Easter in Isolation

Tomorrow is Easter. For Christians, it’s our most important and holy and joyful day of the year–a day we go to sunrise services, special Easter worship services, multigenerational family dinners with special foods like ambrosia and asparagus. We celebrate together! But this year we’re under mandatory “Shelter in Place” orders, so we will worship from home via apps and computers. We will have dinner with only our usual housemates. We still rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, in His conquering of death and hell–making a way for all who will trust and follow Him to spend eternal life in Heaven with Him. It still feels like an important day–but it doesn’t feel like a holiday. Our spiritual rejoicing has a shadow of loneliness and loss. People are genuinely and justifiably grieving over so many losses in this crazy time, and this is one more.

These are my thoughts this Easter Eve morning, written in an email exchange with a friend.

Lately, I have been thinking about believers in prison. The apostle Paul, of course, but – as many might expect of me – also the many thousands or more who have been in POW camps, concentration camps, imprisoned for their faith in Islamic countries, criminals who come to – or back to- Jesus in prison. This has made me think, too, about those who are bedridden and home-bound due to health issues. Those in concentration camps tapped messages of encouragement in code on the prison pipes. They sang snatches of hymns to give each other hope. With eyes straight ahead, they muttered words of hope and snippets of Scripture when no guard was looking. They wrote letters and smuggled them out. They did this to strengthen each other, to build community, fellowship, in spite of knowing that getting caught would mean beatings or death. They were “being the Church.”

I have also thought of my husband Dale, of him telling how his brother spent days trying to find and reach him in Vietnam. Chuck was a Navy hard-hat diver on a ship off the coast of Vietnam and, also on board, was “Chief Jackson,” a powerful, Holy-Spirit-filled, zealous believer who ran Bible studies and prayer meetings on deck for these men who faced death at any moment. Chuck had been mightily saved through him, and was being mentored, discipled; in the subsequent fifty years, he has never looked back. His favorite song was “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, No Turning Back… though none go with me, still I will follow…” Then his little brother Dale arrived in Vietnam as a combat helicopter pilot with a high chance of not getting back alive, and Chuck had to find him to be sure he, too, would choose to trust and follow Jesus – before it was too late. Their deployments overlapped by only a month, so Chuck got a few days of leave and hitchhiked, did whatever he could, to find Dale, but, as a pilot, Dale was always on the move and Chuck was running out of time, chasing him from base to landing zone. He realized he could check just one more place, then had to get back, or he would end up AWOL. He walked up to HQ and was told, “I’m sorry, Dale just took off on a mission.” Heart-sick, Chuck walked out the doors and saw Dale walking up the same sidewalk; his mission had been scrubbed. They spent the rest of the day sitting on a hillside, with Chuck giving Dale an urgent, literal, “Come to Jesus” talk. Dale, like Chuck, had been ripe fruit, and he was quick to respond, so they prayed together, confessed sin, praised, had the sweet fellowship of brothers who were now also brothers in Christ. Chuck instructed him in the basics of the faith and how to grow deep and strong in his new life. Then Chuck had to leave. Talk about a crash course! Dale never looked back, either. Not once has either Chuck or Dale wavered. Unlike Chuck, Dale never saw another believer until he got back home. He spent eleven months in “spiritual isolation.” Dale had a pocket Bible that he devoured, and he and Chuck wrote letters, but that was all. Dale always said how God created us to be in community, but you’d better be ready to stand alone if necessary. God works there, too.

Isolation happens. It tests our faith. It purifies and sorts and shrinks and prunes and winnows the church — but it only shrinks the visible church, not the Invisible Church. It is a comfort and brings hope to realize that true believers -all over the world!- are meeting by zoom, facetime, YouTube, conference calls. Small growth groups, Bible studies, megachurches, and secret house churches, friends – worldwide the Church is isolating, (except in Sweden!) They are holding on to each other, encouraging each other, singing together via phone in huddles of 1, 2, 5, but in reality with 30 or 300 or 1000, all watching the same streamed service “in different places together,” all singing the same song from couches and breakfast tables. What a gift to have zoom, and texts, and Marco Polo, and landline phones held up to computers to connect! This, too, shall pass.

One of my sweetest, most powerful memories was on a trip to Europe. Our 1st stop was Naples, but we ended up with a day-and-a-half layover in London, landing at 6 a.m. Easter Sunday. We hopped on the tube and bee-lined for Westminister Cathedral. We’d been flying since the prior morning and had on travel clothes and backpacks. The man at the door gently told us it was not a tourist time, but if we wanted to worship with them, we were very welcome, but the church was full, so we would have to stand. We found a bit of wall, and spent an hour worshipping in an ancient church, singing centuries-old hymns, hearing the story of the ages, with people of all ages, classes, nationalities. I was so moved. I looked around and realized I was being given a gift, a glimpse of The Church, Universal, Triumphant, Eternal. It made me cry, of course, but that memory, that portal to Heaven opening for just a glimpse, surely will be one of my last memories when my mind fails me.

It will be okay; we will be okay. If this lasts another month or a year, we will worship with each other, confess our sins and needs to each other, pray for and with each other, check in on each other, encourage each other, reminding each other of God’s past faithfulness, and His assurance, His promises, that He is still in control, He is still strong, loving, steadfast, a good, good Father. That’s who He is, was, and will be.

So, this is what I’ve been thinking about, for what it’s worth. I am affected, certainly, by all the “holocaust and suffering” memoirs I read, but I’m grateful. Our world has changed, but God has not. He is up to something here! The Potter’s wheel is spinning!

And I’m thankful to be “with” each of you as we spin!

COVID-19 and other generational traumas

When I was a young child, it was polio. It got my two-year-old sister. She was hospitalized, put in social and physical isolation. Even our parents were kept away except one visit by one parent for five minutes a week. She, they, and we were forever changed. I remember vividly being in a long line of little children getting a sugar cube put on my tongue, like a holy communion wafer, from a lady with a tense, hopeful, forced smile.
In elementary school, it was air-raid drills and the threat of atomic bombs. Shelter under your desk!
In middle school, it was the scientists’ dire warnings about global cooling and a coming ice-age.
President Kennedy, Bobby, MLKjr,
Riots, marches, hunger strikes, struggles for civil rights
Vietnam, the draft, word of lost friends
9-11
California on fire.
COVID-19

I was thinking this morning about generational traumas. I am 68 and these were mine. We all have had them, will have them. We will be impacted by all of them, remember most of them.

Take heart, parents. This – now – can make your children strong, compassionate, wise. It can give them perspective on what really matters. They’re watching and listening and processing to see how we respond – how they should respond. You have their ear like no other time. This is boot camp for the rest of life’s troubles, and we get to teach them how to find the good. Every day. That’s a silver lining. A gift. A severe mercy. As I pondered these things, these song lyrics came to mind:

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
–John Newton, 1725-1807
[once a prominent slave trader who repented, turned to follow Christ, and ended up becoming a leading abolitionist.]

A Cracked Pot and a Crock Pot

I have a big confession to make. I’m afraid of crock pots. 

When Dale and I were first married we were given a crock pot. I made a meal in it – stew, I think. All I remember was at the end of the day it was still nearly raw and it was AWFUL. We were very poor college students, and to lose a whole dinner was a big deal, so I never used it again, and finally sold it at a garage sale. I knew – Crock pots were SCARY. 

I also can’t swim! Yet I love watching others swim, just as I love seeing other ladies sharing crock pot recipes and enjoying their delicious results!

 But I DO appreciate crock pots for the same reason I like gardening: they are wonderful, practical pictures of our spiritual life.

 You and I – we’re the ingredients. You may be a carrot – a deep, unshakable root. You may be an onion, scary and make people cry, but when people get brave enough to come close, they find you intriguingly deep, layer after layer. Maybe you are a fluffy thing like a cauliflower, or maybe you are a garlic – a little of you goes a long way! But God has chosen each of us; He prepared us, cleaned us, cut off bad spots perhaps, then He put us in this crockpot called DAILY LIFE, plugged into His Power Source, and turned on the heat. Not too high, though it often feels like it. Just below a simmer. Just hot enough to change us slowly to be better and better!

 Sometimes God puts us under the broiler, or on the grill, and it’s painful and we come away with scars – those black criss-cross sear-marks – but they are accompanied by a deep beauty and great flavor! Sometimes we long for immediate answers to our prayers, for Instant Spiritual Growth (“Lord, please help me have the gift of patience; I need it right NOW!”) or for Him to bring change in OTHERS. We want God to use the microwave! He can! And sometimes He does!

 But for the most part we – you and I – live in a crock pot.

 Now, during the day, we lift the lid, look at each other in our half-cooked state and notice harsh flavors, sharp edges, pungent odors perhaps, and we judge each other, sadly unaware of our own undone state. Or we look at ourselves and get discouraged at our lack of wisdom and spiritual victory and growth. “After 13 years as a believer I can’t believe I did that again!”

 But God is not finished with us yet!  Now, that’s easy to say about ourselves. After all, we like to make excuses for our own failures and sin. It’s harder to say about someone else.

 Here in the crock pot, we rub shoulders with each other, smoosh one another a bit, knock off each other’s sharp edges, and as the heat is turned up, our flavors blend, get richer, gain depth and fullness. Hopefully we learn from and benefit from the flavor of our neighbor, our children, our co-workers, our friends, our enemies! In this crock pot we can soften. We can mellow. We can ooze grace juice! We can gain the AROMA OF CHRIST.

 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 New International Version (NIV)

15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” 

 Take heart, Dear Ones! God is not finished with us yet!

He is not FINISHED and we are not DONE!

 So let’s go on to embrace the heat of the Refiner’s fire, the troubles and troublesome people, the storms and the diagnosis and the spilled milk. Let us love one another and show grace to each other, knowing that God is not finished with them yet, just as He is not finished with ME.

 He is not finished, no, but one thing I can guarantee: He is working! In me, in you, in that loved one, in that unloved one.

 “Whenever trouble comes your way,” James says, “let it be an opportunity for joy.  For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”  James 1:2-4

 And at the end of our lives, when our day in the crockpot comes to a grand finale, at the right time, the appointed time, when the timer of our lives rings, God will lift the lid, savor our sweet, fully-cooked aroma and declare us “DONE”.  And then say “It is good.” … “It is very good.” (Genesis)

and: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Let’s celebrate together!” Mt. 25:23

 I hope that every time you see or use your crockpot you will take heart, remember that God is not finished with you yet. But He is working!