Thursday, March 19, 2020

Weathering A Storm: Covid-19

4th Street cottonwoods - File photo from Kim's County Line
On Sunday, Pastor Kim talked about storms during children's time. As is often the case during the "young disciples" time, we older disciples were paying attention, too. That's probably the point.

She talked about her dad driving through high water following a rain storm. Even though they made it through without incident, she can still "hear" the rush of the water in the wheel wells as they drove through the water covering the road and feel her stomach caught in her throat as her grade-school-aged self worried about being swept away.

I imagine all of us can remember storms and how they made us feel. When I was a little kid, we watched as the Iuka tornado skipped across the horizon. It was several miles to the east of us, and we were never in any danger ourselves, though it wrecked havoc on that day in 1965 in the tiny town where we hauled our grain each harvest. For weeks afterward, my sisters and I would race to the basement if we were outside and a cloud drifted over the sun and dimmed the day - even for a fraction of a minute.
No Kansan who is old enough to remember will forget the 2007 Greensburg tornado and the tornadoes that raced across Kansas that night and the next.

When I was a freshman in college, I drove home for Thanksgiving during a snowstorm. I had other passengers to transport along the way. I remember finally turning my white-knuckled hands into the farmstead driveway and bursting into tears. I was so relieved to be there.
It feels a little like we're caught in a whirlwind or blinded by snow at the moment. This is uncharted territory. "Social distancing" is a new phrase never uttered before in my 60-plus years. Closing school buildings is unprecedented. Church services may be called off due to ice or snow on occasion, but those cancellations have expiration dates.

Now, I don't know the next time we'll go through the Stafford United Methodist Church's doors for a worship service. We weren't supposed to be there last week. We thought we'd be at Jill's and Eric's church instead. We had plans to go to Topeka for the weekend after the Kansas Master Farmers/Master Farm Homemaker meeting and banquet in Manhattan on Thursday and Friday. (More on that another day, but it was before the announcement recommending gatherings of 50 people or fewer . It was way before than number went down to 10 people.)
But then the dominoes started to fall as the U.S. began trying to get ahead of the Covid-19 virus outbreak. The Big 12 basketball tournament was abruptly canceled. The entire NCAA Big Dance became a wallflower. It was just the beginning of an avalanche of uncharted territory.

Jill texted on Friday and said she was going to have to work the whole weekend. As a dietitian and an assistant director with the Kansas Department of Education Child Nutrition program, she is on the front lines in figuring out how to feed Kansas school children who rely on school lunches and breakfasts. For some, those two meals at school are the only ones they can count on each day. She's been working 12-plus hours a day ever since. I know health care professionals, grocery store workers and many other people have been working hard, too, doing their part.

At any rate, we came home directly from Manhattan.
Even so, it wasn't hard to practice social distancing in our small church. The hard part was remembering to do things differently than our habitual routine.
My friend, Brenda, knew we were going to be gone. She chooses the music for our church's service each week, so she chose the hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

Yes, she specifically chose it in my absence. I don't think I've ever been brave enough to say it here on the blog, but I'm not a fan of "How Great Thou Art." For many, I know it's a favorite hymn. Maybe it was sung at a loved one's funeral. I've sung it at a lot of funerals myself. Maybe it provided comfort to you during one of life's other storms, and I respect that.
From Byers UMC
But, for me, I think I absorbed my lifetime quota as a youngster at Byers UMC. Our church was part of a three-point charge. We invariably waited on the preacher to arrive from Iuka UMC. To pass the time, congregants would shout out hymns they'd like to sing while we waited. "How Great Thou Art" was definitely on the congregation's Top 10 list. (Who needs Casey Kasem?)
Afterwards, Brenda apologized and reminded me, "But you weren't supposed to be here!" But there was really no need. You see, on that particular Sunday, "How Great Thou Art," tied me to that spiritual foundation laid so many years ago at the Byers UMC. I could picture my Grandma and Grandpa Neelly in the pews, my Grandma doling out lifesavers or handing us a cloth hanky to create babies in a cradle. I could picture my spot on a yellow wooden chair in the church basement during Sunday School gathering time, learning songs like "Deep and Wide" and doing the actions to "Zaccheus." I remembered the faces of the ladies who poured the Kool-Aid at Vacation Bible School or taught my Sunday School classes.

The closing hymn last Sunday was "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again." It was another message from my childhood and especially meaningful as we contemplated that it was likely the last time we'd gather together for awhile.

And in the middle hymn slot was "Seek Ye First." That particular song wasn't from my childhood, but the words of Scripture it is based upon have been a litany for the past few months - long before this coronavirus hit.

Pastor Kim's sermon was equally compelling. She urged us to cultivate our relationship with God. There's no March basketball to watch. Life looks markedly different than it did just two weeks ago. And while those things make us sad and somewhat anxious, we could - and should - find refuge in praying and reading the Bible and finding ways to be the church outside the walls of the building itself.

Those spiritual practices give us strength for the journey - whether we can see through the storm or not.

Music speaks to me. Every week, we sing "Go Now in Peace" as our benediction. And though those things we do week after week can become rote, the words hit home last Sunday. (A YouTube version is at the bottom of the page, if you'd like to listen.)

Go now in peace. Never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith. Steadfast, strong and true.
Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there, watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love.

Yesterday, there were two babies born to our little church family. That is the extent of our population boom, so it was unusual to have both little ones arrive the same day.

But seeing the beautiful faces of these tiny little girls on Facebook was just the antidote needed to provide some sunshiny good news in a cloudy day - both literally and figuratively.
 And these daffodils outside my front door didn't hurt either.


  1. I loved your blog about the hardships of COVID-19, remaining in God's word, and the song "Go Now In Peace." Thanks, Kim

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment! I appreciate it!

  2. You do so well putting words together - thankfully God is in control. Have never heard that song, but it is a great one. Noticed the "cherry mash" box with crayons? (could use one of those right now!!) So much has changed in the last 1 1/2 weeks for sure!

    1. I took the photo in the Byers UMC church basement the day of the final services. The crayons in the Cherry Mash box were still in the Sunday School room. It brought back lots of memories. Take care!

  3. Just love your new header and the images that so beautifuly give strength to your words.

    1. The mountain bluebirds visited the pasture south of our house last February (2019.) It was the first time I'd ever seen then around our house. I'd love to have them visit again.

  4. Across the world we are all affected by this virus, it was wonderful to read your comforting words and see those very cheery daffodils. Thank you

    1. Thank you, Lynda. The glimpses of beauty - whether in Kansas or in Australia - help give us hope in these unsettling times. Take care!

  5. Kim! I was singing ‘Deep and Wide’ this week while my brother-in-law was tilling my garden. I understand your feelings about “How Great.”��

    1. I know the local funeral home director is in my camp on that and some other perennial funeral favorites. However, I know some of those hymns are a great comfort to people. I am always glad to sing any of them for a funeral, if requested. (But if they ask me for ideas, it's not on the list.)