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by Jim Hart, Campus Pastor & Director of Christian Education

Every winter my wife Caroline and I try to have a getaway, just the two of us. Typically, we travel early in February. It’s at just the time I feel I cannot take another minute of the cold. Our trip to warmer and sunnier southern places is enough to get me through the last days of winter. In years past, we have cruised the Caribbean. To say Caroline loves a cruise would be an understatement. To say I detest a cruise would be putting it mildly.

Last February, we compromised and drove to the Florida Keys. The driving gave us time to talk about our children, to argue a bit about silly things like what was for lunch, and to dream about what it would be like living with palm trees year around. As we drove, looked at the scenery, and argued over the when and where of lunch, our conversations always seemed to come back around to the novel coronavirus.

The “novel” coronavirus.

It was early in February. We were still using “novel” coronavirus when we talked about it. I made jokes wondering if it was a short-lived virus, would the name change to “novella” coronavirus. As usual, Caroline didn’t find my jokes funny. I got a lot of eye rolls on that 2-day long drive south. Although there was a lot of chatter about this potentially deadly virus, we found very little to worry about. Since we had plenty of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, it was smooth sailing as we headed south. Boy were we naïve. Or maybe we were just overly interested in what was for lunch.

By Thursday of our adult-only week, our stress-free getaway suddenly had a lot of unexpected moving parts. Our four small children, at school in Avery County, learned they would start remote learning the following week. We learned we would be responsible for educating our kids at home while both working full time jobs. Soon after that announcement, we got an alert from our 17-year-old’s school in Chattanooga, indicating he would need to be picked up over the weekend to start remote learning from home the following week. Our worry-free week became very worrisome, very quickly. Just seven days prior, there were no signs of masks in public when we headed south, but masks were everywhere when we headed back north days later. Stress, anxiety, worry, and fear grew exponentially, like the virus. But it would be more of a short novella, right? Certainly not a novel.

When reality sets in.

But here I write, some eleven months later and it has, in fact, been a novel. A novel of worry, anxiety, and fear. I have worried about the Crossnore children. I have worried about my own children. I have worried about my son who moved back to Chattanooga in August. I have had anxiety over how to do my hands-on job that is most effective when I am present. But now I am forced to limit my contact with kids, wear a mask, and socially distance when I am in their presence. No hugs, no high-fives, no fist-bumps; only waves out the window and endless Zoom calls.

This past Thursday afternoon at 5pm, like every other Thursday since March, we had online chapel. The cottages log on to Zoom. We see each other’s faces. We share announcements. We laugh, sing a song, say a prayer, and share a scripture. This past week I talked about Jesus flipping the tables in the Temple. I realized when looking at those faces staring back at me, that for as long as I can remember, this scripture was shared using a negative view point. Jesus was angry because His father’s house had turned into a market. Instead of upset Jesus flipping stuff in the temple, what about a God full of grace and peace breaking into our lives in a new and amazing way? So, that’s what I did. I changed it up.

How is Christ doing something new?

I shared with the kids and Cottage Parents that when all the things in our lives that seemed normal – school, trips to the movies, playing with friends – were being driven out, and it appeared life was being turned upside down, we could ask a question. We could ask, “How is God, through Jesus Christ, doing something new and amazing in my life?” I was preaching to myself. I needed to hear those very words and live into them.

Early last February as I drove south feeling footloose and fancy free, I had no idea what the next eleven months would have in store. For the kids in our care, today looks very different from what was anticipated in the spring and summer of 2020. Less than a year ago, plans were being made for Spring Break, the Senior trip, summer camp, beach trips, and tons of warm weather activities. None of that was to be. So much changed and continues to change.

Love conquers all.

Crossnore children’s lives have been turned upside down once again. But hopefully in the midst of this global pandemic, when cottages are occasionally quarantined, plans are cancelled, family visits are limited, and masks are required everywhere we go, Crossnore children are finding ways that God is breaking through their lives and doing something new and amazing. New opportunities are uncovered, unlikely hobbies discovered, patience developed, grace becomes abundant, and love continues to conquer all. Isn’t that a “novel” idea – love conquers all.