This year I took over advising the creative writing club at my high school, which has been pretty fun and has caused me to get back more into writing. It’s funny, I told my friend Joe I’ve been doing this and he said “Why?… Do you… like that?” I told him yes, I do like it. I laughed because I know a lot of people really don’t like writing, but it’s something I’ve always found some joy in. Anyways, I’ve had people encourage me to write more and I want to, but largely I haven’t been doing so as much as I’d like. This past week at the club I found an online Creative Nonfiction writing competition with the prompt “Write a personal story that grounds the year 2020 in real life.” I like to “write beside them,” which means instead of just telling them to write, actually creating a piece from the same prompt they’re working on. For the mentioned prompt I wrote a piece called “Covid baby,” because I thought the title was funny but also that’s sort of what I’ve been preoccupied with this year. We had a baby during these strange Covid-19 times. Writing about that topic inspired me to alter it and turn it into a post here.
A lot of people say having a baby is hard.
I mean, that makes sense. One day you and your significant other are just two people in a little house or apartment, living together in a relatively unstressed way, and then BOOM- everything changes. What once seemed so easy, things like going to the grocery store, eating lunch, making a cup of coffee, having time to shower, now seem like colossal achievements.
While I think it’s great to have a baby, I also think it’s one of the more difficult things a person can do. At the very least, it’s one of the more challenging things I’ve been a part of. All of a sudden everything just isn’t really about you anymore. It’s about another person. And it’s true that’s kind of the case when you get married, too, but not really to the same magnitude. You can leave your spouse and go off to the store, for instance, but if you leave your baby at home you have some bigger problems…
Having a baby became even more complicated for us since, as the title of this writing suggests, we had the privilege of doing so in the middle of a global pandemic.
Our baby was born in August of 2020, which means my wife, Elli, was increasingly pregnant during the beginning of the COVID-19 experience we are all way too familiar with. The pregnancy part was hard enough with not being able to have as many family or friends over to help. But we got through it.
I mainly want to talk about the actually having the baby aspect of all this.
His name is James and he truly is a gift from God. Elli and I love him dearly, and he brings me way more joy than I thought another person could. Having a child you helped create brings so many emotions and thoughts to a person’s mind that were only inklings before. Was every person alive right now really a little baby like this? Every person really was this loved and cared for at some point? His little infectious smile brings me immense joy, but what happens when I inevitably disappoint him? Everyone really needed their diaper changed this much?
It has been great in so many ways. It has also been one of the more challenging time periods of my life, and I think a big part of that is because of our dear
friend enemy, the coronavirus.
The pandemic reality hit us hard the first week we brought baby James home. Elli’s mom lives up the road and was all ready and willing to help us (and man, did we need the help). However, just a day or two after we were out of the hospital she, along with James’ grandfather and the rest of my wife’s family, were exposed to coronavirus and had to quarantine for two weeks. This is hard enough in a “normal” situation, but we were truly devastated. Two weeks? You mean we have to be alone with this baby for two weeks? Of course, that’s not really how we felt (remember- we do love him…), but the frustration brought on during that time was truly hard-hitting.
We got through it. He is still here, and now all his grandparents can see him again. My mom came up multiple times to help which was so, so needed and helpful. Other family visited, too. Many other family and friends have been so helpful, and we really don’t deserve any of their support and love.
There have been many other stories like this as we continue to raise a three-month-old infant. I don’t really want to complain, though. Elli is truly an amazing mom and it is amazing to get to witness her love for him every single day. Our friends and family have also been great. It is just different with this virus. Everything is just a little different for pretty much everybody.
It makes me think about how important people are, and how hard it is to truly do anything “on your own.” Sure, my wife and I will be the main ones to raise this kid. And we should be. But if he’s going to turn out to be a giver and a lover and a strong person in this weak world, then he will need to be raised by the village around us. I think that is what 2020 has shown me. People are important, and when things get in between those relationships the fabric of what we can be starts to unravel.
These strange times have whittled down all our circles into smaller and smaller groups, which makes me wonder how terrible that would be if it lasted forever. As I’ve tried to convince you above, Elli and I really do love our son, James. He’s great. Her and I, by necessity, love him more than anyone else could right now. But imagine if James grew up and literally only knew his mom and me. Like if we just kept him home all the time because we were worried about what could happen to him out there. How much of a disaster would that be? Even though we care for him more than we thought we possibly could, there is no way he would turn out well at all that way. He has to get “out there” and around other people.
This is true for all of us.
It’s weird right now, because as my friend Adi mentioned in a teaching this week, staying at home and isolating yourself has morphed into a moral virtue these past eight or so months. I don’t really want to argue for or against the necessity of that at this stage of the virus, but what I do want to mention is how unfortunate it would be if it stays that way. Staying at home and isolating yourself from the world is not a virtuous achievement. Maybe to some degree it’s medically necessary for the time being, but the consequences of that idea being ingrained in our minds could really be devastating.
As a teacher, one of the main concerns I’ve had for my students during this time is their mental health. School is important academically, of course, but it also plays a large role in providing community for millions of students. With many schools shifting to remote learning, I was concerned about how my students would cope emotionally. It seems they are not coping very well, according to this study. College students are also seeing increases in depression across the board, as this article suggests. A larger study shows that the rate of depression has tripled among adults in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
These statistics are troubling. Trying to look at the bright side of this, it does seem that people are starting to sense their innate need for relationships because of the current circumstances. I know many people who still met with their families for Thanksgiving (usually in way smaller numbers than normal, and perhaps less loudly on social media), and from some conversations it seems the reason is because they just can’t get around the fact that relationships are what’s important. People matter. Our lives are really short and we can’t spend them alone all the time. One family member told my wife that she would rather get sick (or worse) than miss out on our son’s first year. Debate the merits of that all you want in a time like this, but I think many people are feeling the same way.
It’s about time I bring up what God has to say about all of this. He has a lot to say, in fact. One of the many beautiful things about Him is His care for people as a whole and the vast distance He will go through to meet us where we’re at. There are many verses I could share here, but I’m just going to share a few.
1 John 4:7-8 shows how at the very heart of God’s character is love. Therefore, when we love other people we are showing our relationship with a loving God. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Romans 12 is a great chapter to read about the primacy of being united together in relationships. Verses 3-5 say, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Part of the beauty of being in a relationship with God is He brings us into relationships with other believers, too. He goes as far to say that we are now “members of one another,” as though we are now spiritually joined together to other believers. I’ve experienced this awesome connection time and time again. It was one of the main things that brought me to Christ, actually, by seeing this kind of love demonstrated in front of me. Romans 12:10 adds to this, saying “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”
In John 17, Jesus Himself goes into detail on how important love relationships are. The context is that Jesus is praying out to God right before He was going to be betrayed, put on trial, and killed. He spends most of the prayer praying for the future of mankind. He prays for all of us, saying in verse 4, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Here he’s praying we can all see the truth of His love for us, that He was about to go to the cross and die for us to offer us real, true, eternal life. He continues by praying for future believers, saying in verses 22-23, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me…” This passage has blown my mind ever since the first time I had it explained to me. Francis Schaeffer goes into it in detail in his great little book The Mark of the Christian. In short, Jesus is praying for believers to be united in real loving relationships and community in order for the rest of the world to know that God really did send the Son, Jesus, down to earth to die for their sins. How important is it that we continue to be close with one another? If we do, the world will be able to tell that Jesus really is real and that He really does love them so much that He died and rose again for them. That’s a big deal. Schaeffer calls it the “final apologetic” and says in his book, “Here Jesus is stating something… which is much more cutting, much more profound. We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of oneness of true Christians…. Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point?” (27).
I bring all this up to show the weightiness and importance of love relationships. Whether you believe in Jesus or not (if not, I hope you consider it), I’m sure all of us are feeling the continued strain of not being able to see people like we used to. I know I am. But I also am encouraged by these thoughts and verses to make sure not to lose sight of those important relationships, whatever that looks like right now. Making an effort to safely get together in some fashion is of vital importance for so many reasons. I know my little baby James needs that as he grows up, and I do, too. I love my son, but if I believe what Christ says, that’s not sufficient in itself. We both need others. Christians throughout the centuries have fought to meet no matter the circumstance for the above reasons and much more. In the first few centuries of Christianity, they believed in meeting together so much that they met in catacombs- underground burial grounds- because they had to meet in secret. They still did it. Christians in China today still need to meet in “underground” churches to avoid notice of the authorities. They still do it anyway. Of course those are different situations than dealing with a global pandemic, but the point should be seen that gathering together and fostering love relationships is of the utmost significance and should not be minimized, though it may need to look a little different. I want to fight to stay unified with the people around me not only for my sake or theirs, but for the onlooking world, like James, who will make decisions on whether to believe in Jesus or not based on our love. Who are you fighting for? What do you hope they see?