April 2022: Thoughts From My COVID Wilderness 2.0

Grace, the spontaneous, unmerited gift of divine favor. Easter always reminds me that God’s grace is found in the most unlikely of places. That new life, eternal life that springs from death, and that it was God’s own self who ushered this into reality for our sake, should cause us to look for grace around every single corner.  

I found it in a conversation with a woman who was awaiting surgery to remove an artificial knee joint that was infected and being rejected by her body. She had experienced a great deal of loss during her lifetime and seemed to have handled it with dignity and a strong faith. I liked her immediately. My favorite part of our visit was when she told me about her “friend,” a male widowed neighbor with whom she spent a lot of time. She told me how he would come over and they would make dinner together and eat it in front of the TV. He would help her in her yard, and she would help him with his laundry. She was worried about him because he was lonely for her. He’d called her every day she’d been in the hospital the first time and had done the same this time. He’d told her he was still coming over every night for dinner so he could feel near her. She was moved by that admission; you could see it on her face as she smiled softly while she spoke of it. “We aren’t engaging in shenanigans, now, don’t mistake me.  We are just friends.” I laughed and assured her I had no such thoughts (wouldn’t have cared anyway). Twenty years after the death of her husband, God had given her a real loving relationship devoid of the passions of youth. He was her companion. They brought each other comfort, and they enjoyed each other. It never ceases to amaze me how God’s grace is everywhere, all around us. When you are blessed to come into its presence it is like being warmed by the sun.   

I found profound grace from two little boys laughing and flying a “kite” they had cobbled together from string and a piece of paper that had blown across their path. Running in the dirt of the itinerant farm workers camp where their families lived during the spring in Baja, Mexico, they had no shoes, they were filthy from head to toe, but they were filled with joy as they tried to get their kite off the ground. Trash, dirt and living conditions that would have us disparaging, turned into a playground of imagination and innocence. Their delight was as infectious and poignant. Love was moving among us for sure.

These staggering grace-filled encounters happened in unlikely places. One while I was making my visitation rounds working as a volunteer chaplain at Baptist Hospital in Nassau County, Florida. The other while on a mission trip in Mexico. Ordinary days turned extraordinary because of God’s unmerited favor. I did not expect to find pools of grace in either place, but that is what our good God does. He turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. The unexpected into exalted.  

It is good to remember this when we are bombarded by news stories of unimaginable evil whether on the war-torn streets of Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan or in our own streets that are filled with division and strife. We have a living God who is working all things toward redemption. We must keep our eyes open for the grace that exists all around us. It is the very thing that will bring us through our trials and inspire us as one people to proclaim on Easter Sunday, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”   As Apostle’s words in 1st Peter 5:10 attests, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”  Amen, brothers and sisters?!