On March 13, 2020, we were called into an emergency staff meeting that changed everything. We thought we would close for a few weeks until “this all passed.” All short-term changes can be stressful, and this was no exception, but nobody expected “this all” to become “all this.”
Two weeks of school closure turned into ending the semester through Zoom. Our home transformed into a makeshift school where my husband taught history, I taught ELA and theater, and our daughters finished first and fourth grade.
It was such a rigorous time. While we enjoyed the slower mornings, the extra hugs during the day, and wearing comfy clothes, we also blended the boundaries between work and home, rest and toil.
I’m a doer. I launch myself into projects with genuine enthusiasm. Quarantine quickly became another one of my projects.
The Renaissance Fair got canceled? No problem! Let’s have our own Renaissance learning unit filled with research and ending with an at-home fair.
Spring Break vacation canceled? No problem! Let’s turn our balcony into a resort and read our books while taking in the Miami sun.
Restaurants closed? No problem! Let’s start trying out all sorts of delicious recipes at home.
We used the time to bond, read, dance, bake, create, and know each other on a deeper level.
During the quarantine, our family Bible studies became longer, and we realized we had let the stress of the routine get in the way. Pre-Covid, we would rush through Bible study and prayer as part of our bedtime routine. During quarantine, we could lounge on each other while we dove into the Scriptures together. It was glorious.
Despite this adjustment, my body and my faith began showing the wear and tear of the time. Not only did my face start showing signs of the times, but my faith too. As I joked about needing a facelift to hide all the new wrinkles, I realized I also needed a faith lift to find hope amid the uncertainty.
I also realized that I had been wearing my stories of pain as badges of honor. I had recently dealt with my dad’s death, living through Hurricane Maria and the aftermath in Puerto Rico, moving to Miami, raising our daughters, and being married to an incredible man who fights a daily battle with mental health. All of these things have all been painful, challenging, and transformative. My faith in Christ and my hope in His love have always led me through these difficult times and, to His glory, made me stronger, braver, and resilient. But was that enough to help us through all this?
Perhaps one can only take so much. Maybe, this pandemic hit me when I was already down. For whatever reason, I found myself with my eyes on the fire instead of on the One who can get me through it.
As I wondered if my outlook shift came from burnout or resistance to change, I kept my eyes on that fire. Teaching through a pandemic feels more like an assault. I am continually burning from the torches of decision-makers, parents, students, and even strangers who choose to criticize teachers online.
I quickly spiraled into all the stages of grief. I miss teaching like I used to. I miss the apparent chaos of group work, the flexibility of moving students around the room, and the ability to teach from any part of the classroom. Teaching to socially distant rows that all face one direction and screens is exhausting and demoralizing. Teaching like this is not sustainable in the long term because teachers have constant exhaustion paired with feeling overwhelmed. At the end of the school day, I am spent. My darling daughters get the remnants of someone who really wants to love others yet is drowning by doing so under these conditions.
King David wrote Psalm 40 during a time of great emotional stress, and perhaps, burnout. Psalm 40 is a cry for help, as well as a reminder of all the other times God had indeed delivered him from despair. I have made Psalm 40 my prayer:
“…Lord, you listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.”Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV)
I have prayed this Psalm before. I know very well how it feels to be in “a lonely pit full of mud and mire.” I also know the One who has pulled me from there and made me “stand on a rock with my feet firm.” He has given me a new song before, and He will do so now.
If life is a journey full of moments of great joy and great pain, how do we find rest and refreshment while living in it? We fix our eyes on Him and remind ourselves of the many ways He has shown His face before, trusting He does so still and will continue to do so.
I praise Him for the many beautiful glimpses of heaven in this tumultuous present. Our daughters are thriving, learning, growing, and making every day delightful. Our marriage is stronger because we have been forced to confront so many previously ignored situations or shoved to the side, and this newfound closeness has allowed for even more conversation and understanding. My colleagues are superheroes. Whenever I am having a particularly rough day, they are there with encouragement, laughter, and friendship.
Along with Psalm 40, I have also been praying for peace, strength, and renewed joy.
As I was crying, praying, and surrendering all of this to the Lord, he reminded me of Isaiah:
“The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)
This image of a sun-scorched land rings true, not just because we live in the Miami heat but also because our circumstance feels like unbearably scathing heat. While I yearn for the refreshing rain, I will remain “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (NIV)
Eileen Olmedo was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She now lives, writes, and loves from Miami, Florida. If she isn’t teaching English or Theater, you can find her alongside her husband taking their daughters to jiujitsu or fencing, walking their dog, reading, or baking…maybe dancing, and maybe singing Broadway songs.