A Year in Ashes and Dust

What do you remember of this time last year? When did you first learn that “The Coronavirus” was going to have a significant impact on your life? 

I was in a meeting with the H2O Staff Team on Tuesday, March 10th. We talked about plans for an Evangelism Training workshop, some special outreach activities for St. Patrick’s Day, and our church’s upcoming Spring Break mission trips. It was a pretty normal Staff Meeting until ten minutes before the scheduled conclusion of our meeting. That’s when students started bombarding us with texts, GroupMe messages, and emails. All revealing and reacting to the fact that Kent State University was shutting down its campus and sending students home. I remember the stunned faces of our team and a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It felt serious. But also short-term. Maybe just an extended Spring Break… Maybe a month. My co-pastor and I wrote a letter to the students of H2O on March 12th, laying out a month’s worth of plans for creative approaches to spiritual community. On March 14th, I processed some of my grief through a list of 29 Things I’m Grieving as a Pastor. Still, I remember feeling a sense of gratitude last Spring that the situation “should be” finished in time for Elliot’s graduation and our family’s summer vacation. I can recall news articles from that time period. They quoted a variety of perspectives on how long the pandemic would last. But I personally scoffed at the idea that it would stretch all the way into 2021. Surely, this microscopic bug couldn’t eat up all that much time, could it?!?

Here we are, a year later. 

A week or so into the Spring Shut-Down, I wrote about A Week in Ashes and Dust. But it really has come to feel a bit like a Year in Ashes and Dust! Not all bad stuff, actually. But serious stuff. Life-changing, situation-rearranging stuff. Kind of like taking a big pile of wood and turning it into ash. And it all started this time last year.

Here are some of the strange things that I remember from that initial experience of learning to live with COVID-19:

Track Workouts with my Boys

Through the first few weeks of the Spring Shut-Down, we maintained hope that Elliot and Cor would still be able to enjoy their track season at some point. Elliot was going into his senior year. Cor was a 7th grader getting his first chance at organized track with the school team. We didn’t want to let that dream die, so we worked out together three times a week at the middle school track. Track workouts make me want to vomit. Literally. But I still appreciated the chance to do that with my boys. And I still grieve the fact that they lost that track season.

First Time Wearing a Face Covering

I remember going to a grocery store in the early days of the Spring Shut-Down. I didn’t have a mask (they were short on supply at that time, and we were still being encouraged to leave those for the medical professionals). So instead, I grabbed one of the bandana’s that Marci sometimes uses to tie her hair back. It made me feel like a Wild West outlaw walking into the Acme FreshMarket in Stow. But it got the job done. The only real problem was the fact that I didn’t look carefully to remove some of Marci’s hairs from the bandana — so they tickled my nose terribly. I felt so relieved when I got back to the car, disinfected my hands, and took off the face covering.

Tiger King

Like many others in the United States, our family has fascinated by the story of Tiger King. Our friends Daniel and Halle let us borrow their Netflix account to watch the eight-episode arc. And honestly, now that it’s all over — I’m not sure why we all enjoyed it so much. There’s nothing particularly meaningful or redemptive about the story. Perhaps it was just the bizarre, illogical, chaotic, watch-at-home clash of mankind and natural elements that we needed to process the more invisible pandemic happening in the world around us.

Puzzles

We burned through our puzzle collection last Spring. Partly because it was one of the few leisure activities we could do that wasn’t screen time. But also partly because it served a psychological function. We needed time and space to sift through all the broken pieces of our society and our individual lives and figure out a way to put things back together again. Some of my strongest emotional connections to that time period tie back to that puzzle table in the corner of our Family Room. I cried at that puzzle table. I felt deep anger at that puzzle table. God met me at that puzzle table and reminded me that He was with me.

Words of Reassurance

Last Spring, one of the ways that God reassured me was through the imagery of ashes and a verse from the book of Isaiah that spoke to hope in the midst of an ashy landscape:

To all who mourn in a place of struggling with God, the Lord will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.

Isaiah 61:3

If you’ve had a hard year, you’re in good company. I kind of wish it could have been different. And I’m definitely looking forward to the redemptive angles that we’ll discover in the years to come. But it’s also OK to just remember and grieve and sit in the ashes for a bit.

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