Death

A few weeks ago, Cáceres put up a memorial for those who passed away from corona. I personally know more than one person who will stand before it and mourn for their family members.

Death is never welcome. We want life and we want it to the full and it’s right to long for that.

During lockdown, for 48 days I leaned out of our window to clap for the medical personnel who were, as they say in Spanish, “at the foot of the canon” — fighting for life, watching suffering, and holding hands with death. I thought of the nurses I know and love and they are plenty, both in the States as well as Spain.

Forty eight times I clapped for them and more than that I prayed for them and checked in on them.

Then one day I saw the video of someone I know being wheeled victoriously out of the ICU while all the medical staff did their own clapping, celebrating that one victory over corona.

We celebrate life because we were made for it. We were made for fullness of joy and vibrant life and wholeness.

I’ve thought more about death — in general, of friends or family dying, of my own death — in the past five months than I have in a long time. I hope I’m not the only one.

This virus threatens to take our health and even our very breath; send us to the grave early, if you’ll pardon the frankness.

I was meant to inhabit this physical, 5’5″ body for a number of years. But, my days are counted. I have a birth date as well as a death date. I will grow old and get wrinkly skin.

If I don’t die of corona, I will die of something else. It takes a while for this to sink in and I don’t love to ponder it, but we must.

GB Caird says, “All men must die, and the question mark which death sets over their existence is just as great whether they die late or soon, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. Their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or by the manner of their death… But by the opening of the heavenly books and by the true and just judgments which proceeds from the great white throne. The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is [idolatry].”

Jesus is the one I want to walk me through the gates of death and represent me before that throne. We must have more to stand on in life than a probability that we will survive this crisis or the cheap encouragement that “everything will be okay.”

Everything in our lifetime on earth might not be “okay” and you or I or someone we love might not live another day.

Although that uncertainty is actually how life always is, this odd, unknown virus puts us face-to-face with our humanity, our fragility.

We feel deep in our bones that we were made for fullness of life, not death. We were made for a perfect, flourishing, rich garden. I take comfort in the fact that the God who created us for that full life swooped down in human flesh to taste human suffering, to die and turn death into merely a seed that brings life.

I find myself afraid of the process of dying, but not death itself.

We westerners have a limited perspective on the supernatural. In general, we have eyes to see our physical life and little else.

It’s worthwhile to admit that we know so little. What if death isn’t the end — what if it’s the beginning? What if this life is not the most precious thing but merely a shadow of real life?

I’m currently studying the book of Revelation. That, combined with reading CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has helped me begin to imagine what is happening in the kingdom we are often unaware of and with the King we dare to ignore. Let’s peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what we can’t see with our earthly eyeballs.

There is a King on a throne who is wiser than I can imagine. When I’ve chosen the privilege of connecting with him, trusting Him, and joining His kingdom, fullness of life starts now and continues even after I change this body for a brand new one.

In Christ, the one who conquered death, death can not steal from me.

““The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:10)

How do you think about death?

Using corona to kick selfishness to the curb

If I wanted some extra opportunities to grow in selflessness (and I did… kind of), I got them.

We all did. Hello, corona!

I don’t want to pass them up! I don’t want to miss the chance to take the 💩 of living in a corona-world and turn it upside-down — use it for good in my heart and for blessing in the lives of people I know.

If I can leverage this as a super duper opportunity to kill selfishness in my heart, forego my comfort for the sake of someone else, prioritize the needs of others, think first of my neighbor and esteem them highly… friends and family and brothers and sisters…

Well, if I can make it work for me in that way, I will be a bit closer to the woman God wants me to be, my tiny world will be a bit better, and the people I (figuratively) rub shoulders with will, hopefully, feel a bit more loved, valued, and cared for. Seems like one great way to make all of this worth it in the long run.

I think this has to be an active and purposeful training-out of the selfishness inside my heart, though. It’s possible to live in this time of corona and still be a selfish person. The year 2020 isn’t going to automatically take away my selfish side.

Maybe it should look like intentionally asking myself each day how I can prioritize someone else; who I need to take into account; where I can give, not take.

How would you put 2020 to work to train the selfishness right out of your heart? I’m taking suggestions!

I’m here to squeeze corona for all it’s worth.

No problem, 2020: I see you and with the Lord’s help, I’m gonna use you to kill a bit more of the self-centeredness in my soul.

Returning to Normal

While we were still in lockdown, I walked alone to the grocery store. I passed a park with a grassy area — uncharacteristically sloppy, unkempt, and overgrown, making the deserted streets look even more like a ghost town. Looking up, I saw Spanish flags with small, black bows in memory of the ones the virus has taken.

Last week as I was buying groceries, the entire store fell into a hushed stillness as we paused for 60 seconds to remember those no longer here.

A few days ago I spent time with a friend who told me she still feels a bit “messed up” from the seven weeks we spent in our apartments without leaving. No doubt many of us are, in various ways.

With more freedom to move around and gather, funerals are finally being held for the ones that were buried in a hurry. Tens of thousands of people are grieving right now, even as Spain’s street cafes and bars begin to pulse back to life.

While we return to shop and spend and do business and see friends, to return to “normal” after all of this would not be right or healthy. To move along as if nothing happened would be a mistake.

To skip the step of processing and mourning would be a mistake. Although of course we rightly delight in moving around and seeing loved ones and enjoying life, hurriedly returning to superficial happiness and comfort is not the priority here.

Landing in peace and joy after wading through grief, hard conversations, and a good bit of self-examination is more important right now.

I want myself and all of us to meaning out of all of this. This strange virus is not a random biological event. There is meaning and much to learn and we have to mine for it, sift it out, and be okay if that process involves sitting in some discomfort and awkwardness.

I hope we take a uncomfortable moment to think about life and death.

I hope we treat each other more kindly and tenderly than we used to.

I hope we cherish relationships and look into each other’s eyes.

I hope we stop to ask friends how they’re really doing right now, then listen to the answer.

I hope we learn how to be more human and less like our own gods.

I hope we remember for a long time to come that we can’t count on our perfectly-laid plans for the future.

I hope we reflect on how we want to change and ways that this has shaped us.

I hope we cry with those who are crying and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

I hope we feel our spirit yearning for life and listen to the One who created it.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep

Today begins phase one of reopening here in Spain. The first step toward the new normal. And of course every country is doing it differently and everyone has something to say about it.

Is Spain doing it right? Are various states in the USA doing it right? As much as we like to think we know, no one does, and we all have a different perspective.

There’s the idea that we don’t really react to the weight of something until it affects our personal life. An issue doesn’t really take up space in our brains or hearts until it comes knocking at our door or in our neighborhood, affects us or our friends or family. To an extent, it’s true.

Our experience inevitably changes how we approach, see, and handle an issue or situation.

Here in Spain, corona (that’s my favorite name for it) is not far from any of us — both physically and emotionally. I’ve had friends who have been hospitalized with corona, others who have held the hands of those dying alone in nursing homes, one who has worked long long hours in the hospital, another whose mother passed away. And of course the physical health aspect is just one part.

It’s knocking on my friends’ door and affecting their lives.

Feeling certain effects of something doesn’t necessarily mean we know what the right, best, or good course of action is. Likewise, being removed from a situation doesn’t automatically mean we see it more clearly and can make the right call.

Both simply mean we understand different things, feel weight in places other people don’t.

Does anyone know the perfect way to handle shutting down or reopening in any country? No. Is everyone’s opinion influenced by the people they know, where they live, and how they’re affected? Yes.

None of us have the wisdom to know what to do or what is best. But, we can know a few important things to do and I think one of those things is this:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” -Romans 12:15-16

Right now some are weeping and some are rejoicing. And some are trying to rejoice over events that should be commemorated with a celebration but are not.

While I can (and should) think critically and share opinions and look at the big-scale picture, I’m not sure that’s what really matters right now. Humbly supporting and loving — through the good and the bad — the individuals I know and “not being wise in my own eyes” is what I want to focus on.

Empathy?

Here in Spain, the little ones are getting their first taste of this different and unsettling world outside of their home. Four days ago was the first time kids have been allowed outside since coronavirus hit the second week of March.

I’m trying to imagine what an 8-year-old thinks when they’re face-to-face with this for the first time: everyone in face masks, no friends to play with, empty streets, and forbidden playgrounds.

I didn’t have to imagine too long before I got a glimpse of what it might be like for them. On my walk home from the grocery store, I passed a mom with her daughter scooting along on a scooter. When the girl saw me, she hopped off her scooter, whimpered, and grabbed onto her mom’s leg. She could see only my eyes and not the smile I gave her. It must all be so strange and scary for the little ones. It was for me the first couple of weeks, too! I wanted to say to that little scooting girl “I understand! I know what it feels like to see all of this for the first time!”

I’ve been thinking about empathy.

It would seem that we should all have more empathy than ever now, right? Since almost no country is untouched, we are all living through coronavirus and quarantine and we can empathize; we can understand what each other is going through.

We say “I know what you mean…” and launch into how we totally get it because, of course, we are being affected by coronavirus, too.

We understand. Or at least we think we do, and I think that’s the problem.

True, we are all living under the effects of this crazy pandemic. But I think we are empathizing with others when we really have no way of understanding what they’re actually going through.

All of our lives are being dramatically affected by the same virus, but the way it plays out in each of our individual lives is radically different. We can’t even begin to compare one story to another. We can’t empathize as much as we think we can.

Some are working like crazy, others are suddenly jobless. Some are on lockdown, others are social distancing. Some have mental health challenges, others have physical challenges. Some have cancelled weddings, others have cancelled trips. Some have lost loved ones, others have been untouched. Some are barely coping emotionally, others are trucking right along.

I could go on, but you get the point.

We are all living through coronavirus but our lives are quite different and our hurts and struggles are as well. Let’s not pretend they’re very similar.

Less “I know, me too!” and “I know exactly how you feel.”

More “Wow, I’m so sorry, that stinks” and “Tell me what this is like for you.”

Life Today

I rolled out of bed with a headache this morning. Things are starting to catch up to all of us at this point.

The world continues to reel and we are dizzy with the spin of it. I ache for my affected friends and pray and continue to sit in my home.

My back is rebelling against all that time sitting combined with the unusual living room workouts I’ve been doing. Can’t sit and can’t stand and “I can’t wait until I can go for a walk to work out the kinks,” I thought to myself. Instead, I got creative with a standing desk for today and mentally braced myself for a few more weeks of this.

It is easy to feel as though this life we are living right now, this daily movement confined to a few hundred square feet, is a sort of half-life. Like life is on hold until things return back to “normal.”

But it’s not on hold! This very day is my life. This is no half-life! This is the real deal — today.

Henri Nouwen wisely said, “While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will get better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with deep trust that God will never leave us alone.”

And so while I long for future wholeness, I live in the present. Maybe a heart full of hope means not thinking about tomorrow much at all — not worrying about the hardships that are sure to come, nor pining with flimsy optimism for the good days we want.

Instead, I should live firmly planted in the present day, the life I’ve been given. I will ground my feet to the earth (or in my case, the floor) that’s beneath them and live this day as I’ve lived all the other ones of my life: with the grace and strength I’m given.

C.S. Lewis gives a great reminder for our overactive minds: ”Remember, one is given the strength to bear what happens, but not the 101 different things that might happen.”

I have strength for this very day and I’ll live it as if it were the realest day of my life! And it is. I was, quite literally, born for this day.

I’ll live this day in the same way and out of the same identity as I’ve lived all my other days. There is strength and mercy for this present day. Tomorrow morning I’ll get more.

‭ “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations‬ ‭3:21-23‬)‭

Smile Lines

Who knew that I would come to love smile lines?

On Monday I stepped out of my apartment for the second time in 15 days. I slipped on the face mask that was given to us before we started stacking boxes at the food pantry. Four other pairs of gloved hands lifted boxes, handed them to me as we made a human chain. Four other pairs of eyes, smiling at me with their smile lines. I got to know them by their eyes and knew they were grinning when the beautiful wrinkles showed up.

Wearing that same mask, I went to the fruit and veggie store. The sign on the window reads: “Please, only one person inside.” After waiting my turn outside, I backed away as an elderly man, also wearing a face mask, exited. As I let him pass, I lifted my eyes and showed him my best smile lines. His crinkled up, too.

Inside, Julian the fruit man had his own mask. His muffled voice asked how many peppers I wanted and if I was going to eat both of my avocados today or wanted a less-ripe one for later this week.

I can’t wait to see the smiles behind these smile lines, but I also won’t forget to love these wrinkles — every single part of these beautiful faces.