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The past is a present … open it!

Look to sacred past

With the pandemic in mind, Juanita Joiner shares memories of the past and kind words in the present. She believes the most important gift is connecting with friends, family, and God. 


Member, Muskegon Central UMC

It was Valentine’s Day. I had a project to complete in the sanctuary before the Worship Arts Team arrived to prepare for Lent. I thought it would be easy to complete the task and be on my way.

As I turned on the lights and walked towards the altar, I saw an empty church, felt a cold sanctuary. For a moment, I was taken back to Lent 2020, the Lent when our theme was Time In the Wilderness. The closer I got to the chancel, I could hear the tick-tock of all those clocks that covered the table last year. Ticking away those seconds, the minutes, the hours as we searched for the meaning of what was going to happen in our personal lives and in the life of Jesus. If ever there was a year when we felt like we were in the wilderness and time stood still … this was the year.

I sat down on a pew instead of hanging the banner. I needed to get a grip on all of the emotions we have felt over the past 12 months … feelings of being alone, perhaps even forgotten … feelings of fear and doubt. But as I sat quietly in the freezing cold sanctuary, I heard the voice of my Grandma Kight say, “Oh, my precious Juanita, God is YOUR refuge and YOUR strength!” In my memory, she reminded me that what I was feeling was exactly what others, even Jesus, were feeling when alone with the unknown.

Earlier, just before going downtown to church, my hands had touched a Bible that belonged to my mother’s family in England. This Bible had been carried with them when they traveled to Canada. Printed in London in 1884, this Bible cost two pence. It had such tiny print that I couldn’t read it, even with a magnifying glass!

Someone had listed several verses with 1 Peter 2:9 at the top of the list. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I wonder if this was a verse my ancestors held onto during their time of fear, doubt, and more likely, loneliness. They departed from a country that had left them poor and without a future or hope. They left their parents and siblings behind and took a trip that offered the opportunity for a new life.

On my next trip to the church office, I received a phone call from a sweet church member who wanted me to know just how special the cards, letters, and calls have meant to her during the pandemic. She told me that sometimes these beautiful words arrived on days when she was down. She added, “But Juanita, isn’t that just like Jesus? He is there to give us comfort when we are down. And Jesus celebrates with us when we are happy. I am a lucky lady, even at this time.” 

Tears ran down my cheeks as I hung up the phone. Her words were what I needed that day and at that time. Just like my ancestors needed to be reminded about going from darkness into God’s marvelous light during their adventure into the unknown.

This year, instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, I picked up a word for the year. My word is a verb and will require action on my part. The word came almost spontaneously. The word? Connect! I have tried daily to connect in a special way with my friends and forgotten family. But the most powerful way I have used my word has been connecting with myself and the plans God has for me. This is proving to be enormously powerful.

Did I ever get the banner hung in the sanctuary on Valentine’s Day? Yes, but it took several attempts. It was not a heavy banner. But I was still burdened by the wilderness during my first three attempts. During the fourth try at hanging the banner, I broke into the chorus that I used to sing in my old Evangelical United Brethren Church during Sunday evening services. I sang, “Love lifted me!” and that banner just flew into place. That chorus captured everything I had been worrying about for the past year. It was one HUGE, inspirational hug from friends, family, and most importantly, God!

For the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry. From the waters lifted me, now safe am I! Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, LOVE lifted me!

You may not be hanging lenten banners, but you can remain open to a blessing every moment. What present from your past will you open on your way to Easter?

~ Juanita Joiner is an active member and volunteer at Muskegon Central United Methodist Church. Reprinted from the church newsletter, “The Outlook,” with permission.


Last Updated on March 3, 2021

The Michigan Conference