Every Rose Has It’s Thorns (or why America is in a crap-load of trouble)

The last movie we saw before that devilish virus shut down all the theatres was “I Still Believe.” I’m still not sure if it was KJ Apa’s impish little grin or the story line that made me so emotional and bawl like a baby. Either way – the film is incredible and if you love love stories and/or Jesus, you should go see it.

But even better than the movie itself was one of it’s theme songs. It jumped off the screen right into my head’s hard drive and I can’t get it out of my mind. Not that I want it to.

The song’s message couldn’t be more relevant to the season of life we’re in. It’s as if God actually knew what He was doing when He released this movie (and this song) to usher our world into this perilous season of pain, suffering, uncertainty and division.

Hmmmm.

The song, a remix from the now disbanded group Delirious?, is called “Find Me At The River.” Rather than quote the whole thing, I’d LOVE for you to listen to it right here. Essentially, Martin Smith, who penned the lyrics, suggests when all hell breaks loose and it feels like Jesus has left the building, we should be found at the river of life – standing in the waters – eyes wide open for Jesus to show up.

Because, Jesus ALWAYS shows up.

The following phrases from the song are so profound I MUST quote them:

“We longed to see the roses

 But never felt the thorns

And bought our pretty crowns

But never paid the price….

We didn’t count on suffering

We didn’t count on pain

But if there are blessings in the valley

Then in the river I will wait”

OH MY GOSH!!! Do you see what I see??? This is AMERICA today!!! Martin Smith is speaking to America!

I truly believe that much of the world – whose people and cities and stories go back thousands of years before ours – are sitting back and listening to our country’s whining and just shaking their heads. Places like Iraq, where the Biblical Tigris and Euphrates flow through it’s center, or Syria, where the capital Damascus is mentioned in Genesis, or Egypt, where Joseph and Mary fled to with baby Jesus – yes, places like that are like our wise old great-great-great-grandfathers looking at the “barely formed” America and thinking, “Yes, America, you immature teenager you, there IS suffering in this life. You have known great prosperity but it will not and cannot last forever. Suffering will come and it will go. Again and again and again. And when you are an old grandfather like me, you will come to understand that you can’t only have the roses and never know the thorns. You can’t have pretty crowns and never pay the price. Hang in there, America. You’ll understand someday. You’ve been on waaaaaaay too long of an enchanted journey so reality is gonna bite. But it is in that reality where you will find that which really matters. And (spoiler alert) it isn’t in having the biggest military, or being the strongest and richest country in the world, or even the most powerful and influential. No, even if you were to lose all those things and all that status, you could still be a great nation – but only if God finds you in the river waiting there for Him.”

We may think America has fallen on “hard times” and we may think that things are ramping up to some kind of cataclysmic fall, but the truth is, we don’t even have a clue what hard times are. What we’re experiencing now? It’s barely a tickle.

We once heard a princess from Burundi speak at our church. It was her first visit to America so she asked if she could begin her learning and understanding of our country by seeing America’s poor people. Her host picked her up at Chicago O’Hare and knew exactly where to take her – the housing projects of Chicago’s south side. There are not many, if any, poorer huddled masses in America. When they arrived she asked, “What are those buildings?” Her host, thinking she must be devastated by the blown out windows, the fire scorched brick, the bullet holes peppering the exterior, said, “That is where the poor people live.”

Then she asked, “What are those structures out front?” Her host, again, thought she must be so sad to see garbage strewn everywhere in the dilapidated playground surrounded by broken fencing. His eyes met hers studying the basketball court with no hoop, two garbage dumpsters tipped upside down, four black men playing cards on a cardboard box while perched on buckets, and two separate gangs of fierce-looking youth hanging out in the perimeter, so he knowingly replied, “Yes, that is supposed to be the playground for the poor people’s children.”

Next she asked, “And how about those cars?” Again, her host, assuming her pain as she gazed at the line of rusted out, old model cars with barely any hubcaps, missing tires, blown out windows, and some even burned down to a crispy shell of metal, replied, “I know. It’s so sad. Those are the cars of the poor people.”

Again, she asked, “This is where the poor people live?”

“Yes,” her host said sadly.

Slowly, the princess looked over at her host and replied in her heavy Burundian accent, “America does not have poor people.”

Do you see it??? Do you see who America is to the rest of the world??? A spoiled teenager. We long to see the roses, but we’ve never felt the thorns. We want our pretty crowns but we don’t want to pay the price.

I believe the pandemic mayhem, the racial tension and political division resulting in a time of historically high hate levels is really just the thorns. We’ve had a lot of roses, America. Despite two world wars, a brutal Civil War and, according to most accounts, over 100 smaller wars, still, America has collectively never known the hardships experienced elsewhere in the world – we just haven’t been around long enough to know the same extent of suffering. We’ve never known hunger to the same extent as the developing world. We’ve never known the depth of violence, poverty, persecution, oppression or civil unrest as much of the world experiences as “everyday life.”

No matter how we come out of this mess, if we (believers in Christ) stay in the river and keep our eyes focused on Jesus and believe that He alone is all that matters, we will indeed find blessings in the valley. It does not matter if we come out on top. In fact, it’s often best if we don’t. If we are no longer the “greatest” or “most powerful” country it’s still going to be okay. If we lose our 401k’s or our homes or our cars or our jobs or even our health, we’re still going to be okay. Because, at the end of days, those are not the things that matter.

What matters in this crisis is that we live and love like Jesus. We must come together in unity, and bear one another’s burdens and open our homes to those who have lost theirs. We must feed those who can’t afford to buy food. We must reduce our spending so we can assist those who have lost jobs. We must reach out to those who are being forgotten, trampled, hurt, and afraid. We must rise above our differences and show love to everyone – even those who see the world differently than us. Scripture’s quite clear on what it is that we are to DO, both in times of plenty and in times of great need: love the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and defend the cause of the orphan, the widow, and the alien in our midst. And right up there with loving the Lord Our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is loving our neighbor as ourselves. That means ALL the neighbors.

It’s okay, America, if this is a hard season. This is only the thorns – and we haven’t experienced many. And it is only in the thorns that we discover the true beauty of the roses.

Perhaps America does not yet know just how beautiful the roses are and just how rich a crown she wears. Perhaps that is why she is now suffering.

When Is It Time To Let Me Die?

My doctor is very clear, if I get CVD-19, it will not go well for me. My stupid lung-sucking disease puts me in the small minority of the population for whom the rest of you are being quarantined.

Perhaps you’re experiencing some of the same vacillating opinions as me where one day (maybe even one moment) you’d like to poke the eyeballs of someone who says, “Well, you know this isn’t even as bad as the flu” and then, on another day, you flip viewpoints when you hear of the woman down the street who, due to quarantining with her abusive boyfriend, landed in the shelter for battered women –  at which point you scream into the abyss: “This BS has to end, God! LET MY PEOPLE GO!”

We’re not only confused from the polarity of the narratives we’re given, but also because our favorite people sometimes view the exact same reality completely opposite than us. Because this pandemic has been usurped and exploited by the political extremes it is fracturing our country into two camps at a dizzying pace. Some are desperately trying to minimize this crisis so their man looks good and responsible hoping he can restore the economy in time for the next election. On the far opposite side are those who are actually wishing for a significant death toll and accompanying pandemonium to portray Trump as an incompetent madman. Either way  (and every way in between) – we must never forget that this whole mess is NOT about politics, IT IS ABOUT PEOPLE.

These are people made in God’s image.

And people matter.

All people.

Initially, when this thing first reared its ugly head and many people said (and continue to say), “This isn’t so serious. It’s only the elderly and those with underlying conditions who are at high risk,” I truly felt as if my life did NOT matter. Those comments have repeatedly made me feel dismissed, disregarded, unimportant and not worth inconveniencing the rest of the people that DO matter in America – the HEALTHY ones.

Oh, don’t mind me. Just little ‘ole me with an underlying condition over here…  I get it that you think I’m already half dead and therefore not worth your suffering. So you just go right ahead and get your haircut, purchase that lawn fertilizer and run to Costco without a mask. I see how you value things in life. The sick and the elderly apparently rank fairly low. But you know – we’re not all that different, you and me. I, too, strongly believe in fighting for the unborn, our religious liberties, and our American freedoms; but it grieves me that now that I need someone to fight for me (and by fight, I mean “stay home”), you won’t.

TIDES DO TURN

We have three California kids and Paul and I have sat and watched the Pacific ocean for countless hours – mesmerized by God in creation. Anyone who has seen the ocean knows the tide comes in, and then goes out. Surfers, boogie boarders and swimmers all know the tide sometimes pulls you north, and some days it pulls you south. One thing that will always be certain in this life: the tides are always turning.

And I’m wondering if the tide has turned for me. I don’t know if the guilt of watching an entire nation on lockdown on behalf of people like me has just become too much or if I’m just sick and tired of the fighting. It just feels like my mindset is shifting and the winds of change are blowing…

  • Is it time for us to say we did the best we could and gave social distancing a good run, but now it’s just too much and it’s time to move on regardless of the consequences?
  • Is it time for those with underlying diseases and the elderly to acquiesce and say “I give” – concluding the devastation resulting from this quarantine is worse than us losing our lives?

Which all begs the question:

WHAT IS MY LIFE WORTH?

I don’t doubt my life is worth more than your hair, your lawns, or your beers. Most of us (Christians, anyway) would, at the very least, SAY that people are more important than money or things. So when I hear everyone talking about the failing economy as the primary reason to open things up, I feel as expendable as a Jew in Auschwitz (who were, btw, blamed for any economic woes in Germany).

HOWEVER…

Because of all the cultural pressure, the noise and opinions coming from the far right, and the collective anger mounting in our country as a result of the quarantine, I’m beginning to feel my life really isn’t worth all this suffering. I’m wondering where we draw the line at what my life (and those in similar situations) is worth.

  • I’m wondering if my life really isn’t worth the collective livelihoods of thousands, maybe even millions, who are now unable to maintain food, shelter and clothing for themselves or their families.
  • I’m now wondering if my life really isn’t worth someone losing their family business they poured their entire life into for the past 32 years only to head into retirement penniless and too old for a plan B.
  • I really don’t believe my life is worth children going to bed hungry tonight.
  • I don’t believe my life is worth soaring suicide rates or increases in domestic abuse. This makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.
  • I’m wondering if my life isn’t worth the broken relationships, the constant fighting, or an insurmountable division in our nation.
  • I’m wondering if my life isn’t worth the words “civil war,” “holocaust,” or “tyranny,” entering our daily vernacular (which, if you haven’t noticed, they have).

I have not seen actual numbers or even predictions of how many people would actually LOSE their lives should the quarantine linger on vs. how many of us will LOSE our lives if the corona boogey man be set loose to come and get us. These numbers are probably impossible to know definitively and impossible to compare. I mean, is it even possible to measure pain and suffering? And then, at what point does intensive and widespread pain and suffering equal the cost of a life? This is my conundrum. Is it unfair of me to suggest my right to a life safe from a deadly virus and with a healthcare system able to accomodate me is worth MORE than the price you are all paying to achieve it?

I have seen some terrible things in this life and I truly believe there are things of this earth worse than death. I’m concerned that as a result of this national shutdown and rapidly declining economy, many people are being forced to face some of those things. Dying while still living is worse than death. That’s been my experience, anyway.

I am 53 years old and maybe that’s why I even dare contemplate if my life has less value than others. Our kids have grown – two are happily married and the other two are soaring. So, even if I were to be robbed of 30 years, I’ve still lived fairly long and I’ve lived well. I certainly can’t speak for anyone younger than me. No one should die with children still at home. The truth is, I don’t want anyone to die. I don’t believe in euthanasia, abortion, genocide, or capital punishment and I didn’t think my abhorrence for gun violence could get any worse until I heard how Ahmoud Arbury was shot in cold blood this week.

I truly do believe Every. Life. Matters.

But…. What if …. What if we are FORCED into a corner and were FORCED to decide whose life matters MOST? Are we there and is it time to have this conversation?

IF SO, WHAT’S NEXT?

If this is a war of sorts, then there WILL be casualties. People will die either as a result of the battle with coronavirus or people will die (or, more likely, their dreams, ambitions, and futures will die) as a result of a too-long quarantine. Either way, both are casualties.

I realize simply opening up America is not an automatic death sentence for me. I realize I can CHOOSE to stay quarantined (and I will) and I can CHOOSE to stay away from people who might be potential spreaders (which is everyone, but still I’ll do it) and I can CHOOSE to live isolated like this for a year or two if necessary. I’m not opposed to quarantining the sick and elderly instead of the healthy. But do not tell me this is like “leprosy” or “TB” – because I do NOT actually HAVE the coronavirus and I basically live as a healthy person, yet I’ll still have to quarantine indefinitely so YOU can get your life back and I can hopefully save mine.

I’m just truly wondering if the time has come for me to “head to the front lines” in this battle against coronavirus in the sense that if America opens back up, my vulnerability and risk of infection and death suddenly skyrockets.

I’m seriously just wondering, is it time to let me die?

How Not To Die

This is not to be confused with deceptive click-bait leading you to think I have the secret to staying alive in this health crisis. Heck if I know – I don’t even think Dr. Fauci really knows. Me? I’m sitting all alone in a cabin sucking on oranges, doubling up on multi-vitamins, and binge-watching TV COVID updates like it’s the new season of Stranger Things. My only human interaction is shouting across the yard to my drunk hippy neighbors and FaceTiming the kids.

No, the nature of this post is quite the opposite of how to stay alive.

Let’s be honest, every one of us – at some point since hearing about this deadly virus – has thought about dying. Who wouldn’t? This thing is a killer and whether we believe it or not, we will all be touched in some grisly way by this virus. I don’t think any of us were ready to be thrust into morbid conversations about sickness, PPE, viral load, pandemics, and a TV-ticker that literally counts the dead. Yet suddenly EVERY stinkin’ one of us has to concern ourselves with the reality that “it” could be coming for us. Even us.

Generally speaking, our culture is not all that adept in dealing with dying. We value LIFE! YOUTH! ACTION! STRENGTH! and don’t give much credence to the reality of sickness, tragedy, suffering and the inevitable end to our existence. We like to put old people in homes so we don’t have a daily reminder of our own mortality. We would rather pour our hard earned money into removing our facial wrinkles, coloring over our grey hair and adding long, lush eyelashes as opposed to taking care of grandma. We prefer to minimize, ignore, or even deny the reality of death.

I know I did, anyway.

That was, until I had no choice but to deal with it.

I’ve had a head start on the general population to contemplate death when I was diagnosed with a really crappy lung disease about six years ago. Early on, the prognosis was grim with most websites giving between 5-15 years to live. I’ve been extremely fortunate and it seems my disease progress is on the slower end of that spectrum. Still, I’ve given a lot of thought to my death and how to die well.

Morbid, I know. But I was recently brought back to some of the most powerful insights on dying from Morrie Schwartz as he shared them with his former student, Mitch Albom in Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is my favorite:

“When you know how to die, you know how to live.”

Isn’t that brilliant? Perhaps if our culture WOULD give more thought and discussion to dying, perhaps we’d live BETTER! Let’s not miss this opportunity the coronavirus has given us to stare down death and ask ourselves, do I know how to die? And therefore – do I know how to live?

When I received my LAM diagnosis, I came up with many things I wanted to do differently with my truncated life. Anyone who knows me knows I’m totally a work in progress, but when I was handed an approximate expiration date, I was forced to evaluate my preparedness to exit this reality. I came up with several ways I knew I did NOT want to die:

Angry – You know that feeling when your heart is racing, your stomach is churning – nearly to the point of vomit – and you break into a cold sweat whenever you see that certain person or even hear their name? You know what I’m talking about? Yeah, that. I definitely don’t want to die with any of that in me.

Unforgiving – I’m sure you’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. No way would I want to take that kind of toxicity to the grave with me. I’m still working on reaching out to all the people I’ve struggled to forgive in my life. I wasn’t able to forgive my dad for the hurt he caused me before he died – and I grieve that critical omission to this day. Forgiving is an important work. But it is work.

Afraid – Am I afraid of this virus? Heck yeah. I once heard pastor Ed Dobson, who was dying of ALS, say: “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of the getting dead.” Exactly. The only way we can go into that dark night – whether that be this week, next week or thousands of weeks from now – without fear is to know our eternal salvation is secure, to be able to say, “My soul is good, I’m ready to go.”

Bitter – This is the ugly twin sister to unforgiveness. But bitterness can actually CAUSE high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach issues and lost sleep. I know I don’t want to DIE with bitterness in my soul – but even moreso, who would want to LIVE like that? People can spot if we’re bitter even from outside a 6 ft. social distance. And it’s so unbecoming. No one wants to hang around bitter people – not in life or death. Lord, take my bitterness away.

Rich – One thing I know is that those who die with lots of money, still die. And having an accountant husband I’ve learned it’s practically a sure thing that when the rich die, they WILL leave behind seismic family feuds and division amongst the children. Who would WANT that for their offspring? I don’t want to die with any money – I think life is best lived by giving away as much as humanly possible. I just read this article about the Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. There is little doubt COVID-19 will destroy them when it enters their camps. Our money is about all that can help them right now. There must be at least a million different ways we could use our money right now. Come on, Christians – let’s BE the church!

Alone – Worse than actually dying from COVID-19, I’m more afraid of gasping for my final breaths all alone in the ICU without Paul or my kids at my side. The fact that visitors are not allowed in hospitals at all anymore feels like a big win for satan as his tactic is always to isolate then destroy. I’ve even decided that should I contract the virus, I’m gonna stay home until I recover or succumb. I want my people with me. I know the proper Christian response is that with Christ, I’m never truly alone. I know that. But that doesn’t seem real or helpful right now. I’ve worked in the ICU. I know what a lonely place it is even when your family MAY visit. I don’t want to go there now. Hell no.

I guess I’m learning just how precious and priceless my people are. Sometimes they are even Jesus to me.

Also – As the whole freakin’ world is experiencing the coronavirus, I think it has reminded us of just how globalized our world is and how all humanity is connected.  I’ve often wondered if Jesus was waiting for the internet before returning because he WANTED us to know global connectedness. Jesus was clear in the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is this: to love your neighbor as yourself.” I wonder if Jesus has been waiting for us to see that the WHOLE WORLD is our neighbor. We must love ALL humanity, not just those who look and think and act just like us. We will never be alone if everyone is a brother or sister.

Bored – I’m not all that proficient at social media, but even I found about 100 ways one could get involved in bringing hope and peace and comfort in the midst of this COVID-19 storm. One of the best ways to find meaning in this life is to lay down our own agendas and serve others. There is no better time than now to begin. The need is astronomical. Lord, forgive us for using the word “bored” in the midst of a rampant humanitarian crisis. We have all been created on purpose for a purpose – and the most fulfilling, God-glorifying thing is to find that purpose.

I know it’s hard to talk about death at such a somber time in history, but let us remember, thinking about dying can inform how we LIVE!

Today, I’m still here. You’re still here – so let’s LIVE ALL-IN! Let’s not waste these precious days with mind numbing nothingness.

May we never forget that every single day and every single breath are just God-breathed gifts so that when we die (not if) we will be able to say, “I’ve lived well.”

I AM OUT OF CONTROL

When we lived in Morocco, every single day felt like a monumental challenge. It certainly wasn’t because of the people (they were incredibly kind, generous and welcoming). The challenge primarily came from being so out of place – so keenly aware we were foreigners and didn’t have much sense on how to navigate an alien nation. Simple things like retrieving cash from an ATM, adding minutes to our cell phones (no iphones there), getting groceries, visiting the orthodontist, buying underwear, paying bills, etc., etc. were all accomplished so differently from what we were used to they’d suck us dry of time, energy, and brain space. The language barrier also played a part (we often complained of headaches in the evening from speaking French all day long).

For example, we had to pay our utility bills in person in the nearby village. Payments had to be in cash, in an envelope, in the exact amount. If you forgot the envelope or needed even 10 dirhams back, they’d refuse the payment. If you couldn’t say your address clearly in either Arabic or French, they couldn’t process your payment. Some days the office was closed (for no apparent reason) so it was a crap shoot if you’d be able to make your payment or not. It was an enormous headache (quite different than having your bills electronically paid each month…)

Because life was so hard in Morocco, I was immediately stripped of cockiness and confidence. I quickly learned how incredibly incapable, insufficient, and dependent I was. I had NO CONTROL.

We had only been their a few weeks when I woke up one morning paralyzed by fear. I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed and facing the day – there was just so much unfamiliarity and overwhelming newness bombarding me each day, I was beyond exhausted and discouraged. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to swing my legs over the side of this bed because when my feet hit the ground, there’s no turning back.” So I cried out to God and said, “I can’t do this without you, God. I can’t even let my feet hit the floor until I know you’ve got me completely covered. Help me, God. Help me.”

And every morning, for four years, before arising each morning, I said that little prayer. It’s the only way I dared to start the day. I could have never survived Morocco without that prayer.

Sadly, we had only been living back in Michigan for a few weeks when I realized I had ceased that morning practice. In America, it was just so easy to accomplish everything and I could do it all on my own. In America, I’m confident, self-sufficient, capable and energized. Simply getting money from the ATM is a no-brainer and I use NO brain space whatsoever. The same is true for the doctor’s office, grocery shopping, talking to the neighbors, and parent/teacher conferences. Life’s so simple, uncomplicated and easy back in America, it’s almost as if I don’t need a God anymore.

So it’s no wonder I stopped inviting God into my day before swinging my legs over the side of the bed.

Then came COVID-19.

I have a nasty debilitating, progressive and degenerative lung disease. I am in that “high-risk” group that those in the media treat as disposable by constantly reminding the public that the old and weak are going to make up the bulk of the dead, so the rest of the population need not worry so much.

But because of my lung disease, COVID-19 has given me a new wake-up call and once again reminded me how OUT OF CONTROL I really am. My life is not my own and I am at the mercy of a virus that not even the brightest minds in this entire world can explain or predict.

Every day I wonder if this is the day.

So I’ve returned to that morning practice that I should have never stopped. Before I even swing my legs over the side of the bed, I pray: “Okay, God, this day is yours. You alone know the pathway of an unseen virus. This is all in your hands and I MUST trust your sovereignty. Whether I live or die or am asked to simply sit here for another 12 weeks, give me peace. Whatever your will, Lord, I don’t want my feet to even hit the ground until I know you have me covered.”

And then I get out of bed. My feet hit the floor and I say, “Here we go, Cindy.” It’s weird, but I truly feel like no harm can befall me. Even if the COVID-19 finds me, I know that virus can never steal my joy. Am I afraid? You bet. But I KNOW that I am covered – and that covering makes all the difference.

Tell me, my friends, how are you covering yourselves in this unprecedented crisis? I’d love to hear all your innovative ways!