Wednesday, November 11, 2020

We Can Do Hard Things

Four-year-old Chloe on the Ferris wheel

Last month Chloe and I were starting to read a chapter from one of the Little House books before her bedtime when the deluge came. 

I knew what had triggered it -- I knew because I had felt it, too, a half-hour before as we looked with Ethan through old videos I'd taken on my phone a few years ago. At first we were laughing at the clips of Chloe's three-year-old antics and Ethan's zany behavior. But we then we would come across the videos from the fair and the Ferris wheel dazzling in the night sky. And there was VBS, a hundred kids singing and dancing and jumping and laughing, crowding the church sanctuary. Not a mask in sight. There was the kids' Christmas choir with everyone dressed in their Sunday best, Chloe on the stage, the littlest one of all. "Look at us all singing!" she had said wistfully, and I felt the pricks in my eyes. The parade marched by in another video, the one the whole town comes out for. The one that had been cancelled this year. 

"Maybe we should turn this off now," I had urged, as the three of us had grown quiet. Now we were upstairs and about to start reading when the tears came. 

"I don't want to go to school tomorrow," Chloe said in a small voice, head on the pillow, curled up as if about to hibernate. 

"Don't you like school?" I asked. "I know you have fun when you're there." 

"I know." Her face crumpled. "But everything's different! Nothing is the way it was last year! And we have to wear masks and can't sing in music and we can't play on the playground a lot of the time and nothing is as fun!" 

"I know, I know," I consoled. She kept going. "And we can't do kids choir or VBS or anything and we couldn't even do a big show for theater and I miss that! We can't even do things for Halloween! I HATE it!" Now she was all-out sobbing, and my tears were tears of both empathy and frustration in not being able to change the situation. 

I thought of the book I'd read by Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman, a story of wading through tragedy after the loss of one of her young daughters. Speaking with her other young daughter one day after she broke down, Mary Beth said, "It's not fair, I know. There are lots of things that don't seem to be fair, and they're so hard. But...God has asked us to do hard. It really stinks and I wish we didn't have to, but this is what our family has been called to. If we all stick together, we can do hard." 

We can do hard. I thought as I rolled over in my mind so many stories of struggle and waiting and patience and endurance. How could I translate for a six-year-old's understanding? 

"Chloe, remember? We just read the Long Winter. Laura and Mary had nothing but brown bread and potatoes and storms for months and months. They thought it would never end, but remember how wonderful it was for them when spring finally came?" 

I kept grasping to help her make a connection. "Do you remember hearing about World War 2? Remember in the Narnia movie when they had to send the kids to the country because they were bombing London, where they lived? Can you imagine people dropping bombs on Windsor? We can be grateful that isn't happening." Chloe was listening but still weeping. I felt inept but kept going. "And in World War 2, did you know there was no Olympics, or baseball, and they cancelled the Big E, just like it was cancelled this year? The people had to wait for years and years, but they made it through." 

Suddenly I longed to watch a World War 2 movie, one about people waiting and waiting and being brave. I thought of Judy Garland singing a mournfully about the day we would all be together, but until then "we'll have to muddle through somehow." 

As Chloe sniffed and wiped her eyes and hiccupped I realized we weren't just reading about history, but becoming it. Despite my relatively minor troubles, in the grand scheme of things, I felt connected to the people in other times in a way I never had before. Looking back and learning from what has come before us can encourage us for today.

But how to convey that to a first grader? As Chloe stopped crying I started, because I so desperately wanted to help her feel better and so desperately wanted to give her an understanding she didn't have yet. I thought of something a little more tangible. 

"Chloe, remember the story about October snowstorm here and the weeklong power outage?" She nodded. "Well, did you know Halloween was cancelled that year, too? There were tree branches and power lines all over the ground. It was too dangerous." 

"They did?" she asked as I stroked her hair and wiped my eyes, thinking back to the day when the October snow had melted and the sun turned all the leaves golden. It had only been a week, but I still remember the joy when those power guys from Georgia had shown up on our street to bring us back into the light. Everyone stood at their houses, clapping and beaming. 

The memory was sweet. Maybe someday, these memories would be, too. Because we'd realize how much we'd taken for granted, how many beautiful things there really are in this crazy world, and how wonderful it is to have them returned to us. 

Five minutes later Chloe was back to herself. I wasn't, because now I knew that despite her normally cheerful disposition and her optimistic personality, my child was hurting. As we all are. 

Sometimes there isn't much we can do in our own power to change the circumstances around us. But we can take heart in knowing other people have been there and made it to the other side. Like the bear hunt song says, you can't always go around it, sometimes you have to go THROUGH it. 

This is our time to grow -- in faith, in patience, in perseverance. It may be so darned hard, but we CAN do hard things. 


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