Unprecedented. Hard. Disappointment. Tired. Lament. All words that I have heard repeatedly associated with the year 2020.
Just in our family, the COVID-19 pandemic has marred weddings, vacations, baby showers, and more; and I know that other families have experienced even more difficult circumstances. So while October is my birthday month, I kept my expectations low: a dinner out alone with my husband (seated outside and wearing masks of course), carefully timed to work around the demanding newborn nursing schedule. That would be enough. It’s not that I wasn’t excited for my birthday, I didn’t want to be let down by 2020 one more time. My birthday would look different this year since I wouldn’t be able to celebrate with all the people I love.
In many ways it feels like we’re farther away from our loved ones during this season. I’ve missed two out of my three cousins’ weddings. We have family and friends who still haven’t met or held our newborn son. We haven’t worshipped with our church family since February. My daughter gawked at everyone on the playground the first time we visited after it reopened—almost like she had forgotten other toddlers exist! Even she has noticed the limited interactions we’ve been able to have with other people.
But in other ways, I’ve found unexpected joy in the interactions we have been able to have with friends and family. While the quantity has definitely been reduced, the few moments we have with people seem to be even more precious.
My discipleship group has been meeting together for almost two years, though the past six months we’ve met virtually instead of sitting across the table from each other. At the beginning of the quarantine, when every day ran into the next, my Tuesday afternoon calls with these three women were the highlight of my week.
Last week, I put my two kids down for naps, snuggled up on my couch, and opened my laptop again to FaceTime. When their faces popped onto my screen, I noticed they were all sitting outside. And they all had sly smiles on their faces. And my neighbors’ houses were behind each of them.
I looked out my front door, and lawn chairs sat perfectly spaced under a big tree in my front yard, one with a big birthday balloon tied to it. Tears filled my eyes as I was able to see these friends face-to-face, instead of over FaceTime. At the foot of my chair lay a basket full of pampering goodies and a box of donuts, but those sweet presents were nothing compared to the sweet presence of these ladies six feet away from me.
We sat outside for two hours catching up on life and sharing what God has been teaching us. The crisp air smelled of turning leaves. The weather was warm and breezy, and the sun peeked at us through the clouds. It was the perfect October day. So perfect, you would almost forget we’re still living in “unprecedented times.” Despite all the disappointments of the past six months, all I felt in that moment was joy.
My longing to see my friends and family face-to-face gives me a hint of how the apostle Paul must have felt writing letters from prison. Time and again, he wrote to fellow believers about the joy he missed from being in their presence. To Timothy he wrote, “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). To Philemon he wrote, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother” (Philemon 1:7). He even asked the Roman church to pray that he could see them soon, “so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company” (Romans 15:32).
Paul knew there was a special kind of joy that comes when you are united with those you love, especially those within the body of Christ. That’s why the author of Hebrews wrote that the church should not neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), because there is a special encouragement that comes from each other’s presence. And it is even more precious when it takes a greater sacrifice to make that presence possible.
While I know all of us want to return to “normal” as soon as possible, I want to keep some of these pandemic habits as part of our “new normal.” Right now, we can’t rely on quick meetings at a church, playground, or restaurant anymore to sustain relationships. We’ve learned how to intentionally bring joy into each other’s lives when we can’t regularly meet together in person. It’s made us creative in our love and care for one other.
It’s dressing up for a cousin’s wedding hosted on Facebook Live.
It’s dropping off cookies for a virtual toddler tea party over Skype.
It’s my sisters packaging perfectly portioned food boxes for my socially distanced baby shower.
It’s a friend leaving a Venti Starbuck’s latte on my front porch—an encouraging note written on the sleeve to remind me that I’m not alone.
It’s savoring every moment you have with someone sitting in a lawn chair in your front yard.
The year 2020 has left many of us with unmet expectations, but it’s also left us with unexpected joys. It has reminded us of the value of our relationships and taught us to be more grateful for the time we have with friends and family. Nurturing relationships in a pandemic is by no means easy right now; so when three women secretly coordinate with your husband a surprise birthday gathering, you know how much they care for you.
My birthday this year was one of my favorites. It’s not because I took a special trip or got an elaborate present or had a big party. It’s because I felt loved by those who took the time to bring “unprecedented” joy to me during these unprecedented times.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Unexpected Joy”.