Fun fact: I was born without a spleen. When the doctor discovered this about 10 years ago, a good friend of mine exclaimed, “The only person I know without a spleen is Evel Knievel, but he lost his in a motorcycle stunt!” I’m guessing that’s the one and only thing I have in common with Evel Knievel. One of the important things the spleen does is fight bacteria that causes pneumonia. It turns out a person can live without one, but it also turns out to be a good thing to have nowadays. I was born with a pancreas but unfortunately it stopped functioning when I was a teenager, so I have diabetes. To add to the mix, I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, another auto-immune disorder that I constantly have to look up the spelling for and is basically my immune system mistakenly attacking my body’s own cells and tissues. All that to say, I’m a bit of a fragile entity.
In spite of this, I’m thankful to live a full life. God gives me more than enough strength and energy for most days. However, about 5 years ago I was hospitalized for several weeks due to pneumonia. There are few things that have made me feel as vulnerable as not being able to breathe properly. Many times in those weeks in hospital, I was afraid. I called out to God in those dark moments and he healed me. During the first worship gathering I attended after recovery we sang, “It’s Your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise…” Never had those words seemed more true to me. I experienced each breath as gift.
In these unprecedented days as I breathe the crisp air on my daily walk, I’m reminded again of this grace bestowed on God’s created ones. Good health feels more fragile to us all and the anxiety of the unknown lurks at the corners of our consciousness. In addition to my own fears I’m daily managing the fears of Jaxon. Since school and church have ended, his anxieties have been through the roof! And even though I haven’t in any way indicated to him my vulnerabilities to the virus, the trauma of losing his biological mother haunts him. My role as his mom involves discerning what is going on behind his behavior and helping him name it. In a moment of clarity this past week he shared, “I’m afraid you will get sick and die and then you won’t be here to take care of me.” This fear is very real and rather than try to talk him out of it, I need to give him permission to speak the darkness out loud.
So how do I lift this darkness up to the light for him and within my own heart?
Psalm 121:8 reassures us: “God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.”
Recognizing that we are not immune to sickness or tragedy in this life, how do we find comfort in these words? Eugene Peterson writes that “the promise of the psalm - and both Hebrews and Christians have always read it this way - is not that we shall never stub our toes but that no injury, no illness, no accident, no distress will have evil power over us, that is, will be able to separate us from God’s purposes in us… All the water in the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us… None of the things that happen to you, none of the troubles you encounter, have any power to get between you and God, dilute his grace in you, divert his will from you (see Rom. 8:28, 31-32).”
It is God who lifts the darkness up to the light. We are given here a promise that goes beyond any suffering we may face. This promise reaches deeper than the darkest middle-of-the-night fears we wrestle with. It is a hope that reminds us that we are ultimately held.
So I’ve chosen to stop obsessively reading the ‘bad’ news. Instead, I’m re-reading the good news. And I ought to be reading it as compulsively as I was reading CBC updates.
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was sitting on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:2-5)
Each breath is gift, and each day is gift, and I’m choosing to be thankful. But even more than the momentary gifts, I’m swept up into a big beautiful story that says the world is not coming to an end! In fact it has only just begun. God takes the messy things, the scary things, the hard things, and he is working to redeem them. Creation is being lifted up by God’s everlasting breath.
Remembering the largeness of God’s redemptive plan, one that is not thwarted by a pandemic, helps me remain thankful. So many things feel out of my control at the moment. But this is one thing I can control. I can make the choice to believe in the deeper reality of God’s promises. None of what is happening has the power to take away his extravagant love.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are...Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 2:1-3)
Yes, at this moment in history I may be more vulnerable to pneumonia than usual, and yes, this does make me afraid. But beyond my fear, I am held by the biggest and truest story of all. A story that tells us of a supreme love that is orientated toward us. And this love is invariably working toward an eternity where all will be made resplendently new!
We are lifted up by God’s Everlasting Breath. So rather than starting and ending my day by checking CBC’s headlines, I’m opening up God’s word and remembering his very great and precious promises. These words are as true now as ever. As I remind Jaxon every day, I offer this assurance to you:
“You are safe, you are held, you are loved.”