Onward: Becoming Okay With My Quarantine Struggles

My Quarantine Mood Might Never Quit: Sometimes I feel invisible, like I don’t matter, and that I am insignificant.

Will this ever end? I’ve been stuck at home since March! I am sure you know how I feel. I think I am becoming invisible, maybe I don’t matter any more, maybe I am insignificant, and maybe I’m being unjustly judged by the world. I’ve been disconnected for so long I have no idea what the people in my community think! That’s why I go to the worst possible outcome. I need people in my life! I need normalcy!

A year ago this weekend I went to see Star Wars: The Return of The Jedi with my good friend Luke. I shook hands with a random stranger (who happened to be Rian Johnson’s brother), but now I am stuck inside.

At this point it would be more surprising to hear from someone who hasn’t been quarantined due to a Covid scare than about someone having to do multiple quarantines. Yet, I refuse to allow the covid quarantine life to be the new normal. It should not be normal to be stuck inside of my house with a weird fear of whoever is delivering my toilet paper. It will never be normal to have to meet all of my students through zoom, where I try to be as entertaining as the best podcasters and as relatable as their best friend. And it will never be normal to work day in and day out in the same sweat pants no matter how hard I try! I want to go out to eat inside a restaurant again! I want to go to movies!

Speaking of movies, no not the 158 movies April and I watched at home last year, but real movies in the theater! The last movie I saw in theaters was Onward on March, 6th 2020. April and I love going to movies so the fact it has almost been a full year since I stepped into a movie theater astounds me. At first I didn’t mind it even though April and I go out of our way to have fun movie going experiences. We went to the O2 arena in London to see Spider-Man: Far From Home while on our honeymoon. Before last March I couldn’t remember the last time I went more than a month without going to the movies. Even when I lived in Guatemala, I made sure to travel to the theaters (I have a blog about traveling to Guatemala City to live it up in luxury which meant going to the movies), even though most of the movies were horribly dubbed into Spanish or had lousy subtitles (and the theater leaked any time it rained and it always rained in Guatemala). But now a year without theaters has me sad and a little mad.

But as I move onward through this pandemic maybe I should take a lesson from Onward. If you haven’t seen Onward, it is a fantastic Pixar movie about two brothers, Ian and Barley, going on an adventurous road trip to reconnect with their dead dad. Like the two brothers in the movie we could all use a little reconnecting right about now and maybe a road trip too. Yet, our world is forcing us to hold each other further away than arms length. I am not a huge hugger, but I do love a good hug and well, we could all use one.

Yet maybe Onward was a great last movie to see in the theaters and it could be a great hope for the future of theaters and the end of quarantine life. It is a great last movie experience, not because now it is just easier to watch movies at home on Netflix, HBO Max, or any other streaming service, but because it reminds us that there is good in our world. As the lockdown started last March, I had Onward on my mind. Ian Lightfoot, the young protagonist voiced by Tom Holland, only wants to reconnect with his dead dad, but throughout the movie life blocks him from satisfying those desires. That is what it has been like for the past year. I have desires to travel, to go on a road trip, but Covid has blocked that. Instead of driving up the west coast of California this summer, April and I will be staying in because it is not safe for us to travel with a baby girl on the way. I am very willing to sacrifice for my family and my future baby girl, but it still sucks to be stuck at home.

Memoirs of traveling at hyper speed on the Millennium Falcon

Being forced to stay in makes me feel off. All year I have been staying in. I teach remotely due to health reasons (which are now double due to baby Hermione (not her official name) and so sometimes I feel invisible to my coworkers. Like when they are all provided a free lunch and I don’t get any because I am home. This can lead to me feeling insignificant. The feeling of insignificance is compounded when my opinion is not considered for how to teach something in my class. Then I feel unfairly judged because I am being told to run my zoom meetings a certain way even though I do not feel like the person judging me has the whole story, nor the best interest in mind for my students. And then my school district keeps on making decisions for my life and our community that I disagree with which makes me feel like I do not matter. And yet, all of this is okay. I must be okay with being invisible, with being insignificant, with feeling like I don’t matter, and with being unfairly judged.

In Onward, Ian struggles with not knowing his dad and therefore not knowing his true identity. What I am realizing is that it is okay to struggle because that helps us become who we are meant to be. Importantly, if Ian hadn’t struggled he never would have become who he was meant to be. But his true struggle was one of letting go of his desire to connect with his dad. As Ian fights to truly reconnect with his dad he causes problems. His desire to connect with his dad is not bad, but like all desires, if they are held onto for too long they can be our ruin because they do not truly satisfy. Ian is forced to choose between connecting with his dead dad or letting go. If he chooses to let go, it will be a humble sacfrice. I want to let go of my desires to fight and sacrifice. No, not because I want to be like characters in a movie, but because I want to follow Jesus.

On a deeper level than movie analysis, I need to be okay with feeling invisible, insignificant, unfairly judged, and that I don’t matter sometimes because Jesus felt all of that too. In the fight, flight, or freeze response to fear and adversity, Jesus knelt and sacrificed. I would imagine that if Jesus was asked to quarantine with us, he would feel frustrated and lonely, but he would respond to it all in love. Just like he did when he was persecuted and forced to march to Calvary. He did not fight against being told to do something he disagreed with or unfairly judged, but carried the cross for all of us. He took on all of our loneliness, isolation, separation, thoughts of insignificance, and invisibility when he did not fight back and allowed himself to be nailed to the cross. If he can do that maybe I can too. If he felt how I feel at times, and yet choose love I can find freedom in choosing to become more like him, even if I can’t go on the next adventurous road trip. And until my next adventure I can still dream of my next trip back to Hogsmead at Universal Studios.

Dustbin Diamonds

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Beauty.  I want to learn how to find beauty in my daily life.  At a retreat I went to last fall New York Times best selling author John Elderedge challenged me to let beauty heal me.  He said,  “Like oxygen and water we need beauty daily to restore us from a word assaulting our souls.”

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Beauty in the unexpected, like just over three years ago when I bought the most beautiful diamond so that I could propose to the most beautiful woman. On February 17th, we will celebrate my birthday and three years since I surprised her with a ring during a tropical storm at Universal Studios.  It was beautiful. Yet, those magnificent days have become normal and I need beauty to heal me.

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This year I am pursing life with the theme of a beautiful adventure.  Beauty is not just aesthetic; it is the small moments of kindness.  But sometimes fighting for beauty can be a little dirty.  That’s where grace pops in.

Like last year when April bought me tickets to see Elevation Worship.  Well, she had meant to buy me tickets.  Something came up and all of a sudden it was the day of the concert and it was sold out.  We decided to go and see if we could pick up a ticket in the parking lot.  April was in tears.  She knew how much Elevation Worship’s music meant to me.  As I struggled with insomnia, their music helped remind me that even when things seemed bad, God promised me that the best is yet to come.  So as we walked up to the doors to the venue for the concert, I said a small prayer.  “Are there any tickets for sale,” I asked.  The guy in the ticket booth smiled.  “There are two at will call just for you.”  God knew what I needed.  The night was beautiful, it helped in my healing, and I wouldn’t have experienced it if I had decided to give up when we read that the tickets were sold out.

That is the spirt I want to live with this year. Step out into the unknown and let God surprise me with a beautiful adventure.  But this year started out with a horrible cold and sometimes beautiful adventures end up in the trash can.

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January started off with a monster of a cold.  The only thing we could do was work on our puzzles.  As I mentioned in my last blog, we have become puzzlers.  And as Christmas and New Year’s season should go, we worked on multiple Star Wars puzzles.  The best, and hardest, was a puzzle of The Mandalorian and The Child.  As cute as Baby Yoda (check out his top ten moments in the link) is, the puzzle was super difficult.  All of the pieces were monochromatic so it was difficult to piece them together.  Yet, we persisted one piece at a time, or actually as we reached the end, two pieces wouldn’t fit and we realized several pieces were in the wrong place.  Carefully we searched through the puzzle, taking pieces out and finding their right place.  At last it was finished!

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Building puzzles has taught me that if you want the beautiful picture at the end of the puzzle, you need to look at each piece from as many angles as possible.  You have to move around, turn pieces over in your hand, and look at things from every perspective. And every single time, you need to check under the couch for that one missing piece. This is how to live in a beautiful adventure.

But, I hated being sick at the same time together.  I couldn’t take care of April and she couldn’t breathe.  Our first adventure of the new decade was to Walgreens to buy Dayquil cold and sinus.  It was a cold clear morning, but all I wanted to do was hop back in bed.  The next couple of days blurred together.  At some point we decided to clean up a bit.  Maybe we thought that would make us feel better.

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That is when April told me she could not find her wedding ring.  I struggled to think of when I had seen it last.  It had to have been on the night stand next to her side of the bed.  I could see the diamond sparkle next to the wood top, but now it was gone.  We cleaned the entire house.  We flipped things around.  Looked at it from all different angles.  We changed our perspectives.  It was like the parable Jesus told about the woman who tears apart her home to find a lost coin.  But we didn’t find anything.  We changed our sheets.  Searched under our mattress.  Moved the rug under our bed, but It was gone.  The only places we had not checked were the insides of the laundry machines and the trash.

April and I pulled out the trash bag from the trash can and started sifting through the snotty tissues.  I treated this search like my search for any missing puzzle piece and so halfway through the trash I realized I probably needed to start opening up the tissues to check if the ring was inside. I opened one.  Just snot.  Another.  Snot.  On the third, I felt something hard inside.  I prayed that it would be her ring.  I unfolded the snotty tissue and her ring dropped into my hand.

God has a beautiful adventure for April and me.  I want to search for it daily and even go through the trash to find it if I have to.  Beauty isn’t always a grand proposal or a free entry into a concert, but sometimes its found looking for diamonds in the dustbin.

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Harry Potter and Tebowing at the Climax

I love going to the movies.  I was that kid who stood in line to see all of the “Star Wars” movies when they were re-released back in the 90’s and when “The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring” came out ten years ago, I was the first person in line, not just for tickets, but to enter the theater.  And when theaters started releasing movies at midnight, I’m there at 10 pm.  Don’t even get me started on how early I had to get to the theater for “The Return of The King;” it was crazy.

I think the reason I love going to the movies is because I love good stories.  The atmosphere in a crowded theater on opening night is exhilarating.  When “The Sixth Sense” came the theater was packed.  With every twist and turn each of my friends began tucked their legs up on their seats.  We shared in the fear.  We pulled for Bruce Willis’s character to reconnect with his wife and for Haley Joel Osment’s character to receive the help he needed.  As the movie built toward its climax the hairs on my legs stood up and all I wanted to do was hug my knees like everyone else, but fear froze me.  The crowd made the climax of the movie completely captivating, but the well told story made the change the characters experienced even more meaningful and worth the level of fear I had to experience.

Good stories are filled with meaning.  Movie writer and teacher Robert McKee says, “If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: ‘Meaning Produces Emotion’ Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography.”  Meaning is what a good story is all about and the climax of a good movie will be filled with meaning.  McKee states that “The Climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap.  Without it, you have no story.  Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.”

When I’m in a packed theater, I’m suffering along with the main character for that positive or negative turn to occur in the movie.  I want Frodo to make it to Mount Doom and drop the ring into the fires of Mordor.  I want Harry Potter to live or die, maybe both, and so I wait for that turning moment, that meaningful climax.  As an audience, we share the ups and downs of the characters story.  Without the ups and downs that lead to the climax, the climax would be meaningless.

There are people out there that flip to the end of a book before they start just so they can see if it is a good ending or not.  They pick up “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” and flip to Harry’s battle with Voldamort.  They want to get the stories payoff without reading the entire book or, even worse, the other six books in the series.  By skipping to the end of the book they miss the reason why Harry had to do what he does.   But just like sharing a story with someone adds to the story’s meaning, the work it takes for character, as well as the reader, to make it to the climax is what makes it meaningful.

The people who want to skip to the climax of a book are the same people who sat down and watched the last episode of Lost with out watching the previous five seasons.  They didn’t want to see the story develop, to see the characters grow and change.  They wanted all of the payoff without watching for six seasons.  These are the same people who on December 5th want to fast forward to Christmas Day.  They want the meaning without any of the work.

More on Christmas in a moment.  Let’s not rush to the climax because right now we’re at the rising action of our story.  Sunday December 4th The Neighborhood Church celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season by sharing a sit down meal during the worship service.  People met together, ate, and shared stories about Christmas’ past.  It was very meaningful.  The only problem was the service didn’t finish until 12 pm.  An hour into the Denver Broncos game against the Vikings.  Co-blogger and Co-pastor of the Neighborhood Church, Mike Klassen comforted the congregation by reminding us all that “Tebow Time” (A term here meaning going beast mode and winning against all odds) isn’t until the fourth quarter anyway.  So if we missed the first half it would be just fine.

I tevoed Tebow anyway.  As I pressed play on the DVR, I knew I wanted to share a meaningful story with my fellow Bronco fans who’d gathered around the TV with me.  We knew we could just fast forward to the end.  But we wanted to experience the entire story.  If we had just skipped to the end, the win wouldn’t have been as meaningful.  The time we shared together watching the Broncos game was splattered with theological discussions.  Why is Tebow so loud about his faith?  Incomplete pass!  What if Tebow messes up (On the field and in his faith)?  Fumble, no way the ground can’t cause a fumble! What is perseverance of the Saints (No, I’m not talking about football here)? I can’t believe it, the Broncos Win!

And as Tebow rallied the Broncos from an 8 point deficit late in the fourth quarter we were discussing how God’s Grace works in our lives.  Life is like a good movie with many turns.  In “The Return of the King,” Frodo loses hope.  He turns away from his mission and decides he will keep the ring, but Grace steps in (In the form of Sam) and saves him.  Grace does what Frodo cannot do, destroy the ring and bring him back to the Shire.  Grace creates the meaningful change in Frodo’s life.  If Tebow fails on the field or in life, Grace will be there for him too.  Grace is there for all of us, offering a chance to make a meaningful change in our lives.  A chance to Tebow (Go beast mode/let God takeover), which brings us back to Christmas.

Christmas is not about what you get or even about what you give.  It is about experiencing the season with the people you love.  It is about sharing special moments with those around you.  Most of all it’s about God sending the Incarnation of Grace down to the world as the baby Christ.  If we fast forwarded to Christmas Day it would be like reading the last page of a book, only watching the Broncos during the fourth quarter, and fast forwarding all our favorite movies to the climax: empty and meaningless.  So slow down and know that no matter how long it seems until Christmas, that God is working in your life.  Christmas is more than just the climax of Christmas day.  It is about the Grace we have been given and the work it does in our life.  Let Grace make a meaningful change in your life this season.

I am an avid Bronco fan and movie enthusiast who believes in Tebowing every night because the best way to live a meaningful story is to stay connected to the author.