in prison. Rachael is a single mom who struggles to make ends meet. When she found out that Baby number three was on his way, she knew one more child would make life even more challenging. She considered abortion, but decided to give this little boy a chance at life. I love that Rachael keeps trying to make courageous decisions for her little Arabella and Alex and her little guy on the way. I love that she keeps seeking God even though she has struggled with unmet expectations and disappointment throughout her life.
Alice, Shazia and Rachael are three women that God has brought to my mind frequently during this pandemic time. I loved painting them and praying for their families. They are three examples of many in the world who have endured much. I have learned and grown as a person from knowing them.
This first part of 2020 is not a nightmare we will wake up from. We can try to close our eyes and numb our pain and deny that this time exists. We can try to just survive until it is over and then forget about it as soon as we can.
It's possible, however, that if we open our eyes we will experience God in new ways.
It's possible we will find multiple things that we have to be grateful for.
It's possible that our lives will be enriched and deepened.
It's possible we will grow as we take an opportunity to learn from those who are ahead of us in the school of suffering.
It's possible that we will grow in compassion and generosity as we consider the needs of others in the world around us.
I hope some of those possibilities come true for me. And for you, as well.