By Naomi Rossow
Sitting on the waterside patio with the lake air surrounding me, I was content. The sky was filled with different shades of blue, and the water reflected those colors on a darker spectrum. There was no sunset tonight, but the water glistened with the light shining from the sky. As I looked up, a tree stretched across my head creating a picturesque view. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day.
I had spent the day outside. It was 70 degrees and there was hardly a breeze. The grass was green and soft against my bare feet. The sun warmed my skin and brought a contented smile to my face. I even changed into my bathing suit and waded into the water. It was cold but bearable. My siblings and I splashed each other, soaking one another as best we could. Our laughter filled the air. I hadn’t been this happy in a long time.
A few months before I moved to college last fall, my father left his job, my family sold our house, the majority of our things were put into storage, and my grandma’s house now had six more occupants. This transition uprooted my life, and with that came a lot of negative emotions. I struggled through them alone, afraid to let my guard down with anyone because I was the oldest. I had to be strong. I had to take care of my siblings, and my friends just didn’t understand.
I was mad at my dad for so drastically changing our lives. I was mad at myself for feeling this way. I was mad at myself for blaming my parents. Why would God do this? Why would God so forcefully change our lives. But, we typically spent most of our summers at grandma’s house on the lake, so it wasn’t too different from past years. I worked through my emotions and forgave my parents for moving us. Or I thought I did…
About three months later, I moved into my dorm in Detroit. I was ecstatic to be on campus, in college, and on my own. My roommate was sweet, and we got along well.
I decorated my dorm and set it up to my liking. I made the space my own. This place felt like home. I had chosen it, claimed it, marked it. It was where all my things were.
I knew this was only a temporary home. I would be going back to grandma’s for the summer. But, I would spend my time here. When I went to see my family, it felt like I was visiting them. I was no longer a part of their house; I was a visitor.
When I came, I spent the night on the floor in my sister’s room and used my suitcase as a closet for my stuff. I was okay with that feeling. I was in a good place. Sure, I missed them when I was away, but I had lots of friends on campus. I had joined two dance groups, and they were my therapy and friend group. I was happy. I was where I belonged. I was home.
When I visited my family for Spring Break, I brought enough stuff for the week. I had all my school supplies with me so I could do some work. I spent the nights on my sister’s floor, like normal…
And then, my life was turned upside down. Again.
Coronavirus had become a big deal overnight. On a single day I got a series of emails saying that I would get another week off from classes; then, that I would be finishing the semester online; and finally, that I would be moving off-campus. Immediately.
To say I was stressed is an understatement.
My world that I felt like I belonged in was just twisted and turned so it was almost unrecognizable. I had just started talking to my parents about where I would stay when I moved back for the summer. Now, we had to make a decision in the next week.
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I wouldn’t see my boyfriend again for two months. I spent my birthday with just my family. My new “room” was a bunk above my little brother and a space on the floor near the window in the upstairs playroom. We talked through all the options, and I was part of the decision, but I still felt forced to live in a place I didn’t call home, with no ability to shut a door between my family and me.
My parents tried their hardest to make me feel at home here, but still all the negative emotions I thought I had worked through over the summer came flooding back.
I was angry at my parents for moving us. After all, if we hadn’t moved, I would have had my own room with my own full-sized bed and all my things, rather than a twin bunk above my brother and some shelves in the other room.
I was again asking God why. Hadn’t I moved enough in my life? I was afraid for the future that was all of a sudden so unsure and out of control. But, this time I did not try to handle those feelings alone. I cried over the phone to a friend who had been through almost the same situation I was in now. He told me what had helped him, and we talked for hours about our lives, our emotions, and our siblings.
After a few weeks, I got used to the living situation I was forced into by uncontrollable circumstances. As the rules got stricter around COVID-19, I got more anxious. I missed my friends. I missed my boyfriend. I wanted to know what my life was going to look like in a month. I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling these things, but those feelings were still suffocating.
Soon, I was waking up sad and going to bed sad.
Instead of living my day in a state of delight, I was living it in a state of sadness. Where dark spots used to taint the light, the light now shone for short moments in the dark. I was in a state of almost constant hopelessness. I doubted the intentions and even the presence of God in my life. If God was there, then why was this happening?
I cried at night when I felt overwhelmed and silently yelled at and questioned God for the situation we were in. I tried to hide this from my family. I didn’t want them to know how much isolation had gotten to me. I still had my siblings to take care of.
I always felt better when I was outside, so I tried to go outside and clear my head at least once a day. That slowly got shifted to once every two or three days as the isolation dragged on and the darkness crept deeper…
After a month of these feelings, I submitted my last assignment for my freshman year of college. That gave me a well-needed push. I smiled as I put my books away and closed my computer. Through this chaos, I had finished my first year (and with good grades, too!). This accomplishment put me back on my feet. I woke up easier in the morning and started my day in a better mood.
Then, on that bright and sunny (if cool) day in April, I spent almost the whole afternoon outside in my bathing suit. I was in a good mood. I happily watched my siblings play in the sand and water together. The sun on my face warmed me to my core.
I posted on social media that I got in the water today. One of my friends, and hopefully future roommates, commented on my picture that I was so lucky to live on a lake. As I went to respond to her, it hit me: if my life had not been uprooted almost a year ago by my parents, I would not be sheltering in place on a lake…
In that moment, I remembered God truly is present in every situation and decision. (I mean, I already knew that. But I experienced God’s presence in a more personal way.)
I was astonished. These pieces had just come together in my mind. God led my parents to move us out of our house and start a new chapter of life, and because of that calling I had experienced anger, doubt, and fear. But, those weren’t the only emotions I felt; I also experienced the overwhelming blessing of isolation on a lake, and a unique chance to connect with my family in a new way.
I felt the comforting hand of God surround me as I took a deep breath and smiled. God does not leave us alone in the face of uncertainty. Our Father does not abandoned us, even though we question and shout. Jesus is here with us through the darkness and anxiety. The Spirit is present in our anger and doubt.
In this assurance, I was able to forgive myself and my parents for the anger I was still subconsciously holding onto.
In the midst of a global pandemic, remember that, even though you may feel hopeless and defeated, God is not going to leave you. So many things are out of your control in this world; so many things evoke fear and anxiety. In those moments, take a deep breath and remember your Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for you.
Breathe in the fresh air and be calmed in the assurance that God is good and faithful to you.
If this message seems out of reach to you right now, I encourage you to invite God to be present in whatever you are feeling. Invite the Spirit to work in your anger, doubt, and fear. A simple, “Dear Jesus; aaaahhhhhh!” can be the perfect prayer for where you are right now.
Don’t be afraid to yell and shout if that’s what you need. If you’re like me and are typically one of the most smiley people in the room, rest in the knowledge that you don’t have to be happy all the time. Invite the Spirit into your tears. Take a deep breath and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.
God won’t abandon you when things get hard. Jesus doesn’t leave you to fend for yourself in times of joy or grief. Your Heavenly Father loves you. Unconditionally.
You are not alone; ever.