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

Picked Last but Chosen First

Do you remember lining up as a kid in Phys Ed or recess, waiting to be picked for a team? If you were like me, you dreaded that time. You’d push your back against the hard brick wall of the school and act like you didn’t care. But really you hoped against hope that you weren’t picked last. How humiliating.

I was often picked last. I think it was because I was always the smallest kid in the class. Granted, being picked last for tug-of-war made sense. I would just dangle from the rope. But I was pretty good at other things. I was super-fast. My short little legs could really move—a skill cultivated running from big bullies. Anything that involved running fast, I was your girl.

But even with my successes, the next time teams were picked, there I was, last again. No matter how I had proven myself before, this was a new day, and I was still the runt. I hung my head in shame and slowly walked to the team unlucky enough to get me.

In the scheme of things, being picked last for a game isn’t the worst thing in the world (it just seems that way to a kid). As I got older my skills improved, although my height didn’t. I was rarely picked last anymore. But the feeling of humiliation was never far from me.

As a homeschool mom, I was involved with a group that met for different activities, including Physical Education. I was often put in charge of that (and almost never in charge of Art, with good reason). One day after our official time together, the kids were playing while the moms chatted and made plans for the next group meeting. I watched as one of the older boys lined up the kids to divide them into teams. A cold chill crept down my spine. Looking at the kids against the wall, I was sure which one would be last, and I felt for her.

But that older boy picked the first couple for each team (the older kids), and then broke the rest of the kids evenly in groups. The kids on the right, went to Team A. The kids on his left, Team B. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The kids joyfully ran to their teams. No one was chosen last. No heads were hanging. They were chosen as a team. And they were thrilled to be part of their team. What wisdom this boy had shown.

Did you know when it comes to God, if you are His, He chose you before you were even born? He didn’t wait to see your skill set or how well you performed. He chose you to be on His “team” before you ever took a step or even a breath. More amazingly, He chose you while you were his enemy and put you on the winning team. Who does that? Only someone who loves you unconditionally and was willing to humble Himself to save you.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:4,5 NIV)

A Safe World?

I spent the past few weeks working on issues surrounding Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) for two different organizations. While I welcome those opportunities, sometimes the burden of talking about the ugliness of CSA gets a bit heavy.

So, when I recently read at least half a dozen Facebook posts claiming “we never had to worry about our safety when we were kids. We could walk around our neighborhoods, ride our bikes, and play at the park until suppertime without fear,” I thought, Really? The thing is, I grew up in the same era, and I was not safe walking the three blocks to the park. And, even though they didn’t know it, neither were they.

As elementary-school-age kids, a friend and I would hurry home on winter afternoons, grab our ice skates, and head off to the ice rink at our local park. We usually walked from school to her house, then to my house, then to the rink, all within a few blocks of each other. Donning our snow pants and skates, we’d hit the ice and spend about two hours skating around the oval rink—trying new moves, jumping onto a “snap the whip” line, diving onto the ice just to see how far we could slide.

It was a great time with lots of laughter. At five o’clock it would be time to go home. We’d tread to the park entrance, feeling like our skates were still on our feet. Then we parted ways, she would go straight, and I would turn left to get home.

A sex offender lived across the street from the park. I don’t think my friend ever knew he was there. She probably walked past, still giddy from our skating adventures, feeling no fear. I would walk past with rising anxiety, hoping not to encounter him. With my heart pounding and eyes darting, happy thoughts of an afternoon of winter fun melted away.

Winter was a safer season than the others. Spring and Fall, he was more likely to be outside. I don’t know if he really enjoyed gardening and yard work that much, or if he was outside looking for kids (or victims) coming from or going to the park. Summer was the worst. He didn’t just hang out at his house. He spent a lot of time at the park’s swimming pool, trolling for victims.

No, the little girls at the park or walking by his house were not safe. Although, most of them never knew they were in danger. For some of us, our lives were forever damaged, a piece of childhood lost forever. And because of the silence, secrecy, and shame associated with CSA, most victims never told anyone what was happening. That is how non-victims can be ignorantly thankful they grew up when the world was a “safe place,” blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked in their neighborhoods and the fear and pain some of their closest friends endured.

So, did they really live in a world where kids could walk around their neighborhoods, ride their bikes, and stay out until suppertime without worrying about being harmed? Fortunately, for them, that was the world as they knew it. I wish it had been the same world for all of us.

The man who abused me died a few months ago. A known offender is dead—our world is a little safer. Or is it? There will always be another to take his place, shattering the safe world of select children. Offenders may never be caught, but they, too, are wrong if they think they are safe. God is just.

“Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.” Zephaniah 3:19 (ESV)

After-Christmas Jesus

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

I missed the after-Christmas sales due to illness the last few weeks. I was hoping to pick up some small containers for next year’s batch of champagne truffles. But I missed it. I walked into Walmart yesterday, and there was no sign of Christmas. The clearance racks of wrapping paper, lights, and decorations were empty. The “seasonal” aisle was full of Valentine’s Day candy. Christmas had disappeared. Except for a few red and green storage bins, it was as if Christmas had never been there at all.

For most people who celebrated Christmas just two weeks ago, their homes are a lot like Walmart. Christmas has been put away. Since Thanksgiving, homes were decorated with colorful lights, festive wreaths, and a spotlight on white wooden cutouts of Jesus in a manger. But they’re all gone. And I wonder, as they pack baby Jesus away, if it will be the last time they will think about him until it’s time to get him out of storage next Christmas. Like the Walmart shelves, lives are devoid of the one whose coming was so joyfully and elaborately celebrated. But the celebrations are over, the Christmas music silenced, and life is back to normal. Unfortunately, “normal” for so many means life without Jesus. 

I too have packed away our manger scene, which has graced our dining room buffet for 35 Christmases. The creche was handmade by Doug and our boys in 1997. I know this because it is dated and signed by the artists. I carefully wrapped baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd with his sheep, the donkey, and a camel with its two wise men (one wise man and an angel were casualties of our last move). But already I look forward to next Christmas when they’ll come out again. Until then, I’ll joyfully celebrate Jesus every day, not the baby in the manger, but the Son of God who came to give abundant life to those who believe. And I look forward to when Jesus comes again in the flesh, not as a baby, not unpacked and dusted off. The next time he will come as Lord of all in power and glory. It will be something to behold!

His first coming was humble and quiet. The only excitement was the angels’ announcement of his birth to some shepherds. But his second coming will be with a trumpet blast that all on earth will hear. Then things will get last-minute-Christmas-shopping crazy! Those who have looked forward to his coming will rejoice. Those who tucked him away with the tinsel will have regrets. But all will bow. What will you do with Jesus after Christmas?

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

My Cup Overflows

Ice avalanche on the way!

It seemed so simple. Put the water bottle under the ice dispenser, push the button, and ice would fill the bottle. But nothing in my world is that simple. I pushed the button, but nothing happened. I pushed it again, still nothing. Maybe it wasn’t working. Time to get help. You may have guessed I wasn’t staying at the type of hotel that had a concierge. I asked the young man at the front desk, “Does the ice machine work?” He said it did. We stared at each other for a long moment before he said, “Let me try it.”

As I followed him, I noticed his left arm was withered. And his left hand was missing fingers, leaving his one finger and thumb in an odd position. As he coaxed the machine to spit out ice, he used the withered arm and hand. Odd, I thought. You’d think he would use his “good” arm, but maybe he is left-handed. He tried a few times using my method (as per the instructions) with no luck. Then he pushed the button and held it in until the ice chamber filled with ice. Oh, I get it.

The only problem was the ice chamber was about 8” wide by 6” high. There was no way all that ice was going to fall nicely into my water bottle, which had about a 3” opening. He shoved the handle of the ice chamber, and CRASH! Ice avalanche. My cup was not just filled but overflowed onto the shelf and continued onto the floor. Now I knew why there was a large towel on the floor in front of the machine. Even the guest room’s ice buckets wouldn’t be able to catch all that ice.

Initially, as this unfolded, I thought I would have a cool story about a man with a withered hand. But once the ice filled and overflowed my water bottle, my thoughts switched to another verse in Luke (ironically just a few verses past the story of the man with the withered hand). As I picked up the ice from the floor and emptied enough from my bottle to make room for water, my mind went to Luke 6:38 (NIV) “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  

This verse is talking about being generous with our money. When it comes to giving back to God through the local church, missionaries, and other ministries, God promises He will bless us. It’s one of the few areas that He tell us to test Him. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10 ESV)

In our first year of marriage, we had a tiny apartment, a baby on the way, and one income. But we made giving a priority and put God’s challenge to the test. When we had financial needs, we never stopped giving. We asked God to meet our needs. Sometimes we received an unexpected gift, but usually, Doug would get overtime. He often joked I needed to stop praying—he was exhausted. But we kept giving, and God always met our needs even when the budget said there was nothing left. And more often He provided a blessing avalanche – pressed down, shaken together, running over, more than we could have asked or imagined.

My challenge to you – don’t let this time of year be your only season of giving. Trust God, give generously, and prepare to catch all the blessings that will pour down.

A Magic Eraser for Life

I had a dark spot on my bathroom. It had been there for a long time. I tried every type of cleaner to remove it with no success. I’m sure the spot is from dirt being trapped in the overspray of my hairspray. I kept trying different things, but nothing took it away. Then one day I was using a Magic Eraser to get a scuff off a wall and thought, I wonder if this would work on the bathroom floor.

I marched upstairs and a few minutes later, ta-da! The spot was gone. As I returned the Magic Eraser to its box, I looked for an explanation as to how it works. Nothing. The box doesn’t say what it’s made of or what is in it. There’s no clue as to why it can erase stains that other cleaners cannot. It doesn’t look like anything special, just a white spongy thing with no odor, no suds, hmm. . . nothing but magic.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Magic Eraser for life? How great would it be if you could magically erase all the mistakes, regrets, wrongs, hurtful words, and broken-heart moments of your life? You could start fresh, as if those things never happened. Well, we can’t. The things from our pasts happened and had an impact on who we are. But they don’t have to define us or control us, and they don’t have to be a stain that will never go away.

Salvation makes us new. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice in our place erased the stain of sin. The things we have done and have been done to us are gone. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Bible is full of these reassurances:

~The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-24)

~But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

~He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:3)

~He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. (Revelation 21:5)

I hope you have experienced new life in Christ. I am so thankful for the lessons I’ve learned from my past, but I am even more thankful that Jesus erased the sin and hurt of my past and made everything new. Like Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser on my bathroom floor, Jesus is the only answer for the stain of sin. I hope if you haven’t met Him, you will. Only He can make you new and keep you spotlessly clean.

Disclaimer: Do NOT comment on this post with the secret to the Magic Eraser – I want to keep it magical.

Centrally Speaking

This week’s blog post is a podcast. I know…it’s so 21st century of me. Rest easy, it wasn’t my idea. My good friend, Dr. Drake Williams at Central Schwenkfelder Church invited me to be a guest on their podcast.

This aired on WNPV last week. I pray that it will be helpful to other victims and survivors. Feel free to share it. Thank you, Drake and Central, for inviting me and for your support and concern for victims of abuse.

Roller Coaster Love

I am “one of them.” One of those people who will wait a little longer so that they can sit in the front seat of the roller coaster. Why? Because it’s scarier which makes the ride even more fun. I’m not a screamer. I’m a laugher. The scarier it is, the more I laugh. That feeling of cresting the hill and dangling for just a moment before being thrust headlong down to earth is worth a little extra time in line and a few more giggles.

Our first visit with our oldest son’s wife-to-be included a trip to Hershey Park. We went in the evening. With limited time for rides, we opted to only do roller coasters. She was good with that. One point for Becky. While waiting in line, she suggested we wait a few more turns to get the front car. Point number two. By the third roller coaster, we were starting to compete for the front spot. She was a fighter. Her points were adding up quickly. On a twin coaster, she spied out the lines and timed our wait so that we got on the first cars of each coaster at the same time—for the win.

I pulled our son aside and said, “Whatever you do, hang on to this girl!” He did. And I’m so glad.

Today I’m having that same feeling of riding in the front of the roller coaster. There has been a long wait. I’ve been strapped in, slowly climbed the monster hill. It’s been eleven months since we got in line, when a doctor first said, “I think you may have Mitochondrial Disease.” It’s been eight months since we stepped aside to wait for the front car, going through every test imaginable. And now here we are, dangling over the edge, about to get the results of all the testing. Time to take a deep breath and brace for the plunge.

Like the first time on a roller coaster, I don’t know what to expect. How big a hill is it? How fast will it go? Are there loops and twists? Or is it a straightforward up and down? Does it go backwards? Fortunately, I have my husband with me. He is great on roller coasters. Our first time riding the Superman coaster is one we won’t forget. Because I don’t sit quite as high as most people, the shoulder harness kind of pinned me so that I couldn’t stick my arms out in the Superman flying pose. I looked like a flying T-Rex. I had to ask Doug to reach over and push my sunglasses up for me. He did, laughing himself silly.

When our coaster plummets over the edge this afternoon, I expect Doug will hold my hand and explain the medical jargon that I don’t understand. The best part is he’ll ride this coaster with me to the end. Every loop, every belly-whopping drop, he’ll be there, making sure I’m okay. He has been waiting with me in line, talking through every possible twist, and keeping me laughing. I can’t imagine being on this ride with anyone else. Whatever lies ahead, we’ll face it together, and we will laugh ourselves silly.

Rerouting…

My friends are…different. Each one is unique and has her own quirks, which makes our times together fun and unpredictable. Last week, I went to a conference with one of my friends. I’ll use her nickname, Nedge. Although I’ve known Nedge for over 20 years, I learned something about her last week that I hadn’t known before. She is a GPS rebel. Her GPS says, “turn right,” and she says, “make me.” Nedge did the driving on this trip. I won’t make that mistake again.

When Nedge offered to drive, I figured that made sense, since she is more familiar with where we were going than I am. I thought I’d sit back and enjoy the lovely countryside. But it didn’t take long to realize, Nedge has an interesting relationship with her GPS. Like any normal person, she entered our destination into her phone’s GPS and took off, but from that point on, normal was out the window. She treated the GPS as if it was on a mission to destroy us.

The GPS would say, in its unpretentious voice, “In 1,000 feet, turn right.” Nedge would respond, “Why would I do that? I don’t want to go that way,” or “why is it taking us that way?”

“Well, it says there is heavy traffic, so I think it’s trying to take us around it.”

“There’s always traffic on this road. It will be fine.” Meanwhile, the GPS continued to encourage her to turn right…at every intersection…all the way through town. Rerouting. Rerouting. Rerouting.

“Nedge, if you know where you’re going and are ignoring the GPS, why don’t you just turn it off?”

“I like to know how long it will take to get where we’re going.”

“But if you don’t go the way it’s taking you, the time it will take to get there is irrelevant.”

“Haha. True, but I like to have it on so I can see where we’re going.”

“OK. “Why are you turning left?”

“I think this is the way to the conference.”

“The GPS thinks it’s the other way.” Rerouting.

“It does? Oh. I would have sworn it’s this way.” We turned around. Nedge is really good at turning around. Rerouting.

The GPS announced, “In half a mile, turn left.” Nedge immediately started her left turn.

“Not here!”

“It says to turn left.”

“In a half a mile. Look at the map. You’re the little blue arrow.”

“I don’t use the map. I just look at the top where it tells me which way to turn.”

“But if you look at the map portion, you can see exactly which road it wants you to turn onto.”

“Oh. I don’t do that.”

Then I knew my role as co-pilot. It was to say, “not here” at every road we passed after the turning arrow appeared until we reached the right one.

 I shook my head each time the GPS rerouted or Nedge turned around. But aren’t we, as Christians, just like that? We have an inerrant instruction book, the Bible, to show us our way through life, yet we ignore it. Peter said God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), yet we take off with our lives, and leave God’s Word on the shelf. Or worse, we know what it says, and we choose to take a different path. Do we realize that in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)? If so, why do we turn the other way?

If you have been going your own way, ignoring the path God has for you, what are you waiting for? Open your Bible. Discover the way He wants you to go. Reroute!

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:110 ESV)