Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it. These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us. Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery. Beauty is a lot like hope.
The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.
These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.
And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beautyand hope.
As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.
Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.
It’s my most common statement these days: ”Have a nice trip!” Saying it to my friends is the polite thing to do, given that I am landlocked in my house. And to my credit, I really mean it when I say it. I really do wish them a nice trip—fun and relaxing and safe and an experience of all things good.
At the same time, my heart is always just a little shattered when someone I know embarks on a summer adventure. It makes me long for times past when my family took amazing vacations to Disney World or Sea World, to the ocean or to the mountains, to Oregon, Seattle, or Vancouver, or Gatlinburg, or Nevada, or San Francisco, New Orleans, Reno, Nashville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Athens, Mexico . . . I can’t even remember all the places. “Those were the days,” I’ve heard it said. And so they were!
Today is a very different reality. Travel is harder, for so many reasons, and being confined to home has a host of repercussions. I have experienced many of those repercussions, physical ones, spiritual ones and emotional ones. Immediately after my kidney transplant in 2019, Covid-19 descended upon us. After that, I accepted my personal reality of taking immunosuppressant medications for the rest of my life to prevent organ rejection. That personal reality meant that, no matter the lifting of mask mandates and the full re-opening of everything, I had no immune system to fight Covid or any other infection. And that means forever!
When everyone around me seems free, and carefree, I feel imprisoned. I admit, it has taken an emotional toll on me. It still does affect my sense of freedom, safety, loneliness, boredom, isolation, creativity—the things that fill your soul. I have tried hard and long for three years to stay active and creative and never to feel bored. But I have reached a kind of stasis, worn out from ”keeping busy” and from pushing myself to be productive, creative and happy.
My husband asked me yesterday if I’m depressed. I almost said, “no” before the truth hit me. I haven’t seen my son and grandchildren for two years. I haven’t seen my Atlanta cousins since November. I haven’t seen most of my friends in months. So, yes, I suppose I am depressed, though I so want to push it away by denying it.
Depression has its own trajectory. Most of the time, I just have to ride it out and wait for better days. In the meantime, to all of you travelers out there: Have a nice trip!
Most of you, maybe all of you, are past Covid-19 mandated restrictions. You are going out to eat, going to theaters, going to church, going to school, to ballgames, reunions, pools, parties and most every place you want to go—unmasked!
“Finally,” you say to yourself, “it’s way past the time of staying locked up! We’re free!” And everyone celebrates, ”No more masking! No more isolating! Just the sun and the sky and a bright and shiny future!”
Congratulations! You have broken out of this terrible Covid isolation. In doing so, you have abandoned about 7 million of us who are so immunocompromised, we must wait here in isolation until it is safe for us to break free. Our Covid isolation time is indeterminable because it’s based on so many unknown factors—the Covid trajectory itself, the level of immunosuppression a person has, other health problems and the age of the person, the availability of antibody medications, vaccines and boosters. AND does this person have even one antibody?
As for me (a kidney transplant patient taking massive doses of immunosuppressive medications), after two Covid vaccines and two boosters, my antibody tests revealed that I have zero (0) antibodies! So the very minute all the people threw their masks in the trash, I was abandoned in this unpredictable world of the indomitable, evolving Covid-19 virus and all of its 772 variants, including double and triple mutant variants.
I could not help but feel abandoned. No sooner than I could safely go unmasked after my kidney transplant, the pandemic descended and the mask returned to my Covid wardrobe. I am now a three-year mask wearer.
But there’s more . . . for me and 7 million other immunosuppressed people in this country. I spend time on several Facebook transplant support groups. So while I certainly do not know the experience of 7 million people, I do know literally hundreds of transplant patients through dialogue on various online platforms.
Here’s what I mean: group conversations on Facebook and Zoom patient support groups, dozens of them every month! In those conversations, I have heard the voices of confusion, despair, isolation, anger, frustration, indecision, fear, uncertainty . . . The people are saying things like this:
They keep telling us that some masks are not effective. What kind should we use? Where do we get them? When do we wear them? How? Where should we wear them? What if others don’t wear them?
We can’t find out whether or not we should get the vaccine—how manydoses? How many boosters? When to get them? Where to get them?
Doctors don’t know, hospitals don’t know, pharmacies don’t know! Even my transplant center doesn’t know.
Wow, there’s this medication that has been authorized for emergency use for immunocompromised persons! It’s called Evusheld! It is not a vaccine, it’s antibodies, real antibodies because we don’t have any!
EVUSHELD? I can’t find it. What does it do?My doctor never heard of it! I found some three hours from here, but they don’t have the okay to give ityet.
I flew across the country and finally got some. No one knows what dose they’re supposed to give. My transplant center doesn’t have it and they don’t know if they will get some. I have searched the internet in every state and can’t find it. Now that the public is not wearing masks, we need it, and we need it now before we contract Covid! There’s a website that lists every facility in the US and how many doses they received. You could call and see if you might get an appointment. I found a place that didn’t even know they had any, but they called around and got permission to give it.
All these sentiments, and more, reveal to me that those of us who have no or low immunity are abandoned in isolation limbo, while the rest of the people have broken free to resume a normalcy of life that is unavailable to the rest of us.
Think about us, the 7 million who can’t go with you to a movie or a restaurant. Pray for our safety. Pray for the our well-being that’s harmed by the continuing angst of isolation we are in. Send us positive thoughts. We’ll do the same for you, and hope you never have to say, ”Oh, the places I’ve been! I should have worn a mask.”
And may all of us hope for better, brighter, safer days from Covid, from gun violence, from hate crimes and mass shootings, from abuse, from environmental toxicity and natural disasters, from war, from domestic terrorism and from the dismantling of the civil rights and human rights we hold inviolable.
And may it soon be said of all of us, ”Oh, the places you’ll go!”
Such a beautiful place to worship, isn’t it? To me, this image of my church is both beautiful and mournful. This image of my church sanctuary is a picture of what my church experience feels like these days. The image of an empty church brings several words to mind—empty, quiet, lonely, dark, worshipful, silent, desolate, disconsolate.
I cannot sit in these pews right now. My doctors say it is to risky for me because of my suppressed immune system following a kidney transplant. The social risks that others are able to take are not risks that I can take. Worship ideally happens in community and I am separated from my community. Isolated.
I feel sorrow about it. I miss my friends, my Sunday School class. I miss the sound of the organ and the voices of the choir. I feel very alone and isolated, a prisoner of Covid19. Even though I am an avid Zoomer watching our worship and even teaching my Sunday School class, it is not enough for my soul.
I admit that I dwell too much on the aloneness of it all, the feeling that I walk my journey without spiritual companions. I feel a deep need to worship in a sanctuary, a soul-need for me. I sometimes feel that I am simply watching the livestream of worship, not worshipping at all. I watch many churches and sermons just to make up for it.
I even fear that when it is safe enough to be back in public spaces, I will have decided that it’s just easier to stay home. Most of all, I find myself forgetting the highest and holiest remedy for aloneness—God’s promises to be with us always—recorded in so many passages of Scripture.
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
— Isaiah 41:10 ESV
Thanks be to God. If you have a few minutes, spend them quietly as you watch this comforting video.
What’s on your mind today? I ask because for me there are days, like today, when my mind is free-flowing without one thought, idea or plan. That can be troubling for a person like me who almost constantly churns out thoughts and creative responses to those thoughts. My blog, for instance, is a preaching platform for this retired and frustrated preacher. And there is almost always a sermon in me just itching to see the light of day!
But not today! You’ll get no sermon today, just words without organization and thoughts floating in the wind. Perhaps my thoughts will be energized by Spirit Wind, or not! It seems to me to be a good time for floating thoughts and random words, because in this pandemic world, there are simply no words.
When I look at pandemic facts and trends in my state, Georgia, I am aghast at this reality released today by WMAZ News: “The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1,100 percent.”* Dr. Edward Clark, an Atrium Health Navicent pediatrician, says parents should be very concerned. “We’ve seen a spike in kids ranging from infants anywhere up to age 18,” he said. On top of that, children ages 12 and older have been approved only for the Pfizer vaccine at this time.
The truth is that some parents are very alarmed — even terrified — about the rising number of delta variant cases in children and teenagers. As well they should be, as they watch with great alarm the highly-contagious Delta variant cases increasing so rapidly in children. Parents are frightened and many of them worry that in-person school is not the best decision in these conditions. Teachers, too, are dealing with difficult issues as in-person school begins.
The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1100%!
In the midst of my free-flowing thoughts today, I am finding focus enough to ask why we did virtual learning last school year when children were less likely to be infected, yet in this school year when the Delta variant is rapidly infecting children, we are sending them to in-person school, some schools without mask mandate. Someone far less cautious than I am must have made that decision! I would have never sent children into harm’s way, into a place where they could spread the surging Delta variant to each other! Is it time for another season of sheltering-in-place?
Let us be careful about the ways we inadvertently expose children to danger. Let us be mindful of our responsibility to protect all children. Let us be diligent in letting our faith inform our compassion and care for children.
After all, Jesus was clear about drawing children close and sheltering them from harm. We should be just as committed to holding children close in a shelter of protection. May God make it so!
Sometimes some things don’t work! Like today as I am trying to insert the image for this post. It’s a watercolor painting I did a couple of years ago titled “Grays.” I don’t remember what was gray about that day or why I felt surrounded by gray, but I know that something was troubling about the day.
Like today! No, it’s definitely not gray outdoors. No gray skies above while the sun is shining brightly. Yet, I feel the “gray” closing in on me today, and for the past few days. News of the world’s hurt certainly has something to do about it. I can’t bear to hear of the spike in Covid cases, the danger of the Delta variant, exhausted health care providers gasping for relief, maltreated children at the overcrowded migrant center in Fort Bliss, Texas. I can hardly bear to hear another report about my friend who is very ill or about another friend I spoke to this morning who lost two love ones this week.
It feels gray in me right now. I think the gray feeling has a lot to do with the chat I had with my nephrologist at Mayo Clinic this week. He was beyond concerned about our current pandemic situation for his transplant patients. Of course, I am one of those patients. He was adamant that we immunosuppressed patients must begin isolating again immediately.
So again, the outlook for me is bleak. Not only am I one of his patients who are on high doses of immunosuppressant medications, but also I am one of the people for whom vaccines are not very effective. So while the general vaccinated public is around 90% protected from the virus, we are 50% (or less) protected. My doctor ordered an antibody test and, sure enough, it revealed that I have zero antibodies, which means I am not protected from Covid and that I can infect others.
I think that means retreating again from public gatherings — from stores, from groups of friends, from medical offices, from church. The time I was so looking forward to — seeing my grandchildren — is now a more distant possibility. All of that looks pretty darn gray to me!
I know in the depths of my soul that there are no simple answers for the gray times, the times when I am disconsolate and despondent. I know that I cannot change every adverse circumstance of my life. I know, too, that we cannot always change our soul’s response to those difficult circumstances. Sometimes, the “gray” of despondency simply has its way in me, and I cannot pull myself up and out. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a desert wilderness, and although streams of water may be there, I do not find them.
In such times, I have found that my ability to hold on to my very self comes directly from the Spirit, who is my sure and certain comforter. And I have learned that, while Holy Scripture and contemplative space do not always mysteriously rescue me or magically change my circumstance, I receive the peace and strength I need to live.
Jesus said to them: “I must leave you, butI will ask God, and our Mother snd Father God will give you another Comforter. This Comforter will stay with you forever. She is the Spirit, who reveals all that is true and real about God. . . . So when I go, you will not be left all alone . . . I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.”
John 14:1, 16-18, 27 (my translation)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
May you find that Spirit wind is moving gently within your spirit, and may God be the strength of your heart forever. Amen