Saturday, March 21, 2020

These Isolating Times

Isolation has been a great teacher for me. The first time I experienced a long period of isolation was sixteen years ago when I suffered a severe break to my right ankle. I was house bound as I could not drive and was experiencing a great amount of pain that pain meds didn't touch. I had been a very active person, walking daily and serving in a youth ministry that kept me busy for many years. Then all of a sudden I was sitting at home, alone much of the day.

God was gracious in that when my husband picked me up to take me to the hospital, God impressed upon my heart that this season was for a reason. At first I didn't know what God meant by season, but soon found out. As the orthopedic doctor was looking at my quickly expanding ankle I said, "I guess I won't be walking for six weeks." He looked up from my ankle with concern on his face and gently said, "If you do walk, it will probably be a year from now. It is a bad break." I came home and looked around my living room and thought, now what? The first few weeks were spent mostly dealing with pain. My daughter supplied me with funny movies to watch and brought her first born over several times a week so I could just snuggle with him, which helped a lot. I began to learn important lessons about three weeks in to the isolation.

The first lesson I learned was about loneliness. When everyone was at work, I was alone for many hours and began to experience loneliness. At that time I wasn't good about asking for what I needed or wanted, so I didn't reach out, which increased the loneliness I experienced. When I realized what I was experiencing, I picked up Elizabeth Elliot's book on it to see what she had to say. As I read it, I realized what made loneliness hard to bear wasn't the loneliness itself, but what I was telling myself about it. I had come to believe the experience of loneliness was proof I was rejected, defective, or seen as unlovable. However, I learned loneliness is a God-given emotion that serves to remind us we are created in the image of God, which means we are created for connection--connection to God and to each other. When I understood that, the shame I felt over the experienced of loneliness melted away. I realized there were some things I could do to initiate time with friends and family. I had to swallow pride and ask for rides to lunch, appointments, and to attend a class I wanted to take, all of which cut down on the hours I felt alone.

One sweet lady from our church, brought by a meal for us to enjoy and as she was leaving she said, "I can't wait to hear what you learn about God through this time." Her simple words radically changed my perspective. I realized in that moment I didn't want to miss out on anything God might want to teach me. And, He was so gracious. I continuously felt His presence with me for that nine months. My quiet times were rich, my heart full, and my prayer life fulfilling. Then one day I picked up a prayer journal I had kept for counseling. In it were things I had written to God about some of the traumas I had experienced earlier in life. Even though I had shared them with a counselor, I didn't experience a lot of emotion in the writing or the reading of them. I opened the journal and read the letters out loud to God and I felt His love wash over me and I wept, finally able to grieve the things I had been processing in counseling. I realized I had been too busy to fully enter into the healing process, but God used that injury to slow me down to feel and to heal. Looking back, I am so thankful for that experience because I got to experience the truth of God's daily presence in my life. I not only got to experience God as my Abba (daddy), but as both the Wonderful Counselor and Comforter. He lead me to write curriculum during that time that in turn has been used to comfort others as I was comforted.

And now here I sit again isolating because of the Covid 19. At first, it didn't seen like such a big deal, as we are retired and I have been an author for the last 16 years. However, about a week into it after one of the newscasts, I realized how anxious I had become and how much I was missing the freedom to hang out with my family and friends. One of my granddaughter wanted to come while she was off from school and her gym was closed and her parents had to say no because it isn't safe. Our grandkids that live an hour away can't come down and hang this spring break. Even the ones we live close to are becoming more cautious--we might share dinners sometimes, but always have to ask if everyone is fever free and avoid the usual bear hugs. I have a husband, son-in-law, and a grandson who are extroverted sanguines and find isolating really hard and when they run to the store to get out some it increases my anxiety a lot.

So, what is God teaching me this time? First, He is teaching me that love doesn't always look like a warm hug. Sometimes it means shutting down support groups you love to keep everyone safe. Sometimes it looks like a wave instead of a handshake. Sometimes it looks like a text message that contains a funny meme or a funny picture that depicts an inside joke. Sometimes it looks like a Facetime call. It sometimes looks like people standing on individual balconies singing as the sun sets. It sometimes looks like a Zumba teacher blasting music from her porch, leading neighbors in a class as they participate in their own yards. It sometimes looks like parents getting creative in helping children do school work and learn life skills like laundry and cooking. It sometimes looks like an exercise laid out with masking tape and toys and a mom cheering her preschooler for completing it. It sometimes looks like a child standing on a fire place fervently praying his heart out after hearing he may not get to return to school this year. It sometimes looks like preachers preaching to empty auditoriums so we can still hear sermons and worship together. It sometimes looks like a tired president and his staff giving us updates on a daily basis. It sometimes looks like living room concerts being played and cast by all kinds of musicians willing to share their gifts. It sometimes even looks like taking a firm stand with the sanguine in our lives, reminding them they can be a part of the solution or be the problem. It sometimes means being patient with people who are panic buying and hoarding, knowing it may not be selfishness driving them, but fear. I am also finding in the midst of what feels like chaos, God's relentless presence is my stability as well as my peace in the anxiety that keeps bubbling up.

I have come to believe this season of isolation is an opportunity for the church to shine brightly and because most of my communication is in writing I want to be careful of every word I write. Some of the harsh things I have seen online cause me to cringe, because I don't believe they accurately describe the Father's heart. Ez. 18:23 says, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" As believers, we would do well to reflect first on our own lives, the state of our own hearts, and the health of our own relationships before we point fingers at others. We know from the news, that the church needs revival just as much as anyone else in this world. So, I hope we all can speak God's truth with a clear and clean conscious, having taken the logs out of our own eyes first. I hope we speak it in such a loving way that others will be drawn to the very heart of the God who loves them enough to die and bear the wrath of God for sin for them. Let's try to reflect God's character in such away that others want to come near Him.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!