Socially Distanced, but Spiritually Near

by Rhonda J. Dragomir @RhondaDragomir

Harsh hospital lighting didn’t diminish the glow on my daughter’s face as she embraced Samuel, her firstborn child. Tears fell as I responded to Jana’s texted photo with an electronic hug emoji.

Though I treasured the picture, it was a mere consolation prize compared to the scene I’d envisioned. Covid-19 infection rates soared in the weeks prior to my grandson’s arrival, so I was not permitted to attend his birth, not even to sit in the hospital waiting room.

Touch is important communication, especially to people like me. I embrace, pat, and squeeze friends with enthusiasm, and I must remind myself sometimes not to hug people I’ve just met. The necessity to social distance because of the pandemic has inhibited these sensory conversations, and I have struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation.

In recent weeks, I’ve been the only congregant in the sanctuary while my pastor-husband preaches live on Facebook. One recent Sunday I paid little attention to the sermon while lamenting, as in Psalm 42:4, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng” (NIV). There have been no festive throngs recently at my church, and I don’t know how long it might be before we celebrate in person again.

The Holy Spirit responded by helping me keenly sense his nearness. He eased my distress, whispering to my soul, “Though you must be socially distanced, you can remain spiritually close.”

Jesus and his disciples experienced this same crisis of separation. Not only did they worship together, they lived as one during Christ’s three-year ministry. His death devastated the disciples on a level we cannot begin to comprehend. His resurrection exploded their souls with joy we cannot imagine. But soon thereafter Jesus left them, and they would not enjoy face-to-face fellowship again until they reunited in heaven.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” Jesus said. “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me” (John 14:18-19a NIV). Jesus planned to commune with them even when he was socially distanced—the Holy Spirit would be sent, and he would keep them spiritually close.

The Church must not permit physical separation to affect our spiritual oneness. The Holy Spirit not only connects us to Christ, but to each other. Jesus prayed that Christians would be one (John 17:23), and unity among his followers is needed now more than ever as we see the Day of Christ’s return drawing near (Hebrews 10:25). The world needs to hear the voice of God in times of trouble, and we are his mouthpiece.

Jesus suffers much pain caused by social distancing. He is separated from some people by sin and from his beloved bride—the Church—by the constraints of time and physical distance. And yet, can’t we feel his nearness by his Spirit?

I did hold my grandson in my arms when he came home a few days after his birth, and I gave his mom the hug I’d saved especially for her. It was still a life-altering moment, though it didn’t happen according to my perfect plan.

Yes, for the sake of community health we must remain socially distant for now. But through the Holy Spirit we can spiritually embrace, pat, and squeeze to our hearts’ content.

Did you feel it? I’m hugging you right now.

For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. 1 Corinthians 5:3a

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Socially Distanced, but Spiritually Near – encouragement from @RhondaDragomir on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: An avid reader and writer, Rhonda Dragomir lives in the heart of idyllic horse country in central Kentucky. Her degree in Social Work from Asbury University prepared her for more than forty years of ministry as a pastor’s wife.

Rhonda writes both fiction and nonfiction, and she was named 2019 Writer of the Year by Serious Writer, Inc. Learn more about Rhonda on her website: www.rhondadragomir.com.

Join the conversation: How has social distancing affected you?

Springs in the Desert

by Rebecca Price Janney @rebpricejanney

The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. Isaiah 41:17-18 NIV

In his late 90s, in declining health, legally blind and stone deaf, my dad wasn’t shy about discussing death.  I planned to be with him when the time came, holding his hand, singing a favorite hymn, reading from his worn Bible.

We didn’t see Covid-19 roaring down the pike.

I usually visited Dad on Thursdays, but on Wednesday March 11th I couldn’t shake a thought, “Go now.” I went. The following day the facility closed to all visitors. Not until April 15th did I see Dad’s face again, on a video call. His face brightened upon seeing me, but his listlessness and sallow complexion were concerning. The following day an ambulance took him to the hospital. The doctor told me, “Both lungs are filled with fluid. His heart and kidneys are failing.” Dad tested positive for Covid-19. He said he didn’t want them to try to save him. He wanted to go Home.

“I want to see him.”

“No visitors are allowed, but let me see what I can do.”

I found myself in a desert with no water. God’s Word, however, promises to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Isaiah 41: 17-18 (NIV) says, “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.”

True to His Word, the Lord answered my desperate thirst to be with my father. That Friday my son and I donned masks and stood outside Dad’s hospital room, speaking to him over house phones. Dad told me, “I think my time’s about up. I’m not afraid, and you don’t be afraid either. I’m ready for the Lord to take me.” I wanted to say a prayer or the 23rd Psalm, but I was in the hallway shouting because he didn’t have his hearing aids. Not the final conversation I’d imagined.

I did say, “I guess I’ll see you in heaven Dad.” He answered, ” That will be nice.”

The next day we spoke briefly on the phone, and on Sunday I called again, but he didn’t answer. He was by then on heavy pain medication. A few minutes later, however, my phone rang and to my amazement, it was Dad! “Did you just call me?” he asked, his mind was clear, although his voice was slurred.

“Yes. I’m so glad you called me back.”

“What’s up?” I had to smile; he always asked me that at the start of a phone call.

“I’m wondering how you are.”

“I don’t know why I’m still here,” he said. “Why doesn’t the Lord take me?”

“As you always told me,” I said, “you’re a tough old bird.” Then growing somber, “You’re walking through the valley of the shadow, and I can’t be with you, but Jesus is.” Dad spoke of Jesus’ suffering, and I said, “Look how that turned out.” After ten minutes we told each other “I love you.”

He died the next morning.

I couldn’t get that phone call out of my mind. There was something otherworldly about it. I asked a nurse on his floor about the phone he used. “They’re very basic,” she said, ” no caller ID or automatic redial.”

“Did someone help him make the call?”

“No.”

Often when I’d called Dad before, he had difficulty even hearing the ringer. At the hospital he didn’t have his glasses or his hearing aids, yet somehow he heard that phone ring, sensed it was me, and made what humanly speaking was an impossible call to speak to me one last time.

God had arranged for us springs in a very dry valley.

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Springs in the Desert – encouragement from @RebPriceJanney on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

About the author: Rebecca Price Janney is the author of 23 published books including Golden Scroll Historical Novel of the Year, Easton at the Crossroads, and her newest, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, a story of revival during a time of crisis in America. Her podcast, Inspiration from American History, can be found at Anchor.fm.rebeccapricejanney, and information about her books at www.rebeccapricejanney.com. Rebecca lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with her husband, teenage son, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Rebecca Price Janney Author Photo 2018About the author: Rebecca Price Janney is the author of twenty-three books including the Golden Scroll 2019 Historical Novel of the Year, Easton at the Crossroads, and her newest book, Sweet Sweet Spirit: A Woman’s Spiritual Journey to the Asbury College RevivalShe shares her love of American history and the Lord at speaking engagements and through her podcast, “Inspiring Stories from American History.” She lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with her husband, teenage son, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Join the conversation: Has God ever unexpectedly supplied a spring in the desert for you?

Faith Over Fear

by Candy Arrington @CandyArrington

My mother was a fearful person. As a child, I learned not to approach her unannounced. At times, I’d forget to call her name or make noise before I entered a room. I’ll always remember the look of fear on her face and the way she jumped when I “sneaked up” on her.

As Mama aged, her level of fear increased. My father’s death–nineteen years prior to Mama’s–contributed to her anxiety. She worried constantly about finances, taxes, potential home repairs, the health and safety of her loved ones, and world events.

One day I mentioned something I read in the newspaper and a report I heard on the evening news. “I don’t read the paper anymore or watch the news,” Mama said. “I don’t even like to answer the phone, because I’m afraid it will be bad news.”

I sat down beside my mom, held her hand, and said, “You don’t have to be afraid of the future. God has taken care of you all these years. He isn’t going to abandon you now.” Tears glazed her eyes and her chin quivered. As we held hands, I prayed for her. I asked God to help her trust his unfailing love and power to protect. Then we looked up several verses about fear.

The Bible addresses fear over three hundred times, coupled with the directives to be courageous, strong, remember God’s promises, his faithfulness, protection, and to trust rather than fear.

Today, as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19, fear seems to tap us on the shoulder at every turn. Media reports tend to focus on worst-case scenarios, enhancing fears and increasing anxiety. Shortages, protests, political bantering, misinformation, and medical concerns combine to discourage, disillusion, and depress. But we don’t have to allow fear to control our lives.

Near the end of her life, Mama seemed calmer, although anxiety sometimes surfaced. A few months before her death, a hospice worker identified my mother’s fears as classic symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), the result of some frightening experiences in childhood, including the death of a first-grade friend.

Following my mother’s death, I looked at the flyleaf of her Bible and found two verses in her handwriting:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

“Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you.” 1 Peter 5:7 TLB

I believe these verses and prayer lessened Mama’s fears and provided a measure of peace in the final years of her life. Like my mother, you can make the decision not to let fear control you. Don’t allow COVID-19, or any other challenges you face, to paralyze you with fear and prevent you from following God’s designated path for your life. Fortify yourself with Scripture and prayer and choose faith over fear.

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Faith Over Fear – encouragement from @CandyArrington on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Candy ArringtonAbout the author: Candy Arrington has written hundreds of articles and devotionals, often on tough topics. Her books include AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B & H) and When Your Aging Parent Needs Care: Practical Help for This Season of Life (Harvest House). Candy is a native South Carolinian, who gains writing inspiration from historic architecture, vintage photographs, nature, and the application of Biblical principles to everyday life. Learn more about Candy at www.CandyArrington.com, where you can also read her blog, Forward Motion: Moving Beyond What Holds You Back.

Candy’s book, When Your Aging Parent Needs Care, is a help to those who face the special effort of caring for a parent. It provides support and direction to enable the caregiver to be spiritually, physically, and emotionally prepared for the day to day challenges they face.

Join the conversation: How are you managing fear in light of what we are seeing all around us?