Several years ago, we got a 2 a.m. wake-up call that our business was on fire. Firefighters were on the scene and we were instructed to stay away until they were finished. When we arrived around 8 a.m., the outside of our concrete building didn’t look too bad. But inside, the office area looked like a war zone in a swamp at night: it was very dark (no electricity), there was broken glass and wood everywhere (from the fire and from the firefighters putting out the fire), and soaking wet strips of insulation (think about Spanish moss in the swamp) were hanging from what used to be a suspended ceiling.
The fire did quite a bit of damage, but most of the damage was from smoke and water. Where the flames were concentrated, things were burnt or melted. Elsewhere — inside a desk drawer in an office down a hall — there was soot, ash and residue from the fire.
We went through a lot of rubber gloves and wipes and hand lotion over the next few weeks as we had to continually access files, invoices, customer information, etc. located in our burnt-out offices. And every time we touched anything, we would end up with the black residue on us and our clothes.
Initially, we thought that a lot of furniture and fixtures could be wiped down and cleaned up to reuse, but we quickly determined that everything that the soot and residue landed on was immediately ruined, or soon would be.
This was a do-over (rebuilding) opportunity.
Folks were hired to completely gut our offices: tear out the walls and ceilings, rip up flooring, cart off furniture, dispose of inventory.
And that gave us the opportunity to re-imagine. Just because the layout was one way before, doesn’t mean that was the best way going forward. We were able to rethink how we really did business and how we wanted to do business in the future.
It was really hard to let go of ingrained notions and the “how we’ve always done things” mentality. But we had an empty canvas and a palette of fresh paint.
What I encountered back then applies equally now as we struggle to “rebuild” or create a “do over” in response to the impact of the COVID pandemic. I discovered two major obstacles to rebuilding: 1) dealing with the devastation; and 2) overcoming the “old ways.”
Some of the devastation from our current pandemic is painfully obvious — many of us have lost loved ones. Many have lost livelihoods, financial security, educational or career opportunities. And like that soot that seeped into every nook and cranny from our office fire, the effects of COVID have also reached into other areas we could not have anticipated.
Many relationships have been strained by too much togetherness or the inability to be in contact at all. Many relationships have been out of sight/out of mind for so long we don’t even think about them anymore. If I am able to focus on particular circles of friends, it breaks my heart to think how I haven’t seen or talked to so many of them in over a year. And then from the perspective of our church, when we can’t come together and let our gifts build up one another and the church, I’m afraid the Body ends up looking like a Picasso painting with disjointed parts not working in unison as God intended.
Many are feeling isolated; many are spending much more time on (anti-)social media, TV, smart phones, computers; many are self-medicating; many are simply bored as they view life as being put on pause until things return to the old normal.
But the old normal is gone. In some cases, it was destroyed; in some, altered; in some, evolved; in some, . . . undetermined.
With the fire at my business, it was painful but also cathartic to see all of the damaged, old items carted away and disposed of. The fire happened; damages occurred. If we didn’t move on, we’d keep tripping over the old, damaged stuff. Dwelling on what had happened would prevent us from moving forward, from starting fresh. But embracing a new normal got us past the past.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24 (emphasis added)
Months after our fire and rebuilding, I was sitting at my desk and I opened a drawer to retrieve a paperclip. But the paperclips weren’t where they used to be – it was a new desk with a new tray for paperclips, pens, etc. The new spot for the paperclips was not better or worse than the old spot, it was just different and my mind was reverting to an old habit of reaching into a particular place.
So many of our routines, schedules, environments . . . they’ve been altered by this whole pandemic paradigm. Some of those changes may be temporary, many of them may turn out to be permanent. There are relationships that will never return (maybe because of death, maybe because changed work/school/social schedules, maybe because of so much time between contacts).
But to truly live in each day we must embrace current conditions — maybe the old way will return, but WHEN?!?! I can’t go through each day bemoaning what my current reality is while longing for what used to be. I have to get past the past, and I have to live in today.
For example, if I stick to the past and what I learned in school, I might look for areas on a globe named Yugoslavia, Zaire or the USSR. But, current globes don’t have those names on them. They are from the past and changes have happened. Unless I accept that a particular area is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I can’t find it or interact with others about where it is.
There are amazing and wonderful things God sets before us each and every day. But we may not notice them (or appreciate them) if our heads remain turned toward the past. Look to Him; look to what He is doing today.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”