How Not To Die

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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!