A test of patience and resolve…

May 12, 2020

The Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote today – “How long is a minute?  It depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re on.” 

Our recent collective experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has really been a test of our patience and resolve as a people and many have failed that test miserably. For many it really depended upon which side of the economic-impact “door” they were on when the crisis hit. Some had the wherewithal to withstand an interruption in their normal revenue stream and others did not. Many entered this crisis already in “barely hanging on” mode in their business or life and for them any interruption was bound to be devastating. Others either had sufficient reserves to whether the storm or they were able to work from home without an interruption of their pay.

The problems caused by the business interruptions was exacerbated by the almost total failure of the systems that state governments had in place to deal with job loss benefits. Michigan was particularly ill prepared and its unemployment system failed the State’s population miserably. The effort at the Federal level was similarly flawed as many still await their so-called “stimulus checks” over two months into the crisis. The bright spots that have been reported, such as community food banks stepping up, were primarily driven at the grass-roots level and not by any government actions.

Further straining our patience and resolve were the cretins who came out from under various rocks to put forth their conspiracy theories and claim that the whole thing is a hoax. It wears one down to have to continually deal with such stupidity, but it provided all of the cover that many needed to justify their defiance of the advice of health and governmental leaders. Most of them were on the other side of the economic door to begin with and needed only a little push to join the dark side.

One of the things that it was very easy to get impatient with is the messaging that we are bombarded with in the media. Everyone is here for us. We are all in this together. These are uncertain times. This is an unprecedented experience for us all. Yada, yada, yada. You would think that someone in those high-priced ad agencies could come up with a different message – one that doesn’t sound like a repeat of what everyone else is saying. Just say, “This sucks” and then provide a message of hope and patience.

We have now entered the “re-opening America” phase at the national and most states level. We will soon see stories of the virus reappearing and new “hot spots” developing in states that reopened first. Have we become conditioned, perhaps numbed, to a nightly body-count report and impatient enough to accept that report and the risk that we will become personally involved in the statistics? We have been through this kind of numbing experience and loss of national resolve before as a nation – the Viet Nam war comes immediately to mind and more recently the wars in the Middle East. We’ll probably even see some entrepreneurial merchant start selling “I survived COVID-19” t-shirts this summer.

As has happened in our national politics, we have quickly separated into the two camps. There are those who are cautious and concerned about the disease, willing to head the advice to stay away from others until it subsides ; and those who are impatient and perhaps unconvinced that the disease is a real threat and who want to (they say need to) get back to work. It is unfortunate that the camp that is willing to take that risk is able to do so only by putting us all at risk and finds comfort and support in messages from our Head Tweeter in Charge.

We all have a choice to make, again. One can regain their resolve and re-set their patience to wait this thing out in safety or one can go get a haircut and join the crowds at the newly reopened malls and hope that it was all an overblown hoax. It must sadden (perhaps anger) the brave men and women in the health care industry who have lived through caring for the first wave of this disease to see the second wave so eager to join the statistics.

The choice is yours to make. As for me, I’ll be at home praying for you to be safe.

Who’s in charge here?

May 11, 2020

In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “I’m telling you, things are getting out of hand.  Or maybe I’m discovering that things were never in my hand.”  (Gordon Atkinson)

For many, if not most, the situation that we find ourselves in right now is a humbling experience that demonstrates to us how little we really control in life. For a few, this leads to frustration and anger. You see them yelling and demonstrating on the news shows, all without masks, or you see them congregating in groups, again without taking any precautions.

We are tempted to ask, “who’s in charge here”, but we already know the answer – God is in charge. The only things that we have any control over is how we react to what is happening. It is that realization that allows us to revisit our faith and put our trust back in God. That is not to say that we can then act stupidly and go out without taking precautions, just that we revisit the faith that allows us to say , “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

Once you gain (or regain) the insight that you are not in control of the situation that you find yourself in, no matter what you do, you can move on to focusing upon the things you can control – your reactions to it. Taking steps to decrease your personal exposure is the first things that you can do – staying home, washing your hands and practicing social distancing when out. If you are able physically and financially, another thing you can do is to help others – volunteer to shop for food or necessities for someone, volunteer to mow the lawn for someone who cannot do it for himself or herself, help load up and distribute food at a local food bank – many people need help.

Some who have the skills and tools to do so have made masks and other PPE for use by essential workers and others. Others may have organized efforts to make PPE or to collect and distribute food. Many have at least made and displayed signs of support for essential workers. All of these people have taken charge of themselves and decided to do something, rather than just sit around complaining or feeling sorry for himself or herself.

So, who’s in charge here?  

God and you – in that order. Give God a hand and take charge of yourself. He’s got a enough to do right now.

What we should have learned…

May 10, 2020

While change is a constant part of life; big changes often come about due to some extraordinary event – a natural disaster, a man-made disaster or something like a pandemic. Consider how life changed after 9/11. Organizations like the TSA didn’t even exist before that man-made disaster and air travel has never been the same since. Events like Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of people in the New Orleans area. The COVID-19 disaster is one such a big change and life will never quite be the same. A consist factor in all of these disasters was the lack of any planning on how to deal with them.

As the nation slowly finds a way to reopen, even in the face of a sure increase in the disease, we need to try to learn from the experience of having lived through this disaster, so far. Several things are fairly evident:

  1. Government at all levels was very unprepared for an event of this magnitude. A  good deal of Monday morning quarterbacking will need to be done, once we have time to analyze and reflect on the data that has been collected. It was apparent as events unfolded that there was no plan for Federal and state cooperation in place for large-scale disasters like this.
  2. The American medical system was ill prepared to deal with such an emergency and reacted poorly in terms of decision making about what resources to commit to fight the disease and how to keep the rest of the system working while dealing with the crisis.
  3. The American public was initially cooperative out of fear and then began to suffer a split of opinions on the steps taken by governments to try to deal with the spread of the virus. The ugly head of selfishness prevailed for a significant portion of the population
  4. The economic impact of the preventative steps that were taken by state governments was hugely underestimated. The relative frailty of the economy was exposed. No state government was prepared for the impact of the loss of tax revenues.

What are some of the takeaways that should cause further change?

For one, there needs to be a strengthening  of the CDC and it’s leadership role in dealing with pandemics like this, or a new agency created.  Just as the Federal government  created the TSA  to deal with the terrorist threats to our society, a strengthened and more unified organization, led by the CDC, needs to be envisioned. This was not a situation where a thrown-together White House Task force had the authority or the resources needed to effect real change.

The role of government at the state and federal levels in stocking and dispensing emergency supplies, like PPE and ventilators will need to be revisited. The “strategic supply” on hand at the start of this disaster was totally inadequate and the dispersal of that stock was chaotic. The messaging at the federal level  during the crisis was inconsistent and indicative of the lack of a plan. Clearly there was a huge federal role when this pandemic started crossing state lines and “leaving it up to the Governors of each state” was a ridiculous response.

There must be a way to continue to provide for other medical services while dealing with a future pandemic. The medical community needs to have a coordinated plan in place that will allow some hospitals to be quickly dedicated to the fight against a future pandemic, while others are allowed to continue to function in their normal roles. A plan like that will initially have to rely on an agreed upon triage process to identify and segregate the patients with the disease from those that are not impacted. As we learned in this crisis, the development of testing tools and procedures and a much quicker test results will be required. This may also require a provision for funding those hospitals that are designated to become treatment centers for a future pandemic, in order to off-set their financial loss from other services that they must suspend.

A detailed review and assessment of the treatment regiments that were implemented in hospitals also needs to be done. It was reported that up to 80% of patients who were put on respirators ended up dying. If that is the case, then that course of treatment, or some part of it,was probably not the best response. A critical look back at what was done and how that worked out should lead to different recommendations for treatments in future disasters.

There was a very large difference between the impact in urban areas and that in more rural or sparsely populated areas; however; most state government responses did not take that into consideration. The result was a quick rise in resentment and frustration on those less impacted areas to being subjected to the same restrictions or requirements as were applied to urban areas. This turned many who feared the economic impact of the forced shutdown more than the disease itself against their own governments. A much more localized and targeted response will be needed in the future.

There was also a noticeable difference in the impact of the pandemic on certain ethic or socio-economic groups within our society. That needs to be studied and understood, so that changes to the planned response are created for future pandemics. The population of the nation’s nursing homes was particularly hard hit and a review of policies, staffing and procedures for those homes needs to be done and changes implemented. The differences in impact on the black and Hispanic communities also needs to be studied, with causes and changes in mind.

There is always a completely different path that could have been followed. We need to look at the experience of Sweden and see how their decision not to enforce any shutdown worked out. The Swedish death toll pf 291 per million of population is higher than the U.S. toll of 219 per million and their economy has still taken a hit as a result of citizens taking their own precautions and staying at home. Doing nothing also proved costly in terms of lives lost in some starts in the U.S.

There will be no return to the old normal, just adjustments to the new normal that we must  adopt to live with the virus. Watch what the politions say during the upcoming election campaigning and see if anything they say really makes sense. Did they learn from this crisis and what do they say that they will do better to get ready for the next one? And, there will be a next one.

There will be a huge amount of data available for analysis after this is over; let’s hope we used that data to learn something that will help make next time better.

Real Estate sales restart…

May 9, 2020

The Governor of Michigan has modified her Executive order to allow for the resumption of real estate sales activities, with necessary precautions. The COVID-19 pandemic is anything but over in Michigan and elsewhere across the country; however, economic and political pressures have reached the breaking  point and states across America are “re-opening”. 

What does that mean for home sellers or potential homebuyers?

First, it means that the risk of catching the Corona Virus and getting very sick is still very real. Let’s not discount that. It appears to be a risk that many are willing to take in order to get back to work; but are the home buyers and sellers willing to take the same risk? Apparently, so.

Given the fact that your home purchase (or sale) is likely the biggest financial transaction that you will ever make, let’s look at what is being done to make this transaction as safe as possible during this pandemic.

First off, the real estate brokerages, multi-list services, title companies and others involved in the sale are creating and agreeing upon a set of health safety guidelines for doing in-person visits to homes that are for sale. They have used guidance from the CDC, Federal and State health officials to create a set of recommended protocols for listings and showings. These protocols have the expected requirements for visitors to use PPE when doing in-person visits and for sellers to take the necessary steps to clean and sanitize the property before and after each visit.

Actually, the first thing they did was to have their lawyers draw up release of liability forms – one that sellers must sign in order to list a property and one for buyers to sign before going on an in-person visit. This is acknowledgement that the Realtors involved don’t (and can’t) know if the sellers have sick members in the home or if the buyers may be sick without knowing it. So, these are “buyers and sellers beware” forms that hold the broker and agents harmless is someone (on either side) contracts the virus due to a visit.

The PPE requirements for buyers/visitors include wearing a mask and gloves during the visit (with shoe covering also recommended), not touching anything during the visit and using hand sanitizer after the visit. Visits are also limited to 4 people max, so bringing Mom and Dad and Uncle Joe is discouraged. It is probably best to leave any children at home, too. Many Realtors will have PPE available for visitors, if they don’t have their own by now.

Recommendations for the sellers include having all lights on and all interior doors already open and re-sanitizing after each visit, just in case anything was touched. Realtors and visitors are admonished not to turn lights off, so they don’t have to touch the switches. Sellers are advised to take their homes off the market or stop showing it, if anyone in the household is sick with the virus. With increased testing and tracking, that may include people who have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have the virus.

The ancillary functions and services like home inspections, appraiser visits, movers  and the like are allowed; however if alternatives like drive-by appraisal are available, that is recommended. Services like picture taking for listing pictures will also be allowed, but under the same PPE guidelines as for any visit.

Given all of this, the questions remain, is it a good time to sell or buy a house.

From the seller’s perspective, even though there is extra work involved in getting the home ready and keeping it safe for visits, it is still a good time as far as the selling price is concerned. The inventory of homes on the market is still low. Prices have not dropped like they did in the 2007/08 Great Recession and mortgage rates remain at a historic low. On the downside, the time to get to a closing has stretched out a bit and mortgage underwriters have tightened up requirements and lowered appraisal values (especially if they could not do an in-person appraisal visit). The pool of potential buyers has also shrunk, due to people being laid off from work. Still, ,it’s not a bad time to be a seller, one just has to be more patient and work a little more at it.

The buyer side of the equation has been impacted quite a bit more, with a significant number of people who might have been buyers now sidelined by layoffs or outright loss of jobs. For some, the prolonged loss of income has also decimated the down payment savings of many, pushing their plans to buy further out into the future. For others, who perhaps were able to continue to work from home and not dip into their savings, this isn’t a bad time to buy, just a strange one. Everything that you need to do to buy a home is do-able; you just need to proceed with caution.

Buyers should try to minimize their exposure to in-person visits by doing most of your shopping on line. Take the time to look through the pictures  and virtual tours that are available on-line to eliminate homes that you can see have obvious things that you don’t like. It used to be just a big waste of everyone’s time to make lots of visits to homes that you really hadn’t evaluated with the data and pictures that were available to you on line. Now it is also dangerous, as well as a waste of everyone’s time. This is not “tire kicking” time. There will also be no open houses allowed during this pandemic.

For many Realtors this is a tough time. It is not possible to just throw a switch and turn on a business like real estate sales. Those who had clients at the beginning of this probably still have them, although some may have wandered away and decided to wait a while longer to sell or buy. All agents will be advertising that they are using safe practices with sellers and buyers and all will be trying to do that; however, this is called the invisible enemy for a reason – you can’t see it coming. Buyers, sellers and agents are advised to consider anyone that they come in contact with, or who visits a home, as a COVID-19 carrier and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your family.

Welcome to the “new normal”. Want to buy or sell a house? Message me and let’s talk.

Imagine that…

May 8, 2020

From today’s post to the blog Jack’s Winning Words, comes this quote – “The best use of imagination is creativity.  The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”  (DeepakChopra)

It is hard not to be anxious these days. Every unmasked stranger that we pass by, we imagine is a COVID-19 carrier who is exposing us to the virus. Every surface that we touch might have last been touched by an infected person, so we wash our hands or use sanitizer. Every night the reports on the news shows reinforce our worst anxieties. What are we to do?

For one, we can turn our imaginations to being creative about staying safe. We have already seen people being creative about making their own facemasks and many have had to become creative about other things like gloves or making their own hand sanitizer. While we are staying home, we must use our creative side to avoid becoming bored, especially if we have younger children who must be kept busy ot occupied.

We can turn our imaginations towards finding ways to communicate with those whom we cannot visit right now. One doesn’t have to use technology to sit down and write a letter or pick up the phone and make a call to someone that we can’t visit with. Some have used their imaginations to create innovative posts to social media.

So, let’s all use our imaginations in positive ways to get through this crisis. Let’s be creative about how we protect ourselves and others. Let’s create our own “new normal”, rather than just being anxious about it. As Jack pointed out in his blog, we have a God who has advised us – “Be not anxious, for you have a God who cares for you and will never leave you.” 

Imagine that!

Waiting for later is the hard part…

May 7, 2020

In today’s post to his Jack’s Winning Words blog, Pastor Freed used this quote – “If you work hard and run straight, God’s gonna bless you sooner or later.”  (Brian Carroll) He went on to relate about Brian,  who works as a car concierge – a person who will do all of the work to buy a new car for you.

It seems like this current crisis has shown us how hard it is to wait for that blessing. We have become  a nation that is used to instant gratification, sometimes without working at all. We no longer have the patience to write novels; so, we write Tweets. Out “knowledge “is served to us in sound bites, rather than in great lectures. We are not willing to self-quarantine to protect others because what we have to do we feel is more important. For us, waiting is the hard part. We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

We have also become a nation obsessed with getting on to the next big thing, owning the next new gadget or having the next new experience. That tends to downplay what we already have, what God has already given us, including the fact that we awoke this morning to another day. Rather than be thankful for what we have already been given, we are constantly striving for the next thing. Rather than enjoying the gifts that we have in hand, we are dissatisfied with what we have yet to achieve or possess. We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

This crisis and the Stay at Home time that was government mandated in many areas should have provided the time to pause and thank God for being alive, for not being sick and for all of the other things that you have. Instead, it has driven many to acts of stupidity or worse. Violence in domestic abuse cases is up, suicides are up, shootings are happening over the lack of a mask in public and armed demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding the right to congregate and get sick. We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

That’s not how it works. Start with the work hard and run straight part of today’s quote. Basically, that boils down to doing the right things. The right things never involve the anger and stupidity that some are displaying or the violence towards others. Loving thy neighbor as you love yourself does not involve yelling and screaming, or pushing and shoving. We were asked to do the right things by staying at home and practicing social distancing when in public. For many that was easy to comply with, but for a few who don’t have the patience to wait and help stop the spread of the disease, it was impossible. We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

We now enter a very dangerous phase of this crisis, when economic and political pressures are forcing government leaders to take actions that they know will cause an increase in the number of deaths – projections from models range as high as 400,000+. Government leaders have decided that the potential death toll is an acceptable trade-off to get the economy running again. We will all soon be at greater risk in our stores and restaurants, at our workplaces and in any gathering of people in public. Our scientists medical professionals have warned us and shown us data that says we are not ready to re-open the country. Our reply… We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

Let’s hope that God takes pity on us. He has forgiven a foolish people before; maybe he will forgive us again. Maybe we should all pray for patience, rather than telling God…We don’t have time for later. Come on God, we have things to; let’s get to the blessings part now.

Lest we not be hypocrites, let’s also remember to pray for those who trespass against us (without their masks) as ask for forgiveness for our own trespasses.

What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

May 5, 2020

Pastor Jack Freed posted this quote in his Jack’s Winning Words blog today – “I’ve been down in the dumps…This really brightens my day.”  (Liz Koto) His post was about the couple who started the walk funny phenomenon that has been reported on the news. That couple started walking funny, like on the old Monty Python show, on a whim, but discovered that it helped lighten up and  brighten up some people’ days. Now many people all over the country are walking funny or dressing up in costumes for their walks. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

We have all seen the ads on TV that recommend that you call someone rather than visit them. Calling them also helps brighten up their day, especially those who have been enduring this pandemic lock-down alone. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

Many people have been putting signs in their windows or yards thanking the frontline workers in their area. Some even hold clapping sessions on their front porches or lawns to thank those who continue to serve us through this crisis. Doing something like that helps both the people who serve and the celebrators alike. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

There have also been stories in the news about car caravans being  organized to drive by the home of someone celebrating a birthday or other special event. Some were  organized just to say “thank you” to someone for being there to serve others. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

Even on Facebook, there are people who go out of their way to post funny pictures or cartoons to help lighten up what could otherwise be a grim time. People need those little breaks of humor every day to help them make it through this. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

So think about what you can do. Who can you call? What funny thing can you do? What sign can you make up and maybe post a picture of on Facebook? Imagine how much better others will feel if you can somehow break the grip of loneliness or depression for them. Just imagining that will also help you feel better. What can you do to brighten someone’s day?

A good way to put yourself in the mood to do something is to go to your bathroom and look in the mirror; then make a funny face to yourself. Break out of your own serious mood and then set you mind to work on answering the question – What can you do to brighten someone’s day?