We know an enemy is out there in the form of a virus or a multitude of other descriptions. Yet we are moving forward to push the darkness of this season back with the light of a new day, a new hope and a renewed sense of purpose.
Driving through Plant City takes a bit longer to do now, but I would not change that for the world. The banners and signs that decorate the once sparse streets say “We are open! We missed you!” The parking lots are starting to buzz with activity and the commerce of life begins to break forth as a flower breaks through the hard soil.
I remembered driving back from Virginia in March with eerie sights of malls, stores, and restaurants that were vacant. The only things moving were the bits of trash that could have been like the old tumbleweeds from the west. The only thing missing was the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (for those that do not know this reference, look it up on Google). Yet today, the tumbleweeds are replaced with returning workers, cautious customers and celebrating congregations. It is a time of coming together with a new perspective and a greater appreciation of what it means to be “family.”
For many of our senior adults and grandparents, these months have seen young children waving to them from outside their homes and the placing of the children’s small hands on their windows. This time taught us the incredible importance of physical touch. The parades of cars to recognize birthdays, anniversaries, retirements and of course, our incredible graduates, taught us the critical step of thinking “outside the box.” Churches that wondered about the importance of videoing their services now have a greater charge to get the messages of help, hope and healing out into the highways, byways and airwaves. Non-profits that took care of people during this unprecedented time of need have established a deeper commitment to plan, prepare and provide. We are so thankful for them.
It has reminded me of the phrase that has long guided my steps as a chaplain to our heroes: “It is better to prepare and prevent rather than repair and repent.” It has also re-energized a profound respect and love for those that serve on the front lines of our crisis. The men and women that answer a calling to “serve and protect” are now a focus of signs, thank you letters and events. Law enforcement, fire rescue, medical workers, EMS and security line the streets, the walls of the hospitals and the parking lots of our schools, and they give and give and give.
Now in their time of weariness, it is up to us as a community to come alongside them, to share the weight of their burdens and lift their arms in triumph and victory.
I love the philosophy of General George Patton during World War II when he contacted his commanders by saying, “I never want to hear that you are holding your ground. I want to know that you are advancing!” What “ground” will you take back that the pandemic plucked from your life? What re-focusing of your priorities and passions will begin the steps forward into a new day from a long dark night? What relationships will you rekindle that the wind of adversity and distance has made cold? What will be your first act of thanksgiving and gratitude toward those that have battled and continue to battle the assault of the sickness so you could sleep at night?
Through the open stores, open doors, open homes and open hearts, should walk the presence of a stronger and more steadfast character of a community. Not fearful, but confident. Not reckless in lifestyle, but relentless in living. Not hoarding, but helping. Not hesitant, but always hopeful.
Dr. Anthony Fauci made this comment about America: “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.” I am not sure where he is from, but I can tell you for certain he has never been to Plant City. He has never experienced the heartbeat of a county community that thrives, not on the produce of the ground but on the passion of a profound love for life and each other.
Now, let’s get started!
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.