OF EARS AND THUMBS.
It’s difficult to find a human on this planet that hasn’t been affected by COVID in some way. Maybe that hermit on his private Italian island? Maybe some reclusive Antarctic researcher? In one manner or another, though, every life has been altered, whether in regards to health, finances, plans, employment, losing a loved one, or all of the above.
As a society, we need more. More masks, yes. More ventilators. More toilet paper (or more people who don’t hoard). More COVID-19 test kids, especially here in the United States. More adherence to social distancing guidelines. More federal assistance.
More hugs, but that won’t be happening anytime soon.
Most of all, though, we need more ears.
Right now, everyone has a story of how their life has changed. Some have seen their income completely dry up. Some are battling COVID in isolation or in an overcrowded hospital. Some are in danger of losing their businesses, their homes. Some are separated from their loved ones by miles and travel restrictions. Some are trying to work from home but can’t clone themselves and watch their suddenly out-of-school kids as well. Some are about to lose a parent and can’t even plan a funeral because of current regulations. Some have to celebrate their birthdays alone with just themselves and Marco Polo. I, or someone I know well, fall into each of these categories.
With so many voices sharing these legitimate, desperate stories of loss, tragedy, or worry, it seems there aren’t enough ears to go around, and not enough thumbs reaching out and messaging words of hope and love.
I am guilty. I’ve been a little too quick to talk about all that’s gone wrong for me at the hands of this capricious coronavirus, and a little too slow to check in with those who need the two ears I have to offer.
In these times of physical distancing, it’s hard not to feel emotionally distanced, as well.
My heart is warmed by stories from across the globe of individuals, companies, families and organizations that are doing everything technologically possible to stay connected emotionally, relationally, socially.
It’s not enough to read these touching tales on social media and smile while we simultaneously isolate ourselves and binge watch another show. Positive posturing in your social media posts doesn’t count as interpersonal communication. Neither does leaving a sympathetic yet generic comment on someone else’s post.
What we need now, more than anything, is the knowledge that those in our life care. Are there to listen. To love. To understand. Perhaps you know a lonely person who is struggling to make ends meet financially, emotionally, or any other word with the suffix -ally. Perhaps you are that person.
Pick up your phone. Turn off Netflix. Give your thumbs a much-needed workout. Reach out. Say hey. Check in. Truly listen. You have so many apps at your disposal. FaceTime. Skype. Messenger. WhatsApp. Instagram. Good ol’ texting or phone calling. Even banners from your balcony.
Make the effort. I challenge you, and challenge myself, to contact five people today that you haven’t spoken with in awhile. We need each other. We are alone together, never simply alone.
Unprecedented times like these not only show us who our true friends are, but challenge us to be a little less self-absorbed, a little more apt to be the first one to reach out, a little more forgetful of our own needs and problems as we remember to do everything we can to be there for those who need us most.
To be honest, I’ve been discouraged these last few weeks. Self-reflective. Down. I have already spent six out of the last nine months trapped in bed, recovering from falling 80 feet and a subsequent spinal fusion surgery. My life had just started to get back on track, and now I find myself stuck indoors in a familiar place. As someone who needs, relies on, and craves social interaction, my soul is as empty as my bank account threatens to be. I’ve been tempted to shut down, and I already have, for short periods of time.
See? I can’t even make it through one blog post without talking about my own struggles.
From today on, though, I choose to offer my ears. My thumbs. My heart. I choose to remember that I am far from the only one navigating these uncertain, uncharted waters, and that I have much to be thankful for, many to be thankful for.
From today on, I choose to stop thinking as much about how I’m going to get through, and start thinking more about how I can help others get through.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join me.
This piece was originally published on Medium.
What are you worth?
Do you ask yourself this question? Do you fear the answer? Has something, or someone, left you feeling intrinsically less valuable than you, deep down, hope that you are? Believe me, you are not alone.
All of us, in one way or another, spend much of our lives desperately trying to answer the question: “Am I worth it?”
If only discovering our worth was as easy as checking a price tag, or as straightforward as ascribing ourselves a pecuniary value. If only meaning was as simple as money.
Hear me out. Money is, in one regard, fascinatingly simple. Each piece of currency, whether paper, metal, or whichever newly created polymer nations such as Australia, Nicaragua, and Brunei are using, has two important pieces of information on it.
First, currency tells us which country issues it. Second, currency tells us how much it’s worth in that country. With these two simple facts, and with the help of Google, I can tell you exactly how much each yuan, baht, or dong is worth in a currency you can understand.
At face value, it would appear that if we could determine the value of everything, including ourselves, as easily as we can with money, our messed-up priorities would be much easier to arrange, and our moribund sense of value would be simple to resuscitate.
Once we realize, though, that money has very little intrinsic value, but rather has arbitrary worth ascribed to it by a government we may or may not trust, the worth picture becomes much cloudier, and starts to more closely resemble real life. The metal in U.S. pennies and nickels is worth more than the value of the coins themselves, for instance. Printing a U.S. $50 bill costs 3.5 cents more than printing a $100, as well. Nice work, Federal Reserve.
Not only that, but the value that money has can fluctuate wildly, in a global sense. A dollar, for instance, can be valued based on how much it can buy in foreign currencies, as well as through the value of Treasury notes and through foreign exchange reserves. I recently purchased a condo in Mexico, and throughout the closing process, the dollar weakened against the peso. This meant that when it came time to close, I paid almost $1,000 more, in U.S. dollars, for a piece of property that was worth exactly the same amount in pesos as it was the day I submitted my offer.
It turns out money isn’t so simple after all. It also turns out that the way we arbitrarily assign it value, and the way that its worth can be further altered by a variety of factors, closely resembles how we irrationally impute value to ourselves. To each other.
What are you worth? Why are you worth it?
Is your worth found in your paycheck? Your mortgage? Your trophy spouse? Is it found in your friendships, your giving, your acts of service? In what others say about you? What gives us value? What makes us worth anything? Anything at all?
We all have value. We're born with it. We’re aware of it before we’re aware of almost anything else. We come out of the womb expecting, demanding, and deserving love. Attention. A bigger bag of candy. Another toy. Another ride. Another tickle. "Look! Look," we exclaim. Every child’s deepest desire is for someone to notice what they're doing. Validate their existence. Love them.
We all have value. Until we don't.
There comes a time in each and every life when someone tells us we aren’t worth it, and we believe them. Maybe it’s an abusive or neglectful parent. Maybe it’s a classmate in middle school. Maybe it’s the comparisons we inevitably make, lining ourselves up unfavorably next to the quarterback, the homecoming queen, the CEO, the model. Fill in the blank.
Somewhere along the way, we learn that we are valued for what we do and what we have, not for who we are.
Does your worth come from money? Success? Sex? Looks? All of these will crumble and fade, as someone richer, more famous, and better looking comes along to take your place.
Maybe you’ve patted yourself on the back as you’ve moved past these shallow barometers of human worth. Maybe you derive your value from something deeper. "My worth is in the love I give and receive, and in the meaningful relationships I’ve built," you say. So, what happens when those relationships fall apart? When the ones you rely on for love and acceptance turn their backs? Worse yet, when you make mistakes and drive them away?
Perhaps you find your value in service. You work your fingers to the bone, wearing twenty-seven hats at church or at your nonprofit. Perhaps you’re the first to bake cookies for the bake sale, feed the homeless, and give prodigiously to charity. What happens when your health fails and you can’t serve anymore? What happens when you burn out? Wear out?
None of these sources of worth are intrinsically evil. On the contrary, they are all positive human attributes, activities, and goals in their proper contexts. None of these things, though, are worth basing our worth on.
Even religion, in and of itself, isn’t worth finding our value in. In fact, it can often leave us feeling less worthy than we did before we found it. Faith that is rightly informed, yet in any way dependent on what we do, will only lead us to despair. Rules, obligations, and salvation that is in any way tied to our good deeds can bring us worth when we succeed, but leave us worthless when we fail. What happens when we inevitably stumble? What are we worth when we sin, over and over again? What’s our value to God or to humankind when we can’t find the strength to be good, to do good?
There is only one reason that we are worth anything at all, just as we are, with all our feeble, fleeting attempts at worthiness stripped away.
That reason is Jesus.
God became man. Perfection became sin. Love became unloved. A Savior with nothing to gain except our hearts gave up everything he had to ransom everything we are. No higher price could anyone pay to show us our worth.
Yes, we are made in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully. But this isn’t why we have value. Like a bunch of less-than-intelligent sheep, we have chosen our own way. The way of finding value in lesser things. The way of building our own worth out of smoke and mirrors. The way of realizing that we’re a mess, but being powerless to change, to become something worthwhile.
Take a long, hard look at your life. Rest assured that I am doing the same. When I look deep into my own heart, I see a loneliness that no amount of friends can fill. I see a self-worth that is hopelessly glued to the things that I do. I see mistakes I can’t believe I’ve made, that have left me so far from being the person I want to be. From being a person who is worthwhile. Worth anything. Worth it.
This is exactly where grace begins.
Jesus looks at us, not in judgment of our sins or in disappointment at our depravity. He looks at each one of us, tears in his eyes and scars in his hands, and simply says, “Worth it. Worth it. Worth it.”
It's difficult, though, you say. Difficult to find your worth in three nails that are two thousand years old. You'd rather be loved and valued by a human you can see and touch than by an invisible God whose very existence you sometimes question. I get it. I have struggled with these needs and doubts more often than I’d like to admit. I’m faced with this one reality, though: judged by any other metric of worth and value, I will fail. Fall short. Grow old. Give up. Break down. Finding my worth in a God who gave everything is the only hope I have.
The beauty of this reality is that finding our worth in God starts a chain reaction of love and value. Once we know what we are worth to the God who holds the universe in his hands, we begin to change inside. We begin to stop settling for anything and everything that brings us temporary, evanescent value.
We shy away from relationships with people who don't treat us the way we deserve, because we know what we are worth. We surround ourselves with individuals who reflect the grace of Christ, and who love us for who we are, in spite of our inevitable missteps. We become the type of people who treat others this way, as well, and so begins a butterfly effect of value affirmed.
There is no greater affirmation of another human’s worth than to know them, and yet love them, for exactly who they are. What Christ has done for us, we are called to do for others.
When we know what we are worth, we can’t wait to help others discover the same joy, the same freedom, the same meaning. The same value. Not just those who are easy to love, either. Truly knowing how much each of us is worth to Jesus will inevitably change the way we treat the guy at the office who we can’t stand. The impatient woman in the grocery store line. The ex who has walked all over you. The loudmouth from that other political party. Everyone.
I am worth it. You are worth it. God has given us the greatest gift, the gift of himself. The gift of knowing our worth is tied to the perfect love of a Savior. This is the one gift that will truly keep on giving. A gift of immeasurable value we can’t earn, can’t repay, can’t create, and can’t live without.
“It is finished,” Jesus said. All the self-doubt, shame, and regret that cripples our worth has been buried with Christ. It’s time to be raised with him, filled with the infinite love and value that only the grace of a Savior can impart.
We are worth it.
This piece was originally published by Spectrum Magazine (www.spectrummagazine.org).
HOW TO GET UNSTUCK.
Life is a journey. A road. A path.
We’ve all heard the metaphors. They abound in song, in prose, in film.
Every day is a winding road. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Life takes time. Effort. Energy. Blah, blah, blah. I get it.
Metaphors such as these are all fine and good when we’re making progress. When we’re moving forward, no matter how slowly. When we’re able to at least put one foot in front of the other.
But, I ask, what about those times when we’re stuck? When we’re off course? When we’re moving backwards? When we don’t even know what path we’re supposed to be on? What about those times when, instead of being on the road, we’re in the ditches?
Nobody writes songs about ditches, except for that fictitious band Mouse Rat. When you’re stuck in the ditch, chances are you’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
This is real life.
Not Instagram life. Not Tinder profile life. Not Christmas card life.
Don’t feel stuck? Lost? Off course? Give it time. You will. Soon.
It’s so tempting to think of life as a series of goals, of destinations, of social media highlights. And sometimes it is. Sometimes we move forward. Things proceed at least somewhat as planned. Before you know it, though, you take your eyes off the road, and you’re back in the ditch. Maybe you swerve to miss an unforeseen obstacle. Maybe the road itself unexpectedly ends. Maybe your vehicle suddenly breaks down.
Let me dispense with the road metaphors for a minute. Life seldom, if ever, goes as planned. Just when we put out one fire, another one ignites. As much as we try, often convincingly, to portray ourselves as having it together, we don’t. Whether it’s from forces internal or forces external, we often feel like our lives, our happiness, our sense of purpose, our very existence is hanging by a thread.
For every day spent on the road, we spend two in the ditch.
Even our best attempts to stay on the road fail. Whether it’s cancer, or anxiety, or bankruptcy, or a family in chaos, or a dishonest spouse, or falling off a mountain in Mexico, those dastardly ditches beckon.
Sometimes it’s not even a catastrophe that forces us into the ditch. Sometimes it’s a dead-end job. A loveless marriage. A sense of being unfulfilled, of lacking purpose. Sometimes it’s just the day-to-day, the monotony, the routine.
Next thing you know, you’re hopelessly stuck. And, you’re stuck being hopeless.
I have more bad news. Ready or not, here it is: there is no magic formula for getting unstuck. No timely roadside assistance. Navigating this life, its highs and lows, takes patience. Courage. Strength. Faith. You think there’s an easy answer? Think again.
Getting unstuck is not the work of a moment, but of a lifetime.
This isn’t your Instagram feed. This is real life.
However, there are three tangible things you can do to get unstuck. First, stop wishing and start doing. We can’t rescue ourselves from every ditch, but there are certainly some that are shallow enough to climb out of. Feel trapped in a dead-end job? Get a new one. Yes, finding that dream job isn’t easy, but no one ever landed it by simply throwing pennies and resumes into their proverbial wishing well. Stuck in a situation that you can change? Change it. Don’t wait for a better day or a stronger you.
Second, destroy your comfort zone. So often, we feel stuck because we’re unwilling to take risks. Risks that could end in that elusive life on the highway we’ve always wanted, but that could also result in catastrophic failure. Time precludes me from delving deeper into the wisdom of the Einsteins, the Edisons, and the Teslas of this world, for whom failure was a necessary part of invention and growth. You’re never going to learn to swim if you won’t even get in the water.
Third, learn to have patience with the process. Remember that this too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done, but take it from me. My 2019 has been one enormous ditch. From dealing with peripheral neuropathy for months, to falling off a cliff and breaking 21 bones, to my spinal fusion surgery and subsequent recovery, to issues I can’t even discuss here, this year has been one son of a ditch. However, I have faith that this ditch will not have the final say. Time heals. Time changes. Time unsticks. Choose to have faith that there is a solution to the problem you’re facing, whether that solution lies inside or outside of yourself. Choose to have faith that that solution will become apparent in time.
Ditches are not our goal in life. But they lie on either side of the road. Waiting. Beckoning. While on the highway, we turn to anything to stay between the lines, or at least help us numb the pain of having lost our way. Lost the plot.
Work. Money. Sex. Booze. Travel. Relationships. Religion.
We even turn to God in hopes that He can make our paths smooth. Easy. Painless.
Unfortunately, that’s not his first priority. Yes, he wants us to be happy. But not when our happiness comes at the cost of our growth. Our faith. Our souls.
I highly doubt that professional drivers hone their skills on straight, flat stretches of highway. If setting the cruise control and keeping your car pointed straight ahead were the only requirements to a successful NASCAR career, you probably wouldn’t see nearly as many fiery crashes, but you wouldn’t see as many skilled drivers, either.
Jesus never said the road would be straightforward. He never even said he would keep us on the road. He only said he would walk with us. Down highways, through ditches. He never said the way would be easy. He only told us that he is the way. The truth. The life. “In this world you will have trouble,” he emphatically declared. Not won’t. Not might. If anything, life will get harder when we hand the wheel to the only One we can trust with it. Ironically, so many lose faith for this very reason: expecting smooth sailing, they balk at the first sight of stormy seas.
Jesus walked our road before us. He was well acquainted with discouragement. With dejection. With doubt. With ditches. Ultimately, his road led him to Calvary. A cross. Some nails. Mockery. Rejection. A cruel death. Why would we expect our road to be any smoother than that of the Son of God himself?
This is real life. Messy, painful, discomfiting. But there is hope. Hope that we don’t have to travel alone. Hope that through highways and ditches alike, we are growing. Changing. Learning. Hope that there is a destination at the end of the road, a destination without ditches, distrust, or despair.
Do you feel lost? I know I do. Are you hurting? Lonely? Scared? Tired? You’re not alone. We are all on this journey together. None of us actually know what we’re doing behind the wheel. So stop comparing your driving, your progress, your abilities to anyone else’s. If you’re in the ditch and someone flies by you on the road, don’t be filled with envy or exasperation. Your time will come. If you ain’t first, it doesn’t mean you’re last.
In the ditch? Don’t spin your wheels. This will only sink you further. Instead, trust that the One who can handle the valley of the shadow of death knows a thing or two about ditches, himself. He is not in the business of quick, easy fixes. He knows that the ditches are where our character is formed, tested, refined. Thus, he may not pull us out on our own myopic timetables, but he’ll give us the patience and strength you need until we’re back on the road again.
Life doesn’t start only when we get back out of the ditch. The hourglass of our lives doesn’t pause while we’re stuck. Time marches steadily onward. So, I encourage you: make the most of the trying season you’re in. Look outward and upward, not inward. You may find that through helping others out of their ditches, you’ve gotten yourself out of yours as well.
This, my friends, is real life.
This piece was originally published on Medium.