2001 was the year I graduated from college. I'm gonna be honest, the fact that I'm turning 42 at the end of this year and that college graduation was 19 years ago, seems surreal.
After college I came to Visalia for the summer and stayed with my dad and step mom. I assisted the youth pastor at the church before heading to Colorado that August for a one-year Discipleship Training Program. This was not the normal Bible training, because most of the experience was working as live-in help at a residential care facility for troubled teens.
To say that it was a hard year is seriously an understatement. Immediately, it was hard. The training we received two weeks before moving into the house, couldn't come close to preparing me for what I was in for, but that could be said of getting married and having children as well. We never know what something takes until we actually do it.
My first moments on duty were hearing someone making noises in the bathroom and going in to find a girl had snuck in a razor blade and was cutting. We definitely hit the ground running! Each day we got Bible training while the teens were in school and we met with the on-staff counselors. The beauty of that experience was, we had a plethora of encounters each day to offer up and get help on how to be better.
It was also intense because we were on 24 hours a day, 6 and a half days a week. You read that right. We each got 12 hours off a week, that was it. We were bound to the property, except for weekly trips to Costco, that a few got to go on each week, or any other outings that were part of the program.
I always tell people it was experience that I wouldn't take out of my life, but I'd never do again. It was hard on so many levels. Being stuck in one place means you can't run from challenges or things you want to avoid. I remember watching the daytime staff drive off one evening and wishing I could go too, being in the same place practically every day for a year was a intense. The good news was, I wasn't alone. We had plenty of interaction with everyone living there, care staff and residents, and I do feel like now, 19 years later, I'm connected with those people in a unique way, because we went through it together.
I jokingly posted to those friends last week (I think it was last week) about how we should be experts in this COVID-19 quarantine because we've done this before. Then I found myself leaving the grocery store in tears, because I remembered the hardship it was to lose your freedom. I shouted out to God as I left the parking lot, "I told you, I didn't want to do this again!"
Yes, there is beauty in this shelter in place season, but comparing it to my year at Shelterwood has had me doing some soul searching into why it was so hard. Here are some of my thoughts and really some food for thought for us all as we navigate this challenging time.
1. Loss of freedom - As Americans we can for the most part do whatever, whenever we want. Yes, there are rules but when compared to other, less free, nations, they are fairly easy to live within and give us a lot of decision making ability. So to be told to stay home and to cut ourselves off from the world, without any say in the matter, feels foreign. It's a hard place to be. Lack of control is challenging to say the least.
2. Loss of interaction - I love the Holderness Family, and they said they hated the term "social distancing," because really its "physical distancing," we are still social online, and with those in our family, but we can't have physical interaction with people in our lives. Nothing like a quarantine to show you just how many people you encounter everyday. Hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, close conversations, lunches out, coffee dates are just some of the ways we engage with people, daily. Obviously, the extroverts like myself, have a much greater list, but that human contact feeds an emotional need. We aren't just physical beings, we have a soul and we have needs that go into the emotional and spiritual realm. Losing some of that does affect us, maybe even more than we ever realized.
3. Loss of time and purpose - Do you know what day or date it is today? Being left without the schedule that marks our days and weeks, means it all meshing together and that can keep us from feeling anchored in our lives. The difference with Shelterwood was that we were on our own compound and had a daily and weekly schedule. I also knew when my time was up. I signed a year contract and when times got tough, I could count down the length of time I had left or the time til my next 12 hour break. With this current situation, we don't know how long this will go on. Not knowing is hard because there is no way to build up the proper endurance to keep going. Also, without tracking our weeks, we can lose a sense of purpose which can impact our emotional health.
4. Loss of finances - Many families are living in uncertainty because they have no idea how they are going to make ends meet when neither spouse is working, or one spouse is working, or knowing how long they will be able to sustain their temporary solution. Small businesses are being affected and that not only effects individuals, it affects us all. Our communities, resources and emotional health are all affected in this financial problem.
Did you notice, each item uses the word, "loss," that is because there is some grief involved in this process. We are mourning the lives we had before the new norm of shelter in place.
So is that it?
Are we just going to look at the problems and why this is so hard? No. So much of this is out of our control, but so much is in our control. Understanding what we are feeling helps to identify the solutions. Once we understand the issues at play, we can turn our focus onto what we can control.
We need to be mindful of not only our needs, but the needs of others. We have an opportunity to build community like never before. We have a chance to think outside the box and build financial success in new ways. We can create a calendar of activities and goals that we build into our weeks so that it isn't just some time dump with nothing but isolation. We can embrace the people stuck with us or face the stuff we've been avoiding. We can celebrate the slow down and refocus our goals and what truly matters.
What thing have you wanted to do, try or change? Where can you focus and build new habits or develop new skills? What family members have you not talked to in awhile? What are you doing to monitor your own emotional and physical health?
You get to choose if you will give in to depression or put things in place to fight against it. You get to choose if you will be more intentional with working out and caring for your body or giving into the snacking and gain more weight. You get to choose if you will stay on autopilot with your parenting or get more involved in a real relationship.
Yes, there is definitely a lot of suck with all of this, but there is also hidden blessings. My year at Shelterwood brought passages of the Bible to new light. I felt like the 2D words had 3D meaning in my life like never before. Once again, I see that with our current situation. I already mentioned that I felt more connected with the people that survived it alongside me, and I'm seeing more connection and less division online. We needed that!
Can you find the hidden blessings and go for the best experience? Are you finding the depth of scripture like never before? I find asking God, "why," is not nearly as beneficial as asking him, "what now?"
So that is my final question for you? What now? Take some time to think about what is the hardest part for you in all of this. What can you learn about yourself and how can you move forward? Will you make the most of this opportunity? Only you can answer those questions.
If you need someone to talk to, I'm hear. Just reach out.