This is Chapter 3 of Discovering Joy, a devotional-style quarantine diary I'm posting chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad during the coronavirus self-isolation.
Last week, the fear hit me hard. Up until then, I had been doing a good job of ignoring it. I was just collecting data, keeping up with the news, practicing my proper social distancing, sheltering at home... It was a tidy response and I thought it was sufficient.
But the cracks have been showing for weeks.
Reading the news circulating on Facebook is panic-worthy. Stories of otherwise healthy people who first developed symptoms on Wednesday and were dead by the next Tuesday, stories from survivors who tell of gasping for air for weeks as they battled for their lives in home quarantine, stories of hospital staff making ethical decisions to aid one patient over another because there simply are not enough resources for everyone.
Going grocery shopping has become increasingly anxiety-inducing. Shopping days are always difficult for me. With my neurological condition, I become overstimulated quickly and I run out of energy within an hour. Sometimes just transporting my groceries from the car is a struggle to coordinate limbs that no longer want to function and legs that no longer want to support me. Add pregnancy weight and exhaustion to the mix, and you see why shopping is something I have to prepare myself for mentally at least a day in advance.
Now amidst the coronavirus pandemic, shopping includes added concerns. Will I find the items I need, or will I have to hop from store to store with waning energy to see if someone, somewhere, still has eggs in stock? Will I touch something that has just been touched by a carrier of the virus? Will I carry it home to my husband, who has a pre-existing lung condition, and germinate the virus in my body where I'm also growing a little daughter? Should I wear masks and gloves? Do they even make a difference?
The thoughts continue in a descending spiral from there. I'm keenly aware of every surface I touch, every time I touch my face, what clothing I will now have to wash, whether I should wash my hair too (yes).
And then there's the hypervigilance about every single sniffle, cough, sneeze, and pant.
I'm breathless! Is this a normal pregnancy symptom or the first sign of respiratory distress?
I'm overheated! Is this just a pregnancy hot flash or the first sign of a deadly fever?
I just coughed! Is this just because I swallowed my spit wrong or the first sign of the coronavirus?
Then I tally up the odds of survival for myself, my daughter, my husband, given pre-existing conditions and the state of our immune systems. My imagination envisions separating from my husband at the doors of a hospital emergency department, not knowing if we will ever see each other again.
Am I ready to die? Am I ready for someone I love dearly to die?
No one would know that this was my internal monologue. On the outside, I am calm and assured and rational, assessing with facts and not fear, taking proper precautions but not donning a hazmat suit every time I set foot outside my front door.
But my constant attempts to control my safety and my family's safety were not enough--and I knew it.
It all came crashing down one evening at bedtime. I knew I was too tired to be reasonable. But I also knew that I would not be able to sleep until I had faced my anxiety and sought real peace.
My husband Paul found me sitting on our bed, in a puddle of tears.
"We need to pray," I gulped. "We need to pray because I am so scared right now. I know we're supposed to live in faith and not fear, but all I can think about is this story that I read today of someone who died who shouldn't have died and how easily this thing can spread and how quickly it kills and how little I can do to protect our daughter and I'm terrified that if either of us gets the virus, we'll spend the rest of our lives blaming each other or ourselves for not being careful enough..."
I'm pretty sure whatever I said was largely incoherent, but Paul listened. We have a term in our marriage: Word Blurt. I personally prefer the term to "verbal vomit," but the concept is the same. When one of us says we need to "word blurt," it means that our thoughts are not cohesive yet and we are literally processing out loud in hopes that the other spouse will help us untangle the jumble of thoughts, feelings, and motivations. So I word blurted and Paul listened.
Then he began to ask questions, spiraling down toward the root of my fears.
What did it all come down to? Control. I wanted control and I couldn't have it.
I wanted to know that my precautions would actually be effective. I wanted to know for certain that I could determine the outcome and protect my family. I wanted to know for sure that God did not have a different story planned for my family than I did.
"But, Beautiful," Paul wiped away one of my tears with his thumb. "Our life and death is not determined by the coronavirus. There are a million ways to die and the only reason we haven't up until now is because God has our timing in His hand. If either of us get the coronavirus, it will ultimately be because God allowed it. If we never get it, we could still die from something else. God is sovereign over life and death. It's not up to us."
I suppose some people may find this answer less than cheery. But for me, it was exactly what I needed. I had accepted daily dangers and placed them in God's hands many times, largely because those dangers were not up close and demanding immediate attention. For some reason, I had not put coronavirus in its proper place. I had put it in a category by itself, as something that merited worry and attempts to control instead of trust and repeated expressions of faith.
The words I had read so recently in Joshua returned: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) It wasn't a promise of absolute safety, regardless of the circumstances. It was a promise of God's presence. And isn't God's presence the ultimate safety?
We're still in the middle of this. My common sense precautions and social distancing may or may not protect my family from this deadly virus. But today I went out and gathered groceries in the midst of masked shoppers terrified of brushing up against one another, and I wasn't afraid. If I worry more, will I protect my health better? Hardly. (In fact, there's some studies that indicate the opposite.) And if I don't end up contracting the virus, I'll have worried for nothing.
No, I'm not ready to die or to lose my husband. I want to grow old with the love of my life and serve God and His church together and build a big, messy, happy family together. But ultimately, God sees the bigger picture, beyond my life, my husband's life, or my daughter's life. Whatever He asks of me, He will also prepare and equip me for.
So I'm gonna spray my sanitizer on the shopping cart and wash my hands, but more diligently, I'm going to go often and with joy into the presence of my loving Father, and trust Him to work out my story in the way that is best.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.