IN TIMES LIKE THESE

Today s my grandmother’s birthday.  If my math is correct, she would be 121 years old.  Although she has been gone for almost 30 years, I still miss her every day.  She was the closest thing I had to a mother figure and I knew she loved me unconditionally.  When I was a lot smarter in my twenties and thirties, it annoyed me that she wanted to talk on the phone every day.  Every other day would have been fine with me.  Didn’t she know I was busy?  But oh, how I would love to have those phone calls back (grandchildren, take note)!  Oh, and why didn’t I get more photos of the two of us together?? I still remember the last time I saw her.  She was in the hospital in Dallas and I flew down to see her.  She knew, but I didn’t, that it would be our last time together.  She kept saying, “I’m so tired, but I’m afraid to go to sleep because when I wake up I won’t see you again.”  In my denial I thought, “Of course we will see each other again.  You will get well and go home and I will come back to Dallas for a visit.”  It didn’t hit me until I was on the airplane heading home that she was dying, and that she was right.  That was our last visit.  This story still brings tears to my eyes, and even though I have lots of grandchildren of my own, I still miss my Nenaw.  But I know without a doubt that we will meet again in Heaven.  She may be waiting at the gate for me even now!

I wonder what she would have thought about these Covid-19 quarantine days we are experiencing.  It just occurred to me the other day that she lived through the infamous Spanish flu we keep hearing about.  I don’t recall her ever mentioning that to me.  She would have been in her late teens, and probably knew someone who died from that plague.  She may even have contracted it herself.  

She had a perpetual cheerful attitude and didn’t dwell on negative things, but she lived through some tough times.  She endured two World Wars, sending both sons and a son-in-law (my dad) off to an unknown future.  I think about what it must have been like back then with no 24-hour news.  She didn’t have a television at that time so she must have relied on the radio and Movietone Newsreels if she went to the movies.  Even though she didn’t know if her boys would come back, she put one foot in front of the other and kept going.

Isn’t that similar to what we are doing now?  We don’t know where this virus will take us.  There is so much uncertainty about what lies ahead.  Our government officials as well as leaders in business, religion, and education are trying to make the wisest decisions they can.  Some of us are wondering how we will do school in the fall while others are wondering if our jobs will still be here when the economy is opened.  This virus has affected every area of our lives.  But we put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

There is a hymn that is stuck in my head: In Times Like These, by Ruth Caye Jones.  Ruth was a Pennsylvania pastor’s wife who was living through some tough times of her own.  It was 1943, a World War was raging, and this mother of five, like everyone else, saw the casualty lists and tried to make do with rationed supplies at home.  It was a time of great strain.  One day she opened her Bible to 2 Timothy 3 and read these words      

But understand this, that in the last days there will become times of great difficulty.

A song began to take shape in her mind, and we were left with these beautiful lyrics:

In times like these we need a Savior;
In times like these we need an anchor.
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

Although Ruth was inspired by the passage in 2 Timothy, she no doubt was familiar with another passage in Hebrews:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Heb. 6:19.

The entire world is living through difficult and uncertain times.  In times like these I need a Savior. And that Savior’s name is Jesus.  I know my soul is anchored in Him.  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but when I close my earthly eyes for the last time, I know His face will be the next one I see…maybe followed by my grandmother.

It Doesn’t Matter

Before he passed away, Charles Krauthammer wrote a book entitled Things That Matter.  Oh, how I miss that man with his wit and wisdom.  I wonder what he would say about our current state of affairs, being locked down as we fight off the deadly and costly Corona Virus.  I find myself frequently thinking about those words, “things that matter.”  What really matters in these days?  

There have been many blessings hidden among the horrors of this pandemic we are enduring.  We are spending more time with family, we are praying more, we are reaching out to friends, and we are resting.  Resting from all our frantic activity that distracts us from enjoying the most valuable aspects of this life we are given.  One of the things I have noticed in my own life is how many times during the day I tell myself, “That really doesn’t matter.”

This virus is helping me to tease out the important from the unimportant…or the less important. Things that I thought were really important are really not any more.  We gave up our vacation rental because we are not going to be able to take out family beach vacation this year.  But that is not nearly as important as having a healthy intact family.  A vacation, while nice, is just not that important.  My hair and nails could use some attention, but I am learning to make do.  I don’t plan to rush into a nail salon the minute they reopen.  Because it’s not important.  An entire season of pretty spring clothes is going to come and go.  Because where would I wear them?  I look around at my house and think it could do with some updating, but it’s not really important.  If some knickknack is out of place, I may or may not adjust it.  Because it doesn’t matter.  Fortunately, I still have some Charmin, but if I run out the world won’t come to an end.  I have even heard some talk about not having football in the fall.  Whoa!!!  Now that matters!

Joking aside, I’ve noticed this “not important” thing even in my thought life.  I am letting go of some things that have bothered me in the past.  Old hang-ups?  Not important.  Past slights?  Letting them go.  In fact, I am even finding them laughable.  I haven’t mastered this yet, but I am beginning to give grace to those who withhold grace from me.  Because you know what else is not important?  Me!

Letting go of the things that don’t matter is making room for the things that do.  Every morning my first thought upon awakening is, “Thank you, Lord for protecting me through the night.”  I check in with my children to make sure they are all alive and well.  Preserving life matters.  Not only has my prayer life improved, but our prayer life as a couple has vastly improved.  We have developed a new prayer system.  Every day we especially pray for a specific family member.  And God is telling us how to pray for each one of them.  I have more time to spend in God’s word.  I am writing notes and making phone calls.  Jerry and I laugh more (and when necessary, we socially distance)!  And I am appreciating life.  I am more grateful.  Grateful for the big things and the small.  

Lives matter, and those who work to save lives matter. Our medical professionals who are on the front line matter as well as the hospital cleaning staff who work behind the scenes. Those who work at “essential” businesses matter. It matters that people are dying alone and that numbers are so great that they are being buried in mass graves. Smaller things matter too. It matters that I can’t go to church or hug my grandchildren. It matters that children can’t go to school, that college campuses are empty, that proms and graduations have been cancelled. These are all important things.

Charles Krauthammer would say the thing that matters most is politics, that we must secure life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness before any of the other things we enjoy can come to be.  While I understand his thoughtful argument, and while I would agree that politics is vitally important, I don’t think it is the most important.  Because politics is subordinate to God.  The Scriptures tell us that God holds the heart of the king in His hands, and He can turn it any way He wants (Prov. 21:1).  He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars (Dan. 2:21).  Therefore the things that are important to God must be the things that are important to me.  Jesus taught that loving God and loving my neighbor are the most important.  If we master those, everything else will fall into place.

This Corona virus is important!  But even it is subservient to the power of God.  In my Bible study we are digging into the book of Malachi.  Twenty-four times Malachi refers to God as The Lord of Hosts.  He is Commander in Chief of the armies of heaven.  He could unleash them against this virus and it would be gone in a heartbeat.  And yet, He delays.  

I am wondering if He is giving us this time out, this global shutdown, to determine what is really important.  We keep asking when things will return to normal but maybe that is the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking what God wants our new normal to be.  How does He want me to live now and in a post Corona world?  What things really matter?