The Pond Scum Exchange (Why voting matters less than you think)

When we bought our sucky crack-house we thought the fantastic view of the zoo/park across the street might possibly redeem the pitiful structure. However, the park struggles financially and some things have become a bit of an eyesore. All summer long our park pond has looked like this:

Our neighborhood Facebook group recently debated the park pond problem. The back and forth went something like this: (Oh, a little caveat, our neighborhood isn’t exactly BIG on polite and edited language – so I just **** the swears like a good Christian and you can just say them in your head because Jesus doesn’t read minds… {insert eye-rolling})

Neighbor 1: What the f*** is wrong with the pond in the park? It stinks, it’s ugly and looks like Shrek should live there.

Neighbor 2: I think the new zoo/park president f***ed the whole place. It’s his fault.

Neighbor 3: What do you know about the president? He’s a great guy and has done a lot of good for the zoo/park.

[And then an argument ensued with about 10 more posts from an additional 10 neighbors and easily 20 more swears]

Neighbor 4: I think it’s a tax issue. We’re being screwed. The pond in the park on the north side isn’t covered in scum. They need to use some of our f***ing tax dollars to improve this side of town! We’ve been effed by the city.

Neighbor 5: You’re a f***ing socialist. You want all the neighborhoods to look the same and be treated the same.

[And another argument ensued with more jabbing back and forth and more swears]

Neighbor 6: I heard it was because of climate change. Something about f***ing with ecosystems and sh**.

Neighbor 7: Are you f***ing serious??? Climate change is such a f***ing hoax from liars who just want to keep us scared and controlled.

[And yet ANOTHER argument ensued – multiple posts, more swears, more name-calling, more hurt]

Neighbor 8:  You know what? I have a kayak and an old swimming pool surface skimmer. I bet if 2 or 3 of us went over this afternoon with our kayaks and pool skimmers we could have that pond cleaned up in about an hour. Anyone with me?

[Crickets…]

**********

Why I Want To Be Neighbor 8

Despite our constant affinity for social media bickering, I think ONE thing we might all agree on right now is this: Our political climate is heated, toxic, and dangerous – perhaps the worst in America’s history. It’s certainly the worst of my lifetime.

And, unless for some sick reason you enjoy fear, peril, and instability, I think we all long to have the bickering, back-biting and fear-mongering stop. We long for peace and unity and a country we can be proud of. We long for a time when both Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between can share thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams in a civil way with a glass of wine and lots of grace. We long to be a country where diversity is not only tolerated, but even celebrated. That I would not mind if your opinions are very different from mine – because you and your opinions help make me be a better me.

We long for November 3 to be done already so people will stop telling us how wrong we are.

The thing is, from all that I’ve seen and heard, the degree to which we attach importance of the presidential election seems to be inversely proportional to the degree of our involvement on the most pressing issues at stake. Another way to put it: those who are most likely to be vocal about the election to the point of demonizing “the other,” seem to be the least engaged in solutions.

Right now, I know many people who are: working to help the homeless, serving in underserved and underfunded schools, mentoring children and youth from troubled homes, praying for every person entering and leaving abortion clinics, serving at the local and state level of government where many of the decisions that directly affect us are made (like allocated abortion dollars – it’s FAR MORE of a state-by-state issue than a NATIONAL government issue – please read THIS if you believe the president has much say in abortion-related outcomes), serving those held in border control facilities by offering free medical care, working in Central America to decrease violence and expose and eliminate corruption so people won’t feel compelled to flee, coordinating racial reconciliation groups in their neighborhoods, bringing donuts and notes of encouragement to their local police precincts, volunteering at local food banks, building homes for Habitat for Humanity – and so, so many others…

And you know what all these people have in common? They are too busy DOING the things that America desperately needs that they have no time to spend on social media or elsewhere complaining about the problems and arguing over which person in some lofty seat of over-emphasized importance will best fix them.

They grabbed their kayaks and their pool skimmers and GOT BUSY!!!

In this unbelievably polarized political environment, our little neighborhood “pond-scum exchange” serves as a powerful reminder that the number one way we can bring change to the world is NOT by – as many falsely believe – making sure you vote for the “right” candidate, but to actually

BE THE CHANGE.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Surrounded by five precious friends who were part of our church small group and all ten years my senior, I had no business piping up about graduation open houses. The ladies were bemoaning the fact these events are a ton of work. As a young mom with only two elementary-aged kids at the time, I had no wisdom on the subject whatsoever. However, I was such a punk, I let those lovely ladies know that the wisest amongst us (presumably, me…) would never stoop to such a ridiculous, wasteful and unnecessary cultural trap! I let them know it was a huge waste of time, money and energy to obsess over painting the garage, updating the landscaping, buying new patio furniture, string lights, table décor and yard games, spending hours arranging the most Pinterest-y photo displays that no one looks at, and cooking expensive impressive foods for the throngs of friends and family who’d really all prefer to spend their Saturdays elsewhere. No, we, the smart parents, will forego the event, save the three thousand dollars and just hand the savings over to the undeserving grad (I mean, is high school even a REAL accomplishment these days???) and call it even. “It’s all a stupid game of competition,” I said, “And we’re not playing it!” Voila!

Three hours later in fit-full attempt at sleep, I realized how reckless my words had been. I suddenly realized that one of the sweetest ladies in my group actually had a child graduating that spring and was in the very midst of planning his graduation open house.

Me and my big mouth.

It took all my courage to call her the next morning and apologize. (Is there anyone who LIKES to be wrong and LIKES to apologize??? How I dreaded that phone call!) I told her I had overstepped and it was uncalled for. I apologized for talking about something I knew nothing about and that I had no business judging others for their decisions on that issue.

And you know what she said? I’ll never forget it:

“Cindy, don’t worry about it! Not for a second! Your words maybe stung for a second, but you know what? I know your heart and your heart is good. When you know someone well and you know they would never intentionally hurt you, you just let stuff like that go. Don’t worry about it. You’re my dear friend and I love you. I forgive you.”

Mercy. Lord have mercy. She offered me mercy.

Oh, precious friends – what if we offered the same thing for one another today? Why are we throwing words arounds like darts to the people we know and love the most – people with whom we actually DO life together – and wounding one another with our words? What if we actually trusted the goodness of those that we know and instead of resorting to name-calling and assigning evil intent, we simply doled out mercy like ice cream on a hot summer day?

What if we stopped letting Rachel Maddow, Tucker Carlson, Chris Cuomo and Sean Hannity (or ALL the many opinion-based news outlets) tell us who is “evil”? What if we raised our collective voices and said, “NO! You sucker-punch pundits – you don’t get the right to tell me who my enemy is. These people here? These people are my family, my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors, my fellow church goers – I KNOW these people and I KNOW THEIR HEARTS!!! And YOU, you talking-head who knows absolutely nothing about these lovely people in my life, YOU don’t get to tell me they are “evil.”

What if we raised our voices against those who are trying to divide us and said: STOP IT, YOU RATES-SEEKING OPINIONATED LOUDMOUTHS! (Friends, if there is ONE thing critical to putting an end to divisiveness in America, it’s that we learn and understand the difference between news and opinion pieces. Most mediums claiming to share news are, in reality, pure opinion and they are simply fueling the fire that stirs in the belly of their favorite fans. It’s a ratings game and our intelligence must rise above it, quite honestly.)

Remember when our kids were young and they’d tell us they wouldn’t play with “so-and-so” because all the other kids said she was “weird” or “stinky” or “mean” or whatever nasty label nasty kids give to the “so-and-so’s” of the world? Remember that? What did we tell our kids? Did we say “Yeah, that’s right. We don’t mix with the “so-and-so’s. Stay away from her, for sure!”

No way.

Instead, we bent down low, close to our child’s face and spoke plain and clear to ensure they understood us and said, “Don’t you pay ANY mind to what the other kids say about “so-and-so”! Do not judge other kids based on what a few loudmouth kids have to say! Do NOT be a follower! Make up your own mind! Get to know “so-and-so.” Sit by her at lunch and share your food with her. Talk to her and EXPECT to find the good in her. Never listen to the bullies.”

Never listen to the bullies.

Oh my goodness, Americans! If kindergartners can do this, so can we!!! Let’s not listen to the bullies! Let’s listen to each other’s hearts! Let’s give each other an attentive listening ear and even if at the end of the conversation we don’t see eye-to-eye, we still say to each other:

“Don’t worry about it. I know your heart, and your heart is good. I cannot be hurt by your words or even your actions, because I KNOW YOU AND YOU ARE GOOD and you would not intentionally hurt me. I will give you MERCY.”

Even when Washington DC can’t bridge the great political divide, I know WE can.

Peoples of America: We DO NOT have to accept this narrative of division.

We can CHOOSE MERCY.

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another.’ … Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been mercifulMercy triumphs over judgment!”    Amos 7:9

Trees

When we moved back from Morocco, I noticed a lot of dead trees – many more than what I remembered from before our move. I kept mentioning this to others and they’d say they hadn’t noticed and then they’d look at me quizzically, as if their worst fears were realized: Yep. She was brainwashed by some crazy Islamist over there and now, not only does she love Muslims, she’s lost her grip on reality, too.

But I am convinced trees are dying at a more rapid rate than they used to. Kinda like people right now.

PATRIARCH TREES

All this virus stuff propagating thoughts on death and disease has made me consider these dead trees. And I’ve observed a few things: The biggest and oldest trees grow taller every year and push farther heavenward as they seek the sun. They are like wise, old patriarchs who are masters at protecting, nurturing, sheltering and beautifying. Their tall, sturdy trunks reveal years and years of battle scars: they have fought valiantly in many a storm. Their inside rings secretly reveal their age and their bark tells the stories eternally etched as lover’s initials or all those who “were here.” Further inspection discloses nooks and crevices that served as safe havens to multiple needy forest creatures over the years. Even into old age, their role for the world so evident: Their roots go so deep, they are unshakeable.

These trees have done their good work for decades, maybe even centuries. But eventually, they will tire and fade and die because nothing lasts forever. And they will most certainly be missed by anyone who notices the trees. Something vital and essential to our landscape will be gone! However, GOOD NEWS!  The old trees have left behind numerous smaller trees in their perimeter and they have now grown to the point where they are ready to mature independently. Why are these young trees so ready and able? Because they have been nurtured, protected, and sheltered by the taller, bigger, and older trees! And you know what happens when the old trees finally die? The little ones below suddenly receive more sunlight! They are able to push heavenward a little easier without the heavy shade of the older trees!

REVERENCE

This is what I’ve noticed in best communities: they revere the old trees. They surround them with beauty like flowers or hostas and a bench. Often, the bench has a gold commemorative plaque honoring someone who did some good thing. Passersby will stop and read the plaque, sit on the bench and admire the tree that shades it. They’ll run their hands over the bark and try to figure out how old the tree is and who the people are behind all the carved initials.

No one digs up old trees and places them all in one location so they can die huddled together, spreading diseases faster than a forest fire. No, the tall, old trees are out in the public square, in the parks and in our yards. We revere those trees because we know they’ve EARNED their spot and their recognition. We sit beneath them and thank them for their years.

Why can’t the same be true for elderly people?

What if we sat at the feet of elderly people and revered them and appreciated their experiences and wisdom? What if we asked them if we could feel their skin and wrinkles? What if we asked Grandma how she met Grandpa? What if we asked them how they chose their professions? What if we asked what it was like to live during World War II? What if we asked them if they had old journals or diaries and if we could read them together? What if we asked them what kind of music they listened to growing up and then listened to it together? What if we made plaques commemorating what astounding individuals they are and put them on their doorposts so everybody could see? What if we respected the elderly as much as we respected old trees?

A PRAYER FOR THE TREES

I asked my mom about the tree comparison recently. At 79 years old, she says she is ready to “bow out” of the woods and let the younger trees rise up and take her place. She told me all her (older) friends feel the same way. She said it’s okay if a crazy virus takes her life. “God knows the number of my days. It’s the classic circle of life. I’m okay to make way for you younger trees to rise up and have your time in the sun.”

My prayer for you and for me, is that as we age, we can be like the trees.

May we all, at the end of our days, be able to say our roots go down deep, that we provided shelter and food and a home for those in our vicinity with need. May our exterior not be perfect, but showing clear signs of wear and tear that signify we have lived fully – engaged in the difficult but necessary work of life. May we say that although our presence in the “forest” around us ended, we did, indeed, encourage growth to our surroundings and may we look about us and recognize a whole forest of younger people ready to take over our many roles of service. And may those young people look up to us patriarch trees and say, “It has been nice having you in my forest. I’d never be who I am today without you in my life.”

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.”

A Hiding Place (When the next Holocaust comes, you can come live with me)

Upstairs, on the third floor of our former crack home, awaits a really big and really empty, comfortably furnished attic apartment. Now that we are empty nesters, we’re deciding how best to use it.

An exchange student? A foster child? Airbnb?  

Perhaps.

But because our pastor mentioned the Holocaust this past Sunday and because these Impeachment hearings have only served to heighten the sad division in our nation and the growing hostility between people groups, we had to wonder if was time for a new conversation. We conjectured a scenario where our country reaches a boiling point where the only conclusion is the genocide of a certain people group so that we, as a nation, can truly be free. We wondered if there could ever be a time where we might want to use our attic similar to ‘The Hiding Place’, where the Ten Boom family hid Jews at the real risk of their own family’s safety. We discussed whom might the “Anne Frank” be that we would someday hide in our attic?

I have no doubt that previous to the Holocaust, all the Christian Germans who insidiously backed Hitler in the days of Ten Boom would have insisted, “That (a genocide) would never happen here. Not to us or our Christian country.” 

And yet it did.

So as two people desperate to be anything but naïve, Paul and I speculated:

“Could it be we’re already close to a boiling point? I mean, we know illegal immigrants who, if discovered, will be sent back to Honduras. While most people will say they’re not actually against immigration, they just want people to come legally – what we know FOR CERTAIN is that our immigration system is so broken, a legal entry takes upwards of 20 years. During that time, while our friends would be waiting in Honduras for their legal immigration request to be processed, their American-born children will graduate from high-school, go to college, get married, have babies, get cancer, go on vacations and celebrate birthdays and holidays without them.”

Paul and I decided we’d have no problem hiding illegal immigrants up in our attic so they could stay with their families instead of being deported.

Then we talked about the LGBTQ community who feel oppressed and targeted. What if this country boiled over in hate for this particular group, blaming them for the problems of our country and insisting their elimination is the only answer? Would we be willing to hide gays, lesbians, trans, and drag queens in our attic?

Absolutely, we decided.

From there, we discussed several other groups of people that often get “lumped together” and blamed for problems in our country: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, the rich, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, the mentally ill, the homeless, druggies, Pro-life, Pro-choice, left, right, and upside down.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following comments before – and although they’re not quite as bad as they must have been in 1940’s Germany – they’re still painfully hateful and divisive (and remember, the “they” can be any of the groups I’ve mentioned as well as about a thousand others…):

  • They hate America. They don’t care about you at all.
  • They’re all drug-lords, rapists, and thugs.
  • If only they could see how wrong they are.
  • They cost so much money – they’re draining our economy.
  • They only care about themselves.
  • They only care about one thing and it drives all their other decisions.
  • They’re everywhere – and they’re taking our jobs.
  • They’re stripping our country of what matters most.
  • They’re stealing my rights.
  • They make me feel unsafe.
  • Their beliefs are from the pit of hell.
  • They’re so sure they’re right, they’d kill to protect their beliefs.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The more we hear these kinds of sentiments and the more they are repeated over and over and over, the more we are convinced they are real and true. And that’s exactly how Hitler convinced a whole country it was in their best interest to extinguish “the problem.”

So Paul and I decided, being the totally woke and cool (do woke people say “cool”?) people that we are, there is not a single people group we would refuse to stay in our attic if they were the target of a genocide.

HOWEVER…

As soon as we felt the smugness of our loving behaviors, it suddenly hit me: “But what if WE’RE on the wrong side of the equation, hon? What if WE’RE the ones being targeted for a genocide because we’re followers of Jesus and therefore we love everybody else, too??”

But Paul, in all his great wisdom, hit me with this: “Hmmmm. But in every scenario we’ve discussed, whether black and white, left or right, rich or poor, there are always two sides to the equation – meaning that in our “boiling point” scenario one side has to be right, therefore one has to be wrong.

However, in Math, an equation is one where two values are EQUAL.

Perhaps the great equalizer, the one who IS the equal sign (=), the one who MAKES all the equations, is God. And with God there are never two sides. There isn’t an in or out, left or right, good or bad, there’s just love.”

So what if we just love everybody? Will we be persecuted for that someday?

Perhaps.

But I doubt it.

I yield back the rest of my time.