Holding the Good and the Hard

I bought clothes at a local second hand shop a few months back—a Paw Patrol shirt for my five year-old, a cute little white onesie with a pink and gold strawberry in the middle for the baby still growing inside me. “We live here now,” I thought.

Buying clothes at the local secondhand shop instead of pulling out the next size up bought during the last trip “home” confirmed, yet again, that things were different now due to COVID. Trips back aren’t as straightforward as they used to be. Much like the rest of the world, we have had to find our new normal.

I think we’ve all picked up new vocabulary this past year—social distance, lockdown, Zoom, jab, fist bump. Words that seem so normal now, but it wasn’t that long ago they weren’t part of everyday conversation.

I was feeling on the edge of burnout right before COVID hit the global scene. Burnout to the point that I remember being in tears one day, and my husband suggested I fly back a few weeks early and he would follow later with the kids. “It’s ok,” I responded. “I can hang in a bit longer and we can all go together.”

It wasn’t long after that that we received an email from the airline advising us to cancel our upcoming flight—the flight that I had been so excited about finding for such a great price. Not the news someone on the edge of burnout wants to hear. I wanted to celebrate my niece’s 3rd birthday. The last time I held her was the day she was born. The day before we left to fly back. I wanted to hug my sister’s little girl who I’ve only met through a screen. I wanted to see my grandpa. He’s in his nineties now and not as strong as he used to be. I wanted to be there for the birth of my brother’s new baby. We were supposed to fly in on my grandma’s birthday and have a big celebration. None of these things happened. Instead we went into a two-week lock down when the first case of COVID was confirmed in our city.

To be honest, we haven’t been hit as hard as so many other countries have. There are benefits, I guess, to living in an island country with a warm climate, easily closed borders and where the majority of the population lives in rural areas. While hand sanitizer and masks have became the new norm in public places, we have still been able to attend in-person church (our church is conveniently an outdoor structure with a tin roof and completely open sides). Apart from two lockdowns, most children have still gone to in person school. We have been able to drive where we wanted, eat out in restaurants and, in general, continue a fairly normal life.

It has actually felt strange to have such a relatively normal life this past year while so many other countries have been anything but normal. While we did end up constantly scheduling ministry events over the last year just to cancel them due to ever changing group-gathering restrictions, COVID often felt like just one more disease to deal with like malaria, TB and dengue fever.

But “normal” life where we live is not the easiest. The Global Liveability Report just ranked our city the 3rd least livable city (out of a list of 140 cities) in 2021.  The frequent power black outs, water getting shut off randomly, hot city climate and, for me, the lack of freedom to just go for a walk often take a toll on my mental health. I do look forward to furlough breaks where I have the freedom to wear my jeans, cook recipes with ingredients that I am more used to and talk to family members without having to worry about using up all the data.

But, my husband needs a visa to travel and as embassies closed except for emergences, it was clear that our much-anticipated furlough needed to wait. So we wait (hopefully not for too much longer) and in the meantime I have learned to find a new normal. Whether that means buying clothes at the secondhand shop, a family weekend away (well not very far away but at least a change of scenery; staycation I think is the trendy term) or scheduling weekly time to do something that is mentally life-giving, COVID has forced me to find ways to make life here sustainable and not hold on so tightly to furlough breaks. It has been hard, and it has been good. Isn’t it interesting how often those two conflicting realities go together?

The verses that got me through COVID were Psalm 71:20-21, “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to greater honor and comfort me once again.”

Yes, this past year has not been easy and there has been suffering which at times has felt like too much. But God promises comfort and the suffering and sacrifices are not the end of the story. He is a God who restores.

How has COVID affected your normal? Have there been changes you have had to make to keep life sustainable?

6 Comments

  1. Theresa July 7, 2021

    Mm, yes. Sustainability. I love this, Ruth. I was also on the edge of burnout before COVID, and it’s crazy to look back at the past year and see such obvious ways that God sustained and restored. And how much we’ve LEARNED (like with regard to sustainability). It blesses me to read your words.

    1. Ruth July 7, 2021

      Thank you Theresa, so glad that it was an encouragement. I agree this past year has very much been a year of learning. Praying that you are able to get mental breaks when you need those.

  2. Sarah Hilkemann July 7, 2021

    Ruth, I love this reminder that suffering and hardship are not the end of the story. Even in the hard circumstances of the past year, there have been gifts, “treasures in the darkness” as Isaiah 45:3 says. One of my favorite things was the way people got creative when the normal way of doing things didn’t work, to bring hope and connection and comfort. I can get frustrated with my fellow humans a lot, but we can be pretty amazing too! 🙂

  3. Ruth July 7, 2021

    Thank you Sarah. Yes, treasures in the darkness what a great perspective. It often seems that God works the most amazing things out of the hardest places.

  4. Bayta Schwarz July 7, 2021

    I feel a bit of a recurring theme emerging today… This morning, I was reading Jonah. It struck me that in the translation I was using, the phrase “God provided” is used for the fish and the plant – which makes sense. But then also for the worm that destroyed the plant and for the scorching east wind. What?! Then came your blog post, followed by a devo along the same lines. Hm…

  5. Ruth July 8, 2021

    Such an interesting perspective on Jonah. I love how reoccurring themes often seem to point to what our heart needs to hear.

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