Fifteen years ago or so, I remember feeling somewhat stressed by life. Everything was basically fine, but my work life felt stalled by lack of direction and usefulness, I had taken my unpublished novel as far as I could take it and had no idea how to improve it but knew it wasn’t publishable yet, and I adored my family, but I was getting tired of the routine of it all–the same dirty dishes to wash every day, the laundry, the cleaning.
I needed a changeup, as they say in baseball. I didn’t know what to change, though. Did I need a new job? What did I have to do to my manuscript to make it publishable? Was it worth all the time I had spent on it? I felt like I needed to stop the world for a minute or two so I could think a clear thought that wasn’t interrupted by a thousand other things.
And then, the world did stop for me. I had thyroid cancer. Part of the treatment was a trip to the hospital where my doctor watched me swallow a large pill of radioactive iodine and then telling me, “Run. Get home and stay there.”
For a week, I couldn’t touch anything I would need for three months. No cooking, no work, no manuscript, no child care. My kids moved to their grandparents’ house and Jeff brought me meals. The world stopped. I didn’t want to waste it just sitting in front of the TV, but what else could I do? I prayed that God would help me use the time well, guide my reading selection, phone calls, etc.
What happened during that week prepared me for the whole world shutting down now, keeping my anxiety level low and my antennae for what God might be doing during this time of social isolation high.
During the week that my own life was shut down, I spent time “alone together” with my grandmother, sharing sightings of bald eagles that soared over my front yard and the tiny sparrows that hopped along my window sill. My Dad and stepmother “happened” to be on a trip that week, so my grandmother, far away in Tennessee, and I spent time on the phone. She passed away a number of years ago now, and I will never forget the sound of her giggling at the idea that we were being alone together. It’s fun, now, to see how many people around the world are sharing being alone together via social media, balconies, and even musical walks around the neighborhood, as my neighbors are doing.
Right before I went into my personal lockdown, I sent my manuscript for Sophie’s Quest to my sister, Jackie, who had two kids in the right age group. They’d just bought a house on a lake and didn’t have a TV there yet. Maybe they’d read it? Yes, they did, along with all of my siblings, parents, and stepparents, who “happened” to descend on the lake the same week. Their encouragement, notes (and arguments!) on the pages kept the work moving forward in a powerful way, even though I couldn’t touch it myself. It’s funny, because I find myself revising that same book during this time of social isolation, fifteen years or so later! This time, I have a new publisher and a new editor guiding the way and the assurance that God isn’t finished with this book even yet! I simply can’t wait to share this new version with you.
Finally, during the radioactive-induced isolation, I decided that God was leading me to the school job that I now have, and am isolated from. Every time I take a walk in the neighborhood and see one of my students (at a safe distance, of course), my heart leaps and I feel grateful all over again for being in that place with those kids and that staff. I am so blessed by them. A bonus–students who read the current editions of my books and even sometimes give me drawings based on the characters, like the one at the top of this page!
So, as I watch the whole world enter this time of social isolation, I pray for those who are in a precarious position with their job, or who don’t have a positive environment to spend this time in, but I also pray that maybe we all can let God throw us a “changeup” and help us to see the spring unfold around us in a new way, help us to reach out to others and be “alone together” in fun and creative ways, and perhaps even help us to ask God for direction and to listen for his still, small voice.
He’s with us! And that is good news today and every day. Take care, and stay well!