Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) –
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Genesis 47:9 (NIV)
This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.
We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.
One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.
Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.
The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”
Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.
Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Wendy and I arrived at the lake last night. We’re getting things ready for our annual Memorial Day Weekend celebration with the JPs and VLs. Hello summer!
The last time I posted on “The Latest” was just about a year ago, and what a year it has been. 2020 was the year of COVID-19 and we weathered the storm like everyone else while managing to do so with our close family and friends.
Here are the highlights from the last year… the year of Covid.
June 2020 in Kansas City
Wendy and I enjoyed a really strange weekend in Kansas City amidst the pandemic. We went to see our longtime friends, Matt and Tara. Despite a narrow list of things we could do, we managed to get out for a wonderful evening with our friends and enjoy Covid-KC.
Grandma Vander Hart Turns 93
In July of 2020 the Vander Hart family gathered to celebrate Henrietta’s 93rd birthday. Since none of her children are in Pella anymore, Wendy has been helping her with her daily needs, shopping, doctor’s appointments, and etc. Wendy says with all the years Grandma watched her when she was a kid, she’s glad she has this opportunity to return the love.
Fourth of the July at the Lake
The JPs, VLs, and Schempers joined us at the lake for the Fourth of July this past year. Wendy and I actually spent less time at the lake last summer than ever. We got down just for the holiday weekends.
For the past few years my college roommate, Steve Elliott, and I have been talking about actually getting together. In July, we made it happen by meeting each other half-way in Galena, IL. Steve drove his wife’s Mustang convertible and we spent the afternoon exploring the backroads of the Mississippi River valley through northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin, making a stop when we stumbled upon a craft brewery.
Labor Day Weekend at the Lake
While Memorial Day and Fourth of July are typically family affairs, the Labor Day weekend has been a traditional adult weekend for the JPs, VLs, and V-Dubs. Always a nice way to celebrate the end of summer. Even summer of COVID.
Tay and Clay’s Highlands Wedding with a Stegosaurus
It was a beautiful wedding. We wish we could have been there. We wish anyone could have been there. Taylor and Clayton had hoped to have a private ceremony in Edinburgh with their close friends and then a quiet dinner. Then lockdowns nixed that. So, they opted for an even more private ceremony in the middle of the Scottish highlands with just the photographer and Milo. Milo requested to be a Stegosaurus for the special occasion, so, why not (at least for part of the time)?
Autumn Trip to Austin, Texas
Long before anyone had heard of the Coronavirus, we had scheduled a trip to Austin with our friends Kev and Beck. We had to do so to secure the lodging we wanted. We were determined to do enjoy what we could. As is always the case with the four of us, Beck had thoroughly investigated options and restrictions in order to structure an entire calendar of “fun” places where we could do what we love: enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversation.
Crowning a New Tulip Queen
A couple of years ago I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies for Pella’s annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party (TQAP), which is to say “it’s not a pageant!” Realizing that I’d had a blast doing it and would be doing it again, Wendy decided to sign-on for a six-year stint as a member of the TQAP Committee. So it was that we enjoyed working with the 13 young ladies (who were all amazing) to prepare for their presentations and I was honored to announce the new Tulip Queen and her Court for Pella’s 2021 Tulip Time.
Thanksgiving was a quiet family gathering at our house for a small gathering of Wendy’s family.
Christmas and Covid 2020
Wendy and I felt so blessed to have the whole fam at our house for Christmas, and an entire Christmas Day together. Tay, Clay, and Milo arrived in early December. They spent a few weeks with us, and a few weeks with other family. Madison and Garrett arrived in time for Christmas. Ya-Ya (Grandma Wendy) enjoyed Milo being her little helper with Christmas cookies, smoothies, and other cooking duties. We had a Christmas cookie decorating contest and the adults all participated in a Christmas cocktail contest. There were no losers.
To honest, Wendy’s birthday was overshadowed this year as she played hostess, baker, cook, and caretaker. Nevertheless, her heart was full of joy. We even took the rare opportunity of being together to have some family portraits taken.
Christmas Day began with opening stockings before Ya-Ya’s amazing Christmas breakfast complete with cinnamon rolls. Gifts were opened and we enjoyed an equally amazing charcuterie spread for lunch/dinner as we binged on The Crown. I got to use the nifty Lifegoo precision screwdriver set in my stocking to repair Lightning McQueen for Milo.
The Andersons headed back and the Vander-Boeyinks headed to Des Moines for a week of Christmas celebrations with family there. Wendy and I had originally scheduled a cruise to celebrate our 15th Anniversary (New Year’s Eve) but that had long-since been cancelled. I believe we spent a quiet evening at home and went to bed early.
The ‘Rona came to our house on January 3rd with Tay, Clay and Milo’s return. All five of us ended up getting it. Taylor, Wendy, and I had relatively minor, flu-like symptoms. For me it was a day-or-two with body aches followed by a few weeks with zero-energy. Clay and Milo were asymptomatic. Their return to Scotland got delayed due to our quarantine together, and we made the best of our unexpected, extended family time. They eventually flew back to the UK in February.
Getting Out of Dodge
In February, Kev and I were commiserating about feeling a mutual case of cabin fever due to COVID. Deciding we’d like to look at different walls for a few days, we scooted down to the lake for a week of guy-time and working remotely from a different location.
Lake Work Weekend
We returned to the lake in April for a work weekend with the JPs and VLs. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since we built the Playhouse and there was a fairly decent list of things that needed sprucing up, repaired, updated, and improved.
JP discovered that our dock had been torn from the gangway due to the low water level this winter. He, along with our neighbor, got it repaired. There was a lot of power-washing, labeling, clearing out, and organization.
It also happened to be Shay’s birthday that weekend, so we celebrated the senorita at our favorite local Mexican haunt at the lake.
Easter was a quiet affair at our house. My folks and Wendy’s folks came to Pell and Grandma Vander Hart joined us for a light lunch and an afternoon of family time. It was so good to have my parents here. They spent so much of the year in lockdown in their senior community. To actually have them physically present was such a blessing.
Weekend in “COLA”
Wendy and I headed to South Carolina in April to spend a long weekend with Madison and G. It was our first time in SC since their wedding in October of 2019, and the first visit to the house they purchased last year. We also got to meet our grand dog, Bertha. Madison arranged for both Wendy and me to have facials at the salon where she works, Pout.
We enjoyed a quiet weekend and enjoyed some great restaurants in Columbia. G’s family were in town that weekend and we all got together for breakfast on Saturday morning. It was nice to spend time with them, as well. G demonstrated his grilling skills for us before we left on Sunday, and on the way to the airport we stopped to pick-up a new grand dog, a puppy named Hazel.
I got to wear a sombrero like Shay, when my bud Matthew took me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday at the end of April. Actually, Kev, Beck and I all have birthdays within 13 days of one another, so it’s become a tradition to get together to celebrate each year. This year the celebration was in Pella. We enjoyed some time at the Peanut Pub and the rooftop of Butcher’s Brewhuis before retiring to Vander Well Manor with George’s Pizza.
Tulip Time and Mother’s Day2021
There was a modified Tulip Time this year, but at least it didn’t get completely cancelled like it did last year. Wendy and did our annual turn as Pella’s founding couple. We make a couple of pop-up appearances each day of the festival to give a little spiel about the history of Pella. There was a great turnout for the festival and, as usual, we got stopped many times each day to have our pictures taken with new friends from all over.
Not to be redundant, but the year of Covid-19 was a year of a lot of redundancy in so many ways. Mother’s Day (the Sunday of Tulip Time weekend) we hosted Wendy’s grandma, folks, and my folks. Wendy’s brother, Josh, was also back in Iowa for a visit. We had a light lunch and shared family stories around the table. It was good, once again, just to be together.
And, there you have it. The highlights of the past year. More memories to be made this weekend as Memorial Day kicks off another summer.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; Psalm 91:11 (NIV)
In this riotous year of 2020, I have endeavored to keep my mouth shut and both my eyes and ears open. The division and discord have been palpable, but I have truly desired to be an agent of peace, love, and unity. I confess that I haven’t been perfect, but it was my endeavor. Never in my life have I felt James’ directive so necessary and difficult when he wrote:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” James 1:19 (NIV)
One of the observations I’ve made this year as I’ve watched and listened is how individuals respond and react to fear. It’s led me to meditate on my own fears. What is it that I’m afraid of? The truth of the matter is that I have had no fear of the coronavirus, but I have really struggled with fear of business failure and financial loss. I have become more dutiful in wearing my mask when I’m running errands out in public, but I confess that it’s not because I’m afraid of getting COVID, but rather I’m afraid of offending others. I also had no fear about who America’s president would be, but I did struggle with fear about my personal future.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 91, stood out as I read it for its unwavering confidence. If you haven’t noticed, many of the psalms are laments and expressions of all the human emotions that come along with personal struggles, spiritual struggles, and national struggles. There’s none of that in the lyrics of this song. Psalm 91 could be a prosperity preacher’s theme song. It’s a “name it and claim it” treasure trove.
The verse I spotlighted at the top of the post is interesting because it was quoted by Satan when he was tempting Jesus at the launch of His public ministry. The story goes like this:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
As I pondered this, it struck me that at the end of Jesus’ forty-day fast and facing the enemy’s temptations, angels did attend to Him. And, on the night before Jesus was to be crucified, angels once again attended to Him in His agony. The promises of Psalm 90 were true. Those promises, however, were not that Jesus could confidently get or have what He wants, but that He could confidently and faithfully accomplish what He ought.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself circling back to my fears. The forensic autopsy of my fear leaves me realizing that I have a relatively easy time trusting God with the big things, the cosmic things, and global things. My struggle is trusting God with the small things, the personal things, and the things that hit me where I am personally most vulnerable: my pride, my purpose, and my provision.
Is that where an enemy target’s their prey? Attack the weak spot. Hit the places where they are most vulnerable.
I read through the ancient Hebrew lyrics of Psalm 91 once again. Jesus’ example provides me with such crucial context. The psalm is not about me avoiding all pain, suffering, or hardship. The angels, after all, shored Jesus up in the Garden so that He could fulfill the way of suffering and sacrifice: quite literally His journey to death, hell, and back. Psalm 90 is about having the confidence that, as long as I am seeking to faithfully pursue God’s purposes for me, I can be assured that I will not be left alone or forsaken. I will be spiritually provided with everything I need to finish the journey. Maybe not in every moment I want it so my life can be easier, but every time I truly need it so my life can accomplish my own role in the Great Story.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14 (NIV)
I have observed on multiple occasions that 2020 has, thus far, been the most challenging year of my life journey. Over the weekend I found myself hitting the wall with it all. COVID, masks, lockdowns, racism, riots, name-calling, finger-pointing, posturing, politics, put-downs, elections, and egos. I came to the realization that I just don’t want to talk about it anymore, nor do I want to hear anybody talk about it. It seems, however, that it’s the only thing people can talk about right now. I get it. We all need to process.
In the quiet this morning, I began peeling away all of the circumstantial elements of our currently stressful times. I separated circumstance and spirit, elections and eternity, coronavirus, and Kingdom. Under the surface of all the Jesus said and did there was a conflict that broiled but remained unseen, a struggle of the spiritual.
Without conflict you don’t have a good story, and at the heart of the Great Story lies the ultimate conflict: The power of Life and that which sets itself up against it.
That which celebrates death instead of life. That which perverts justice with power. That which perverts appetite with lust. That which perverts humility with pride. That which perverts truth with deception. That which seeks to tear down rather than build. That which seeks to turn faith into fear. That which seeks to turn hope into despair. That which seeks to turn unity into division. That which seeks to turn peace into conflict. That which seeks to turn order into chaos.
In our chapter-a-day journey, we are coming to the end of “Book II” of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics known as the Psalms. Thus far, almost every song in the 70 we’ve read was penned by David. We’re coming to the end of David’s journey. Today’s psalm was written near the end of his life.
If you’ve been sharing this chapter-a-day journey with me the past few months, it’s obvious that David’s life was not a cake-walk. David saw his share of death. He experienced injustice as well as the consequences of his own lust. He suffered through the pride, hatred, division, conflict, and despair of his own son who tried to steal his Kingdom away. He has faced constant fear from enemies both without and within who worked to tear him down. Now, as he feels his life slipping away there is growing chaos regarding who will ascend to throne after him.
David sang the blues a lot, and with good reason. I imagine David shaking his head at me this morning.
“Dude, you’ve had a rough year. I, like, had 2020 for a lifetime.”
It was with that perspective that I went back and read today’s chapter, Psalm 71, a second time.
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.
I couldn’t help but notice that David’s faith, hope, trust, and praise are not the result of his circumstances. They don’t spring from a cushy life on Easy Street. What became clear to me is that David is choosing them despite his circumstances, the same way he always has…
When he was on the run from Saul. When he had a price on his head. When he found himself alone in his enemy’s fortress. When he was living in a cave in the wilderness. When his own son raped his own daughter. When his other son killed his own brother. When that same son almost took his kingdom. When he faced scandal from his adultery. When his conspiracy to commit murder became public.
David’s lyrics, written across his life journey and making up roughly half of the Psalms, stand as testimony that time-and-time again he chose into praise, faith, hope, and trust when he had every reason to give in to the anger, fear, despair, and hopelessness.
In today’s song, the old man nears his journey’s end. He looks back at all he’s been through and everything he’s experienced. And this is the center verse, the lynch-pin of his song:
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
I am reminded this morning that in the early chapters of the Great Story God said to His people, “Life or death. You choose.”
David teaches me that the choice is still there. Every day. Every year. A choice that, in the eternal perspective, is more consequential than my November vote for any politician.
As I enter this week of Thanksgiving, I choose Life. I choose hope.
As 2020 keeps punching, I choose to double-down on praise.
I have a confession to make. I have always wished I had a gift in music. Sure, I did the requisite year or two of lessons as a kid, but nothing every really clicked for me. I sang in the church youth choir and continued to sing in church and school groups for years. I taught myself a bunch of chords on the guitar so I could sing a few Bob Dylan songs on my back porch on a summer evening, and serenade our daughters to sleep singing Forever Young. But, that’s not the gift of music.
I remember an episode of M*A*S*H I watched as a kid. One of the doctors, Major Winchester, was a patrician blue blood with a knowledge of all the fine things of life. He finds himself having to amputate the hand of a patient, only to recognize the young man as one of the world’s up-and-coming virtuoso pianists. The Major goes to great lengths to ensure that the man does not let the loss of his hand prevent him from playing. His response was that young man had a gift and he couldn’t let that go to waste. “I could always play the notes,” Winchester said, “but I could never make the music.”
Bingo! One of the best delineations between competence and giftedness I’ve ever heard.
So, I’ve never been a gifted musicians, and that’s okay. My gifts are in other areas. But it doesn’t stop me from appreciating music. I believe that God infused music with powerful properties. One of them is the way music ties us emotionally and spiritually to moments of our life journeys.
When I started to read the lyrics to the Hebrews’ victory song in today’s chapter I was immediately transported back to my high school youth group on a summer morning clapping and singing these same lyrics to an acoustic guitar.
As soon as I hear the Hollies’ classing Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress I am ten years old and in cabin 3 at Camp Idelwood on Rainy Lake, Minnesota. It’s a cold, rainy day and I’m stuck in the cabin with Mark Malone, Piper, Matt, and my sister Jody.
When I hear The Old Rugged Cross you might notice me smile softly and catch a tear welling-up in my eye. That was my grandma Golly’s song, and the music connects me forever to her.
You get it. I know you do. We all do. That’s the power of music.
Three Times a Lady: My first kiss. Bridge of Troubled Waters: Road trip to Le Mars and 8-track tapes. The Joshua Tree: Judson College Psycho-Killer: Backstage. Pre-show. Kirk.
In today’s chapter, the Hebrews celebrate what God has done with a song. They lyrics are recorded and handed down generation-to-generation. What the tune originally sounded like is lost in the depths of time, but thousands of years later me and my friends at church were singing the same lyrics as we clapped and sang and worshipped God on a summer morning.
How cool is that?
I don’t know about you, but life has felt so heavy the past week or two. The weight of months of quarantine and social distancing, life out-of-whack, George Floyd, riots, violence. Ugh.
As I returned from my road trip on Wednesday I happened upon Bob Dylan and gospel great Mavis Staples singing Dylan’s song called Change My Way of Thinkin’. In one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard in modern music, they stop the music to act out a scripted vignette in which Dylan tells Mavis that he’s got the blues.
Dylan: I been up all night with insomnia reading Snoozeweek.
Staples:Snoozeweek? That ain’t no way to get rid of the blues. You’ve got to sing!
With that, they launch back into the raucous gospel-blues tune.
Thanks, Mavis. What a good reminder. And this morning in the quiet it reminds me that in connecting us emotionally and spiritually to people, places, and events, music also has healing properties.
Mavis Staples is right. Staying awake all night watching the news is no cure for the blues. We need music. We need to surround ourselves in the beat, the melody, the lyrics that will lift our spirit and help us extricate the weight of the moment by expressing it.
Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’ did that for me.
Think about it. Try it. Let me know what song or songs help you. I’m curious to know.
Rock on, my friend.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 2 John 12
There is, in my office, a stack of letters and postcards, the culmination of many years of correspondence between me and one of my longest and dearest friends. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a writer of letters and postcards. I have always found that there is something special in receiving another person’s thoughts and expressions in their own unique handwriting. Email, texts, and social media have made interpersonal communication simple and easy, but that has only increased the value that I place on a note, postcard, or letter than someone has taken the time to pen in their own hand, address, stamp and place in the mail. As it becomes more rare, it increases in value.
The “Book” of 2 John is the chapter today, which is almost laughable. This “Book” is actually a short note written from “The Elder” to a woman whose home was one of the tens of thousands of homes in which the followers of Jesus gathered before the idea of a church building was conceived. Tradition holds that it was John who wrote the letter, though this has always been the subject of debate.
The tone of the brief correspondence is simple and somewhat hasty. The author admits there is so much more to write, but would rather wait and speak face-to-face so that “our joy may be complete.”
After a couple of months of quarantine and social distancing, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to see people, hug people, and chat with people face-to-face. Wendy and I are often the last people to walk out of the room when our local gathering of Jesus’ followers meets on Sunday mornings. Just the thought of a “normal” weekly gathering in which several pockets of people are spread around the room after our worship to talk together, laugh together, and pray together almost makes me emotional.
Here in Iowa, things are beginning to slowly return to normal. Our local gathering is giving it a few weeks before we, once again, meet together in person. I’m looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, during this quarantine, I have continued to jot the occasional postcard to loved ones. I trust that, in this time of social lockdown, it will bring a little extra joy than normal when it arrives. Maybe it won’t make joy “complete” like being there in person and giving them a hug, but sometimes the “incomplete” joy of a handwritten note is a much-needed shot of joy.
[Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:5-6 (NIV)
Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers there has been an initiative in recent years to choose one word as sort of a spiritual theme for one’s life each year. It’s a very informal thing. Most people pray about it and seek some divine guidance in what their “one word” should be. It becomes a tool for asking, seeking, and knocking on the spiritual door of what God is doing in your life in the particular stretch of your spiritual and/or life journey.
My word for this year is “believe” which I consider to be the active form of “faith.”
One of the subtle themes that I find Mark weaving into his Jesus story is that of faith. Those who had faith experienced the miraculous. In today’s chapter, the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t believe that Joseph’s boy, Jesus, was this teacher everyone was talking about:
“He’s the carpenter. You know! Joseph and Mary’s boy. The one who abandoned Mary and the siblings this last year to become this traveling prophet. Who does Jesus think He is? If you ask me, that boy should get these silly notions out of His head, get back to the carpenter’s shop, and help provide for the family.”
Mark records that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Few miracles were performed, not because Jesus had less power but because the people had less of the activating ingredient of the miraculous: they didn’t believe. Their limited faith in Jesus limited what God could do among them.
Later in the chapter, after Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish and walks out on the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples who are struggling at the oars of their boat, Mark records that #TheTwelve were still amazed and struggling to understand what Jesus was doing. Their “hearts were hard” Mark records. Their faith had not caught up to what they had been witnessing. They were struggling to believe it all.
In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to what Jesus said a few chapters back:
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)
Jesus also used the Mustard Seed as a metaphor for how much “faith” is required to move a mountain.
I find it ironic (or is it a divine appointment?) that my “one word” for 2020 is “believe” and it’s the year that the COVID-19 virus upends life as we know it and, according to the press who screams it 24/7 to anyone who will listen, threatens to tank the global economy and take my business with it (if we all don’t die first).
Have you ever seen a mustard seed?
In the quiet this morning, Holy Spirit is whispering to my spirit. I imagine it was the same message Jesus was whispering to #TheTwelve on the boat after he walked out on the water and climbed in the boat.
It’s been a couple of weeks now that Wendy and I have joined the rest of the world in keeping to ourselves. My home office is the most organized that it’s ever been. Our house is clean. Honey-dos have that have been on the task list for a long time have gotten done. We’re almost caught up on This is Us after binging on it this week. We had a FaceTime marathon with family yesterday afternoon. And, I’ve dusted off the never-ending work on my family tree and the giant tub of old family photos and ephemera.
Who saw this COVID-19 global quarantine coming? Who knows where this is all going to lead?
On this earthly journey, I’ve observed that most of us cognitively know that we can’t predict what tomorrow may bring, but we still set our hearts on some personal vision of how we expect life to play out. What I have set my heart on always seems to take precedence over what my brain knows. So, when life eventually throws me a wicked curveball I instinctively flail at it and fall all over myself like a clown (for a laugh, watch the video below), rather than having the spiritual discipline to hold my stance and wait for another pitch. Along the journey, I’ve found that I have to repeatedly and consciously go through an actual process of getting my heart in sync with my brain.
Like everyone else, I’ve been medicating with the clever humor everyone is posting on social media. One of my favorite memes from the past week said: “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”
That’s was a great dose of much-needed perspective for me. That statement also reminded me of the process I’ve had to learn to get my heart and soul aligned with what I both know and believe. It’s the same process that God, from the very beginning, taught His people: Remember.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years.
…so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.
Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.
I know a lot of my family’s stories. Coming to America alone and starting a new life, the hardship of the Great Depression, the rationing and struggle of the Great War, dad’s lost jobs and the time we almost lost our home, tragic deaths, financial setbacks, relational struggles, and times of uncertainty. And, through all of these tragedies and difficult circumstances, three things remained: faith, hope, and love. Sure, things changed and didn’t always turn out exactly as the storyline on which hearts were set. But, looking back and remembering, I can see God’s goodness through each story. Time and time again I can see God’s faithfulness.
It reminds me of Paul’s words to the followers of Jesus in Corinth:
You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.
2 Corinthians 4:8 (MSG)
In the quiet this morning, I continue to wonder (along with everyone else) where this whole Coronavirus crisis will take us, and what it will mean. And, if I spend too much time focused on it, I can find myself out-of-sorts. So, once again I shift-focus, look back, and remember God’s faithfulness through the generations. No matter what changes in circumstance are in my future, God’s goodness and faithfulness are what my past has taught me will never change.
As I write this I am sweating profusely. With all the crazy of the global Coronavirus initiatives, my local CrossFit box had to close for a couple of weeks as mandated by the State of Iowa. So, my schedule is a bit off from normal and I worked out this morning at home. Now, I can’t get cooled down as I mop my brow with a rag and guzzle cold water.
What an apt metaphor for our current realities. As we struggle to figure out how to keep our daily routines and rhythms amidst working from home, mandatory lock-downs, and social distancing I can feel the corporate sweat we all feel with the unknown. I feel it in conversations with clients. I feel it in text conversations with our children. I feel it myself as I wonder how all of this will play out. The sweat of fear, anxiety, change, and confusion is something we’re all feeling one way or another.
I was reading my favorite Catholic mystic this morning and I loved what he had to say:
We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.
But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole.
The (sweat-marked) t-shirt I’m wearing right now says, “Fight Pessimism” and I consciously chose it after my workout and shower. I have a feeling that we are just at the front-end of the “weary” we will experience in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Nevertheless, in the depth of every dark valley is the opportunity to ascend a new mountain.
The ancient sage Solomon tells me in this morning’s chapter that good news from a distant land is like the cool water I am absolutely loving right now as it refreshes my tired body. In the same way, I have an opportunity right now to be “good news” and refreshment to others in this moment of global insanity. I can offer to help others. I can share words of love, kindness, and encouragement. I can grocery shop for shut-ins. I can share toilet paper with those who can’t find any. I can reach out to old friends through social media to reconnect, share memories, and share a drink over FaceTime. I can get my mind off the sweat of my own fears and turn it into being cool water to another weary soul.
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. Proverbs 22:3 (NIV)
This past Saturday, Wendy and I made our annual clean-out of the storage room in our basement. This has become an annual event. Each Spring things are picked up and organized. Each year, upon completion, we vow to keep it picked up and organized. Then over the process of a year the room gets cluttered again.
There’s probably a apt proverb about such a pattern of behavior.
Part of the process in the cleanout was going through storage tubs, determining what was in them, and then making decisions about keeping it, pitching it, taking it to the thrift store, or putting it on the curb for what I like to call the town’s semi-annual Sanford & Son Memorial Fest. That’s when scores of pick-up trucks and minivans looking for buried treasure drive slowly up and down the street picking through and salvaging the neighborhood junk.
Sorting through the storage bins I came across an old Bible (I tend to inherit all the family Bibles) that says it belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Inside the cover are handwritten dates in history such as the end of World War II and President Roosevelt’s death. There is also in the storage tub a stack of newspapers my grandparents held onto. Pearl Harbor, John Glen’s historic trip to space, man walking on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, and etc. To this stack I’ve added some of my own including the historic floods of 1993 and, of course, September 11, 2001.
As I write this, I can’t help but think the historic moment the world is experiencing right now. The world-wide pandemic of the Coronavirus has changed the world as everything shuts down and we are urged to keep our “social distance” in order to try and stop the spread of the virus. In fact, our weekend project was a happy coincidence as we stayed home and did our part.
Like many people, I have quietly been bemoaning the panic (seriously, if you need 300 rolls of toilet paper to make it through a possible 2-3 week quarantine, you’ve got other issues). Daily, I’ve been checking the stats and the numbers are still, blessedly, low.
In a nation of 330 million people, there are 3802 cases in the United States (.001152% or one-thousandth of one percent of the population). Worldwide, the statistics show the death rate to be about 7-8% of those who have gotten the virus, while about 92-93% of those with the virus recover. And, as I’ve been reminding people, the death toll last winter in the United States was over 80,000 deaths from the common flu. In other words, there is really no need to panic or to be afraid.
As I am fond of saying, truth is often found at the point of tension between the two extremes. So, while there’s no need to panic, it is equally important not to be completely dismissive. There is such a thing as prudence which the ancient Sage reminds us in today’s proverb. Medical experts are saying that the Coronavirus is highly contagious, has a long incubation period, can live on surfaces for a long time, and is deadly for those individuals who have weakened immune systems and weak respiratory systems (which, I’d guess, is about 7-8% of the population). The list of those at risk, however, includes people I love dearly including my parents, Wendy’s grandmother, and our grandson, Milo.
And so, while I personally don’t have a lot to be worried about, the world has stopped for a few weeks (maybe months) so that we can keep the virus from getting to Milo and Papa Dean and Grandma Jelly Bean. And, I’m good with that. I thought our daughter, Taylor’s, post said it very well this morning:
I don’t claim to be a prophet, but based on my experience with other tragic, world-interrupting events that I’ve lived through, here’s how I predict this will all play-out. Someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will hear about the great Coronavirus scare of 2020. Maybe they’ll even find a newspaper I placed in the storage bin recording today’s crazy reality. We will talk about how March Madness and every sporting event in the world was canceled. We’ll recount that there were no St. Patrick’s Day celebrations or parades, even in Dublin, Ireland. We’ll talk about school being out for weeks, stupid people hoarding toilet paper, everyone working from home, and social distancing. Then we’ll laugh about the generation known as the “Coronavirus Kids” or some other catchy term, who were all born nine-months after couples were stuck at home with no sports on television. We might be able to remember someone we knew who died of the virus. Then, we’ll talk about the fact that after a few weeks of crazy life returned to normal, the markets recovered, sporting events began again, and how, blessedly, very few people died in the grand scheme of things.
I was scheduled to be in Des Moines today for a meeting with a client. Just a few minutes ago I received an email from the client inviting us, “in light of the COVID-19 hype,” to join them and “play along” as we have a conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.
Sounds like a prudent thing to do. Sure, I’ll play along.