Lockdown stories: hope after a hard year
To mark the anniversary of Lockdown 1 on 23 March, we're sharing stories from representatives across all of our different BRF ministries to share the ups and downs, the high points and the low points of their year. It’s been a tough year for everyone, and many people experienced heart-breaking loss and great stress. BRF writers and volunteers were not spared these challenges, but amidst it all, they found glimpses of light, comfort and hope. Today we're sharing Carmel Thomason's story and hearing how she found hope after a hard year. Carmel is the author of Anxious Times and Believe in Miracles.
Spring is my favourite season. Or, so I’ve decided these past weeks as the temperature edges upwards and signs of new life are everywhere. My heart lifts on seeing a burst of colour from daffodils and crocus on my morning walk. Somehow nature’s hues seem more vibrant than I remember, the bird song more melodic, and a nearby stream, energised by the sun’s sparkle, appears to dance along with a little chuckle. For the first time, in a long time, I’m feeling hopeful.
I’m one of the many people who got a lockdown pup. I lost my beautiful Bichon Frise, Sam early in the pandemic and was heartbroken. I didn’t plan on getting another dog until my friend’s Jack Russell had a surprise litter with a Miniature Poodle and, from a huddle of six tiny pups, I chose the one with a distinctive flash of white between her eyes to come home with me.
As anyone who has brought home an 8-week-old puppy will tell you, keeping them out of mischief is like a full-time job. I’d forgotten the disruption and chaos of a puppy. Whether it be chewing shoes, digging plant pots, or eating sticks, Tilly is always up to something to keep me on my toes. But in all the craziness is a joy I am hugely grateful for. Living with this cheeky Jackapoo has changed my focus for the better, because since bringing her home there is certainly little time to dwell on the bigger problems of the world.
For Tilly, life under Covid restrictions is the only world she’s known, and to her that world is amazing. Her playful sense of adventure is infectious and is helping me to see the wonder in the familiar; the extraordinary in what had become ordinary, and the good in an otherwise tough situation.
The past year has been a difficult one and milestones are a curious thing. Why should 12 months on from the first UK lockdown bring more expectation than 11 months or even 14? But it does. Like all milestones, it forces us to reflect on what has changed and sometimes what we’d have like to seen change that hasn’t.
It’s what made New Year 2121 so disheartening for many. Any thoughts of leaving Covid to the 2020 archives were well and truly crushed. This virus was not an auld acquaintance to be forgotten with the strike of a clock and a wee dram.
A year after the first national UK lockdown we are still living under coronavirus restrictions. This time last year I naively thought it would be all over within a few weeks; that a short, sharp lockdown would give the virus nowhere to go. I was wrong. I was also scared at an intensity impossible to maintain for months on end.
Over the past year anxiety has hit me in waves alongside grief. But, looking back I can see that, even in the numbness of that pain, while I might not have felt hopeful, hope never left me.
The book of Hebrews talks about hope as an anchor for the soul, keeping us firmly and securely connected to God (Hebrews 6:19). It isn’t wishful thinking or a surge of optimism that elates us temporarily. Rather, hope is the grounding that secures our very existence. When storms come, hope is the force that stops us drifting into the waters of despair. It is what keeps us going, one foot in front of the other, even when the path ahead is unclear.
As we approach the anniversary of the first lockdown, a vaccine programme is providing genuine hope that society can start to open-up again soon. Being able to mix freely with friends and family again will be a wonderful thing, but I think we are still some way from enjoying pre-Covid freedoms.
If it sounds like I’ve simply accepted the lockdown life, that isn’t true. Rather this past year I’ve learned more than ever to live the simple constancy of Jesus’ philosophy to take each day as it comes (Matthew 5:34). I’ve also taken comfort from the writings of the apostle Paul and his call for us to focus on the good things in life (Philippians 4:8). It is not about being unrealistic or falsely positive – it is about recognising the full picture.
The personal and collective impact of the pandemic weighs heavy. It does with all of us. Do you need another reminder about what you can’t do, what you’ve lost, who you’ve lost? I know I don’t. Those thoughts are all too prevalent in my mind. Paul understands that it is impossible to simply tell ourselves to stop worrying or forget about the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever they may be. He recognises for us to worry less we must consciously think of something else, focus on being thankful, and acknowledge God’s presence in every situation, staying open to where he is working in our lives.
Four months after bringing my pup home, my friend, Michelle died of bowel cancer. I still marvel at how she found the strength to look after a house full of pups when she was so ill. It was hard work to wean them, but Michelle focused on the joy of new life and the fun this unexpected litter of pups brought in their distraction. After Michelle died, her daughter, Liv asked that we didn’t contact her with our sorry messages, and instead, in true Michelle positivity, share memories and photos of her mum. My friend lived every moment of her life to the fullest she could. Her gift to me: this funny, adventurous bundle of energy by my side, reminds me, whatever the circumstances, to stay focused on love and enjoy my life too.