Emerge with Shining Faces

art teacher, Kari clever assisting students in an art class with two students pictured
Kari Clever, Secondary Art Teacher

Hello, my name is Kari, and I like lists. I know that sounds like I’m introducing myself at a 12 step program, but let me explain. I like knowing what I have to get done. I like the satisfaction of checking off or scratching out a task once it is completed. In fact, I like it so much that I have been known to retroactively add completed tasks to my ongoing to-do list just for the pleasure of checking them off. It’s great to be productive, and the feeling of accomplishment is exhilarating. There’s a problem though.

You see over a month ago when faced with the possibility of transitioning from traditional school to distance learning due to the Coronavirus, I had a slight rush of excitement. That always growing list of things that need to/I want to be done at home popped into my mind. And, being the list-lover that I am, I thought, “Wow! I’m going to get stuff DONE!” Sure, I’ll have to teach remotely with a two-year-old and no childcare. I’ll have to make sure we are all fed without my weekly trek to the farmer’s market and my bi-weekly leisurely shop at Publix (I like to cook, and I take nutrition pretty seriously), but man will I be productive.

I know you are all laughing at me and my naivety right now. I foolishly thought that I was prepared for “this,” whatever “this” is. Before coming to LCS, my husband and I lived and worked overseas for 4 years. Two of those years we worked as NGO workers—teaching English and fulfilling government contracts for the cultural affairs division of the state department. Those two years were lived on a secure compound. I, we, are no strangers to curfews, government shutdowns, and terror-related stay-at-home orders. I reasoned that I had trained and was therefore prepared for a measly virus.

Things were going well the week prior to spring break. Then, I started running a low fever, and it kept coming back for days. My confident, I’ve-got-this attitude quickly turned into fear. All of those ambitions, those desires to work (read: control) my situation found themselves in a huddled pile on the couch, praying that I had not exposed my family, my students, or my colleagues to the “plague.”

brunette woman wearing a red turtleneck, long sleeved shirt with a face mask looking at a thermometer

Many years ago, a man far wiser than I (my husband Andrew) told me, “You will always find your truest self on vacation”—meaning when you have the luxury of time, what you choose to do with that time reveals who you are.

When faced with a glut of time at home during one of the most historically profound times of my life, my truest self wanted to get menial things done. I did not immediately think about the sick and dying, I did not reach out to church family to see how I could help them, I did not weep for the loss of jobs and income, and most disturbing, I was not on my face before the Father. Instead, I wanted to paint my bathroom.

In God’s providence, I became physically ill. Uncomfortable and confronted with how little control I have over anything, I was convicted of my spiritual illness. Human accomplishment matters little before an all-sufficient God. Illness and the reality of my powerlessness brought me before a holy God crying out in fear and repentance. My desire for getting stuff done was transformed into a desire to be healthy, a longing for my family to be spared, and a hope that no other symptoms to emerge. (After 10 days of fever coming and going, I ended up on antibiotics for a sinus infection. I did not have the “plague.”) It was only in the unending cycle of scripture reading, meditating, and prayer that I found comfort, not a check-list.

Early on in my reading plan, I came to this passage in Exodus. Moses has been on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights writing out the words of the covenant and the Ten Commandments, and he’s bringing them to the people of Israel.

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Exodus 34:29-35 ESV

This is when I realized how much I like lists. More specifically, I like tasks. Tasks can be completed. You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You can work and think that you have earned and deserve something. Tasks have an end time and don’t require the weekly, daily, hourly discipline of sanctification. I like tasks because they delude me into thinking that I am in control.

And here it is, going into safer-at-home mode for what I thought would be two maybe three weeks, I thought I would emerge on the other side with a hefty chunk taken out of my to-do list. I would be content and self-satisfied with all of the work I had done, unfazed by the turmoil going on around the world. It has been far longer than two to three weeks and rather than being self-satisfied, I have found the blessing of brokenness.

I do not know when school on campus will resume. I do not know when I will feel safe outside without a mask on. I do not know when or if we will be allowed to return to “normal” life. I do not know how much of my to-do list will get done or if my bathroom will ever get painted. But, I know that when Moses returned from talking with God for 40 days on Mount Sinai, his face shone from being in His presence. I also know that if nothing on my list gets a check mark, but my face has even a glimmer, the illness, fear, uncertainty, and forced isolation will have been worth it. May this time at home provide the space for the church to emerge with shining faces.

brunette womans' face looking up into light