March 27, 2020
Last night was not a good night. The statistics for coronavirus infections stood at 86,000 infected in America, the most for any country. Only 713 recovered and 1300 died. My nephew called and shared a long time about the hardships for the supply chain for the respiratory devices that he sells. He’s not allowed in hospitals to teach people how to use the machines and the manufactures can’t keep up. Although it is good business for the manufacturers, as I have always contended, “The people that need the respiratory devices I design are to be pitied.” The numbers that are to be pitied are increasing exponentially.
Now, this morning I woke to find that number includes one resident at Landis homes where Karen’s day resides. Her dad called in tears after finding out this news. Of course, they have no masks for the residents and workers. On top of that is the growing antagonism between the USA and China and the high-level finger-pointing for who is to blame for this epidemic. Finger-pointing between such well-armed adversaries is always disquieting. And the animosity appears to be extending downward, even to my friends who seem to be becoming circumspect in the way they talk with me. I tried to end bouts of sleeplessness during the night by repeating the prayer, “God, how are you showing us your favor in this mess?”
It hadn’t worked too well. The report of my youngest daughter's child having coughing fits through the night had not helped. She was understandably worried that he had contracted the virus. And my wife’s brother-in-law was in the hospital for some major bowel surgery. The virus made it impossible to have any visitors in the hospital with him. His kids were showing their love to him by standing, holding hands in a heart-shaped circle in the street, five floors below.
And then there was the matter of my access to Social Security. I had spent hours the day before trying to penetrate the password wilderness that guarded the entry into my locked-down Social Security number. Two clever, and extremely devious, Indian hackers had gotten into my computer back on Halloween night of 2019 and had riffled through my personal documents, leaving a note at the end on a blazing screen, “Got it you M-F’er! You’ve been hacked!” This along with a screenshot of the pertinent SSN information that they were carrying away to be sold on the dark web unless I intervened in their plot and sent them a cool $500,000. I retained that screenshot as a testament to a very bad night and as evidence for the local police department. But my non-payment of the requested sum continued to bother the perpetrators who would call back on numerous occasions to remind me of their continued presence in my world. The only comfort back then on that Halloween night when I had prayed, “How are you surrounding me with your favor in this mess?” was for God to assure me that the favor was to give me two Indian hackers to pray for! Small comfort! But I was ready to take any assurances at that point.
But now, with my job shut down by the virus and both Karen and I self-isolating in our house, the world was seeming rather chaotic. I did have small comfort in knowing that my most productive activity was to make my wife as happy and comfortable as possible in her home office. To that end, I had gone to Staples to buy a cable to connect between her laptop and an extra flat panel display. Going from a huge, Apple monitor at her workplace to the confines of a small MacBook Air screen at home was a real frustration. The service person at Staples seemed a little put-off by the mask I had chosen to wear into the store. I had been mandated to wear it by my wife who was starting to point out my hypocrisy of so loudly advocating wearing masks in public and then being too timid to do it myself. Between the perpetual fogging of my glasses and the uncomfortableness of talking to another person through a mask, I was able to buy what I thought was needed to solve my wife’s display problems. Except that it hadn’t worked! I plugged the mDP cable into the computer, connected the HDMI cable from the monitor, and nothing! NO SIGNAL PRESENT. Another downer! But a quick call to Staples' IT guy allowed me to solve the problem with eloquence! Turn the computer and monitor on, unplug the cable from the computer and re-plug it, and -- success! Even Karen saw it as a grand advancement after a bit of grumbling about, “Never did it like this before!”
So, I awoke in the morning from a sleepless night with only the working monitor to my credit. That joy was completely counterbalanced by all the negativity that I couldn’t avoid hearing on the news. But I did have one task to complete for that day. I wanted to put a coat of paint on the Welcome Center cabinets that I was building for the church. I realized that I could paint and be on hold on the phone at the same time due to the marvel of the hearing aids I allow Blue Tooth connectivity between my phone and my ears. I called the Social Security office and was understandably put on hold “for the next available operator.” Call times were unusually long, I was assured, due to the coronavirus. I could reasonably expect to speak to someone live -- not just hear the elevator music and the periodic sincere apologies for “people who were working hard to service 60 million people” -- some time an hour-and-a-half hence. But it was in the actual 2 hours and 19 minutes that the full surrounding of God’s favor appeared. First, I got into a WeChat with a girl, in Shandong province of China who had lost her job the week before Spring Festival. She had gone back to her hometown and had been isolated there ever since. Arriving there with a very bad, almost suicidal attitude, she had really been touched by God in that time and had made a remarkable rebound spiritually. She had just turned 30, which in China means that you are not very likely to ever get married. This milestone had almost drugged her into the grave. But now, sitting in her parents’ home, she had been reborn in her love for God. She was telling me about her dreams of being a Sociologist and studying in America. I told her that she should write down her remarkable story and I could include it in the “SwitchPoints” book I was contemplating writing.
Then amid the telephone hold time, another friend got hold of me on WeChat. This was a friend who really resonates with me about the stupidity of Americans being so averse to wearing masks in public. This was hardly surprising. She is the one who has been beating the drum about the need for me to protect myself by wearing a mask ever since she was aware that this dread disease was coming to America, which is to say, way back in January. Both her and my Chinese engineer sidekick, Joey, agree that some protection is better than no protection. And they were quick to point out that the proof is in the pudding; China has been able to turn back the tide of this virus that was ravishing their country. Some of that success surely is credited to the quick, widespread adaptation of masks with their ability to knock contaminated water particles out of the respired air. It has been fatal to wait to ramp up the production of protective equipment in the USA until the virus is widespread among us. It felt good to chat with someone that supported my position.
But then came the real wonder of the long telephone hold. Someone answered! The elevator music stopped and a male voice with a slight Southern accent asked if he could help me! Milton was answering the phone from home quarantine in New Mexico. He had a kind, gentle voice; exactly what you would expect from a government worker during a crisis! I explained to him my anguish of not being able to access my SSN due to the identity fraud that I had encountered on Halloween night. Interestingly, what he had me do was to go through filling out the form again, but this time I was to put in a fictional birthdate. I did this once, then again, and then a third time. Now it gave me the dire warning that I was permanently locked out of the account! Thank God for Milton on the line with me! He told me that is where he needed to get me. Now we could start all over with the correct information this time! Wow! It worked! He successfully got me an account! Then he asked if I wanted to sign up to start receiving benefits. If so, I could go to the local SS office, sit in a long line and talk to a sweaty agent in some booth or he could help me do right now! In my chair – at my desk – guided by his kind, gentle promptings! This was not a hard choice! So, for the next half hour, this kind gentleman from the great state of New Mexico walked me through the process. I felt as if a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I gladly gave him straight 5’s on the evaluation survey after the call. The only thing that bugs me is that I didn’t give him was the reference to Psalm 5:12, and tell him that he, for today, had been that shield from God that was surrounding me with his favor.
And one final small act of favor, on my part this time, was to jump in the car and run to Dairy Queen to buy a small, Heath Bar Blizzard for Karen who said she needed it for her mental health! I even got the girl in the speaker to laugh when I asked her if I needed to stop the car 6 feet from the microphone to maintain proper social distancing when placing my order!
Why did I find so much of God’s favor today? Perhaps it is because I had repeated the prayer about the Psalm 5:12 promise to God so many times over and over as I sought to find some sleep last night. Maybe my multiple asking’s were rewarded with multiple giving’s. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi’s God sure seemed alive and well today!