Ride 9 – In the Middle of It

Opening Prayer:

Gracious Creator, you have made all the people of the earth in your image, and you have bound us together with bonds of love and compassion; open wide the hearts and minds of your children to know even a glimpse of the struggle and suffering of those who are afflicted by this pandemic, that we may set aside our habitual individualism and our instinctive isolation and overcome the distance we must keep from one another until we are all one in love and concern for each other; through the one who is our great physician and our tower of strength. Amen. (Evan D. Garner, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas)

Readings: 

Exodus 14:3-18; Judges 4-5; Mark 5:27-34; Luke 1:5-17; 

Bible Verses for the Day

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Devotional: 

Exactly two Julys ago, I put a load of laundry in our front-load washing machine and went upstairs to put a four-year old Flynn to bed. Blake was in the next room trying to coax (or bribe, whatever) a two-year old Astin to lay down, and we both eventually, accidentally fell asleep upstairs in our children’s beds. Around midnight, Blake awoke and then woke me up, and we walked down the stairs half asleep, exhausted. I was walking in front of him and when my foot hit the first floor from the bottom step, I felt something wet. I instantly jolted awake. 

When we flipped on the hallway light near the staircase, there was nothing to prepare us for what we saw. Our entire downstairs was flooded with over two inches of water. And when I tell you that our entire downstairs was flooded, I mean everywhere. The laundry room, two bathrooms, the kitchen, the dining room, the breakfast area, the den, the hallway, the other hallway, the formal living room/office area, the guest bedroom, and some of our master bedroom. The water was so deep that any toys we had forgotten to clean up before we put the kids to bed were floating, yes floating, above our floor. 

I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest, as we furiously worked to figure out where the water was coming from. It hadn’t rained and we were in the middle of a drought so it definitely wasn’t Mother Nature. We finally discovered the door of the washing machine partially opened and water just pouring out. What we would learn later (after our amazingly awesome insurance company sued the washing machine manufacturer and recouped all their losses plus our deductible, which they returned to us) was that when I put that load of laundry in the washer before bed, I did everything right, but at some point the locking mechanism for the door failed (manufacturer’s defect) after I walked away. The door popped open and the water kept pouring in. The way that particular model of front loader was designed, the water level sensor was above the height of the door, and neither communicate with each other. The machine never detected that the door was open, only that the water wasn’t filling up to the sensor, so it kept trying to fill the washing machine to the level of the sensor…for three hours…as water poured into our house. Probably the best way to describe it is this: Imagine letting a garden hose run on full blast in your house for three hours, filling it up like it’s one of those cobalt blue wading pools propped up against the wall of the garden center, outside the big box chain store. 

This is the part where I get to praise my community. I put a call out on social media and by 1 AM, a friend’s husband had come from the next neighborhood over with fans; another friend’s husband got up and drove over with his shop vacuum; our across the cul-de-sac neighbor came; our other neighbor’s mom and dad came; my father-in-law got up and came over; and my dad drove for over an hour to help us. By 3 AM we’d sucked up every gallon, liter, and ounce of standing water in our house. And we’d used every single towel in the house to mop and dry.

The next morning, the insurance company called the remediation company (even thought we’d already done most of the cleanup) and our house roared to life with huge fans and dehumidifiers. It was deafening. A few days later, the long process of dealing with restoration companies, insurance adjustors, contractors, and the like began. At some point someone delivered the bad news that we’d have to move out because it had affected our entire house. 

On top of the damage to our actual house, most of our furniture and belongings were damaged, including many of the kids’ favorite toys. It all had to be replaced. Follow me on a tangent for just a moment, if you will. In the midst of all this destruction, our kids were so distressed about the water damage to their beloved fart gun, that the insurance company approved and replaced it. We still have a good laugh that somewhere, some underwriter had to read what Blake wrote: Fart gun: value $20. But I digress. 

Our insurance adjustor had a daughter Flynn’s age and she couldn’t bear the thought of us crammed in a hotel room for months with two dogs, two kids, and a cat. She told us to find a rental home and she’d take care of the rest. (I still get teary eyed when I think of her tremendous kindness during this time.) 

This was a very stressful time in our lives. We’d lost most everything we’d owned. Our kids, who slept through the flood (or “water event” since the insurance company doesn’t want you to call it a flood*), didn’t understand why they awoke to half their toys on the front lawn (we opened the door and literally they floated out) and why we were talking about leaving the home they loved. Our pets were distraught. I hadn’t slept in days. Every time I heard water of any kind, even just a toilet adjusting, I jumped out of bed ready to clean it up. I like to refer to this time as “in the middle of it.” It was not BF – before the flood – and it was not AF – after the flood. It was the stressful, scary time in the middle. 

One night after searching for a rental house with no luck, we received a phone call from our friend Evan, who had taken a new job in another state. His family was living in a fully furnished rental in their new town, while they were trying to sell their old house here. He said, “I think we can help each other out.” Our family would have a place to live and he would have rental income to pay his mortgage while he waited for his house to sell. As an added bonus, his house wouldn’t sit empty and there would be someone there living in it to take care of it. It was perfect. 

Renting Evan’s house was a wonderful situation for us. We had plenty of room to spread out and there was a spacious backyard for our pets. The best part was that it was located in our old neighborhood, just a few houses down from the house we owned when we were first married, so we got to have all our wonderful old neighbors back while we were there. 

There was just one small problem. Astin took real issue with a painting in the family room. She had just turned two and most of her opinions were of food, toys, clothes, and which parent she liked best that day. Who knew she had an opinion about art. But she did NOT like this painting. Specifically, she would say, “I no like that man. Put him up!” (The painting actually turned out to be Oprah.) We have a lot of original art in our house – some of which is very odd – so we were very surprised at Astin’s strong opinions about this painting. In order to calm her fears, I took it down and placed it safely in a snug corner in the formal dining room to make those with newly found strong opinions about art feel safe too. 

Restoring our house took many months. The kids started school in the rental house, and Flynn made it through an entire soccer season before our house was ready for us to move back. A week or two before we returned home, my older sister came over and she commented on all the fun art in the rental house. I told her about the painting and she asked to see it.

When I showed her, she exclaimed, “Oh my stars!” and I honestly thought she was going to agree with Astin, but then she said, “Do you know what this is? Do you know who painted this? This is amazing.” 

What in the world???

She proceeded to tell me about Jimmy Lee Sudduth, who hailed from the same small Alabama town as my brother-in-law. He was a folk artist who used mud, clay, sand, and soot and favored painting with his fingers and hands over traditional brushes. He mixed these natural media with sugar and colorings he derived from plants, vegetables, flowers, and weeds to fill plywood boards with beautiful, earthy folk art. 

“Do you even know what this is worth?!” she asked excitedly. “I’ve always wanted one but I never got one, and now he has passed away.” 

She then called Astin to look at the painting with her. Using vivid and fun details, she told her about Jimmy Lee and how he painted. As a two-year old who finger painted regularly, she possibly found some common ground because she was willing to look closer at the painting she once feared. At the end of their conversation, Auntie Em asked Astin if she was still scared of the painting. 

Astin said, “No, I not scared, but leave it there. Leave it right there.” 

The painting stayed in the formal living room until the day we moved back into our house. Before we left, I placed it back on the wall from which I had removed it.  

When we opened the door of our house, our home, we walked in to find new floors, new trim, new paint, some new walls, new furniture, and new stuff everywhere we looked. We were so glad to be home, but something was off. The walls were bare. All of our beautiful art was boxed up, waiting for us to put it back on the walls. 

Over the next few weeks, I began to put our art back up. I even shopped a local art festival and added new art. Slowly, our house became our bright, colorful home again. As I was putting the art back up, I thought a lot about our house BF, and then I thought about it AF. I try not think about the time “in the middle of it,” because it was really stressful and hard. But without it, we wouldn’t be in the AF. We’d still just be “in the middle of it.”

I think of our time in quarantine and isolation as BC and AC – before COVID and after COVID. In BC we’d played soccer and gone to dance. We’d eaten out at our favorite restaurants for dinner with friends. We didn’t think twice about hosting a party or a play date. Hugs couldn’t kill us.

Now we talk a lot about AC, mostly referring to anything after the date that Flynn and I can leave the upstairs and rejoin our family downstairs. I often catch myself thinking, I’m going to hug Blake and Astin like a linebacker AC. I’m going to Target (with my mask on) AC. 

But right now we are “in the middle of it.” It is hard and it is stressful and it is scary. It is SO scary. 

Flynn had a minor health hiccup this morning that prompted me to set an alarm and request a video teledoc visit with a children’s urgent care center as soon as they opened. I took his temperature every hour on the hour all day yesterday and beginning again when I woke up this morning. BC I would have waited until Monday to call our regular pediatrician. BC I wouldn’t have laid awake in immobilizing fear over something small. BC I would have rested in my bedtime prayer and known without a doubt that was sufficient, that God heard me. 

But I’m “in the middle of it.” My fear gets the best of me. My stress levels rise to new heights. I know God hears me. I know it’s sufficient. But I question and I beg. And I know He doesn’t want that. He wants me to rest easy in Him. He wants to take this time, this “in the middle of it,” and help me to grow. But I don’t want to grow like this. I don’t want it to be this way. But it’s the hand life dealt me and I’ve got to move through it with Him so I can get to the AC. 

The “in the middle of it” is much like that painting that Astin didn’t like. To her, it looked like a man with sharp features and edges. She wanted me to hide it so she didn’t have to be afraid. She’s two so I obliged. But we later found out it was Oprah. Oprah is the nicest, most generous, most accepting, least scary person living in the world right now. I mean she gives cars to studio audiences and supports entire villages in developing countries. It was only after we made it through the “in the middle of it” to the AF that we found out it was Oprah. We found out about the wonderfully talented, beloved Jimmy Lee who painted from his heart, soul, and the earth. There’s nothing scary about that. But we had to get to the AF to find that out. 

God will get you to the AC. And if you don’t think you’re living “in the middle of it” right now, you are highly mistaken, my friend. We are ALL living “in the middle of it,” whether you are stuck in isolation and just waiting for your quarantine end date: or you are battling a severe case of COVID-19 and every cough brings a new, more terrifying wave of fear; or you’re taking care of a COVID patient and you need relief; or you’re a nurse or a frontline worker or a researcher, and that vaccine can’t get here soon enough; or you’re a mom who can’t do one more day of homeschool, and just wants to send her kids back to the school they love with the teacher they adore: or you’re tired of watching the news and you just want everyone to feel loved so the constant fighting and arguing ends. We are ALL living “in the middle of it.” We ALL want to get to the AC. And we will. Through God’s unconditional and everlasting love, the AC is coming, and what a glorious day that will be! But first we have to walk through this “in the middle of it” and we have to grow. We have to face our fears. We have to turn the painting around and learn about it so that it’s no longer as scary as we once thought. “In the middle of it” can be a lonely and scary time. Or it can be that time where you rested in God and trusted Him to bring you through to the AC.

*Flood implies that Mother Nature ushered raging river water from across the street into our home and that would require an entirely different type of insurance (which we now have after learning about that through this claim)

Tips from a weary mama: 

As my sister says, “Oh my stars!” This post makes me tired just reliving that time in our lives. When things get out of control, even COVID, some days you just have to pray that you can put one foot in front of the other, that you can take another deep breath. That prayer for that specific need will give you the strength and the peace that you need. 

Journal: 

Have you ever had a before, an “in the middle of it,” and an after? Can you relate to how I feel about my time in isolation where I talk about the BC and the AC? Thinking about the AC makes me grateful. Thinking about the BC makes me hopeful. What makes you grateful and hopeful during this time? 

Closing Prayer: 

Father, we come to you with so much fear of the unknown. Help us to remember that though our world feels upside down and hardly recognizable right now, it is still your creation, and that you know the plans you have for us. Father, we ask that you help us to be kind to one another, and to care for each other in the same way that you would care for each of us. Help us also to remember that we can release our worries, doubts, and anxiety to you, and you will gladly take them from us. Thank you so much for that gift! Please send your healing love to all those suffering from COVID-19, and all physical and mental illness. Strengthen those fighting daily battles, both known and unknown, especially all our frontline healthcare workers. Guide our steps and our hearts through this difficult time, and help us to continue to trust in you. Amen. (Lauren Salerno, Choirmaster, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur, Alabama. 

Footnotes:

Evan was lucky enough to meet Jimmy Lee Sudduth and experience the way he painted when he picked out Oprah as a gift for his wife. It’s honestly a beautiful earthly and soulful piece. If you’ve never heard of him before this post, do a quick Internet search. This earth was truly blessed by him and his art. He was truly incredible.

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