Covid-19 Pandemic: Taking the Problem Seriously

Is the Covid-19 crisis real or a scam? What if China’s information has been inaccurate? What if it turns out that Covid-19 kills fewer people than the flu this year and we end up ruining our economy trying to self-isolate? What if the virus is part of biological warfare? What if this has all been planned by the Illuminati in order for them to take over the world? What if? What if? What if?

Stats on Coronavirus Spread as of 1:13 yesterday afternoon

Today I just want to put in a plea for people to take this problem seriously regardless of the “What ifs.” The aged mother of one of my friends—after using the same spoon as 300 other senior citizens had used to add mustard to her hotdog at a big picnic in her Arizona community last week—assured my friend that she wasn’t attending any big events and was practicing social distancing. Apparently, this dear lady assumed that a “large” gathering was a major symphony or concert—not just a group of her cronies!

Stats on Coronavirus Spread as of 10:13 am this morning

When I wrote last week on how to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic, I got some strong criticism from a few (senior citizen) readers who thought the whole thing was being blown out of proportion and that Covid-19 isn’t as lethal as the flu. However, as we follow the steep curve in the number of confirmed cases, it is becoming more clear that this is not just a passing fancy. It is estimated that Covid-19 is 3-4 times more contagious as flu, with a higher percentage of deaths overall, and a profoundly higher death rate among the aged and already infirm.

For whatever reasons, this is a pandemic unlike anything I’ve experienced in my 70 years. I believe it will be every bit as defining for the Gen Z’ers as 9//11 was to the Millennials or Kennedy’s assassination was to the Baby Boomers. In California, where my eldest son lives, everything is shut down and no one is supposed to go out except for food or medications. In Belgium, where my second son lives, schools and restaurants are all closed down and the unofficial restrictions are the same as California’s, although people are still allowed to go to work. Similar restrictions are in place for my kids who live in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and now even in Grand Rapids. Police are starting to question people who are out and about in Italy, where some of the hospitals are at 200% capacity.

Why shut down? Why go into isolation? That’s a valid question. If 90% of the young and healthy people will be asymptomatic or have symptoms no more challenging than a bad flu, then why shut down our entire country and risk the collapse of our economy? Why not let the young and healthy continue to work (with care)? Why not just restrict the activities of the old and infirm to protect them? If I were the president, maybe that’s what I would choose, thinking that protecting the livelihood of the young and financially unstable is a higher priority than protecting the elderly at any rate. BUT, I am not the president, and therefore it’s my job to respect our leadership and pray for them to make wise decisions.

What’s the theory behind social distancing? The hope is to slow down the spread of Covid-19, because we don’t have vaccines yet, and our hospitals aren’t equipped with enough oxygen and respiratory equipment to handle too many cases at once. Yes, most of us are likely to be exposed at some point, but if we can contain the virus (not too likely in the “land of the free”) or even slow down the spread of this very contagious illness, then potentially we will be able to save thousands or possibly millions of lives. It’s true that Covid-19 manifests with only mild symptoms in children and healthy adults, but it can be a killer for older adults, particularly if they have underlying medical conditions— respiratory problems, diabetes, etc.

So, my first plea is for you to take this problem seriously, especially if you are a senior citizen or have compromised health. My husband and sons are unilaterally working remotely (except for the ones in healthcare); all my grandchildren are home due to schools being closed. If you’re not concerned for yourself, please be concerned for the sake of those around you! This is a worldwide problem that will require worldwide participation to solve.

Want to be part of the solution? Beyond social distancing, may I suggest praying? You may have memorized this verse so long ago that it almost seems passe, but it’s just as true today as it was 3,000 years ago when God appeared to Solomon: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Prayer Needs for our World:
* For youngsters to feel secure and have their needs met during this unsettling time
* For the vast majority of young adults and those with no jobs or low-paying jobs who don’t have the financial resources to withstand losing their jobs for weeks or months
* For those who are experiencing dire illness, those who are caring for the ill, and those who are grieving the loss of loved ones
* For those who are in positions of authority—from national leaders to leaders in each home—for the ability to make wise decisions that will protect the lives and welfare of all people around the world
* For people everywhere to repent and turn to God, asking Him for salvation and deliverance

Coronavirus: Are You Prepared?

Are you ready for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that’s sweeping the world? Instead of enjoying a trip to San Antonio this morning for a medical meeting (which got canceled), my husband—as the chief medical officer of a local hospital— is acutely involved in preparing to meet the crisis which has come to Michigan. Two days ago (March 10, 2020) there were no confirmed cases in Michigan, although there were 760 cases confirmed in U.S. However, by 6:33 am on March 11, there were 1,039 confirmed cases throughout America and 119,476 world wide with 4,291 deaths. As of today, March 12th, there are 1,323 confirmed cases throughout America and 127,863 worldwide with 4,718 deaths. If you do the math, it’s shocking how fast this is traveling.

We also now have confirmed cases in Michigan. The schools have shut down in Grand Rapids, as they are where my kids live in California, Chicago, and New York. Belgium (where one of my sons lives) was leading the pack for new cases in Europe yesterday. I am amazed to read of people not taking this seriously. Come on, guys! Where’s your Boy Scout spirit? Semper paratus. Better safe than sorry! Don’t panic, but don’t ignore taking wise precautions, either, please!

Coronavirus is everywhere in the news, so this post may be too late to be particularly helpful, but just in case you haven’t done a lot of research yet, here’s the best up-to-the-moment coverage I have gleaned:

What are the symptoms of a COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection? Most commonly, it presents like flu and can include fever, tiredness and a dry cough, although other symptoms, such as achiness, pain, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea are all possible. According to Dr. Martha Blum, MD PhD: “The most common presentation was one week prodrome of myaglias, malaise, cough, low grade fevers gradually leading to more severe trouble breathing in the second week of illness. It is an average of 8 days to development of dyspnea and average 9 days to onset of pneumonia/pneumonitis. It is not like Influenza, which has a classically sudden onset. Fever was not very prominent in several cases.”

How long does it take to determine if someone has COVID-19? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “symptoms may appear anywhere between two to 14 days after exposure, with the average patient seeing onset at around five days.”

What should you do if you suspect you may be developing a COVID-19 infection ? Call (don’t visit) your doctor or your local health department. They can ask appropriate questions to determine whether on not you need to be tested. Obviously, you should not GO to the doctor’s office or health department directly, lest you expose others, but these health care locations can tell you where you would need to go for testing.

What can we do to prepare? Make sure all your immunizations are up to date. It’s still not too late to get your flu shot or a pneumonia vaccine if you are in the right age and risk group. Check with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for specific guidelines (and other pertinent information concerning COVID-19): https://www.cdc.gov/

Beyond being properly immunized, all the sites I’ve studied say the #1. best advice is easy: limit your exposure as best you can and wash your hands with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds often and specifically after you’ve had contact with people in public places. Do NOT touch your face with your hands until after you’ve washed your hands carefully. If you have hand sanitizer as a second step (AFTER washing), that’s a plus, but most stores are out of hand sanitizer. You can also use rubbing alcohol as a disinfectant. I was able to find some this morning. Have a 14-30-day supply of food and medications on hand. I liked this list from USA Today (March 10, 2020 issue, and I quote):

Food. Fresh fruits and vegetables will likely spoil over 14 days, so canned foods that have a long storage life and need little or no cooking are recommended. Meat products, fish or beans, soups, broths and stews, fruits and fruit juices, vegetables, canned (or powdered) milk, are among good supply choices recommended by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Disaster Education Network.

Frozen foods are an option, too. Other recommended foods are peanut butter, jelly, crackers, nuts, trail mix, dried fruits, granola bars, bouillon cubes, and staples like sugar, salt, pepper. (Keep in mind you may need to include some special foods for babies and family members on special diets, as well as pet foods.)

Water and liquids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you have plenty of fluids on hand, such as bottled water and supply of fluids with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/drinking/creating-storing-emergency-water-supply.html(opens in a new tab)

Medicine. You will want to have a 14-day supply of any prescription medications for those in your home. You may also want over-the-counter pain relievers, antacids, cough and cold medicines, and vitamins.

Supplies. Many homes already have a 14-day supply of most daily items on hand. But make sure you have toothpaste, toilet paper, feminine supplies, diapers, laundry detergent and disinfectant.

Other items. Perhaps have some board games, cards, toys books, magazines and other fun items to keep the family occupied.

Okay, back to my editorializing: To keep abreast of what’s happening minute by minute around the world and in the U.S., you can access the Johns Hopkin Dashboard here:

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

To track what’s happening in Michigan, here’s a link:

https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/

In case you think everybody’s overreacting, here’s a link that explains the importance of insulating ourselves and our communities as well as we possibly can. It can make a huge difference in the number of cases and the outcomes:

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now

Below is a potpourri of various recommendations for immunizations, graphs and charts, a brief history of coronavirus, and other pertinent information that I’ve copy-and-pasted from websites, mostly the CDC.

When you are 65 years old, please get the PCV-13 first. Then you should get the Pneumovax 6-12 months afterwards. But if you’ve already had your Pneumovax, then get your PCV-13 one year later. If you are younger than 65, you might need a pneumonia vaccine if you have special conditions. Read more at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html for more information

Shingles: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/vaccination.html “Two shingles vaccines are licensed and recommended in the United States. Zoster vaccine live (ZVL, Zostavax) has been used since 2006, and recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix), has been used since 2017, and is recommended as the preferred shingles vaccine.” My vaccine made both my sister and me quite ill briefly, and it does have transiet flu-like side effects for more than half the population, so choose a day when you don’t have much scheduled. We chose a Friday afternoon with a clear weekend.

Interim guidance is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html. As more is learned about this virus and the outbreak, CDC will rapidly incorporate new knowledge into guidance for action.

For historical perspective from the CDC: “An outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019, and has spread throughout China and to 31 other countries and territories, including the United States (1). As of February 23, 2020, there were 76,936 reported cases in mainland China and 1,875 cases in locations outside mainland China (1). There have been 2,462 associated deaths worldwide; no deaths have been reported in the United States. Fourteen cases have been diagnosed in the United States, and an additional 39 cases have occurred among repatriated persons from high-risk settings, for a current total of 53 cases within the United States. This report summarizes the aggressive measures (2,3) that CDC, state and local health departments, multiple other federal agencies, and other partners are implementing to slow and try to contain transmission of COVID-19 in the United States. These measures require the identification of cases and contacts of persons with COVID-19 in the United States and the recommended assessment, monitoring, and care of travelers arriving from areas with substantial COVID-19 transmission. Although these measures might not prevent widespread transmission of the virus in the United States, they are being implemented to 1) slow the spread of illness; 2) provide time to better prepare state and local health departments, health care systems, businesses, educational organizations, and the general public in the event that widespread transmission occurs; and 3) better characterize COVID-19 to guide public health recommendations and the development and deployment of medical countermeasures, including diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. U.S. public health authorities are monitoring the situation closely, and CDC is coordinating efforts with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global partners. Interim guidance is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html. As more is learned about this novel virus and this outbreak, CDC will rapidly incorporate new knowledge into guidance for action by CDC, state and local health departments, health care providers, and communities.

“Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 appears to occur mainly by respiratory transmission. How easily the virus is transmitted between persons is currently unclear. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath (4). Based on the incubation period of illness for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses, as well as observational data from reports of travel-related COVID-19, CDC estimates that symptoms of COVID-19 occur within 2–14 days after exposure. Preliminary data suggest that older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at greater risk for severe illness from this virus (5).

Information for travelers: CDC.gov/Travel

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

“There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

“There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.”

Why is it so much more dangerous for elderly people? According to Bruce Aylward (who leads the World Health Organization’s infectious disease response team), “These people are dying of an inflammatory process in their lungs. It’s not an infectious process, like a bacterial or viral infection. It’s inflammatory, like we see with SARS. We’re not sure of the mechanism. We do know the proportion of people who die who had cancer was half compared to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes is a little bit lower than those two, and cancer lower again.

Italy is currently locked down. In China, the cases are diminishing. In America, the confirmed cases are growing rapidly!

After all is said and done, I would like to remind people to prepare, but not panic! Prepare, watch, and pray: “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord ” (Proverbs 21:31). Our world, our times, and our lives are ultimately in the hands of the One who has created us. As Solomon taught, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). I am totally convinced that this current plague is intended by God for our good, to bring us all to the foot of the cross, where we can find rest and peace for our souls—and eternal life through faith in Christ—despite the present crisis. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).

Please feel free to write a response, ask any questions, or request me to pray for you specifically.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (72): Finding the Strait Gate

I cannot read Jesus’ admonition to enter the “strait gate” without thinking of “every man” from Pilgrim’s Progress.

This man was so burdened by what he’d read in the Book that he left his hometown in search of the Celestial City.

However, he quickly discovered that he had to enter through a special gate before he could find the narrow path that would actually lead him to the great city.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus explained it this way, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Have you found and entered the Strait Gate that leads to heaven?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, a man named Evangelist points “every man” to the gate where he can be relieved from his burden.

But, it’s a difficult climb to get to the gate, and along the way, he meets a man named Obstinate, who refuses to make the climb, choosing rather to attempt reaching the Celestial City by traveling one of the many easier, wider, less restrictive paths.

This part of the story is very sad, of course, because no one can actually get to the Celestial City unless they are willing to pass through the Strait Gate first. It’s not that the gate is hard to find, or that people won’t be allowed in after they find it. All they have to do is knock, and the gate door will be opened, but most people are too proud to ask, and so they wander off trying to find some other way across the chasm of death to everlasting life.

My father became a believer shortly before he died, but for most of his life, he preferred quoting this poem:

Invictus
—William Ernest Henley, 1875

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

It is with great relief and joy I can share with you that just a few years before he died, my father decided to enter in through the Strait Gate, drop his burden of sin at the foot of the cross, and begin his journey to the Celestial City. As his youngest daughter, and the one who had the privilege of pilgriming beside him during those last years, I observed that he was a much more peaceful, pleasant companion after he gave up trying to be the captain of his own soul.

Is your head still “bloody, but unbowed”? If so, will you bow your head today and let Jesus forgive your sins and heal your heart? Will you join with the millions of us who are pilgrims on the narrow road that leads to life everlasting? Don’t be angry with God! He loves us. He provided a way for us to be reconciled to him through the blood of Christ. He offers eternal life for “whosoever will” believe. Will you take him at his word and begin your journey through the Strait Gate to the Celestial City?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

Text for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Fostering Hope: “You Can’t Scare Me with Heaven!”

Last month, a new baby was born into my world of joys, and her parents named her “Hope.” Don’t you love it?! When was the last time you met someone with such an uplifting name? I think we’re living in a world that’s in desperate need of hope. Yesterday I hoped to sit with two different friends (coincidentally at the same hospital and close in time!) while their spouses had surgery to have tumors removed. (Although, I couldn’t find one of them! 😦 ) One is about my age, so in a sense having a tumor isn’t out of the range of normal possibilities (albeit still frightening), but the other person is a young woman who is like a spiritual daughter to me . . . so “way too young” (at least in my mind) to be going through what might be a life-threatening medical issue.

Last Sunday Alan and I went Northridge Church with our daughter Kathy and her family. As always, we heard an excellent message from their lead pastor, Brad Powell. Their current series is about going back to Square One in our lives, and this week’s topic was “Hope.”

Brad reminded us that Jesus Christ is our only hope, and He alone has the power to forgive and redeem our past, provide eternal purpose and power in the present, and guarantee the promise of resurrection and eternal life after death. If you are not a Christian, then feel free to disagree and tell me if you’ve found something that meets these needs in your life even better . . . but for me, I totally agreed with Brad’s assessment!

Near the end of the message, Brad shared a wonderful story about his father, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had survived a lot of hard things in his life, so even though he was given a very poor prognosis, he lived in hope, and he lived much longer than expected! However, eventually it was obvious that he was dying and there was no hope of his surviving much longer. Brad’s father went from active to passive and died within a few days. All hope for his survival was gone, and he had no interest in prolonging his death.

But, not all hope was gone. Brad’s father still retained a bright hope for life after death, and when Brad went to visit, lamenting the fact that his father was dying, his dad was still able to manage a twinkle: “You can’t scare me with heaven!” No, death was not scary to Brad’s father, because he knew that the death of his physical body was just the segue to heaven and being in the presence of Christ forever! “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Are you scared of death? I’m not. (Pain and the process . . . yes, but not my body being dead.) If you believe in Jesus, you needn’t be afraid of dying, and I hope nobody can scare you with the prospects of your going to heaven!!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 15:13).

(P.S.—If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die but would like to know, please click on the “Coming to Christ” icon at the top of this page. It will take you to a place that explains how to enter into a covenant with God whereby you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die.)

Thoughts on Retirement, Hope, Love, and Plucking Thorns

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day, and this week Alan and I are celebrating our 47th anniversary! In addition, we will both be turning 70 this year. Even though we are staring down inevitable retirement before too long, we are both feeling very vivacious and so are full of hope that there will be “life after retirement” and a future that will include all the things my father used to say were the essential ingredients for “the good life of all VIPS” (that’s all of us) . . . that our lives should be Varied, Integrated, Productive, and Social.

My father was not a professing Christian at that point in his life, so if I were making my own personal statement, I would definitely want God in the spotlight, but I do think Dad’s points are well taken. I would love to continue to be able to enjoy variety, integrity/integration, productivity, and social interaction, and in all the research studies, those qualities do come out as critical to emotional well-being and even longevity.

However, I have known more than a few loved ones (Alan’s father being one) who barely survived his retirement before being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am seeing this more and more often, and it definitely makes me feel like I’m going to be holding my breath very tightly when we jump off the end of the retirement diving board!

One dear friend, whom I admire greatly, is struggling with her own beloved husband, who had a fabulous career and was always a rock in her life . . . but is now showing undeniable symptoms of memory loss just a few years post retirement. As we Boomers begin to time out, we find ourselves grieving losses. Our own. Those of our beloved spouses and friends. 😦 I don’t mean to discourage anyone who’s looking forward to retirement. Alan’s older brother, and my two older brothers have all retired and are aging extremely well, so it can be done! However, I want to share this timely and tender consolation from a devotional my friend shared with me:

A Valentine Devotion on the Cycles of Life
I Corinthians 13:7 NIV
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“Years ago I copied this paragraph from George Matheson’s book published in 1909, The Representative Men of the New Testament. He writes that we can see these same cycles in romantic love [as in the cycles of life]. It’s an old book and I loved this paragraph for its poetry and imagery more than for its realism. Today I see its realism. I will read it as my conclusion: ‘What is the common process of love’s enlargement? Take a human love; take what we generally term romantic love. What are the stages through which it is wont to pass? I think there are four. At first it is a hope – something to be realized tomorrow. Then it is a present possession but reserved as yet only for garden hours when we are free from the bustle of the crowd. By and by its range is widened – it becomes a stimulus for the great duties of life; it comes out from the garden into the city; it nerves to do and to bear. At last it reaches its climax – it comes down to trifles. It glorifies the commonplace; it finds sermons in stones and sonnets in the dust. Little things are magnified; unromantic things are glorified. We do prosaic work. We perform menial duties. We go through cheerful drudgery. We pluck thorns.'”

Christmas Cards

A friend from my writing group wrote this a few years ago but shared it with us recently, and she has graciously allowed me to pass it on to you:

It’s snowing on this Sunday afternoon in December as my husband and I enter the double doors of the nursing home where his mother lives. I had called ahead and reserved the “family room” for the three of us so that we would have privacy and space to spread out our project – her Christmas cards. Always one to send hand-written cards with kindly and concerned notes to her long list of friends, Mom is ninety years old and long past being able to “do her cards” on her own. So I’d purchased cards with two of her goals in mind: a Christian message and a rural theme, and one goal of mine: the cards must be pretty.

In our bag as we walk down the hallway is my purchase, a Christian-messaged card celebrating the birth of Christ into the world superimposed on a red barn in the countryside. The entire front of the card is covered in sparkling glitter. Also in the bag is her address book which is now in my care, pens, stamps, and a printed letter supposedly written by her telling her friends how she is – fine – busy with family and friends and grateful for God’s love and salvation. We are ready and we have a job to do!

As we push Mom’s wheelchair down the hall to the family room, we ask her if she’s had a good lunch. “I haven’t had any lunch.”

“No lunch? Are you hungry?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” We look at each other. The entire building is filled with the aromas of Sunday dinner.

We gather around a table in the private room, Rob and his mother side-by-side and facing me. We spread out our things. I open her address book to the first person, addressing and stamping the envelope while Rob opens the first card for her to sign. He leans in close to her, his right arm around the back of her chair, his left hand pointing to where she should sign. He watches her sign, folds her letter inside the card, and seals the envelope. We have begun. Soon we are in a pleasant rhythm. Address, stamp, sign, fold, seal. Sometimes Rob prods her along with, “Now, Mother, this is your nephew, so sign ‘Aunt Eileen,’” and she complies. Sometimes unprodded she writes Love, or I love you, before her name. Working down the list, we come to her college roommate, a “W.” “Oh, yes,” she said. “She married Edwin Wierach and they live in Grand Blanc.”

“Isn’t that the way it is?” I think to myself. “She can’t remember lunch, but she remembers her college roommate and the name of the man she married.”

It takes most of the afternoon to finish her cards. I feel victorious. It’s a precious time of walking down memory lane with our beloved ninety-year-old Mom. I’ve known her for close to 45 years and we have accomplished mountains of projects. Real projects, hard work. Recently, however, our times together usually involve a delivery of some sort or a conversation of superficial pleasantries or a trip to the doctor rather than meaningful labor. But today, this afternoon, our bag is filled with finished Christmas cards ready for the Post Office. Mom’s friends and relatives will once again receive greetings and love from her.

Sitting across from me my husband smiles, glitter flashing on his eyelashes, glitter around his mouth, glitter on his hands. Mom has the happy look of a job well done, glitter in her hair, on her blouse, winking on her cheek.

She is gone in August. This is our final project.

(I am adding this verse, not my friend, but isn’t this story an inspirational account of honoring parents? 🙂 “Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” [Ephesians 6:2-3].)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (59): Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Today is December 1—the first day of Advent Season, and as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th, I couldn’t help but think how perfect it is that this is also the week to meditate on Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This has been my son Michael’s life verse, and I think he’s been living it out beautifully, but today I want to share about my dear friend, Sara, who’s been living it out for even many decades longer.

Last Sunday, I flew to Madison, WI to attend a surprise 70th birthday party for Sara. We all parked away from their home so that no cars could be seen.

As we awaited expectantly for her arrival to what she had been told would be a brunch after church with two other couples, we all wondered if she would actually be surprised, since over 60 people were involved. Was it possible that anybody had inadvertently said anything that might tip her off?

In fact, she was completely surprised, and the proof of it was that she’d been very frustrated with her husband, who had hurried her out of church before she’d had a chance to finish meeting the needs she sensed around here there. This is so Sara—always thinking of others and seeking His kingdom before her own pleasure!

Sara wept for joy as she hugged each of her children and grand children, her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, cousins and precious friends.

I think there were nearly thirty of us who met her at the door! Talk about overwhelmed with happiness!

The venue was amazing! The hosting family who opened their home for the celebration live in a gorgeous estate that looks like a resort lodge! The decorations were simply beautiful! As I helped lay out the last of the silverware on the linen table cloths (after hours of work by friends the previous day), it occurred to me that everything was as elegant as a wedding!

Sara’s daughter had been the mastermind, working in conjunction with Sara’s husband, assisted by several other family members and several couples who were friends, some for 30 years!

The Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful cakes were provided by fantastic caterers. It was amazing!

And then, after enjoying a sumptuous feast with her family, a second wave of about thirty more friends arrived to surprise her!

It seemed magical, like a happily-ever-after fairy tale. There was even a game to make everybody laugh and learn more about Sara! But, what I loved the very most was the final surprise. Her daughter, Jessica, had invited all of us to share something to bless her. It was like a fireworks of well deserved praises.

So many people had memories of her untold kindnesses to others over the years that the tap gushing gratefulness finally had to be turned off so there would be a little time to watch a video and end with a time of praying blessings over Sara.

I was one of the “lucky” (blessed) out-of-towners who had the privilege of spending the night with Sara and James afterward, and the afterglow lasted well into the night. In fact, Sara had trouble sleeping, she was so happy!

Sara’s life has not been easy. In fact, in some ways it’s been very challenging. But her life has been wonderfully blessed, and I know (because I’ve know her for fifty years) that it’s because she has always sought to love the Lord with all her heart and to love everyone around her with the love of Christ. She has chosen over and over and over again to seek God’s kingdom first and put the needs of others ahead of her own, and God truly has added everything and more than she’s ever needed.

Yes, there were times when their cupboards were pretty empty, but through the lean times, Sara hungered even more for the Bread of Life and thirsted most of all for the Water of Life. She’s spent her three-score and ten years choosing to serve God over material security. Nevertheless, God has supplied all her needs, spiritually and physically.

To me, Sara is a living example of someone who has lived out this command—to seek God first—and has received the promise: God’s abundant provision for her. God loves us, and He will take care of us if we are willing to obey Him!

So, as we begin this first day of Advent and look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas, I hope you are inspired and encouraged by the example of Sara (as I am!) to seek God’s kingdom first, knowing He will supply our needs too!

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is also repeated in Luke 12:31, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”