I don’t know what I don’t know…

Back in 2011, we were living our best life in our happy little bubble of suburbia when my husband called me to tell me that “We had an opportunity.” If you are not familiar with the nomadic life that certain professions (like heavy civil engineering) afford, an “opportunity” meant we were moving. And it was likely not to a destination where I had dreamed of living, or else this conversation would have gone more like: “Babe- guess what? We’re moving to Fiji!” That’s an important distinction, because “opportunity” meant, “This is likely going to suck, but hopefully it will pay off down the road.”

But, I think I need to go farther back and give some context.

About a year earlier, Paul came home from work and was doing a mental dump of his day. The kids were small and playing nearby while I was cooking dinner. Something was clearly weighing on him even after he had told me all the things that had happened that day. Finally, on a long exhale, he brought it up. He had to send a group of engineers to a job in Newfoundland. Most of them, and their families, had a lot of reservations. I quickly and indifferently snapped back, “Well I guess they’ll need to get over it.” That felt as awful coming out of my mouth as it does to look at on the page. As Paul moved out of the kitchen to go play with the kids, the still small voice in my head asked, “If it were you, what would you need to feel safe, informed, and valued making a move to another country, climate, culture? What would your kids need?” Obviously, lots of information. I called out to Paul, “They’re going to need a book.” He came back into the kitchen, “What do you mean?” I thought for a minutes, “They need a manual. If you’ve only ever lived in the southeastern United States and you have to move with your kids to Newfoundland, you need a guide book. How are schools set up? Where do you register for school? What vaccinations do you need? How do you register your vehicles? What documents do you need for a drivers license? How do taxes work? …” The questions were falling off my tongue faster than I could think them. Paul agreed that the manual was a good idea and he would put some people to work on it.

So when our move to Ontario came the next year, as hard as that “opportunity” was, I had a small framework on which to build. As I grieved the loss of my happy American suburban bubble and came to wrestle with my new Canadian reality, an uncomfortable reality became obvious: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Not knowing what you don’t know is an uncomfortable status that most of us try to avoid at all costs. There’s a fear or suspicion that hovers in the back of your mind all the time that maybe you’re missing something that you didn’t know you were supposed to do or have, and that lack of knowledge will have repercussions later. Think taxes for example. We’re five years repatriated back to the USA, and that’s still a specter hanging over us. But I digress…

The crazy thing about not knowing what you don’t know is that it forces you to be vulnerable. I mean, you could choose not to be vulnerable, but that’s a quick trip to shame, anger and loneliness as you try to navigate territory that you know nothing about whilst making all kinds of mistakes. Vulnerability, while totally awkward, leads to community, humility, and empathy. Those were the things that sustained me during those four years in Canada.

Paul and I were taking a walk yesterday. I asked him if he thought we would have normal school this fall. “I don’t know,” he said. “If you had told me back in February this Chinese virus we were starting to hear about would have me wearing a face mask in the grocery store, I would have told you ‘the hell it will.’ We don’t know what we don’t know.”

I smiled, “We used to say that in Canada all the time. Unfortunately, we had the advantage that we could just go ask someone. Or check the manual. No one knows how this will all end. Or what’s going to happen next.”

“Why do we think we need to know how it ends? The tension of not knowing what you don’t know means that the end, the timing, the next new thing will just have to be managed as it comes. Not many people are comfortable with that, which is why there’s this low simmering rage on the surface of everything right now. People want formulas, end dates and simple solutions tied up neatly. That part of COVID-19 is scarier than the actual disease for most people,” he replied.

I think there’s truth in what he said. As I’m wrestling with all of this, I know I’m personally fighting the desire to wrap this disease up and move on. I don’t like masks. I don’t like cancelling events and plans. I don’t like hybrid school plans. I want it to end.

But I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what it would feel like to lose a family member to this disease while the world holds a public debate about masks. I don’t know what it would look like to have my kid unknowingly infect their class or team. I don’t know how I would manage the logistics of traveling and then getting quarantined somewhere away from my family. I don’t know any of those things. I likely don’t know even more. But I’m willing to be vulnerable. I’m willing to listen when you complain about your uncertainties, frustrations, and fears. I’m willing to be empathetic to the fact that no matter where our feelings are on all of this- we are all wrestling with not knowing what we don’t know. And since there’s no manual, I guess we all deserve some grace.

Liam Neeson and Praise the Lord

It’s been awhile since I’ve written and I have lots of things that I’ve been thinking about and working on for 2020. I even have the outline to what I thought would be my first blog of the new year, but life sometimes leads us down other paths and so I’m pounding the keyboard with fresh thoughts in my head. Just like in life, we will see where this leads.

In a few hours, I’m going to take Stephen to school where he will take a bus to the airport and then board a flight(s) to Vienna, Austria. I started this whole blog thing last year after his school trip to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. It was a great trip that I can testify to because I WENT WITH HIM. He’s taking this trip without me. This decision felt like a great idea nine months ago when he signed up but now it feels like the precursor to having myself checked for early onset dementia. My recent Facebook memories were the times he explained to his fourth grade class (at his small private school in metropolitan Toronto) how to skin a deer properly or the time he started a Ponzi scheme in fifth grade. What made me think that five years removed from those experiences is the perfect time to send him to Central Europe without legal guardians?

This morning I opened my prayer journal needing a Word from God. My prayer journal prompts me with a verse and some gratitude practice and I usually write from there. I needed God to show up with a verse to speak into my fears. I’m paraphrasing, but I was looking for something along the lines of: Fear not and worry not for the Lord God Almighty will surround your firstborn son with legions of angels, a wall of fire, pillar of clouds, and the United States Army Delta Force and nary any harm shall fall upon him for the time ye are apart. Also, the Lord has installed a nanny cam on his phone so you can check on him every single minute.

That was not the verse I got. In fact, when I first read the passage, I had no idea why God put it there because it made about as much sense as those passages in Numbers about the lineage of the tribes of Israel. This morning’s passage was Psalm 103: 20-22.

You who are the Lord’s angels, you strong angels who do what he tells you to do, praise the Lord!

All of you who belong to his armies in heaven, his servants who do what he wants, praise the Lord!

Yes, everything that the Lord has made, in all the places that he rules over, praise the Lord!

I say to myself: Praise the Lord!

I realize that the words “angels” and “armies” are included in this passage, but if you read carefully, they are being told to praise God, not protect and or rescue my son from harm. There is also nothing here to address my fear and anxiety. Nothing here tells me everything is going to be fine. This is not the Word I wanted this morning.

But maybe it’s the message I need? Because what if praising the Lord is what we should do when we’re scared, worried, or planning scenarios where you might have to fly to Vienna and pull your child out of a dangerous situation like some kind of Mama-Bear-Liam-Neeson-ninja. Like a Hallelujah anyway, but maybe it’s a Praise the Lord always.

Praise the Lord when I’m scared.

Praise the Lord when I’m worried.

Praise the Lord when I’m not in control.

Next week might find me blogging from a chair in the United States Embassy in Vienna or hunting down kidnappers in shady dives across Europe. Who knows? Wherever I am, I hope it finds praising the Lord.