Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dear God, Let’s Talk about Covid-19

Dear God, 

I know you’re always there, always listening. Do you mind if I run some things past you? Things have changed dramatically in the last while and it’s been an uncomfortable journey.

How can it be, that a microscopic virus can bring the entire world to its knees? Killing hundreds of thousands, infecting millions, closing borders and crashing businesses and economies. This little germ has jumped from country to country, hitched rides on aircraft and spread through handshakes and hugs. I suppose other small things also have destructive power. The can’t do attitude, the I’m important attitude, the fearful attitude. But physically, the world has never experienced anything quite like this.

We think we’re so intelligent, Lord, but the truth is that Covid-19 has outsmarted the best of the best minds. Thousands are working on a cure, trialling vaccines, experimenting with existing drugs but the best we have so far is good old hand washing with soap and water, social distancing, and self isolation. Actually, that wisdom goes back to Old Testament times.

Leviticus 13:46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.

Is this how it’s going to be forever?

In New Zealand we spent five weeks on level four lock down. My bubble was my husband who was an essential worker, our puppy and two cats. Although I’m a self-confessed introvert, I found it very hard. Days dragged, boredom set in and I walked miles around our neighbourhood. However, there were benefits as our Pastor, Phil, pointed out in his online sermon this Sunday. He suggested lockdown had been like a Sabbath rest.

I can see that, Lord. Our busy lives hit the wall and we had to stop, change routines, re-evaluate what was important and make adjustments. As days passed, the physical smog dissipated and my mind also became clearer. It was like the world was taking time out. Lines of aircraft were parked up at the airport, road traffic was minimal and malls, cafes and businesses were closed. We’re supposed to rest one day a week but in our normal routines, do we really do this?

I also noticed a change in our neighbourhood. “Where have all these people come from?” I asked myself as a steady procession passed my front window. We live on a busy road and suddenly there was a stream of people drifting by. The old and the young, parents with children of all ages, dog walkers and joggers, cyclists and a guy with a boombox. Some were regulars but about 80% were new to me. What has happened to our world that we have forgotten how to take walks with our families and do things together in our local communities?

During lockdown in level four, I missed my family immensely. I missed coffee with them on the weekends, hugs and sticky kisses from my grandchildren, and the freedom to meet in each other’s homes. I missed physical church meetings, and Zoom became a way to catch up with friends and play games with family. It was better than nothing but You reminded me that many families have suffered far worse. Thousands have passed away without being able to hug their loved ones goodbye, without being offered the dignity of a funeral. How shallow my complaints seem in light of this. 

While in Auckland today, Lord, I spotted a seed pod lying on the street. In past years, I would have ignored it. Today it took on new significance as it looked like the corona virus images that continually bombard our eyes. I realised that it’s not the only change in my mindset. I see family differently, friends differently, even people who generally irritate me, differently. Differently in a positive way. We need each other, we need to show compassion, extend mercy, offer assistance and stop thinking only of ourselves. I picked the pod up and put it in my bag. I’ll keep it for a while, Place it where I can see it to remind me of the above.

The world we live in has changed dramatically. You have not changed, God. You are still the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. You are still the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace and the one who will never let us down. Be with us I pray, as we adjust to our new normal. Replace our fear with your courage, our weakness with your strength and our lack of understanding with your wisdom. And let your perfect will, whatever that may be, unfold in each of our lives.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Unexpected Events

The police roadblock caught me by surprise. It was on SH69 leading out of Reefton towards Murchison. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” the officer said, looking through my vehicle’s window. “There’s been a fatal crash on this side of Murchison and the road will be closed for hours.”

That was very sad news. I paused for a moment before questioning the policeman. “Is there an alternate route? If I drive to Westport can I get through from there?”

The answer was no, that route was also closed due to the accident. “I need to drop this vehicle in Nelson this evening,” I told him, “and I’m booked to fly home at 7:30pm. Is there any other way of getting up there?”

The officer stepped back and looked at the vehicle I was in, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. It belonged to a rental car company and I was relocating it north for them. “That a four wheel drive?” he questioned.

“It sure is,” I replied.

“In that case there’s a mountain pass you can use. It’s just a dirt track but will bring you out the other side of Murchison.” He gave me details of where to find the road and I turned the vehicle around.

I followed his instructions and a half hour later arrived at the Maruia Saddle Road. His description was accurate. It was indeed a dirt track, single lane in many places and full of twists and turns. What he hadn’t told me was how beautiful it was. Sunlight filtered through trees and ferns, and clear streams ran directly over the track, dropping away into small waterfalls.

I soon discovered that many people were coming through from the Nelson side of the pass, More so than the Reefton side. It was amazing how courteous everyone was. I think we were all mindful that someone had lost their life that day and that our problems were minor inconveniences in comparison.

People pulled onto shoulders to let others pass and a gentleman stopped and got out of his car to guide me around a treacherous corner. Everyone waved as they passed and there was no aggression or tailgating. This is amazing, I thought. If we’d all been on the highway, we’d probably have been jockeying for position, racing the clock and wrapped up in our own little worlds. 

I stopped here and there to take photos and inhale the gentle scent of nature. I dipped my fingers in cool streams and listened to insects buzzing and sweet birdsong. I wished I could stay there all day but had to move on, aware that the detour had cost me time wise. I ended up cancelling the audits I had scheduled in Nelson, but made it to the airport, 20 minutes before my flight departed.

As the reality of COVID-19 sinks into our daily lives, my drive through the mountain pass came to mind. People are suddenly caring about each other again. Most of us are locked down at home, not allowed to work and confined to our neighbourhood. I’m one of these, and alone during the day as my husband is an essential worker. We’re allowed to go for walks and twice a day, I take our puppy out.

I’m amazed at the number of other people out on the streets. Mums with babies in prams, children with dads, retired couples strolling along, and individuals of all ages. Most of these people I’ve never seen before! We all keep at least two metres between us, but hardly anyone fails to make eye contact and offer a friendly greeting. 

Why do we need a tragic event to pull us together as people and communities? I think the lock down has made us all aware of how much we need each other, even hardcore introverts like myself. My prayer is that once this has passed, that our connections with those around us will continue to strengthen and grow. That we will remember how it feels to be isolated - and that we’ll actively work on being inclusive and caring to those in our lives.

For now, stay safe, stay strong, and greet those you encounter on the streets with enthusiasm!

1 Peter 3:8-9 Amplified Bible
Finally, all of you be like-minded [united in spirit], sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted [courteous and compassionate toward each other as members of one household], and humble in spirit; and never return evil for evil or insult for insult [avoid scolding, berating, and any kind of abuse], but on the contrary, give a blessing [pray for one another’s well-being, contentment, and protection]; for you have been called for this very purpose, that you might inherit a blessing [from God that brings well-being, happiness, and protection]. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Country in Lock Down - COVID-19

I was supposed to fly to Melbourne last week. Next week we were booked to fly to Vietnam on a family holiday. COVID-19 has put an end to both of these. On Monday 23rd March I had a trip to Auckland planned and decided to continue with it as I sensed that a lock down of the country was imminent. I didn’t know that the announcement would be made that day.

Christchurch Airport was quiet and subdued when I walked into the terminal. There were small groups of people here and there, some wearing face masks. I headed upstairs, no queue at x-ray and security and the Koru Lounge was almost empty. No groups laughing and chatting, no one milling around the coffee counter. Just signs instructing us to keep a 1.5 metre distance between ourselves and other people.

I already knew that things on the plane would be different. Air New Zealand had rearranged the seating so that all the middle seats would be empty. The front row facing the flight attendants was not in use and staff wore gloves and some wore face masks. In normal times, I’m sure all of us would have loved the extra space and elbow room, but it was more of a reminder of what we were dealing with as a nation and beyond.

I opened my tray table when the snacks and drinks were brought around, and discovered it was splashed with lurid orange speckles. “Don’t worry,” the flight attendant said, seeing my expression. “It’s the new cleaning liquid we’re using to keep the planes safe.”

I arrived at the car rental office just before midday and instead of the bustling hub I’m used to, it was tomb-like. I was told I was the first customer of the day to hire a car. The exit was blocked with all the vehicles that had been returned. Although I knew COVID-19 was impacting the country, I hadn’t realised to what extent.

It was mid-afternoon when I heard the announcement on the radio. “New Zealand will be going into shut down at midnight on Wednesday.” This was followed by a text from the airline saying my flight home was cancelled and there were no more seats available until the next day.

I was very unhappy to hear this.

Fortunately, all my work was done so I headed back to the airport. Overhead signs along the way instructed motorists that the airport was only open to those who were flying. Once inside the terminal, I headed to Counter One as it’s called. This is where you go to re-book cancelled flights and get information about your options. Thankfully, because of my Elite status with Air New Zealand, I was given priority in the wait queue and 20 minutes later they presented me with a boarding pass for the 6pm flight home. I’m guessing many of the other passengers would have spent the night in Auckland.

Overall it was a stressful day, but also one full of God’s peace and grace. At time I felt like I was on the set of a horror movie, with all the masked, wary people and the deserted streets of suburban Auckland. People I interacted with were nervous, keeping their distance and voicing their fears. It was hard work emotionally.

As we head into four weeks of isolation and shut down, the future is uncertain, but God is not. Be wise, be careful and look out for loved ones as far as you can. This pandemic has not taken God by surprise and while taking every precaution and obeying the government as we lock down our homes, we can relax into His arms, knowing He is so much bigger than a microscopic virus.

Enjoying a last coffee with my dear husband before the country locks down at midnight!