Love in the Time of COVID-19

Gentle Reader,

I stayed home from church today. I feel completely fine, but took the opportunity to get some extra rest as my pastor made the decision to cancel second hour discipleship groups (aka Sunday school). I didn’t have to be there to teach, or to do any administrative work, so it was sweats, a cup of coffee, and tuning into the livestream for me.

And you know what?

It kinda sucked.

I appreciate that my church streams its services. This has been important for me in the past, when I’ve been stuck at home for weeks at a time due to illness or surgery. But there really is nothing like being with people who have become part of your family. There really is nothing like hearing your voices blend in a not-always-pleasing harmony as you worship God together. I missed seeing my friends. I missed hugging my students and listening to them talk about things completely unrelated to the lesson I prepared.

So, I get it. Social distancing is annoying; who wants to remain six feet apart from friends and loved ones? Choosing to go beyond that and stay at home when you feel fine seems stupid. Go ahead and complain.

But do it.

Some of you want to roll your eyes and flip the bird at me. It’s no big deal. People are overreacting. It’s just the flu. I’ll do what I want.

And that, my friend, is unloving.

That, my friend, communicates to vulnerable people – those with underlying conditions that make catching “just the flu” far more complicated, the elderly, those without financial resources and medical insurance, and those with crap immune systems – that you don’t care what happens to them.

To us. Because I fall into that vulnerable category. My liver wants to kill me and my immune system sucks.

I know that I am responsible for taking care of myself. I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to hurt. I’m checking my temperature twice a day. I’m not hugging anyone. I’m allowing myself to take naps as often as I need to, because it’s vital that I don’t become run down. I’m drinking lots of water. I’m eating good foods. I’m figuring out a good exercise routine, because I need to stay active, but, again, I can’t become run down. As to going out in public, I’m taking that moment by moment, asking God to give me wisdom as to when to brave the wider world and when to stay tucked away at home. A lot of this, I do all the time, because I have to be vigilant; I can catch anything at any moment and be knocked down.

I’m not asking you to do any of this for me. I’m not asking you to bear a burden that is only mine to carry.

What I am asking of you is that you take a moment and think. While you may contract COVID-19, have a mild case and recover quickly, or even remain asymptomatic, that’s not the reality for everyone around you. By being flippant about it, you can easily spread the virus among people who are not as naturally equipped as you are to fight it.

That said….

Some of you are in panic mode and you’re buying very strange things in large quantities, like all the toilet paper in the land.

STOP IT.

Over-reacting, my friend, is just as unloving as under-reacting. Yes, it is good and wise for you to take care of yourself and your family. It’s not wrong to have some extra supplies around. But you do not need to hoard. Your hoarding means that the vulnerable population mentioned above does not have access to the things they need to take care of themselves.

Arrogance and ignorance are plagues upon our ability to love and reason well in the best of times. We cannot afford to indulge either during this crisis. Yes, it is a crisis. It may not seem so to you right now, but the truth is that our medical system is not equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of people flooding the hospitals, whether they actually have COVID-19 or they’re just afraid they do. If we do not all practice caution, we will end up as Italy is at the moment: doctors without necessary tools, leaving them in the anguished position of choosing who to treat and who to leave to fate.

It’s annoying and crappy and weird and unsettling. Nobody ever expects to live through a time like this. But if we all choose to exercise caution and love our neighbors, we can flatten the curve. We can get through it.

What does loving our neighbors look like right now?

  • Accept the fact that you won’t get to socialize as much as you like. It’s okay to feel annoyed or depressed about it while you process the situation. But you have to reach the point of accepting it, otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. Take it from one who’s been on medical house arrest before: it’s much easier to get through if you choose to look for the good and the joy, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do or have.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.
  • Check in on people, especially those who are vulnerable. A text or phone call means a lot to someone who’s worried or stuck at home.
  • Pray. For others. For yourself. Ask God for both peace and wisdom.
  • Listen to the experts. They actually do know more than you do.
  • If somebody needs soup or toilet paper or Oreos and you have some to spare, share.
  • WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • DON’T. TOUCH. EACH. OTHER.

Love is going to look a lot like common sense and compassion. It’s also going to look like making decisions you’d rather not make, like canceling group meetings and vacations. But that’s what the people of God do. We don’t just think of ourselves. We think of others.

With apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for the riff on the title of his novel,
Love in the Time of Cholera.

Five Minute Friday: Wait

Gentle Reader,

Somehow, another month has passed without my releasing words into this space. And what a month it’s been. A trip by plane to Kansas City to spend a hard but wonderful and transformative week with my classmates. A trip by car to Boise/Nampa to attend a conference for students exploring their calls to ministry. Many, many cups of coffee. Hundreds of pages read.

A deep and settled sense of joy and purpose. A knowing-in-my bones that this is what God has created me to do. Even when the days are hard and long, I am committed, because my God is so good.

Go.

There is wisdom is silence.

Wisdom in not commenting on every little thing.

Wisdom in allowing everyone in the room to assume that you agree with their position(s).

Sometimes it’s hard to keep our fingers still and our mouths shut. It’s hard to wait for the right place, the right spirit, the right time. We’re so used to jumping online to spout off about anything and everything, that to wait – to listen, to pray, to think – seems impossible.

But then, there is wisdom in speaking.

Wisdom in sharing your thoughts, no matter how insignificant the topic.

Wisdom in not allowing everyone in the room to assume you agree with them.

Sometimes it’s hard to allow our fingers to type and to open our mouths. It’s hard to stop waiting, to recognize that the place, time, and the spirit are right for conversation. We’re so used to shying away from conflict that bravery – boldness, courage – seems impossible.

So what do we do?

How do we navigate this tension?

These words float into my mind:

Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you; love her, and she will guard you.

– Proverbs 4:6 (CSB)

Ask God. God will faithfully reveal to us when it’s time to wait and when it’s time to stop waiting. God will give us the wisdom that we seek. In that giving, God will also provide the assurance of God’s presence, and therein we find the peace and safety we crave.

Stop.

I’d be no kind of Beatles fan if I didn’t include a link to this song, which is completely unrelated to the topic, save for the title.

A Note to the Young’uns

Gentle Reader,

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)

You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?

No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

But.

You knew that was coming, right?

Our failures are not an excuse for you.

You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.

It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”

I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.

I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.

There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.

Sweet one, listen to me.

Don’t follow my example in these things.

Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.

And there’s more.

Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.

You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.

I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.

I believe in you.

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They Say It’s My Birthday

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Today I am 33.

And it’s stupid hot outside, so I’m hiding in the house, next to the air conditioner, shades drawn. There’s a small rectangle between the top of the couch and the bottom of the blinds that allows me to peek out on a scorching, quiet world. Nobody is out-and-about. The rose bushes climbing up the trellis look a little sad. The dogs alternate between panting and snoozing.

It’s August.

I feel kind of sorry for making my mom go into labor during such a miserable time of year (as if I had any control over that). I was supposed to show up at the end of the month or even in early September. But I was in a rush, three weeks early. Bald-headed and a little over five pounds. My dad tells me that I came into the world with my eyes wide open, which I like to think was a sign of the curiosity and hunger for understanding that remains with me.

I’ve reached yet another transitional season of adulthood. I’m not young and stupid, but I’m also not old and wise. I know enough to know better, but not enough to always foresee the oncoming bend in the road. People begin to seek my advice on serious issues like faith and relationships, which is completely frightening. Most scary of all, I’m old enough to have been married long enough to start being looked upon as an example for other, younger wives.

Yikes.

I can’t help but take that seriously.

Today I wonder what kind of advice I can really offer to anyone. The better part of wisdom is knowing just how much you don’t know. Despite all my reading, all my studying – I know very little. But perhaps it’s not about the quantity of knowledge, but rather the quality of knowledge.

With that in mind, I move to pondering what I might wish to say if this were my last birthday. Yeah, yeah. Some of you find that morbid. Hike up your big kid britches. We’re all going to shed this leaky tent; some of us are forced to face that fact sooner than we’d prefer. I am painfully aware on a daily basis that this skin-suit is going to stop working one day. I have no delusions of immortality, none that are beyond the life eternal promised in Christ Jesus.

On this day, then, I want to leave you with some of the truest words I know, the best pieces of wisdom that will light the way through any darkness:

…what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. …

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. …

How can a young man cleanse his way?

By taking heed according to Your word.

With my whole heart I have sought You;

Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!

Your word I have hidden in my heart,

That I might not sin against You.

Blessed are You, O Lord!

Teach me Your statutes.

With my lips I have declared

All the judgments of Your mouth.

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,

As much as in all riches.

I will meditate on Your precepts,

And contemplate Your ways.

I will delight myself in Your statutes;

I will not forget Your word. …

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. …

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Hebrews 11:32-12:3; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; 1 John 2:15-17; Psalm 119:9-16; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Matthew 28:20b (NKJV)

Look to Jesus. Cry out to Jesus. Follow Jesus. Rest in Jesus.

Now, instead of singing happy birthday to me, go and sing to Him.

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Linking up with Suzanne EllerHolley Gerth and  Susan Mead.