Unaddressed: Letters and Invitations

Dear World ~ We are a brilliantly diverse, endlessly fascinating population of people. Such unique ethnicities, languages and cultures… yet… one big global family, made in God’s image, meant to love and be loved. So where is the love? I fear we’re on the brink of a worldwide shortage. And I doubt there’s a single soul on this planet that couldn’t use some TLC right now. Let’s be gentle with each other… and give a little grace, shall we?

Dear America ~ You need to get your head on straight. Where’s the common decency? What happened to “we hold these truths to be self-evident… that all men are created equal.” We never even got there. And now it seems we’re slipping back. When did we lose sight of “liberty and justice… for all?” We have to do better. Which means, we have to be better. (God help us.) Only then will liberty, equity, security and justice prevail. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.” Oh how far we’ve strayed…

Dear Church ~ When the Gospel becomes secondary, we’re undone. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing: Jesus. Not pontificating or politicking or pursuing the American Dream. You know what our nation needs? Hope. Help. Humility. Healing. We need less condescension/conflict/chaos and more Christlikeness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.” Jesus taught us to pray and pull together, help shoulder each others’ burdens, tenderly care for one another – His very body. But we continue to inflict pain with repeated acts of self-harm. Let’s bandage our unsightly/self-inflicted/ superficial cuts and get on with tending the critically wounded around us. (In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a bloody battlefield.)

Dear BIPOC/Neighbors ~ I don’t even know what to say. Except… I’m sorry. I see your anguish and your anger. I hear your pleas and protests and prayers. But I admit I haven’t given you my full attention before now. I’m sorry my prejudgments and prejudices have hurt you. (In ways I’m becoming aware of… and ways I know I’m still blind to.) I’m learning that oppression comes in many shapes and sizes: profiling, poverty, limited access and opportunity, inadequate housing/healthcare/ education… I’m sorry I didn’t notice sooner, listen better, learn more, or love you enough to work harder – alongside you – to pursue God’s good and pleasing and perfect will: equity and justice.

Dear White Neighbors ~ I see you (many of you) trying. Trying to learn, understand, engage. Bless you. (I mean that. Because some folks don’t even bother.) But let’s be honest for a sec. We don’t get it. All this researching and reading and reflecting can’t duplicate experience. So let’s acknowledge that. (And by all means, keep researching, reading and reflecting.) If we really want to be allies of BIPOC, we need to shut up… and listen. Show up… and serve. Serve those who’ve been underserved for too long. Be willing to become uncomfortable… to make others more so. Start making room (in our boardrooms, family rooms and hearts) so everyone gets a fair shot. Let’s ensure that this land of ours becomes a land of liberty, peace and prosperity, not just for some or most… but all.

Dear Law Enforcement Officers ~ I’m sorry you’re suffering because of the horrific sins of a few (who happen to wear the same uniform). You already do a thankless job: upholding and enforcing the law in our communities (and yes, policing within your ranks). And now you’re being vilified for it. Enduring scorn and spite, suffering insults and assaults… just for going to work. I know nothing I say will make that easier to bear. I don’t have any magic words, other than these two: I care. Thank you for working to protect American lives… regardless of race/religion/ political affiliation/sexual orientation/immigration status/socioeconomic class. Please stay on the job.

Dear Jordan ~ So many times during your growing-up years I meant well, but didn’t do very well. Because honestly, I didn’t know where to begin. I saw the prejudgments and prejudice, witnessed bias and bigotry… but I didn’t allow my horror and heartache to be used for good by God, to spur action. Thank you for your unspoken forgiveness and forbearance. What a gift. My desperate hope is that you/I/our family will be conduits for healing, grace and peace in our community and world. I love you all the way up to heaven and back a million zillion times, J… and I’m praying for you always.

Dear Jesus ~ Forgive me. I so often do what I don’t want to do… and don’t do what I ought. You (always) love (everybody) perfectly. And I fall dreadfully short. With your life and death, you taught that loving means sharing, serving, sacrifice. For the needy and neglected, the marginalized and mistreated. You crossed cultural and racial and gender gaps. again and again, to personally deliver that love. Help me follow your lead. I don’t want to just believe; I want to do what you said. Because I know…

Faith without works is dead.

(And damaging too.)

Too often I’ve talked the talk… but not walked the walk. I’ve sat on the sidelines, out of faithlessness or fear. I’ve chosen my own personal comfort over compassion for others. I’ve made excuses, rather than sacrifices.

Forgive me… and give me a fresh start.

Yours (truly),

Wendy

P.S. Friends, if you want to do a little good but aren’t sure where to start… pray.

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do… I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things. (Mother Teresa)

Let’s get on our knees… and then roll up our sleeves.

In Order to (Re)Form a More Perfect Union

I don’t know about you, but my heart can’t take much more. It’s battered and bruised… And bracing for worse.

It feels like 2020 could be the year of our undoing.

Collectively, we were already reeling from the deadly destruction/ ecomomic devastation/overwhelming despair of COVID…

104,000 dead.

Millions unemployed.

Suicide attempts.

Overdoses.

Isolation.

Burnout.

And then came three consecutive stories of black Americans killed… for no apparent reason.

Amaud Arbery… out for a run.

Breonna Taylor… in her own home.

George Floyd… pinned to the street, gasping for air.

Three human beings created in God’s image… beautiful and beloved, all.

I haven’t seen the video of George Floyd’s last minutes. I cannot bring myself to watch it. (Because just reading about it nearly gutted me.)

A Gospel-sharing, bridge-building, neighbor-loving “gentle giant,” George Floyd took his last breath on earth Monday. Now he’s safely home in heaven with Jesus… and his mama.

But his death begs the question:

How are we still here? In America? In 2020?!

Stuck in this cesspool of racism, injustice and needless violence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. The flood of emotions is coming fast and furious. I’m grappling/praying/hurting/ fuming/crying/pleading/grieving. Deeply. Sometimes all in the space of five minutes.  But the deepest, darkest valley I keep finding myself in is… fear.

I’m afraid for the people I love whose skin just happens to be darker than mine.

Afraid they will encounter the wrong person at the wrong time… and wind up injured.

Or jailed.

Or dead.

And that’s why I can’t just sign a petition or post a meme and move on. I know I need to ask God’s Spirit to search me and uproot my own prejudices and pre-judgments. I need to confess my own predisposition to dismiss or devalue some of my neighbors. I need to pray against my tendency toward complacency-by-comfortableness.

I need to listen more, learn more, do more. Where I can, when I can, however I can. Because…

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

A couple days ago, I re-read Reverend King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to some of his fellow clergymen. His words are haunting:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

He goes on to write:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Oh LORD, help me be bold for you. Because…

Equity and justice are the foundation of your throne. ~ Psalm 89:14 (NET)

Help me be brave for my neighbor. Because…

No life is more “valuable” than another. (No life is more “disposable” either.) Our immeasurable worth is God-given and intrinsic (because we were made in His brilliant, beautiful image.)

Help me live and love like Jesus.

Genuinely.

Generously.

Help me do the right thing. Even when it makes me – or someone else – uncomfortable.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

~ Isaiah 58:1-8, The Message

Let’s be justice-seekers and bridge-builders and hope-givers. Right where we are. However we can. 

Let’s be humble repenters… and revolutionaries for love. Lavish, lifesaving love.

Right in our own little corner of the world.

Maybe that won’t be the catalyst for sweeping change… but it will make a difference.

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

The man laughed and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said …

“I made a difference to that one.”

2020 could be the year of our re-making.

Let’s get started.

Wendy

P.S. Condemning oppression and police brutality doesn’t make me anti-law enforcement. I am praying fervently for our police officers, firefighters and National Guard tonight too. Calling for an end to violent, destructive rioting doesn’t mean I don’t support the protestors or understand (that I don’t understand) their outrage and grief. I’m praying for peace… and change. Join me?

All Kinds of Crazy

What a strange new world.

The rhythms and routines of daily life – once barely noticed – came to a screeching halt a few weeks back. And now the world as we knew it is suspended… indefinitely.

I don’t know about you, but my schedule looks vastly different than it did before March 13th. Except for showering and sleeping. Well… some days.

(Today is not one of them.)

It’s tough to get your bearings when you can’t see anything but the backyard or balcony. If you don’t have either, I pray for the preservation of your sanity. (Seriously.)

This is our new normal.

Personally, I’d like to get back to the old one. (Maybe with an extra helping of perspective. And heaping sides of gratitude and compassion.)

But I guess that isn’t an option. Not entirely anyway. Because this virus is taking a heavy toll.

I remember how different the world seemed after 9/11. Then – like now – most of us really came together. We cared… gave… grieved. We comforted and consoled.

And we counted the cost.

And here we are… counting again.

41,000 lives lost. (And by the time you finish reading this, it’ll tick even higher.)

That’s a whole lot of bereft families and broken hearts.

And that number doesn’t include the other victims of this crisis. The collateral damage, if you will.

I’m not minimizing the death toll. Not one iota. But I think maybe it’s time to acknowledge our other losses too. To say it’s ok to feel dazed/ disoriented by the far-reaching effects of this pandemic. It’s normal to feel discouraged/distressed about how different the future looks from just a few weeks ago. It’s understandable if you feel distraught/devastated… even if none of your loved ones have died from COVID-19.

This. Is. Hard.

And this “virtual” reality feels… well… unreal.

Trying to outlast this virus seems like a lost cause because folks are dropping every day. Not only those who die from Coronavirus but those who succumb in other ways.

To slashed income. Or domestic violence. Or burnout from working 12-hour shifts. Day after day. Week after week. (No relief in sight.)

There’s other unsettling fallout too. Like the shocking and sudden realization that there isn’t much you/I/we can control.

Like job security… financial security… food security.

There’s more than a little desperation going around. And nobody coming around. That’s a profoundly negative equation. (Isolation + desperation = unmitigated disaster.)

I think it’s high time the people who deliver the news start reporting (loud and clear) that we’re smack in the middle of another pandemic.

A mental health emergency.

This crisis has followed right on the heels of the contagious disease and even those who’ve outrun or recovered from Coronavirus are starting to feel the effects of its ruthless twin. Regardless of where we live, more and more are finding ourselves in…

An acutely SAD state.

(As in… Stressed. Anxious. Depressed.)

And who can blame us? Coping skills – in unprecedented global crises – can be scarce. And when there’s no place to go…

We go all kinds of crazy.

Relationships come unraveled. Sobriety is shattered. Suicides (and attempts) skyrocket.

How do we dig up some hope in all this wreckage? Where’s the steady calm when the whole world’s spinning out? Who’s got answers? And antidotes?

Anyone?

Human beings are pretty resilient and resourceful. But we’re not invincible. (We’re not infinitely clever/creative/capable either.) We don’t have enough willpower or prescience or inner zen to anchor ourselves (when we’re adrift) or find our way (when we’re lost) or develop a cure (for all that ails us).

Not one of us.

We need someone a whole lot stronger and smarter than our so-called best and brightest. We need a superhero.

A savior.

We need a hope-provider and healer. One that specializes in bodies, psyches and spirits. One that can fling stars and split atoms and soothe troubled souls.

Pretty sure every single one of us could use a good doctor/therapist/holistic healthcare provider right now.

Let me introduce you to a great physician and wonderful counselor.

His name is Jesus. And he can see you anytime.

He’s the answer and the antidote.

And he will carry us through.

You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times… So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (1 Peter 5:9-11, The Message)

Wendy

P.S. Please know I’m not trying to put a spiritual Band-aid on a severed artery. Stress, anxiety and depression are complex mental health issues with physical, emotional and spiritual causes and effects. (And God has given us amazing doctors/therapists/holistic healthcare providers to help us in times like this.) If you’re experiencing ongoing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, please, please schedule a Telehealth appointment.

Stat.

Spread This

I hope by now everyone is following directions. (Meaning… doctors’ orders.)

If you’re not working on the front lines fighting this pandemic, kindly imitate your dog.

Sit.

Stay.

Good boy.

If however, you can’t stay home because your work is essential (s/o to all the brave, beautiful souls working in healthcare, pharmacy, scientific research, food prep/packaging/transport/stocking, medical equipment manufacturing, warehouse distribution, supply chain)…

Godspeed.

We can’t thank you enough. (Because no amount of gratitude is sufficient right now.) Please know that we are with you, for you, behind you.

Every day.

Every (double) shift.

Every step of the way.

As dark as these days have been, the past couple weeks have shed a lot of light. You can learn alot about people in times of crisis. Some freak out. Some shut down. Some bully. Some blame. Some wail about the seemingly insurmountable problem we’re facing. Others work around the clock trying to solve it. Some cower under the covers. Others run into burning buildings/emergency rooms/nursing homes/ICU units to rescue whomever they can.

It’s heartening to hear stories of devoted workers who – at great risk to themselves – continue to do their life-saving and life-sustaining jobs. They are real-life heroes, every single one of them.

(How beautiful would it be if each one of us found ways to “show and tell” the battle-weary pandemic warriors we know how much we love, admire and appreciate them?)

And then – sadly, always – there are the antiheroes.

For every inspiring story of tireless courage or tender care, there’s a disheartening one about some idiot/inciter/narcissist/nitwit making things worse for everyone.

(Don’t be that guy. ^)

We’ve got to stop the spread of this virus. Absolutely. As soon as possible. But can we stop spreading false information and unfounded rumors too? Can we quit the fearmongering and finger-pointing and foolishness?

Where can we get personal protective equipment to stop the spread of that s#*t?

Scare tactics and death counts and divisive politicizing – while plentiful – aren’t helpful. Ever.

But especially at a time like this.

Finger-pointing isn’t a cure. (I’m not a nurse, doctor or medical researcher, but as far as I know, assigning blame doesn’t alleviate a single symptom of any infectious disease.)

And fear?

It’s a killer.

In the past week, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been tested for COVID-19. We’ve all heard about the dire shortage of hospital beds and ventilators and PPE. But those aren’t the only things in short supply around here.

With a long way to go, we’re seeing an alarming increase in the number of patients… but very little…

Patience.

We have one job to do – #stayhome – and some folks just can’t seem to follow directions. People are getting antsy. And anxious. And agitated. And it isn’t helping our collective cause. When people freak out/flake out/go out… they put others at risk. And that isn’t OK. Being bored/restless/stressed is not an adequate defense for manslaughter.

(Read that again. If you are an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, your selfishness – venturing out unnecessarily, hosting a get-together, taking that trip – could kill somebody.)

We’ve got a whole lot of brain power and creativity and generosity and tenacity teaming up to tackle this runaway problem and arrest this pandemic.

But one by one, hour by hour, it seems…

We’re losing heart.

Despair is in the air.

Just like this virus, diminishing hope is contagious… and dangerous.

Yes, it’s ok to feel sad/scared/lonely right now. (Especially if someone you love is sick or dying. Or if you’ve lost your job… or your bearings.) But we’ve got to hang in there. We need to keep doing the hard thing that has to be done.

Stay home.

Stay hopeful.

And wait for the storm to pass.

It’s tough, I know. My crew is experiencing noticeable symptoms of stir crazy/cabin fever/delirium and all that.

Next to my grandmother’s Bible, my favorite book is an old-school, leather-bound weekly calendar. (I’m currently detoxing from my addiction to scheduling.) I’m a perpetual planner… and a girl on the go. And I currently have nothing to plan and nowhere to go, so…

(Solitaire?)

Nobody said it would be easy, this business of being still. It drags us straight into the face of our angst, fear and discontent. It forces us to confront our own dismay and dread. It’s an undeniable, unsettling reminder that we have very little control.

Virtually none.

But maybe that’ll turn out to be a good thing.

If we want protection, peace, patience, perseverance, we’re gonna have to look outside ourselves. (Because clearly, there’s a global shortage of that kind of PPE.)

Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on him. 

God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure. God saves me and honors me. He is that mighty rock where I find safety.

Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. 

God is our place of safety. (Psalm 62:5-8, CEV)

How about we spread this?

Peace that’s impenetrable.

Hope that’s unyielding.

Love that’s relentless.

When this is all behind us – and it will be one day – those rare, chronic conditions will remain. And we will be better, stronger, healthier because of it.

Please… don’t be an April fool.

Hold the line.

And hold onto hope.

Wendy

P.S. We can do this. We can. But we’ve got to stick together… and stay apart… and spread only the good stuff. #staystrong #stayhopeful #stayhome

 

How to Change the World in 14 Days

Right now. (< That’s when we need to get a grip.)

If we wait… or hesitate… it’ll be too little too late.

If you read my previous post about the Coronavirus pandemic (Hi, Dad!) you know my opinion that PANIC!!! is not helpful… or healthy. Not at all. But in the days since, I’ve seen another cultural trend emerging. And it goes like this:

Me first.

(Actually, I suppose that isn’t really a trend. It’s been the norm all along. It just hasn’t been quite as obvious.)

We’re all guilty of it sometimes. It’s hard-wired into us, self-preservation, survival-of-the-fittest and all that. But we don’t have to live by instinct. We can choose instead to live for the common good. Because I believe that’s instilled in us too. By someone who embodies goodness.

God.

(Believe it or not, you bear a striking resemblance. See?)

Frankly I’m a little stunned by the pushing and shoving and hoarding and hysteria. (Toilet paper? Can someone please explain this to me… Does panic cause diarrhea?)

And then there’s the devil-may-care, I’m-not-scared, social-distancing rebels. Who flip the bird at scientists and medical experts… and refuse to make even the slightest adjustments to their own plans for the greater good.

Seriously?

Stop.

Because here’s the thing. All these precautions and protocols and postponements might turn out to be an overreaction…

Or they might keep people alive who otherwise would have succumbed.

See if you’re pro-life, then you ought to be advocating for all lives. The very young/very old, rich/poor, healthy/strong/disabled/diseased, white/brown/black, housed/homeless, conservative/liberal/moderate, law-abiding citizen/convicted criminal, straight/LGBTQ, Christian/Jew/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu/Wiccan/atheist/Universalist/secular humanist, homegrown American/refugee/undocumented worker, people you adore/people who make your blood boil… You get the idea.

Now would be a great time for us to start taking care of each other.

It’s great if you’re not afraid of COVID-19 (because living in fear is a killer too), but if you contract it – or asymptomatically carry it – and then share it… it could turn out that your nonchalance is deadly.

To someone’s grandmother or godfather or favorite aunt. To a beloved teacher or friendly cashier or war hero.

Let’s honor them by protecting them.

There’s a great line at the end of the movie A Few Good Men, when a dishonorably discharged Marine makes the realization that – in following orders – he actually failed to do his job.

We were supposed to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

It’s not just our military or medical professionals that ought to be charged with the difficult task of fighting for the vulnerable. It’s all of us.

…If you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front… Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. ~ Philippians 2:1b-4 (The Message)

We’ve all read uplifting/inspiring/amazing stories about real-life heroes. Now’s the chance to be one.

Here’s 7 things we can do – right now – to change the world:

1. Keep our distance. (6 feet, give or take.)

2. Keep our composure. (For heaven’s sake, can we please stay calm.)

3. Keep our hands and households clean. (Don’t forget phones/remotes/keyboards/door knobs.)

4. Love our neighbors. (Look around. Who needs help? Lend a hand… or kick in a few bucks.)

5. Love our families. (Always lamenting that you don’t get enough time with the people you love? Me too. Here’s our chance.)

6. Love ourselves. (Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s smart. Take a walk. Take a nap. Read a book. Bake a cake. Call that friend you’ve been meaning to call. Start that project you’ve been planning to tackle. Breathe.)

7. Pray. (For the sick and those caring for them: doctors, nurses, lab techs, support staff. For our government leaders, local officials, community and school administrators. For first responders and 911 operators. For hourly-wage workers and small business owners. For food-insecure families and our homeless neighbors.)

We’re all in this together.

(HSM fans, I know you’re singing the chorus. The rest of you, I apologize for the ensuing earworm.)

The medical experts and healthcare officials all agree. We can do this. We can flatten the curve, lessen the impact, contain this virus and control the damage. We just need to do the hard thing.

Come together… by staying apart.

In so doing, we might just save a life.

(Or thousands.)

Wendy

P.S. While we’re fighting this battle on our own soil, let’s not forget everyone else. Let’s pray for the people of Syria, China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, Spain, Japan, France, Venezuala… Prayer may turn out to be the most effective anti-viral treatment ever.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so God can heal you. When a believing person prays, great things happen. ~ James 5:16 (NCV)

Viral

There’s a very real problem plaguing the human race. And it isn’t Coronavirus.

It’s something more insidious. There’s no test for it. And no vaccine.

Fear.

(Which causes symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to sheer panic.)

So far this week, I’ve received a dozen emails with Coronavirus warnings, updates and “responses” – from city government and school officials, insurance companies, healthcare providers and financial planners. (And CostCo just sent a link to purchase “everyday essentials” like Lysol, SoftSoap and Kleenex… while supplies last. Coincidence?)

While there’s certainly cause for concern (and precautions – especially for the elderly and those with already compromised health), widespread fear seems to be the ailment that’s preceding all the other symptoms of COVID-19. The fear factor is growing and multiplying like bacteria in a petri dish. Fueled by the news media, the financial markets, doomsday prognosticators… and frantic parents.

(Who are currently suffering Daylight Savings sleep deprivation… and stockpiling nonperishables and Purell.)

The nonstop news cycle features sensationalized stories and unsettling images of hazmat suits and body bags. Schools are closing, markets are tanking, and businesses are bracing for the worst. The only ones profiting are the makers of protective masks. And hard liquor. (I know some of you DIY-ers are mixing up Tito’s Homemade Hand Sanitizer in your kitchen.)

Panic is… well… pandemic.

We’re easily unnerved by all the “what ifs” and the whens/whys/hows.

And we dread the inevitable:

Death.

Yes, Coronavirus can kill you. But so can lots of other things. Cars, cancer, heroin, venom, botulism, bees, bullets.

Not to mention tornadoes, like the one that just killed 24 people in Tennessee on Tuesday. And garden-variety flu, which claims the lives of roughly 25,000 Americans every year.

In the US, 21 people have died from Coronavirus. Meanwhile – daily – 6500 people die as a result of Alzheimers, heart disease, diabetes and depression. And you know what that means?

It’s not sinister-looking microorganisms killing people by the thousands every day.

It’s stress.

Otherwise known as dis-ease.

(You know… fear, anxiety, worry, panic, despair.)

Sometimes it’s sudden onset: crisis, catastrophe, terror, trauma. And sometimes it just infiltrates (and permeates) over time.

According to the American Psychological Association:

Chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death… and more than 75 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

Stress kills more people each year than MERS, SARS, Ebola and Coronavirus combined.

And most of the time it happens slowly… invisibly.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take preventative measures against Coronavirus. We absolutely need to. Deadly viruses need to be quarantined… and eradicated. But so does debilitating fear. (Which tends to spread further, faster.)

Thankfully, there are brilliant, tenacious scientists, physicians, psychologists and researchers working night and day (around the world) to treat these maladies. But there’s only one care provider with a 100% cure rate for both.

Jesus.

His antidote for the pandemic of panic is…

Peace.

(There’s no co-pay and no prescription necessary. And Jesus offers an endless supply.)

After Jesus died, was buried and then defeated death – and before He headed to heaven to get things ready for us – He said this:

I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace.

In the same breath, He quelled our fears and reassured all of us who are prone to worry.

So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. 

God knows we’ve got plenty to fear. We’re afraid for ourselves, our children, the planet and its people. Our only hope is a Heavenly Father who’s ready, willing and able to take care of us – every second, in every circumstance.

Jesus loves you/me/us… and He’s the greatest Physician. He doesn’t practice; He’s already perfect. And His treatment plan includes physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

For eternity.

The truth is, I could die from COVID-19. I have very little control over that. But if I do, I know where I’m going. I’m good… because God is.

(And He gave His Son to prove it.)

We’ve got to stop spreading germs… and fear… and start spreading the good news.

Prayer works. And so does soap.

So wash your hands.

And remember that you’re in God’s.

Wendy

P.S. I hope this goes viral.

 

Punctuation & Continuation

Fall has arrived!

Along with peewee/high school/college/NFL football, Christmas countdowns and pumpkin spice everything.

And right on the heels of the autumnal equinox, we observe the “high holiday” of English teachers and content editors everywhere.

Today is National Punctuation Day.

Described as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis,” this national punctuation celebration falls on the same day each year. (And it just so happens to coincide with the time period when teachers have been back in school long enough to feel utterly exasperated by the lack and/or grievous misuse of punctuation. So there’s that.)

Based on the text messages I receive daily from my teen and young adult children, I’m quite certain none of them observe this holiday. I, however, will celebrate National Punctuation Day with wild abandon and extra exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Because punctuation is important; that’s why. (Naysayers, be forewarned that you will be serving a life sentence inside some maximum security parentheses.)

If – like me –  you occasionally find yourself scrolling your social media feed while waiting at the dentist’s office or the DMV, you’ve probably seen memes that convey the necessity of properly placed punctuation. Like this one, which reads:

“I like cooking my family and my dog.”  Use commas. Don’t be a psycho.

(Good advice, I think.)

During my four years in journalism school at Northwestern, I spent countless hours poring over Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, studying the minutiae of tricky punctuation usage so as not to flunk Professor Hainey’s editing course and thereby derail my entire education and career. One stray comma or misplaced colon (insert pun here), and you were toast. Professor Hainey was a big fan of the dreaded-and-dastardly pop quiz. So you had to be prepared to remedy poor grammar and unruly punctuation at any moment. (Proper application of that divisive “dash” still perplexes – and pains – me.)

But long after gaining relative mastery over my commas and quotation marks, I discovered that I still had a lot to learn about one particular punctuation mark: the semicolon.

It was a tattoo that originally caught my eye. A wrist tattoo. Of a punctuation mark. That’s it. No anchor/arrow/angel/Angelina Jolie-inspired dragon (which was apparently regrettable since she later removed it.)  No paw prints or pink ribbon or rosebud or barbed wire. Just one simple, solitary semicolon. When I saw it, I knew it must mean something significant. So I did what I always do when I need wisdom and insight. I googled it.

That’s when I stumbled upon Project Semicolon.

And learned the meaning of the profoundly simple semicolon tattoo.

Unlike other impulsive, random and/or mystifying body ink trends, this tattoo has real significance. (And no, it’s not just the mark of a really committed grammar nerd.)

This mark represents mental health struggles and the importance of support (medical care/counseling/social-emotional support/therapies/self-care) for suicide prevention.

Project Semicolon was born from a social media movement in 2013:

“A movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

But why a semicolon?

A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.

Project Semicolon was founded by a young woman named Amy Bleuel who lost her father to suicide. Her memorial tribute to her dad soon became a social media movement, and she was struck by the way a simple puntuation mark resonated with people across the country and around the world. The semicolon became a means to acknowledge the struggles of depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide, and more importantly, it brought a measure of healing and hope to suicide survivors. The semicolon became a powerful reminder:

Your story isn’t over yet…

It became a “note to self” to just keep on…

To just; not; end;

To not believe depression’s convincing and consuming lies. That you are not loved. That there is no hope.

Because that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is always hope.

And you are forever loved.

That’s the truth.

(Capital T. Exclamation point.)

So as I mentioned earlier, I will celebrate today. This lovely autumn day also known as National Punctutation Day. I will celebrate it and savor every single minute of it. The rising and shining and showering, the eating and drinking and dog-walking, the thinking and talking (hopefully in that order), the smiles and sandwiches and sweater weather. The friends and family coming and going. The leaf-raking and laundry (and the incredibly helpful, handsome man who folds it. He’s all mine.) The laughter and love… the life-living. And I will do it all today in memory of Eric Brown, Madison Holleran, Austin Hills, Will Trautwein and so many precious others who would still be with us, if only their young lives had been punctuated with a semicolon rather than a period.

Keep living your story,

Wendy

P.S. Sadly, Amy Bleuel lost her battle with depression and died by suicide in March 2017. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis (or at risk for any type of self-harm), please call 911 emergency services, contact a mental health professional immediately, go to the nearest hospital emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center near you.

 

 

 

Mercy Christmas

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December is here in all of its twinkling, sparkling, glittering glory.

And while everyone seems to be hustling, bustling, hurrying and scurrying, I want to wish you a silent night or two… moments of stillness, grace and peace. And tidings of comfort too if your heart’s been bruised… or broken.

I still require an extra helping of comfort myself… because someone I dearly loved died at Christmastime, and I’m not sure my heart has fully recovered. In a post last Christmas, I shared the very last Christmas letter this woman ever wrote. And I remembered her, wistfully:

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’d like to tell you about this remarkable woman. She had rare grace, a quiet strength, a strong faith, and a mischievous grin that she’d flash every so often, just to keep everyone guessing. We were so different, she and I. She was quieter, gentler, more thoughtful. But she was also tons of fun. She loved parties and plays and road trips and dancing. In a ballroom… or all through the house. She favored folk singers like James Taylor, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, and quirky cocktails like a Pink Squirrel or a Harvey Wallbanger. Here’s the deal though – and she would tell you this herself, emphatically: she wasn’t perfect. She had issues. Insecurity issues. Daddy issues. Irritability issues (which she referred to as “hormonal fluctuations”). I’m beginning to understand what she meant by that.

The thing I liked best about her was how relational she was: she was an includer, an encourager, a helper, a pray-er, and she had good shoulders. I know this because I cried on them often. Every one of this woman’s friends later told me that she was their go-to girl. Because she made everyone feel like they were her best friend.

Including me.

Today marks 21 years since I said goodbye to my sweet momma. She got sick on a Sunday morning and died two days later. I remember draping myself across her feet in the ICU, pleading with God. And begging her too: Don’t go. Don’t leave me.

The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.

(And sometimes it hurts like hell.)

My momma went on ahead to heaven. Good for her… but… I was undone. Distraught. Completely crushed. I had no earthly idea how I was going to keep breathing… let alone “do Christmas.” Or life, for that matter.

I’m not gonna lie. Some days it was a sapping/sobbing/isolating/devastating struggle. I felt like I had a new label: bereft. I would see young women in the mall, shopping with their mommas and their babies. And it warmed my heart. And then broke it into a thousand pieces.

My mother-in-law did what she could. She and my father-in-law would take the boys so Steve and I could go to dinner or a movie. She’d make us meals now and then. They hosted one of the boys’ birthday parties for us. (Pretty sure my mother-in-law bought out every Thomas the Tank Engine item in the party goods section at Target for that kiddie soiree.)

She tried valiantly, and in hindsight, I realize I probably didn’t give her enough credit. But the truth was what it was… and is what it is. She wasn’t my mom.

I didn’t want Linda… I wanted Louise.

Linda was high-strung and finicky (which is a nice way of saying she could be quite a pain in the derriere.) She was an artist and fashion designer prior to becoming a wife, mother, homemaker and hostess, which meant that every detail of every party or presentation had to be perfect. The clothing label, the dinner menu, the wrapping paper, the fabrics, the flowers, the flatware. Appearances mattered. A lot. A lot a lot.

And while I like a clean house, a good pedicure and strong support (from my mattress and my undergarments), I guess I felt like I couldn’t cut it. My parenting skills, my denominational preference, and my athletic abilities were sorely lacking, it seemed. (I was a lousy tennis player and a hazard on the golf course. Which meant I was really only good for lunch at the club.) Most of the time, my mother-in-law let her actions (and non-verbal cues) communicate that message. But sometimes she came right out and said it.

Like the time she took me and my firstborn son (who was 3 at the time) shopping at a “finer” department store. Zack made a beeline for the stuffed animals and plush toys in the children’s section, and of course, he threw a fit – right there in front of the retail associate and all the other shoppers – when I told him to put the overpriced banana-toting monkey back on the shelf. When his protests reached an 8.2 magnitude on the tantrum scale, I decided it would be best (so as not to trigger migraines or a security escort) to just buy the orangutan and go home for a nap. Both of us.

My mother-in-law disagreed. She decided it was the perfect time to teach me a lengthy lesson about parental discipline and delayed gratification. Also in front of the retail associate and all the other shoppers. It was a group lesson, if you will. This from the woman who seemed to have indulged her sons’ every whim while they were growing up and was currently spoiling her dog like Leona Helmsley. (Google her. You’ll get the idea.)

In addition to being somewhat authoritative, Mom was maddeningly late for everything. If the celebration started at 7, she’d sweep into the room around 8:45 and command everyone’s attention from the moment she arrived until everyone else left. She was even late to her own parties. (Not even kidding.) Dad would play greeter and host until my mother-in-law emerged from the master suite sporting her Chanel lipstick, her signature bob, a killer dress and a dazzling smile. She was so pretty. Dad would swoon, and everyone would air-kiss and pretend perfect.

Three years after my mom passed away, Steve’s dad died from leukemia. The one who had seemingly held us all together (and held Mom in check, to no small degree) was gone now, too.

Initially, my mother-in-law chose to stay in the home they had shared, but within a couple years her physician had diagnosed her with early onset dementia (in hindsight, likely Alzheimer’s), and we knew she wouldn’t be able to live alone much longer.

One night during dinner, we started discussing the fact that Mom would need to move. Soon. There had been some troubling indications that she was no longer safe alone, and her doctor had recently told her she shouldn’t be driving. We agreed that the new assisted-living facility opening in a nearby community would be an excellent choice. She’d have a newly-built two-bedroom suite, and the ascetics would most definitely appeal to her. The only problem was that the suite wouldn’t be ready for nearly six weeks. We talked about the possibility of hiring home caregivers to bridge the gap. But Steve felt strongly that mom should come and stay with us until her new place was ready.

Excuse me?!

It was one thing when Mom herself had informed me (five years prior) that she was handing off the baton to me, and now I’d be hosting the entire extended family at Christmas each year: “You’re 30 now, so I think it’s time you start hosting the holidays.” I didn’t want the baton. I wanted to throw it to the ground and stomp on it. But I didn’t. Instead I took a couple cooking lessons. And got a membership to Sam’s Club.

But this was entirely different.

I would have to live with her. 24/7. For a month. Possibly two. (Lord, have mercy.)

My head started to spin.

I glared at my dear husband. Who was just trying to do right by his momma… and our brother and sister-in-law – whose youngest son was in the NICU.  (Clearly, I was the only logical candidate for designated driver, laundress, cook and caregiver.)

My mother-in-law stayed with us for 40 days. It felt like 400. And just before we tore each other’s hair out, her suite at the Timbers of Shorewood was ready. Hallelujah.

Little did I know that her brief stay was only the beginning of a terribly lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. And for those of you who’ve witnessed the effects of this ravaging disease, you know that it didn’t only assail her. We were all caught in the firestorm.

From start to finish, Mom’s illness afflicted her for nearly 15 years.

I wish I could tell you that I was a devoted daughter-in-law and attentive caretaker during those years. But I wasn’t. I treated Mom’s illness – correction –  I treated Mom… like a burden. One that I bore bitterly.

Yes, I took her to her doctor’s appointments and the market. I invited her to all our family gatherings and picked up her prescriptions and dry cleaning. I chauffeured her to department store after department store (fashion remained a high priority until her cognitive function had diminished to the point where she didn’t know what a zipper was). I even – begrudgingly – returned every single fall fashion item she had selected because the cut of the garment didn’t suit her or the dye lot was inconsistent or the nap of the fabric didn’t please or natural light brought out the yellow undertones which were terribly unflattering. I ran around “doing the right thing” for my mother-in-law… with the wrong perspective and a lousy attitude. I was not kind, nor tenderhearted. Ebenezer Scrooge was more gracious than me.

I bemoaned the fact that I was solely responsible for Mom’s needs and requests (reasonable or not), and under the guise of “keeping her in the loop” I notified my sister-in-law of every appointment, errand and inconvenience I endured. I also took every opportunity to grouse to my husband and kids about their mother/grandmother.

So becoming, I know.

The fact is… I had become completely bitter. And no matter how beautiful you are, bitter is ugly. It is its own progressive disease. And at some point I realized, if I didn’t treat it, I would succumb to it.

Around that time, two things happened. First, my pastor preached a sermon about forgiveness. He talked about the fact that every relationship requires it. Ours to God. Ours to our children. To our partners. To our parents. And our friends. At some point, we all falter and fail each other. And it goes both ways. (Well, except with God. All the faltering and failing happens on my side… All the fault in that relationship lands squarely on me.) My pastor talked about that fact that regardless of how horrific the offense against us, no matter how deep the hurt and heartache, we have to find our way to forgiveness. Or bitterness will consume us from the inside out. To illustrate his point, he said, “Choosing not to forgive someone is like drinking cyanide and waiting for the other person to die.”

His message hit me full-force… like a sucker-punch to the gut. I was the one drinking the poisonous, proverbial Kool-Aid.

Not only was I bitter toward my mother-in-law, I was stoking a simmering anger toward Steve. In my mind, he had conspired against me to forcibly shackle me into Alzheimer’s patient-support services. And I was indignant.

The second thing that happened then was that my mother-in-law started quietly saying the same thing to me every time I came to see her:

“Thank you for taking care of me.”

This fierce, finicky, feisty woman was becoming softer, sweeter, more sincere. And it unnerved me. How could I continue to carry my grievances against someone who was so genuinely grateful?

I wish I could tell you that I surrendered my resentment right then and there. But I didn’t. Which is funny, because in hindsight, I can see that I was a lot more like her than I would have ever cared to admit.

Stubborn. Strong-willed. Slow to relent… or repent.

After several years in the assisted-living residence, it came time to move Mom again. This time to a memory care center with skilled nursing support. She no longer needed me to “care” for her personal needs, which was a great relief. Instead, I came to keep her company once or twice a week. Often enough to keep myself from feeling guilty… and anyone else from thinking me neglectful.

If the weather was nice, we’d sit outside in the courtyard and watch the birds build nests and the fountain grasses sway in the breeze. Most of the time we’d just sit there quietly, keeping company with one another. If it was warm and sunny or cool and breezy, I’d make remarks about the weather. But no matter what the temperature or cloud cover, Mom would tell me it was a beautiful day. And then she’d tell me again. And again. And once more for good measure.

During wintertime, I’d join her for a sing-along or a bead-stringing session in the gathering room. Sometimes we’d sit in front of the television and watch a video of a blazing fire crackling in its virtual fireplace. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist at this point, so I became fairly good at monologues. I’d tell her stories about her grandkids or share memories from years past – some sentimental, some silly. She laughed easily, though I wasn’t always sure she understood why she was laughing. But somehow she seemed to know when she was supposed to. And that made me smile.

By now, Mom had forgotten our names, her whereabouts, and any concept of time or season. She roamed the halls late at night, wore three layers of clothing in July, and seemed surprised when we told her she had been married to a wonderful man named Bob who absolutely adored her.

She had lost all manner of social graces and basic skills. The woman who had possessed such poise and impeccable manners would now reach her hand into a bowl of chocolate pudding and lap it up from her fingers.

You’d think I would have become more tenderhearted by now. Instead, I was just desperately trying to keep her from soiling my spiritwear before I headed to one of my boys’ ball games. I endured my obligatory visits with her… and I hurried back to my car and my comfort zone, as quickly as seemed acceptable to any of the staff who might be keeping tabs. For all intents and purposes, I was simply keeping up appearances. Because apparently, appearances mattered a lot to me. A lot a lot. (Hmm…)

There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad and lead me along” your path.

Slowly but surely, as Mom’s illness progressed and our relationship changed, I opened my heart to God’s searching and knowing and testing. In those minutes of quiet and stillness, those hours of bird-watching and sitting fireside together, Mom and I kept company. And God was with us. We grew closer, and I grew kinder, gentler, a little wiser.

My eyes were opened to things I’d never really considered before: my mother-in-law’s traumatic childhood, her haunting flashbacks and debilitating fears, the heartbreaking loss of an infant son, and her family’s long history of mental illness. I began to feel something I hadn’t felt for her before.

Compassion.

I was stricken with it. I say stricken because it stung a little when I realized I had never shown her any.

I started thinking about my own propensity to hurt others. Often unintentionally, but sometimes, premeditated… and targeted… hitting below the belt or aiming for vital organs. A biting comment, a purposeful slight, a nasty tone, a bold-faced lie. Some juicy gossip or not-so-good old-fashioned back-stabbing. The more I peeled back the layers of my own “pretending perfect” the more cold and calculating I saw. The more controlling and manipulative.

Unbecoming, indeed.

I took a long, hard look at my ugly.

And I discovered something life-changing in that soul-searching… I realized that when I’m guilty, I want a pardon. Not even a slap on the wrist, I want boundless forgiveness. Mercy! But when somebody wrongs me, I want justice to its fullest extent. Book ’em Dano!  Make ’em pay. (What a double standard.)

Mom gave me that. The ability to see my own hypocrisy. It doesn’t sound like it, but it really was an incredible blessing. It gave me something I’d been lacking.

Perspective.

So I pondered and prayed. Alone and also sometimes with Mom. Though she couldn’t remember her own name, she would squeeze my hand and softly say “amen” at the end of our prayers together. And I found myself fighting back tender tears.

Not gonna lie, I still hurried out to my car (and doused my hands in sanitizer) after my visits, but the bitterness was beginning to lift. And my burden was getting lighter. I was finding my way to mercy… and grace… and peace.

Heavenly peace.

Christmas is about gifts. Not the presents under the tree. The real gifts. The lasting ones. The ones we truly cherish. Togetherness, tenderness, laughter, love.

In those years that Mom lingered, her body very much alive but her mind and memory fading away, Mom helped me unwrap another gift. An extraordinary one. The gift of forgiveness.

There’s a song by Don Henley called “The Heart of the Matter,” and it goes like this:

“I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about forgiveness.”

Forgiveness.

Whether from God or someone else, I’m always glad to receive it. When someone graciously forgives me, I’m always a little stunned… and incredibly grateful.

And forgiveness is a gift I can offer too. I can give it freely – and here’s the amazing thing – it need not be preceded by an apology. (With some people, I’ve learned, I’ll never get one anyway.)

But the really extraordinary thing God and my mother-in-law taught me about forgiveness is this:

It’s a gift I give myself.

When I forgive, I push away the toxic cocktail of bitterness. And I receive the sweetwater of mercy. I drink it in. And splash it all around.

More forgiveness and mercy, more kindness and goodness, more perspective and patience and peace.

My mother-in-law passed away three and a half years ago… and oh, how I wish I had readily offered those gifts to her earlier and more generously/joyfully/lovingly. Before she died, though, I had begun to face my pride and my judgment of her. I had begun to let go of things I had held against her for so long.

At her funeral, my son Mitchell gave the eulogy. Through tears, he concluded his remembrance with this:

“I hold my grandmother in highest esteem… because she and my grandfather raised the two finest men I know, my dad and my uncle.”

His words struck a chord in my heart. Mitch was right.

Her shortcomings and struggles aside, Mom had raised the very best man I know. And that alone ought to merit a mountain of mercy.

We sang “Amazing Grace” at the graveside service and bid Mom farewell. But I know that because of the mercy of Christ, she’s still very much alive. Healthy and whole.

I imagine that she and my father-in-law had an exceedingly joyful reunion in heaven. And that perhaps she and my mom get glimpses of their sweet, silly, lively and lovely grandchildren now and then. And that maybe – just maybe – our Father God has communicated to her my heart’s cry this Christmas:

Mom, I’m sorry. For my stubborn pride. For being quick to judge and long to hold a grudge. I’m sorry my bitterness kept us from having the close, comforting relationship we both really needed. Thanks for sticking around long enough for me to learn the lessons of forgiveness. Took me awhile, I know, but I think I’m finally starting to get it. I love you, Mom. And I’ll see you again one day. Merry Christmas.

And merry Christmas to all of you, too. May the gifts we give this holiday season be drenched in love and mercy.

And may God bless us, every one.

~ Wendy

 

Lifeline

Somebody somewhere needs to read this. Because the darkness is slowly suffocating her. Because his hope is bleeding out. Because she can’t find her way back to herself. Because he can only see one way out.

Lethal impulses keep bubbling to the surface. Thoughts turn traitor. Death beckons.

It promises relief… release… rest.

Death is a liar.

There’s no darkness that can’t be extinguished. No demon that cannot be exorcised. No trap inescapable. No sin unforgivable.

That’s the Truth.

Hope is just a breath away.

A call. A text. A prayer. A promise.

Last week, two high-profile Americans succumbed to suicide. And we’re stunned afresh that these brilliant, accomplished, vibrant individuals could have suffered from what turned out to be terminal anguish. As if wild success and debilitating illness (of any type) are mutually exclusive.

The undeniable crux of the matter is this:

We were made for relationship. We are meant to be connected. Yet so often when we need people the most, we retreat. We choose solitary confinement over commiseration. Isolation over consolation. Because we believe our burdens must be borne alone.

In this age of constant connectivity, we are becoming increasingly and excruciatingly lonely. Oh, the irony.

But… and this is where it gets tricky… it’s not the sufferer who ought to be charged with the duty of “reaching out.” We don’t ask people recovering from open heart surgery to jump out of the hospital bed and throw on some street clothes and meet a friend for coffee, conversation, comfort. The friend just shows up. Because friends do that.

They’re there for each other.

On good days and bad days. Cold/cloudy/sunny/snowy days. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Holidays and ordinary ones. Pre-race… and post-op… and after-party cleanup.

Those of us who aren’t fighting for our lives – we’re the ones who need to text/call/email/stop by.  The onus is just that: on us.

Life-and-death battles rage behind soundproof, windowless walls. And somehow, sometimes, our friends’ firestorms go undetected. We can’t see their pain. We don’t hear the sound of relentless/mounting/deadly despair. And even if we could, most of us don’t have the antidote. But here’s what I’m told:

Togetherness can be a lifesaver.

Check in.

Show up.

Be near.

Care.

That’s what love does. It dispels darkness. It points to the Light.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)

Whatever the pressure or pain, trauma or terror, Jesus promises relief… release… rest.

Restoration.

He’s the answer. He’s the antidote. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

And He’s near.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near.” (Acts 17:24-27, The Message)

Even when no one else is… God’s there for you. The Life-Guard is always on duty. He’s just a whisper away.  And oh, how He loves you.

I pray you’ll hold onto hope… and He’ll hold onto you… for safekeeping.

Please, please stay.

Wendy

P.S. There’s a lovely little children’s book by Nancy Tillman titled You’re Here for a Reason. It closes like this: “A piece of the world that is precious and dear would surely be missing if you weren’t here. If not for your smile and your laugh and your heart, this place we call home would be minus a part. Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two! I just can’t imagine a world without you.”

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

 

 

Stricken

My dear reader,

I don’t know that I can craft a single coherent sentence right now. And really, what is there to say? Sometimes – truly – there are no words.

Only anguish…

Tears…

Wordless prayers.

Here we are, gutted and grief-stricken yet again. Horrific images from Parkland engulf our screens and assault our senses. They shock and shatter us afresh.

Bloodied bodies and torn hearts.

When will it end?

God only knows.

I hear the calls for stricter gun laws and the cries for crisis management task forces and the pleas for proper diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. (And I echo all of those appeals. Please, somebody, do something to stop this madness.)

But deep down I fear it’s going to get worse.

No amount of medication, education, or legislation is going to bring an end to this heinous violence. Even our brightest, bravest and best cannot restrain this kind of evil. The bloodthirsty will remain so. Because they believe it’s their only chance at ____________ (fill in the blank: retaliation, notoriety, vengeance, or sadly, simply… significance).

Maybe he (the accused) suffered a psychotic break after the deaths of both his parents. Or maybe he was bullied. Or traumatized beyond what anyone could bear. Maybe he suffers from delusions or hallucinations. Maybe he was duped into thinking that radicalization would be his redemption. Or maybe his demons overtook him. (Perhaps all of the above.)

I cannot venture to guess how – in just 19 years – this young man grew to be a real-life monster. To plot… and execute. To wreak hell on earth.

It’s a mystery. A million-piece puzzle. A wide-awake nightmare.

Last night, as I listened to high schoolers describe the carnage to various newspeople, I was doubly shocked. The descriptions and images of the bloody massacre were disturbing, to say the least. Especially the streaming videos and Snapchat stories shared in real time during the shooting. Apparently, social media is now the vehicle for sharing selfies… and savagery. (Violence goes viral. And I fear copycats will follow.) But the relative detachment with which some students relayed those horrifying events was almost as unsettling as the graphic images of the crime scene itself.

I’m guessing adolescent psychologists would interpret the students’ matter-of-fact accounts as evidence that they were in a state of shock and hadn’t yet processed what took place in their school just hours before. But I wonder. Have we revisited this terrible place (the aftermath of yet another deadly attack) so many times, that we are becoming collectively desensitized? Do school shootings punctuate our modern history as routinely as hurricanes and wildfires? Is the compulsion to kill becoming as potent as the lure of heroin and hardcore pornography? Countless, chilling questions.

I don’t have any answers. (I’m not even smart enough to identify the full scope of the problem.)

But here’s what I see:

In this world of constant connectivity, people are shockingly and desperately lonely. They may have 1473 followers on Instagram, but they feel utterly alone.

We’ve become a nation of increasingly isolated (and as a result, agitated, anxious, depressed) individuals. One by one, we’re deserting each other. And solitary is no way to live.

All alone can turn… tragic.

We were made to relate, collaborate, comfort, and console each other. We’re meant for camarederie, cooperation, compassion, community.

What we all really want… is to matter. We want our lives to mean something. So we spend them searching for significance.

But the thing is, we already have it.

It’s innate.

Because we were created in the very image of God.

We reflect Trinity: Mind, Body, Spirit.

But without Him, we have no hope of being healthy and whole… physically, mentally, or spiritually.

None.

You don’t have to believe me. But please don’t blame God for our manmade atrocities.

God is infinitely strong, but He’s not a dictator. He doesn’t force His will on us. Instead He lavishly bestows on us freedom, independence and the privilege of personal choice. We get to choose what, where, when, why, and how we do what we do.

And we’ve been up to (little or) no good, since the very beginning.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6, The Message)

It’s not just the murderers and the monsters that break God’s heart. We all do.

And He loves us still.

…Here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIRV)

The only innocent man who ever lived took the death sentence for the rest of us. Because that’s what love does.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NLT)

Jesus loves us. Oh how He loves us.

Every single one of us. From north to south and east to west. From Columbine to Newtown. Orlando to Vegas. San Bernardino to Blacksburg to Parkland. The victims, their families, the first responders and reporters.

And yes… the shooter too.

I’ve read the end of the Book. And from what I can tell, things are gonna get a whole lot worse from here. But the Good News is just that. Good.

For those who trust in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, heaven’s ahead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there was no sea anymore. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It was prepared like a bride dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.”

The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:1-5, NCV)

Some days, I just want to be done. Done with all the hurt and heartache and pain and suffering. Done with my own fear and failings. Done with the hardness of life. And the sting of death.

On those days – today – all I can do is just… cling.

Cling to heaven and hope.

And the One who promises both to those who believe.

Wendy

P.S. In the aftermath of this tragedy, let’s resist the urge to rant or politicize. Be silent. Seek God. Pray. Pull together. Give blood. Donate to the Red Cross. Thank our first responders. And hug our kids… tight.