We biked into the church parking lot this Sunday morning. I was so happy to be back at church that my eyes filled with tears.
I’ve been having flashbacks of Duane’s medical residency, forty years ago, during these last months of lockdown. We had moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where we knew no one. Duane was on call at the hospital every third night, leaving me alone at home. That July, I realized the normal routines of life would be gone for three years. The natural rhythm of workweek/weekend disappeared. Friday night movie dates, over. We used to go to church together on Sunday mornings. Now I went alone.
I was pregnant, too, so technically not alone. I found a job at the County Clerk’s office processing passports and marriage licenses. A kind couple at the church I attended started a Bible study for new mothers soon after Mike was born. Even though I was new to the church, the ladies held a baby shower for me. I went home with a car full of presents, from other young mothers who hardly knew me.
For Duane and I, being part of a healthy church has been a top priority. We’ve moved a lot in our forty three years of marriage. Wherever we settled, we searched for a good church. A place where people who follow Jesus gather.
I remember the couple who taught our Sunday School class when Duane was in residency, Herb and Fran Reigler. They tried anonymously, to pay for our car repair bill when the motor froze. Where ever we’ve moved, we’ve met more people like them: the friends who visited the juvenile jail with us to share their lives with incarcerated kids. Jeanne always remembered each child’s birthday with a card. Our Sunday morning team who planned and led a worship program for kids. The high school kids who babysat the kids of young parents so they could get together. The friends who have listened to our family emergencies and prayed for us, and asked us, “How’s it going?” These are people who care about others.
Over the last weeks, unable to go to church on Sunday mornings, I miss my Christian friends. We’re different ages, in different ‘life seasons’ with different callings and backgrounds. But my Christian friends share two characteristics that attract me: gentleness and grace. Over the years, we’ve shared the good, bad and ugly of life.
When something comes up on a Monday morning, or whenever life crashes into my plans, I think, “I’ll be able to share this with my friends at church.” It comforts me to know they’re praying for me. I’ve seen circumstances change in ways I couldn’t make happen myself. These aren’t just nice people, they’re people who’ve made the choice to believe God exists and that he cares about us. And so, we care about each other.
On the old British show “All Creatures Great and Small”, two veterinarians were discussing the hard lives of their patients, the farmers of northern England.
“They have sheer stubborn pride and refuse to quit, in spite of the frightening day to day realities they face. They’re a breed apart. They possess that exceptional quality of the unbreakable human spirit.”
In the next scene, James, one of the vets, is sitting at the kitchen table of the farm family whose cows needed his healing. The farmer’s wife kindly asks James if he would like a cup of tea and a piece of pie. Her son, hardly twelve, breezes through the room.
“I’m off to check on the cows for Dad,” he announces as he goes out the door.
“Where’s your husband?” James asks.
“He’s in hospital,” the wife answers.
“Is it serious?” James looks shocked, as he had just seen him a week ago, and farmers can’t afford to go to hospital.
“Well… it’s not looking hopeful,” she says quietly. Set in 1937, before present day medical treatments, death was not uncommon for illnesses we shrug off today.
I’ve been meditating on that ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ pictured so poignantly in that farm family.
When ‘the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ goes the old motto, and in these present days my ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ can feel fragile. I used to turn on the news each morning, to catch the local weather. Not anymore; I’d have to endure hearing the newscasters spouting the latest Covid stats. So I make other choices, which take time to consider. The constant ‘considering how to spend the time’ and being forced out of life’s habits and routines, is, in itself, exhausting.
I try to surround myself with inspiration. Winston Churchill’s speeches can do that. The epitome of moral courage, he determined to survive against Hitler. In response to the idea of surrender to Hitler, Churchill stated, ““If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
I try to copy his resolve. Lately, I also remember that Churchill spent much of the war taking hot baths and drinking heavily.
The greatest hardship of quarantine for me has been the loss of the Sunday morning church experience. Zoom and internet services can’t fill the void. My mainstay, beyond faith in God, is being able to get together with people who love God. I go to church on Sundays with expectancy. A serendipitous Energy pervades those gatherings, that begin out in the parking lot when we arrive, because we often meet there first. Surprising encounters happen in hallways and the lobby. The carefully planned services restore my spirit’s perspective. Through music, prayers and spoken truth I’m changed and strengthened. Something I didn’t expect but came looking for is found.
It’s the one morning out of seven where the focus is God’s community, not me. I’m reminded of important things I knew but forgot. Being with other Christians, God’s kingdom comes alive. The ideas I hear may propel me to a new choice or a new habit. Or something to eliminate from my life. This morning I learned about a summer Bible study to join.
If the human spirit is ‘unbreakable’ or we’re stronger than we feel at times, it’s only because God is the one who supplies the love and strength that we need to make it. He designed us to live in relationship with him through our relationships with others.
I was thrilled and thankful to be with my church family this Sunday. We met at 8 a.m. outside, in our shady parking lot. Being the middle of June, no one expected the cool Florida breeze that floated around us, scattering the Pastors music and sermon notes. We sat on lawn chairs or blankets we brought, with our children at our feet. We joined in Communion with each other.
In the last weeks, as our county has begun a careful Reopening, some of the New Normals have been a disappointment. Store shelves still have empty spaces.. Libraries and restaurants aren’t their usual selves.
But this Sunday morning’s gathering, thoughtfully planned with wisdom, began my week with the same life-giving joy as every other Sunday. As always, God’s glory shines in his people.
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.” -Psalm 22:22.
“The world is a perfectly safe place to be as long as you are in the Kingdom of God.” – Dallas Willard