I’m getting married to Sarah Brown on July 24. A few weeks ago we sent out save the dates. We’re midway through the planning, with a venue locked in, Chef Mike slated to make some Korean BBQ-style street tacos and churros and ice cream. We’ve got a band and a really fun plan for the dancing. My spiritual director of ten years enthusiastically agreed to officiate. Sarah’s got a dress, too. It’s stunning, I hear—she keeps showing pictures to everyone but me.
That was our February and early March. Now, later in the month, it looks increasingly likely that large gatherings will be out-of-bounds, in late July.
We missed each other recently. Sarah was sad about what seemed to her a waste of money. I rushed in to tell her it wasn’t a waste, totally missing the point—that she was sad. She was rightly feeling the loss of this beautiful day, one that we have been moving towards for four years and, in another sense, our entire lives. “It’s not about the wedding; it’s about the marriage,” you might say. And of course, that’s true. But still… I think you get it: some events, some days, some seasons—well, they just matter.
By the mercy and power of God, ours will be a life-giving, sanctifying marriage, big wedding or no big wedding. We’ll look back on the strange, world-upsetting days of the coronavirus and tell stories of what it was like to begin our life together in the midst of a pandemic. But I bet we will still carry some sadness over the loss of that big wedding. It may not be all about the wedding, but a wedding’s not nothing.
I don’t share all of this to elicit pity. We’re already brainstorming creative alternatives. We are doing well. To be perfectly honest, I’m enjoying a slower pace, the absence of bureaucracy in my life, and an empty social calendar. Instead, I share this because I bet, in fact I know, that many of you are mourning the loss of things right now, too. Seniors, in high school or college, have suddenly had their last days of school and are robbed of a chance to say good-bye, to savor the final days together, to have parties and look ahead and look back and, maybe, just maybe, finally shoot their shot.
Or you have vacation plans, plans you’ve had in place for a long time. It was the first family vacation where everyone was old enough to enjoy one another; or it was the first vacation, just the two of you, where you could leave the kids with their grandparents.
Or you had just begun forming some new friendships. You live alone. You are introverted, slow to come out of your shell; but there are these women you have started getting together with that feel like close friends, the first close friends in a long time. Now, all you can do is video chat —which is nice, but not the same. And you wonder if they’ll be too busy to remember you.
But maybe that feels like chump change from where you’re sitting today. You’ve been laid off, without notice, without two weeks of pay, without prospects of employment. You have bills due, mouths that are complaining and hungry. Your losses are tangible—money in the bank, regular work—and they affect more than just you. They affect your kids, your partner, your extended family.
Brothers and sisters, this is us in the days of coronavirus. We are losing so much. We are understandably, therefore, at a loss ourselves. Everything in me wants to add right at this point that we are not without hope—and, dear ones, we are not without hope! But sometimes we need to say one thing instead of two. Today, let that one thing be that each of us has lost something and will lose something. Too many of us will even lose someone. And the first and best response to that is not to say that everything will be fine but, like Sarah did as she considered the wedding that might not be, to be sad.
I love you, dear family. I am so sorry for your losses. Let’s look for ways to mourn our losses together, and as we do, let us live in the strange beatitude of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Matt Jenson is a member of Fountain of Life Covenant Church and teaches great books in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.
As I was out driving around town (something I do every day to visit hospice patients in their homes or in care facilities), I was thinking about what is on everyone’s minds right now — COVID-19. I was struck by how light traffic is and began to think about those who are out and about, those who are creating long lines and emptying shelves at the grocery stores, as well as those who remain at home because their workplaces are shut down, or they’re just fearful. Regardless of what group we may fall into, there is likely some level of anxiety in most people.
The thought that came to mind and that I have been reminding myself of here and there is, “We’re all in the same boat.” I’m not sure that’s very comforting, though. Yes, I’m not alone in this and you’re not alone in this, but being in this particular “same boat” is the reason WHY our sense of normalcy has been abandoned in an effort to slow this thing down.
What IS comforting to know is that, while we are in the same boat together, Jesus is in the boat with us. This brings to mind the story in Mark 4 when the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee at the behest of Jesus and a terrible storm arises in which waves are crashing into the boat and the wind and waves are rocking them to and fro (vv. 35-41). Where was Jesus during all this? In the back of the boat, sound asleep. The disciples were scared to death, or rather, afraid of losing their lives, and there was Jesus, fast asleep! “Teacher, we’re all gonna die! Don’t you even care?!” Jesus awakes and tells the storm to chill: “Peace! Be still!” And there was a great calm. You can almost feel their sense of relief.
Of course, it’s amazing that Jesus tells the storm to stop storming…and it does! But I wonder, how would the story have played out if the disciples let Jesus remain asleep? What would have happened? Would they have all died in the storm? Would Jesus have awakened on his own to quell the storm? Would they have ridden out the storm and be safely delivered to the other side of the sea?
It seems that Jesus would have wanted them to tell themselves, “All will be well. We’re safe because the Lord is with us, right here in the boat. He’s so calm that he’s able to sleep through this. We’re good.” After Jesus calms the storm, he asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Their fear shifted from the storm to the One who calmed the storm with a word: “Peace!”
As we go through life and encounter storms, may you and I go to the Lord in prayer and be comforted and strengthened with the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7), knowing that, regardless of what happens, Jesus is in our boat. The God of the universe is always with us in every storm we encounter and will, one way or another, carry us safely home.
FOL 13th Anniversary Service: Today Today is Fountain of Life’s 13th Anniversary Service. Please stay for a group photo and cake. God has been so faithful to us!
M3ND Abuse & Bullying Recognition Training: February 27 We are hosting a free abuse & bullying recognition/response training Thursday, February 27th from 6:30 – 8:00 pm. Register online using this link: http://bit.ly/m3ndFOL or visit the Info Table for a printed registration.
The Well Women’s Sabbath Day: Feb 29 The Women’s Day of Sabbath: “Deep calls to Deep” will be held on Saturday, Feb 29th from 9:30am – 2:30 pm at Grace Brethren Church. Sign up at info table, or online at http://bit.ly/Sabbath20. If you have any questions or would like to help, please contact Sylvia (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Youth Weekly Events High school youth meet on Wednesday evenings. Middle school youth meet on Friday evenings.
I teach 6 and 7 year olds. This means I like: young children, movement, sunshine, art, bugs, invented spelling, play, number logic, community health, zillions of questions, singing, reading aloud.
It also means that I am learning to fight: germs, copy machines, my own expectations, others’ expectations, bureaucracy, regret, perfectionism, sentences beginning with “these kids can’t,” unbelief.
Especially during my first years in the classroom, there was a part of me that struggled to believe that God could tolerate (love?!) me if I didn’t earn it. I couldn’t earn it unless I felt that I had a good teaching day. I wouldn’t know if the day was good or not until I walked to the parking lot.
The school day itself would pass by in a blur, but as soon as I stepped into my car after work, I’d get an HD slow-mo IMAX 3D replay of my Top 10 Worst Educator Moments. Suddenly, the car was hot with my inadequacies and missteps and disappointments of the day. Whenever I told people I was a teacher, they’d tell me, “How perfect!” but they didn’t see me alone in the car, feeling grimy and empty and not-cut-out-for-this. I should’ve learned to code.
As I merged onto the 110, Jesus would say something like, “Let me wash your feet. Let me fill you.”
And I’d say something like, “But I’m supposed to be good at this!”
And He’d say something like, “There’s no ‘supposed to.’ Come.”
If I came, what would I find? What would He find?
“You shall never wash my feet!” I would say, and choose a playlist, and tune out, and come home weary.
Slowly, my perfect Teacher taught me that being broken and empty before him is not only fine with him, but is exactly where I need to be to receive His power. He reminds me that His Kingdom is given freely to the poor, weak, hungry, thirsty, and meek.
These days, I am learning to sit less and less in the self-judgment seat and more and more in the shadow of the Cross, and know that I can dare to be a sinner before Christ crucified, and know that His Work, not mine, saves me, heals me, and makes me acceptable.
Thanks be to God for daily showing me the truth about who He is and who I am. I begin to see both the places He is healing and the gifts He is affirming. I begin to be both the learner and the teacher He has created me to be.
Stephens Middle School, Auditorium
1830 W Columbia St.
Long Beach, CA 90810