Multiple times a day I walk over to a typically ignored part of my front yard where fledgling poppies are growing through ugly lava rocks that cover the dirt on the side of the driveway. I have tried to grow poppies unsuccessfully for years, so I am very invested in these little soon-to-be flowers.
“Anything interesting?” David asked one evening, as I examined the plants.
I tilted my head, looking closer at the distinctive green leaves. “I don’t see any buds forming,” I said with pursed lips. “All of the other poppies in the neighborhood have started to bloom, and ours look so sad and bare.”
“Maybe this year they are just establishing themselves,” David offered. “Maybe they are growing tall and putting down good roots, and we’ll see flowers next spring.”
“I guess so,” I shrugged. “But wouldn’t that be really disappointing? It seems like a long time to wait.”
“I tested positive. Kendra, I am so sorry.” The text flashed across my phone screen and my world stopped.
Three out of the four adults in our pod, myself included, had been feeling under the weather for a few days. None of us thought it could be COVID—we were simply too careful. Our families had not been in close proximity to anyone outside of the pod and the only real place any of us had been in a couple of weeks was the grocery store, fully masked at that.
We have lived this way for a year. We have our pandemic rhythms and risk adverse behaviors down to a science.
But still, there were enough symptoms to cause mild concern—a sore throat, congestion, unrelenting fatigue. Since it’s always better to be safe, our pod mate who started to feel sick first decided to get tested.
Just to rule it out.
Just to give us peace of mind.
Just to make sure all of us could continue going about our day-to-day routines without “what if” hanging over our heads.
Obviously, we didn’t have it. We couldn’t have it.
But there I was, 24 hours after my friend’s test, staring blankly at my phone while my thoughts raced.
I moved quickly down the hall to David’s office and opened the door without bothering to knock.
“Her test is positive,” I said in a low voice. “What do we do?”
David jumped on his computer and within minutes I had an appointment to get tested myself. He made himself an appointment for later that evening, though he wasn’t showing any symptoms. I put on a mask and sat in the playroom with Ellie and Lauren, attempting to push through my physical sickness and mental panic.
How much have I already exposed them? Will the mask even help at this point? Will we all get sick?
A few hours later we had both been tested, the girls were in bed, and David and I sat on the couch to discuss our game plan. We didn’t need the test results to tell us what we already knew—I had been exposed, I had symptoms, everyone else in our house seemed healthy. We needed to act as if I had it, and I needed to isolate to protect the rest of my family.
“Pray with me first?” David asked pulling me tightly to him, his embrace conveying the worry he wouldn’t express with words. I let him wrap his arms around me, wanting so badly to accept his comfort, all the while unable to shake my acute awareness that it wasn’t safe for him to be near me. We lingered on our “amens” then I walked into our bedroom, my home for the next seven days, and shut the door behind me.
Among my worst symptoms was a searing, all-encompassing headache that medicine did nothing to ease. When I first entered isolation, I wondered what I could do to be productive with my time. When the headache left me unable to sit up for days on end, I shifted my thoughts to what God might be trying to teach me. Does he really redeem all circumstances? Was there some sort of spiritual lesson to be learned? Does there always need to be a lesson, or are we sometimes dealt a hard hand for no reason? My head throbbed as my mind ruminated on these questions, unable to formulate a real, coherent answer.
On April 6th I received a text from my aunt commemorating California Poppy Day. That morning, vaccines in Sacramento had become available to all ages, and her text found me fighting bitterness over the fact that, thanks to actually contracting COVID, I had to wait 90 days to receive mine.
Poppies hold a place of significance in my life. Present in art hanging on my walls, a tattoo on my back, and my youngest daughter’s middle name, they are far more than a flower. Through the years they have represented a cherished mentor and special friendships, but they have ultimately grown into a reminder of God’s provision. My aunt’s sweet celebration text provided just the lift I needed.
I thought of the poppies in our front yard with a rueful smile. Their bare, still bloomless leaves stood out among the bright orange blossoms all around our neighborhood. They were left behind, forgotten—a physical representation of my own emotions.
Later that evening we herded the girls outside for a walk. As David buckled Lauren into her stroller, Ellie and I instinctively walked over to the poppies where, to my great surprise, we found a single, perfect bud on the verge of opening. Our poppies weren’t left behind at all; they simply grew in their own time.
I don’t think God caused me to get COVID; he’s not in the business of suffering. I don’t think I got sick because of a lesson I needed to learn or spiritual growth that needed to take place. I think we live in a fallen world where moth and rust destroy and sometimes pandemic-level viruses breach even the most careful precautions. I can’t tie this moment in my life up with a pretty bow, or point to a reason I am thankful—some reason I never would have realized but for COVID. If anything, I am shaken up and angry at the timing of these events. However, while I don’t see a divine purpose, I know this is not a case of divine overlook.
God did not leave me behind. I am not forgotten.
He showed himself through the community that literally and figuratively sustained us—through the dinners left on our doorstep, gift cards for takeout, flowers, treats, and gifts to help me connect with the girls over FaceTime. We received messages of encouragement, regular check-ins, and I have never felt more prayed for. The next few months may look different than I hoped they would, but I have not been left behind. Not by God, and not by my friends.
God gives us the promise of what comes at the end of our time in this imperfect world. He gives us community to sustain us in the meantime.
And, he gives us poppies.