Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rollercoasters and False Bravado

Folks, it has been a rollercoaster over the last three weeks.  An emotional rollercoaster.

I sent one daughter 14 hours into the future—to Australia.  Who knows when I’ll see her again?  I sent another just 1 hour ahead—to Arkansas.  It will be a good couple of months before I again see her smiling face. 

I witnessed a friend’s son…and a man I know…go from obscurity to being one of the most famous faces on the planet…all the while he was fighting for his life against one of the most deadly diseases on Earth.  While on that voyage into the spotlight, while battling to survive, he also managed to inspire a whole new generation of Christians, and touch the lives of believers and non-believers alike.  He went from death’s door, to stepping out of an ambulance, to being released…and he wasn’t supposed to survive.  All the while trusting God…regardless the outcome.

I watched the streets of Ferguson, Missouri erupt…and the tears of loss cascade down the cheeks of a mother’s face.  While a whole segment of our American community mourns, another whole segment continues to not understand.  And, our national pain continues.  We don’t really know the facts, but one side claims a cold-blooded murder and the other claims a “thug” was killed in the line of duty.  Lots of accusations.  Lots of assumptions.  Lots of arguing, shouting, crying voices.  Bottles flying.  Tear gas pluming. 

Very little listening.

Meanwhile, a friend from middle school sent me a message to ask me to sign a petition and post it to my Facebook wall in support of reparations for the descendants of enslaved black Americans.  (Notice that I didn’t say a “black friend.”  I don’t have black friends or white friends.  I just have friends.  Some happen to be of different races, but that is not what defines them to me.)  I asked him to give me more detail on what he was talking about.  I asked him some hard questions:  Would it really change things?  Would it change hearts on both sides?  How would it be applied or distributed, etc.?  Could it really be enough in the end to not become an insult?  I’m still mulling over his ideas.  Frankly, I like some of them…maybe a good many of them.  But, what sits on me the most is the pain in his words.  In some ways, he is the same Marvin I met in 7th grade all those many years ago, but in other ways he’s not.  There’s a heaviness there…brought on by the weight of social injustice; a wall of emotion born of 50+ years of witnessing and experiencing disrespect and mistreatment for no other reason than the color of the pigment in his skin and the skin of his family, neighbors, and friends.

Then, there are the deaths.

And, not just normal deaths.  Suicides.   They have touched me three times this year.  One close to a niece.  One a former customer/co-worker.  And, one a celebrity…Robin Williams.  (And, isn’t unusual how we all seem to feel like Robin was a friend?  Almost none of us had actually ever met him, but I bet most of us felt like he was someone we held dear; like a family member or close friend.)

In thinking about those deaths, I began to think back, and suicide has visited me many times over the years.  I had not realized just how often:  My brother, Freddie; A boy in one of my High School classes; Danny-another boy from school; Larry-a friend from my Bible College days; two different neighbors (one just last year); my niece’s fiancĂ©; and Doug, the guy I’d worked with.  That is eight people, and there may be more that I just haven’t considered yet.  That realization was staggering.

Finally, there is the murder of James Foley.  I can’t really express how that makes me feel.

All of that, and I’ve been blessed with an overactive empathy gene.

I sensed the hopefulness, faithfulness, and fear mixed all together in the voices and faces of my friends, the Brantly family.  I sensed the same thing in the prayers and petitions of my church family as they prayed for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.  I felt the hurt of that mother’s heart as the tears rolled down her cheeks in Ferguson.  I could hear the anger and pain in my friend’s words as he explained his reparations plan.  I feel the sadness of the world’s loss of Robin Williams mixed into the sadness I feel for the loss of my former work associate, Doug. (And, regarding Doug, maybe a little guilt.  Could I have done something for him to change his course?)  And, I harbor the shock…the anger…the deep sadness of that picture of James Foley on his knees with the man in black holding the knife; knowing that only a moment later…

Contrast that with the joy of seeing Kent Brantly speak at that news conference as he was released from the hospital-Ebola free!   Two weeks prior, I nearly jumped out of my skin when he walked into the hospital in Atlanta…when I was expecting to see him wheeled in on a gurney.  And, today that was furthered by the joy of seeing him reunited with his wife, and his recovery from the brink of death. 

It has been a rollercoaster summer, folks.  I’m telling you, it really has.

And, here’s the thing.  I’ve basically been holding all of this inside.  Only a little has slipped out.  A little to my wife.  A little to a fellow elder at church…just a dribble really.  Frankly, it’s mostly bottled up.


Because, in our lives these days, we don’t talk.  Not really.  We don’t know how to be REAL with one another.  We are afraid of emotion, and we hide it behind false bravado.

I could spill it all out to my wife, but what I really want is a friend.  My wife is my best friend, and I could share it all with her…in fact, I did share some of it tonight.  But, what I actually want is a really close buddy…another guy…whom I can be real with.  Someone I can share my fears, my failings, and my dreams with…and someone who will do the same with me.  Without judgment and without expectations.  Someone to commiserate with.  Someone to confess to.  Someone to pray with.  And, then someone I can go with to watch the game, eat some wings, and have a beer.

And, to all you guys out there who are still reading this…you know you want the same thing.  At least be real with yourself.

The problem is our false bravado and our spiritual lies.  We are too proud to admit we need each other.  We are too embarrassed to admit that we do things we are ashamed of.  We can’t abide the idea that our whitewashed exteriors might be removed to reveal who we really are.

And, before you girls go getting all self-righteous…you need to take off those smug, pious church smiles and replace them with sober reality, admitting that you have some messes too.  You need these kinds of relationships just as much.

We can have it, though.  These special relationships.  All it takes is two individuals willing to be totally real with one another.  Totally honest.  Willing to share the darkest details.  Two people finally willing to step into the light with one another.

Here I am.  Where are you?

1 John 1:7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Joy, Fear, and Ebola

Earlier today, I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement when I saw Kent Brantly gingerly step out of that ambulance and walk into Emory University Hospital.  My fist pumped into the air, and I shouted a happy “Yeah!” to my wife.  I have had my faith renewed as I have watched the events unfold this week.  Maybe I’ll let some more time go by, and then I’ll attempt to explain that renewal more fully.  But, right now, I want to touch on the opposite.  Fear.

You see, I’ve also seen today a number of social media posts from regular folks who are at a minimum nervous, and at the extreme, actually quite scared.

And, who can blame them?  Consider the popular written fiction, TV series, and theatrical movie themes that create and project far out stories about a virus gone wild:  Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, etc.  Then, you add to that the wacked-out conspiracy theorists and the fringe, hype-media specialists.  Frankly, people are fed meal after meal of misinformation, half-truths, and extreme fictional scenarios.

If you are one of those folks who feels this fear, let me give you a suggestion that may help.  If you will follow it, I think you find yourself breathing easier, and your mind will be at rest.

Educate yourself.

Set aside the fiction of modern TV & theater, ignore the conspiracy theorists, skip the hype of the fringe media, and take the time to research and educate yourself on both the virus and the extreme steps taken to provide safety and precaution.

The virus is scary, but it is also not all that easily transmitted, especially in our modern world, and it can be killed with sterilization processes.  The transportation methods that carried Kent to Georgia utilized multiple layers of isolation to keep the infection contained, and eliminate any chance of exposure to the outside world.  Folks, you can take a good breath and relax.

Further, there is another piece of fiction being propagated by the media:  That Ebola has never been in the western hemisphere before.

That just isn’t true.

Kent Brantly may be the first PATIENT suffering from Ebola to be treated in the US, but the virus has been here for quite some time.  Laboratories are studying it for work on new vaccines.  Some time ago, the virus was acquired in Africa, and then transported to the United States using carefully controlled methods in order to do the research.  Here’s a link to a news story from the Houston, Texas news outlet KHOU about just such a lab: Galveston UTMB Lab Ebola Story

So, today, Kent himself was transported home using extremely careful and thought out methods, taking incredible steps to ensure everyone’s safety.  The virus is transmitted through contact with body fluids…not by air, and all conceivable precautions were taken to ensure that nothing could escape.

You may ask: Mike, how do you know all of this?  Well, simply put…I took the time to read legitimate articles, and I listened to legitimate interviews with real doctors and scientists.  Otherwise, left to the entertainment and fringe media meals, I’d be just as nervous as the next guy.

Friends, you are perfectly safe…from Ebola anyway.  And, Kent is HOME.  Where he should be…at least until he recovers enough to resume his selfless work in caring for others.  God willing.  And, let’s continue to pray that he does recover, because the world needs more people like Kent Brantly.

Keep praying.
Peace to all. 

#PrayForKent #PrayForNancy