One awesome phone call brought it all screaming back to me— the fear, the doubt, the grief, the uncertainty… and above all else, the immense gratitude. “Wait, what?” you might be asking. “An awesome, meaning good?… phone call brought up all of those emotions?” As hard as it might be to believe this, it’s true!
I was in the middle of a tedious Zoom meeting when my cell phone rang. I ignored the call because it wasn’t from someone in my contacts, but then my landline rang right next to me, displaying the same number in the caller ID. With a bit of hesitancy, I decided to answer the call, my guard up because of so many unwanted, robocalls over time. I was surprised and elated to hear a welcome voice on the other end of the call, that of my retina surgeon. It had been over a year since I had been in his office, and obviously, because of COVID-19, my upcoming appointments have been put on hold. He called to ask about my well-being and to go over some developments with my case. I hung up from the call, practically brimming with thankfulness.
Almost three years ago, I was confronted with a frightening reality: the very real possibility that I could lose the remaining vision contained to my left eye as a result of retinal tears. I had always said with a bit of confidence that if I lost my remaining vision someday, I would be prepared to some degree since I was already partially blind anyway. But when there was an immediate threat to my vision, my confidence and bravado were gone within a blink of my blurred, light-sensitive eye. I was a mess of fear and worry, and I found myself clinging to a fifty percent chance that the surgeons could save my vision. I prayed that God would grant me a miracle.
Healing from the surgery was a long and tedious process. It was a long time before we could say with certainty that my vision was clearing and that the retina was intact. My rare eye disorder, a birth defect of the cornea, often prevented a clear view of the back of my eye, so there were many ultrasounds in the months following my operation. Now, almost three years later, my doctor has declared the operation a success, and I am beyond grateful that I am able to type this to you today while still able to squint at the computer screen. It isn’t as comfortable for me to write now as it was before my surgery, but I take breaks when I need to, and I make the most of days when my dry eye isn’t bothering me or there isn’t a headache present.
Lately, I have found it strangely fitting that I have correlated the events surrounding my retina surgery with our current reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June of 2017, just three months before my impending surgery, a tree on my property split and came crashing to the ground. This actually happened twice over the course of a few weeks, and both times, I was completely unaware it had happened. Once, I was sleeping the deep sleep of an exhausted workaholic, and the second time, I was away from home. You would think that something so significant: the crash landing of tree branches would cause some alarm, but I was oblivious. The same was true as the pandemic crashed onto the scene in March, 2020. I can remember standing outside my pastor’s office when he uttered the strange words: “So I’m going to need you to be flexible here. We may need to record some stuff for services. I don’t know what to tell you specifically… just be ready.”
I walked away from the conversation, thinking, “Okay, yeah, so there’s this virus threatening the U.S., but shutting down church and recording services? No, that can’t happen, right?” Well, boy, was I surprised when a week later I found myself at the piano in a nearly empty sanctuary, recording our first virtual service. I knew the pandemic was upon us, but I ignored the signs, just like I had tuned out the sound of the tree falling outside my house.
We had landed ourselves in a deep cavern of unknown, which felt a whole lot like the days following my surgery. I remember blogging about those days of panic and doubt, even up to two years after my surgery. Even though my healing had been progressing, I was terrified my retina would detach again, and my symptoms would return. I was living in gratitude that my vision was back, but I wasn’t embracing that gratitude and living like it had won over my fear. In many ways, I was standing in the valley, too afraid to welcome in the light of day and the beauty of vision because at any moment it might disappear.
About a year ago, our pastor preached from the book of Genesis and reminded us all of the story of Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers threw him into the cistern, they meant him harm, yet the cistern was not the end for Joseph. When slave traders lifted him from the abyss, he was carried off to Egypt, where he had to adapt to a new life. He was now living and forced to work in a foreign land. I’m sure he wanted to give up a time or two; after all, he was dealt disappointment after disappointment: abandonment by his family, wrongful imprisonment, and haunted by dreams that probably seemed like a mockery when he considered his reality. How could God bring good out of the abyss?
I have found myself asking that question, first with my retina detachment and now with COVID-19. A few weeks ago, I wrote about bittersweet blessings, and I still consider these past few months to be characterized in this way. It hasn’t been easy, but there has been goodness sprinkled in amongst the challenges. I know many are struggling right now as a result of illness, loss of employment, or battling through the frustrations of social distancing. I can understand these realities, although I am grateful to be employed and relatively healthy. I miss a dear one who is currently housed in a long-term care facility; I miss her so acutely, that sometimes it hurts to breathe when I consider the separation. I pray for her and her fellow residents daily, but it doesn’t bring her any closer.
Bittersweet blessings are harder to perceive because you truly have to look for them. Joseph could have easily given up in Egypt, but he kept moving forward because the Lord was with him. Several times in the book of Genesis, this was made known: “The Lord was with Joseph.” Potiphar’s house thrived, the dreams that God interpreted came true, and Pharaoh appointed Joseph to serve at his right hand. The kingdom began to thrive, and Joseph carried the land through the impending seven years of famine that followed the seven years of plenty. What his brothers meant for harm became something infinitely good. Joseph just had to look up and be lifted out from the abyss. In writing of Joseph’s experience in Egypt, author Max Lucado has this to say: “Survival in Egypt begins with a yes to God’s call on your life.”
What goodness can I say “yes” to as I embrace the call on my life in order to survive this modern-day Egypt of COVID-19? I believe it begins with a simple willingness to get up every morning and sing and write the songs He has given me— to lead the people of FRC and anyone else watching— into worship through song each Sunday morning. It means memorizing verse after verse of hymns so I can lead with confidence. It means persevering through not one, but two services each Sunday until we move out of phase one. It means leading alone because right now it’s too risky to have multiple musicians on the platform.
If this doesn’t sound “good” to you just yet, hang with me for a moment or two more. Despite the isolation and extra hours of work, I am content, because this is my task right now. I have enjoyed the challenge of leaning into new realities as a worship leader. I have tried out new songs that I might not have explored if I weren’t forced to lead alone. I wouldn’t be memorizing so intently if I had the other musicians singing with me because ordinarily I would fall back on their voices if I missed a lyric here or there. This season of COVID-19 has sharpened my focus— taken it off of my own comforts and helped me to consider the bigger picture.
I still admit to feeling some fear in the midst of the unknown. Often, I can be found wearing a mask and intentionally limiting the people I bring into my home. I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want to unintentionally infect someone in the event I might be asymptomatic. But even as the twinge of fear tries to take hold, I have done my best to embrace the beautiful moments:
- Hearing the sweet sound of 30-some voices muffled behind masks at worship
- Face masks that my mom made for me, one of which has Green Bay Packer print on it
- Finding simple amenities like soap and toilet paper when they are in short supply
- The gift of a 90-day free trial of Amazon Music that I thoroughly enjoyed
- Learning and falling in love with songs like “Safe and Secure” by Matt Crosson, “Living Hope,” and “The Blessing”
- Creating music on my Spire
- Stumbling across a small group through the RCA and unexpectedly feeling like I might somehow fit into such a diverse group
- Live Facebook concerts from some of my music mentors like Tenth Avenue North, Ginny Owens, Natalie Grant and Cheri Keaggy
- Online conferences through the RCA, Crown and Worship Leader
- For a few weeks, being able to experience true weekends since we pre-recorded our services on Fridays: sleeping a bit longer on Sunday mornings, waffles for breakfast, and watching my dad’s church online
- Meeting my three-month-old nephew for the first time and getting to hold him for the briefest of moments
- Having a girls’ day with my best friends, having our nails painted and enjoying a meal together even though we had to maintain social distancing
- Deliveries for online orders when I couldn’t just drive to get what I needed
- Neighbors and my domestic assistant who look out for me and offer support
- Renting a movie that I wanted to see for a long time
- Being able to ride my trike to and from work and walk to and from the grocery store— pretty much the highlights of my week.
I could say so much more about the good right now, but then you might be reading for longer than you have time to engage, so with that I am going to sign off. Do me a favor, friends. Don’t let the unexpected wind gusts take you down. Look up from the abyss and embrace the beauty of bittersweet blessings.