Christine Keegan and her family were under quarantine since the last week of January in Tianjin, China. “In our city (and most cities in China besides Wuhan) all schools, stores and public areas have been closed except for groceries, and all public meetings and gatherings of more than 10 people have been prohibited,” says Christine. As we went to press the second week of April, some restaurants in Christine’s area were starting to reopen and certain businesses had received approval to open their doors. Schools remained closed.

Throughout more than 90 days under quarantine, Christine shared her observations and her photos on Instagram and has kindly allowed us to excerpt some of those posts here.

Feb. 2

Somehow, between the end of our sabbatical, moving back across the globe to a new place in a new city, sorting out the end of one beautiful chapter of our lives and the beginning of another, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the country no one wants to be in.

The coronavirus seems to be quickly taking over our lives. I keep hoping things will begin to dissipate. But the daily alerts seem to increase in strength as the number of confirmed virus cases continues to rise, even though the rate of its spread is slowing down.

It’s fascinating in a way to be on the ground where this is all taking place (though far from the actual city of the virus’s origin) and watch the news and information game coming from sources where it is not taking place. The response to the virus here has been swift and thorough. They are not taking any chances. A few key cities have been entirely quarantined, and in all cities, even in the far north where we are, precautions are being taken as schools have been closed for the next several weeks, and people are being encouraged to stay at home and away from large gatherings.

We feel safe, if not a little stir crazy, preparing to be at home for the next several weeks until the restrictions are lifted, continuing with school via online formats and going out to get eggs and vegetables or for a run at the nearby park with our faces half covered in masks.

I keep thinking about what it must have been like for people here in times past, when more serious threats like war or invasion or far more deadly epidemics threatened their lives. They had to make choices about staying or leaving. They had to decide whether to send off their families and separate for unknown amounts of time, or to stay together, perhaps to the detriment of their spouses and children.

There is always the unknown, the risk in any decision. You can’t know for sure what the future holds — how choosing one path over another may be the thing that saves you, or may be regrettable, or make you appear foolish as the days and events continue to unfold. I think of those previous generations and feel such admiration.

Boy stands in snowy street in China while quarantined

Feb. 5

It’s snowing again. While internally there are feelings of unrest or uncertainty, the soft and gentle scene outside is blanketing us with a sort of peace. Of course it’s not snowing everywhere in China. And snow doesn’t bring peace to the world. It is just the form that Provision is taking today, for us, right here. We needed a salve. We needed something, like those weighted blankets that keep kids feeling secure or calm. Snow was our manna.

Photo of a girl yelling in the street while quarantined in China during Coronavirus

Feb 8.

The streets are eerily quiet these days. But not this girl… Actually I think she was trying to catch snow in her mouth. And failing.

Daily life has been hemmed in and restricted in ways we never expected upon arriving back in this country. It means school at home for more weeks into the unforeseeable future as we wait for the virus to abate, and it means that the sports seasons that keep some of these kids going have been canceled. In the larger scheme of things and in comparison to the upheaval so many are experiencing, this is a small thing. But it is a challenge. It has me lifting up these “losses” to the One Who Knows and asking that they be used for the building of good in a presently unseen way in the lives of my kids and of others affected by this crisis.

“You hem me in behind and before, You have laid your hand upon me.” “You have loosened my sackcloth (my rags of mourning), and clothed me with gladness.”

Feb. 10

Being stuck at home really does have its benefits. We can’t get outside but we can keep what’s inside alive… hopefully.

Feb. 14

Snowfall again. Flakes the size of oysters and wet — melting in your hand, your hair, on your eyelids, in your mouth as you open it to the dropping sky, the sky filling your mouth. I was in the kitchen most of the day, making food for our annual Bollywood Night, dicing a mountain of onions, handfuls of garlic and ginger, rolling out floury discs of dough into another mountain of naan. Mountains growing in the kitchen all around me all day: onions, naan, dishes, and too the snow outside. I would step out from my piles, little rivers of sweat forming trails down the back of my neck, into the growing mound of white and quiet and cold. Oh, to lie down in it! Let the wet, white flakes pile over me, bury me and my burning, turmeric-stained hands.

We made Indian shortbread cookies, shaped them into hearts to be cute and day-appropriate. But they were flecked and flavored with fennel, a new favorite. And later, with friends and a house that echoed screams of kids from room to room, nibbling and sipping too-sweet chai, we talked of being home all day, day after day, and the long weeks behind and still before us of this school from home thing and the way the crazed world is responding to the virus, and the way it might break some of us. I wanted to take what was another’s load and yet all I could do was say, “Here, have another foreign-flavored cookie. We are all wandering in the desert here. Take some of this mountain of food. Be filled for today.”

It was a day-long labor of love — love for this food (the flavor! the colors!) and for the people gathered here. It was a day for mountains of love, love shaped like globed onions and wafer-like flakes melting down my back. Love that looked like food for the day, like what you need to see, the beauty right where you are, the provision for this moment, the way you are surrounded by mountains, the sky falling, heaven opening on all your hard, long days.

Girl near window quarantined in China
Girl has tea and heart shaped cookies during quarantine in China
Little girl sleeps while quarantined in China

Feb. 15

So thankful for weekends, where even though we are still sequestered at home, we can rest from the week’s labors and enjoy being together, eat leftovers and extra cookies and breathe in air wiped clean of pollution by all that glorious snow.

“And we are so grateful to be here, if for no other reason than to say — We’re not afraid. We want to be here in your struggle. We’re not going anywhere.”

Feb. 18

Most of the day, this big brother is here, on the couch, window light barely skimming his hairline as he works diligently on algebra and European history, Ivanhoe and physics. But sometimes he stops for a minute or two or more to have a balloon fight or to take Margot for a much-needed walk outside, or to run to the gate to pick up a grocery delivery for me. It’s pretty crappy circumstances these days for this country and its people, but in the shadow of that, it’s been good having my own all home, too. And we are so grateful to be here, if for no other reason than to say — We’re not afraid. We want to be here in your struggle. We’re not going anywhere. Thinking of our friends who are so much more restricted than we are and longing for the day hopefully soon when the numbers will start to go down and life will return to normal.

March 6

We are okay. And we are not okay. Wherever you are in the world, maybe you feel the same?

kids sit on a sofa in China during Coronavirus quarantine

March 7

It is Day 40 of staying at home, stores and businesses closed except for the grocery. Day 40 of staying home and switching our entire school system to online learning, figuring out new platforms and spending more time on screens than we ever thought we would or should. Day 40 of watching the sun come up without fail, tipping over the edge of the window where wrens flit about the bare brown branches as if they didn’t have a care in the world. So free, those little wrens. So watched over. May they never be caged.

March 8

Determined to rest today, which may sound odd considering we don’t get out much. Life is certainly slower and this is good. But we still need to rest and return, turn our eyes, or close our eyes. Anyhow, that’s what I did today. Took a break from cooking. Didn’t go for a run (though on some days that is the most restful thing to do). Sat long with my Sunday coffee and watched a gray morning grow lighter through the trees. Read some Julian of Norwich and decided she will be my Lenten companion. Napped with Margot. I’ve always been grateful for Sundays.

Forcing myself to take pictures daily, of anything, even if I don’t love the light or anything in particular. Finding gems here and there, mostly just remembering through all of these where our bodies are placed, where we’re called to be faithful, where seeing sometimes takes time.

Mom and little girl in bed during Coronavirus quarantine in China

March 10

The view from here: up early with coffee and no cream #becauselent, a run to the doctor for an ongoing (but small) issue for one of the kids, impromptu friends and falafel for dinner.

March 12

Morning routines. Margot has had an incredible year of her big siblings all home with her.

March 13

As we move into our eighth week of home and country quarantine, and are just starting to see the tipping point in sight, numbers going down and cases decreasing instead of increasing… My thoughts are turned to the rest of the world where it is all starting to ramp up, and I see the place we were months ago (feeling cramped, limited, full of unknowns), and now in others’ lives. We are feeling your pain. Wishing you peace in the storm and courage and fortitude and creativity as you hunker down, perhaps alone or with too many at your feet to keep sane.

After months of restrictions (that have worked, I might add), the park where we used to run was opened up yesterday. I saw the first cherry blossoms just pushing their way out on one lonely tree, and a mask dropped on the path below it. Signs of a coming spring one can only hope for.

“I’ve seen their joy grow in small things and their fortitude to be creative as they’ve learned to live with less.”

Girl plays in basket while quarantined in China during Coronavirus

March 16

Necessity breeds creativity. Today’s entertainment… going fishing for dinner with a packing box strap, an old basket, and a lot of imagination. But with a sprinkling of lemon juice and salt, and roasted on a ping pong paddle, the result was delicious.

March 16

This is the view of an old tennis court directly across from our house. It is used by our neighborhood management to store large trash items and the gate is locked up. During the current lockdown and restrictions, as parks and recreation areas also shut down, and as I watched my boys seem to whither away from lack of activity, I begged our wuye (building management) to let us have access to this court. We’ll buy our own hoop, I said. We just want a place to play outside (next to the trash). Of course they said no. It’s too dangerous, they said. Never mind that this space was originally intended for recreation.

I found myself angry, struggling with yet another boundary walling us in. But I also knew it wasn’t their fault. They were just following their own rules and instructions. I see a lot of people talking about the healing power of nature and how we can just send our kids outside during this time. I hope for many that can be true. If you find a slice of sky, sit under it. We have found ours in a way too. The court is closed off and there is no backyard, but we have wiggle boards and a bike and a few friends around and it has made a world of difference.

My big boys have turned a corner, even as they have struggled to do without… they have made up their own workouts to do together. I’ve seen their joy grow in small things and their fortitude to be creative as they’ve learned to live with less. I’m still learning that the idyllic is not always ideal.

March 21

This is an un-extraordinary picture of an extraordinary moment this week. Like so many around the world now, sports seasons were cancelled or cut short, parks and schools have been closed for months. Then yesterday, a knock came to my door. It was our landlord, whom I’d yet to meet. He walked me down behind our building and showed me a wide open courtyard behind a locked gate. It was his, he said, and he would give us a key. We could play there anytime. We could set up our basketball hoop (the one we had just bought and perched precariously outside our door next to cars and the river nearby). I was speechless, almost teary. I told him I’d been praying for a way for these boys to play and he had been a part of the answer to that prayer. Later, another knock. He had arranged for some men to move the heavy hoop for us. And just like that, the walls seemed to have all fallen down.

March 25

Zoom calls with your class that now get to include your little sister. I will say that the whole online learning thing had its full range of highs and lows today. One kid got off of a call with his teacher fully elated at his new understanding of some tricky math problems. Another kid went to bed expressing how this year has been the lowest he’s felt academically — the online learning format has not matched his learning style, to say the least. One child said they feel like they are in the wrong grade and have totally lost motivation to keep doing their work, and misses our old home and friends and soccer clubs, while another child gave thanks, saying this has been a season of friendship unlike anything they’ve had for a long while. And that they love learning from home. Holding all the range of feelings here. At the end of the day and all the talks. I just said “okay” and then an “Oh Lord, you know.” and put my head on my pillow.

March 27

I think it’s pretty difficult to discern why any of this is happening. We can make conclusions and try to make sense of it, but sometimes what we come up with may sound good in one respect, but horrid in another. I was thinking, for instance, of how staying home affects those who are in abusive situations. Maybe the only escape is school or running to a friend’s house.

Not meaning to be morbid or strip anyone of the purpose they are clinging to in order to make peace with this turbulent time, but peace can’t come from ourselves I don’t believe. The lines I read this morning seemed to speak right to that. “When I sought to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.”

I miss getting out. Plain and simple. I miss it. Documenting those tucked-away places we don’t often see or hear about. Making stories come to life with a lens.

March 25

Do you ever wonder if some dreams are just biding their time or have been buried forever? I’m not pining away over this, but I sure hope there is a day coming when we can get out into this beautiful world again.

March 29

We all hit walls. I hit a few this week. I grew weary again of trying to understand. Then I crawled into my sanctuary and Asaph the psalmist sat down alongside me and he cried out beside me and echoed all my thoughts and questions. He lamented. Then he stood up and with a loud voice said, “Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.”

Right here where we are in the tumult of people and nations, in the midst of it all, right here he’s doing a work as small as a mustard seed. Wait for it, watch for it.

April 5

What is the greatest fear, the thing that every human being is unsure of, and desires to avoid at any cost? Is it not death? Nothing like a pandemic to make you question yourself and the whole world… what is it we are all afraid of?

This is the week of weeks. The week where we ask the age-old question, is there anything, is there anyone who can defeat death? Is there anything or anyone stronger than death? Than our fear of it? There is.

April 7

Bear one another’s burdens. That was the word this morning. How to do this right now? The sun is shining through the apple blossoms for some, and not at all for others. So who is it that you can help, who can you serve? I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can bear one person’s burden. What if we all did that?

Christine’s tools

Christine shoots with her Canon EOS 5D Mark III and her lens kits includes her Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 and Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L 11, DJI Mavic Air drone.

See more of Christine’s quarantine in China on Instagram @homemadeinchina.

Photos by Christine Keegan

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Click Magazine. Buy your copy here, or subscribe so you never miss an issue.