It strikes me that, while the ozone is evidently thinning by the second, the space between earth and heaven seems as opaque as ever. Where is this God who calls us his very own? Where is this God who is apparently in control? By my estimation, society as a whole has devolved into something like warring rat packs of kids from the 80s, free-ranging the neighborhoods, equipped with crowbars and Kool-aid. We are left abandoned to our own personal and political devices; clashes and anxiety threaten to devour us around every corner.

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted. I feel a little like a child who lost her mom at the very get-go of a Halloween funhouse. Which way is right? Which way is left? Which information is misinformation? Will wearing a facial covering be my salvation or kill me dead on the spot? What is true? And exactly who decided to steer this ship directly towards a motherfreaking iceberg?

Part of this madness is that, whether we realize it or not, all of us have “Covid Brain.” Almost every second of our days is influenced by this pandemic and the virus that inspired it — from what we do or do not take with us when we leave the house, to which friends we and our children are allowed to play with. How much risk is too much risk? Is it allergies or the Corona? Survival appears to be in our hands, and if we blow it or take a misstep, well, off with our heads. This is verbatim what it means to live in a body of death: navigating a global pandemic during a climate crisis in an election year. Oh Lord, who will deliver us?

Mary Karr, in one of her poems, describes the voice of God as “small & fond & local.” Recently, God showed his hand to me in such a way, and it left me feeling more convinced than ever that he is in the most ordinary details of our lives, not to mention the jagged iceberg itself. Here’s what happened.

Last Thursday, a series of events led me to be concerned that my kindergarten-aged daughter might have the coronavirus; we had a possible exposure from a babysitter. Although we were symptom-free, out of an abundance of caution the entire family got rapid Covid tests. “Abundance of caution,” this is a favorite 2020 buzz-phrase. All our tests were negative, praise God, but later that night Margot woke up vomiting. In any other year I’d just call it the throw-up bug and leave it at that. But a voice — a Covid voice in my Covid Brain — nagged that this was different, something about this tummy bug wasn’t like our other tummy bugs, and if I missed the signs then our lives would unravel like thin and fraying thread off of an antique spool. The next morning, Margot complained of ongoing stomach pain. She was pitiful and running a low-grade fever. So I bit the bullet and called the pediatrician. Dr. Grace was also concerned. “Come by the office this afternoon”, she said, “and let’s give her an actual PCR swab, out of an abundance of caution.”

Just as we were about to head to the doctor’s, I got a call from a dear friend who was checking in on Margot. “My neighbor said yesterday that strep throat is going around the elementary school. You might ask the doctor if it’s that!” I quietly thought to myself that strep throat had absolutely nothing to do with vomiting and that my internet medical degree was obviously superior to my friend’s.

When we arrived at Dr. Grace’s, nothing was the same as the last time we were there. We waited in the car for a call that a room was ready. When it was our turn to enter the building, the waiting room was cold, quiet, and empty — devoid of the crying and runny noses that usually populate this space. Margot and I entered our room and both climbed up onto the examination table, white paper crinkling and crunching beneath us. My eyes were welled with tears, stricken with acute grief these days at the most random incident — like a barren pediatrician’s office, or a sick daughter. I held Margot tight, tucked her into my body like a tiny baby bird. What if this is Covid? I secretly wondered to myself. What if this gets serious? We’d already had the Coronavirus in our family once. And once was plenty. How could you do this to us again, Jesus? Where are you? A now familiar cocktail of rage and confusion began to pulse through my hands which were still wrapped tight around my daughter.

Dr. Grace knocked on the door and walked in, her joy and presence a comfort to us both. I happened to mention, “Someone said strep throat is going around?” She seemed as skeptical as I, but suggested we go ahead and start with the strep test. If that were negative, we’d move on to Covid — it would have been Margot’s second nasal swab in less than 24 hours.

The nurse came in, pried my violently reluctant daughter’s mouth open, and checked her for strep. A few minutes later, Dr. Grace walked back into the room with a huge smile on her face, looking totally shocked. “You aren’t going to believe this. The test came back positive. It isn’t Covid; it’s strep throat.”

Where one minute the air had felt totally sucked out of this sad little room, in the next my lungs were filled. My eyes welled with tears all over again — this time, with gratitude. Margot needed antibiotics! Dr. Grace and I both burst into laughter. In an instant, I saw like some infinite calculus problem the meticulous trail of events that had to happen for us to realize this diagnosis, to get Margot the actual help she needed. Other than calling the pediatrician and driving us there, the rest of it was divinely out of my hands. If my friend hadn’t called and off-handedly mentioned strep throat, we would have entered the weekend more confused than ever, waiting on Covid results, and Margot would still be sick. God had seen me, and he had seen Margot.

In the Gospel of John we read the account of how Nathaniel comes to be a disciple of Jesus, and it might be one of my very favorite Jesus moments. Philip finds Nathaniel hanging out under a fig tree and convinces him to come meet Jesus. When they arrive, Jesus makes a statement about Nathaniel: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” This apparently rings true to Nathaniel and he is perplexed. “How do you know me?” he asks. “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

What I find so wondrous is that Jesus doesn’t say, “I saw you that time you were deeply despairing,” or, “I saw you when you massively screwed up last week.” He tells Nathaniel he saw him in the most basic, nondescript moment of his day, reclining in some shade. And of course if that’s true, then he sees us during the devastating and extreme moments too — Kool-Aid and crowbars and the like.

2020 has been what Marshall Eriksen of How I Met Your Mother calls “a schoolyard bully of a year.” And let’s just put it out there: there’s more ice in the water ahead. Our Covid Brains are incapable of discerning mountains from molehills, or icebergs from cocktails on the rocks. But the lyrics of a worship song I’ve had on repeat remind me of a larger story: “It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.” This describes to a tee my experience in our small pediatric exam room. I entered feeling like the world was conspiring against me; I left realizing that what looked like a cell was actually a sanctuary. God had Margot and me in the palm of his hand. And if he sees us, like Nathaniel, in the small things, then how much more is he tenderly caring for us and orchestrating the details of the big things?

Look at the small and local life of Jesus, where he chatted with nobodies, healed their major and minor illnesses, fed them, and washed their dusty feet. But he didn’t stop there. Because he so loved the entire world, he died on a cross, and three days later he came back to life, causing a devastating, catastrophic, everlasting, global intervention of brilliant light into the awful darkness, of improbable life into the curse of death. This is the friend and hope we have in Jesus, in a year that feels like we’re collectively being hazed. He is both far off and unimaginably near — both big and magnificent and all-powerful, and small & fond & local. His gracious footprints are all around.