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The 40 or so of us on my senior trip loaded the bus as our chaperones explained that the next week of school was cancelled because of the coronavirus. These next few weeks were supposed to be the bittersweet “lasts” where every day of school counted. But it would all be okay because how bad is it to miss one week? The good thing about going to a small private school is that it’s small. While public schools already cancelled their prom and graduations, we had no problem with the “less than 500” rule. The idea of cancelling prom and graduation became an unrealistic joke. I mean seriously, could this go on for that long?
The answer was yes.
Quarantining and social distancing felt like survival mode. My relationship with God started to feel like a timebomb. “Will I spend time with God today?” quickly became “How long can I avoid Him?” I never could for long. I needed His patience for the handful of people stuck in my house, His hope for the disappointments I was grieving, and Him alone to remind me that He is enough. I desperately needed someone who could fill this hole that senior disappointments created. I started to learn that I couldn’t avoid being passive in the battle each day.
My life began to illustrate paradox: finishing a senior year unfinished. Daily doing everything I could to fight the good fight amidst doing nothing every day.
The “less than ten people” rule became a lot harder.
One morning I read Exodus 13 and 14. These few verses caught me off guard:
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, even though it was nearby…So he led the people around toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness….The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people”.
God explains that He is taking the Israelites on the farther path. Prior to this, He performed 10 plagues in Egypt to deliver the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. As they are escaping, God leads them on the farther path to the Red Sea. At the Red Sea, it becomes clear why they took this path. There, the Lord parts the waters long enough for the Israelites to cross before the waters came crashing down on the Egyptians. It gave him the most fame, causing the Egyptians and the Israelites to know that God is Lord of all. I immediately journaled “He did not lead them down the closest path, but the path that would show his glory the most. Lord, I always want to go down that path! Help me to always want that path.” Later that day, I was driving and praying with frustration about COVID-19 and all the ways it affected the world around me. As I drove, I felt God say “COVID-19 is not anywhere near how you thought your year would go nor anywhere near the way you want it to go. This isn’t the nearest path, Emma. This is the path that will give me the most glory. Remember how you immediately prayed that you wanted that path?”
“But God, I don’t want that path right now.”
“I know. You also prayed for help to want that path. That’s where we are. I am the pillar, day in and day out guiding you. I don’t leave you on that path.”
(Praise the Lord that God doesn’t social distance!!)
The next day my school asked me to video a message for their online chapel. I prepared to share what I found in Exodus. I didn’t get far. For the first time during all of this, I started crying. And ironically it happened when I tried to video the hope God shared with me.
This part is important to me, and probably to some of you, too. Just because we find truth doesn’t mean our grieving stops. When I tried to video my message, I wanted this new vision and hope to erase my disappointment. Where if you looked hard enough, you would see the partial, smeared writing that was replaced by something better. I don’t think it works that way, and I don’t think it is supposed to. The Bible talks about rejoicing when it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” I grieve my ever-changing circumstances, but I cling to the goodness of an ever-faithful God. I am not to rejoice in circumstances but rejoice in who God is in all circumstances. I don’t need to convince myself my situation is good because I know God is. Kaitlin Wernet, a writer for She Reads Truth, elaborates about how God “uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise”. I thank him for being the God that leads me to the farther path and doesn’t leave me there. But I pray that I would want this path because I want him, never the other way around.
They officially rescheduled prom and implied that graduation will probably be rescheduled, too. Currently, my senior class should be discussing ideas for senior prank, senior ditch day, etc. I forgot about those things till now. Suddenly, every cancellation rises to the surface. (I am going to count this whole quarantine as one big senior ditch day!) I know that some of my friends’ parents face unemployment and if that is you, I am so sorry. Four of my friends' birthdays passed without much celebration and every zoom class feels a little sadder than my teachers intend for them to. And right now, I join the same boat as a lot of you: I am in no boat, just swimming in uncertainty. But God enters the valleys of life with me. He even brought a rod and staff because he comes prepared even if I don’t. He leads me into the wilderness and shows me that this is no spiritual pause, but a spiritual behind the scenes. I don’t know what He is preparing me for, but He does.
I haven’t really written a blog post like this before. I think most of you are expecting an ending and I kind of am too. But I don’t think I’ve found an ending yet.
I will say that my future kids will probably ask me about this time. I’ll probably use the whole “you guys get it easy” line as I explain shelter in place to them. But I think I’ll tell them how it was all worth it and that God was right: this path led people to see Him in a new light, a better light. Not just as his followers are living out of a building, or that family dinners are every night, or how people are realizing how fleeting life is. God was seen in a new light when teaching me that while everything was cancelled and lost and alone, I truly could believe He was enough.
My life began to illustrate paradox: while I had nothing, I found Everything.