The Aftermath of Coming Out

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I shared my coming out post recently. I didn’t know how I would feel or who would respond or how.

After I hit the “publish” button, I sat at my dining room table and sobbed. That moment was a touchstone in an incredibly intense journey.

It was not long before comments began pouring in. To everyone who sent messages of support and encouragement, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. They have truly been uplifting for my soul. I felt the love and care. It matters so much to me. Thank you for standing with me and offering me your love and support.

Thank you, too, to those of you who reached out to Matt with love and support. This process has been difficult for him, as well, and he needs kind words and encouragement, too.

I was overwhelmed by the comments and messages I received, and I am still sorting my way through them. I have such a high capacity for intense emotional engagement, and even I have been exhausted by people’s thoughtful responses to what I shared!

Several people came out to me. Thank you for trusting me enough to share this deeply vulnerable part of your story.

And several of you messaged me to say that my post made you think. Maybe you are not affirming, or maybe you have tacitly accepted your church’s teaching of homosexuality as a sin, or maybe you aren’t sure where you stand, but you want to know more. You want to have conversations or want to know what books I might recommend so that you can better understand me and others who share my perspective. I am – and always will be – 100% here for that. I appreciate your curiosity and desire to engage thoughtfully, and I am thankful for your honesty in trusting me with where you are at right now.

I actually received no truly hateful messages, and for that I am thankful, as well.

I did receive a fair number of messages from people who told me they loved me while at the same time asserting their non-affirming positions as what they believe to be absolute truth. It’s interesting to me that all of these messages came privately. What does that say to you?

I would like to share with you a little bit about how receiving these private messages feels – because I know you, dear Christian people who sent them. I’ve loved you. I used to be you. And I know that you mean well, and you are doing your best to negotiate your adherence to a belief system that you think demands that you reject homosexuality as immoral and wrong while also caring for me as a person. You’re trying to, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” And you think this is what you should do.

I know you’re trying to be kind. That’s not how it feels, though.

It feels like rejection.

For me, it feels similar to how it would feel if you were to have a conversation with me about my God-given gender. I am a woman, and that identity is inextricably linked to who I am. If you were to have the perspective that being male is unequivocally better than being female, you might say something like, “I love you, and I consider you a good friend. I just wish you weren’t a woman. In fact, God says that it’s wrong to be female and that He prefers males. In being a woman, you are broken and inadequate, a manifestation of this fallen world in which we live. I understand that you can’t do anything about being born female, but it’s still a shame. It is not as beautiful for you to be female as it would have been for you to be male. You and I have different perspectives on this. But I still love you.”

No one would say that. It sounds ridiculous. You couldn’t love me – a woman – wholeheartedly while rejecting the goodness and beauty of my femininity. Are you sure that you can love me – a gay girl – while rejecting the goodness and beauty of my sexual orientation?

I think these attempts we make to love each other are so important. Jesus tells His followers, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

That means that the love Christians show one another should be so incredibly beautiful and overwhelming that it distinguishes us as Jesus’s followers. People should be able to look for that sort of love and know that it comes from Christians.

I asked several people to read a draft of my coming out post before I published it. One of them questioned why I left the door open for negative feedback. He said, “I think that even if someone has theological/political/moral/other firmly held views that same-sex relationships are wrong…it is unspeakably cruel to state those views in response to someone coming out.”

I was honestly overwhelmed by the love and support I was shown in response to my public coming out. But most of it didn’t come from evangelical Christians. And from multiple evangelical Christians, I received responses that this person would characterize as “unspeakably cruel.”

And so, today, I am asking you, my Christian people, to consider these thoughts. My coming out post was probably the most vulnerable post I have ever written. It was my honest attempt to be authentic and real and follow God by acknowledging the ways in which He made me and the person He is enabling me to become. If you believe the only option available to you, in response to that, is something that is more easily characterized as unspeakable cruelty than beautiful, overwhelming love, then do you think there might be something not quite right there? Does that perhaps warrant a closer look at your belief system?

I say this not in anger or in a plea for emotional support. I don’t really need anything from you.

I say these things because I care for you, and I care for the other people with whom you will be interacting. I believe the choices you make matter, both for you and for those around you. As we are in the midst of Holy Week, I am identifying with the disciples who are forced to confront, in tangible ways, their failures, their denials of Jesus. I met up with someone recently whom I hurt tremendously by my own failures and denial (by my actions) of the truth of who Jesus is and how He loves us. It is painful to confront our own sin. It requires humility. But it is so necessary. It is much easier to keep moving forward on the path of least resistance, believing what our churches tell us to believe and doing what they tell us to do. But what if they are imperfect institutions led by fallible men, who don’t always get it right?

Maybe you won’t answer any of these questions the way I do today. Maybe you won’t tomorrow, and maybe you won’t ever. But I hope that if your son or daughter or friend or co-worker someday comes out to you, you may be able to offer a response characterized more by beautiful, overwhelming love and less by unspeakable cruelty.

And as for me? I am so happy to have come out. Still emotionally exhausted? Absolutely. But I am no longer hiding. I am being my authentic self in every arena. That feels so incredibly freeing.

This past weekend I was able to listen to and sing along with worship songs I’d felt phony with until I came out, and I cried tears of joy. I am coming to God and standing before all of you as the real me. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I am content with where I am.

To those of you standing with me and walking alongside me on this journey, thank you again, a million times. I cannot tell you how encouraging that support is. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is a good place to be.

In Which I Share with You That I Am Not Straight

I have written this post hundreds of times in my mind, shared a hundred different quotes that resonated with me, and told a hundred different versions of the story – all true but spoken from different angles and at different times.

This is my story for today, at this time, and in this place. It will be different from the stories I might have told in the past or might tell in the future. The commonality among all of the stories is this: as Dan Levy’s character in Happiest Season says, about different people’s coming out stories, “Everybody’s story is different…But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying. And then once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that.”

I am sitting in that place, feeling the racing of my heart but also thinking that I’m ready for the new chapter, whatever it brings. So – here goes.

I am not straight. I have a hard time with labels, but I think I’m probably gay.

I have lived most of my life (including the parts where I got married to Matt and gave birth to and adopted four babies) believing I was straight. And even after realizing that I wasn’t, I still desperately wanted to be and hoped and prayed I could make it so. I couldn’t. It doesn’t work that way.

Having to face that reality has probably been the most agonizing experience of my life. I didn’t want to be gay. On top of that, it was shocking to realize that there was something this huge about myself that I didn’t know for so, so long. It’s incredibly disconcerting. I began to wonder – what else do I not know? Who am I really?

Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her book, Shameless: A Case for not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good, tells the story of a man who “shut down a part of himself in order to please God. He disconnected from his body and his desires, and it backfired. Eventually [he] found it difficult to connect with even his own feelings, express them, and be heard by those closest to him” (p. 139).

That description reminds me of the experience of having an eating disorder – the recovery from which was a defining feature of my twenties. When I became so focused on living up to my image of goodness and perfection (in which thinness obviously played a central role), I disconnected from my body – I literally did not feel hunger.

The experience of suppressing my own sexuality was less conscious but just as unhelpful and unhealthy, and unpacking that has been a defining feature of this stage of my life.

My awareness of my sexuality was slow in coming, but it was necessary. Acknowledging it felt like the optometrist holding the lens with the correct prescription in front of my eyes. So many disparate details about my life story began to make so much sense.

The fact that it explained so much made it no less devastating.

I wrote, last June, “In spite of this being Pride Month, I feel no pride. I feel a deep, abiding sense of shame…My entire life can no longer be a living out of the story I dreamed it could and would be – because of me.”

My very self had become the central problem of my life and of my family’s life. My sexuality, something inextricably linked to the core of my being, was a problem. It is a deeply distressing experience, feeling like who you are is a problem.

My realization that I was not straight has been one element of my faith journey in recent times. Two of the major questions I have asked myself have been, “Who am I?” and, “Who is God?”

I don’t have precise answers to those questions. These days, I have fewer certainties than I used to. I sit more quietly, listening, aware that there is so much that I don’t know.

But at the same time, there are a few things that I know – things I know that I know that I know. And one of them is this – if the Gospel is not good news for gay people, it is not good news. Full stop. If your good news is only good news for those who are in the majority, who have the structural power in society, I would invite you to ask yourself a few questions. Does that sound like good news to you? Does that sound like Jesus? The same Jesus who sought out the people on the margins of society to be his intimate companions? I don’t think so.

If the Gospel is good news – and I believe that it is – then it has to be good news for everyone.

Some of you may have a refrain of, “But homosexuality is sin!” on repeat in your mind right now. If that is you, I would invite you to do some further research. I will not be using this space to make a theological defense of an affirming position, but I will say this. Matthew Vines writes in God and the Gay Christian, “Sin is what separates each of us from God. Sin also mars the image of God in our being. But strikingly, those aren’t the consequences of affirming lifelong, monogamous same-sex unions. They are the consequences of rejecting all same-sex relationships…Instead of making gay Christians more like God, as turning from genuine sin would do, embracing a non-affirming position makes them less like God” (p. 159-162). That seems worth considering. Read some books and articles. I’d be happy to recommend some resources if you need help knowing where to get started.

So many books and so much studying, journaling, contemplation, and therapy have informed this process for me. I am beginning to see more of what these Bible verses really mean: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14). These verses are not just about babies. They’re about me, too. God made me – including my sexuality – to be who I am.

My life is about becoming, as fully as possible, this person I have the potential to be. Whether or not I would have chosen this path, there is so much that I appreciate about it. I am learning about myself, who I am and who I can become. There is much that I like about this person that I am. I am learning more about the God of the universe and the way He shows up mysteriously in our lives in ways that we would never expect and do not understand but that are no less good because of our lack of comprehension. I do not know where exactly this journey will lead, but I am learning to hold my head high while I continue on its path.

Some of you may wonder why I am sharing this with you. Does it need to be said? After all, straight people don’t announce their sexual orientations. That’s true. But I’ve lived a straight-presenting life for 38 years, and if I want to live authentically and be known for who I am – and I do – this truth about myself is something that is important for me to share.

You may also be wondering what this means for Matt’s and my marriage. Obviously, this discovery has affected the dynamic of our relationship. It has been incredibly difficult for us both. We don’t know what the future holds for us. We do know we love each other and are committed to raising our kids together and will be in each other’s lives and family forever. We will keep doing our best to work out how to live our lives.

How should you respond in light of my sharing about my sexual orientation with you? That is your choice. If you love me, just as I am, I would be so encouraged by your support. If you want to reach out to Matt and offer support to him, that would be great, too. If you are angry or hurt or upset by this news, I would invite you to sit with that discomfort and examine what it is about this that brings up those feelings in you. If you believe you must, “speak the truth in love” to me, I can understand that – just know that I have grown tremendously in maintaining healthy boundaries, and if I do not respond to your message, it is not because of the infallibility of your arguments but because I no longer subscribe to the belief that anyone else is entitled to my time or to a theological defense of my ideological position.

I am, in so many ways, the same person I have always been. I am the girl who grew up with you, the woman who advocated for children in need of families, led your Bible studies, spoke at your women’s retreats, baby-sat for your children, served as your lay counselor, and answered your questions about parenting. I am the person who has advocated for authenticity and genuine vulnerability and continual growth. As part of living that out, I have come to know myself more fully. And for better or for worse, I know I’m not straight – and now you know, too.

Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 5): Day 76: Staying Home in the Midst of Re-Opening

It is now day 76 of our staying home whenever possible. America is strange right now.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus. While there are a few treatments that may offer glimmers of hope, nothing has proven to be dramatically efficacious.

And yet Americans are tired of staying home. Some believe the coronavirus is not as serious as people are making it out to be. Others are annoyed that they can no longer be served as usual – there were protests in my rich, white hometown (just miles from Milwaukee, in which the Black community is suffering and dying at alarming rates). Some are convinced that they personally are young and healthy and are likely to survive, so they would prefer to risk exposure in order to return to business as usual. Whatever the reasons, many people want to be out and about and would like to return to their lives as they existed pre-pandemic.

I really resonate with this tweet –

Wishing for something doesn’t make it so – but we seem to be pretending that it can.

For our governmental leaders, the move to re-open the country seems to be primarily politically motivated. People are filing for unemployment at unprecedented rates. Many do not have savings to sustain them for long periods without a paycheck. People and businesses need relief. The solution presented by our politicians is that the country should begin to open again. However, as businesses re-open their doors and call employees back to work, even those who do not feel safe returning are rendered ineligible for unemployment benefits. It is a terrible situation to face. I wish that, in America, we were willing to look for economic solutions to economic problems – instead of forcing people back to work in situations that may cost them their lives in the name of preserving the economy (and/or politicians’ political futures).

Our family is incredibly fortunate that, at least for now, Matt and I are both able to work from home. We don’t have to go anywhere on a daily basis.

Even we, though, have not been able to maintain our policy of zero tolerance for contact with the outside world.

Matt, who suffers from interstitial lung disease, was having lower oxygen levels than his pulmonologist wanted to see, so he needed to go in for additional testing and an appointment. He actually had to be tested for the coronavirus (video here) before he could do any of that because of the high risk nature of all of the patients in the pulmonology clinic and the risk of spreading the virus during the types of testing they do. I’m thankful he was able to go, though, as he is now feeling better, and he now has access to supplemental oxygen when he needs it.

Additionally, FangFang receives quarterly Pamidronate infusions to strengthen her bones, and she was due for another one this month. These aren’t absolutely life sustaining, but they greatly improve her quality of life. They also reduce the risk of serious fractures, any of which could necessitate an emergency trip to Omaha for surgery, which would be a much higher risk situation than a day at the hospital for an infusion. I consulted with her endocrinologist and decided to go ahead with the infusion but moved it up to May 7 (as soon as possible after Missouri’s re-opening date of May 4, to minimize the likelihood of widespread community transmission), and she and I spent the day at the hospital. The hospital has policies in place to minimize risk (only one parent and no siblings allowed to come with her, no waiting in the waiting room, no playrooms, no wagon rides, placing us in a private room with a private bathroom, and everyone was asked about symptoms and had temperatures taken upon arrival, and we were required to wear masks). We also brought all of our own food, so we would not need to interact with any food service personnel.

And then, in an unwelcome development, when we came out to the parking lot, we saw that one of our tires was completely flat. Matt had to come put on our spare tire so we could drive home, and the next day he took the tire to get patched. As low as we would like our exposure to be, we need our van to be drive-able.

I’ve been missing the ability to interact with friends and family, and while it is 100% worth it to me to keep our family safe, I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to go see Courtney while her risk of exposure was minimal. For a couple weeks, her workplace was closed to the public, and she wasn’t doing appointments or lessons at all, employees were wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another, and she stayed out of stores and public places and didn’t do any of her supplemental jobs. After two weeks of that had passed, I got to go visit her for a weekend, which was a nice time of relaxing and fun.

We continue to order our groceries to be delivered (and try to tip well for those who do that work and assume the risk that we are avoiding). We order everything we can online, whether books, household supplies, or clothing. This past weekend I made my best guess at shoe sizes for the older girls – we’ll see whether they fit when they arrive! Matt had to go to Menards one day to get some supplies that we couldn’t easily order online to fix our leaking freezer, and we took advantage of that opportunity to have him pick up some paint and supplies so we could paint our hallway – ready to tackle some quarantine home improvement projects!

We’re still trying to stay home as much as we can, and overall, life feels pretty peaceful. In addition to our regular school work, there is time for board games, playing outside, and reading books for fun.

We have acknowledged that, two months in, we need to use wisdom, not absolute zero, as our guide for interactions outside of our home. Life is not black and white. We have very high risk family members. We will not be taking any significant risks. But we do have weigh the different risks involved in the various shades of gray and make the best decisions we can for our family. We can’t allow our health to deteriorate or our van to become un-usable or our freezer to leak perpetually, so we take those risks. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw caution to the wind and engage in ridiculous behavior. Some of the most dramatic examples of people flouting expert recommendations are coming out of Missouri this past weekend. It’s hard to have standards that we know others aren’t following.

I am mourning. Our neighborhood pool is opening for the summer, and while others enjoy that lovely activity, we’ll be at home, trying to find other ways to cope with the humid, 90-degree weather of Missouri summers. Our two almost-swimmers will not be mastering that skill this season. As Miranda’s swim team resumes practices again, she’ll be staying home.

We see pictures of friends out at parks or gathering together. We miss our people, too. We miss feeling like we belong to a community (an experience obviously exacerbated by having resigned our membership in our long-time church just months prior to a pandemic). We see others returning to life, more or less as normal.

Psychologically, it’s a strange experience. It feels almost like collective gaslighting. So many others are acting like there is no problem at all – like everything is normal. I’ve had moments of beginning to wonder whether I’m the one who has the truly skewed perspective. Am I over-reacting? Are the lengths to which I am going to keep my family safe (and protect anyone with whom we would need to come into contact) absolutely ridiculous?

And then I look at the statistics. And I read the stories. And I remember – the risk is DEATH. And for several members of my family, that risk is high. And we have no way of knowing the risk factors of anyone with whom we may need to come into contact. I’ll trade my summer at the pool to give us the best chance to preserve their lives. Everyone has to make their own choices. But as for me and my house, we will be staying home.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 2): COVID-19 Extreme Social Distancing: The First Couple Weeks

As I shared in my last post, our family started staying home whenever possible on Thursday, March 12. For us, the transition is nowhere near as significant as for others. We already homeschool our children. Matt already had some flexibility to his schedule and was home some during the days.

But it is still a very different situation. We are intentional in providing opportunities for our children to learn from the world around us and interact with other people. In our normal life, all four kids swim multiple times a week. The older girls and I usually ride horses about once a week. All four kids participate in a homeschool enrichment group 3-4 mornings a month. FangFang has weekly physical therapy. We have outings to the library and the park. We attend art shows and go to the zoo. This homeschooling world in which we’re all now living is very different than actual, normal homeschooling. That said, again, I acknowledge that the transition is much less jarring for us than it is for those being thrust into homeschooling with just a few days’ notice.

Really, compared to what many families are facing right now, we have virtually the ideal scenario. The primary structure of our lives is staying mostly the same. Both Matt’s and my jobs are pretty secure, at least in the short term. Many people are far less fortunate than we are.

We spent our first couple days at home doing our regular school days and trying to better prepare ourselves for going out less. I emptied out our deep freeze entirely and re-organized it and cataloged its contents. Our oven had died, so we researched ranges and ordered a new one. I planned meals for the next two weeks, and Saturday morning I made what I planned to be my last in-store grocery shopping trip for quite a while. By this point, though, other people had also realized that this was going to be a thing. The run on toilet paper had begun. I arrived at Aldi before it opened to find a line forming outside the door! There were a few items I was not able to get at Aldi (almond milk, butter), but between Aldi and Hyvee, I was able to get everything I needed, plus add a bit to our supply of stored food downstairs.

It’s hard to know how much to buy. On the one hand, we are a fairly large family – I spend over $200 a week on groceries on an average week, so to shop for two weeks at a time is a significant undertaking. In an average week, we probably make one mid-week stop at the store for something, and obviously we’d want to limit that, too. And in this time of uncertainty and increased risk of illness, it seems wise to have some additional items on hand – cough medicine, for one thing, Gatorade, Sprite, etc. I’ve settled on trying not to go completely crazy with stocking up but also trying to be well prepared.

Mizzou was continuing to monitor the situation and update their plans for the semester. As of Thursday, March 12, they had said that all teaching was to be done remotely, but faculty and staff were still to report to campus as needed but start planning in case it became unwise to do so. On Friday, March 13, they announced that the switch to remote teaching, as opposed to holding in-person classes, would be extended through the entirety of the spring semester.

Courtney was supposed to come visit that weekend, and we canceled that. Her job is still requiring her to come in daily, and she would still be giving riding lessons for another week, and even now (with multiple cities in Missouri under stay at home orders), she is continuing to have to do appointments for potential adoptions. She is attempting to minimize her exposure – she certainly is not interested in getting the coronavirus – but there is not much she can do if her job is requiring her to interact with the public. With multiple high risk people in our house, she and I talked about it and decided it just wasn’t a good idea to risk having her come. That was one of the first big changes for our family life, in this period of staying home – not just not going to big events, but not having anyone at all come over.

Although Columbia Public Schools were still in session, most people acknowledged that we were slowly marching toward closure – not a question of “if” but “when,” and I started receiving inquiries about homeschooling advice, which prompted these two posts, as well as some e-mails and private messages.

We continued our usual school activities.

Finding ourselves with a bit more time on our hands than usual, the big kids and I have been catching up on some of their lapbook projects.

On Monday, March 16, Columbia Public Schools announced that they would close effective Wednesday. On Tuesday, March 17, Boone County recorded its first positive test result for COVID-19 (there were 16 positive cases in the state at that time), thereby confirming that it was truly here, and Mizzou announced that same day that all buildings were going to be locked, and everyone possible would need to begin working from home. Matt went into campus to get everything he thought he might need in the coming weeks and months from both the art building and his studio. On Thursday, March 19 (still just 1 positive case in Boone County – with 1 death; 28 cases statewide), Mizzou reiterated that no one was to work on campus unless specifically directed to do so by their supervisor.

With some of the big changes in our lives and schedules relating so heavily to physical activity, I’ve known that we would need to be finding time to get outside and move around as much as possible. We’ve been taking a lot of walks, though as this Snap suggests, it has been something of a strange experience.

It’s strange how quickly the intensity of the current guidance to stay distant from other people begins to feel almost normal. I find myself watching tv shows and alternately marveling at how close the characters are standing to one another and wanting to jump up and warn them that they are putting themselves at risk!

One of my current irritations is with parents who allow their children outside without supervision when those children clearly do not understand the idea of not getting within 6 feet of any other people. Obviously each parent must determine for themselves whether their children are mature enough to be outside without supervision, but that standard changes a bit during a global pandemic. In my normal life, I would love to hang out with all the children – but not right now. And if I have to tell your child to back off, then your child is clearly not mature enough to handle being outside without supervision during this time.

Other than that, though, we have been enjoying our walks and our time outside!

Yesterday we even had a picnic and did some of our school reading outside!

Of course, there are days when the weather is not so nice, and those are harder. I’ve been doing some workouts on our elliptical, and the kids and I have all been doing some body-weight exercises and exercises with some small dumbbells.

Being without an oven for several weeks – especially during this time – has been challenging for me in planning meals, but also for Miranda, our resident baker. One day she and I looked up recipes and she tried making a cake in our bread machine! The bottom got a bit burnt, but otherwise it was good, and it was a fun experience for her.

We did finally get our new range this week, for which I was very thankful. After a delivery scheduled during a generally unhelpful 12 hour window – during which the store actually failed to deliver the range – and many phone calls and much follow-up from me, it arrived on Wednesday, a day after it was supposed to come. It’s nothing special but nice to be back to having a fully functional kitchen!

Having more time at home, I’ve been trying to tackle some projects around the house.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed has been having more time to read. I have been making my way through a few different books, and the older girls are also really into reading right now. We’ve been trying to have a quiet reading time at least a few afternoons a week.

And as for the statistics, after having 16 positive test results on Tuesday, March 17, a week later, on Tuesday, March 24, Missouri had recorded 255 cases (with Boone County having 20 positive cases). Effective Wednesday morning, we are under stay at home orders from both the City of Columbia and Boone County. As of yesterday, Thursday, March 26, Missouri was reporting 502 cases (with 25 in Boone County) and 8 deaths. As of yesterday, the United States, for the first time, reports more cases than any other country in the world (with 81,321 cases and over 1,000 deaths), and also as of yesterday, the worldwide count of cases surpassed 500,000. Watching the numbers, I suspect we will pass 600,000 worldwide today.

My mom was supposed to visit us this weekend, but as the Director of Emergency Management for her county (so far 56 cases out of Wisconsin’s 755 total), she is working 14-16 hour days and will not be able to come see us.

In terms of our own personal experience during this time of the coronavirus and social distancing, I am missing the ability to see people outside of my own little family unit. I’m sad to be missing out on plans I’d made to see both Courtney and my mom, as well as other friends. My dad’s visit for next month will likely also need to be canceled.

Beyond that, it honestly feels somewhat relaxing. It’s a strange juxtaposition, being faced daily with the gravity of the situation, knowing that people are dying every day, that medical providers in our very own country are being forced to work without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), and knowing that what I do may have grave consequences, both for my family and my community – but that what I am supposed to do, stay at home as much as possible, feels not like acting the part of a valiant warrior but more like having a stay-cation.

The first thing I do each morning and the last thing I do each night is check my phone for coronavirus news updates. It feels of supreme importance – and yet, actually, no matter what the websites and articles say, today will be another day of staying home. I spent the early days of our time at home posting articles on Facebook encouraging social distancing – but now, I know that those who are going to understand the gravity of the situation probably already do, and there is likely nothing I can say to those who choose to to continue to listen to President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, despite its dissonance from the opinion of every respected medical professional.

I wonder what is ahead for us all. While I obviously do not want to see the economy continue to crash, I think it is inevitable. Sending people back to work – to get sick and die – will not help. I wonder how helpful the relief bill Congress is working on will be. We can definitely use the money but are generally okay financially for now. While we are home, I’m also trying to work some extra hours to help us rebuild our emergency fund.

I hope and pray that others in my city, in my state, and in my country will stay home if they can. I hope that the PPE and ventilators our medical professionals and our hospitals – and ultimately, we – need will arrive in time. I hope we can flatten the curve. I hope we can see our friends and family again soon. I hope they’re all okay. I hope this isn’t as bad as I suspect it will be.

Dispatches From My Dining Room (No 1): COVID-19 Social Distancing: The Lead-Up

I read an article today in which a historian suggested keeping a record of your life during this strange time in which we are living. I myself have wondered – what was it like to be alive during the spread of the Spanish Flu of 1918? What was the atmosphere like in America in the 1940s and 1950s, as thousands of children (including my father) contracted polio? I wonder what my children will remember 30 years from now (and whether they will ask me to recount for them what it was like from my perspective). I wonder what questions my grandchildren will have. And for those reasons, and because my blog already serves as a sort of journal for our family, I’ve decided to do occasional blog posts about our lives during this time.

Today I’m sharing about our family’s particular experience of the time leading up to the day we started practicing extreme social distancing.

Having two daughters who were born in China, we try to follow news coming out of China. I texted an article to my mom (the Director of Emergency Management for her county) and the rest of my family about the coronavirus on January 22. It seemed potentially worrisome but still so far away from us.

On February 24, I sent an article to them that had the headline, “Past Time to Tell the Public: “It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now”.” By that point, the United States had only 14 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus (the first had been on January 21st), but 14 cases, across multiple states, of a disease that seemed to spread exponentially, seemed like just the beginning.

Our president, Donald Trump, had been making comments that downplayed the significance of the virus. According to a New York Times article compiling his statements and comparing them to what was going on in the world, he stated, on January 31, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” On February 10, he said, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” His statement on February 19 was that, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” On February 23, he said that the situation was, “very much under control.” But on that same day, “the World Health Organization announced that the virus was in 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.”

On February 26, he said, “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” That is not at all what seemed to be happening, though. That same day, this was the snap I sent to a few close friends (for fear of being seen as alarmist, I didn’t want to send it out to everyone).

I’d made a special mid-week grocery shopping trip to both Aldi and Hyvee and spent about $600 getting us stocked up on non-perishable food items, frozen vegetables, and toiletries. Little did I know that it was going to be toilet paper that was the big item (who could have guessed?) – but fortunately, we have that set to be delivered to us monthly through an Amazon subscription, so we’re fine for now! I may need to start looking for some, though, if Amazon is unable to fulfill my regular monthly order.

Trump continued to double down on his claims, stating on February 27, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Meanwhile, cities, states, and public and private institutions were beginning to prepare for the arrival of the virus. On March 5, the University of Missouri, where Matt is a professor, instructed faculty to begin thinking about how they could deliver in-person course material through other means.

Amid reports from all around the country that there was a shortage of testing kids, Trump said on March 6, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” This is patently untrue, as basically every media outlet has reported. On March 7, Trump stated, “I’m not concerned at all.” On that same day, Missouri’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed. Of course, because of the shortage of testing kits, no one knows whether it was truly the first case in the state.

On March 10, Trump said, “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” The next day, Wednesday, March 11, the University of Missouri sent out an e-mail in the morning informing the campus that some students and faculty had attended a conference the prior weekend from which another attendee (not from Mizzou) had later been diagnosed a presumptive positive for COVID-19. A few hours later, that afternoon, the University announced that as of 5:00 pm that day, in-person classes were suspended through the following Sunday, at which point professors would be expected to teach their formerly in-person classes remotely for March 16-20, the week leading up to spring break. They stated that they hoped to resume in-person classes on Monday, March 30, but honestly, I cannot imagine anyone actually thought that would happen. Even though Missouri had only 1 diagnosed case at that point, students, faculty, and staff could travel all over the world during that spring break week and come back to campus having faced innumerable exposures.

The University of Missouri putting into place its plans for remote instruction had a domino effect for us (and, I suspect, for many others). Up until that point, we had been living life relatively normally. We were expecting this to come, and we were beginning to prepare, but we didn’t know exactly when or how. The prior weekend, I had been visiting my best friend, Courtney, hanging out, riding horses, and just getting in some good, quality self-care time.

That day, Wednesday the 11th, I enjoyed a long lunch date with some friends and then came home and took the kids to swim practice. That’s where we were when we heard that Mizzou was canceling its in-person classes. A few minutes later, we received word that the swim meet that our club was supposed to host that weekend at the Mizzou Rec Center had been canceled by the university. I had been scheduled to work about 15-20 hours of volunteer time at that meet, and I’ll admit, I was getting increasingly nervous about it, knowing that swimmers (and their families and coaches) would be traveling from all around to attend the meet, and that there would be large numbers of people in close quarters at the arena. I was relieved when it was canceled.

The combination of in-person classes being canceled and the swim meet being canceled meant that we theoretically could begin staying home. Public K-12 schools here were still in session. There was not yet a mass effort at social distancing. But we knew it was becoming increasingly likely that the coronavirus could be present in and spreading within our community. Matt and I talked about it that night after the kids were in bed and decided that this was the moment – we were going to start staying home. We kept the kids home from their homeschool enrichment group the next morning, and though we did have to run one family errand, that day, Thursday, March 12, is what we consider to be our first day of extreme social distancing.

In my next post, I’ll share more about what these first days of staying at home have looked like for us!