Last week at this time my husband and I were at the beach celebrating our fortieth anniversary. Everyone was out and about—walking around, going to restaurants, sitting in the sun. And then, as for all of us, things changed.
We live in Montgomery County, PA where COVID-19 was spreading quickly. We scrambled to get home and arrived as schools, churches, restaurants, and all other gatherings were shutting down. My children, their spouses, and our eight grandchildren stayed away in their homes.
In our new reality, safety comes from distance. My husband Angelo and I watched on the news as the shutdowns extended across most of the country. On Sunday, Angelo, a pastor, preached on Facebook live from our living room.
My dad often said that we all naturally expect life to be like a canal—a straight course, smooth sides and sailing with no waves or sudden turns. But instead, life more closely resembles a river. He grew up near the Rogue River in Oregon and we often camped along it. It’s a wild river—fast moving, hairpin turns, sudden drops that create waterfalls that are beautiful to look at but deadly to navigate, and, maybe worst of all, huge hidden boulders that could tear out the bottom of your boat.
The Rogue River was full of beauty but also unexpected, life-threatening dangers. And yes, that’s what our lives are like as well. That’s why James tells us to make our plans with hands open to what God wills (James 4:13–15).
Remembering that what God wills is what comes to pass brings us to set our minds on another river—the river of grace that flows from his throne and brings life to whatever it touches. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of that river—a life-giving river that grows deep and wide and brings healing and wholeness (Ezekiel 47).
That river of grace flows to us through our faithful Savior Jesus, who let his own blood flow that we might be made whole. Because he died and rose again, that grace is for us—not to take us out of our wild ride of life, but to give us grace to endure, to remain faithful, to love well right in the middle of whatever we are facing. Because of Jesus we can be sure that the promise of God’s presence through all of life is and will be true.
We remember that the worst day in history—Good Friday—was followed by the best day in history—Resurrection Sunday. So we know for sure that there is a resurrection coming for those who trust in Jesus. And for now, as we navigate the river of life by faith, we believe by faith that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).
COVID-19 will not overwhelm us, because God’s grace is a deeper, wider, stronger river. This is grace that we are offered daily as we ask. Our good Father promises that we can ask for help for us, our family, our friends, our country, and our world and we will receive it (Luke 11).
Then, whatever challenges this has brought into our lives, we can by faith look for ways to love well (social distancing, patience with children stuck at home, reaching out to those who are most vulnerable), and share the hope that the rest of the world so desperately needs. This is what God’s people have always done in times of trouble.
The early church took discarded infants into their homes and risked their lives bringing aid to those dying in epidemics. The river of grace that has touched our lives is meant to flow through us to others. This is how God’s people have always responded and let it be so now.