Below are selected writings, including my award-winning nationally syndicated column with GateHouse Media distributed to over 600 papers reaching 21 million people in 36 states.

Empowerment Hope Kindness Posted on Mar 28, 2020 by Susan Sparks

God Is Not Sheltered-in-Place

This column was recently featured in The Christian Citizen

It’s official. ZooBorns win!

At a time when many of us—soon most of us—are sheltered in our homes, life has become an ongoing contest about how to stay connected (and sane). After much deliberation, my newest winner is the YouTube site ZooBornsthat features fuzzy, newborn zoo animals.

This week: baby otters from Australia.

When we are “sheltered-in-place,” we’re in a constant fight to keep our momentum, to keep our hearts buoyed, and to keep our sense of belonging and community. Even the smallest things can affect it, such as staying in your pajamas too long. While it is tempting to drape a colorful scarf over your cowgirl pajamas to field a conference call (I’ve heard), it may not be the best long-term plan.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “going through an entire day in loungewear, it is easy to lose yourself and your sense of purpose and focus.” The article goes on to explain that getting dressed in the mornings “reminds us we are part of something.”

So, we get dressed and watch our newborn zoo animals, but there is still something significant missing. There’s a hole in our hearts that can’t be filled by Calvin Klein or soothed by baby otters. It’s a void that can only be filled by the one thing that never shelters-in-place: God.

If you have any doubt about this statement, spend thirty seconds flipping through one of the great ancient works of wisdom: the Bible.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened . . . for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.(Joshua 1:9)

The Lord your God is in your midst.(Zephaniah 3:17)

Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.(Matthew 28:20)

Notwithstanding the separation created by sheltered, earthly walls, we are all intimately connected through the presence of God. That is the common thread that holds our humanity together, a thread that will remain intact forever.

God is in our midst. And coronavirus or not, the power of God surrounds us. The evidence is everywhere . . . if we look.

For example, while we are surrounded with illness and infection, we are also celebrating the first days of spring. In fact, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, it’s the earliest first day of spring in more than 100 years.

All you have to do is look out your windows. Tiny yellow forsythias are starting to bloom. Brilliantly colored tulips are sprouting. Pigeons are starting to do embarrassingly intimate things on rooftops. Spring is springing.

God—life—is not sheltered-in-place.

It reminds me of the ending of the movie How The Grinch Stole Christmas—specifically, of the scene in which the Whos down in Whoville burst into song without the trappings of Christmas: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.”

So, too, even in the midst of a global pandemic, the power of God—the power of hope, love, and compassion—bursts forth in our world. And just like in the movie, it’s here without restaurants; it’s here without bars; it’s here without Broadway, gyms, or NASCAR.

Every day, God bursts forth in our world. From sheltered-in-place residents singing to each other across balconies in Italy, to Canadians “caremongering” for those in need, to two young cellists who gave a concert on an elderly woman’s porch so that she could enjoy the music while homebound, evidence of God’s presence through human kindness is everywhere.

Scott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who spent a year isolated on the International Space Station, put it like this:

“Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected . . .  One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others. As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do . . . . “

Perhaps the most poignant example I have witnessed came from within my own congregation. One of our newest babies, appropriately named Hope, was born in early November with a significant heart defect. So far, she has survived two open-heart surgeries and numerous hospitalizations and procedures. This week, her mom wrote me that in the midst of their family’s unimaginable pain and fear, something remarkable happened: baby Hope learned to laugh.

To laugh.

Within that little family, within our communities, within our nation, and within our troubled world, hope is springing forth.

Joy is springing forth.

Life is springing forth.

And yet, while these words and stories carry some power, it is still easy to get discouraged, to ask why me? Why now? That line of thinking is a waste of our precious, much-needed energy. It is the siren-call of ego and insecurity. It is a decoy created from anger and fear.

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringsoffers the best response:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not   for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given  us.”

Brothers and sisters get out of your pajamas and put on your clothes. Watch a few minutes of ZooBorns, then turn to the work at hand. Discover new ways to connect. Find ways to heal yourself and others. While we may be confined to our homes, the one who created us is not. Latch onto that life force. Leverage that connection, and always remember that God is not sheltered-in-place.