For the first time in months – five to be exact but who’s counting, it has started to feel “normal” again. I first noticed the change while at the store recently. The atmosphere just felt different. Maybe it was because strangers started talking to each other again instead of averting their eyes. I had a delightful conversation with a lovely woman in the bakery about how good the cream cheese crescent ring looked. Then I noticed all the store shelves were fully stocked again. Instead of looking at rows and rows of depressingly empty shelves in the home stores, they were filled again with autumn wreaths and pumpkin spice candles. Ah, the pumpkin spice returns!
We still have a long way to go, and it’s not yet time to let our guard down. But I was so excited to see the one-way aisle markers had suddenly disappeared from the grocery store floors, just like they had never been there. I have always lived my life with hope, so I confess I’ve had to look a little harder these last few months to find that hope. Grocery store aisles, the return of pumpkin spice, and the nicety of strangers have definitely helped!
I believe the tide is turning.
It may not be quick – it took us awhile to get where we are. But anything worthwhile in life takes time. Our biggest mistake perhaps has been that we expected an instant fix, in our instant world. We needed to slow down. We needed to reevaluate what was important. And, we needed to expose what was broken.
Now, with slowness of pace and humbled hearts, we can begin to fix it.
The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. Patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
“Who is strong like You, Lord? You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them.” Psalm 89:8-9
It’s hard to wrap my head around the events of the last four months. Just when I think I have it figured out, or the experts tell me they have it figured out, it all changes. Is it too much news, the wrong news, or do we refuse to look at our reality? I have friends that fall into all three categories, and depending on their viewing area, there can be many different answers to many different problems. Unlike Coronavirus, which we can largely hand over to the scientists and doctors to figure out, hatred and self-centeredness are much more complicated issues to solve. They are not scientific, yet their disease has been part of our human nature from the beginning. It is not isolated to an American problem or a 21st century problem. Every generation and every country has suffered from it. We just got a little comfortable, for a little while. So what are we to do?
~ Past History ~
Ask your grandparents about their generation and you’ll likely get a different perspective. Even more than that, read the historical accounts of the Old Testament Bible and you’ll discover just how relevant it is for what we are going through today. The main purpose and overall story of the Bible is to show us through real life and tragedy the example of God’s reconciliation, grace, forgiveness, and love. God knew what we needed more than anything else. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ builds on this foundation, and his teachings and example are more important today than ever before. Sometimes I think Jesus may have been thinking more about future events in the 20th and 21st centuries when he spoke rather than just the current period. Especially that “love your neighbor” thing. That is the genius of Jesus’ teaching. He did not come to preach against the oppressive government of Rome, though he would have been right to do so. That would have only made his teaching relevant for that time. Rather, Jesus spoke about the heart, the one thing that has not changed in all the years of our technological and educational advancements. Humanity cannot survive without a change in our hearts.
~ Starts with Grace ~
The above picture says it all, no words needed. It represents something intangible, something that speaks to our hearts. And it all starts with Grace. It’s the foundation that makes all else possible. The Bible is full of examples of Grace, and God offers it willingly and freely to all who accept it. When I think of Grace, the first picture that comes to my mind is that dirty, vile, and repulsive thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross. Whatever crimes he had committed, it was atrocious enough to give him the cruelest punishment possible. How dare this guy, in his last breath on earth, after all the injustice and pain he inflicted on others, recognizes his wrongs and calls out to God to save him. Yet Jesus offers him Grace and Salvation – without hesitation. We all need that type of Grace at some point in our lives. And the most amazing thing about Grace is that it’s rarely given to those that deserve it, because, well, they aren’t the ones that need it. That’s the whole point of Grace – it’s undeserved or unearned favor, and only God can truly grant that. When I see people on the news burning down buildings, yelling hateful comments, or taking justice in their own hands, I know that they need Grace too, and God is willing to give it to them. It’s hard for me to even say that without wincing. I want justice and fairness! But we will never completely settle the score, or right the wrongs of the past without a huge covering of God’s Grace. It is the only thing that can cancel out the wrongs in our world. The law alone can never accomplish that. God’s Grace is the great equalizer – all of us need it and all of us have access to it.
~ Forgiveness makes complete ~
Along with Grace, we must also learn to Forgive. I’ve heard a lot of apologies and “I’m sorry’s” recently, and while those can be a good start to mending relationships, words alone will not satisfy. What I haven’t heard as much about is Forgiveness and the “I forgive you’s”. Sorry is more passive but Forgiveness is an action word. We cannot completely heal without also forgiving those who have wronged us. Again, that makes me wince a little to hear that, but that is why God gave us the standard. The Hebrew word for Forgiveness means complete. When Jesus spoke of forgiving others “70 times 7”, he did not randomly pick numbers to mean a lot. The number 7 represents completeness, as in the 7 days of creation that end in rest. It means forever complete. Jesus came to Forgive us because of God’s Grace, and also to show us how to Forgive others. As TD Jakes says, “How valuable is it to you to know that you are forgiven?” To the thief on the cross, I would venture to say it was the most valuable. Forgiveness is a powerful tool, and it will set you free.
~ Mistaken Security, Mistaken Life ~
Up until now, with all of the comfortableness we have in life, we have been dangerously close to selling our souls to a false or mistaken sense of security. We’ve put our trust and security in our jobs, in our leaders or political party, the stock market, idols, our heritage, and even in our own identities. We’ve not had to think too much about what our faith really means. And that can leave us more vulnerable than the coronavirus pandemic. I believe God is giving us the opportunity for a much-needed and urgent wakeup call. Wouldn’t it truly be tragic to realize too late that your life was based on a mistaken security, one that cannot save you in the end? If the events of the last four months tell us anything, they should show us just how quickly our world can change and all that we’ve built up in it. Sadly, it also shows how quickly the condition of mankind’s heart can change too. We went from the feel-good slogan of “We’re all in this together” to rioting, looting and killing in the streets within a matter of days. Let’s face it – our world has been a ticking time-bomb for awhile, one filled with hate and self-centeredness growing under the covers of our comfortable lifestyles and false securities. It’s better we pull those covers off now and be a little uncomfortable. As a culture, we don’t fear dying or doing the wrong thing. We mock God. We don’t fear what we should, yet we’re filled with fear and anxieties over the things we shouldn’t. One day we will all give an account for our actions to God – alone. Not our friends, not our opinions, not our pride or our degrees or awards, not even with our church. No covers. No matter what happens in this crazy world, don’t let your life be based on a tragic mistaken security.
~ A better world ahead ~
So what do we do now? I don’t have the answers, but I know the way to start. With a little Grace for those we don’t always understand or agree with; a little Forgiveness to heal our world and each other; and a respect and recognition in knowing that our true security lies only in God – the giver of all good things and the One who has shown us the example of how to live – I believe we can do much better on this earth. It is the only way our world will ever make sense. So let’s start by showing the way.
“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know. I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16
We all have our breaking point. It might be different for you than me, but if we’re being honest, we all have a time when we just fall down. There’s a weight that overcomes us in that particular moment. It’s part of being human, and being humble. We are not completely invincible, and we were never meant to be. That is part of what makes life so precious, but the secret to it all is not to stay there too long.
I found my breaking point on Easter evening. Twenty-two tornados were swirling over the state of Georgia and around my home in the span of a couple of hours. I could handle Covid-19. I could handle the stock-market crash and the loss of my near-retirement savings. I could even handle the possibility of job losses. But now I was hunkered down in a corner of my home while a freight-train sounding wind just outside the walls threated my family and my home. At 2 AM. On the evening following Easter. I began to shake, and I began to cry. And I sure prayed too.
Gratefully and thankfully, there was no damage to our home and my family was all safe under one roof. It came close though, with one of the twenty-two tornados touching down about twenty miles north of us. Living in the South, we’ve had our share of tornado scares before, but this one was my breaking point. I was shaken, and there was a tiredness that stayed with me for days. I laid around the house without much motivation. And just a week later on the same Sunday evening, we had another threat for more storms and tornados. I froze. I had a PTSD-like feeling. I couldn’t sleep, and I was useless all day until the threat had passed. I finally understood how people with anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder must feel all the time. This feeling went on for a couple of weeks, until I realized this was no way to live. I had to get back up.
“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
I began talking with God in my prayers and telling Him how I felt. “Lord, I’m tired”, I would say. God likes us to be honest in our prayers to Him. He can work with that. After a few days of me telling God how I felt, I noticed something when I went down to the kitchen in the morning for my usual cup of coffee. As I opened the pantry and reached for the coffee, I saw shelves stocked full of food. I had stocked up at the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to go out as often during this pandemic. My refrigerator and freezer were full too. Suddenly I was thankful we had enough food to eat during this crisis without worry. I looked around my house. I was thankful for my comfortable home that held so many precious lifetime memories, and for my family that was healthy and safe still sleeping upstairs. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but today, right now, was good. And every morning since, I’ve begun my day with honest and thankful prayers to God. In the quiet of the evenings after everyone else has retired upstairs, I do one last check around the house and then step outside on the back deck to look up at the heavenly stars and give one more “thank you” for the day and for peace during the night.
These are certainly trying times for all. Everyone in the entire world is affected. But what may become our biggest tragedy of all, is if we as a community and as a world, waste this crisis and go back to our normal lives when all of this is over. Sure, we all want some normalcy back in our lives, and I do miss those nostalgic carefree days we had only a few months ago. But I also remember other things: I remember people complaining about how crazy-busy they were and stressed out over things that don’t really matter; cutting each other off in traffic just to save a few seconds; being glued to our phones instead of enjoying each other’s company; and complaining. Yes, I mentioned that last one twice. And for those of us who are people of faith, we prayed for revival at Christmas time and New Year’s. Did we mean it? Most revivals and great changes in society come from some sacrifice or tragedy. Rarely do we change our behavior when things are going great. When we are comfortable, we often forget gratitude. We forget how to be creative and innovative. We forget the simple joys, and what is truly important in life.
So when we hear of the “new normal”, I hope we will strive for a “better normal” instead. It will surely be different, but how? We have a new start and a new chance with the reopening. Let’s not go back to the way we were or we will not have learned anything from our mistakes. Those who died will have died for nothing, the sacrifices will mean nothing, and our faith that has been put to the test will show we failed when it counted the most. We have a chance to do better, be better, show our true faith in times of trial! There is a hurting world out there, far more than just the virus. Let’s come out of this tragedy more compassionate, more observant, more kind, and not take the good things for granted. Let’s create again, let’s collaborate and put our brightest minds together to invent a vaccine, and let’s show the people who will be reading our history books that we as a people rose above this and made a better world for them. And through it all, may they also read about how we turned to God during this time for our hope, and He delivered us.
Pilots are trained for emergencies. They are taught that when the unexpected happens, the number one thing you do is to keep flying. You may have to make some adjustments, but you keep flying the plane. And that’s where we are right now. We keep living. We make adjustments and be prepared, but we keep on living, and hopefully do it in a more mindful way. Slow down, spend more time with family, call an elderly friend, take a walk outdoors, or sit in your backyard and listen to the birds. Fresh air, sunshine, and God’s nature are all good, healthy things to enjoy. No one wants circumstances like we have right now to remind us what is truly important, but let’s not waste the opportunity either. Live now. Enjoy God’s beauty around us. Be kind. Pray more. Less sensational news and social media. Look up.
And now, I think I’ll go bake some cookies with all that extra flour, sugar, butter and eggs I recently bought. Live your fullest, my friend! Don’t waste a moment.
When faced with life’s challenges, we have two options in our response: Peace or Fear. Choosing peace requires some work on our part, as it does not often come naturally. Fear is an immediate response that requires no work from us, yet takes much in return.
Last week I had my “over 50” colon screening scheduled at the hospital. It wasn’t my first one, since I have a genetic tendancy toward such things, so I shouldn’t have been too worried. But considering all things going on in the virus world right now, I was a little more on alert. It seems like everyone’s senses are intensified. I couldn’t help but think to myself, what if I catch something in the hospital? Why not just put this off until later? I almost rescheduled. But then that would be acting irrationally in fear. The risk of not having a potentially life-saving screening done because of an unreasonable fear is a much worse risk. That is what fear does to us. It takes.
So instead of giving in to the fear, I prayed. The morning of my procedure, I prayed for God to give me peace through it all – the process, the surgery, and the anesthesia. I had done everything I needed to do. I had kept my appointment and followed the doctor’s directions, and now I was asking God to give me what only He can truly give – Peace. I wasn’t asking God to take away my circumstances, but just to be there with me and give me peace. And you know what? God did! He showed up! I felt an unusual calm as I waited for them to stick me with the IV needle and roll my hospital bed into surgery. PEACE. The feeling is priceless, especially when things are no longer under our own control.
We’ve all been humbly reminded of this over the last week, that we surely can’t control everything going on around us. But God does promise to give us peace when we ask. God has an abundance of peace that He is always willing to give. It is one of His promises from the Bible, and is available to anyone who believes and asks. God’s promises are something we can always depend on.
Jesus, who is called the Prince of Peace, said this:
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.” John 14:27
You can almost feel the tone in Jesus’ words as He speaks this. It is a feeling of true care and concern for people. He does not want our hearts to be troubled, or to be living in fear. He offers us what the world simply cannot.
When my surgery was over, I was glad I had not let fear take over. The doctor found and removed two benign but pre-cancerous colon polyps. Doing nothing out of fear would have been much worse for me later on. Instead, choosing to ask for peace from the Prince of Peace Himself was a wise choice, and a wonderful feeling to have. For every one of us, at some point in our lives, whether now or when we’re much older, will have our life be beyond our control. It will just be ourselves and God. At that time, I want to have God near to me, and to experience His peace when nothing else will satisfy. And it’s also a good practice for us to have in our daily lives now too.