Coming Out of It

We are in soft shell crab season on the Outer Banks. Here on Colington, the shedders are being watched day and night, and crab harvesters are working under the hanging bulbs to capture these delicacies the minute they are ready. The dilemma is that the restaurants aren’t ready. So while the harvest is happening on its own timeline, there is not the usual demand. Friends of these hardworking folks are trying to help them sell their soft shells to locals to cook at home, and the community is responding. But this is just one small sadness in the midst of all that is sad about the economic impact the pandemic is having on our beautiful island.

What will you do first when we come out of this? Eventually we can go back to hugging, eating at a favorite restaurant with our friends, taking the kids to a real playground, getting on a plane…until then, this time of isolation and quarantine certainly feels like being in exile. If the pandemic ends in time, I would rush out and eat a fried soft shell crab sandwich at the Salt Box Cafe.

Today’s scripture invites us back to the time when Israel lived in exile. They had been overrun and carried away into Babylon, where they couldn’t live life as usual and were forced to adapt to a completely different culture. Jeremiah dreamed of the time when their exile would be over and they would return to a normal life:

Jeremiah 36 (Contemporary English Version)

At that time, declares the Lord,
    I will be the God of all the families of Israel,
        and they will be my people.

The Lord proclaims:
The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness.
As Israel searched for a place of rest,
    the Lord appeared to them from a distance:
I have loved you with a love that lasts forever.
    And so with unfailing love,
        I have drawn you to myself.

This picture of God appearing to Israel from a distance as they are returning from the wilderness is profound. We are immediately reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son, where the father was waiting at the edge of the field every day for his wayward son to return. God indeed has gone before us, and waits there to welcome us back to normal life when our exile is over. And notice the phrase “found grace in the wilderness.” Have you found grace in your pandemic wilderness? Can you list some “silver linings?”

Again, I will build you up,
    and you will be rebuilt, virgin Israel.
Again, you will play your tambourines
    and dance with joy.
Again, you will plant vineyards
    on the hills of Samaria;
    farmers will plant and then enjoy the harvests.

The hope in these verses make me tingle. God will build us up again. We will dance for joy again. We will plant vineyards and farmlands and harvest them again. We will have life as normal again. Gosh, I can’t wait for Again to begin. How about you?

The time will come when
    the watchmen shout from
        the highlands of Ephraim:
“Get ready! We’re going up to Zion
    to the Lord our God!”

Hold on to these words. There will be a time when this virus is completely gone from this earth. Get ready! And in the meantime, look for grace in the wilderness.

Grace in the Wilderness by Michelle Robertson

Every Kind of Aggravation

We are living in the days of every kind of aggravation. In all of my years of living, I have never experienced this level of sustained aggravation before. There were certainly times of grief, trial, exhaustion, and all manner of challenges, but not like this. How about you? I won’t even attempt to list them, but just a snapshot of trying to buy groceries once a week should give you a picture. Spoiler alert: there is a lot of WHINING in this next section.

I don’t report to work early on Sundays anymore since we are now taping the service on Thursdays. That should make for a nice, slow Sabbath. But in the early days of the pandemic, when I was still driving to church on Sunday to do Facebook Live, I discovered that my local Publix opened at 8AM and was very uncrowded…and the toilet paper was restocked every Saturday night.

So now I get out early on Sundays just to shop. That is the beginning of all kinds of aggravation. Mostly it is my N95 mask and disposable gloves that aggravate the heck out of me. By the time I speed through the aisles, being careful to follow the one-way arrows and social distancing, my claustrophobia is peaking and my hands are literally dripping with sweat. And even though I have a concise list, I spend time waiting my turn to go down an aisle that already has a looky-loo leisurely standing in front of an array of products and seemingly reading the ingredient list of each one. She can see me waiting (I dare not pass her) yet she lingers…and ends up not putting anything in her cart.

A friend and I were commiserating about the fact that we used to enjoy shopping and found it relaxing. Now it is like entering a war zone of mine fields, and your heart is racing to just get out. Not to mention all the shortages of products, resulting in having to think on the fly of different meals based on what is actually available. OK, RANT OVER.

Our passage from 1 Peter takes us away from whatever is aggravating us right now, and reminds us that we have been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for:

1 Peter 1 (The Message)

3-5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

My mantra for months now has been, “we are one day closer to the end of this thing.” Look at that last sentence: “The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—-life healed and whole.” Man, did I need to hear that this morning! How about you?

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

Peter reminds us that faith, like gold, gets refined in the fire. Folks, we are in the fire right now. What a time to refine our faith! What an opportunity to come out of this thing stronger, better, and more deeply connected with God because we’ve worked hard to stay in the Word. Think about it…what would you normally be doing right now? Our hustle-bustle life got slammed shut. God is inviting us to use the SLOW to reevaluate EVERYTHING.

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

What is God asking you to reevaluate today? Where do you need further refining? Will you go back to your old self when this is over?

I hope not. I hope that enduring every kind of aggravation right now bears the fruit of all kinds of godly behavior in all of us. And maybe I’ll learn to be more patient with the looky-loos in the grocery store. Anything is possible with God!

Another Day Closer by Lisa Lawrence