God who is the source of our being, healer of our brokenness, and energy of existence, you have brought your people, the entire human family, through plagues and pandemics in ages past, and you call us to draw close to you in this time, as we recognize you are nearer to us than life itself; as we rest in your immediate presence, we beseech you Good One to remain especially close to all those who are suffering now from COVID-19, those sick and those who love them, that your healing may be done, and we pray that those of us who mourn the loss of loved ones who have died from this disease may rest in the truth that they now live in a realm where there is no pain or death, only praise and love; all this we offer through the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that was, is and will be. Amen. (Seth Olson, Associate Rector, All Saints Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama)
Matthew 13:24-43; Mark 4:30-34
Bible Verses for the Day:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
“You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.” Jeremiah 12:2 (NIV)
I think a lot about how our children will turn out after quarantine and isolation; how it will affect them both short term and long term. I think a lot about my husband and how he’s holding up downstairs. He’s being pushed to his limit, running our household alone down there. And by running our household, I mean, disinfecting everything to laboratory clean room status, along with all the other household duties that we normally share, plus acting as a private butler to those of us who are isolating upstairs, bringing us meals and anything else we ask for, and doing every stitch of laundry, every single day. It’s a hard and thankless job that never ends. I did it for a week and thought I was going to break. When we leave isolation, he will have done it for over a month.
I asked Blake to write about what his life is like downstairs and what he has learned through all of this. I wanted you to have his perspective, as well as mine. This is what he wrote:
“Quarantine is hard. Quarantine within quarantine is harder. My wife and six year old son tested positive for COVID-19 and have been isolating upstairs away from me and our four-year old daughter, since we both tested negative. We are together, but separated. Full family interactions consist of FaceTime calls, talking loudly from the entryway to the upstairs landing, or yelling from the front yard to an open bedroom window.
I am the downstairs parent which means I am in charge of meal preparation, laundry, feeding pets, and even providing funeral services for a lost fish; the conduit to the outside world. I also spend 24/7with a four-year old, playing Barbie, super hero girls, sing songs, and answering every “hey daddy!” that comes.
We are blessed that our children are very social. However, during quarantine a social child, especially a four-year old, needs extra attention. We have conversations for what seems like 25 hours a day, 8 days a week about anything and everything a four-year old talks about. We have planned multiple trips to Disney World, extravagant Halloween parties, sleepovers, water balloon fights, and on and on and on. If you are a parent, parenting is hard. If you are a quarantined parent, parenting is hard, but as I keep telling my wife, our children aren’t going to remember this time of pandemic as bad or a hardship, they are going to remember all of the time they have spent with us.
Through all of this hardship, I have learned something amazing – the resilience of my children. A six-year old who has become hyper-vigilante in keeping others safe from COVID-19. Even though he’s been in quarantine since May 25th (this was written on June 27th), his main concerns are spreading his resilience, strength, warmth, and love to our community by example. A four-year old who had been planning her birthday party since last year, wasn’t fazed or even upset by having to trade her dream plans for a simple family gathering in the front yard followed by a parade of friends driving by to honk and yell birthday wishes. She might have actually loved that more. When her brother and mother had to lean out of the upstairs window to sing happy birthday while she blew out her candles, she just went with it.
I have also learned about the love that others will share. A community that checks on us daily, a church that feeds our family, and a stranger, a gentleman working on an air conditioner down the street from our house on Astin’s birthday who saw the festivities for a four-year old and stopped to wish her happy birthday and leave money for her to pick out a toy. It amazes me every day that people can be so opinionated and divided on issues will come together in time of need to help family, community, and even complete strangers.”
Blake is a good dude. If you know him, you already know that. When I think of what he did for me and Flynn while we were isolated upstairs, I am humbled and grateful. But this post is not about him (although he certainly deserves one), it’s about what our family planted and how we grew.
When Matthew writes of Jesus telling the parable of the mustard seed (found in the two readings for today), it is sandwiched between the parable of the weeds and the parable of the yeast, followed by an explanation of the parable of the weeds. As a child, whenever I imagined the parable of the mustard seed, I envisioned the seed being planted in a garden with weeds growing in and around it.
The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds that is planted, yet it grows into the largest plant. It is even described as a tree where birds come to perch. The mustard seed is the Kingdom of God. When it is planted, it is small, but when cultivated, it grows into something great, something amazing.
We chose to plant a mustard seed during quarantine. We chose to plant the Kingdom of God in our hearts, amongst the weeds of devastating positive diagnoses, the disappointment of having to remain in isolation for over a month, and the constant destruction of the divisiveness of our nation and our community. We turned our eyes to God and grew hope in the face of adversity, perseverance in the face of the unknown, and love in a shattered world. We tried to model that to our kids through unconditional love and honesty. We never hid the existence of the weeds or the other plants. We simply tried to grow.
On our 16th bike ride, the day before Flynn and I gained our freedom from isolation, we stopped at an intersection. We could see one of Flynn’s favorite friends playing in her yard just a few houses away, a little girl he’s loved since they were babies. I asked him if he wanted to ride by and wave hello. I could tell he was making a difficult decision. You could literally see his feet trying to start pedaling in her direction. But then he said, “We can’t. Not until tomorrow. We need to think about her safety first. And the doctor says we can’t visit with friends until tomorrow.”
You and I both know that there was no magical Cinderella-esque clock that struck midnight and cured us of COVID. We were likely not infectious two weeks after our diagnosis (at least according to the CDC) but we chose to listen to the infectious disease doctor (who, frankly, IS the expert) and isolate for the maximum time in order to minimize the risk to everyone else. When Flynn made that decision on our 16th bike ride, he did it out of selflessness, out of love for his friend’s safety. I truly believe it was because he experienced kindness, honesty, and unconditional love during isolation. Yes, some of it was from us (mostly from his awesome dad), but much of it was from his neighbors and his community. They modeled kindness that cultivated him to grow and see beyond the weeds of his own situation, to see others.
COVID could have made us bitter and cold. But instead it grew us. It grew our kids especially.
You don’t have to be in isolation to plant a seed and grow. You can do that on any day from anywhere. With God’s help you will grow into something great, something amazing. If you are in isolation, I pray that you are planting a seed that will help you overcome. You WILL tower over the weeds. You may weather a few storms and the growing season may be long, but the mustard seed, the Kingdom of God will grow taller than even you could imagine.
Tips from a weary mama:
There’s nothing easy about COVID, having it or caring for someone who has it. Even loving someone who has it from a distance is difficult. I know it’s hard to remember this, but I want you to try. This is a season. It’s a growing season. Allow yourself to be planted and you WILL grow.
Think of a time when you had nothing but were able to grow something great. It may be a time when you had little money and built a solid business. It may be a time when you had little faith and grew closer to God. Reflect on that time and how you can grow now from COVID, whether you are in isolation or you are caring for someone who has been affected.
Great Gracious God of everyone and everything; Lover and Light of this world; Advocate for all we are and all we can be with your help- Thank you. Thank you for another day and another chance. Another chance to live for You; to love for You and, maybe even to struggle for you. Be with us as we grow through these times when the way is uncertain and hope can be elusive. We ask for renewal, guidance, and strength. We know You will give us all of this and more; we will receive what we need for the journey ahead. We will move beyond where we are. We confess we will be afraid and unsure. Help us to know, now and always, that you are here and You will be there. We confess there are times when we would rather stay here where it is safe and warm. We kind of know what to expect at home or in Church. We know the rules. So we cling fiercely to Your neck, like the child who won’t leave his Mother on the first day of school. But, she gently untangles his arms, gives him his lunchbox, and puts him on the bus. Remind us, even as we bury our head sin your neck, that Your grace is enough. Help us to know, now and always, that You are following that bus to make sure we are okay. And when the time comes- shove us out the door. (John Perdue, Montgomery, Alabama)
I’m writing this footnote from our freedom of isolation. We are still riding. And we’ve ridden by that sweet friend’s house at least four times in four days in the hopes to get the wave hello that he gave up that day at the intersection when he worried more about her safety than he did about his own desire to see his friend. Maybe tomorrow….