Someone dropped this meme in a group text the other day. When I first saw it, I thought the pic was photoshopped- a ship that large couldn’t possibly be stuck in actual mud with a tiny excavator trying to dig it out. Now, you better believe I still saved it to my phone and texted it to basically everyone I knew because it’s so darned relatable. But still, the photo was so ludicrous that I assumed it had been cobbled together by someone with a sense of humor and a knack for photo editing.
Later that day, however, I realized the photo was real. I’m sure you’ve heard about the mammoth container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal until just a few hours ago, blocking traffic through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels. While reading a news story, I realized the image in the meme was an actual picture of an actual excavator trying dig out the Ever Given so that the nearly 300 other ships waiting outside the canal could resume their voyages, saving the already tenuous global economy from a shipping trade kerfuffle that could have ripple effects for years. Go, Little Digger, go!
When I last set fingers to keyboard on this blog almost a year and a half ago, it was November of 2019. That’s approximately 16 months in linear time, but in life experience years, it’s been about a decade. If, on the day I published my last blog post, I had texted myself a series of snapshots of life from March 2020 to March 2021, I’m pretty sure my response would have been the same as when I first saw that meme above. “That can’t possibly be real.”
Let’s take a minute to imagine what we would have thought if our 2021 self had texted our 2019 self images from the past year. Let’s start with those that are shared: masked people standing six feet apart from one another, closed schools, empty public spaces, overflowing hospitals, hundreds of thousands dead in our own country and millions across the world, widespread protests and spectacular political unrest.
Now let’s move to our own personal images because it seems like the past year has brought a disproportionate share of tragedy, trauma, and change to individuals and families in ways that are unrelated to the pandemic: lost jobs, cancer diagnoses, deaths by heart attack, suicide, and car accidents- and those are just off the top of my head from my own life and circle.
And then there are the intangibles: the grief…the exhaustion…the political tension…the isolation…the labor of hoisting our entire families on our backs and carrying them through circumstances we’re having a hard time navigating ourselves…the lost sleep…the lost events and experiences…the lost TIME…and let’s not forget the anger, I have heard so many friends mention processing deep anger and resentment at whole litany of people and circumstances…
It’s hard to imagine which of the images from the past year my 2019 self would have found the hardest to believe, but I think I have a guess:
It would be an image of me a few weeks ago, standing in the shower in a darkened bathroom, doubled over with body-wracking sobs, wondering what was wrong with me that I was so exhausted and unable to cope. My thoughts were racing and fixating on things like age, mortality, unstoppable change, and the inevitable grief that seems to be waiting as the years march on. The peace that passes understanding which was supposed to be guarding my heart and mind in Christ Jesus was inaccessible and I felt like a fraud of a Christian.
To be clear, it’s not the “sobbing in the shower” part that would have surprised me. I don’t think I would have even been surprised at my struggles with change and mortality, issues which I had previously barely even poked at let alone obsessed over. When taken in the context of the other images, those of grief, loss, and unchosen change, it would have made perfect sense to 2019 Tori that 2021 Tori was struggling with these things.
No, what would have shocked me is the “wondering what was wrong with me” part. If I was sitting there looking at an image of my emotional breakdown in the context of the other images from the past year, it would have boggled my mind that I couldn’t see why I was struggling.
And I know it’s not just me. I hear the same words coming from friends and family as well: we can’t understand why we can’t get it together, why we are so darned exhausted all the time. It seems like linear time has been lying to us, letting the fact that these events have unfolded over time make us blind to the full scope and cumulative impact of what we’ve all experienced over the past year. Maybe it’s our coping mechanisms, which haven’t really let us sit with all we’ve been through and experienced and now our bodies are rebelling and we’re confused about why since we’ve had to engage in a fair amount of denial to just to be able to to our jobs.
It could also have something to do with the fact that things are actually looking up a little bit- I know that seems weird, but hear me out. In college, I would come home after finals week and crash. I would sometimes even get physically sick and inevitably, I would cry (because crying is how I process emotion and since I haven’t grown out of it yet, I doubt I will). It was like I had pushed myself through what had to be done, did what I had to do, and then when it was finally over, I truly could let down and deal with all of the stress and tension I had walked through during the term at school and, especially, during final exams.
Spring is peeking out in more ways than one right now. Vaccinations have started (I’ve had both shots and am days from reaching full immunity), here in Oregon schools are re-opening and sports are resuming, we are starting to think about things like seeing family members and planning vacations, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In our family, my husband just got a job offer, five months after being laid off from the company where he’d worked for 14 years and planned to retire from. We are starting to let down and I think the post-finals crash is in full effect.
The trauma isn’t over, not by a long shot. Just got a message from a friend who is trying to negotiate school re-opening as an administrator in a district that is not handling the process well and I could hear the burden in her voice. My kids are enjoying their return to school, but the masks and distancing will inevitably get old and the honeymoon will end in spectacular fashion, leaving me to hoist them on my back once again and carry them through. And people are still dying, the political tension and polarization continues, our personal losses and struggles remain…and we are exhausted.
I wish this was the part of the post where I gave you answers to all of this, but unfortunately I have none. The purpose of this post is not to tell you how to handle it all, but to encourage you to go easy on yourself and take heart because there is a reason you feel like this. Dozens of reasons, actually. Also, I want to encourage you to take care of yourself. Drink fluids, move your body every day (which is so hard when you’re exhausted), find something light to watch on TV (I highly recommend the Great British Baking Show), eat something even when you don’t feel like it (almonds and jerky are high in protein), and don’t take yourself too seriously if you can help it.
And reach out. To a friend, family member, TO YOUR DOCTOR. Counseling, meds, whatever it takes to get you through this, do it.
And, for the moment, let’s spend some time with God. Because He sees each of us, knows us better than we know ourselves, and wants to minister to our hearts and heal us right now.
Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Picture yourself exhaling the grief, tension, anxiety, and toxic fumes of the world and breathing in the sweet, peaceful perfume of the Kingdom of God. World air out, Kingdom air in.
1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.” That is both deep truth and holy invitation. God is the best listening ear you can imagine, strong enough to carry your burdens and powerful enough to help you with them. So take a minute and just unload on the Father who loves you. Tell Him everything you’re feeling, your fears, your hopes, even your anger- ESPECIALLY if you’re angry with Him. I know that sounds weird, but this is a relationship and He wants to talk through it with you, He can handle it. Ask Him to draw your heart and mind to anything you may be missing, any burdens you may be carrying and pain you may be feeling that you haven’t recognized yet. And let yourself just sit with it all, sit in His presence, knowing you’re not alone with this- you are NEVER alone. Open your heart and make room for Him to respond to you…this is easier said than done and I don’t have a magic formula, but know that it gets easier the more you do it. The more chances you give Him to speak, the more attuned you’ll become to the way He speaks to you- just to YOU, in His own special just-for-you way- so if you don’t hear or feel anything right now, take heart. Just opening the door is enough for now.
These next moment are for you and God, the two of you together in ways that I can’t speak to because they’ll be just for you and Him. It may be powerful, it may be peaceful, and it may not feel like much of anything- and that’s ok. When you’re ready, move into the rest of your day with these words in your heart:
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In those words is a reassurance that trouble is normal. The presence of trouble in our lives doesn’t mean we are doing it wrong, Jesus promised we would have trouble. But there’s a promise that He can overcome it. I don’t know what that looks like right now. I’ve watched Him overcome my troubles in the past but I haven’t seen yet how He’s going to overcome the ones I’m worried about right now. At the deepest and very most basic, it’s the assurance of heaven, so I’m holding on to that.
Jesus says that he leaves us his peace, but I leave you this meme. Seems a fitting end to this particular diatribe. I love you, friends.