“When you reach out, I am here hell or high water / This nest is never going away / My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.”
—Alanis Morissette, “Ablaze”
"Mama, can I tell you something?"
I wish I could answer yes. I would shine motherly grace upon my five-year-old son and answer, "Yes, of course. Always tell me something."
In better days, I left for work to be with my congregation, listening to NPR on my commute without screaming. Returning home, I could answer wholeheartedly, "Yes. Please. Tell me something."
These are not better days. Now he doesn't have my attention. No one does.
Not my wonderful congregation;
Not God, who requires nothing but attention;
Not my steadfast spouse;
Not my parents, who I might never see again (how could this be true?);
Not my friends, who are my joy;
Not my body, when I remember what’s attached to my frantic head.
Nothing has my full attention anymore, so my answer is a clipped and resentful, "No. Do not tell me something."
This is confusing for my twins because I am in front of their faces, more present than ever, but less available than ever. Unreachable across an ocean of distance no greater than the kitchen. Present in body, but missing in action.
My sons have regressed. Where they once followed classroom rituals, they no longer wish to regulate their voices; they sprint everywhere. They’ll scream out “HATE!,” their rebellious utterance of that taboo word echoing unmanageable frustration when their mom is right here, yet unreachable.
This was the pandemic spring they learned to ride their bikes without training wheels. This was the pandemic summer they learned to swim, daring each other to jump off the diving board until they did.
This was the pandemic summer they picked peaches and figs from neighbors’ yards, the fall they discovered family sing-alongs and kitchen dance parties.
Pandemic parenting five-year-olds is relentlessly exhausting, and sheer joy. Ministering a congregation has never felt more chaotic, nor has the call to ministry ever felt more clear.
As we enter a new phase of pandemic, I may allow the chaos to seep through the cracks between work and home that I’ve held together with play-dough and chewing gum. So next time my boy asks, "Mama, can I tell you something?" and there's a Zoom screen of congregants peering back at me, awaiting wisdom, I might just turn my face away from them and answer, "Yes. Tell me," while they all watch me be the minister I am.
Holy Mystery, we seek blessed assurance through pandemic chaos, relentless loss, and unimaginable stress. Show us the way of grace as a holy symbiosis, an offering we receive and give to one another in times of separateness. Lead us to deeper wells of grace than we have known, until we gather together all our divided selves into realness and wholeness. Amen.