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Column: Will this forced timeout replenish our supplies of blessed grace? | Columnists

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“He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Mark 10:14

One of the most unexpected and delightful surprises about becoming a grandparent is that you are apparently stamped with some sort of invisible marking that children everywhere just seem to somehow recognize. In the almost two years now that Mike and I have been blessed to be card-carrying grandparents, we have been showered with smiles, waves, chatter, and sometimes even hugs from random precious children that we see wherever we go. And trust me when I say it’s the best!

But being a grandmother in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic just stinks! For starters, if you’re trying to seriously adhere to the stay-at-home guidelines and the 22-month-old who absolutely owns your heart lives an hour’s drive away, video-chatting and texted photos are depressingly poor substitutes. And knowing that you probably won’t be able to hold the little sister who is scheduled to arrive in early May until she comes home from the hospital isn’t exactly making this grandmother jump for joy either.

Even trying to walk the dog becomes problematic for a grandmother. Neighborhood children, bored and restless with no school to keep them engaged and occupied, all suddenly want to be your best friend; even middle-school-aged boys who under normal circumstances would be much too cool to even notice — let along speak to — an old lady like me. Social distancing protocol aside, kids will come sprinting down their driveways to chat and they will invariably want to pet your dog while you’re standing there anxiously trying to remember if the leash is the obligatory six feet long.

But in the same instant your grandmother’s heart is rent with sorrow when you see how utterly desperate these young people are to interact with another living soul, and so under your breath you fire up a quick prayer for protection from any contagion. Then you smile and try to find some soothing words to express to them how hard being cooped up is for all of us. But then when they tell you that if school doesn’t start again soon that they’re going to go stir-crazy, the old schoolteacher who still lives in your soul can scarcely breathe for the lump in your throat.

So long before you’re able to regain some semblance of your composure, you see a neighbor with her baby on her hip and her 3-year-old daughter in tow making their slow but steady way down their steep driveway to their mailbox.

“No worries,” you think as you visually measure the distance between them and yourself and are reasonably confident that they will be halfway back up the driveway before you pass by. And they were. All was proceeding perfectly according to plan until the little girl spied my approach out of the corner of her eye. With the speed of lightning she wheeled around and roared back down the driveway, her poor mother helpless to catch her with a baby welded to her hip.

In the twinkling of an eye, a pair of tiny arms had flung themselves around my knees and an adorable little face was gazing up at me, waiting expectantly for my response. My personal space, not to even mention all of my defenses, had just been breached in a most unsettling, but altogether lovely, sort of way.

So, what would Jesus do? And more to the point, what was I going to do? Push an innocent, trusting child away and give her sweet mother an indignant glare, as if she had committed an unforgiveable sin by not tossing her baby aside and tackling her daughter before she could ambush me? Not a chance! God help me, I prayed, because I surely couldn’t help myself. I threw all caution to the wind and bent down as low as my arthritic knees would allow to enfold the cherub’s eager shoulders, to stroke her silky hair, and to coo a cheery “Well, hello there, Sweetie!”

Quite suddenly I found myself transported back to a much simpler time when everyone still warmly greeted their neighbors and friends with handshakes and hugs — never giving so much as a second thought to where those folks might have been or to what plague they might be carrying. Had it really only been a few short weeks ago? No, it merely seemed like an eternity.

But in the fullness of that moment I was also keenly mindful of how this little one, so fresh from the Throne that she still exuded the fragrant aroma of Heaven, seemed so utterly devoid of the ugly stench of worldliness and of sin. I felt an overpowering urge to remove my shoes because I sensed that I indeed was standing on holy ground.

The words of the prophet Isaiah whispered softly in my ears. “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up: do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

What could it all mean? Upon careful pondering, I choose to believe that God in his infinite loving kindness had taken the time to remind and reassure me that he is mightier even than a virus for which there is no cure or no vaccine; yet still tender enough to hear his children when they cry out to him in bewilderment and in fear.

And what about that “new thing” that God is doing for all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear? What if this current crisis is a real catalyst for tolerance, reconciliation, and peace in a world so bitterly divided over issues large and small? What if once the danger has passed that the present loneliness and isolation makes us so happy to see each other again that we actually begin to truly listen to one another; even if the other’s viewpoint is different from our own? What if this forced timeout is just what is needed to replenish our exhausted supplies of the blessed grace which strives to assume the best about others instead of the worst?

And what if the constant reminders that we have received lately of how fragile human life truly is bring us all back to the very foundations of our faith? What if we all become ever more mindful of and grateful for the multitude of blessings to which we have grown so woefully accustomed that we shamefully take them for granted?

Friends, I hope that you will agree that one of the greatest of these blessings is the extravagant gift of being able to gather with the members of our church family on Easter morning and join with them in responding to our pastor’s joyous proclamation that “Christ is risen!” with a resounding and thunderous chorus of “Christ is risen, indeed!”

But even if this year we must proclaim Christ’s glorious resurrection and his victory over sin, death, and even the coronavirus with only those who live with us around to hear, it doesn’t change the fact that it is still most wondrously true and without a doubt the very best news that this world has ever or will ever know.

And so, to my mind at least, an altogether fitting response is, Amen, come Lord Jesus! Come and visit your weary, waiting people in all of your radiant resurrected glory! Can I get a “hosanna” and maybe even an “alleluia” or two to that?

Stevens worked 30 years as a public school teacher and resides in Hickory. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Hickory.

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