Right now, my family and I are supposed to be sitting on a beach in Florida, soaking up the sun and the glorious 84 degree weather that it provides. But instead, I’m sitting in front of my home computer in Ohio, glaring out the window at 46 degrees of gray.
When we told the kids we weren’t able to go on our annual Spring Break vacation to Florida, there was a lot of disappointment and irritation. The questions and comments fired out like a shot from a cannon:
“But none of us are sick, why do we have to stay home?”
“But we look forward to this every year!”
“Why these social distancing measures?”
“Some of our friends are still going, why can’t we go?”
Morgan, another daughter of ours who doesn’t live at home anymore, was also supposed to go to Florida but couldn’t due to her recent unemployment – just one of the many fallouts of the Coronavirus shutdowns. Needless to say, she was upset too.
And I was also angry. This exposed my heart’s feeling that I deserve this vacation. I work hard throughout the gloomy winter, and dang it, this annual trip is the reward I so much look forward to. It’s not just the loss of fun times and a warm environment, but it’s the trip I take with 100 of my closest friends. Every Spring Break we hang out and fellowship, having amazing times together. Plus, we get to visit more friends and family on the way home, who we rarely get to see. That loss cuts deep, especially when some of our friends did head south (before the “stay at home order” was put in place). Now I am watching them have an incredible time in their pictures and videos.
After two days of circling the drain of anger, frustration, depression, and (gulp) even jealousy - I had to admit that all this was tied to filtering the pandemic through my paradigm of me. Look at what I lost! Once that light bulb went off, I was convicted about how rather ugly and selfish my attitude was, considering what people in Italy and other hard hit areas were going through.
Like a virus, entitlement has spread throughout our culture and our hearts, so deep it’s a pandemic of its own sort. Entitlement multiplies quicker than it can be eradicated. It seems when I make two strides forward in ridding me and my kids of the havoc of entitlement, that monster is right back at our doorstep. With that said, there is an upside to this. God, in His glorious way doing things, exposed that I and my kids have a long way to go in learning to die to ourselves, despite the constant work in our family to break us of our entitlement issues.
Dying to self (probably take #962, in movie-making terms)
This phrase – “die to self” – is so deeply foreign to our culture of entitlement. At best, our culture’s paradigm sees it as maybe a nice sentiment, but not anything to be taken seriously. At worst, “die to self’ is considered downright blasphemous. But in God’s paradigm, He knows that continually stuffing our souls just for ourselves may give us a jolt of short term pleasure, but leads to long term insignificance and depression.
I think we see this in the mental health statistics of our young people today. Anxiety, depression and mental disorders are on the rise.¹ Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, summed it up this way: “iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades.”²
Many theories abound for why this is happening to our youth. For example, people say too much screen time and social media is leading to a pandemic of increased loneliness and suicide.³ Earlier theories blamed the entitlement culture and focusing too much on yourself. Twenge addressed this phenomenon in her book “Generation Me:”
“Throughout the 1970’s, self-help books and therapists actively encouraged people to flout social rules, telling readers they should
stop caring about what others think…..Since we were small children, we were taught to put ourselves first.” (pages 24, 49)
I tend to believe it’s a combination of the two. Both draw a person away from dying to self and the focus to be others-centered. On top of that, we now live in a culture where God isn’t relevant. Mostly that’s because acknowledging God would mean surrendering your life to someone outside yourself. This is not very attractive when we have been raised to be our own god. Sadly though, this also mean cutting yourself off from anchoring your life in something that has real hope and security.
The bible constantly calls Christians to put others before ourselves. Christ did this for us when he died for us. In that context, Philippians 2 says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (verses 3 & 4).
This brings me back to the situation I and my kids are sitting in today. Instead of looking at this situation for what we lost, we are going to look at it as an opportunity to practice dying to self and being others focused. This may be a challenge in the era of social distancing, but we are going to put our minds to it, and pray for ideas. Our hope will be that at the end of this Spring Break, we won’t reckon it as a withdrawal of emotional and spiritual goodness from our emotional bank account, but as a deposit of emotional and spiritual riches.
Join us as we try to be others-centered during this unique and strange week - look for our daily updates below!
1. https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Citation/2018/06000/Epidemiology_and_Impact_of_Health_Care.6.aspx, https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html
2. iGen: Why today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared For Adulthood, Jean M. Twenge,Ph.D, pg 93
iGen: Why today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared For Adulthood, Jean M. Twenge,Ph.D, pg 98
Brainstorming, and feeding lots of hungry college students
We have been collecting ideas for how to be others-centered, and this is what we came up with:
1) Volunteer at a food bank
2) Make care packages for those who lost their jobs
3) Write notes of encouragement to those who are struggling
4) Facetime friends and say hi
5) Sew masks for nurses and doctors who need them
6) Write letters and pray for our missionaries and sponsored kids in other countries.
7) Practice the flute outside so others can enjoy the music
8) Help our friend who owns a farm clean the chicken cages and barn
9) Sign up to deliver food to those who can’t go out
What we don’t want to do is waste our week away in front of screens. However, we do want to have some fun this week, so we will sprinkle into our day times for reading, playing games (online or traditional), taking a walk outside, making crafts, and writing down daily the things for which we are grateful.
We also cooked a bunch of food for the college students who stayed behind in the apartment complex where my daughter lives. Good timing too, because a few hours later the Governor of Ohio declared a stay-at-home order would take affect the next day. Yikes! Being others-centered just got even more challenging.
Food Bank fail and a broken sewing machine
We saw on TV a report about a local food bank begging for people to help, but when we went to sign up we found out the minimum age was 12. Same for some other local food banks. This is a bummer, because Emmy is not old enough (she is 10 years old). So instead, we will focus on making those care packages for those students who lost their jobs and have no income right now.
We also started making masks for some of our health care worker friends, but then the sewing machine broke. So many are just sitting in half-done stages. We may have to resort to hand-sewing them. But somehow, that discussion led to hand-sewing other things like Emmy making a pillow case for herself and Meagan making a shirt for Emmy. Not sure how that evolved, but there it is. At least one project is for another person, so I will call that a half of a win.
We spent some time today trying to fix the sewing machine, and we think we got it back up and running. However, we will see how long that will last. We tested it out on a few other projects, and if all goes well, we will start working again tomorrow on the masks.
We started making our care baskets for those who have become unemployed due to their jobs being shut down. Luckily, we had this idea last week, so we were able to buy most items for the baskets before things got too shut down. Emmy is having a lot of fun putting them together. She is also writing a note for each basket (example of one is above). We hope to have them done by tomorrow so we can deliver them sooner than later.
(Emmy told me I was allowed to post a picture of her wearing the shirt Meagan made as long as I only showed the shirt, which is why her head is cut off in the photo.)
Unfortunately it was a bit too cold and gloomy to spend much time outside – but tomorrow looks promising. Can’t wait to see some sunshine!
Care packages, and a bit of golf!
Today we focused most of our time finishing up the care packages so we could deliver them around dinnertime. Each care package had items such as Kleenex, hand soap, Tylenol, Gatorade, soup, package of spaghetti, a jar of sauce, oranges, and some chips and candy. We made a total of 26 packages and dropped off 24 of them to people in the apartment complex where many of our church’s twenty-somethings live. It was fun, but a lot of work. It was sweet to see many of the faces of the recipients who were grateful for them, especially those who said they did lose their jobs due to COVID-19. I’m really hoping this is something that Emmy remembers – to love and serve in Christ’s name, especially under difficult circumstances.
Meagan out of the blue offered today to help Emmy clean her room, which was shocking! I’m glad she is trying to be others-centered, even if it means with someone within our home.
To end the day, Emmy and I went down the street to hit some golf balls at our local driving range. No one was there, so she hit the balls back and forth length wise of the driving range. It was a nice way to wind up our day, and we were very grateful for the sun and warmer weather (57 degrees)!
Chickens, Dogs, Ponies, and Lots of Poop
Today was a GREAT day to be outside. 65 degrees! My friend has a farm, so in the morning the girls and I went and helped her clean her stalls and one of the chicken coops. Afterwards, the girls hung out with the animals and enjoyed the acres of open air. It was such a nice day I don’t think any of us cared we were scrubbing and picking up poop!
Morgan also was able to get two of the masks done. Now we just need to figure out the safest way to deliver them, as I am sure they will need to be sterilized in some fashion - even if we wash and bag them up immediately here at home.
The rest of the day we spent some time cleaning up the yard (again, so nice to be outside!), and Emmy played with the neighbor’s dogs for quite a while. Grateful to get almost a full day outside before the rain hit!
We are so blessed in Ohio, and most of the United States
Today we spent some time as a family praying for people all around the world. We made cards for the two kids we sponsor in India. In Ohio, we have a stay-at-home order, but we have some exemptions. We can still go to the grocery store, check in on the people we care for (Joel has an elderly mom who he has been checking in on regularly), meet with people for religious reasons, take walks outside in our neighborhood (or nearby park), and so on. Due to the wonders of technology, many of us can work from home and maintain an income. Our fridges and pantries have food.
However, as we have been finding out, that isn’t the situation in many poorer parts of the world. Take India for example. With everyone in India on lockdown, many people there now have no income, only have a few day’s supply of food, and can’t leave their homes. It was out of this concern that we prayed for them; that this lockdown doesn’t lead to thousands upon thousands starving. Closer to home, New York hospitals are hitting capacity with the influx of COVID-19 patients. There is so much need. In addition to praying on a regular basis, how else can we help? Can we help financially? Tomorrow I’m going to sit down with the kids and discuss what that looks like. I want to add to our brainstorming list: “Donate our allowance to relief efforts” – stay tuned to see if the kids are on board with that.
Pennies From Heaven?
A strange thing happened today, and I am not sure it was an accident. If you have been following the daily updates, yesterday you read how we were going to ask the kids if they would be willing to donate their allowance or the money they saved up for Florida to some form of COVID-19 relief.
I created a jar that we could have out on the counter for donation purposes. I was curious whether they would be willing to be the first two to contribute. The jar was on the table, next to a coat rack that has been haphazardly covered for eight months with random jackets, purses and backpacks. As I began to talk to the kids about donating towards COVID-19 relief efforts, I was also “spring cleaning” that coat rack.
And you will never guess what we found in that coat rack, tucked away in a small bag.
Emmy’s wallet, which had been missing since last summer.
We were stunned. And here is why: 1) We searched that coat rack extensively when she lost her wallet, and it was not found.
2) That wallet contained a lot of money – money she had earned from dog sitting that summer.
After getting over our shock, we returned to the discussion of whether, and how much, they wanted to give. Meagan gave some money. Then Emmy gave most of what was in that wallet. I was astonished, and I asked her why so much. Her reply? “I would have just spent it on toys and candy, which I don’t need. I have enough already. I want to help people who actually need something.”
I was pretty humbled by that. She was giving more than I was planning to give. Maybe this week's focus is sinking in!
After this collection, we found two organizations providing immediate food relief for those struggling in South Asia, and we sent our donations to them. One is India Gospel League and the other is Operation Saturation, if you are looking for a way to give as well to this need.
Also, at the end of the day, we made lists of what we are grateful for right now. It turns out the lists were quite long – we really do have so much to be grateful for.
It’s the end of our week, and like I do with my other experiments to fight entitlement, I love to ask the kids (well, the ones who still live with us) what they thought. Here is what they said:
PRO OF THE WEEK: It felt really good knowing I helped make others happy, and not just myself.
CON OF THE WEEK: Mainly that I didn’t have human interaction with my friends, it’s disheartening not to see them in person for a long period of time.
WHAT I LEARNED: It’s not always about having a good time - helping others have a good time is really important. For example, instead of spending my money on myself in Florida, I’m making sure people have food and the necessities they need to survive.
PRO OF THE WEEK: It gave me something to do instead of being bored, and it helped me get outside of myself.
CON OF THE WEEK: I didn’t get to see my friends as much as I would have liked to, or my relatives in North Carolina.
WHAT I LEARNED: It’s not always about you.
I think Joel and I would say something very similar.
We closed out this week sitting on the porch watching thunderstorms and lightning roll across the sky. At one point there was a hailstorm, but unlike any hailstorm I’ve seen before. Instead of dropping cloudy white balls, the hail contained chunks of clear ice in weird shapes. Emmy picked one up, and it was in the shape of a small bird. The picture to the right is a still shot from the video we took when it happened, which doesn’t do it justice. How odd that this piece of hail looked just like a beautiful, but simple, glass bird in flight.
Somehow, within this violent storm, something really unexpected and precious emerged from it.
And that is how I would like to remember this time. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are in the middle of an unprecedented storm. We don’t know how much damage this pandemic will cause to lives and livelihoods. It’s already caused so much pain and distress. Yet somehow, in the middle of it, something unique and beautiful emerged out of it – the joy of serving and loving others in Christ’s name.
This COVID-19 storm isn’t over. The next few weeks will be a trying time for our city, state, and nation. And future storms will come after that. In them, I pray our faith in God will continue to be that anchor in the chaos to help us better other’s lives in the midst of these storms.