Real Talk with Mary Ellen: At Home in Strange Times

I’m having every emotion. I neither want to be affirmed that every emotion is normal nor am I going to lay some empty empathy on you that no matter what you are feeling it is…O.K.  We are way outside the bell curve, people. If your child has had a birthday in the last six months, they’ve (hopefully) received a birthday note from me riffing on the Jeremiah 29:11 verse about the Lord knowing the plans he has for us, good plans to prosper us, and so on.  In a million years, none of us considered this plan. 

In the busiest seasons of my life, my guilty pleasure has been, and I find it is now, waking up before dawn and secretly enjoying the dark stillness of the apartment.  The muscle memory spawns a joy in the prospect of a delicious hour of solitude and silence. Wait, can this be joy? I’m mixing Clorox and water to disinfect my apartment and 5th floor shared hallway. I am almost outside myself observing that spritzing has become my new prayer. Lord, bless my neighbor whose test came back positive today. Spritz. Bless and keep my friend recovering from cancer. Spritz.

I’m happy to see two of my adult college kids home but not as happy as I am at a Christmas break when I know the visit home is a recognized milestone in their adulting, that they leave mid-January and head back to their emerging adult lives. Wait, they’re staying?  With their grown adult sized bodies in our same-sized New York apartment. As ten pound babies, their arrival overtook our real estate. They’ve only grown since then. I notice the stream of joy at seeing them and enjoying their humor and affection. And to be fair, I wish mid-January was around the corner with their departure date known and ticketed.

On Abby’s first day home from high school, before google classroom was underway, sweet recollections from 19 years of homeschooling popped on to my radar.  By early afternoon, she had already mastered a new piano sonata, painted, read a book, talked with friends, napped, baked, taken the dog out. Sweet recollections quickly morphed into “Oh My Gosh…how will we fill the time?” Later that afternoon, she dragged out a cello from the back of a closet and learned a new instrument.  Day one. Check.

Yea.  It feels like I’m sampling a menu of every emotion I’ve ever had and maybe some new ones. My daughter’s dear friend lives down the street.  We keep her spare key. She’s a nurse. Yesterday she texted the location of her important papers and her advance directives in case she becomes ill.  She says there isn’t enough protective gear at her hospital and she is exposed. Well, there’s a new emotion right there. Horror? Fear? Furious anger at unnamed faceless leaders who failed to read all the signs and prepare for this? 

My privilege and pleasure is to journey with children and families through this unchartered territory. I will do my best to lead, encourage, minister.  But I can tell you right now, I’ll be the one hanging on to the simple truths we speak to the children: God is with us no matter what, even when things are scary, uncertain, and overwhelming. The tough part of Jeremiah 29 is the reality that God knows the plans, we don’t. We will repeat what is true regardless of whether we feel it or even believe it.

Author: Mary Ellen Lehmann

Director of Children & Youth Ministries at All Angels' Church in New York City. Mary Ellen and her husband, Mike, have been married 30 years, and have four children. Several of them are adults.

3 thoughts on “Real Talk with Mary Ellen: At Home in Strange Times”

  1. So many of us feel helpless in this, but you have expressed and ameliorated emotions others are struggling with through your words. ❤️ I always keep praying for you, and I believe that is so much more than a platitude. I believe the Lord hears the cries of our hearts and is moved by them. Indeed, He knows the plans, He wasn’t surprised to hear of COVID-19. Psalm 91 reminds us that those who find their refuge in Almighty God are hidden in the shadow of His wings, and safe from a list of perils, including deadly pestilence “that stalks in darkness,” and “destruction that lays waste at noon.” We can trust His heart – He is for us, and given us, if we let Him, His love for those who don’t know Him. I’m not a studied professional theologian, but I pray for God’s strength and mercy and that He will extend His hand to save even those who don’t know Him, that they may have yet another chance, another day to move their hearts towards Him. We are made overcomers by the Blood of the Lamb. As those who don’t know Him see the fortitude and love with which we respond to this crisis, His light in us will draw them to Him. Sorry to have gotten so wordy – just want to encourage. Love to you Mary Ellen, and Mike and all the children. ❤️👑

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  2. Yup, you definitely put some of my own thoughts into words. Strange times indeed. Thank you for the encouragement.

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