I was a twenty-something, mindlessly folding church bulletins with a group of young women. We talked to pass the time. One of the women said, “I can’t wait until I’m forty. Your life is settled by then. It gets easier.” The fact that none of us laughed is a testament to our naïveté.
Many years later, I am still waiting to be “settled.”
2020 was a year like no other. I am so tired of the word “unprecedented,” and I long for “precedented” times. We have all had a big slice of COVID cake, though the icing on each of our cakes is different. For some, it is the loss of loved ones, health, or income. This is a bitter icing.
The icing on my COVID cake has been both sweet and bitter. The sweetness comes in the loved ones with whom I quarantined and the regular Zoom chats with grandchildren who are no longer too busy. The bitter is the confinement and the chronic illness that has made me too high-risk to travel outside of my home very often for fear of catching this new virus.
In May, as I battled long-term illness, God spoke quietly to my spirit—“In each circumstance, ask two questions: What am I exposing? What am I redeeming?”
Many of us have experienced God’s exposure. We’re plugging along and suddenly God shines His too-bright flashlight on a circumstance or behavior, and we say, “Of course. Why didn’t I see this before?” So many untruths are hardwired into our brains until the Light of the World exposes the faulty wiring. In His goodness, He redeems what He has exposed.
When I think of redemption, I remember this: When I was a girl, my parents brought our groceries home. There, at the bottom of one of the bags, was a sheet of green stamps. These stamps were licked and placed inside an empty notebook. Each book, when full, was worth one dollar. The wonder of it, to me, was the catalog that came with the stamps. It held all kinds of things that could not be bought with money, but only with books full of stamps. The thing that caught my eye was a bicycle, and I wanted it more than anything. So I licked and stuck those green stamps and stored the completed books until I had enough to trade in for that bicycle. We took the books, full of crooked stamps and my dried saliva, and redeemed them for my bicycle. It was a miraculous redemption.
Later this past May, at the height of quarantine, it became inevitable that I would need to be admitted to the hospital for the fourth time in four months. This time, alone. No visitors. (Why, yes, COVID. I’d love another slice.)
The day I realized this, I remembered a time when I was twenty years old and was scheduled to undergo a procedure in the hospital. I don’t remember the nature of the procedure, but I do remember that my parents were too busy to accompany me, so a dear friend drove me. She pulled up to the hospital doors, and I got out and walked in, alone, carrying my overnight bag, and admitted myself. I was emotionless, never considering how sad my situation was or how thoughtless my parents were. Because, when I was very young, I had made a vow: I am alone, and I take care of myself. I have lived out this vow through the years, never questioning the truth of it. In times of great need, I have not considered asking for help, or even for companionship, in my difficulty.
When my husband drove me to the hospital last May, I expected him to drop me at the door. But he parked, took my arm, and carried my overnight bag as far as he could until he was turned away. He kissed me and left. I sobbed through the admission process, grieving my aloneness and the injustice of my forced abandonment because I realized: Sometimes I need to be taken care of. And I am no longer alone.
When my vow was exposed, it was redeemed.
God is redeeming that little girl, who is still present inside this older woman. And this is miraculous.
I spent a lonely week in the hospital. I went into surgery, alone, into recovery, alone, and up to my hospital room, alone. Alone except, of course, for the nurses and staff, with only their eyes peeking out above their masks. They were so kind, but they were not the ones who loved me and waited for me, wishing they could take care of me.
Life, I think, can be a cycle of exposure and redemption, a refinement and healing of our hearts and minds, an increasing freedom in truth. If I am not too noisy or distracted, there is always more, and I am never “settled.” The exposure is always painful, and sometimes shameful. But the redemption—that is miraculous.
Marcia Thomas lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband of 38 years. She has raised four handsome, self-actualizing sons. She has found healing in exploring her story in the presence of others and treasures the opportunities she has to be that presence for others. She is surprised and pleased to find that the glad work of healing does not have a retirement age.