The other night I had an unsettling dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, and strange dreams that make no sense are familiar territory for me. But it still bothered me, and only later did I figure out why.
I dreamed I was attending a baby shower. By nature, I’m an introvert, so large group settings are difficult for me and things I typically force myself to participate in. I didn’t want to go to the baby shower, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wanted to show my friend that I cared, and from personal experience, I know that simply being present speaks love. She probably wouldn’t remember what gift I gave, but at least she’d know that I attended.
So I went to the shower, and it was unexpectedly packed with over a hundred people in close quarters. It was a great party, with everyone socializing and eating while I tried to smile in the right spots and pretend that I didn’t feel excruciatingly awkward.
Then, I suddenly remembered something. We were on a “stay-at-home” order because of Covid-19! We weren’t supposed to be socializing or meeting in any kind of group! In fact, with that revelation, I was certain that every one of the hundred-plus people at that dream baby shower had Covid-19, and they would surely infect me! Then I would take it home and give it to my family, and it would be all my fault!
I held my breath and tried to weave my way out of the room, trying to avoid contact and escape. Unfortunately, I never got the satisfaction of making it out of the room. Instead, I woke up.
From the second I woke, every minute of my day crammed with multiple needs. Four children all trying to adjust to homeschooling in this crazy time equals pure chaos. I have a degree in Elementary Education, and yet I would rather teach thirty children in a classroom at a school than my own children at home in these circumstances. It’s hard. There’s no way around that fact.
Also unfortunate–we were out of food and other necessities. I needed to venture out into the world, while my husband holed up in his office working and hoping the four kids wouldn’t actually bother him while I was gone. I gave each of the kids instructions on what they needed to work on, put an educational video in for my youngest, told my husband he was on-call, and hurried out, praying to get what we needed quickly
I went to three stores looking for toilet paper (everyone’s crusade right now), finally finding success with a single package. At every store, there seemed to be different protocols. In some stores, social distancing was impossible with the cashier and with narrow aisles. Other stores had marks on the floor showing where you’re supposed to distance your cart, plexiglass between you and the checker, and still other rules and regulations on what you can and cannot buy and can and cannot do. And yet, even in the most regulated store, you cannot maintain six feet of separation in aisles that are barely six feet in width!
Of course, shopping right now is stressful. You can never find exactly what you need. Still no flour, sugar, oatmeal, soap, and many other products I normally buy. I did the best I could, but further complicating matters was that it was my husband’s birthday. I wanted to make him a special dinner and a special dessert. However, we have three different, difficult, medically-necessary diets in our house, which makes such a feat as dinner and dessert complicated, especially with limited supplies.
The whole time I shopped, I wondered how the kids were doing, if they were fighting or bothering Brian in his meetings, if I’d find what I needed to give him a special birthday, if I could manage to get every kid through the school work they were supposed to accomplish, if I was maintaining social distance, if I would ever manage to find toilet paper, if I was following all of these new, unwritten rules correctly, if I was getting everything so I didn’t need to come back to the store tomorrow, if I was spending too much money, if the massive mountain of laundry would every learn to fold itself, and if I could get my own work done while the kids were home. Worst of all, I worried that I would somehow manage to get infected with the virus while at three stores and then bring it home to my family.
My last stop of the day was at my children’s school. My son’s teacher had said I could pick up a packet of work between certain hours. After arriving, I called the number she’d given in her instructions. The school was locked, but she’d said, when parents called, they could then let them in to pick up the packet. The school secretary let me in and returned to her station. Inside the vestibule, teachers had obviously left boxes of papers for pick-up, but I didn’t see a label with my son’s teacher or his name. Without further instructions, I wondered if I was supposed to go down to the classroom to pick it up. I started to walk that direction, but the secretary stopped me, asking if the packet wasn’t in the boxes. I said, no, but I could look to double check. While I returned, she called down to the classroom and told me the teacher would be right up with the work. I stood to the side to wait. The office area was actually very busy with multiple teachers working and talking. I hadn’t waited to the side very long before the secretary told me, “I’m not wanting to be rude, Amanda, but we really need you to wait outside. We’re just trying to keep everyone healthy and safe.” I immediately replied, “Of course! I completely understand,” and hurried outside.
The packet was soon delivered, and I made it back to my car.
I shut the door, put the packet on the seat next to me, and lost hold of my tears.
I took deep breaths, feeling angry and frustrated with myself for losing the battle with my emotions. I didn’t even have a good reason to cry! I even felt guilty about it. After all, a lot of others had much more reason to cry than I did. But arguing with myself did nothing to stem the hot tears burning my eyes and sliding down my cheeks, even as I tried to dash them away and deny their existence.
As I sat there arguing with myself and wondering why I was crying, I finally realized the reason. I wasn’t upset with the school secretary. I think she is amazing, and I absolutely applaud and agree with any effort aimed at keeping people safe in these crazy times. I didn’t mind standing outside at all. I would have gladly done that from the very beginning had I known that was the procedure I needed to follow.
And that’s why I was upset.
I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot in the school, just like I didn’t know what to expect in any building I’d visited that day. Every place had different rules, procedures, and expectations. You might get people smiling and handing you your receipt across a distance of three feet, or you might get someone stepping out of a building before you reached it and telling you to “halt!” And it isn’t just the stores. In no part of life do I now know what to expect.
What were my expectations for Spring 2020? I expected to watch my boys play baseball and play piano at their recital. I expected them to go to school and help them with their projects as they finished their grade levels with success. I expected to get to see my son play the lead role of Aladdin in his school’s drama production. I expected to watch my daughter dance ballet in her recital. I expected to watch my boys do their music recital and festival that they’d spent months preparing for. I expected to spend time with my mom and my sisters and see my new baby niece. I expected to continue two years of work and get to vote on new high school for my community. I expected to get out of town in our new trailer. I expected a big RV trip that we had spent a year planning with my parents and in-laws. I expected to go to the store and find toilet paper and other necessities. I expected to finish writing three books by June. I expected to be able to do something special for my husband’s birthday. I expected to go into a school and not have to wait outside.
The basic problem is that from minute to minute, to day, to week, to month, to however long we are faced with this crisis, I do not know what to expect. And nobody else does either. Nobody expected this virus to change everything. Nobody expected its impact on the economy. Nobody expected to lose their job, face illness, or lose loved ones to tragedy. And nobody in any store, schools, or house in the entire country has any more idea than I do of what all this is supposed to look like. None of us has experienced this before, and we’re all just making it up as it goes along.
And somehow, my core fear is that in my effort of trying to do all of the right things and go to the “baby showers,” I’ll turn around and realize I’ve somehow done the wrong thing. I’ve screwed everything up, violated some rule that I didn’t even know about, not prepared the way I should, and maybe even put the ones I love at risk.
I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels this way. We’ve all had our expectations completely dashed, and in return, we are not permitted any expectations whatsoever. You won’t know what to expect when going into any building. You won’t know what tomorrow will bring. You won’t know how long this will last. You won’t know if and when we’ll get back to normal.
You won’t know if on the same day you cry alone in your car, you’ll be making that birthday dinner only to have the house start shaking in a 6.5 earthquake, the likes of which hasn’t happened in 37 years. (Yes, that did happen.)
All you can hope is that this is not the “new normal.” There is nothing normal about it. And if sometimes, you need to sit in your car and cry over everything and nothing, then go right ahead. May my story give you permission to grasp hold of one last, very real expectation: you are not alone.
You are not alone in how you feel, and you are not alone in your present circumstances. In all of those, seconds, moments, days, and weeks that I mentioned, not a single one of them exists outside of God’s control. While I’ve lost all expectations in my circumstances, there are still some expectations that will not disappoint.
I can expect God to love me and my family. I can expect that He will never leave me. I can expect that He is good and that even the yucky stuff will be for my benefit. I can expect that He has a plan and already sees the end. I can expect that the God who made it all has not forgotten us and is fully qualified to carry us through. And I can expect that He sees every tear I cry, knows how difficult things are, and will give me His strength to make it through the next moments.
What if I could let go of my expectations for myself and cling to my expectations for God instead? It sounds crazy, but even as all of my other expectations have dissolved, I still manage to have some rigorous, unrealistic expectations for myself. I struggle with realizing it’s okay to not do everything right. It’s okay to grieve and feel angry. It’s okay if the kids don’t get all the schoolwork done and the house is a disaster. It’s okay to cry when you really don’t know the reason.
Lord, help me to expect less of me and more of You!
And if, you just so happen to find yourself sobbing in your car one day because it’s all just such a mess, please know that God is there to catch every one of your tears. And also, take a look around. I’m probably in a social-distanced car crying, too.