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  • Writer's pictureEphemeral & Faithful

Together in Solitude: Staying Connected in Times of Isolation

This entire Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation has boggled my mind and rocked the world as I've watched it strip humanity of essentials. First, the stores were depleted of all toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, meat, dairy goods, canned goods, bread, bottled water, and more items people consider essential to basic living. (I have been pleased to find the majority of society does not find coffee creamer or gummy bears essential so those are plentiful for my consumption). As the COVID-19 situation increased exponentially, the healthcare systems are now lacking greatly in PPE (personal protection equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields for you non-medical savvy folks) and ventilators, putting our frontline fighters at high risk for contracting infection and the sick patients at risk for not receiving adequate, humane care to be able to breathe and stay alive. Then the virus began to result in folks' loss of jobs subjecting them to financial uncertainty as the essential of income certainly was taken away. Then the final straw came that made my heart sink to a new low point: a statewide mandate issued from the governor of North Carolina for residents to stay at home unless considered essential employees or to do essential outings. In my state and so many other states and countries around the world, this new restriction stripped humanity from the essential of human interaction. Human interaction is the most necessary support system, next to of course your own relationship with Jesus and His faithfulness and constant presence, that supplies stability and love to people when hard times are encountered. And yes, human interaction even tops interaction with your fuzzy friends.

At first when all this corona-mess hit the fan, I received only a two week instruction from my cystic fibrosis team to stay home. People with CF are at high risk of contracting this virus and if contracted, they will deal with irreversible respiratory damage or it can be fatal to those who already have a decreased lung function and deal with other co-morbidities, such as myself. I eagerly counted down the days til I could go back to work, called to confirm with my medical team on Tuesday, March 17th that I could indeed return to work on Thursday, March 19th, and they agreed as long as I took precautions to keep my distance and used proper infection control precautions. Ok, this was manageable. I have been doing infection control precautions since I was little due to CF, and I could forgo hugs or office chats for a short time. As long as I could be at church, get my tasks done, and be around the staff and body of Christ I loved so much, that would be doable. I was just delighted to be able to go back to work. However, this bubble of happiness was quickly popped about 24 hours later on Wednesday morning, March 18th when I received a call from my nurse who told me that in the light of the current escalation of COVID-19, I was not to return to work now for another two weeks. Having already missed two weeks of work in February due to a hospitalization for treatment for a lung infection, I was horrified that I would now be out of the office for a total of 4 weeks. My CF team implemented further restrictions in that I was not have anyone over to my home, was not advised to go to any public places without a mask on, and could really only go outdoors with others as long as the number of individuals was less than 5 and we all maintained a 6 foot distance. Grimacing, I complied with these restrictions and kept busy with working from home. Trying to abide with the rules, I had one friend over to walk our dogs together in our neighborhood and one takeout dinner picnic outdoors with two other friends where we kept a 6-foot distance. Nevertheless, my calendar was marked to call my CF clinic on March 31st to get permission to get back to work, so I at least had that to look forward to eagerly.

Then the 30 day "Stay-At-Home" statewide mandate entered onto the scene. With tears in my eyes and my hands shaking from the shock and horror of the increased isolation period, I mournfully erased my "going back to work" reminder from Tuesday, March 31st and rewrote it for Wednesday, April 29th. Though my church is thankfully exempt from the order as long as they follow the CDC guidelines and social distancing, I am not exempt, because I have CF and the risk of being exposed to groups and public spaces is too high for possibly contracting the viral infection. This means a total of 7 weeks of no in-person human interaction, no hugs from friends, no collaborating with folks in my office, no Tuesday office meetings with church leadership, no worship rehearsals with my worship and production teams, no movie nights or watching baseball games with friends, etc. I always thought I was an introvert, but I am starting to rethink that assessment very quickly. Though I can get annoyed at people at times, I truly do love people, and love spending time with them and getting to know them on a personal level, especially one-on-one or in small groups.

I struggle personally with the concept of isolation as it reminds me of the many times throughout my life when I was subjected to two weeks of isolation in the hospital, because I was so sick with respiratory issues. I was not permitted to leave my hospital room, visitors were not permitted in except for immediate family occasionally, and nurses and medical staff wore protective gear to protect me from contracting illnesses they might have been carrying. It was very distancing, sad, and traumatizing, so having to relive something that reminds me of those days induces some kind of PTSD, I think. Many other CF patients have expressed the same thing about this COVID-19 isolation and quarantine situation. Though there are many things I can do while isolated, such as reading, writing, listening to music, walking Skipper, working out, painting, cleaning, cooking, doing my lung treatments and taking my medications (which fills much of my time), and watching movies or TV shows, none of these can replace the value and need for human interaction. Even though I am an introvert, I eventually get very flustered of doing an activity in solitude, immediately cease my activity, and have to find a way to connect with someone. Cue my stream of texts to friends as I anxiously hope someone will be available and willing to talk over the phone or better yet, do a video call.

God created humans to live in community with each other, bear each other's burdens, pray for each other, love each other, and to serve Him together.

Psalm 133:1- "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" Romans 12:4-5- "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Hebrews 10:24-25- "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

When this fellowship and community with others is broken, whether by choice or by force as is this case, then pain ensues. We feel isolated, lost, confused, angry, anxious, sometimes reclusive, heartbroken, and stuck in a surreal prison of uncertainty and loneliness. I know the reasoning for this is to slow the spread of this virus and ease the load of patients on the hospital and healthcare systems and the wonderful, dedicated medical staff, but the reasoning does not nullify the pain. Even healthcare workers are subjected to this isolation even though they are considered essential workers; they cannot afford to bring their possible exposure of the virus around their loved ones so they are distanced from those they love most.

When I shared my tumultuous thoughts with a dear friend Saturday afternoon, he in return shared with me some simple words of wisdom, "I know these are difficult times and the longer the tunnel gets to get back to normalcy, the more anxious we become. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel, whether it be this season of struggling or the tunnel of life itself. He’s got us, and He’s all we have." Oops I did it again. I got bogged down in the unsettling mess going on around me. I failed to acknowledge Christ's faithfulness and constant presence, and failed to recognize that I do indeed live in the 21st century where technology is a powerful tool we are privileged to have and ought to utilize wisely. Slowly, I began to make plans to stay connected with fellow believers, friends, and family, and my heart has been eased (for the moment) with the assurance that I have not lost friendships, I can still care for and love others remotely, and I am blessed to have a laptop and phone to stay connected. As we are all in the same boat of struggling with isolation, I have listed below are some ideas I have on how to connect with each other: > Virtual worship night - Grab your guitar, make a group video call, and have each person lead a song (sorry guys, but group singing over video calls really sounds rough due to the varying acoustics and network connections, nothing personal!) and do an acoustic worship night. Turn on the comments for Zoom or Facebook to drop some Scriptures, prayer requests, encouragements, or song requests.

> Virtual coffee date - Get your Keurig machine cranked up, pour a cup a coffee (pumpkin spice creamer for me, please), and enjoy a heart to heart chat with a dear friend.

> Virtual card game - Grab a deck of cards and get that War game started! Phase 10 is a great group game too.

> Pray together - spend some time over the phone praying for each other and for others. Pray for our healthcare system, our government, and other nations as we all fight this pandemic together and desperately need wisdom, strength, safety, and health. But most of all, pray that we can encounter Christ through this and draw closer to Him.

> Go through a book - Pick a book, read a chapter, and discuss it. Much can be gleaned and new perspectives gained when more than one mind and one brain is involved!

> Do a virtual Bible study - Select a book of the Bible, a topic, a Scripture passage, or a devotional and go though it with a couple friends or a larger group, learning and discussing along the way.

> Do a virtual movie night - Pick a movie, grab the popcorn (gummy bears for me, I do not like popcorn), and everyone push play at the same time. But please, for the love of sanity, mute your end of the call in case you are a hair-off of the movie's timing!

> Listen to a sermon - Utilize social media to listen to church together, worship together, and learn more about Christ together. Facebook has a great feature to do "watch parties" together for live-streaming; use this method when your church is streaming, and chat together about the sermon and worship music in the chat box.

> Cook a dish together - Pick a recipe, get the ingredients, cook it together while chatting over video call. Get cooking advice from each other, and enjoy a video chat dinner date with your final concoction.

> Do internet quizzes - Do those silly and sometimes stupid, but entertaining, internet quizzes and see how similar or different you all are with your answers. Enneagram lovers, I'm lookin' at you.

> Go on a walk - I do this so much when I am in the hospital. I FaceTime a friend or family member, and walk with Skipper and my IV pole through the hospital halls and outdoors, my camera facing outwards so they are seeing what I am seeing.

> Have a good old-fashioned heart to heart with someone via a phone call or video call. Call your friends, coworkers, grandparents, parents, neighbor, old friend...I guarantee the entire world right now is starved for interaction and would delight in a phone call. You never know, God may use that that time of connection to open the door for you to share the Gospel and His unfailing hope with others. Listen, converse, love, pray, and just let God and your heart lead the conversation.

I hope this post helped offer some ideas for staying connected to fellow believers and friends even when isolated, and helps you understand a bit of my perspective as a CF patient. First and foremost, lean on Christ and dedicate time to Him, then reach out to others, show love, and know that you can connect me with me too at any time.

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