It started with a runny nose. Allergies? Within twenty-four hours I was glued to my bed with a centrifugal force. Aches, chills, and fever paralyzed me. I started coughing . . . and then I knew. The coronavirus was calling. I was fortunate. I recovered at home, and by the time I could smell and taste again I started to echo the chant of so many, “When can we get back to normal?” I missed my favorite restaurants and was tired of eating the same thing four days in a row. I wanted to see my parents. In fact, as I thought about it, the losses from coronavirus began to accumulate faster than the money the government promised to spend to ease our pain and impatience.

There’s the toilet paper crisis, and even more disheartening is the disappointment that Amazon can no longer promise to deliver within two days. We’ve lost baseball, Oktoberfest, the National Spelling Bee Championship, and the Running of the Bulls. There are other losses that are much more painful – no graduations, weddings, or long-saved-for dream vacations. Other losses are staggering – the death of family members with no opportunity to say goodbye – the loss of jobs, and the harsh reality we can no longer deny: many of our neighbors live with empty cupboards.

No wonder everyone wants to get back to normal or at the very least longs for this “new normal” to become more like the old. Think about your life only one month ago. For most of us, our daily lives would fit into that category of normal. Do you really want to go back there? The words of Brené Brown cut to the heart of the matter: “Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.”

Do we dare hope this is an opportunity for a new garment stitched together with generosity, inclusion, rest, connection, clarity, compassion, and love. A new garment that feels like belonging. I describe belonging in my new book (Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another,to be released in August):

Belonging is a story
that makes you feel at home just by hearing it.
Belonging is like a family where everything’s all right.
Belonging turns a light on in the dark.

Something about the coronavirus has made us know – deep down in our bones – that we need a better story. We long to feel at home. We have a greater felt need for each other. We’re in this dark together, and desperately want someone to turn on the light. But we are also feeling something else in our bones. We are feeling normal. The old divisions, accusations, hate-filled social media, taking of sides, and deciding who is right and who is wrong are filling up our lives again, along with masks and social distancing.

We want More than normal, but that could be scary and messy. I am reminded of the Israelites, who escaped Egypt into the social distancing of the desert, only to want to go back to normal. They cried out in despair, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat. You’ve brought us out into the wilderness to starve us to death” (Exodus 16:5).

The Old Testament wanderers were not that different from Adam and Eve. God placed them in paradise, and they still weren’t satisfied. You know the story – it’s part of the history of us. We always want more, but we either believe we have to settle for the familiarity of slavery (maybe that’s why the sale of alcohol has risen by 75% during this season of Covid19) or we have to figure out our own way back to life that feels more manageable.

What if we give up normal? Could this crisis really teach us to join together to stitch an extraordinary garment of belonging – welcoming new beginnings and tragic endings; mourning and laughing; pain and healing; social distancing and emotional intimacy; tearing and mending; confusion and certainty; and unrest and peace?

I hope so. I suspect we all feel like this time is a bit surreal, don’t know who to trust, and aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about the opportunity to stitch a new garment. I have thought about it some – because the weeks are filled with hours that seem like days and I know – heart and soul – I want More than normal.

Let’s Say Goodbye to Blame

The first thing I wanted to do when I learned I had Covid19 was figure out who to blame. We choose social distance, even when the Governor doesn’t order it. We decide who is right, who is wrong, who is in, who is difficult and who is worth our time. We don’t throw a covering of love over that mess. We create churches, theology, politics, and engagement with others around our “rules” for social distancing.

If we don’t really believe in a story deeper than our own stories, we’ll be committed to blaming the characters in our stories. We will construct a narrative filled with our justifications, our knowledge of right, and our good deeds. When we live in a narrative constructed out of the fear of coming face-to-face with the whole truth of what has grown to be “normal,” we separate from ourselves, one another, and God – and that’s actually bondage and death. Blaming is a way to be numb to life – to love.” (Belonging: Finding the Way Back to One Another)

Let’s Stitch Ourselves Together with Laughter

The reason we blame, divide, disconnect, and distance is because we take ourselves way too seriously (don’t forget the hoarding of toilet paper). I am not denying there is much to grieve in these challenging days, but I want to take a cue from my friend and writer, Brooke. Brooke knows some loss from the virus. She lost two trips to see her boyfriend (that included a concert and backstage passes to meet a favorite comedian). Brooke’s boyfriend lives on the other side of the country and she is about as tired of video chats as we all are (there’s even a new diagnosis of “Zoom fatigue”).

Brooke decided to connect over laughter. It really is better glue for relationships than complaining – even if she suggested the now-infamous Netflix series, Tiger King, as the “glue”for her relationship. Brooke and her boyfriend decided to watch the show together, using Netflix Party. Yes, she was sorry later. She aptly described the outrageous series as the “Lidocaine to the pain of the things taken from us while this pandemic tears through the world.” She explained further to me, “What watching Tiger King taught me is a lot of people in America are one bag of meth and two pet tigers away from marrying Joe Exotic or wanting to be him.”

I laughed out loud. For a few minutes, Brooke and I escaped the world of masks and monstrous germs we are smack-dab in the middle of, and we experienced a sense of belonging. Tiger King? A little silly, perhaps. Unless you consider the inspired reminder: “A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired” (Proverbs 17:22).

Let’s Let Go

Last week I had some time. It was sunny on my deck. I picked up a novel I started in January and sat outside and read. It took me a while to concentrate on the story, because I felt strange. I felt relaxed, and I was overcome with the awareness that I want More than normal.

Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if God just allowed Adam and Eve to stay in the Garden? They would still have lost the belonging they’d once known with each other and with God, but they’d be in Paradise. I mean why couldn’t God allow us to stay in normal. We’d still be stressed, tired, divided, and disconnected, but wouldn’t it be better than this?

“I think that might be more like the captain on a sinking cruise ship deciding to make the passengers as comfortable as possible while the ship goes down, rather than disturbing their normal existence with blaring sirens. I don’t know about you, but if the ship is going down – I want someone to unsettle and upset me.” (Belonging: Finding The Way Back to One Another)

I am not wise enough to even begin to understand what God has in mind for us during this ship-sinking season. I can’t begin to know what the solutions will be, but i do know we have much deeper problems than Covid19 in need of a much deeper story than our individual stories. God does not allow us to be comfortable in our alienation from him and one another. He doesn’t want us to throw a party as the ship sinks. He allows desperation in the hope that we will find our way back to him and to one another.

Let’s Hold On

I don’t know what you need to hold on to as a result of this season of uncertainty.

I want to hold on to the confidence that I can cook my own dinner.
I long to hold on to rest and time for a glass of iced tea and a good novel.
I need to remember that the mall doesn’t have anything for sale that will give me a sense of belonging.
This may sound strange, but I want to hold on to the suffering – the anxiety of contracting Covid19; the uncertainty of employment; my dwindling bank account; those restless stir-crazy house-bound hours; the loneliness of no one to ask in the middle of the night if my cough sounds worse; and the questions about God. I want to hang on to all this pain, because we are connected by our wounds. My pastor explained last week that “Jesuslearned obedience through what he suffered.’ He never sinned, and yet he was perfected by bleeding for us, as if his wounds are his perfection . . Every wound is an invitation to love; every wound is a door leading to life. A body is bound together at the wounds, where one member bleeds into the next.” What if all this woundedness binds us together and teaches us to love?

Let’s Kiss this Monster on the Lips

My friend, author and radio host, Steve Brown says that pain is a monster that we run from as fast as we can. We want to run back to normal. Steve says, “That’s one of the reasons we aren’t free. Jesus hangs out around pain and when we run from it, we run from him.” Maybe there is a counterintuitive response to the coronavirus. I’m not suggesting we don’t follow all the suggested medical precautions. I am wondering, though, if we can keep it from infecting our hearts – making us suspicious of others and God? What if we confront the pain and inevitable fear and don’t long for normal. We run toward the pain. Face it. And then kiss it on the lips, because it is a place of powerlessness that just might convert us because Jesus will be there to set us free from suspicion, fear, hard-heartedness, cynicism, and the exhausting determination that we have to save ourselves with ourselves.

Let’s Remember We Really Do Belong to Each Other

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, we have forgotten we belong to each other.” This is our opportunity – to ignore the trolls on social media; to not be a troll on social media; to offer healing grace to every hint of fragmentation. Some of us are feeling a little insecure because our resumés have taken a hit from the Covid monster. We’ve taken a cut in pay, can’t afford a lot of things, and have accepted help from the government after years of expressing disdain for those people. The good news in this downward slide is that God writes our true resumé, and he will reveal it in every moment, every conversation, and every interaction now – not back when things were normal. And the day will come when he will read our resumés – which will actually be our stories. I long for mine to sound something like this:

“You gave me a cup of coffee when I had no money for groceries.”
“I was hungry, and you shared your frozen pot pies.”
“I was lonely, and you called, sent cards, and asked about me.”

Normal is overrated. Let’s take this opportunity to stitch ourselves together, covered in Love and heed the wise words of Wendell Berry:

So friends, every day do something
that won’t compute.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand . . .
Ask the questions that have no answers . . .
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. . .
Practice resurrection.