I count the white, wiry hairs poking from the part in my scalp. There are too many. I give up and measure the length from root to where the color changes. These markers are comforting to me right now. I’ve never been a numbers person, but lately, I cling to what feels measurable.
I stare at graphs, trying to grasp the invisible movement of a global pandemic. I print and cut out guides for measuring my kids’ ever-growing feet. I check the ratio of water to rice in our rice cooker, making sure it comes to a round curve in just the right place close to my flattened knuckles, before closing the lid and pressing start. I number each page of a letter I wrote and count how many sticks of butter we have left in the fridge. I add up how many days it’s been since Breonna Taylor was murdered, and the days since stack up without justice: 154.
My son begs me to check the weather again, asking me exactly how long the on-going summer storm will last. Irritated, I give him the same answer I’ve given him ten times in the last hour, “It looks like it will last for most of the night, but I don’t really know.” I tell him he’s safe, and I feel like a liar. The muscles in his shoulders and forehead stay clamped together at my response. I recognize my own stress in the creases above his brow. I see the stress of a nation and world in his small, light brown shoulders.
I want to know how long things will be the way they are too, but the things I want to measure most are immeasurable.
Every day, I grasp for answers in places that refuse to deliver. I scroll my newsfeeds, searching for something. I text with a friend. I discuss with my husband while we scrape small clumps of food from the dinner dishes, both of us exhausted from another day of living in this strange time. I read and reread the latest statement from our local school district to see if I missed any details that might offer comfort.
I order more masks and remember a post I read about how “un-American” masks are. As an American kid living in Tokyo in the eighties I was used to seeing them, and my mom sent us cute cloth masks from the Korean store years ago. Am I not American? I feel the collective weight of living while surrounded by the unrelenting dread of waking to another day of hate and tension, like a fog that consumes the whole sky.
I read Jeremiah and remember that God’s people have always lived through hardship and difficulty. The prophet Jeremiah lived through transition and trauma and wrote on God’s behalf, encouraging and instructing his fellow Israelites in Babylonian exile:
Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:5-7 (NLT)
Living through a global pandemic isn’t living through exile. But what if we took those God-given instructions to heart for ourselves today?
Despite everything, build and plant. In Little Women, Jo March said, “necessity is indeed the mother of invention.” What can we build and create in the places that feel lacking and in-need? Where can we plant seeds, tend to them, and believe that life can rise again?
Despite everything, multiply. How can we connect with others and let God multiply our connections despite all of the things that feel lethargic and limited right now?
Despite everything, work and pray. What if we work for the peace and prosperity of where we live and want the same good for our enemies? This one knocks me over inside. It’s easy to understand doing this with people I love, but God told the Israelites to do this for the Babylonians. God’s heart always stretches further than we’d choose or expect. Our welfare isn’t tied to fighting for our personal rights, comforts, national freedom, or the American Dream. It is tied to the welfare of those we don’t understand, those we look down on, and those we don’t want to associate with.
I ask God how long, and instead of a measured forecast, I’m reminded of how far Jesus’ arms stretched from one side of a cross to the other. Unjustly nailed unto death, as far as the east is from the west, His love is immeasurable. His arms reach wide with every longing the world bears to gather us up in love, like a mother hen.
My son wakes after midnight. He stands at my bedside in the dark, asking how long the storm will be. I tell him I don’t know how close the lighting will strike or if hail will pelt our roof again. The words I offer fall empty from my tired mouth. I scoot over, make room, and wrap my arms around his still, small frame. I listen to the ceiling fan whirl, feel the cool air on my cheeks, and hear his rhythmic breath lengthen and relax as he finally falls asleep.
What if we work for the peace and prosperity of where we live and want the same good for our enemies? -@tashajunb: Click To Tweet