Could we be sicker than we thought?

Imagine you are in a doctor’s office awaiting the results of a test. The doctor walks in the door with a concerned look on his face. In hushed tones he says, “I wish I didn’t have to tell you this. You have cancer.”

What is your reaction in that moment? My guess is that one visit would drastically alter the way you live in the future. Your life would never be the same.

Although Coronavirus may have stopped our country in it’s tracks, it has only served to highlight a more insidious threat…the cancer of racism.

I use the term “cancer” intentionally.  I believe there are some unique similarities that cancer and racism share.

1. Both diseases build slowly over time

Unlike a virus that hits suddenly, cancer builds in our system over time. We can live months or years with the disease without ever knowing it. Racism is not suddenly appearing in the United States. It has plagued our nation for a long time.

My mom is a Native American woman who grew up in the segregated South. She is a positive person who doesn’t dwell much on negative experiences in her life. Maybe that’s why the stories she would occasionally tell me about what it was like to grow up as a second-class citizen stood out so much to me. She endured rejection, humiliation and had fewer opportunities simply because of the color of her skin.

The people who treated her maliciously learned those attitudes from their families. Some of them are still alive and they probably passed down their values to their children. Racism doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It lurks silently beneath the surface.

2. Images force us to embrace the reality of our disease

Similar to a doctor showing you an MRI or X-ray of tumors that are growing inside your body, modern technology has made the realities of racism apparent in a way that we can’t deny.

Videos showing Ahmaud Arbery being senselessly murdered as he was out on a jog and George Floyd being killed by a police officer as he was begging for his life, can’t be ignored. These images sear permanently into our minds. Reality reaches out and slaps us directly in our face. We can’t choose to ignore this any longer.

To all my black friends, I am deeply sorry that it has taken some of us this long to truly listen to your stories. It is horrific! Now no one has any excuses. I hope you will experience us closer to you during your times of pain.

 3.  Aggressive treatment is needed

Many cancer patients change their diet, go through chemotherapy and experiment with different medicines. Why? Because those are all fun options? No. Because the alternative is much worse!

Perhaps being quarantined is serving as chemotherapy for the cancer we are facing. This crisis has taken away the ways we normally choose to cope and ignore reality.

Americans are terminally busy. We almost never take the time to stop, think, feel and pray. We are constantly off to work, the next social event or kids soccer game. Unless something directly affects our lives it is too easy to ignore.

This virus has taken away our normal strategies for dealing with difficult things. It has broken down our emotional immune system and we are left to face what is left.

As someone who follows Jesus, I believe racism is a deeply spiritual issue. That means that it is more horrific than we often give it credit for. It is truly evil.

Jesus knows what it is like to come face to face with evil and have his closest friends walk away. I might not have all the answers but I pray I will be “present” with my black brothers and sisters during this time.

I pray that we will experience true justice and peace as we fight this disease together. For now, my soul cries “How long, oh Lord?!”

One question to help you navigate the Coronavirus crisis

Over the last couple of days, many of our lives have been turned upside down. It almost doesn’t seem real. The stock market is tanking, the NBA has suspended its season, colleges are switching to virtual learning environments and to top it all off, there is a toilet paper shortage the likes of which we have never seen. This is not the same world we lived in only a couple of weeks ago. We are in a genuine crisis.

I’m in the middle of grappling with anxiety, worry and fear. What does the future hold? How bad will this get? The answers we desperately crave are illusive. Still I’m comforted by an old adage my mom used to quote to me when I was young, “This too shall pass.”

Eventually, we will look at this time as “history”. With that in mind, one question has been reverberating with me during these last two or three days. Here it is, “10 years from now, what would I look back on and regret about my response to this crisis?”  

This is a helpful question for me because it gives needed perspective as well as a framework for how I want to live during this season.

So, what would I regret 10 years from now? Here are a few of my answers…

Not telling the people closest to me, “I love you”

If I am so consumed by worry that I can’t be present and show affection to the people I am blessed to have in my life, it would be a failure. I want to look back at this season and know that I expressed my love sincerely.

Not taking care of my family

Of course, this assumes that I am providing for them physically but I mean much more than that. Am I giving my kids a place to talk about their anxiety and fear or am I trying to get them to ignore it so that I can feel more comfortable? Am I able to care for my family by pointing them to a Father who loves them even more than I do?

Not looking for ways to bless people who are less fortunate than me

American culture says, “Make sure you are comfortable”. Following Jesus gives me the freedom to break beyond my own comfort and be a blessing to those around me. As I have heard more than once in my life, “We are blessed to be a blessing”.

Not seeking God and praying more

Yes, I know this could sound “uber-spiritual” but that’s not my intent. I find it curious that this crisis is hitting in the middle of Lent. It’s a season where millions of Christians around the world (including myself) are giving up significant things in their life for a season in order to reflect on God and depend on Him more deeply.

I’ve found that it’s a lot tougher to be consumed by worry when I am focused on God and asking Him to guide me. I hope that 10 years from now, I will be able to look back on this season and say I was closer to God and the people around me because I was intentional about listening to His voice over everything else.

Oh yeah! I’d also regret it if I didn’t wash my hands

“Trusting God” doesn’t mean I absolve myself of all responsibility to be a decent human being. Ensuring that I do what I can to not get sick and pass a disease along to other people seems like something I never regret.

So how about you? Does this question help you? What would you regret 10 years from now? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

For Finn

Three year-old boys aren’t supposed to die of cancer…but in this broken world sometimes they do.

Recently, our family attended a memorial service for a super hero named Finn. Finn’s parents (Dan and Brandi Lee) are very special to my wife and me. We had the opportunity to mentor them during their time in college at Syracuse University. We even had the amazing honor of being in their wedding.

Now we were in a crowded church for a different type of service. As I sat in silence, a question came into my mind, “What if Dan and Brandi Lee came up to me right now and said, ‘John we need you to say a few words’?” What in the world would I say? How could I possibly convey anything that would be worthwhile? What follows was the first thing that came to my mind. My words truly don’t do justice to their love, their faith or the struggle of their courageous boy but it is the best attempt I have at speaking from the heart…

“Jesus wept”.

Those two words are more than just the shortest verse in the Bible. They give us a picture into the heart of God. Jesus didn’t need to cry. He knew he was about ready to raise his friend from the dead. Yet, he looked at all the people in pain around him and experienced the grief of losing someone so close to him and he cried…not just a tear running down his cheek. He bawled his eyes out! 

For those of us here who are following Jesus, it’s not just OK if we weep today. It is a sign that we truly have the heart of the person we claim as our King.

So today we choose to weep.

We weep for Finn. No three year-old child should experience the ravages of cancer. We were not intended to have our childhood ripped away by a devastating disease. Three year olds should be playing with cars, not worrying about colostomy bags. They should be outside soaking in the rays of the sun, not going through rounds of radiation. They should be hopping around their house, not shuffling through a hospital. Young lives were not designed to be shattered like this. I believe Jesus isn’t apathetic toward Finn’s pain. Something tells me that as Finn suffered, Jesus wept. As we think about Finn’s strength in the midst of this horrific battle, we weep too.

We weep for Dan and Brandi Lee. How many of us would have the courage and grace to endure what they have gone through as parents? Place yourself in their shoes for a moment. They were already under the intense pressure of raising three boys, one of whom has special needs. Add on top of that, a cancer diagnosis for their youngest. They gave everything they could over the last couple of years emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. They emptied themselves in order to find healing for their child. In the end, their child was still taken away. How many of us here could still muster the faith to sing, “It is well with my soul”? Dan and Brandi Lee, the level of sorrow you are experiencing is like walking through hell. Jesus knows. I believe he weeps with you. We weep with you too.

We weep for ourselves. Finn was courageous, independent, optimistic, wise and loving. Boys with those qualities grow up to be men with those attributes. As we look around at our world today, who wouldn’t want more men with that type of character? When we lost Finn, we lost someone extremely precious. We didn’t simply lose a boy. We lost a future leader and inspiration. Jesus weeps with us in the middle of our grief too.

The Bible tells us that because of Jesus we don’t have to mourn like people without hope. We cling to the hope that Jesus brings today. For that very reason, we are able to enter into our grief without fear. We serve a king who cried and today we cry too.

*FYI, If you don’t know Dan and Brandi Lee personally, I’d highly suggest visiting their blog. This will give you a firsthand look at their journey. You’ll also get the opportunity to meet the avocado-loving super hero that inspired this post.