The Cotswolds, July 2019

No joke—we were supposed to be spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

We made the plans months ago, as soon as the date was settled for my Awards Ceremony in Oxford at the end of March: we would visit beloved friends in Northern Ireland and catch our Rabbit Room chum Andrew Peterson in concert. We were arranging to meet up with Ross Wilson, my Hutchmook UK session partner from last summer and creator of the magnificent C.S. Lewis sculpture, “The Searcher” in Belfast. From Belfast, we’d hop a ferry over to Scotland, and drive down into the Lake District, holing up for a few days in a cottage once owned by Beatrix Potter (yes, really). And thence, on into Oxford, where four years of study (five, if you count the year-off thanks to the house fire) would culminate with what my course director described as “full University panoply,” held in the famous Sheldonian Theatre.

To be honest, I’ve been dreaming of that moment for six years this March, ever since I submitted my application on the first day of spring, then sat down on the violet-studded grass in the backyard with my puppy, Bonnie, to contemplate what I’d just done. Of course, the opportunity itself was the real treasure, the work and the knowledge I’d wrestle out of it the real reward. Nevertheless, I am a person of ceremony and celebration—anniversaries, milestones, finish lines, and the like are all very important to me, and acknowledging them in tangible ways brings them down from the realm of the acknowledged into the sphere of the experienced. It’s the same reason my friend Laura keeps a bottle of champagne chilling in her fridge at all times, just in case something extra wonderful happens on a Tuesday. It’s why I cook way too much food for an anniversary dinner for two, or have been known to carry a silver tea service or an antique platter of roast chicken out into the middle of a pasture for a picnic.

To say that I was looking forward to that event is like saying I kind of like Christmas a little bit.

On Thursday, the University cancelled the ceremony—not postponed or rescheduled but canceled. The finality of the thing was such a blow it was hard to get my mind around what it all meant—not only for our trip, but for our whole world. It’s hard to believe that this time last week, I really thought I was getting on a plane for a special holiday in the UK—or even that acquiring basic household supplies would not be a problem. In the cascade of cancellations that followed, however, the magnitude of the situation came into clear and overwhelming focus. This was not just my problem, or even my country’s—this was an ache felt from one side of our beautiful, broken old earth to the other.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a minute to get from, I’m young and healthy to I could actually bear a fatal disease to someone I will never know. Once that reality sunk in, however, the small sacrifices of self-limiting behavior seemed trivial. I have so many friends in high-risk areas who have already curtailed their freedoms willingly for the good of total strangers. As Joy Clarkson put it, this virus doesn’t play fair. It strikes our most vulnerable, those already compromised by age or illness. To think that by simply staying home we could aid the war being waged against it—or, at the very least, lend relief to those on the frontlines—well, that was what my Daddy would call a no-brainer.

But it’s far from easy, particularly for many of you whose lives have been hopelessly complicated by school closings and telecommuting, not to mention the interruption of basic things, like a well-stocked grocery store, playgrounds for pent-up children, date nights, and doctors’ appointments. Which is really the main reason I’m writing here today—not to air grievances or wax eloquent about things you’re already living, but just to say I’m thinking of you, I see you in my imagination, I hold your fears and your frustrations in my heart and I’m lifting them up to God in prayer. This is one of the few times in history that the whole world has hurt together over the very same thing, and while it makes our world feel wonderfully small, it can also make it feel terribly scary.

I want to make space for you, not only in my prayers, but also here, and in my Instagram feed, to know, however isolated you might feel, that you’re not alone. One of the lovely paradoxes of this thing is that, while social distancing is being encouraged, and, in some places, enforced, we still have the resources and the opportunity to connect with one another in meaningful ways. I was talking to my sister about it this afternoon, and we both agreed that loneliness is the curse of the modern age, but that this unprecedented and wholesale seclusion might just be the very thing that would give people enough time (and perhaps enough boredom) to tackle it head-on.

From the first moments after Philip and I decided to self-quarantine, I was flooded with a resolve to invest this time with creative intention, to dig deep into the disappointments and fears of the situation, longing to plant something beautiful, useful, and hopeful in the ground this crazy virus has cleared in all of our lives. All that to say, I want to acknowledge that, for most of us, “cleared ground” can look more like a minefield than a garden bed right now. Meals must still be put on the table, people cared for, laundry done, grocery stores braved—all in the midst of unfathomable inconvenience. And this is not even to mention the question of how to love people from a distance. What about the homeless, and those in prison? What about the nursing homes and the hospital workers and the small businesses? {Deep breath.}

It’s no coincidence that the word ‘pandemic’ sounds so much like ‘pandemonium’—sometimes my eye telegraphs that to my brain when I see it in the news.

But we have a secret—a treasure the world cannot give and the world cannot take away. Christians pronounce it upon each other every Sunday, all over the world, and priests proclaim it confidently over the dying: the peace of Christ.

My peace I give you.

These are the words that have been thrumming over the noise in my head the past few days.

I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I come to you today with this sole gem in my hands, and it is vastly, immeasurably, unconditionally more than enough. It is not a magic bullet, or some kind of Christian spell to fairy-dust our fears away. It is, plain and simple, the truth, whether we feel like it or not. A foundation safe enough to build a life upon. Christ gives His peace to us, not as an ephemeral greeting, a desire or a wish, but as a sacrificial reality—a reality which He spared no expense to secure for us. Our most earnest, creative, beautiful, loving human attempts to bring peace are always going to fall short if they don’t point towards something beyond, something that doesn’t depend on circumstances and does not flinch in the face of our feelings.

Christ gives His peace to us—which is to say, Christ gives Himself to us, in what St. John calls “unfailing love and faithfulness.”  

“Fear not, little flock,” Jesus says elsewhere, and I never cease to be surprised by the tenderness of His tone in the face of human confusion and frailty.

Looking out at my own little flock, grazing complacently in the sudden gift of late afternoon sunshine, I catch a flicker, an imperfect splinter of that brooding, divine love. They are afraid of many things they ought not to be (and unafraid of many things they ought). They have no idea how much time and thought we give to secure fencing, appropriate medications, healthy pastures, free-choice minerals, well-seasoned hay, vitamin drenches and free-choice mineral “buffets.” They have no idea how instinctively I watch them from the house, counting them subconsciously every time I see them file back to the barn, or how bodily I’d defend them should anything try to harm a tuft of their wooly heads.   

The trust I occasionally see in those liquid brown eyes of theirs melts my heart. They know I love them, I think—they just cannot fathom how much.

This is a time for great love, to neighbors, friends, strangers, and it is a time of great opportunity. We’re living in the midst of history-making events, even as we sigh over what movie to watch next, or which audiobook might satisfy a household of disparate tastes.

But may I suggest that it can also be a time of great gentleness, for ourselves as well as for others? The disappointments and challenges you’re facing right now might be shadowed by a worldwide suffering, but they’re still valid. I think it helps us glimpse joy in difficult situations if we’re honest about what makes us sad.

I’ve bent your ear over my disappointment. I’d be honored to hear about your hopes deferred, if you care to share them in the comments or via message. I really do care, and I’m sorry.

I’m praying for you—all of you. And I’m thinking creatively about how we can keep company as we weather this storm.  

I’ll be back soon.

Under the Mercy,


Radcliffe Camera, Oxford