Guardian Angels, the Bigger, the Better

I don’t know how it happened, but in the process of raising three boys, somehow, we only ended up in the emergency room twice seeking stitches, once each for child #2 and #3. I could be wrong. My memory fails me as frequently as Sonic changes its menu. But I don’t think our #1 child ever had stitches in an ER. He is the only one who rode in an ambulance after a near-death experience, but no stitches. (As it turned out, what looked like a deadly sledding accident wasn’t nearly as bad as all that.)

Was it good-parenting practices? Did we cover them in bubble wrap? Maybe they never stepped outside or made a wrong move. We were homeschoolers, after all. Ha! Maybe it was because their dad was a nurse and didn’t feel a need for emergency intervention until body parts were pretty much falling off. Child #3’s injury was a pinky, and he was small, so it only needed one stitch because that’s all it could hold. Child #2’s injury was a little worse. On the phone call with the emergency room, Dr. Dad asked what plastic surgeon was on call. Before you get worried, it was an elbow, and there just wasn’t much skin left.

The boys didn’t make it easy. I’ve blogged about the William Tell reenactment using an onion, bb gun, and bird feeder (in lieu of #2’s head). If it doesn’t ring a bell, it’s worth scrolling through my archives. There were baseballs and bats, hockey sticks, pucks, and balls landing on body parts not covered by PPE (not the COVID kind), spills on granite rocks too numerous to count, roller blades, boogie boards, bikes, projectile toys and sports equipment, even (dare I say) lawn darts. How they survived childhood is anybody’s guess. Then they got older and started driving and using axes and chainsaws and power tools, but still no ER visits. How could this be?

I don’t believe in luck or coincidence. So those were ruled out. I know my boys were not excessively careful. So, that’s out. I’m sure God had plans for them which required them to live, but a few stitches now and then wouldn’t have changed those plans. So what was it?

Finishing up a class with Dr. Derek Thomas, I think I may have an answer. Guardian angels, maybe more than one per child. He was commenting on how God assigns “guardians” to us to bring us “all the way to glory.” What a comforting thought. I have joked in the past that some of us need the really big, brawny angels to keep us from harm. Some of us need more than one. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I am glad God sends them.

Our boys have made it to adulthood. Number 1 is a teacher, #2 is a pastor, #3 is a surgical technician. They are all trained to help people in different ways. We are about to embark on a family vacation. We may need to employ all their skills with all six grandchildren together. I hope #3 can just relax, but should we need him, I’ve heard good things about his suturing skills. Maybe we can still avoid the ER. And I am also confident that same band of guardians is still on duty, along with another squad, maybe a platoon, either way, we’re in good hands, granite rocks and all.

“He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:10-11 ESV)

A Little Room, Please

I needed to get my steps in before the day became unbearably hot. Gathering all the necessary gear: water, phone, pedometer, poop bag, leash…where is Yué’s leash? In the playroom, of course, there’s a two-year-old running amuck. Out the door we went, stopping 10 feet from the front door to poop. The dog, that is.

Some of you know Yué, most of you don’t. My professional dog colleagues would describe her as having “poor composition.” The rest of you would say, “she ain’t right.” Both are accurate. Regardless of how you feel about Pit Bulls, this Pit mix doesn’t look particularly friendly. She is, but it’s that composition/not right thing that would give you pause. Is she snarling? Nope, her lip is just stuck in her teeth…always.

She has been staying with us for the last 10 days, along with my son, his wife, and the two littles, while some work is being done on their home. It’s been fun, and I have a walking buddy, since Doug has been busy. So, we hit the pavement and are walking briskly up the first hill. I see a woman walking briskly down the hill. She has a definite advantage at moving briskly. I position myself on the right side of the sidewalk. This puts Yué between us. I know you’re thinking, well that was dumb. Why didn’t you put the dog on your right side? There’s a simple explanation. Habit, not the nun kind.

After 20+ years of Seeing Eye puppies, I still walk dogs, all dogs, on the left. Yué is in no way, shape, or form a service dog. Service dogs are smart. Yué’s not only a few fries short of a Happy Meal, what fries she has are a little undercooked. But, she’s family.

So, we’re walking. She’s on my left, and there are small trees on my right, giving me nowhere to go. The lady coming toward us has choices. She can move into the grass between the sidewalk and the curb. Or she can step into the street. That would also give us the proper 6’ social distancing protocol, since neither of us is wearing a facemask. I realize too late that Downhill Walking Briskly Lady is not going to yield an inch. I have no time to get Yué into the street without taking out DWBL. Sidebar—I don’t care if you are the Dog Whisperer himself, if you are approaching a dog you don’t know, you ought to give him some room. Not to mention the fact that this woman doesn’t know me. She has no idea if I can handle this weird-looking Pitt-mutt, straining at her leash making throaty, gasping sounds. I’m not too sure myself.

 I’ve got Yué on a nice, short leash right next to me, so the worst I hope will happen is this woman will get slimed. But it’s her own fault. So, we make the pass. Yué slimes her. (She’s lucky we just started out. If this had been a mile in, Yué would have worked up a good lather, which she likes to fling, splattering everything in its wake, and landing in an perfect circle encompassing her head.) I say, “No, Yué.” We get a few steps farther, and I say, “Good girl, Yué.” A smarter dog might wonder if it was corrected or praised. Trust me, this dog doesn’t care. 

Some things to remember when you come across an unfamiliar dog or dog walker:

  1. Give them extra room.
  2. Ask from a distance if the dog is friendly and IF you can approach it.
  3. Assume the person handling the dog really can’t handle the dog and refer to #1.
  4. Never, ever, allow you, your children, or your dog to distract a real service dog.

A Father’s Whistle

My husband has magical powers. When our kids were young, Doug whistled, and our children magically appeared. No matter what they were doing or who they were with, when they heard that whistle, they came running. They knew their dad’s whistle. They ignored other whistles, but not his. Even now, with the boys all grown up with their own children, I’d be willing to bet, if their dad whistled, the boys would at least turn their heads toward him.

I’m not sure how it started. But having three boys, I imagine Doug whistled to get their attention because they were doing something they shouldn’t. But it was most often used when we were out somewhere, like the Little League fields, and the boys were scattered all over. One whistle, and our family was reunited and ready to go in a matter of seconds.

I can’t whistle. I mean, I can whistle a little bit, but it’s mostly air with a slight melodic sound to it. I sound like Wheezy from Toy Story—the little plastic penguin with a worn-out squeaker. My husband’s whistle is not weak or squeaky. It’s ear piercing, and he does it effortlessly. He has done it automatically, without warning, if he saw that one of the boys needed immediate attention. If I happened to be standing close to him in those moments, my ears would ring for a while. Maybe that explains my poor hearing now, hmm.

My husband hasn’t needed to use his whistle in a very long time. It’s not that he doesn’t whistle at all. His child-calling whistle isn’t the only whistle he has. He can imitate almost any bird. He’s had long conversations with a number of birds. I don’t know what he’s saying to them, but I’m pretty sure he invited one of them to move in with us. It built its nest in our dryer exhaust, which required it to enter the outside vent and make two 90-degree turns to get to the dryer. Doug needs to stop whistling to birds.

As I was doing my daily Bible reading one day, I came across a verse that reminded me of those days when Doug would call the boys with his whistle. God said, “I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before.” (Zechariah 10:8 ESV) How cool is that? God, our Abba Father, will call us in with a whistle. This portion of Zechariah is a prophecy of the end times. I wonder if that trumpet blast we wait anxiously to hear is God whistling for us. I know how loud my husband’s whistle can be, so I’m sure God’s whistle could be a trumpet blast that will be heard to the ends of the earth. I don’t know about you, but when my Abba, Father, whistles, I plan to drop everything and run to Him. Finally, it will be time to go home, to be gathered in together with all my brothers and sisters to be united with our Father. Our brother, Jesus, promises He will come soon to gather us up with Him. I’ll be watching the clouds, praying He comes quickly, and listening for that unmistakable whistle.

My Family Was Racist

I will admit it, my family was racist. We try to whitewash it, but my grandmother’s generation talked about black people in a way that could only be considered racist. They were born just before or after 1900 in Philadelphia. One great aunt, who never married, lived and worked in the city until she was about ninety years old.

I would pick her up from her home in Olney (pronounced Ol-eh-nee, like Ack-a-mee [Acme] by locals) for special events and visits to our house in the suburbs. As we would turn onto Olney Ave., she always commented, with a sweeping wave of her hand, “Olney used to be such a nice neighborhood, but now it’s all black.” We forced her to leave the city after she was mugged a second time, breaking her shoulder. Her neighborhood was too dangerous. She blamed the “blacks.”

Another great aunt lived a few blocks from us. She was not at all happy when a black couple moved into the home next to hers. She couldn’t believe “blacks were coming to Lansdale.” She had a “there goes the neighborhood” attitude, sure that “blacks didn’t take care of their homes.” But over the first year of being neighbors, her attitude changed. She didn’t receive any race-relation education or had any sort of spiritual awakening. What made the difference were the black people living next to her. They were really nice. They took good care of their home and offered help with hers. They were kind to her, and their kindness and character changed her. Dr. King would have been proud.

My mother’s generation wasn’t as overtly racist, and I am sure my mom never taught us to be racist. But I don’t remember her ever teaching us that people of other races were no different than us and should be treated as such. She did have one mantra that I remember, “kill them with kindness.” If someone mistreated you, be kind in return.

The town I grew up in simply didn’t have many black people in it. There were none in my elementary school. Then in sixth grade a new student joined our class. He was from Uganda, East Africa. Wow, I wondered why he came to live in my small Pennsylvania town. It didn’t take long to find out. Our teacher asked him to share why his family had moved from Africa to the United States. He said that in his home country, a very bad man, Idi Amin, was killing people who, in his opinion, didn’t have dark enough skin. Since this boy’s family had lighter skin than the average African, his father decided it wasn’t safe for them in Uganda, so they escaped and fled to the United States.

I remember thinking how awful to be at risk of being killed because of the color of your skin. They were able to bring their whole family with them. At least they had each other to start a new life in a new country—a country offering freedom for people of all skin colors. This experience changed my thinking toward black people. My family was wrong. A person’s skin color didn’t make them any better for worse than anyone else. It was their character that counted. Racism in my family was losing its grip.

My family’s come a long way in just a few generations. Racial barriers have been demolished as people of different races became family members. I think my grandmother’s generation would be happy about the change, because they would have the privilege of knowing and loving other races as family. I believe our country has come a long way too, but obviously we still have work to do. Like any family, Americans won’t all hold the same political, spiritual, or moral beliefs, but we can still show love and kindness to one another because that’s what family does.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 4:31-5:1 ESV)

Meeting Together or Not

Church sanctuaries remain empty after ten weeks of restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In some places, drive-in church services are happening, just like when I was a kid and went to Herbie the Love Bug at the drive-in movie theater. But where I live, we are still in the “red” zone, which does not mean we are within twenty yards of the endzone. For us, the endzone seems a long way off. As long as we are in the red zone, we cannot meet together for worship.

I’m concerned about my fellow Christians. It seems some are becoming discontent, grumbling and complaining about the rules of isolation. In Pennsylvania Dutch, we call that being gretzy. I understand and have been a little gretzy myself. I don’t agree with the arbitrary nature of closing businesses and organizations, and the fear being propagated. But this week I was convicted about my attitude.

There are a handful of churches who are meeting despite the governor’s orders. The primary reason given for violating the order is that the church is “commanded to meet together by God.” They cite Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The problem is context, which indicates that the church was not forbidden to meet, but that some members were choosing not to meet.

This section of Hebrews 10 is really about encouraging one another. When the book of Hebrews was written, that would have been difficult to do without meeting in person. But today it is fairly easy to encourage someone via a phone call, a video chat, a Zoom meeting, or even good, old-fashioned snail mail. Sure, meeting together, being face-to-face, offering a hug of encouragement would be preferable. But in the age in which we live, there are alternatives. This exhortation is about being committed and intentional in encouraging the members of their church family.

And how do these churches balance this verse with the whole of Scripture? Where does obeying civil authority come in? “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) They would counter with Acts 5:29, “…we must obey God rather than man.” But again, the context of that statement was the apostles being told they could not preach in the name of Jesus. We are not being told that. Preaching the Gospel, witnessing, praying, Bible study, none of it has been prohibited by our government. And then there is the rest of Scripture – patiently enduring suffering (2 Corinthians 1:6), loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, being a light, rejoicing when persecuted (Matthew 5). Above all things, Christians are to be known for their love, which does not insist on its own way (John 13, Colossians 3, & 1 Corinthians 13). You would have to do some Simone Biles-level gymnastics to balance all of Scripture against a verse or two taken out of context.

So, what about meeting for worship? Is the point of a worship service to gather people together or to worship God? There is something necessary about corporate worship which builds up the body of Christ. And we shouldn’t neglect it when we can be together. But it isn’t necessary to be together physically to worship God. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that true worship is not about where it takes place, but the heart of the worshipper. Right worship of God is done in spirit and in truth. (John 4)

If we are gathering because we “need to get back to church,” are we making worship about us? If our source of comfort and contentment comes from meeting together, have we made meeting together an idol?

I’m going to take that even a step further. If we are willing to violate an order because we want so much to have something that we don’t have, isn’t that the very definition of coveting? Are we fueling discontentment in our lives by longing for what was and not being content with what is? Now we’ve got coveting, discontentment, and idol worship. They don’t belong in the life of a Christian. They need to be repented of and forsaken, not fed and nurtured.

What does God really want from his church? “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Right now we can accomplish those things by waiting patiently for the time we can meet together for worship. We find much more in Scripture about waiting, patience, and longsuffering than about defying the government. I have not cultivated longsuffering in my life, proven by my reaction when the light turns green and the person in front of me doesn’t hit the gas.

COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdown did not happen outside of God’s sovereignty and goodness. Individual churches may close permanently, but the Church, the Bride of Christ, will not. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Let us redeem this time of waiting. Let’s learn new ways of communicating and “meeting together.” And, most importantly, let us reflect Jesus to a fearful, impatient world.

Our Isolation Anniversary

This is the week we were supposed to be in Italy, celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary (May 25). We had it planned. Had the dates and the villa in Sicily. We hadn’t pulled the trigger on the flights because they were much more expensive than we had hoped. We were waiting to see if they would go down. They probably have gone down. A lot. I haven’t checked.

Our first trip to Italy, 2015

Our second choice was going to be an Alaskan cruise. Doug is not interested in going on a cruise even a tiny bit. But I have always wanted to do the Alaskan one and thought I could convince him because Stephen Curtis Chapman is hosting one that happens to be over my birthday. It was the perfect storm: favorite musician, 35th anniversary, my birthday…enter COVID-19. That swirling and gurgling sound coming from the bathroom is my one and only shot of a cruise going down the toilet.

Oh well. Instead of spending a week in an exotic place, we have spent the last two months at home together. With elective surgeries being cancelled, Doug’s hours were cut in half, and he had zero on-call hours. We were able to spend most of our days together, organizing the basement, taking long walks and scenic drives, and giving lots of foot massages. It has been fabulous! I am looking forward to retirement, if this was any indication of what that will be like.

We’ve “eaten out” a lot more than we normally do. In an effort to support our local restaurants, we’ve ordered take-out every weekend from at least five different restaurants. It’s good we’re taking longs walks together every day, since we’re “eating out” so much. When we started walking, I was doing about a mile a day. Now we are up to almost four miles a day. On our walks we’ve met more of our neighbors, talked over some really deep stuff, and explored more of our neighborhood, all while holding hands. Our walks often end by sitting on the front porch sharing a little bit of Merrymead ice cream.

Nope, this week wasn’t what we had planned. We haven’t visited Sicilian villages filled with overflowing window flower boxes and quaint trattorias, sampling the gelato at every chance. The last few months haven’t been what we would have planned. But it has been a time of increased spiritual growth, physical strength, and emotional connectedness that we otherwise may have missed.

Most importantly, our love for one another has deepened. I feel for those who have been completely isolated during the shutdown. It has been such a blessing to go through this time with the love of my life. I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal soon and especially seeing our kids and grandkids in person. But for now, I am completely content spending my time with the one person who has meant the most to me for 35 (plus) years.

Power Source

My sewing room has turned into mask-making central. The elastic I ordered online never arrived, so I needed to make tie-on masks. Some people preferred them anyway. They don’t put any pressure on your ears, which is especially helpful for hearing-aid and eye-glass wearers. The only problem with them is they take about four times longer to make than their elastic cousins.

By the time I started making masks, I didn’t think many people would still need them. Most people are more on top of things than me. But as it turned out, when I let it be known I could make masks for family, friends, and neighbors, orders for nearly 100 masks filled my newsfeed! I pulled fabric from my embarrassingly extensive stash and got busy.

My sewing machine was humming along, making mask after mask. I noticed after being at it for a while, my leg was stretching farther for the foot pedal. Sometimes after being away from my machine, when I returned to restart mask making, I couldn’t reach the foot pedal at all. How had it walked so far away during my last sewing session? And how hadn’t I noticed that I had pushed it so far out of reach? I would peek under the table to locate it, hook the cord with my foot, and drag it back into place.

The foot pedal was a very important part of my mission. Without it, mask making would take even longer, maybe too long to complete 100 of them before the mask-wearing mandate was over. The foot pedal powered the sewing machine. I would be in trouble without it.

One day, while lassoing the foot pedal once again, and wondering again how it had gotten so far from my foot, I thought of how sometimes I move away from the source of power in my life, God Himself. Sometimes I drift away from Him, other times I push Him away. I’ve tried to run my life on my own, but it was a futile effort, making little progress in the things that matter.

Jesus painted a word picture of being our power source. He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4 ESV) Abide means live in or dwell in, much like we are all abiding at home right now. The fruit of my sewing machine’s power source these last few weeks has been over 100 face masks. The fruit of being plugged into Jesus are things like strength, love, peace, contentment, joy, and so much more.

So, every time my foot reaches for my sewing machine’s foot pedal, I think about how I need to reach out to God. Every day. It made mask making a genuinely spiritual-growth experience. And it’s not over. Someone who procrastinates more than me just asked if I could make just one more. Sure, I can. I just need to make sure my power source is in place, and off I go.

Uncertainty

I’ve sat down at my computer several times today to write this blog post. If I had a typewriter, there would be a lot of crumpled pages in and around the trash can. I thought I knew what I wanted to write, but each idea fell short. What would be best for this week? A funny anecdote? A serious reflection? A hopeful exhortation? Nothing felt right. Maybe I should just write what I’m feeling.

We are all going through a strange time in our history. Most of us haven’t experienced anything like this before. I don’t really know what I’m feeling. It isn’t fear. It isn’t worry. It definitely isn’t hopelessness. I think it’s uncertainty. I like having all my ducks in a row, and I don’t know how this pandemic will play out. I’ve read so many contrary opinions from the “experts.” But the truth is, no one knows.

In the last two weeks, three close friends have lost loved ones. Two more are not expected to live through the week (none are virus-related). Their families can’t hold services for them now and can’t have visitors. I’m a hugger. Everything in me wants to hug my friends or at least be by their side. But I can’t get within six feet of them. My only choice is to turn hugs into words, which for me right now, fails to express my love and desire to comfort them.

Today has been especially uncertain. My husband left for work this morning where he will be helping in the ICU instead of his normal job in the OR. It left me feeling a little nervous. Then I got word this afternoon that one of our family members has tested positive for COVID-19. Those feelings of uncertainty mounted. How will these things work out? Sometimes I want God to pull back the curtain and show me the plan, especially the ending. But where would my faith be? It would be in what I can see and not in the God who holds it all together.

In these uncertain times, I need to ask myself, “Do I really trust God for all things?” Usually I can figure out how things are going to go. But these last few years have taught me that life can change on a dime. I have learned to trust God with every little thing so when the big things come, it is second nature. I heard Veirdre Jackson say at a conference recently that she could run in the thin air of the mountains because she trained hard in the valley. The air is feeling thin right now. It’s hard to take a deep breath. But, thankfully, I have had a lot of time training in valleys. I know where my hope lies and who holds the future. If this is more of a training valley for you, take one step at a time and trust God for the next.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Not My First Pandemic Rodeo

It occurred to me today that this is not the first time I have been isolated at home due to a world-wide health crisis. In 1977, I got the flu. At that time, it was called the A1 Asian Flu, later called the Russian Flu. It almost exclusively affected young people under age 23. Because of a similar flu outbreak in the 1950s, most adults were immune to it (let that be encouraging to y’all right now). My doctor told me I was the second person in the US to get it and had the worst case. I’ve always had a competitive nature.

I was 13 years old, starting eighth grade, when I got sick in the fall of 1977. I missed about two months of school prior to Christmas break. In January 1978, I was feeling better, except for severe pain in my back. After a hospitalization and more testing, doctors discovered the virus seemed to have eaten away the discs in my thoracic spine. They felt that immobilizing my spine would allow the discs to heal.

In February 1978, I entered the hospital to have a body cast applied. Really, it wasn’t a full body cast, it was a body jacket. It started with a large neck brace, extending down onto my chest and covered with a plaster cast. The cast was applied from my neck to my hips, hence, “body jacket.” A very nice nurse washed me up, spending a good amount of time using warm water to gently remove bits of plaster from parts of my body that didn’t need it. I stayed in the hospital for a week under a heat lamp to dry the plaster. I could bend at the hips, but not well. My arms were free. I could move them but not lift them completely over my head. This made washing my hair tricky, but once at home, I figured out a pretty efficient system using the kitchen sink sprayer.

Since I had already missed so much school time and was supposed to move as little as possible, I went on homebound studies. I could have visitors, but I couldn’t play. In fact, I got in trouble one day when my Spanish teacher arrived and saw me playing catch with my sister. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but everyone else did (except my sister—bless her heart for taking me outside to do something).

I spent most of my days watching soap operas. Because my cast damaged the furniture, there was one chair I was allowed to sit in. Sleeping was tough. The cast would pop up in the front and dig into my back. Of course, I couldn’t shower. And I rarely left the house because people stared. It was not a good time.

May 4, 1978 finally arrived—cast removal day. I was so excited and terrified. Cutting off a cast that is around one’s neck is scary. Once it was off, I felt so free and light, except my head, which seemed to weigh about 50 pounds! My neck muscles had atrophied over four months of no use. I actually had to use my hands to hold my head up. But my time in isolation was over.

I lost a year of school, being with friends, and playing outside—all without internet or cell phone, talk about isolation. We can do this. Hold your heads up, friends. This time of world-wide pandemic and isolation will be over soon.

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the one who lifts my head.” Psalm 3:3 NASB

Finding Trouble One Step at a Time

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve singing in our church’s Junior Choir. I love to sing, but it wasn’t just the singing I loved. Saturday morning practice was a time to be with friends, and we engaged in as much fun and shenanigans as we could get away with (not much has changed at choir practice).

Since I was the shortest choir member, I was assigned the shortest choir gown. Even so, it was a little long for me. Most gowns hit just below the knees or mid-calf. Mine was more formal, almost floor length. To avoid the spectacle of dozens of kids tripping up the four steps at the front of the church, our director taught us to gather the front of our gowns in one hand and lift them a little as we approached the steps.  

But one day, I didn’t lift my gown quite high enough. As I negotiated the first step, my foot caught the hem of my gown. But I couldn’t just stop. Someone might notice my misstep. I figured if I went up the next step with the left foot, the right foot would release the gown, and all would be well. Unfortunately, my left foot caught more of the gown. It pulled on my neck, bending me slightly forward. Another step, more gown under my feet, more bending. There was no way to get it out from under my feet. But I had to keep going. There was only one more step. Then I would be on flat ground and could fix the problem. But that last step was too much. I had nowhere to go but down. Hard. After rolling around for a few seconds, I was able to unhitch my feet from the gown. With a little help from the director, I popped back up and took my seat in the pew, hoping no one noticed.

Of course, everyone noticed. It was hard not to with a kid on the elevated chancel area rolling around in a bright red gown. At least, being the shortest, I was at the back of the line, with only the director behind me, so there wasn’t a domino effect. I tried not to make eye contact with any of the other choir kids. But I knew they were laughing. Our director, sitting next to me, was trying stifle her giggles, but she was struggling.

You better believe when we got up to sing, I hoisted that gown high enough to make it impossible for my foot to catch any of it. From that day on, I always over-gathered my gown when going up or down steps. I still do it when I’m wearing a longish dress. Thankfully, our choir doesn’t wear gowns anymore.

At times, we don’t realize how much trouble we’re in until it’s too late. But sometimes even when we know we’ve made a mistake or sinned, we keep going, thinking we can fix it ourselves. Maybe it’s not something sinful. Maybe it’s something like depression or anxiety or some fear that paralyzes us. Things tend to have a snowball effect, and soon we’re in too deep to get back on our feet.

Most of us have to come to the end of ourselves before we stop destructive behavior and make a change. God is always there waiting for us to give up our feeble attempts to make things right and extending His mercy and grace. God also gives us friends, counselors, and doctors when what is affecting us is beyond our control. These, too, are expressions of His mercy and grace. When we fall, no matter how hard we land, we are never alone in our struggles. Maybe we need to just stop and ask for help.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.” Psalm 40:1-3 NIV