She gazed out the kitchen window, not looking at anything in particular. My wife LaRee was contemplating. “I wonder if we’ll ever get out from beneath COVID?” She turned to look at me: “Will life ever return to normal?”
The pandemic has gone on longer than anyone thought. Too long. A year of lockdowns and ever-shifting public health directives, and now a mass vaccination campaign. And things seem to be getting worse, not better: COVID variants and mutations are out-pacing science.
Strangely, life under threat can actually be a blessing. Whether or not the restrictions are justified, God will use them for our good. Even the loneliness that the restrictions bring. It was because of chronic illness, disease and disability that I slowly discovered lonely isolation can become gentle solitude, because it brings me closer to Jesus.
I know this well. COVID hasn’t been my main challenge. Thirty-seven years with severe degenerative multiple sclerosis put me in an electric wheelchair, and I have hypertension as well. And I’ve had a stroke. And cancer.
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LaRee and I have been married for forty-eight years. I still asked a stupid question: “Why are you so gloomy?” LaRee gave me a look.
For more on Mark Pickup’s living with a chronic degenerative disease, see his When MS Attacks the Brain, Let God Renew the Mind.
“Have you read the latest news?” she asked me. “There’s new COVID variants every few days more transmissible that may be resistant to the vaccines. Two of our grandchildren are in quarantine from exposure to COVID at school. Our son and a granddaughter already have compromising lung conditions which put them at greater risk with COVID; and do I need to remind you that we haven’t been able to visit most of our family in over a year?!”
All those things are true. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my wife and I have been diligently following distancing, masking, hand washing, and any other directions health authorities recommend. After all, we are seniors and my multiple sclerosis and hypertension put me at much higher risk.
I often dreamt of better days. I dared to dream of the unlikely or impossible because Christ is with me. Most of my dreams did not come true, but He was with me. And so, I looked up with hopes and dreams rather than down with sorrow or despair.
When I didn’t think things could get physically worse, that they were as bad as they could be, I had an unexpected mini-stroke. It put me a high risk of a subsequent major stroke, and yet an inexplicable peace descended upon me. He was there. Christ.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
God’s divine consolation intensified even more when I was diagnosed with cancer. As I was wheeled into the operating room, Christ was with me with the sublime assurance: “Be Not Afraid. I am with you.” I went under anesthetic completely at peace with whatever was His will.
I can not tell you how much that understanding meant to me. No matter how sick I became, God’s presence overcame my fears.
During it all, I have known Christ has been with me. At the most unexpected moments — and often my sickest moments — I was often engulfed by a fleeting sacred child-like joy completely at odds with my circumstances. I came to treasure them. My interior man is learning to be content regardless of the situation.
Drawing Nearer to Christ
Christians can use the COVID restrictions to draw nearer to Christ. He will draw nearer to you. Times of crisis can open wonderful vistas for growing closer to Christ.
Christ is in charge. Nothing slips by Him. He’s been with me through MS, cancer, and a stroke. He is with us all in this global COVID pandemic. If we surrender our lives to Him, no pandemic, no disease, no isolation can separate us from the love of God. Saint Paul said: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Remember, he also assured us that all things work for good for those who love God. Read the entire eighth chapter of Romans. Contemplate and meditate on what it says. Let the Apostle’s words reassure you during this plague — and through every other plague, illness, and loss that life will present you.
Perhaps when this pandemic is over, you may look back at it as a spiritually fruitful time in your life — a time when lonely isolation became sweet solitude, because you learned more deeply that Jesus is with you, and will always be with you.
Mark Davis Pickup is a Canadian pro-life activist. You can read more of his thoughts and story at his blog, Human Life Matters. His previous article for The Stream was Why Agnostic Ted Can’t Read the Bible. For more on his life, see Nancy Flory’s profile, Man With Severe MS Walks Again. See also her interview with him about his pro-life work, Fighting Euthanasia.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at stream.org/what-37-years-with-ms-taught-me-about-living-with-covid.