The greatest reward for pandemic risk

Assessing risk is hard anytime, but, in a pandemic, it’s even harder. But it’s paramount.

People should think “The coronavirus kills and is unpredictable, so I should wear a mask, especially indoors, and socially distance so I don’t transmit or get infected and become a transmitter.” But many don’t.

Especially in the US.

People aren’t socially distancing. People aren’t wearing masks.

And I think it has a lot to do with how people assess risk. Yes, it’s not the only reason the virus is rampant in our country. Sure, people are selfish. And true, people think the pandemic is a hoax. But there’s also this critical mental exercise that so many of us fail to practice that often harms us. We don’t think realistically about the downside of our actions.

And, to be honest, that’s the wonderful thing about Americans: we are optimists. We attempt the impossible because we refuse to see the impossibilities. That’s what makes us scrappy, entrepreneurial, rugged, dogged, where many of us have an I-can’t-let-some-stupid-virus-stop-me-from-living-my-best-life mindset. That’s an attribute—in a pre-pandemic world.

My mother. I love her. She’s an octogenarian. She’s old. And last week she went to a store with my sister and picked up legos for my first born son. And I scolded her for it. Because, to me, going to the store with my sister to pick up legos for my son isn’t worth the risk of putting herself in danger of getting a virus that would likely kill her. But she scoffed at me.

The virus turns optimism against us. It seizes that which is usually a strength in a non-pandemic world and turns it into, not only a weakness, but a weapon. See, my mother’s ventures into a toy store can lead to her getting herself, or me, or my son, or others, sick.

Often we don’t even know what the stakes are. We’re completely unaware. That’s especially true now. I think it’s because the virus can’t be seen and anyone who’s sick is behind hospital walls and you can’t really see what is going on with them. All we have are some stories people tell us in the media or social media. And we lack the imagination and awareness (maybe even the humility) to apply those horrific accounts to ourselves.

Till it’s too late.

The pandemic is a long view problem. Short term desires and actions only threaten and kill more people. There are no quick fixes. It needs to be handled with creating new habits, patterns, thinking that affect our lives. But too many refuse to think that way, and, instead, they do what they want when they want because that’s what they’ve always done.

But the pandemic isn’t about losing money or failure or losing a job or getting broken up with—no. It’s about death. It’s about forfeiting your life, or, worse, your actions costing the lives of your loved ones. When we are cavalier and careless, trying to live on as if the pandemic didn’t exist, we aren’t endangering just ourselves; we are risking the lives of everyone we love, too.

See, the world has changed; and in order to survive, even thrive in it, we must also change. We must adapt. What once was safe is now dangerous, no matter how optimistic we feel. And with each interaction with the physical world, we must measure it against this new reality.

And if you do, there is reward.

It’s life.


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Savoring life

Life is short; enjoy today.

This week an old friend’s wife died. It was sudden—tragic. She was young, around my age, too young to die. They likely had dreams of growing gray together, wrinkled, swinging on a creaky porch swing, talking about their grown kids and grandkids. Now that’s gone.

See, life can sucker punch you in the face. It can knock the wind out of you, and make you feel like you’re dying.

But that’s not my point. The point is to enjoy—no, savor—each day.

And I don’t mean to party hard and do something thrilling. I mean sip and take in the moments and the mundane things like embracing your spouse, telling your loved ones that you love them, eating a home cooked meal with family—the things we get to do everyday, but often take for granted because they are so normal. When placed against the finality of death, those are the things that matter most.

So let your palate of life absorb each and every flavor. Relish them. Feel satiated.

For life’s a delicious gift.

Give thanks.


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Things got weirder

These past few days things just got weirder.

An image of a married couple brandishing firearms and pointing them at people who were peacefully protesting shocked me.

They live in my city. They’re not far from me, which only added to the weirdness.

These people, who are basically my neighbors, looked like some strange mash up of Rambo and James Bond. And I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What would cause someone to do something like that?’

And the only thing I could think of was this.

Fear—naked and unadulterated terror.

It distorts reality, dements our thinking, bends our minds away from facts into a terrible fiction. It makes peaceful protestors into “terrorists.” It can make something uncomfortable into a nightmarish scene that came from a movie like The Ring.

But the fact is that we all live with fear. They just lived it in public, captured on video, shared on public media.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending them. What they did was absolutely wrong. They could have killed someone. Their actions were reckless, foolish, and terrible.

But, I am trying to understand why someone in my city would do something so outrageous. What would cause someone to think, “You know what? I’m going to grab my semiautomatic rifle and take it out to the lawn and hold the line,” and then I say, “Hey, Honey! Grab your pistol and meet me out there!” I mean, you don’t do that unless you thought it’s a good idea, or felt compelled somehow.

And that’s the issue isn’t it? What made them think it was a good idea?

Any rational human would have known it would get filmed and splashed on social media. Anyone who would have taken a second and breathed in and out and asked themselves, “Is pulling out firearms in public the right move?” would have realized how idiotic it was.

Yet they didn’t. And they stood their ground, holding the line, imagining they were defending their hill to the death even though death never came for them.

St. Louis is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve live in other parts of the country (New York City and San Diego). I’ve traveled. But St. Louis is great. It has amazing amenities, it has rolling hills, lakes and rivers, bursts with color with the autumnal foliage, and the nicest people. (They usually don’t wave their guns around.) Really.

They will smile and wave at you. That’s right. Complete strangers look at you in the eyes, acknowledge your humanity and then greet you warmly. Let me tell you something, that didn’t happen in NYC. I love that place but it isn’t known for its friendliness. But St. Louis is friendly, exceedingly so.

Now you juxtapose that with these two gun slingers. It’s strange. But in a way it’s not.

St. Louis has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation for a reason. We love our 2nd amendment here in Missouri. And it doesn’t take much to see it. When I scroll down my Facebook feed, I’ll see friends holding their AR15 or a family member talking about this new “easy conceal and carry” that they bought for the missus.

And the city’s love for guns is largely due to the fact that we are a very conservative (I’m not using the term in the political sense, although that’s true, too) city. We love safety, comfort, ease of living. I mean, there’s a reason why this is one of the most affordable cities to live in and pays some of the highest wages. We love to be fat and happy here, quietly living in our fiefdoms in fly-over country, unbothered, unmolested, eating pasta, toasted ravioli, custard, and thin crust pizza until we are rub-your-belly full.

But then you have barbarians “breaking down” the gate terrorizing a private street, invading their land, penetrating their border and ransacking their village of a city block.

That broke up the tranquility of this couple’s existence and disturbed their daily life, the safety they felt. It’s likely they’ve been feeling uneasy for months, not just from the pandemic but the “riots.” Tensions within in their home might have been high, as it has been for many of us.

And seeing strangers barging into their neighborhood was the last straw, and their frayed nerves were exposed for the world to see, witness, jeer at, and ridicule.

They are the butt end of a national joke.

And yet, they’re not. There are many in our nation who believe them right and good, righteous even. More said, “Good for them,” than I ever thought would have, as if what they were doing was their God-given right and the best idea to execute. People even seemed to envy their behavior and saw it as something to aspire to, as if waving a gun at innocent people was an act one should do.

It’s disturbing.

The most ironic part of this whole situation was that the couple said that they believed in the Black Lives Matter movement. They didn’t want people to think that they didn’t believe in it they said in an interview after the incident. That was the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And that caught me off guard the most.

And I thought, ‘How could a couple who believes in Black Lives Matter point weapons at protestors who were for Black Lives Matter?’

We humans are frail creatures. Empathy isn’t just needed for some people, but for all people. I know what these people did was completely wrong and stupid. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been idiotic, brash, harsh, foolish. I don’t own a firearm but I’ve thought about it.

So, in all of this weirdness, I’ll end with this weird thought.

It’s easy to point the finger and wag our heads and say what is off with those people. But I wonder if we shouldn’t be grateful that we’ve been spared from doing something like that and acknowledge that if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that could be us. We could be caught doing the dumbest things we’ve ever done on video.

And if we think like that, maybe, just maybe, our world could be a little kinder, and generous, and gracious, even to those who are having the worst day of their life.


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Heal your wounds

The key to healing a wound is to move toward the pain.

You know the relational or financial or emotional problems that happen in life. They hurt us.

We’re wounded.

But if you don’t face the uncomfortable, even agonizing conversations you don’t want to have with your partner, friend, mother, it only makes the relationship harder, unhealthier.

Or if you don’t look at your finances as they are and really dig into them, that will only make your financial future grimmer, darker.

Maybe something in your past is haunting you. Some act you did or was done to you sits on your mind, heart, burdening you. And you want to ignore it, but it only weighs you down, like an anchor, drowning you.

The only way to heal is to move toward our fears, what pains us.

It’s like a cut.

My son runs around and often get scrapes and bleeds. When that happens, he knows the next thing we are going to do. We bring him into the bathroom and clean off the wound with soap and water. He screams, cries, hates it—all of it. But if we didn’t do that, he would only have bigger problems later, get an infection, or worse.

Likewise you need to push into the pain. Even after you grimace, maybe scream, you must press into the difficult conversation, make the terrible spreadsheet, talk to a therapist. You need to face the things that scare you.

And it will be like a surgeon taking a scalpel to an infection, cleansing you, healing you. It will keep you from greater pain.

It cuts, but it heals.

You’ll feel whole.


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You are not an imposter

You’re not an imposter; you’re just in-process.

You might be a father learning to parent, an employee who is progressing in your career, an entrepreneur hustling to survive, or a couple trying to forge a healthy marriage. That’s good; that’s great.

Life is a process.

Anytime you try something, do something, go somewhere, you’re not going to be an expert, specialist, authority, master.

And it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong, like you’re “faking it.” But you’re not.

For anyone to become a master, you have to be a beginner. You have to muddle through, practice, attempt, fail, then try again and improve.

You’re in-process.

There’s nothing more real than that.

Even experts still need to learn and feel like imposters, because we’re all continuing to learn, grow, and become.

See, to do anything, everyone is an “imposter.” Everyone is between a beginner and expert, student and teacher, birth and death.

And that’s a great place to be. That’s where the adventure is, learnings are found, discoveries are made—life is lived.

So just because you don’t know as much as you want to or feel out of your depth or lack clarity on the future, that doesn’t make you lesser.

It just means you’re on a great journey to better things.

The key is to keep moving forward.


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Gain More Gratitude by Doing This

He asked for $50.

This week my friend told me a story that broke my heart. The man who mowed my friend’s lawn, came up after he finished his work and told him that he really needed money and asked if he could borrow some. He needed $50.

Could you imagine working up the courage, the shame inducing gumption, to ask for that? Not $100,000, $10,000, or $1,000, not even $100. It was 50.

My friend held out the money and said, “Take it, but, please, don’t worry about paying it back.”

I’m writing this not to make you feel bad. It’s just to raise the awareness of the utter pain, stress, and agony that is going on in the world (which I was barely aware of until I heard a few stories recently, including the one I just told).

If you have more than many, then you should give to those who have less.

That will not only change your mindset of thinking you don’t have enough; it will remind you of how much you really have.

Giving to others makes us grateful.


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What Is the Value of a Black Person’s Life?

What is the value of a human life? Or to be more precise what is it for a black person’s life?

Is it worth subordinating your agenda, your rights, your feelings, your privilege, your race?

Is it worth getting unfollowed, unliked, ghosted, canceled, hated, arrested, despised?

Is it worth protests, standing against police lines, facing your fears, being subjected to violence, losing property to looting?

If you’re a Christian, like me, you believe that all people—every tribe, tongue, nation, religion, race—has infinite value. Humans are created in the image of God. And to murder that bearer of God’s face is like murdering God.

That’s why ending a human’s life is so solemn, the heaviest of decisions.

But we know that.

The problem, I believe, isn’t that we’ve forgotten the value of human life.

The problem is this: We’ve never known the value of a black person’s life.

That. Must. Change.

It is time to see that black lives don’t just matter, they are valuable, just as valuable as our own, as our child’s, our mother’s, our friends’.

When we know that, the world will be transformed.

You will transform.

One of the Most Powerful Things You Can Do

Words are powerful, but this has even more power: Listening.

When you take the time to turn your ear, pay attention, and ask good questions to others, you build bridges, change history, and move mountains. You are connecting.

That will reverberate across time and space. You are making others feel loved by your act of quietude, which harmonizes with the chorus of the universe.

To listen to someone seems passive, but it’s one of the most active things you can do.

You’re catching that person’s mind, heart, and soul, like a seashell catches the ocean’s sound. And that act will echo throughout eternity with the sweet sounds of serenity and roaring adoration.

Compassion is eternal.

Listening to others creates the music of life, where relationships dance, marriages harmonize, and the arias of forgiveness bring tears to our eyes; children will find it easier to laugh and play, communities band together, and the melody of goodness rings in the air.

If you listen, you will have understanding, healthy connections, and wisdom.

But more importantly, life will swell into an overpowering crescendo that sings forth love.

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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