I Did Better Last Pandemic

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[Art by commission from my brilliant nieces.]

[NOTE: This first half is a work of satire. If you like this kind of humor and it helps you let yourself off the hook, keep reading. If you receive grace better through gentle reasoning, read this. Or just skip to the end.]


The last time a novel virus swept through the world, I was on top of it.

I’m not doing as well this time.

The last time I saw these graphs with lines arching upwards, indicating more people dying, I didn’t feel all this anxiety. When I got messages from friends telling me they couldn’t work and wondering how they would pay rent, I absorbed it. When people with depression and addictions told me they’d lost their good structure and support systems, I took it all in.

Last time around, I learned French and Russian. I thought those would help most, because I also learned ballet. I picked up the cello, but then thought better of it and started playing the harp, instead. More soothing. I did better last time.

I ate so healthily last time. I didn’t consume ice cream. I didn’t have seconds on ice cream. I didn’t start spiking my ice cream. I ate broccoli. I learned to like celery. I started pressing my own acai juice. I grew my own acai palm trees, which isn’t easy since palm trees generally don’t grow here. I don’t want to exaggerate, but last time, when it was over, I had to throw away all our chips and chocolate, unopened, because they had expired.

My inner peace went off the charts last time. When I got news of extremely vulnerable populations who might suffer catastrophically, I simply found my center, breathed deeply, and sent out good thoughts. It really wasn’t a problem.

If memory serves, last time around our kids were younger and required more attention and I provided perfect homeschooling lessons, two hours of brain-stimulating physical activity every day, and taught them to sing in four-part harmony. “Harmony” was really our theme last time. I remember thinking, after the first month, “Wow, I can’t remember the last time they squabbled. Or even disagreed. Or even spoke impolitely.” I’m telling you, the last time the world shut down, we really took it in stride. And we did a lot of striding–around and around our 1400 square feet–and barely looked at screens at all. If at all. Maybe we never did? Perhaps just for homeschooling.

Here’s a difference I really remember from last time: when the predictions and guidelines and restrictions and timelines kept changing, we rolled with it (Baby). All that change and uncertainty didn’t really ruffle us, for some reason.

One last thing I just know we handled better last time was all our plans. Sure, we had a beautiful vacation all booked plus several beloved friends had plane tickets to come see us, but I think we just randomly guessed something was coming and cancelled right in time to get a full refund on everything, plus our friends all set to work writing great novels or textbooks or painting masterpieces–one of them wrote a symphony, if memory serves–and we actually congratulated ourselves for having them contribute to humankind rather than merely visiting us.

I can’t quite put my finger on why the last worldwide pandemic didn’t get to me the way this one has. Perhaps I just need higher expectations.

I’m going to go work on teaching the cats Russian now.



Satire isn’t really my native language (though sarcasm is). I do enjoy The Onion but sometimes it’s too painful for me.

The purpose of satire, of course, is to make us see through something false or ridiculous by taking it to a logical extreme.

We’re living through a freaking pandemic. It’s stressful and overwhelming and no one planned for our society to come to a screeching halt. We’re going to be okay, in the big picture. I say that by faith. I’m not afraid, I’m not freaking out, but I do feel anxiety and dread pooling in my chest and I have to find ways to vent them again. And again. Reading the news does the opposite.

So I’m trying to find the balance of staying informed without driving myself crazy, offering support without getting swamped myself, staying busy and productive without condemning myself for not doing more.

No one is a perfect parent and sure as shooting no one is a perfect parent during a pandemic. (Say that three times fast.) If you have some good moments with your kids, you’re doing fine. Even if you have some bad moments with your kids–as we all do–you’re doing fine. Repentance doesn’t require beating yourself up. The Father of the Prodigal Son doesn’t rub it in. He embraces. You are loved and you are doing fine and if--okay, let’s say even though–you’ve screwed up, you are not condemned.

You. Are. Loved.

As I told a friend recently, I’ve been learning to give myself grace for over thirty years and have made it my central focus the last six or so. Living in Nicaragua, trying to love people suffering poverty when I felt so unqualified and incompetent, razed my belief in how I earned my worth with God.* That process hurt, a lot, but freed me to know God’s unconditional love much more. It was worth the pain.

Ready for this? Even giving ourselves grace, accepting ourselves as imperfect (and sinful) and believing God loves us anyway, takes time. It takes patience and gentleness with ourselves because we keep trying to revert back to “but I should have,” “but I could have,” “why didn’t I?” Giving ourselves grace takes grace. We aren’t perfect at accepting ourselves as imperfect, at believing that God can love us in our imperfect state. But God does. Jesus showed us. God tells us all the time. That’s what Easter means. Resurrection is God’s love for imperfect us. God loves us and gives us life.

In one way, this might appear the hardest time to learn grace. “Let me try it when everything isn’t so stressful and looks like it’s falling apart, when I don’t feel so helpless.” But my lesson was, exactly when I feel helpless is when I can best learn grace. Because I know I need it right now.

Beating yourself up will not make you handle this pandemic better. It won’t make you parent better or learn great hobbies. Living by grace can help you handle this crisis, and everything else in your life, by freeing you to do what you can and accepting your limitations.

God is pleased with you and loves you right now. In fact, God delights in you. As you are.

Whether or not you learn ballet in Russian.

PS If you are learning new things, starting projects, and getting creative, wonderful! I’m not making fun of you, I promise. We all must find our own best ways to cope.

*I would not have said I was earning anything with God before that. I knew how to sound like I believed in grace. I did believe in it, to a degree. But I also believed in my own ability to earn my oxygen.

I’m NOT Freaking Out

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[Kelsey, chillin’ on a wall.]

Yesterday, someone misinterpreted a jest I made and scolded me for “freaking out.”

I’m not.

Being me, I spent the day scrutinizing this criticism. The person might have been projecting. She might–suspend disbelief for a moment, if you will–simply not have not appreciated my sense of humor. Or it’s entirely possible she, putting it delicately, wasn’t being nice. I don’t have to fix that.

But the more I thought about it, the more it struck me I need to say this:

I’m not freaking out.

I’m not panicking over our current crisis. I am employing dark humor sometimes, absolutely. I’m always willing to identify and examine our absurdities. I’m critiquing our leaders’ handling of this crisis, particularly when they put lives at risk and/or devalue our most vulnerable neighbors.

But, as I said in my very first post about COVID-19 and as remains true now, I’m not wired to spin out and I believe God is present with us through this.

I want to be clear: many things are horribly difficult right now and I’m not minimizing those. I’m having multiple conversations each day to help talk people down. I’m praying for a lot of people. Things remain uncertain and life for many of us may get much more difficult before it gets better. I’m not sugarcoating this.

I’m not rooting my refusal to freak out in denial. I get it. I get it more than I wish I got it and I get it for people who have been suffering while we’ve been comfortable, long before this pandemic started. From the first moment I grasped what was happening with this novel coronavirus, I tried my best to convince people to take it seriously and isolate to help flatten the curve.

I can’t make you stay calm. I can’t make you stay home. I’m not even going to tell you that God will keep anything bad from happening to you or to the people you love, because that has not been my experience of following Jesus. I’m not here to give you false hope.

But for whatever small influence I have in a few people’s lives, please hear this: God loves us. Right now. God remains faithful. God never promised that our political or economic system would keep running the way we hope. Jesus is with us and today, in our current circumstance, we choose to have faith, to believe in God’s love.

While panicking is not the opposite of loving our neighbors, it certainly will detract from loving our neighbor. I say this with all humility and gentleness: we may be used to having things go our way. We–and I do mean me as well as you–get frustrated when small things don’t work out as we expect them to, possibly because we assume that things should. For most of us, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) has not been a literal request. I don’t suggest that says anything bad about us; it means we’ve been very fortunate. But if we move to the idea that billions of others do pray that literally but we never should have to, we have a wrong understanding of our faith. You and I still have enough bread to share.

Kelsey with his parents at the new Denis Martinez Stadium.

Today I got a message from Kelsey, a young man from Nicaragua now living in the States. I got to mentor and coach Kelsey for years and–between you and me–he’s one of my favorite human beings. His life hasn’t gone smoothly since he moved here a few years ago. He has not “caught a break,” as our mutual friend Hery said.* But he just wrote to tell me that he again has part-time work and he also gets to drive a pregnant woman and her husband, who are Congolese, to the hospital and back because now they can’t afford Uber. They’ve been in the U.S. for four months. Kelsey said, “I’m trying to help out the community as much as I can during these times. Thankfully, I’m now in a position that I can help others out and I’m so blessed.”

We have a choice. We don’t have to consider others who have it worse right now. We can choose to focus exclusively on our own troubles and decide that everybody else will just have to take care of themselves. But I truly believe that will do us more harm than good. Jesus asks us to see beyond ourselves, to trust that God will meet our needs and to continue to offer what we can. Jesus challenges us to have faith instead of giving in to fear. Fear means hoarding and panicking, being willing to neglect or even harm our neighbors to guard what’s ours. Perfect love casts out all fear. That means when I am afraid, I have a choice. This is the very first verse I ever memorized:


“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise. In God I trust, I will not be afraid. What can a mortal do to me?”

When I am afraid, which happens now, in frightening times with a pandemic spreading and people dying in increasing numbers, I will trust, I will choose to trust in God. I get to choose.

Nothing that people do, and I’ll stretch and say nothing a pandemic can do, can shake the core of my being unless I choose to let it. It may kill me and I’ll still be okay.** I can hold onto peace within me while a whirlwind ravages all around me. I’ve prayed that verse for thirty-two years now. I’m not saying I’ve never been shaken. Ha. I’m saying I’ve learned to trust the truth of this verse. I get a choice and the choice I make changes my inner world and, through that, my external actions. These decisions change me. Jesus changes me.

I don’t have a panic-inclined personality. But much more than that, knowing Jesus keeps me from freaking out. I believe this grace stuff. I believe love is stronger than death. I believe that how we care for one another matters more than the stuff we accumulate. I believe God’s Kingdom comes, here and now, when we refuse to give in to fear and choose to love our frightened and more vulnerable neighbors. I am still figuring out how I can do that in a pandemic while sheltering at home (which I recognize is both the right thing to do and an enormous privilege I have). Thus far, I offer encouragement and a place for people to vent their fears, ask for prayer, and hear words of hope. In other words, I’m just doing what I do.

Because I’m not freaking out.

I would conclude there, but I want to add this: Someone may be saying, “That’s fine for you, Mike, but I don’t believe in that Jesus stuff.” If you’ve read my blog at all, you know I’m not forcing this on you (come to think of it, I didn’t make you read this far…but I’m glad you did). I offer you what I know and have experienced, what has changed me and saved my life. This could be a good time to try praying for the first time–or the first time in a long time. You can ask me for prayer, just in case, and not believe in any of this. I’m not insulted and I will pray for you. But most importantly, God loves you, right now, whatever you choose to believe. If no one else tells you that today, I’m glad I could.

*I’ve tried to convince Kelsey to move out here at least twice since he came to the States, but he also has faith and isn’t freaking out and keeps saying “No, Coach, God has me.” He’s right.

**That’s the core of following Jesus. It may sound ridiculous if you don’t believe it, but it makes all the difference.

Gratitude or Guilt?

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[Yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend, Krista, on the subject of how we deal with guilt over all we have that others don’t.]

Krista: “I don’t know how to handle this. My family is fine (although ask me about all the weird medical drama we’ve had this month) and I just don’t know how to think when I know so many people are going through SO much worse. It almost feels wrong to be grateful in that situation. A little like the rich man with the poor man at his gate.” Luke 16:19-31

Mike “You know, Krista, I had to think carefully about which things to name that I’m grateful for, because some things sound really bad to give thanks for when I know other people don’t have them. It’s akin to naming ‘blessings’ that God has given us that other people don’t have, because it starts to sound like we believe God loves us by giving us material things and therefore doesn’t love other people as much. Very dangerous theological rabbit trail.  
But not being grateful for things means either feeling guilty for what we have–destructive, unless we’re acting on that by giving it away (when possible)–or taking what we have for granted. Also very bad for our souls.  
I’ve learned there’s a serious level of humility involved in being grateful, when we recognize that other people don’t have the things on our list. If we don’t have humility, then it’s not really gratitude; it’s a belief that we deserve what we have (and others deserve to not have what they don’t have). That’s what I was addressing in the last post, ‘Accustomed.'”

Krista: “I think I know ‘enough’ about how little others have (if we ever do). And I guess that’s the word I was missing. ‘Guilty.’ I feel guilty that we have so much even if we’re almost poor by American standards. We have zero of the struggles that your friends in Nicaragua have.”

Mike “I had the same struggle writing it. Hard to face how much others are suffering. Denial is easy. I suspect that’s why some people don’t always care for my writing. (There are probably other issues, as well.) It’s not like I enjoy those feelings, either, but I think facing them and responding is part of seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. 
Here’s my take on guilt: God has provided what we have. That both makes me responsible to share and eases the anguish that I shouldn’t have any of this when others don’t. I think everyone has to work out how to reconcile those things.  
Conviction ALWAYS means God has some way for me to respond. Guilt with NO way to respond is not from God. If I’m wallowing in my guilt, that makes me less able to walk with Jesus, not more. Facing guilt means asking ‘How do I repent?’ There may not be a direct action to take this instant, but I can pray and God will lead me how to respond. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10

I think the poles are both dangerous:

Either 1)God gave me this, so I’m content even though others are suffering and miserable, and it was God’s decision so I don’t have to do anything about it. Why should I feel bad when God did it?
Or 2)I can’t receive what I have with gratitude and feel peace because I know others are going without, but I’m not acting on that, either, just tormenting myself over my abundance.
Since we’re REALLY wading into this–this whole thing should be a blog post–I also suspect that some people pay their guilt as penance, i.e. reconcile that they have so much by perpetually feeling bad for it. I really want to challenge that position, because to me it misses both points–praising God for our daily bread AND acting on my conviction to share from my abundance.

I think I’m just going to go ahead and collect this into a post now, since it’s already written and all. Thanks for helping me clarify my thoughts, Friend!”

Krista: “Thanks for helping me put words to what I’m feeling. That’s not easy for me.”

Sometimes–maybe a little more often than that–time on social media can feel like a meaningless diversion or even a waste. But there are exceptions. This convo was one.

Paul, addressing the church in Corinth, writes:

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10

For me, this passage provides the measuring stick for my guilt. If we feel “godly grief,” meaning grief or guilt or conviction that God’s spirit evokes in us (your conscience, the angel on one shoulder arguing with the devil on the other, however you envision this), it produces repentance. That means: 1. I can see clearly that I’m doing something wrong,

2. I can act in some way to stop doing that wrong, turn around, and start in the other direction (the literal meaning of “repent” is “a change in direction”).

If we think of sin as acting against our design and thus doing something that damages us, and if we understand that God loves us and does not want us to damage ourselves, then we see godly grief as necessary to prevent much more severe self-destruction. This is why the movement to throw away all guilt, as if any guilty feelings themselves were the real problem, is a doomed experiment.

The rich man stepping over Lazarus at the gate should have felt horrible. That horrible feeling is the alarm bell that I’m doing wrong and hurting myself. Yes, I really think that in this picture, the rich man keeping all his wealth to himself, leaving Lazarus to starve and have the dogs lick his sores, that man is hurting himself in the present, not only because he will face judgment later. I just don’t believe in the “If only we could get away with it, sin would be more fun” view of the world. That rich man had to deaden the compassion within himself to ignore Lazarus, which in turn deadened a portion of his heart. When we see people capable of doing and saying heartless, evil things without remorse, with neither hesitation nor a second thought, we’re seeing the fruit of refusing to act on godly grief, refusing to repent, and paying the consequences. That person has damaged himself by warping the image of God in himself. We know it when we see it.

Coming full circle, guilt and gratitude will not be in conflict within us when we give thanks for everything we have as a gift–humility in gratitude, not pride–and see these gifts as opportunities to share. Of course, that’s the ideal and we all struggle within the everyday mess and struggle. Sometimes we feel guilty because we were taught to feel guilt and shame over things that really are fine (Quick! Name three for yourself!) and not just fine, but life-giving. Sometimes we know we are being selfish and greedy but don’t want to hear that voice telling us, so we cover that voice with anger or fear or justification (or another drink). We’re messy people and none of this is perfect.

But just because we mess up a lot does not change that God loves us and likes us and patiently leads us toward life instead of death, toward joy and compassion and sharing instead of bitterness and self-centeredness and greed. We’re in this crazy crisis right now and it’s hard to see how to give and share, even in our “normal” ways. But I’m convinced we can still become bigger, more compassionate, more loving-godly people in the midst of this. Most of us do have more time to pray. We can look around and ask God for guidance in how to love right now. We need to remember what we have to be grateful for right so that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. When we remember what we have, we also remember what others do not have. That’s not an opportunity to get out the self-flaggelation whip. It is a moment both to give thanks and to offer, “How can I help?”

Ten Things

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This is a great time to think about things for which we might be grateful.

Why particularly now?

Now is an easy time to get angry at our family, or whomever happens to be close by when we’re confined to a small space. Some of us are starting to climb the walls. The political differences we’ve been experiencing acutely for the past three years have reached life or death importance. Yes, you’re right, they always have been. I’m not disagreeing. Maybe the difference is it’s clearer to all of us now because it’s our lives rather than someone else’s. I’m not writing that post yet.

Gratitude may be furthest from our minds right now. That’s dangerous. When we can’t remember that we have much to be thankful for, we start to see the negatives more, to focus only on them, and they quickly become blinders. During this strange season, I’ve been pondering how much our attitude toward specific things impacts how we perceive our overall well-being. I, for one, am very susceptible to letting the one thing upon which I’m fixating leach into how I feel about everything else. I stop seeing good things because I’m having that same futile, imaginary argument in my head a hundred times. I’m certain none of you have ever done this, but it is a real problem for me.

Am I overflowing with happy gratitude right now? No. Truthfully, this an act of will to make myself remember and name these.

They aren’t in any order.

  1. My kids’ sense of humor. My kids are hilarious. All four of them. Sometimes they’re making fun of me and even then, I can step back and say, “Man, these kids are funny!” I’m truly grateful to have kids who make me laugh and with whom I can share a laugh. My twelve-year-old boy, increasingly sarcastic and fully embracing middle-school attitudes, sometimes catches me off guard with his wit and leaves me cracking up.
  2. My friendship with my mom. Mom and I enjoy each other much more than we did when I was a teenager or even a twenty-something. I know that’s true from my end and I’m going to take a chance and declare it true from her’s as well. We get each other now. We appreciate each other. I have an incredible mom and I appreciate her more all the time.
  3. Old friends who give me the grace to reconnect when I can. Dealing with my ups and downs, sometimes I check out for stretches of time. I don’t love that about myself, but sometimes I’m simply hanging in there, or just barely coping, and whipping myself for failing to keep up all my relationships does not actually make me all better. I know some people can’t swing with my…swings. But I have a circle of truly beautiful people who get me and those reconnections never have to begin with “Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry it’s been so long and I feel sooo bad…” I can’t tell you how grateful I am for those friends in my life.
  4. Music. Wow, am I appreciating music right now. If you’re not listening to your favorite music, or music that carries you, while you’re going through this stay-at-home life, I urge you to turn it on. I’m playing tons of Mumford and Sons, Lumineers, U2, and Great Big Sea.
  5. I’m inexpressibly grateful right now for the women and men who are providing health care and filling all the other roles that are directly taking on this virus and helping those suffering from it. Thank you for your courage and your compassion. I’m praying for you, every day. I’m sickened that anyone would criticize you as a group. You are my heroes.
  6. I’m grateful that people think of me when they are hurt or upset or need prayer. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming privilege (see #3), but I genuinely feel honored that folks call on me when they need support. It’s especially encouraging when we don’t see politics or even life the same but they know they can turn to me, anyway. This is one of the reasons I’m on this planet.
  7. As always, every day, I’m grateful for Kim. She’s amazing. This crisis has only proven that even more.
  8. It’s funny to say, because we were never meant to have cats in this house (long story involving having too many cats in Nicaragua–and yes, in our context, there was such a thing as “too many cats”), but during this shelter at home I’m truly grateful for our Mumford and Nicki, Taki (or Loop) and Sunshine. They’re not anxious. They’re not troubled. Pet therapy is a real thing.
  9. I’m grateful, as a small redemption in the midst of this tragic crisis, that I get extra time with Corin. We’ve enjoyed it. We’ve played games, watched movies (I won’t name them so you won’t judge me), run around together in a socially distanced way–throwing a disc, riding bikes, and pitching a baseball are all pretty ideal for this. We’ve even had some reading time together. And more movies.
  10. I don’t claim this crisis has done wonders for my faith, but I am definitely praying a lot for people I know who are infected, or on the front lines, or suffering the repercussions.
  11. I am grateful I can pray and know that God hears and always loves us.

Okay, for real now, make a list of ten things. You can share it in a comment or just have it for yourself. Do it. If you’ve taken the time to read this far, take the time to knock out a list. Trust me, it will do you good.

Accustomed?

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Today I got to grocery shop for my father-in-law, whose birthday is tomorrow. He’ll turn 80. I considered that a great privilege, getting to serve him in that small way so that he does not have to risk contracting COVID-19. Bob is very active–he wanted us all to run Bloomsday together to celebrate his 80th–but is also a cancer survivor and has been through some nasty health scares.

Today, we “met” baby Brennan, our three-day-old nephew, through the big front window of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house. His mother, Kim’s sister Celeste, did not have an easy pregnancy with him, so we were thrilled at the privilege of getting to see his tiny self. He, of course flailed wildly and didn’t care, but his big brother Ein, at 4, was happy to see us. Because our eldest, Rowan, lives with Ben and Celeste (and has since before we moved back from Nicaragua), we are now separated from him as well as his family. To protect this infant, none of us in our household are coming into direct contact with any of them.

Today, Kim was talking with one of our Nicaraguan friends. Nicaragua has two confirmed cases so far and one death from COVID-19. But if you haven’t spent time in the developing world, and specifically if you haven’t been exposed to health care resources available to the majority of the people who live there, you might not relate to the dread I feel for them.

Our friend overheard two gringos telling each other, “Well, at least Nicaraguans are accustomed to suffering.”

She told Kim, “That seemed very disrespectful and lacking in empathy.”

Malcriados,” Kim said.

I’m trying very hard not to make this post too heavy, so I will just touch on this briefly.

I suspect those of us who live comfortable lives believe, deep down, that we deserve what we have. When I see our reactions to the coronavirus, how affronted we are that we might lose any part of our accustomed comfort, I’m only more convinced this is true of us. Of course, this is contrary to Jesus’ Gospel. The worst problem with this belief is the necessary corollary that others who live with far more suffering and hardship than we do must also somehow not deserve what we have. We don’t say these things aloud. They sound horrible when we do.

I understand my saying that may ruffle some feathers. I’m fine with being wrong about this. But my experience in a developing nation provided too many examples and I think we don’t want to see this about ourselves. I get that.

Today, here, we are incredibly privileged. Freaking lucky. Say it however you want. Yes, we are blessed, but we have to think all the way through that, from both perspectives. I have no idea how the majority of Nicaraguans will be able to carry out social distancing. If you ever saw photos of the barrio where we lived, you would understand. So many of our neighbors don’t have running water and running hot water is almost unheard of (we never had that, either). Most don’t have margin for their economy to stop for a week. I don’t mean it will cut into their savings. Their hospitals have nothing remotely like the necessary equipment–or even sterilization–to treat a wave of COVID-19 patients. I haven’t been able to write this out until now. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about.

I’m not saying it’s easy here. I am saying we must be grateful for what we have. The United States now has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world. There are many reasons why. I keep reading about how horribly overwhelmed our nurses and doctors and paramedics and EMTs are. I can’t even wrap my head around it.

But we’ve seen a hospital in Managua where they don’t change sheets between patients, where there aren’t enough beds, where patients gasping for air sit in plastic chairs in the hall. If you’ve seen these, you know the nightmare I’m picturing right now.

Saying “Nicaraguans are used to suffering so it isn’t so bad that they have to suffer” means “United States people aren’t used to suffering so we should never have to because that would be too hard on us.” It really is saying it would be worse if we had to go through it.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Have mercy and change our hearts.

I’m asking you to pray for Nicaragua. I know most of you have never been and don’t feel much connection there, but I’m asking you, please, if you pray, pray for them. [Late edit: A friend just told me she prays for Nicaragua every time she washes her hands. Brilliant! I’d been praying the Lord’s prayer, but I think this is a better idea for me.]

We can become smaller people in response to this pandemic and demand that what we consider our rights be returned to us. We can grow bigger, expand our hearts (yes, like the Grinch) and think of others, think that maybe they don’t deserve to suffer horribly from this…maybe they don’t deserve to suffer as they do on a daily basis…and maybe we don’t deserve all that we have. Maybe what we have and what others don’t have isn’t a question of “deserving” at all.

I know a lot of us are scared and I don’t think that’s unfounded. It’s harder to think of others when we’re scared. But doing so is exactly how we grow into bigger people, more like Jesus, with greater capacity to love and feel compassion. If we suffer from this crisis, we can allow that to break down the distance between us and those who are more accustomed to suffering.


Jesus, help us look beyond ourselves. Have mercy on our brothers and sisters who don’t have what we have. Forgive us for concluding that we are entitled to more. Give us courage to walk through today with patience, gratitude, and grace.

Jesus, please have mercy on Nicaragua.


Where are you praying for, in addition to here tonight?


When You’re Not There

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When we lived in Nicaragua, I spent six weeks a year visiting the U.S. I would tell my friends and family and churches about our lives in Managua, about the conditions in which our neighbors, some of whom I loved as family, lived. Frequently, and I mean almost always, my U.S. folks looked at me with this expression which I can best describe as “sympathetic disconnect.” They cared. They just didn’t get it.

Consequently, our visits were both my favorite time of year and a bizarre step away from what had become my real and normal life. I came to understand that, not having been there with us, there was no way these wonderful, compassionate people could get it. How would they? They didn’t live there. That’s one of the biggest reasons I encouraged some folks to come visit us. Those who did gained a first-hand grasp that I could not convey with words and pictures, no matter how hard I tried.

Now we’re in a pandemic crisis (that’s probably redundant) and I am reading and hearing about our healthcare workers literally putting their lives at risk to care for our sick family members and neighbors and fellow citizens while, at the very same time, I am hearing another group seemingly minimizing what is happening–and could happen–with this virus, speaking callously about those who will die, and complaining about life not going on as normal…

Yesterday, my nephew came into the world. My wife’s baby sister, Celeste, gave birth to a little boy. None of us were there with his dad Ben and Celeste, of course. We haven’t met this baby and won’t for some time, though maybe when they get home from the hospital we can go and serenade him from outside their window. We can’t go to the hospital and hold him, we can’t go hug Ben and Celeste, even though we live .4 of a mile from them, even though we share Sunday dinner together almost every week, even though our eldest, Rowan, lives with them and we are close to them as if they were our nuclear family. Even though we have walked through grief and suffering together. Even though I did the homily at their wedding. Even though I held Celeste as a baby (Kim and I were in college and dating then) and even though Celeste and I share a birthday.

Pulling these together: I am hearing from nurses and doctors and all health care workers and my friend Ken who works in a supermarket and I know, I know I have the expression of sympathetic disconnect on my face. I care. I’m afraid for my own mom. I read the numbers every day, cases and deaths, how much it’s increasing, how quickly it’s doubling. But I’m not carrying out bodies of people who just died from COVID-19. I’m not deciding whether I can do my job safely with a makeshift mask because my hospital has no regulation ones left. I’m not in the grocery store where the elderly woman is weeping in front of an empty shelf because I’m home, trying to do my part with social solidarity (aka social distancing).

So I get what’s happening and where I am in this because I suspect I’ve been on both sides of this line. My suffering right now is that my life isn’t “normal” and that I don’t get to hold this new baby and rejoice with his parents, whom I love dearly, at his arrival into this world.* My suffering, right now, is that I feel solidarity with those who are suffering much, much worse. I am terrified for the children in detention at the border and beseeching God for those innocent babies. I’m trying to figure out what little ways I can help from the relative comfort of my home, where I’m “stuck” but have it better than…dang near everyone else.

My suffering matters. It matters to me and it matters to God. I’m not going to alleviate anyone else’s suffering by dismissing my own or hating on myself for struggling with it. But I’m sure as heck going to do my best to keep my own situation in perspective in this big picture.

Your suffering matters. This isn’t easy for any of us. Those of us who suffer depression are not having an easy time of this, even if we’re safe and have plenty of food and supplies. Of course this matters, because you matter. God loves us and cares about our suffering.

And.

And we’re spectators in a nightmare that other people are taking head on, daily.

I don’t say this disrespectfully to us. I certainly am not minimizing the suffering of those who are stuck home and can’t earn money to pay their bills. That’s part of this nightmare, for sure.

I’m asking, in this post, for us to pay attention to those who are fighting this in our front lines. Yes, post FB “Thanks!” to them. I’m doing that. I sincerely mean, “Thank you!” to all of you, custodians, grocery store workers, gas station attendants, truckers, every single health care worker, EMT’s and paramedics. But, to the rest of us, read their descriptions. Read what’s happening in Italy and Spain. Listen to people who are walking into hospitals every day.

“Sympathetic disconnect” happens because we can’t relate. The unemployment rate in Nicaragua while I lived there was over 50%. I quoted that figure frequently, and tried to describe what it looked like in daily reality, but we’ve rarely seen double-digit unemployment in the U.S., except those of us who lived through the Great Depression. We rightly described 10% as a crisis in the U.S. But one out of ten is not one out of two. I described a neighbor’s house burning down and her having to stay the night by the ashes because otherwise people would come and steal whatever was left. We prayed with her. Kim was able to give her ibuprofen and she cried, she was so grateful. It’s hard to relate when you haven’t walked through those ashes.

We lived and worked in Nicaragua for seven years because we had faithful people and churches (i.e. groups of people) supporting our efforts. They prayed for us. They shared their own money every month so we could afford to be there, afford to give and share, to buy the neighbors’ tortillas, to help a neighbor start a business, and have a preschool in our carport. All who supported us acted on their care for us and for the people in need whom we grew to love.

The folks who made our work in Nicaragua possible–many of you–weren’t less important because of those expressions of sympathetic disconnect. It wasn’t as if the dollars only helped if folks also could viscerally grasp and experience true, first-hand grief when our friend Alfredo suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Of course they hadn’t met Alfredo. Our supporters’ actions mattered.

But, I must add, I struggled when people expressed sympathetic disconnect and then told us how to do our ministry. It felt ironic, because it often came with “I could never do what you do”—and then advice how to do it better. The difference between our situation in Nicaragua, where we were surrounded by people in crisis, and the current situation in the U.S., where we’re all in this shared crisis, is that most people didn’t have that strong of an opinion about Nicaragua but everyone has strong opinions about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this analogy, we–the Rumley-Wells family in Nicaragua–are like the healthcare workers. Right now, our nurses and doctors are witnessing and intervening first-hand in this pandemic. You and I at home, practicing our social solidarity through staying put and doing physical distancing–are the missions supporters. We have looks of sympathetic disconnect because we are not deciding which patient gets a respirator when both will die without one. Not all of us can be the doctors and nurses and grocery workers and truckers right now. Not all of us could be the missionaries to Nicaragua. We weren’t all supposed to be. We didn’t resent the rest of you for not moving to Nicaragua; we praised God for you for giving so generously that we could help there through your support. We were immensely grateful for those who took the extra steps to understand what we were experiencing. But we needed the support to make our work happen. We got it. God provided. You stepped up.

You and I may not get this crisis from inside, but we have to trust the people who do, who are directly helping the suffering people right now. They know what they are doing. We have to find ways to support them. We have to pray. My friend Kari is sewing surgical masks in her home. We have to get creative.

If God gives me a firsthand role in this crisis, or in the aftermath, I’ll take it. A part of me would definitely prefer that. Sure, I’m scared, but I’d rather participate directly than from a distance. But the help I can offer right now is to stay away from others so I don’t spread the virus and make the pandemic worse. I can pray and pray. I believe in prayer. I can sit at my computer and encourage and remind everyone that we don’t have to watch people gasp for their last breath and die in order to be part of the solution right now. We do have to believe the Surgeon General and the epidemiologists, the nurses and the doctors, my friend Doug who oversees nine hospital pharmacies, the CDC and WHO, and everyone who knows firsthand that we are perilously close to a catastrophe. This is still a crisis. But we’re on the brink of a catastrophe right now.

. I can pray and pray. I believe in prayer. I can sit at my computer and encourage and remind everyone that we don’t have to watch people gasp for their last breath and die in order to be part of the solution right now. We do have to believe the Surgeon General and the epidemiologists, the nurses and the doctors, my friend Doug who oversees nine hospital pharmacies, the CDC and WHO, and everyone who knows firsthand that we are perilously close to a catastrophe. This is still a crisis. But we’re on the brink of a catastrophe right now.

The help we offer matters. We have our instructions from the folks on the front lines. As my wife says, “We are the back-up singers.” Here’s the thing to remember for the rest of us: we don’t know better than the people doing the job. I hate that I can’t hold baby Brennan. Hate it. But my part now is not to decide that my situation overrules that of the people in real danger. My part now is to accept that my small suffering is part of how I can help those facing much worse.

*And, by the way, what a time to arrive in the world!

10 Things I Love about Card Collecting

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My collecting friends appreciated the last post, no one complained about the content, and I need a short breather from urging us all to care so I can recharge. Remember as you read this that my collecting experience is a solitary activity in community with a bunch of other crazies like (and unlike) me; I don’t think I would enjoy collecting as I do if I weren’t part of OBC. Also, I define “card” collecting very broadly.

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10. I get to relive being a kid, every day, in a way that harms virtually no one.

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When I was 10, in 1978, the Yankees and Red Sox played a one-game playoff, Game 163 of the season, fondly (or less fondly) known as “the Bucky Dent Game.” If you don’t care, you know nothing about this; if you do care, you know exactly what I’m talking about and the details. That game started at 2:30 PM East Coast time, I have no idea why. School got out at 3:30, Midwest time. That day, I parked my bike illegally against the outside wall of the school right nearest to the doors so I could sprint from class (also illegal), jump on my bike, and peddle home on my black Huffy as fast as my 10-year-old legs could carry me. I got there in the 5th inning, with the Red Sox up 1-0. They went up 2-0 in the 6th. Then, wonderful things happened. Alone in my home, I went absolutely, hysterically out of my mind with joy.

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I don’t re-experience quite this level of elation every single time I see a Bucky Dent card…but close enough.


9. Collecting cards (and other stuff) is like putting together a million piece puzzle with the pieces scattered all over the world and it’s also a treasure hunt and barter faire to find them. Oh, and the picture changes sometimes, too.

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6When I started collecting, I did strictly vintage (1980 and before) baseball cards and only main Topps sets. Then I discovered old Bowman cards, my true love. Then I started a few of the oddball and insert sets. Then I realized that since I love Star Wars cards, it would be fun to start some other non-sports sets for nostalgia, e.g. Bionic Woman, Batman (the “Biff! Pow!” version), Planet of the Apes…Oh, and autographs are fun…and…

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When I say “I decided/discovered/started/realized…” what I really mean is some wonderful person in OBC gave or sent me a few or more and got me started. In OBC, if you have one, it’s a typecard; two means you’re collecting the set.

8. Star Wars cards.

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Image result for 1977 star wars cards luke han leia
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Period.

7. Collecting cards is both learning history and having history in your hands. It also recalls a time before millionaire players, steroids, etc,.

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As I described last time, I’m fascinated with who might have owned these cards, what 10-year-old 1948 counterpart of my 10-year-old self, who pedaled home from school to hear the one-game Indians-Red Sox playoff game on a Zenith or Philco radio, owned my 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra rookie card…or the 48B Stan Musial I’m still hoping to get?

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I don’t believe in the Myth of the Innocent Past, and anytime we gather people together we have issues (the New Testament church was neither perfect nor pure). Baseball has a racist past, drug issues before steroids, etc. Oh, and the 1919 Black Sox. Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable to gather old cards and read about how Stan Musial sold Christmas trees in the off-season and Lou Brock ran a florist shop. And Yogi Berra sold hardware for Sears-Roebuck.

14. 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens (top right)

6. Giving is as much fun as receiving.

You may believe this already. You may enjoy giving more than receiving. Or you may be with the host of children on Christmas morning who roll their eyes at that statement . One of my very favorite parts of collecting is that moment when I realize one of my friends needs a single card to complete a long-worked upon set…and I have that card to send! In OBC lingo, we call that killing a set and I put a notch on my card collecting cabinet every time I get one. Just kidding about that last part. But honestly, it’s incredibly satisfying to bring that kind of (ridiculous, child-like) joy to a fellow collector.

5. Mail!

Remember that “Mail Time” song from Blue’s Clues? We have a very active group and we send one another cards all the time. Every day going to the

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mailbox is like that for me. I don’t receive cards in the mail every day, but I do receive them off enough to enjoy the anticipation each time I open the box.

4. As I described in my previous post, OBC is a community of sharing.

It gives me hope for the world that a group this diverse (and weird) can sustain this level of mutual care and generosity. It really does astound me. The generosity I’ve personally experienced blows my mind.

16. My friend Mike giving me my final 1965 Topps Embossed card (Clemente), a set affectionately known as “the Golden Uglies.”

On one level, you could say it’s no big deal because how important are cards, really? But you know how I feel about cynicism. You don’t come to my blog for that. We’ve somehow gathered a group of 100+ guys who really like to share and enjoy helping one another as much as we enjoy collecting, to the point that for most of us the two have become inextricable. We’ve had OBC going in some form since 1991, coming up on thirty years. Believe me, the world would be a better place if the OBC mentality could spread to many other aspects of life.

3. One thing that makes our collecting group unusual is that we have a mutual understand that cards can be beautiful in any condition. Put another way, we often collect beaters. We also collect really nice cards, but for most of us it isn’t about the money, the worth of the cards, investing, speculating, or getting the best of someone else in a deal. One of the group mottos is “Better a hole in the card than a hole in my set.”

You’d have to know a little about the sportscard collecting industry to understand how off-the-beaten path this approach is. We have quite a few card dealers who put aside their “OBC specials” for us…because they want to help us out and because almost no one else wants to buy those cards.

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We raise this idiosyncrasy to the level of an art form. One of our members, nicknamed Guru, has his own grading system and will grade and “slab” (enclose and seal in a plastic holder) cards for us. While other grading companies consider a “Mint 10” a pristine, flawless example of a card, getting a GGS Mint means something slightly different.

In practice, this means, for nearly all my sets, I have a mixture of really nice cards and extremely real, well-loved cards (in the Velveteen Rabbit sense). Over time, I may upgrade. I may not. Though these things are always relative, I’m not spending a fortune on perfect cards. It means I have been able to get some cards that I never could if I had to have them in nicer condition.

2.Beyond the general nostalgia and reliving the better parts of my childhood, my cards have always felt like a connection with Dad. I hope we all have these remaining connections, in some manner, with our late parents. Sports in general and sportscards are one of the strongest I have and I won’t find a new one.

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He taught me about Jackie Robinson. He told me Roberto Clemente died in a plane on New Year’s Eve trying to help Nicaraguans. We treasure these connections because they’re all we have; I’m not making more memories with Dad.* He would love my collection. I can’t imagine how many hours we–he!–would talk about it. In fairness, I give him partial credit that it’s so disorganized creatively organized. That’s definitely a reflection of him, as well. I wish I could talk with him about all the cards and hear his stories again. But I still hear him telling me about Stan the Man and Bobby Feller in my head. That makes this connection unspeakably precious to me.

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1. I’m friends with people whom, were it not for our mutual hobby, I certainly would not be.

I mean this two ways. Geographically, I wouldn’t randomly have these 150 friends spread out across the U.S., Canada, and Glasgow, Scotland.

But more importantly to me, card collecting has helped us cross some socio-economic and personality lines that we would not have otherwise–and I number some of these people among my closest friends. They aren’t my best friends because we all collect cards; we became friends because we all collect cards and now we have become that close. The power of Jesus’ Gospel is that it breaks down dividing lines and walls between us, one another, and between us and God. In my view, anything that helps us do that–anything that helps us become friends with people we would otherwise reject–has an aspect of grace to it.

I don’t imagine this one is unique to card collecting. I think any sub-culture, hobby, or gathering point of community can do this. I’ve had a similar, yet very different experience of this with ultimate. Cards and ultimate happens to be where I’ve found a connecting point, but I still I look at our group photos and think it’s nearly miraculous: “These guys love each other…and there’s no way that would’ve happened without the cards!”

Let me put that another way: a bunch of these guys love me, more than I deserve, and find creative ways to show it with and without cardboard. That happened because of our mutual interest in these silly little cards. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

By the way, did you know Bucky Dent was also MVP of the World Series in 1978? Thought you’d want to know.

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*As if to drive home this point, in searching for a picture for this post, I realized I don’t have any photos of me with my father. I barely have any of him period, even fewer of him after my birth, and seemingly no digital ones of the two of us, period. I’ll have to look some more.

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Featured Image: 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron

  1. 1978 Topps Reggie Jackson
  2. Cambridge Youth Baseball Team, circa…yeah, I’m not gonna say. Loved having those guys for teammates.
  3. 1978 Topps Bucky Dent
  4. 1953 Bowman Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and Mickey Mantle
  5. 1953 Bowman Pee Wee Reese
  6. 1966 Topps Batman Black Bats
  7. 1978 Wonder Bread Star Wars
  8. 1978 Topps Star Wars Yellow (3rd) Series
  9. 1978 Topps Star Wars Blue (1st) Series
  10. 1953 Bowman Mickey Mantle
  11. 1947-66 Exhibits W461 Joe Dimaggio
  12. 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra
  13. 1911 T3 Turkey Red Jordan & Herzog At First
  14. Reemtsma Cigarettenfabrik (translated to cigarette factory) Olympia 1936 Jesse Owens
  15. Steve from Blues Clues
  16. 1965 Topps Embossed Roberto Clemente
  17. 1965 Topps Tony Kubek (GGS 5)
  18. 1955 Bowman Jack Collum (GGS 10)
  19. 1953 Bowman Lou Kretlow (GGS 6)
  20. 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson (back)
  21. 1973 Topps Roberto Clemente (back)
  22. 1978 Kellogg’s Bucky Dent
  23. 1975 Magnavox Color Photo Hank Aaron (was complimentary with TV purchase)
  24. 1948 New York Yankees Picture Pack: Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra

For those who are interested, here is the back of the 1936 Jesse Owens Olympic card:

In answer to the unspoken question, yes, I have all these cards…except the 1978 Kellogg’s Dent (and Steve from Blue’s Clues)

Together

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Good morning. Welcome to Saturday of one of the weirdest weeks most of us have experienced, at least collectively. I’m sure we’ve all had surreal, this-can’t-be-happening-to-me events, but the strangeness of those is that the world doesn’t stop in it’s tracks and everything goes merrily on while you stand there stunned.

But this week, we all stood there stunned.

An idea that challenged me this week: many of us probably unwittingly added to the toilet paper craze/hoarding/scarcity by bringing it up. Those memes were funny, at least some of them. It’s easy to vent about hoarders’ lunacy and it feels slightly cathartic. But as my friend John pointed out (paraphrasing), having every third post on social media refer to how we’re running out of toilet paper makes everyone think they should run out and buy up all the toilet paper!

This is where our social networking sites can be more of a problem than a good, and where, as my friend Paul always reminds me, a blog is more useful than Facebook. I don’t know how many of you will read this post today or in the future, but it’s very unlikely you will skim it, see the words “toilet paper!” in italics above, fling down your phone, and go rushing out to buy more toilet paper. It’s most unlikely because none of us ever let go of our phones these days.

Two thoughts from this, and the first is crucially important right now: in a country that has valued “rugged individualism,” we’re in the midst of a crisis that requires solidarity and cooperation to get through this without having a horrendous number of people die. The knee jerk response I think most of us have is, “But I just posted one thing; I didn’t cause people to lose their minds and stock their carts three feet above their head with TP! I sure as hell didn’t make people hoard those N95 masks! I didn’t cause the critical shortage among nurses and doctors!”

But John was right. The response on FB and Twitter that TP is now more valuable than gold, could become our legal tender, and is worth fighting off the neighbors (I’m sure you could name 50-100 other cutesy memes you saw) undoubtedly contributed to the overall impression that “Everyone is hoarding toilet paper and I must, too, or there won’t be any left for me!”

And now, there isn’t any left for those who are actually out and need some. And people are still “stocking up.”

So thought one is: WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.

It’s time–it’s past time–to stop saying, “But I just did this one thing…” We’re all contributing to the cause, whether the cause is constructive or destructive. We are in this together.

You cannot know how much I wanted to go play ultimate this week. Wenatchee still had pick-up. I thought long and hard about whether I could justify to myself that this was worth the potential cost or rationalize that we could adapt play and not get too close. Then, when leaning toward going , I did what I often do when I know my biases are swaying me: I asked Kim.

“No, you shouldn’t do that,” Kim said.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves how to do their social distancing (or physical distancing while remaining socially connected). But I decided, with my wife’s more objective wisdom, that I shouldn’t model that going out and running and bumping into a bunch of people and all handling the same object while sweating–and no, there’s no way I’m going to remember while playing never to touch my face–is a good idea when we are all, together, trying to flatten the curve of this spreading virus. Instead, I’ve gone out the last three late afternoon/evenings and played baseball and thrown a disc with Corin. Not nearly as physically satisfying as a hard game of ultimate, but that’s the small part I could contribute to the overall good.

We’re all in this together and even though our individual actions feel small, even though the results can’t be measured individually to encourage us, we must see this as working together for the good of everyone. Yesterday my niece needed to go to two different stores. Her mom is sick. So I drove her, but chose not to go into either store. I didn’t need to, she didn’t need me to, and by staying in the car I didn’t add to that pool.

No marching band came marching up to celebrate my choice.* I felt a little weird, just waiting in the car. One store wouldn’t take cash (!?) and so I sent her back in with my credit card and driver’s license. Again, I was tempted just to go in and take care of it, but I’d committed to staying out of that store. I still need to go to stores sometimes, too, but when I don’t need to, I’m not going to. Because we’re in this together. I want to help, to participate in looking out for one another, and I want not to make things worse, whether by adding an increment to the TP panic or by adding myself unnecessarily to the pool of people who could be spreading the virus in a given place. Seriously, not everyone has the privilege of staying distanced and some people are putting their lives on the line every day to care for those hit by this. I can do my small part and so can you, and we must, because we’re in this together.

Second thought: In a time of higher anxiety, stress, and frustration, taking time and effort to see the bigger picture becomes ever more important. We got here, to this virus crisis and level of crisis with this virus, because the dangers were downplayed initially. That was bad. There are foolish posts circulating that claim you can kill the virus by drinking hot liquids, horrible people whom I won’t name offering to sell “cures,” and even now a portion of our population who believe this is an “overreaction” to some “lesser flu.”

I won’t pretend that learning more about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 will reduce your fears. The big picture is scary right now, in an immediate sense. But we have to understand what’s going on to respond appropriately and wisely. The people hoarding toilet paper–and again,

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have a limited or skewed sense of what’s happening. I’m not saying they’d necessarily behave differently if they just read more–if there’s one thing I’ve grasped in the past three years, it’s that more information won’t fix the problem for people who don’t want to know. I am saying we are responsible to learn what’s going on and stop reacting to lies and partial information.

Sound bytes have a way of distorting information. Memes tell part of the truth, often very satisfyingly when it’s the part we want to emphasize. But if ever there were a time to tell the whole truth, as much as we can grasp and convey, this is it. I can’t control that people will keep telling lies about the virus, keep trying to take advantage of the crisis to swindle people (which is ghastly and I leave them to God), or try to spin the story for political purposes. People’s live are on the line, doctors and nurses are risking their lives, and now some are dying because we have people hoarding the protective masks they need.

What does this have to do with educating ourselves to what’s going on? We, right now, have to do our best to head off the next round of panicked foolishness. That means we have to breathe. We have to seek information from reliable sources. We have to be the ones proactively to spread accurate information.

So that’s my challenge for you. Instead of just settling for “I’m not spreading untruths,” we have to step up and spread the truth, countering the falsehoods circulating right now. We have to do this for our own good and for the good of everyone in our community, the big community of which we’re all a part.

You know, humanity.

Because we’re all in this together.

*Which, in truth, might have been counterproductive.

In Case of Emergency

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So here’s the crazy thing about following Jesus in a crisis, and maybe about following Jesus, period.

It matters now more than ever that we love, that we extend grace, that we show compassion to those around us.

People are hoarding toilet paper. “What the heckin’ heck?” as my daugter says. Some are behaving selfishly, ignoring warnings to maintain distance to help slow the virus’ spread. Politics are uglier than ever, constantly making me feel like I’m taking crazy pills, as those who downplayed the crisis yesterday now claim that they knew all along and have been saying for months how serious this is.

Today, right now, I am called to love these people. Yes, I want to mock the TP hoarders. But giving in to that part of my heart doesn’t increase my compassion. People are afraid. I know how that feels. I know that I don’t always make my best decisions  make crappy decisions when my emotions run away with me, whether fear, anger, or insecurity.

We’re now surrounded by fearful people. Probably we’re fearful, too.

Now, at this moment, Jesus is present in all of this. Not “I’ll pray and God will wave a hand and it will all go away” but “I’ll pray and God will give me peace that surpasses all understanding and I will love others even though this is hard for me, too.” The crazy thing about following Jesus is that the harder it is to love, the more Jesus calls us to love.*

Social distancing with smiles. What’s it matter if I smile at the people from whom I am keeping a constant six feet? It makes a difference. I know we’re all scared because it’s really starting to dawn on us that we’re not going back to “normal” in…whatever period of time we imaged we would. Offering people kindness and the tiniest gesture–yet the only gesture–of love available matters. Jesus said so. Jesus said cups of cold water for thirsty people matter.

I’m struggling even to find a strong enough word to describe the people whom, I recently learned, went through stores and bought out supplies like masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, then turned around to sell them for a massive profit on Amazon or ebay. Or elected officials who reassured us everything was fine, then turned around and sold all their stocks just before the markets plunged. And those young and foolish people that someone keeps interviewing who say, “Whatever, I don’t care if I die, but I’m sure not going to let this stop me from partying!”

Yet how can I be surprised by this? Did I not know that you can’t serve two masters? (Luke 16:13) Is this the first I’m hearing that you will now a tree by its fruit? (Matthew 7:16-20) And “The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15:2). Yes, I have read that before.

We’re not in a new situation in terms of the battle within people’s hearts. We’re seeing exactly what we have seen, exactly what we’ll always see.

In Nicaragua, we realized that people living in poverty often have less of a veneer of civility because they don’t have the insulation and resources that help us sustain these. People from the U.S. living in Nicaragua lose our minds when we have to wait in crazy long lines and then still don’t accomplish what we needed to. Meanwhile, our neighbors were deciding between fixing the hole in the roof and buying groceries for the week–and it rains a lot there. We learned–the hard way–not to judge.

“But Mike, this is different. This is a pandemic!

Yes, it is different. Now it’s life and death for us, not just for them.

I’ve been shocked at people’s behavior, but I shouldn’t be. I don’t mean that cynically. I mean that as a Jesus follower, I should expect that desperate, fearful, uncertain times will tempt people to behave like–ready for this? Sinners. I’m not saying I should be casually indifferent to the evil I see. I’m saying that instead of shock, now is the time for grace.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think there should be consequences for people who buy up protective masks and price gouge for them so healthcare workers don’t have them. “Grace” here doesn’t mean look the other way or shrug it off. Grace means that I’m also sinful and broken and capable of hurting others, knowingly and willfully, when I let a voice other than Jesus’ direct me. Grace means God has forgiven me and therefore also wants to forgive them.

Grace stands out more when people become more selfish. That matters because it makes my choices all the more crucial and impactful. It means God’s love can shine through little things like smiles and–ready for this?--giving toilet paper instead of hoarding it.

We’re all trying to wrap our minds around this crisis. We’re all in a bit of shock that this temporary inconvenience is shaping up to be far different than that. I find myself reevaluating each day what all this means.

Now I’m guessing you’re tracking with me, but just in case anyone (obviously not you) is thinking, “But Mike, this is serious.”

Love is serious. Grace is serious. These aren’t frivolous extras we do when we have leisure and the surplus of resources to add them on top of getting all that we need. That may be so for those who regard religion merely as part of their cultural identity. But we know resurrection. We know that love, manifested in a man who is God, stands not against “those evil people” but with them…and with us. Jesus holds us all together.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in all of this, but I know Jesus. I know what I need to do, at least in general. My neighbor might go a little nuts, get a bit freaked out, maybe even do some awful things. But I understand that, because so have I, and God loves me. I need to love God and love my neighbor.

Just like always.

*“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

It’s Not Lightning

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I want to believe that everyone gets it by now, but a friend just pointed out that the chances of getting COVID-19 in the United States are less than the chances of getting struck by lightning. This is what my friends in high school and I would have called, “Unclear on the Concept.” So I will try to do my part for our community–United States community, world community, Wenatchee community–and explain.

Estimates vary widely for lightning strikes, from 1 in 1,222,000 to 1 in 700,000, so for this discussion, we’ll say your chances of getting struck by lightning are roughly one in 750,000. Your chances of getting struck by lightning are not doubling today and tomorrow and again the next day.

But let’s say they did.

If they were doubling, tomorrow you would have a 1 in 375,000 chance of getting struck. I’d still recommend hiking hard on any Fourteener you choose with those odds.

But Tuesday, your chances would be…1 in 187,500. Still not nervous.

Wednesday? 1 in 93,750.

I know you see where this is going, unless you don’t.

Thursday, stormy weather or no, 1 in 46,875. Friday, 23,437.5. Hmm.

Saturday? Next Saturday? One in 11,718.75. Still not as high as the risk of developing diabetes or getting cancer.

But in two weeks, things get grim.

Week two, Sun: 5859.375*
Mon: 2929.6876
Tues: 1464.84375
Wed: 732.421875
Thurs: 366.2109375
Fri:183.10546875
Sat: 91.552734375

The cases of lightning striking have doubled every day for a mere two weeks, and now you’re looking at a 1 in 92 chance. From here the math gets easy. I’m dropping decimals.

WEEK THREE

Sunday: 1 in 46 (45.7763671875)
Monday: 1 in 23 (22.88818359375)
Tuesday: 1 in 11 or 12 (11.444091796875)
Wednesday: 1 in 5 or 6 (5.7220458984375)
Thursday? Yeah, 1 in 2 or 3 (2.86102294921875)
Friday? One in 1.43051147460938–yes, the decimals came back. Math.
How about three Saturdays from now?

0.71525573730469 You understand? In twenty-one days, by simple math, you’d have a one in one chance of being struck by lightning.**

You’re not going to get struck by lightning. I don’t have enough readers for the odds of that to concern me. 1 in 750,000. But, as of today, the cases of identified COVID-19 are doubling in the US every 3 to 5 days. We’re not testing very many people. Most people cannot get tests. You can walk around with COVID-19 symptom-free, but it’s still spreading from you to others. That means a whole bunch more people have it than we yet realize.

Now consider: if the doubling rate of the novel cororavirus pandemic is every 3 to 5 days, you can simply adjust my example from weeks to months. In month one, not a terribly high risk. In month two, it starts to feel like a real possibility. In month three, if the doubling is allowed to continue undisrupted, everyone has it.

We know it spreads like this because we’ve seen it multiply in Wuhan, China and in Florence, Italy. Now we can watch it happen in Spain.

I wasn’t great at math. Okay, that’s being really generous. I was awful at math and suffered math anxiety. But I get this. It’s one of those riddles you tell to surprise your friends. It’s depicted brilliantly in The King’s Chessboard by David Birch.

It’s just math. No, it’s math and science. Math is we know how doubling works. Science is we have observed the novel coronavirus and know it spreads like this when people are in close contact. We know we don’t–yet–have a vaccine to prevent people from contracting it. We will. But not in twenty-one days nor in three months.

I don’t enjoy talking about this, but we’re living in a moment where denial and avoiding hard truth has become too costly. We have 330 million people in the United States. If we let everyone get exposed, and the mortality rate of COVID-19 really is one percent–not a certain scientific fact, they’re still learning, but that is the early estimate–3,300,000 would die from this virus.

We can’t make anyone immune yet. We can prevent people from getting the virus by avoiding exposure. Our health experts, our epidemiologists, our Center for Disease Control, tell us how to avoid exposure.

Disneyland believed them. All the major sports leagues believed them. Universities and school districts believed them.

Trust me, I’m a person inclined to say, “Screw you, I’ll do it my way” as much as anyone. I’ve done some pretty serious damage to myself by acting on that inclination. I can’t even claim I’ve learned not to, I’ve merely learned to notice when I’m thinking it, and then I have to debate myself.

I’m an extrovert. I’m not thrilled by “social isolation.” I’m not the introvert for whom this is a dream come true (bless all of you, curled up with your coffee or tea; I raise my cup to you). I’m also in fine health. I have a resting heart rate of 60. I have healthy lungs. No bragging, recognizing that I am not in danger here; I am the danger here.

Even if I get “struck by lightning,” I’m more than likely to recover.*** But a large segment of our population, including some of the people dearest to me in the world, are not. The COVID-19 mortality rate for those in this “at risk” segment is closer to 4%. We must stop acting as if our individual chances of surviving COVID-19 are the point. We have a chance to love our neighbors by putting their health and safety first. We have a chance to love the most vulnerable, those treated as least in our society. Please stop listening to arguments that the odds are low you will get this virus. They are high and increasingly exponentially. Listen to the CDC and WHO. Believe the real information the qualified experts have provided.

It’s not lightning strikes. It’s contagious. We’re called to do the math and love our neighbors, now.

Wayne, me, and Aaron at a White Sox game together.

I was going to end the post here, but now I need to add this. My friend’s wife works in a hospital in the greater Seattle area. He passed along this description, in three separate messages:

My wife hasn’t gotten sick and she’s right in the middle of it. 14 hours a day at the hospital six days a week and on the phone or computer the other 10. She gets a nap in once in a while but the hospital calls all through the night like she’s the only person that can solve anything. The hospital has been a total frenzy. This doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon but it does seem her hospital has been handling it better than most. I’ll leave it at that for now 


Thank you Mike. She just walked in the door a couple minutes ago after being sent home working 15 days out of the last 16 being at the hospital 14 hours a day. Then working 10 hours a day at home and sleeping for three but not consecutively. (The sleeping part) I know the math doesn’t add up correctly but if you were here it would.
This is kicking our area’s butt, I have pneumonia for the last three weeks finally getting better but very slow progress. Both grandkids have influenza A, my elder bounced back pretty quickly since she got the flu shot but my younger is only six months old so he never got a flu shot and has been battling it hard for a month now. In the last few days he seems to have taken a turn for the better and might finally be out of the woods.


Forgot to add in my wife’s hours she watches the kids for three hours a day too because she can’t miss grandma time. She’s actually a pretty amazing person I couldn’t come close to what she does. My son is working in the ER dealing with all the stuff involved with the job times ten. Leave it at that and hoping for the areas that don’t have it like here that it stays that way.

The amount of hours she puts in is still not the eye opening statistic that people need to know it’s the procedures and lack of Rooms, equipment, guide lines the government changes multiple times a day that are the road blocks that causes the chaos. Shocking news that people may not know is now they are not allowed to do CPR on corona virus patients if they need it because they think it will spew droplets in the air, they are required to let them die. Has nothing to do with a DNR you could be 30 years old doesn’t matter. To talk to someone in the middle of it is what really brings it home.


I think we all need to read this because staying home, feeling restless, not playing ultimate, we might convince ourselves it’s not that big a threat. “What are the odds it will kill me if I go out, really?”

It’s not lightning. It’s a highly contagious virus that will overwhelm our healthcare providers and facilities unless we help prevent that by keeping it from spreading.

[NOTE: My friend Wayne Delia helped me write this by checking my math, giving me feedback on the analogy, and adding his two cents, which you see quoted in the first two footnotes. Wayne is in the high risk category and exactly whom I’m talking about near the end of the post. I need to be absolutely clear, I’m not trying to criticize or belittle anyone who thinks differently about it. But this is urgent.]

*”Obviously, “week two” would be approximately changed to “month two” since the number of coronavirus cases doubles approximately once every four days, so multiply the number of days by 4. Thus, “week one” gets mapped to 28 days, which is approximately “month one.” Same with “week three” being mapped to “month three.” I feel this elongated frequency of lightning strikes gives a more accurate modeling of the pandemic spread.” –Wayne

**”While the CDC news conference today indicates that the pandemic period is going to be quite long (about a year and a half), the possibility of re-infection over multiple times was raised. I suppose this corresponds to the analogous possibility of a person being struck by lightning multiple times. There is also a ‘plateau effect’ that levels out the exponential curve toward the far right side (as time increases). For example, you could calculate the number of US citizens being infected after X years as being Y billion people, which doesn’t apply because the US has only about 1/3 billion citizens. “

*** Younger people are also dying from COVID-19. This is simply one aspect of the disease we do not yet understand.