It has been a long 18 months of dwelling deeply in all kinds of “supposes” and “what ifs” because people were being crushed by a virus right and left.
I understand this kind of thinking, particularly when “in the moment” tragedies, (like a Florida condo building collapsing in the middle of the night) play out real-time in the palm of our hand in front of our eyes and we feel helpless to do anything but watch it unfold.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes this worse. I’m taught to think catastrophically. That is what I have done for a living – to always be ready for the worse case scenario and simply assume it will happen.
Sometimes it does happen and no amount of wishing it away will work.
When I rise, too often sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all do ~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — says our Lord (and we are comforted by this) but even if it did … even if it did – as awful things sometimes do – we are never abandoned.
He is with us always.
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When I lay my head in my mother’s lap I think how day hides the stars, the way I lay hidden once, waiting inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember how she carried me on her back between home and the kindergarten, once each morning and once each afternoon.
I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.
When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder: Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries from becoming his? I think Dear God, and remember there are stars we haven’t heard from yet: They have so far to arrive. Amen, I think, and I feel almost comforted.
I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.
Between two unknowns, I live my life. Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am by coming before me. And my child’s wishes, older than I am by outliving me. And what’s it like? Is it a door, and a good-bye on either side? A window, and eternity on either side? Yes, and a little singing between two great rests. ~Li-Young Lee The Hammock
I’ve become the window bridging four generations, waiting for the door to reopen:
I remember my grandmother’s soft hands smoothing my hair when I was upset. I still see her tears when she said goodbye.
I remember my father carrying me on his shoulders when my legs grew weary and my patience short. I still feel his final breath as he finally gave up his struggle.
I remember my children needing me for nearly everything. Now, living so far away, I give so little as they soothe and comfort my grandchildren when I cannot.
I wonder what my grandmother, my father, my children, my grandchildren were thinking. I can only imagine, stuck as I am between the closed pandemic door and the someday-open window.
Once again I am the one in need: praying life and hugs might happen again.
Soon. Soon and very soon. I can almost hear the singing between us.
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year. We are dying away from things. It is a necessity—we have to do it Or we shall be buried under the magazines, The too many clothes, the too much food.
Let us step outside for a moment Among ocean, clouds, a white field, Islands floating in the distance. They have always been there. But we have not been there.
Already there are signs. Young people plant gardens. Fathers change their babies’ diapers And are learning to cook.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
This year I have been paying close attention to what makes me weep. During 2020, I have had more than ample opportunity to find out — from my tears — the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and for the salvation of my soul, where I am to be next.
My pockets contain hand sanitizer and kleenex, stowed right next to my mask.
In previous years, my tears flowed while spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays — reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It was about singing grace together before a meal and my voice breaking with precious words of gratitude. My tears certainly had to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that difficult letting-go and waving goodbye as they round the corner and disappear.
This year, that had to happen on a screen or from behind masks. No hugs hello or goodbye. None of the usual ways we celebrate together. I feel bereft as have countless other families around the globe. Some never had opportunity to say their final goodbye – too much has died this year.
As our children grew up, we encouraged them to go where their hearts told them they were needed and called to go, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm. And so they went.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future, seeking how the sun might break through the clouds in my life. It led me to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, this church, to more tears and heartbreak, to more letting go. And it will continue if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This year my tears flow for what could not be. For too many families, their tears flow for who now is missing and will never return. My tears flow for the pain and sadness of disagreement and angry words.
Spreading faster than COVID is the viral expansion of toxic misinformation and conspiracy theories sowing doubt and distrust. Masks are useless to protect people exposed to a deficiency of simple common sense.
So this is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that my tears might make a small difference to those around me, like the sun breaking through the clouds.
What is coming upon the world is the Light of the World. It is Christ. That is the comfort of it. The challenge of it is that it has not come yet. Only the hope for it has come, only the longing for it. In the meantime we are in the dark, and the dark, God knows, is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver. Soon. But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are. ~Frederick Buechner from The Clown in the Belfry
Darkness is not where we will dwell forever.
We are promised this in the Word: “and night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light… Revelation 22:5.
Somewhere between the Word in the beginning and the Word that becomes flesh and the Word thriving in our hearts and hands, there is the sacred silent Light of God come to earth.
This Advent is a time of quiet stillness, awaiting the Light brought by His Word; He is a flint struck to our wick, the Darkness abolished by the eternal glow of His illuminating Word.
After all the false dawns, who is this who unerringly paints the first rays in their true colours? We have kept vigil with owls when the occult noises of the night fell tauntingly silent and a breeze got up as if for morning. This time the trees tremble. Is it with a kind of reckless joy at the gentle light lapping their leaves like the very first turn of a tide? Timid creatures creep out of burrows sensing kindness and the old crow on the cattle-shed roof folds his wings and dreams. ~Richard Bauckham “First Light”
Who is this who has come to change everything in my life and everything within my heart?
Who is this who paints the skies to speak to me from His creation?
Who is this who wraps me firmly within His grasp and holds me tenderly when I am trembling afraid?
There will be no more false dawns. He brings the sun with Him and I am here, a witness, standing before Him.
If I am alive this time next year Will I have arrived in time to share? And mine is about as good this far And I’m still applied to what you are And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you And I heard from the trees a great parade And I heard from the hills a band was made And will I be invited to the sound? And will I be a part of what you’ve made? And I am throwing all my thoughts away And I’m destroying every bet I’ve made And I am joining all my thoughts to you And I’m preparing every part for you For you ~Sufjan Stevens
Every night, no matter where I am when I lie down, I turn my back on half the world.
At home, it’s the east I ignore, with its theatres and silverware, as I face the adventurous west.
But when I’m on the road in some hotel’s room 213 or 402 I could be pointed anywhere,
yet I hardly care as long as you are there facing the other way so we are defended in all degrees
and my left ear is pressing down as if listening for hoof beats in the ground. ~Billy Collins “Sleeping on My Side” from Whale Day and Other Poems
It seems amazing we can actually sleep at all, knowing all the hazards out there beyond the bedroom walls
– whether it is pandemic viral particles floating in the air, or pollution from wildfires, or ozone layer depletion or “the-big-one-any-moment” earthquake, or an errant nuclear missile launch, or bands of roving bandits –
it is a wonder we can quiet our minds at all.
When I was about 8 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn’t sleep for several days, fearful if I slept, then the world would end and me with it, without even knowing the bomb had hit. Somehow, my staying awake saved the world from destruction and no one, not one single person, ever thanked me for it.
There is always so terribly much to fear if you really think about it. We are constantly lying with our ears to the ground, listening for the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, wondering how close they have come to our bedside.
These days I take comfort in knowing I don’t always need to be on high alert. I know, in fact, His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.
The bridge of grace will bear your weight… ~Charles Spurgeon
Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who also was and is (our) God. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from “Circular Letters in the Church Struggle”
Great gaps are being torn in families, kept separate in hospital ICUs and overflowing emergency rooms, where patients struggle for breath and fight for life – yet too sick, with too much risk for loved ones to be near.
Christ too knew separation from His Father, a chasm that appeared wholly unbridgeable- forsaken, suffering for His brothers and sisters by paying with His life a ransom we could never satisfy: we being so dead broke and captive to our sin.
His grace is the only bridge able to bear our weight, even now even now when our hearts break with uncertainty and fear.
We seek the comfort of a grace strong enough to fill our every hole bridge our every gap carry hope to our hopelessness and restore us wholly to our Father who was and is our God.
Lord, comfort us by spanning our troubled waters, bearing our weighty burdens, to make sure we get safely to the Other Side where Your arms await us.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving toward the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.
The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.
Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him—whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend—be our companion. ~Henri Nouwen from Gracias!
Like so many, I tend to walk through life blinded to what is really important, essential and necessary. I am self-absorbed, immersed in my own troubles and concerns, staring at my own feet as I walk each step, rather than looking forward at the road ahead, listening to the companion who has always walked beside me.
We were joined by this living breathing walking God on the road to Emmaus as He fed us from His word. I hunger for even more, my heart burning within me. Jesus makes plain how He Himself addresses my most basic needs:
He is the bread of life so I am fed.
He is the living water so I no longer thirst.
He is the light so I am never left in darkness.
He shares my yoke so my burden is easier.
He clothes me with righteousness so I am never naked.
He cleanses me when I am at my most soiled and repugnant.
He is the open door–always welcoming, with a room prepared for me, even me, the poor ornery person I am.
So when I encounter Him along the road of my life, I need to be ready to recognize him, listen, invite Him in to stay, share whatever I have with Him. When He breaks bread and hands me my piece, I want to accept it with open eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself, the Companion we were blessed with Christmas morning.