Our family traveled to the Eastern Shore of Virginia for two trips this summer. We held onto anticipation that the change in scenery would simultaneously change our expectations. On both rounds, I came to a startling conclusion each time I unpacked the car. While the children ran all around their new domain, I harbored low levels of frustration at how family vacations look remarkably like expensive work trips. Gratitude beat out frustration ultimately, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being caught in the middle. With each new adventure, the same refrain resounds. We aren’t quite there yet, but maybe when the kids are older.
Back at work, I practiced the correct technique for removing personal protective equipment with my nursing students caring for COVID positive clients. Questions about transmission rates circled the room; removing all this garb, even in a streamlined fashion, seemed cumbersome for a fully vaccinated crowd. I mustered a response, just as straightforward as I could make it: We aren’t quite there yet, but maybe once Delta is no longer the dominant strain.
I kept fewer face masks in the car this summer. We were always outside and living in an area with little to no transmission. Flipping through pictures, it’s amazing to see actual smiles, instead of just happy eyes and Old Navy’s newest tie-dye. This month, as I don a mask to speak to our teacher in the carpool lane, my phone pings to alert that our area now meets the criteria for high transmission rates. I’m reminded of the same truth: As a family, and as a community, we aren’t quite there yet.
Earlier this month, our parish moved its beloved family service back outside. Sitting by household, across the grassy field adjacent to the playground, many in masks, we were simultaneously encouraged and saddened. Our family found joy, providing the safest possible gathering while still experiencing this sacred ritual with our church family. Within the same practice, sadness returned, if only in the realization that we aren’t quite there yet.
Discouraged by the steps back, I recalled many cliches I have heard along the way, not to mention the words to a country ballad or two. I found solace and strength in the words of Isaiah, which just happens to be posted on the bedroom wall of my middle child.
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” —Isaiah 40:31
We are waiting, as a family, as a community, as the Body of Christ, in palpable anticipation for the end of this pandemic. I catch myself daydreaming of the day when I can hug my oldest friends without hesitation, or maybe even when my glasses won’t fog up every time I breathe heavily. I won’t pretend to know when this end will arrive, though I am convinced our strength is being refined in the waiting process.
It is easy to see God on the mountaintops of life. While it may be difficult to feel God’s presence, there is peace even in the valleys of despair. But where is God in the middle? I wonder, if currently, during what I can only compare to either a backslide or a plateau, if this is where God wants to meet us.
God may find us most in this place, in the unchartered, less prescribed middle of our journey. I’m convinced that God meets us most in the plateaus, the vulnerable, in between spaces that are uncomfortable and frustrating at their best, defeating at their worst.
Our oldest daughter is in the middle of middle school, which I remember as the prime world of vulnerability. I recall wishing those days would just pass by. They seemed that they didn’t really need to happen, that we could move on to the next best thing. I remember feeling thankful, if only for a moment, that she didn’t have the full “middle school experience” last year. It never occurred to me, until I witnessed her current journey, just how much is learned in the vulnerable spaces of our lives.
Just as she wishes away the last hour before the dismissal bell rings, I yearn for the days when the world turns back in the direction it seemed to be heading in June. I must remind her, and myself, that there is purpose in waiting. When God finds us here, in transition, we are further refined on our journey. God is there, in the midst of the middle.