Many of us are approaching the one-year anniversary of when we realized the coronavirus really was going to be a thing — that our blessed and highly favored America would likely not be spared — and at the very least, that we needed to start washing our hands with far more rigor. This time last year we were pouring over news of the ill-fated Diamond Princess passengers and the nursing home outbreak in Washington state; all the while, somewhere between San Francisco and Atlanta, I too had unknowingly contracted COVID-19.

***

Prior to 2020, I had a detached relationship with the news. If the headline didn’t involve a missing passenger plane or the found remains of an infant, meh, I was generally uninterested. But at the slightest whiff of boredom, I’d hop onto my news app to sift through all the tedious crap like political this-and-that and crooked-finger scroll for the good stuff: murder.

I’ve thought a little bit about this — why I’ve typically been bent toward the morose (to the point of actually seeking out bad news). On the surface of things, watching the rest of the world tremble and burn makes me feel just slightly more safe in the rotted and rickety scaffolding holding my own life together. Sprinkler systems and whatnot. Because I’ve done all the research — Google Search History: “How not to get abducted” — and I’ve got it all together. I cluck and tsk at the awful state of the world, then I set the alarm, lock my front door, put on my lip gloss, and skip down the sidewalk to Pilates class.

My favorite time to gawk at the awful is at night before turning out the lights. My husband Alex absentmindedly sips on his bedtime glass of bourbon. He reads something historical or pseudo-intellectual while I, like a royal on her plush and untouchable throne, feverishly rubberneck at the latest social or humanitarian catastrophes. Every now and again I look over at him wide-eyed; I let a dramatic silence spill into the inches between us before deliberately uttering the worst, “Good God. It’s a category 5.” Just about every single night I inform him of faraway events like this — events that are near to others, but not to us — as if we were just a moment away from needing to leave at once. How can you just lay there while the windows have yet to be boarded?

You might not be surprised to learn that we are the type of people who keep emergency preparedness kits — iodine tablets and the like — not just in our home, but in each of our cars as well. You never know where you’ll be when the apocalypse strikes. And in the event of true disaster, whether in our house or at the local trampoline park, like hell it’s going to befall us. We are the watchers of the news, not its subjects.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, I don’t think many of us would claim the media to be a particularly good, trustworthy, or edifying part of our lives. It is necessary, in many regards, but mostly it is an anxiety-inducing, corrupt, and partisan wasteland that every now and again ends with the chipper deed of some local hero. This is why it’s so striking to me that the Gospel in the New Testament is called Good News. As in, it is notably unique and antithetical in its offering as news that is truly trustworthy, deeply edifying, good. In the Old Testament — before the arrival of the actual capital-G Good News — the book of Proverbs says, “Good news gives health to the bones,” and, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.” Stranger still, this Biblical “Good News” is both a message and a person.

***

I remember in January when news began to come out of China about this novel coronavirus. My brother once lived and worked in Shanghai, so we as a family had the educated suspicion that whatever we were hearing from the Chinese government about the extremity of the situation was likely (is still likely) only part of the story. His friends on the ground suggested the case numbers and death toll might have been more than quadruple the official reported numbers. So every night while Alex blissfully enhanced his mind before bed, I’d scan for the latest out of China as if the news were The Hunger Games, and the case count an ominous spotlight searing into the night sky. Eventually I’d start muttering G-rated expletives like, “Oh-M-G,” and “Ho-LY cow,” until Alex eventually looked up from his book. “Babe, over 2,000 sick and 20 fallen in a single day.” We’d shake our heads in disbelief. That was then.

The last year brought so much bad news that my bones still feel parched and achy. The skeleton of my totally-got-it-going-on life has buckled and waned. And my relationship with both the news and the Good News has at times become held-at-arms-length and strange — stranger still in March of last year when I myself was a top-of-the-hour feature on the ABC Los Angeles 5 o’clock news.

Until April of 2020, my family and I lived on Naples Island in Long Beach, California, in a charming bungalow the size and shape of a shoebox. We lived just off a road called Appian Way. News, in general, seemed to skip right over this enchanting place. Naples is the sort of sleepy island you could easily not even realize was an island unless you looked at a map. It’s tucked neatly into the Alamitos Bay between Belmont Shore and Seal Beach in Orange County, connected to the mainland by only three short and nondescript bridges. Appian Way runs right through the island, intersecting other Italian-themed streets like Sorrento Drive, Savona Walk, Ravena Drive, and The Toledo.

During our four years in California we felt safe on Naples, like stars in our own movie, like kings and queens of our small, shoebox-sized dominion. Most days, we left left our back-door not only unlocked but wide open, so the dog and anyone else could wander in and out as they pleased. Oh sure, there were murmurs in the neighborhood of crackheads living in their cars on our street and vagrants digging through alleyway trash cans just outside our bedroom window. But all of that seemed pretty fringe, even hard to believe once you stepped into that dry California breeze. We were basically untouchable.

February, 2020

2020 was the year of bad news (and let’s be honest, the hits keep coming in 2021). So you might think I’d have had a field day, laying on my bed like Sandra Dee — hair in curlers, silk pajama set, ankles crossed in the air with eager, wiggling toes as I scrolled through all the wreckage. But one can only take so much horror before one begins to feel uniquely vulnerable to it. Especially when one is “immunocompromised” with multiple chronic diseases during a month and a year when “immunocompromised” has become a global buzzword for the damned.

By mid-February, COVID cases were popping up in Washington, New York, and on cruise ships off our shores. The virus was getting closer, and you had the sense that while it was not yet easily testable, it was probably already absolutely almost certainly everywhere. Infiltrating our surfaces, our pores, the very air we breathed. We were all still walking around like bozos, maskless, with this invisible threat hovering in the shadows. And since we couldn’t see it or prove it, most of us just pretended we were fine. Some of us weren’t pretending at all; WE WERE FINE! We dropped our kids off at school and we ran our errands and we went on our work trips, all the while clinging tight to the news, watching other parts of the world fall like infected dominos tap-tap-tap getting closer all the while.

Over Valentine’s Day weekend, our family drove up to San Francisco to visit my brother and sister-in-law and to meet their new baby. We talked briefly about “this thing” that was probably fine because the president said it was under control — but also that if everything was actually fine, then why were all our chests collectively tightening? “This thing,” we called it. It was easier that way. So insignificant it didn’t even require a name. “This virus thing.” We took a ferry to Alcatraz, rode the trolleys, and ate at a thousand different restaurants. Foreign surfaces — strangers huffing and breathing — shoulders brushing shoulders absolutely everywhere in our very near vicinity. Even then I must have gone through four bottles of hand sanitizer, sensing the shift in things had already come. Since I have lupus and a compromised immune system, if anyone was going to catch this thing it would be me. “I’m like flypaper.” This is my catchphrase, because I catch absolutely everything.

Even then I wanted to gather my children into our bed, to keep them under my wings until the danger had passed. But all that seemed like overkill. And so we kept on with school and our schedule and piano and all the things.

Immediately after San Francisco, I started to feel flu-ish. But it was winter and I have lupus, and I was pretty much constantly feeling flu-ish in winter.

February 28, 2020

Here’s where things get fast and blurry …

Alex and I fly to Atlanta to meet with about fifty of our closest relatives. I am now fully knocked out with fever. The back of my eyeballs hurt. I’m sneezing like I have allergies, and my head is throbbing from the base of my neck all the way to the top of my skull. I am ill, nearly delirious, exhausted to the point of daytime sleeping. I skip almost all family events, and every now and again a well-meaning sibling or cousin stops by my room and jokes it must be COVID.

From the hotel in Atlanta, I make my first Prime Now purchase of things like Advil, a thermometer, children’s Motrin, and batteries, and direct the shipment to our house off Appian Way. I’m overreacting, obviously. But the wave of the tsunami is in flux. I can feel it. The next day, add to my symptoms acute gastrointestinal distress.

I pull out my arsenal of essential oils and — like everyone else in the world — Google for the umpteenth time that day, “symptoms of coronavirus.”

March 1, 2020

We fly back from Atlanta and I am in terrible shape. In the waiting room of the doctor’s office, each lingering patient hugs their chests and stifles their coughs lest anyone suspect the worst. A young guy walks in, deathly sick even at first glance. By my observation he looks to have just been backpacking in Europe (Northern Italy, most likely). Literally, I promise you, he is wearing an actual backpacking backpack, and I think I heard him say, “Ciao.” I instinctually pull out my hand sanitizer and tilt my chin down to breathe into the neck of my sweatshirt.

The nurse at the check-in desk calls me over and asks, “Do you have a fever?” “Yes.” “Do you have a recent history of travel?” “Yes,” I say, hopeful that she’ll test me just to be sure. “To China or to Northern Italy?” “No,” I say, now fully aware that in the slight chance they even have tests available, I’ve just tossed my golden ticket to the wind.

When the doctor enters my room, I describe all of my symptoms while remaining polite and upbeat. This particular doctor seems thrown off by my positive attitude, as if I must not truly be sick. Attempting to at least appear useful, he reluctantly tests me for the flu. A few minutes later, “Well, I can’t believe it, but you tested positive for Influenza A!” His surprise enrages me. But I smile, and out of an abundance of caution I hazard to say, “You don’t think it could be the coronavirus, right?”

“What are your symptoms again?”

“Fever, headache, sneezing, burning eyes, dry cough, a little tight in the chest, and –” I cough-whisper, “– diarrhea.”

He laughs condescendingly to himself. “Oh no. Those aren’t symptoms of the coronavirus.”

March 9, 2020

Still sick with “the flu,” I’m lying in bed next to Alex when I scroll past the headline: “First Long Beach resident tests positive for the coronavirus.” “It’s here,” I whisper theatrically as I hold my phone up for him to read. Of course what I didn’t know then was that “here” didn’t just mean viral spread within our broader community; the coronavirus was actually cooking my family meals each day, kissing my children on the lips, and holding up a pathogen-smudged cell phone bearing an ill-omened headline two inches from my husband’s mostly disinterested face. “Wow, crazy,” he absentmindedly responds. Four days later, I would become the next person in Long Beach to test positive for the coronavirus. Days after that, our family would be featured on the 5 o’clock news in LA.

March 13, 2020

After almost two weeks of trying to recover from the flu, I am still miserable. I assume the flu has just kicked my body into a lupus flare. This happens. And so on Friday the 13th — you read that right — just hours after the announcement that the kids’ school was closing for the next two weeks (ha!), I finally get a call back from a nurse at my rheumatologist’s office. “Do you have a fever?” “Yes.” “Do you have a history of travel?” “Yes, domestically, though, to Atlanta and San Francisco.” Just two weeks after my flu diagnosis, domestic travel is now, apparently, a golden ticket of its own. “We can’t bring you in until you get a test for COVID.” “But there are no tests anywhere. Where would I get tested? Anyway, I’ve had the flu, and now I’m in a lupus flare. I don’t have the coronavirus, I really just need to see Dr. Davis.”

“The hospital’s urgent care received a batch of PCR tests this morning,” she says. “If you head down there now you should be able to get one.” I drop what I’m doing and drive to the urgent care. I walk through the door and the nurse bashfully suggests I should maybe probably perhaps wear a mask, just in case, although none of the nurses or doctors who test me are masked. Fifteen minutes later — like that monkey from Outbreak — I’m back out into the world.

March 17, 2020

I look down at my phone to a missed call from an unknown Long Beach number. Almost immediately, I know. I listen to the voicemail. It’s the health department with an urgent matter. I’m shaking — my breath shallow — pulse rising. Is it the anxiety or the COVID? “Doc, I think she’s crashing out.” Sarah from the Long Beach Health Department calls again right away, “Yes, hi. Charlotte Getz? Yes, well, unfortunately you’ve tested positive for COVID-19.”

Flypaper.

***

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news,” says Romans 10:15. Upon hearing the news that I was COVID-positive, the earth stood remarkably stable and still. Like the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, all it took to drop me to my knees was for the earth itself to shatter.

Like a fresh band-aid being ripped off dry skin, I went from frantically serving as my own wearied keeper — keep us hidden, keep us safe — to this sudden and tingling awareness that I was already kept. It’s strange, but total and utter helplessness can also make way for total and utter surrender. Just ask an alcoholic or the centurion. After finally hanging up with the Health Department, I limply walked over to my closet, took off my clothes, unhooked my bra, and put back on my pajamas. I crawled into bed, finally with some objective permission to just lay it all down.

To say that a COVID diagnosis was good news seems on the surface like a stretch. It was terrifying, of course. At the time there were less than 3,000 COVID cases in all of America; nobody knew anything about anything. Would I end up in the hospital, or worse? What were the signs that it was time to call an ambulance? But along with the fear and uncertainty, all the plates that had long been haphazardly spinning and shaking in the air had come to a slow and gentle halt. In fact, so much of 2020 has been this way.

When I think of that day in particular, I think of stillness. I think of this improbable peace. I think of the family of mourning doves who coo from our side yard, and of the distinct lack of traffic that normally hums down Appian Way. Although there were phone calls and due diligence and all kinds of contact-tracing frenzy, there was also an abiding sense — as if it were being imparted to me by the second — that I was okay. I was hidden, I was safe. Not in the sense that I knew I would physically survive, but rather I was safe in some larger, more unquantifiable way. “A thousand may fall at your side,” says Psalms 91, “ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” Naples no longer felt like an island of dreams, but a rock cleft just for me. And the air itself surrounding my hiding place was thick and vibrant with the presence of the Spirit, who seemed to be whispering with a smile, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. Nothing has changed.”

When bad news is not far off but near, Jesus, the Good News himself, draws nearer still. And God in his great mercy was so tangibly near to me and to us as we quarantined off Appian Way, like cold water to our weary souls, like health to our parched bones. I felt his presence as if he were an actual person sitting next to me, shoulder to shoulder — living, breathing — putting his own body between mine, my family’s, and any danger at all. “Surely this man must be the son of God.”

God was who he said he was.

***

Long Beach’s Appian Way is named for an ancient road in Italy — the Via Appia — which functioned as Rome’s primary highway for centuries. It was built in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus as a means for transporting military troops and supplies; it was also crucial for the sharing and receiving of news.

The Apostle Paul walked the Appian Way as a prisoner, 170 miles from Puteoli to Rome. And from his prison cell in Rome he wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, before sending each of them out along the Appian Way. Tombs and the catacombs line the Via Appia: death as far as the eye can see. In 71 BC, 6,000 slaves were crucified along the its 200 kilometers. And 100 years after that, news of another crucified soul would travel this same road — this Jesus who one day hung lifeless on a cross, and three days later he lived. Critical to the spread of this wild and miraculous news, this Word of life, was the Appian Way.

The Appian Way, both literally and spiritually the way of the cross, was a thoroughfare for the Good News, even as death hung all around. Yet this many years later it still comes as a surprise that — like the Red Sea — danger and death often lap at the heels of mighty and marching deliverance.

***

In the Great Plague of 1665, it’s said the Lord Mayor of London stated that “every house visited [by the disease] be marked with a red cross … and with these usual printed words, that is to say, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us.’” We did not paint a cross on the door of our house off Appian Way, but were instead emailed a formal letter of quarantine from the Long Beach Department of Health.

I envisioned couples all over southern California and the rest of the country, friends and family of mine lying in bed and scrolling through their news and social media feeds.

WIFE: “Ho-LY cow …”

HUSBAND (barely paying attention): “Hm?”

WIFE: “Charlotte Getz has COVID.”

HUSBAND: “Lord have mercy upon us.”

Now it was not you or him or that poor soul in Nigeria who was the subject of some unfortunate circumstance, but I and we. Me and all of us. The pandemic had brought on this collective suffering. Even if you didn’t have the actual virus, the pandemic was still collective bad news, collective trauma. But in one of the worst moments of my life, after hearing the news so many of us were dreading, instead of doubting God’s goodness, I was utterly overcome by him.

“Fear not.” Words that rang in my ears. “Death has lost its sting.” Grace itself was filling my brittle and empty cup.

For reasons I can’t even remember now, prior to my diagnosis I had begun recording pandemic-related video devotionals on Instagram. Before I knew where the story was going or the illness that was actually plaguing my body, God transformed our little rectangular palace off Appian Way into a lowly outpost, a thoroughfare for the Good News. “The God of all comfort,” I found myself saying to some faceless audience online, “who calls us his very own children, has each and every one of us tucked beneath the shelter of his mighty wing. That’s a shade we can rest in. That’s a shade where we can breathe, where we can put up our tired feet and lay down for a while.”

So when the actual news contacted me to see if I would agree to be interviewed for a story, the song I would sing like a headline had already been put on my lips.

From my little garrison, with Alex and the kids playing in the background, I was able to tell the greater Los Angeles area — as well as anchors and producers at ABC — as well as students and alumni from Pepperdine University, my alma mater (who also interviewed me) — as well as the hosts and listeners of a beloved podcast (who also interviewed me) — that the worst had happened: “I got the news we’re all so terrified of hearing right now. And no matter what, I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.”

I thought when the moment came in my life that I’d be widely featured across a multitude of platforms, I’d be speaking from a red carpet or a throne. But God instead made me feeble-bodied, limping down the Appian Way past crucifix after crucifix, a sick and weary beggar with hands full of mercy and a heart beating with grace.

***

One year out, I am exhausted. America alone has lost over 500,000 beloved souls to this virus, not to mention the myriad of extended suffering like job loss, mental health, and less-than-ideal schooling for many of our nation’s children. Every one of my masks is stained with make-up, and I have earned a metaphorical PhD in Worry and Risk Analysis. But one year out, I still, by the grace of God, carry good tidings of great joy: every minute of my own personal suffering these last 365 days continues to be endured from the arms of this Jesus who is with me, this Jesus who has carried and is carrying me through.

Friend, as you continue to walk this treacherous way, as death hangs all around, may you know that the God of all comfort who calls you his very own child has you tucked beneath the shelter of his mighty wing. That’s a shade you can rest in. That’s a shade where you can breathe, where you can put up your tired feet and lay down for a while.