When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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The pandemic isn’t over

It’s a matter of life or death. What is? This: Who you’re listening to. Don’t listen to the stories, the ideological frameworks, the politics, businesses, even your own urges.

Everyone has their agenda; campaigners want to win campaigns; businesses want your money; government officials want to be voted back in office; you just want everything to feel ok. They, and you, are all biased and want something from you. Don’t heed them.

This week we had a school official reach out to us to get our child to come to a meet and greet at his new school, to meet his new teacher, which would be incredible—if it weren’t for the virus ravaging our world population. And the school official emailed repeatedly, asking us to come into the classroom with other kids. Yes, it would be a smallish group, but still indoors with others. We asked if we could do it out of doors. She said no.

We didn’t listen to her.

You shouldn’t listen to them either.

You should listen to the data.

And the data is speaking loudly. It’s saying this.

The virus is alive and well.

And it’s dangerous.


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This Is What Love Looks Like

I have an uncle that I admire. His name is Rick.

You probably don’t know him. But, if you did, you would sense that he’s different.

He’s one of the most loving guys I know. And we can all learn from him.

When he wants to talk to my wife or me, he will call and call until he gets a hold of us. If he can’t reach me, he’ll call my wife. If she doesn’t pick up, he will call me, then her, then me, then her again. And if he still can’t reach us, he will wait a few hours then call us again, even if we don’t call back.

When he finally reaches us, he will ask to see us. There’s no shame or guilt in his tone; he’s not upset that we didn’t pick up or call him back. He seems genuinely happy to talk to us. And while my wife and I are deliberating on when to see him, I will look at my wife and she will look at me, while Uncle Rick is still on the phone–waiting. He’s not pestering us. He’s not shrinking or embarrassed that we are taking our time. He quietly waits.

And then when we eventually say, “Yes, it would be great to see you!” he’s delighted. Even though he had to wait minutes for us to figure out the timing, he didn’t interpret it as us not wanting to see him. He gives us the benefit of the doubt.

When he shows up, he blesses us. He loves on us with his words, big smiles, and kind gestures. He brings gifts for our kids; he wishes us well.

And that whole series of events from calling to showing up hasn’t just happened once, it’s happened multiple times, in one form or another, since my wife and I married.

See, Rick’s a pitbull of love. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s not deterred by our indecision, upset by our uncertainty, troubled when we don’t call back. He just keeps coming.

He doesn’t think, “Oh, these people have disrespected me by not calling me back or not picking up or making me wait.” No. He just keeps on loving.

And I love him for it. I can’t help but respect him for it. I admire him and try to imitate him. He inspires me. I’m far from being like him, but I’m trying.

I hope he inspires you, too.

In a world that is broken relationally, we need that type of behavior. We need people who fight for each other, take the initiative, reach out, and give generously. We need more generosity. We need more Uncle Ricks.

What would this world look like if people were more resolute, resilient, resolved, tenacious, unwavering for others? What would we as a people be like if we loved each other through the awkwardness, the pauses, the silence? 

We should all be more like Uncle Rick.

Let’s try today.


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This Is How I See You

You are glorious.

You are lovely; you are loved. You are a child, a daughter, a son, family, a friend.

You are valuable regardless of your story, your brokenness, your failures.

You are beautiful. You are radiant. I see it in you; you can too.

Love yourself. See yourself.

Look into your face. Don’t note the “flaws.”

Instead gaze through my eyes as I turn to you and behold the face of God.

Lots of love,

John


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The Best Thing About Our Baby Having a Cleft Lip and Palate

Our son was born with a birth defect called a cleft lip and palate.

This happens when the lip and roof of a baby’s mouth doesn’t fully close up in the womb creating a gap, thus the “cleft.”

During almost all of the pregnancy, we went about our lives completely unaware of it.

We were so excited to have another child, and with each passing day, the excitement grew. And around 36 weeks, we were ready to pop emotionally and physically. But something strange started to happen.

My wife experienced mild contractions, but not enough for labor. We were surprised but not scared, at first. Then the contractions went on for days.

Alarmed, our midwives thought it could be the placenta blocking the birth canal, which was scary. So they rushed to get us an appointment for a full anatomy scan of the baby to see if that was the case. It wasn’t.

But the doctor found something else.

In the tiny examining room (in New York City most rooms are tighter than you think they should be), my wife could sense that the doctor was uncomfortable. Eventually she found the words to say, “Your baby has a cleft lip and palate.”

I couldn’t be at the appointment but met my wife at the clinic so that we could walk home together. When I saw her there, she melted into tears. So I wrapped my arms around her and tried to provide some comfort.

Her reaction frightened me, and I asked her if the baby was ok. She said yes. But there was clearly more. Then she told me why she was so distraught.

And, after a moment, I said, “So, he’ll be like Joaquin Phoenix.”

She looked at me with a look that said: “What the #%*# are you talking about?” So to clarify, I said, “You know, the actor with the cleft lip; he’s famous,” and rattled off a couple of his better movies.

She ignored me. “I guess she wasn’t looking for clarity,” I thought.

Eventually, we walked out of the sterile clinic, hand in hand, bracing ourselves for the unknown as we plunged into the outer world.

Once we hit the streets, we prayed. It helped both of us.

Then we did the thing that she was dying to do—plan. Planning is my wife’s love language. So we talked through the scenarios and what we needed to do to find the best care we could and how we would go about it. I was already googling up physicians in NYC who specialized in this as we walked through Brooklyn on a chilly but sunny day. A course of action started or form as we made our way to the subway platform.

Everything started to feel ok again, when she said, “So. Joaquin Pheonix,” and smirked at me. “Yeah,” I said, as I googled him up and showed her a picture of him, “He’s a good looking dude, right?” She seemed to give an approving look. I said, “See. Our baby will be fine,” reassuring her.

A couple of days later, she went into labor. We weren’t sure if the baby was coming or not. But then something switched on, and it got real.

And all the while my wife was laboring, I held a hope that our baby didn’t have a cleft thinking there was a chance the doctor was wrong. But she wasn’t.

Twenty minutes later, our son was born, and it happened so fast that the midwives didn’t have time to arrive to make the birth. So my wife and I were alone (as we were for the first one).

He was healthy, but he had a full unilateral cleft lip and palate, which means his cleft was on one side and extended to the back of his mouth and up to his nostril.

I just wanted our son to be ok, healthy, “normal.” He was beautiful. But he was also different. He had a gap in his face.

Surgeries were also in his near future.

We had already researched all kinds of doctors, knowing who was the best and where they worked and reviewed their resumes and read all of the reviews and what so and so said about them in 2013. We talked to other parents of cleft babies and asked about their surgeons. We dug deep.

Then it was time to do interviews, which sounded like speed dating with surgeons. We set up meetings with our top three.

But after interviewing the first one, something clicked. He was confident, as all surgeons are. But more than that, he had a determination to provide the best outcome for his patients. And the postoperative pictures were amazing. Also, he specialized in cleft operations. It’s all he did. And somehow, there was even a twinge of humility in him. We liked him; and more importantly, we trusted him. So we canceled the other interviews because we didn’t need to look further. He was our guy.

The weeks that ensued were much harder than we thought they would be. It probably had to do with the fact that we were essentially shaping our baby’s face with a piece of acrylic, called a NAM.

Our baby basically needed a “retainer” for the gums, called a nasoalveolar molding (or NAM). It’s like that plastic contraption people wear on their teeth that an orthodontist will give them after they get out of braces. But our baby had that for his gums on his upper jaw (since newborns don’t have teeth).

He had to wear the NAM all day every day for the most part. And my wife and I (but mostly she) would fasten it to his face with surgical tape and rubber bands, the same ridiculously tiny ones used for braces. Every week my wife would go in to see the dentist so that he could adjust the NAM.

Our baby screamed a lot during that time because shaping a face with a big piece of acrylic in your mouth probably hurt him, or at least it was super annoying. So, like a banshee, he would rail at the top of his lungs. And for such a small human, he had a huge voice. And he would employ it for hours, sending us curling into a fetal position, feeling like we needed to vomit. It was hell.

There was also some screaming between my wife and me. I mean, having a newborn is hard enough with the lack of sleep and diapers and blowouts and making sure they’re gaining weight. Fights are bound to happen. But add the fact that your trying to pull one side of your son’s upper jaw to the other side to close a wide gap in his face is something else entirely. Babies cause stress. With the cleft, that was taken to another level. Sometimes we went nuclear.

But regardless of who was screaming and no matter how loud it was, we were grateful for the results. We knew that doing the NAM well would make a huge difference for the outcome of our child, so we wanted to overachieve here. And, Thank God, it worked.

After three months, the cleft shrank to a sliver.

But, nothing prepares you for letting your three month old baby go under the knife. The surgeries were planned. And the first one was scheduled. But we were terrified.

The lip and nose came first. Waiting for him to get out of the operation was terrible, but the transformation was astounding. After the swelling from the surgery went down and he started looking like our baby again instead of a boxer after fighting ten rounds, it almost looked like he never had a cleft. (These days, you can’t even see the scar.) It was amazing.

Then seven months later, right as the coronavirus started to ramp up in NYC, we had the palate surgery. To this day, I have no idea how the surgeon closed up the cleft on the roof of his mouth. One moment our baby had a gap on the top of his mouth. Then, later that same day, it was gone.

There was only one problem. It was agonizing for our baby. With stitching everywhere and raw flesh, it looked like the roof of his mouth was Frankenstein-ed together. It essentially was. And that meant pain. He was desperate for pain-killers, which we gave him. We agonized with him.

But all of that is past us now.

And these days, what happened almost feels like a dream, a distant memory of some event that probably occurred. It could have been someone else. And the truth is, it is.

There are thousands of other families who go through a similar experience, and many aren’t able to get the kind of care we received.

So, I’m grateful. It makes us—my family and me—more compassionate. We can empathize with and have compassion for those who also have difficulties or circumstances that are worse than ours. All of this has softened our hearts and made us more aware how hard parenting can really be. Having a baby is a dangerous business. It can crush your heart. But it’s worth the risk.

Best of all, we are grateful that God gave us this baby. He’s special. He’s undergone a lifetime of pain before he’s even tasted his first birthday cake. Some of the experiences were awful, but they gave us perspective. And we are richer because of him and all of the moments we’ve had, good—and bad.

Before the birth of our baby, if you had told me that a birth defect could be a gift, I would have thought the idea ridiculous. But now, I know it’s not.

We are blessed: We have a son who looks like Joaquin Phoenix. 😉

This is Cleft Awareness Week. And this is our story of having a cleft baby.

Love to you all.


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This Perspective Helps You Live

Stories of death have been haunting me lately, helping me view the world, better.

This week I read two posts about people I know who lost loved ones, not to the pandemic, but tragically nonetheless. One lost a young wife, and the other, a baby who was stillborn.

And while my eyes pored over the words filled with loss, there was a pressure on my chest, and a sorrow that filled me, the same feelings I felt when my father passed when I was a boy.

Death feels wrong. No matter how many times people say, “It’s a part of life,” death feels faulty, like looking through a distorted lens leaving everything misshaped. Some say it’s “natural,” but I think it’s the most unnatural thing there is in nature. It always leaves a void, a wound. It feels like a gaping hole in one’s heart. It’s an end that feels like it never ends and where new beginnings cease to be. Of course, that wound will heal, some, but it never fully mends. It will ache. It always will.

But just because death is wrong doesn’t mean that right things can’t result from it. For example, the pandemic is terrible, but it has brought out incredible courage and sacrifice from people, especially those on the frontlines. No one would say that the virus is good. But nonetheless, good can result from it. A gift can still be given even in the bleakest of times, from the worst of events.

For many of us, death also gives us something good. It’s perspective. It’s a mindset given to us, who are left behind, that will go before us for the rest of our lives. It reminds us that there is so much to lose, more than money, possessions, investments, homes. We lose connection, the very thing we all really want the most, the relationship with a wife that didn’t get as many days as she should have, or to hold the crying baby who shouldn’t have died before birth.

There’s a clarity in death that no other event we experience can provide. We see so clearly that life is fragile. We are fragile, mere mortals, who can return to dust again so easily. We can see the treasure we have in time. Yes, it’s finite—and there’s nothing like death to make us realize our finitude—but that fuels the urgency to live fully, making the best of the minutes, hours, days, we’ve been allotted. So we enjoy the present, basking in each moment. Through death, we see life more clearly.

Gratitude, eventually, somehow flows more naturally after a loved one dies. When death takes what feels like everything away from you, the people who remain seem all the more precious. Your life does, too. You see it as you ought—as a gift. Each day, each waking moment, each memory are all gifts to you, to me, to us.

For those who have been humbled, you will understand that you do not have as much control as you want. You are not on the throne. Knowing that, you are able to release that ultimate direction to another, freeing yourself from the burden of trying to reign a land that is beyond your power. For your crown is not big enough to rule life. And in that understanding, you find it strangely freeing.

If you have faith, you will remember that the Son of God wept over death and He Himself suffered a bloody end. He was torn from His earthly mother and Heavenly Father. He knows the powerful grip of Death and how its boney fingers take without care. And yet He rose from the grave, defeating Death by death. And because He knows its sting, He comforts us who suffer at its hand.

My hope is that, even in the heaviness of these words, you find comfort, that you can fly on it’s wings and feel the dawn breaking around you, presenting a fresh new day before your eyes. I also hope that you see the glory of life and that there is much to be grateful for at this moment. And even if you feel an ache right now, I hope you can, even if it’s just for a mere moment, know the goodness of today.

Death does haunt the living, but it can never hold down Life.


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You Are Blessed Today

Each day is a blessing.

If the virus has taught us anything it is to appreciate the fundamental things in life, the essential, like life itself.

If you’re breathing, that’s good. It’s great. Your lungs work as they should. You’re not on a respirator fighting to catch a tiny breath, feeling like your drowning without a drop a water around you.

You’re alive. Right now. You’re healthy (I hope). If you’re not, you’re still fighting and have a chance to recover, stay alive—live.

This day is a blessing. It’s a gift. You get to experience it. You get to wake up, walk, sip on coffee, taste a morsel of food, shower, read—hope.

We may not have all we want. But we have our lives.

We have today.


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The Greatest New Normal

Going to the grocery store looking like you’re about to rob the place or give someone an enema is the new normal.

If you had told me two months ago that my family and I would be doing that and washing all of our food and packages before we put them away and sanitizing our dog’s feet after she goes for a walk and other queer things to stay safe, sanitized, I would have called you nuts.

Yet, here we are…doing those things.

You’re probably experiencing the same thing.

You’re doing things you’ve never done. You’re washing your hands like crazy, for longer than you ever imagined that you ever could or should. But there you are, cleaning every little crevice and pore on your cracking mitts about twenty times a day, trying to lather on the lotion so they don’t crack apart as you desperately try to stay sanitary.

And it’s all amazing, isn’t it? I marvel.

Not at all of the things that we must do. No. It’s still a little weird to me when I really pause to think about all of it.

What amazes me is the human capacity to adjust.

We can change a fair amount fairly quickly and get used to a new normal. We can take the strangest, even harshest environments, and adapt.

We can suffer and find a way to survive. Even thrive.

Throw us in a desert and we will find a way to plant a garden. Put us on an island and we will find a way to make a raft. Quarantine us and we will find a way to create deeper connections with those whom we love.

Is it the human spirit? Maybe.

But I believe it’s more than that. It’s Divine grace that fuels us, even in the midst of pain, especially so.

This holiday season is all about a New Normal.

It’s about a cosmic one where death dies and life lives eternally. Where our bodies don’t decay and spring is the only season. Life lives forever without pain, suffering, loneliness, hunger, uncertainty. And peace, joy, health, wellness, feasting is the norm.

It’s there. Take it.

Believe.

We could have been homeless—A story

It was the end of February, and I was scared.

Something was going on in China. It was shrouded and strange but scary. People were getting sick, and many were dying, and it was growing at an alarming rate.

I started to suspect that it was already in NYC. “I mean, how could it not be?” I thought. It’s a global city, and the number of people who do business in China and have connections there was numerous.

So the four of us in our family self-quarantined and social-distanced, keeping our kindergartner out of school, even though the school called us to tell we should be sending him there and that he would get unexcused absences. But we didn’t care. We cared more about his life, his health.

Also our second child, our baby, had a cleft palate and lip. The latter was already repaired, and the former was scheduled for surgery on March 18th.

But it didn’t feel right. We felt this urgency, that it was only time before NYC was in a panic.

So we moved up the date. They had the 9th open. And we took it and prayed that nothing would happen to cancel it before then.

We were also planning on moving out of NYC even before the pandemic. But that changed these plans as well. After moving up the surgery, we moved up the move and the closing date for our new home in St. Louis. The latter moved from mid-April to March 20th, and the movers would come to NYC on the 18th.

So everything was changed and set.

And now it was the beginning of March, and all we could do was wait.

The first few cases occurred in NYC. But there wasn’t panic yet. People were still going out. No one was wearing facemasks. Bars were still full, restaurants bustling. The city was still the city.

The 9th finally came. Donning a facemask and latex gloves, I walked an hour with our baby in the stroller, to avoid Ubering, to the hospital. I marched into the hospital, ready to do battle against this invisible enemy. No one else wore a mask.

The surgery was a success, and the doctor let us out early because he saw that we were seriously concerned about this virus.

I walked home that night and was greeted by my wife and firstborn. We were happy and relieved and tired.

The following days my wife and I were busy pumping various painkillers into our baby (since he had the roof of his mouth carved up and put back together) and packing to get ready for the movers.

All the while, the cases were jumping. People started dying. We were worried.

The surgeon wanted us to come in for a postoperative appointment. We tried to get out of it. But he wouldn’t let us.

So on March 16th, I went, wearing another facemask. It was quick and easy. Our baby looked great. But then the doctor told me news that sent shivers down my body.

All elective surgeries were canceled that week by the hospital to get ready for the onslaught of patients from COVID-19.

If we hadn’t move up the date for our surgery, it would have been canceled for some indefinite date.

And even now, as I write this, it looks like we would be waiting a very long time to get rescheduled, and we would have needed to go back to NYC to do it.

Instead, we were on the other side and done and just making sure our screaming baby wasn’t in too much pain while we waited for the movers. They arrived on the morning of the 18th and quickly started moving our things into the truck.

Right after they got there, I went into New Jersey to pick up a Suburban we were renting to drive back to St. Louis. We didn’t want to risk flying.

Riding my bike down to the ferry was wonderful. The air was crisp and the Hudson River was on my right and the city was on my left. But it was already changed. It was quieter, more fearful, less certain.

I was the only person on that ferry during rush-hour.

After picking up the car, I got back into the city quickly since there was very little traffic. People were already working from home.

As the movers were finishing up, I wiped down the whole Suburban and started packing it with all of the stuff we needed for the next couple of days. (It’s amazing what a family of four “needs.”) And we had our 80lbs dog and cat.

Driving through the night while still dosing up our baby with a concoction of Motrin and Tylenol, was interesting. But we made it to St. Louis the next day, the 19th.

After staying a night in an Airbnb that a friend let us use, we were set to close on our new home on the 20th. We requested a mobile notary to bring us the documents to sign for our new home. He did.

The movers were supposed to move us in on the 21st, but they said that they could do it on the 20th. So on that afternoon, after we closed, we were totally moved in and unpacking.

On the 20th, NYC was locked down.

On the 23rd, St. Louis was locked down.

If things were off by a couple of days we could have been trapped in NYC; or worse, we could have been homeless. But things worked out, miraculously.

Sure, I guess we could say, “Wow, we are amazing to have done all of that,” but that would be ridiculous because we had no idea what we were doing. We were like a blind person wandering around NYC for the first time: Lost.

It was a Divine hand that was guiding us. It was God’s grace that held us. We were objects of mercy.

The timing was too perfect to be planned.

Right now, we are comfortably situated in our home working, playing, living. We’re still quarantining and healthy. And as each day passes, we are more grateful.

For those of you who prayed for and thought about us, thank you. We really needed you.

We hope you are well, too, friends.

Lots of love,
John


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Just survive

Thriving is great, but sometimes surviving is the best you can do.

Because, you know, life gets crazy.

Jobs get lost, companies go out of business, relationships break, people leave us, we get sick—pandemics happen: crazy: Those are the moments that aren’t controllable and cause us great pain.

Right now, the world can feel like it’s ending and you’re sitting at home worrying. But that only makes things worse.

Worrying makes you despair. But do not do that. Resist. Move forward.

Moment by moment, walk if you can. Crawl if you must.

Start doing what it takes to stay alive. Survive.

Sell that car, extra house, go to a food pantry, self-quarantine, wear a face mask. Do what it takes to live another day.

Who cares if people think you’re doing badly. Who cares if they point and laugh? This isn’t about them. It’s about you.

It’s about you making it to tomorrow, living day by day, getting a fighting chance. That’s it. So appearances be damned.

Make it through today.

These are terrible times. Don’t let your pride or the opinions of others or even your own opinion of yourself stop you from getting through this season.

Take that handout, ask for help, make that request.

Find a way through the crazy.

Survive.


Books to help you survive:

The Outsiders (affiliate): This classic young adult novel will help you get your mind right in this difficult times; it has helped me. And, to be honest, it distracts me from my own struggles so I don’t dwell on them. It’s a great story and wonderfully written and is about the survival of rich and poor kids, who battle each other, but are finding that they both have their own struggles. I hope it serves you well and that you enjoy it as much as I am.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (affiliate): The author, Angela Duckworth, puts forth the idea that talent or genius isn’t what fundamentally drives success. It’s grit. Now, I haven’t broken into this book yet, but it is on my to-read list and comes highly recommended by the people I follow. I mean, grit sounds like something we all need a little bit more of these days.

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