Virus in the House

Marci and Cor have been running a low fever (average around 99.5° F) for several days now. They’ve had very little in the way of other symptoms, though Cor has been extra-sleepy and there have been a few moments when Marci has felt a strange tightness in her chest.

Neither of their symptoms are severe enough that our doctor is able to provide official testing and diagnosis, but we are acting as though both have COVID-19 and keeping them isolated from each other and from the rest of the family, on the second floor of our house.

Elliot, Olivia, and I have been fever-free and symptom-free all week. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been struggling along with Marci and Cor.

We’re actually not all that afraid of the disease or death. But we feel a heavy sense of responsibility to always be cleaning and disinfecting and keeping diseased things from healthy things and vice versa. We’ve all tried to stay hyper-vigilant about hand-washing and disinfecting household surfaces — to the point that the skin of my hands is red, dry, and extra-sensitive.

It’s even harder when we have to venture into the outside world. After Cor first started showing symptoms, we decided that I needed to make a grocery run while I was still healthy. I washed my hands before I went out, wore a mask, and just dipped in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. But unpacking the groceries after I got home was absolutely crazy-making! I probably washed my hands five or six times and went through at least half a dozen disinfectant wipes over at least forty-five minutes of work. By the end, I legitimately felt like I wanted to cry. My emotions have been swinging wildly over the last several days: hope, despair, loneliness, anger, sadness, resignation, apathy, hyper-vigilance, guilt, and shame.

I took some time to go for a walk in the woods this morning, and I realized just how much there seems to be a sense of shame that goes with being a family who seems to have succumbed to this thing. I feel a little bit like a leper from Bible times who needs to walk around shouting “Unclean!” It’s testing my endurance and my trust in the Lord, for sure.

But this morning in the woods, I felt like God reminded me of the truth that, “Jesus is the Savior of the world. Not me.” I don’t know how many times in my life I’m going to need to be reminded of that, but apparently it’s a lot! Maybe it’s a first-born character trait, or a deeply-embedded theology of works-based salvation… But I’m remarkably (ridiculously) persistent in my belief that it’s all up to me. I’m the one that stops COVID-19 from spreading. I’m the hero that our family needs right now. I’m the one to make the seasons change, to keep the earth rotating and revolving, to fix all the problems in the world. No wonder I feel exhausted!

I know there’s another extreme that’s not healthy. It’s not good to be flippant or frivolous about these things. I’ve also felt convicted about my cavalier attitude in the earliest days of this public health crisis when I echoed the idea that COVID-19 is no more dangerous — or only marginally more dangerous — than the common flu… or when I kind of wanted to catch the disease, just so my immune system (which I was sure was so much better than everyone else’s) could overpower it and allow me to get on with the rest of my life. God has also shown me that I need to love my neighbors and serve as a faithful steward of God’s Creation, including my body and the bodies of others. I feel like I need to acknowledge this other extreme, lest I lead myself or others into temptation.

But my natural inclination will always be hyper-responsibility and self-righteousness. So I’m thankful that God is calling attention to these unhealthy patterns in my heart, even as I’m working through the unhealthy viruses in our home.

Walking in the woods helps to reset my perspective. “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). This verse comes to mind almost every time I’m in the woods. It brings me such unspeakable comfort to see the way that the grasses sprout so vivid and green, thriving for a season until they wither and turn yellow and brown, only to burst back to color and life again in time. I love to watch how different sorts of plants and animals flower and flourish at different times, creating beautiful variety from week to week, month to month — but also an astonishing sense of rhythm and regularity. I know that the forest will keep doing its thing year after year, long after I’m gone, through generations of people living and dying, through civilizations flourishing and floundering.

Yet God and His Word are even more permanent and predictable than that! “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Amen and Amen.

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