The Chinese character for the word “crisis” is actually the linkage of two Chinese characters. One character signifies “danger” and the other that indicates “opportunity.” Living through the past year of a crisis known as COVID, I experienced the reality of that “play on words” quite literally and deeply personally.
A year ago, when the coronavirus first invaded our country, I was spending several days in Wenatchee helping my brother dismantle the family home. Several months earlier my mother died, ending a chapter in our lives that had been long in coming. Our much-loved mother had lived with dementia for a decade following our father’s death. In response to Dad’s request, Marc and I promised him we would not sell the home of our childhood until Mom was gone.
The task of sorting through the stuff my folks had collected living in one place more than 50 years was arduous. I realized in the midst of tossing and sorting that possessions we think we appreciate do not compare with having time with those we love. Dismantling a family home triggers precious memories of shared moments. It reminded me of how much I valued being in the presence of those people I most love. I had no idea I was about to help shepherd a group of 350 people (with whom I work) through an extended time of forced separation from their family members.
My work in Wenatchee was interrupted by restrictions that were being put into place by our governor. Businesses and eating establishments were shut down. The senior adult community where I am employed as a full-time chaplain was in the process of setting strict protocols into place. The dining room was closed. Residents were being asked to “shelter in place.” The CEO of our national organization requested that the chaplains at each of our 12 campuses begin producing meditations to be broadcast each day on our closed-circuit television channel.
The purpose of the daily five-minute broadcasts was to encourage individuals blindsided by a pandemic that had caught us mostly unaware. But writing daily devotions was not the only content that was called for. Since in-person worship services were not permitted in our chapel, for 10 months I was forced to preach to empty seats in an empty chapel. Thanks to technology, we still were able to have “church” each week. My prerecorded daily devotions and weekly sermons were broadcast virtually on our closed-circuit television system.
Having written a newspaper column for 20 years and having authored a dozen books during my four decades as a pastor, I had an idea. Why not edit the content of the messages I delivered during COVID into a volume for family, friends and residents of our campus? With gratitude, “Sheltering in Grace: Hopeful Insights for Uncertain Times” was published just after Thanksgiving.
An interruption to my personal life and my work life resulted in an opportunity I never would have anticipated a year ago. But that is not unique to my situation. Interruptions and complications have long been viewed as blessings in disguise. It’s a truism that has become cliché for a reason. Like the framed needlepoint quote I came across in my sorting of belongings claims, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.