Grace Notes

The Great Fifty Days

Easter Sunday, March 31, ushered in the Great Fifty Days, the season of Easter that ends on Pentecost (this year, on May 19). During those days, the church celebrates the resurrection of Christ, with texts at worship describing his post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, his teachings during this period, his ascension, and the disciples’ anticipated arrival of the Holy Spirit. Through these passages we learn again what it means to live, in community, the life of the risen Christ.

My 50 days before Easter ended up being filled with activity. They were not the meditative days of Lent that I had anticipated. Those seven weeks included a period of transition for my elderly mother, starting with a one-week stay in the hospital, beginning exactly 50 days before Easter Sunday. Her week in the hospital was followed by five weeks in a transitional care unit, then a permanent move the Monday of Holy Week to a senior care facility.

Jean Johansson

A quarter of the way through those 50 days, my daughter went into labor, four weeks before her due date, and gave birth to a baby boy whose lungs were underdeveloped. The baby was hospitalized for 10 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit, while his parents and older brother leaned into this unforeseen upheaval in their lives.

During those seven weeks, I re-learned the necessity of daily doing only the absolute essentials. I worked, shuttled between the facility where my mother now lived and the one where the baby was a patient, and made myself available as much as possible, along with other family members, to help meet the needs of my mother and my baby grandson’s family.

I observed the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but in a different way than I usually do. My prayer life was active in response to my concerns for the health of my mother and grandson, I fasted from my normal daily activities, and I did my best to share what was mine. I emptied my life of the ways in which my time is generally spent.

Fifty shades of day

Now I’m in the midst of the Great Fifty Days. My mother is settling into her new “home,” learning to live in one room instead of a house, taking meals communally, and giving up her privacy. I watch this massive change in her daily life and wonder how well I will adapt if/when I am required to do likewise.

The baby is well and thriving and I am grateful. I can’t forget the day his nine-year-old brother and I were at the hospital, excitedly waiting for his birth and and being told, “there is a problem.” How quickly our excitement turned to anxiety.

There were times during the past two months when I thought I could not endure one more crisis. But, when the next crisis hit, grace was always close behind. Maybe that’s why I did something recently that I don’t ordinarily do.

Driving to the grocery store on a neighborhood street, I noticed a man standing on the corner at the top of a freeway exit, facing the cars as they exited the freeway. He was holding a sign, as people frequently do at that corner, asking for money. A golden retriever was standing patiently next to him.

I remember thinking that if I had been one of the cars at the stoplight next to him, I likely wouldn’t be able to resist giving him money, simply because he had a dog with him. (And, yes, I realize that is not a rational response.) I had forgotten about the young man and his dog until I was making my return trip home. I had taken the freeway, and as I approached the intersection at the top of the freeway exit, I saw the young man and his dog, still standing at the corner.

The stoplight was red, and as I waited for the light to change I rummaged through my billfold to find something to give the man. As the light changed and I neared the corner, I rolled down my window and motioned for him to approach the car. He ran towards the car, and as he took the gift I offered he said, “God bless you.”

In that interaction, which of us received the gift of grace? I think we both did.

UPDATE: Jean’s mother Evelyn Chapman passed away the Saturday after Easter Sunday, just days after Jean finished this column. A memorial service was held at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis a week later.

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