Our lives have been interrupted. The world has rammed up against a hurdle we didn’t expect, and the plans we had for ourselves only a few months ago have been derailed. Now what?
I’ve spent my career writing stories set against a backdrop of turbulent times in American history: the era of Prohibition in the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the two World Wars, Vietnam, the civil rights era of the 1960s.
My newest novel, written last summer and as yet unpublished, takes place in part during the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19. While writing it, I had no idea that, only months later, our country—and indeed the whole world…and I myself—would encounter another deadly pandemic.
But here we are.
What I have loved most about researching the background of my fictional stories is coming across the true stories of human courage, resilience and faith. Across the years, men and women have faced the unthinkable and not only survived but thrived, becoming deeper and richer and stronger in heart and mind and faith.
Now it’s our turn.
Today, as I write this, thousands of people are sick and dying. Refrigerated trucks are lined up as temporary morgues outside the hospitals in New York City, the epicenter of the virus in our nation. The loss of life around the world is devastating, the grief immeasurable.
And then there are the economic ramifications. Untold thousands have lost jobs. Businesses will fail or have already closed. Homes will undoubtedly be lost. Some predict we are headed for a second Great Depression.
I confess I do my share of worrying. Every day I worry about my loved ones and pray they won’t become sick. I have been laid off my part-time job at the university, and don’t know whether I will ever be going back. In publishing, I work primarily with two small publishers. Book sales are down, and on top of that, all small businesses have been hard hit. What is the future of publishing and will I have a place in it?
One night not long ago, I lay awake pondering these things. Life seemed broken and I didn’t know how to fix it. This isn’t how the days were supposed to play out. A pandemic and fear and uncertainty were never part of my plans.
But then, neither were the stock market crash and the bombing of Pearl Harbor part of the plans of my parents and grandparents. What generation hasn’t seen their hopes and dreams side-swiped by the crises of life on a broken planet?
In an odd sort of way, maybe we should realize that the unexpected is only normal.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer you three thoughts. The first is this: God never changes.
Just this morning, I read these words of Billy Graham, “People change, fashions change, conditions and circumstances change, but God never changes. His love never changes. His holiness never changes. His purpose never changes. His glory never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (1)
The second is this: No matter the circumstance we find ourselves in, we can choose our response to it.
Viktor Frankl spent years in a Nazi death camp. In his memoir, he wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (2)
And third: We can choose to entrust our lives to a sovereign God who always does what is right.
When I was writing about the Japanese internment camps here in America, I interviewed a woman named Toshi Ito. When she was teenager in 1942, her Japanese-American family was interned at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming for the length of the Second World War. This imprisonment cost them their home and their livelihood—all of life as they had known it before Pearl Harbor. But it didn’t cost them their faith.
The Itos were Christians, and had been for many years. Toshi told me that what helped her get through the experience of the camp was looking up to Heart Mountain and dwelling on the words of Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.”
In the end, it isn’t the success of my own plans that matters, it’s the steadfast love of God that matters, and the steadfastness of my own faith. This present situation is my Spanish flu, my Great Depression, my World War. This is my opportunity, and your opportunity, to stand strong in our love for God, and to place our hope in his love for us. I pray that future generations will say we remained steadfast in our time of trial.
(1) Hope for Each Day, by Billy Graham, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002, p. 128.
(2) Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1959, p. 86.
*With a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera