When COVID-19 first invaded our lives last spring, I think most of us had the mentality that it was something temporary. As a teacher I thought we’d take an extra week off in addition to spring break, just a precaution, and then we’d be back at school–back to normal. When I reflect now on how everything unfolded, I realize I had a series of these adjustments: we’ll be back to normal in April. Okay, well, school won’t be normal for the rest of the year. But summer will be normal. Hm. June’s not normal. Maybe July? Maybe August? Will life ever be normal again? 

I wrote on social media yesterday about my daughter Grace having elective surgery and how we had to go to Little Rock for a COVID-19 test. I said how weird it was, like a dystopian movie. One of my friends commented: This is our new normal. But my heart and mind rebel against that. I don’t want this to be the new normal. Like my mom said recently, I want my life back.

I want to hug people. I want to see more than their eyes. I want to go to the store and go inside, and go to rodeos and not feel strange like people are scared of me or judging me for wearing a mask or not wearing one. I want to go to church. I want Sunday dinners at my parents’ house. I want Grace to go back to U of A–well, I don’t really want that but she does–and have fun and spread her wings and have a normal college experience. I want Harper to have a good senior year. I want normal football where we all sit squished together in the stands and don’t wear masks and can freely yell and scream. I want to invite friends over. I want Adelaide to have fun her first year in junior high and get to play volleyball and basketball and sit by her buddies in class and not stay six feet apart. I want to teach and touch my own students in a classroom, not on a computer. I want to see all of my colleagues and hang out in the hall. 

I want Stella to love third grade. I want her psyche not to be shaped by fear of a virus and isolation and procedures that have nothing to do with learning except we have to do them to try to keep people safe. I want her teacher not to be stressed. I want my whole family of teachers and administration and coaches not to be anxious and handed impossible directives and put in harm’s way. I want no one else to get sick. I want no one else to take germs home to other people who will get sick. I want no one else to suffer and no one else to die.

Unfortunately, as my moma (and The Rolling Stones) taught me, you can’t always get what you want. But Christians believe what the bible says in 2 Peter 1:3: in Jesus we have everything we need. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that “His grace is sufficient.” Grace is not everything we want, if we are honest, but it is sufficient. All we need. Enough.

What does grace look like in the middle of a pandemic, which has, for now at least, become our new normal? My list is not exhaustive. Grace comes to us all in different ways. But here are some of the things I see when I look past what I’ve lost into what I haven’t. I still have my faith. I still have Hunter’s laughter and Stella’s warm little body to cuddle on the couch. I still have sunsets. I still have cats. I still have a dog who talks to me with his eyes and tail and voice, and we still have walks. I have friends and loved ones. I have music, and books, and a phone. I have TV. I have the internet. I have fresh squash, okra, cucumbers, peppers, peas, and tomatoes from the garden. I have a job.

I have my husband. We have a house. In this house there is a miraculous machine that makes a wonderful, life-giving, gorgeous brown liquid called coffee. There’s a faucet we can turn on and get clean water my family can drink. I have a place to keep food cold and even enough food to store in it. I have a stove for cooking and a washer and dryer and electricity and gas to turn them all on. I have clothes. I have air-conditioning. I have a car.

I have chickens and scraps to feed them. I have a son with a broken leg that has healed. I can’t see the floor for the teenage squalor of his room but I can see him in all of his spendor. I have eyes. I have ears to hear my daughters practice the piano. I have hands to type. I have a mailbox and mail that comes to it. I have hot baths. I have sourdough starter. I have crickets and cicadas and whippoorwills to listen to at night.

I still have my amazing community. We still have the river and mountains we call home. We have roads. We have a hospital. We have leaders who care and work hard for us. We have a school. We have businesses. We have the constant kindness we show one another in food banks, phone calls, benefits, prayers, visits on the porch. We have opportunities to be creative. We still have plenty of work to do, needs to fill, and problems to solve. We have our great minds and brave hearts. We have our memories. We have our future to look forward to. And we have our neighbors to love.

I read somewhere that when two people look at the world one may see hate and division and darkness while the other sees beauty, love, and light. The interesting thing is that regardless of who does the looking, it’s the same world. We get to choose how we look at it. No one else chooses for us. But our choices make all the difference in how we walk through this time.  The truth is that we still have much more than we have lost. We can choose to bring our best selves to the hard, messy work of finding our way forward though this new landscape, together. We have each other and we have grace. And that is more than enough.

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