They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness,
Through a land of deserts and of pits,
Through a land of drought and of deep darkness,
Through a land that no one crossed
And where no man dwelt?’
~ Jeremiah 2:6
Over a decade has passed since a friend reminded me that we are "Ecclesiastical people" with many seasons. Each season has it's purpose in our life. We need to remember that each season, no matter how long, or level of importance, has an impact on our life. Just because you now find that your life is not what you thought it would be, doesn't mean that where you currently find yourself isn't important. This may very well be one of the most important seasons of your life."
The friend was right. I needed that season because it made me stop and think about what was really important to me in my life. Within the next year I found that I was living in a new city, surrounding myself with people who were not toxic (that is another subject that I can save for another day!), and in a role that reminded me that God still had a plan for me in my life.
For many of us about now, we need to be reminded that we are "Ecclesiastical people." This season of the pandemic has been both life-changing, but also, filled with a feeling of loss that we are now just beginning to understand.
I have begun to wonder what will be written about this season in history? But most of all, what the impact has meant for the people who lived through it.
Within the Old Testament, there are a number of stories that are reflective of the seasons when the people of God had turned away from God, or were in exile, only to once again return to God.
While the pandemic was caused by a virus, it did bring the entire world into a new season. A season where many found themselves isolated, exiled, and experiencing life in a new way, often filled with decisions that none of us were taught about or prepared to encounter. People we love were suddenly sick, some were angry, others simply became silent. People who were once active, with schedules that were meant for a 30 hour day, suddenly were tasked with finding a way to work from home, where children were now present all the time, and were now expected to work the same schedule while teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, and become cafeteria workers who were responsible for every meal.
As a hospice chaplain and pastor, who is used to being at the bedside of those who needed me, I suddenly found that the days when I could hold their hand and to simply be present for those who needed me, was replaced with faceless phone calls, where I had to learn how to listen for changes in the person's voice, moments of silence, or breathing patterns that changed, signaling that what the person was sharing in that moment, was more important than anything that had been shared previously.
For myself, the last twenty-four months has brought a new understanding of who the "least of these" that Jesus spoke of to me. Suddenly I realized that they were some of my friends, family, and the stranger that was struggling for life while mechanical devices kept them alive. They became those who suddenly found themselves paralyzed by their new circumstances, and overcome by grief because of so many losses.
One day I was looking in the mirror and discovered that the "least of these," was me, as a virus that I have lived with for the last 18 years was given new life in a body where COVID destroyed an immune system, supported by antivirals, that were not equipped to fight.
As I attempted to share with others what was going on in my own life, the words that I once could easily find to describe these things, were also infected by these circumstances and did not survive. I felt deeper isolation and darkness, shame and guilt, defeated and broken.
Like so many, this new season, or experience, stripped us, leaving us naked and vulnerable, feeling cold and alone, without even a hint of which way to turn. A place where we ache for the whisper of God to tell us that we will be okay after hours of screaming our prayers to a God that we were taught would "always be there."
I remember watching my children when they were young, after an outburst, with their faces swollen and red from crying, often with tears still on their face, their breathing would then change from quick, deep breathes, to those that became regular, calm, and surrendering, as they would then allow for rest and peace.
Having reached that point in the pandemic, my tears have dried, leaving a salty line where my mask has not only protected me, but has prevented others from seeing all of me. As I look in the mirror, I realize the fifty pounds that I have lost due to my encounters with COVID and health challenges, has caused my face to bear the outline from the masks that I have worn for hours after being screened daily for symptoms, and temperature readings. Boxes of government provided test strips for COVID sit on my kitchen counter next to my coffee maker, as that is where I stand each morning, and reflect on how I feel as I begin each day, checking for symptoms of a virus that embraces change as variants cover our land.
Besides the obvious symptoms, I now also reflect on how I am emotionally and mentally, often wondering if I am still "enough" for my family, those who I have been given to care for, as well as, myself. I stare at a cup that I still hope will hold what I need to survive another day in a land that is drier than any desert that I have ever walked.
But then something happened today.
Words that once were dead, scattered, and decaying in the memories of my mind, experienced a resurrection that forced not only my heart to feel them, but caused my fingers to suddenly come to life as a laptop announced their presence as the sound of typing filled a quiet room, My spirit, which had resigned to living among the dead, waiting for the moment it would be free of this life, has realized that this dark season it has been experiencing, still possesses enough light to cast a shadow, and maneuver a path that it once thought it would never see again.
Even as I write, I realize that I am still in this season, without a sign of an ending, but yet, a new reality that there will be remnants of this season that will exist the rest of my life. The losses are real. The grief is substantial. The feelings that I have are real and do not need validation by anyone. The feelings that we are all experiencing at this point are valid, with no explanation needed!
Our vulnerability has left us naked in a winter garden that bears not a single leaf. This season, for many of us, has been the longest winter on record.
I suddenly realize that there is one last bulb of hope that exists in this winter garden, and it has been sustained and protected by not only dirt, but the cold darkness it has needed to prepare for the spring.
As the world begins to unmask, I remain challenged but not defeated, while realizing the words of my grandmother, "The important thing in life is not to conquer, but to fight well,"
I may still be naked, vulnerable, and perhaps even paralyzed, but even the paralyzed man who sat at the gates for years, suddenly found himself being lowered through a rooftop by friends, who understood that sometimes allowing the faith of others to carry us is the only way that we can get to Jesus to hear him, telling each of us to, "take up your mat and walk."
I am not sure if my words will resonate with what you may be experiencing in your life now, or speak to you in the ways in which that have spoken to me, but they are words that come from a place of resurrection. They are hope bursting forth from a garden that still knows cold and darkness, but yet, is beginning to experience a new season.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2022
Rev. G. Todd Williams is the author of the book, "Remember Me When..." and is a former hospice chaplain and pastor.