For Better or Worse

Terry Lieb Challenging Yourself, Coping with Adversity, Facing Fear, Living out your Faith 7 Comments

Crisis seems to bring out the best and worst of human nature, and the crisis we now find ourselves in is no exception.

Daily we witness the heroism of medical professionals, while grocery store workers and delivery people who certainly never signed up to put their lives on the line, still go in to work each day to make sure our needs are met. Individuals and businesses across the nation are stepping up to do what they can to help those most affected by the crisis.

On the other hand, there are those—usually themselves in perceived “low risk” categories—who ignore stay-at-home orders, not caring that this endangers other people’s lives, not just their own. Meanwhile, on Facebook, folks are regularly shamed and attacked for their beliefs, and stories about people who have died of COVID-19 after having expressed doubt about its seriousness are met with callous contempt, as if they got what they “deserved.”

You don’t have to look beyond your own circle and direct experiences to find examples of the tremendously different ways people are reacting. Here are just two that have come to me in the past few days.

The first came in an email I got in response to my last blog post. It was from a person I knew from when we both worked for the same agency years ago. She told me that based on the mention I made of Rita and I using our quarantine time to try a recipe we had had for years but never got around to making, she had been inspired to dig out her grandmother’s old wooden recipe box and make one of her grandmother’s recipes.

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She decided her first dish would be granny’s chicken pot pie. She explained the hardest part was making the dough from scratch and rolling it out. “I didn’t have a rolling pin so I had to improvise. But it’s definitely the ‘made-from-scratch’ dough that made it so special.” When the pie came out of the oven, the fresh-baked smell stirred up a “little nudge” to share a helping with an older widower down the street, who had recently lost his wife.

She said she usually ignored those little nudges, but for some reason she couldn’t explain, this time she didn’t. She took over a dish then called her neighbor to inform him that she had just set a surprise on the table on his back porch. He grunted a brusque ‘thank you’ and hung up.

Later that evening he called back and they talked for close to half an hour. He said her gesture was the kindest thing that happened for him in months, besides being the best darn chicken pot pie he had ever tasted! “I hadn’t had that hand-rolled dough since I was a kid!” he remarked. She jokingly explained that she actually had to use a juice can to roll the dough since she didn’t have a rolling pin.

“You do now,” he said immediately. “I have my mother’s old rolling pin that we never really used. It’s yours now.” Sure enough, he left the rolling pin out for her to take, and in the meantime, instead of a one-time event, she decided to make her dinner offering a weekly occurrence. Ever since then, my friend says she’s been keeping that old maple rolling pin on her kitchen counter to remind her to take those “little nudges” more seriously.

That was the extent of her email, but not long afterwards I got an “update” on the chicken pot pie when we talked on the phone. It seems that a few days after delivering the chicken pot pie to her neighbor she was sharing what happened with a friend who lived nearby. The woman was quite touched and suggested she might cook the gentleman a meal as well. And then, before the week was over another neighbor became involved so now the widower is receiving three home-made dinners each week!

The women agreed that making a little extra once a week was no big deal, but for the neighbor it seemed to make a huge difference. I’m convinced their assessment was correct and what seemed like a small gesture of kindness to them, I expect was a huge blessing for that senior gentleman, still grieving his life-long partner and now living alone. There is more than his physical body being nourished by their thoughtfulness.

Because of my friend’s willingness to extend herself and act on a “little nudge,” she was able to forge a connection where there had been none, encourage a greater sense of community within her little neighborhood, and bring some good into this terrible situation.

The second example is an experience I had earlier in the pandemic crisis. Rita had sent me to the grocery store with a list of necessities to pick up, one of which was disinfectant wipes.  When I got to the cleaning products aisle there were several folks gathered in front of the shelf with the remaining wipes. Trying to practice the recommended 6-foot social distancing, I stood back a little ways, waiting my turn.

Suddenly, a person stepped right in front of me, either not knowing I was in line or not caring! I was slightly annoyed but decided not to say anything since there were still plenty of wipes on the shelf and waiting another minute wasn’t that big of a deal.

I watched as one customer put two containers in his cart. Then the woman behind him gathered up the remaining wipes—probably about a dozen—and dumped them all in her cart!

The rest of us who were waiting were dumbfounded. The next customer in line, a young woman, asked tentatively, “Would you mind leaving some for the rest of us?”

Photo by Valentin Farkasch on

The woman with the cart full of wipes turned and with a smile that was almost triumphant, said flippantly, “The early bird gets the worm!”

A lady behind me piped in, “I would say strange bird rather than early bird! When did we stop caring about or thinking about the other person?”

Like her, my first response—as it too often is, no matter how hard I try to avoid it—was to judge the woman with the cart full of disinfectant wipes. Sure, I didn’t know what her situation was. Maybe she needed those extra wipes because she lives with someone who is particularly vulnerable or she’s a caretaker in a group home and she was buying supplies for all the residents. But even if there were scenarios in which she might have been justified in her action, I thought, she still could have responded with compassion, instead of indifference. She seemed almost glad to have gotten the last of the wipes!

However, as I continued to process what had happened, I tried to put myself in her shoes. What could be driving her behavior? Is it possible she was simply in “survival mode” and—at least unconsciously—believed her life depended upon out-competing others for scarce resources? And that her flippant, cavalier manner was just a defensive response after being caught out? Her reaction might have been masking her own discomfort with her behavior.

My judgmental attitude began to recede. I expect that when I am in survival mode, I, too, tend to become less sensitive to the other. I think it is a natural, primal response that when threatened, our focus narrows to doing whatever it takes to meet our own survival needs.

Is it possible to fight our natural instincts or are we helpless to resist them? Because I would actually like to become more sensitive to others in these stressful times. Not only because I believe that is what my God is calling me to, but because that’s the survival mode that actually increases our chances of surviving.

We are stronger together than alone.

Fighting your natural instincts certainly isn’t easy. But my faith asks me to do many difficult, “unreasonable” things that go against my nature: to surrender my own will, to experience peace in the midst of tragedy, to forgive the unforgivable, to love my enemies, to relinquish fear, to deny death’s victory, and to trust God in the darkest of circumstances.

This crisis presents us with a great challenge. I hope we will rise to the occasion and, instead of succumbing to our baser impulses, encourage and cultivate the best that is within us.



  1. In what ways do you think this crisis has brought out the best and worst in you?
  2. Do you have enough space in your day to listen for the “still, small voice” that might be speaking to you? Have you felt any “little nudges” and if so, have you acted on them?
  3. Have you noticed a “ripple effect” from positive actions? Have you ever been inspired to act based on someone else’s good deeds? What about bad behavior? Is that “contagious” as well?
  4. Do you think looking after your own needs at the expense of others is justified when your survival is at stake? Why or why not? How should you balance caring for yourself and your own needs with caring for others?
  5. Do you believe—like the lady in the story—that we were more caring in the “good old days” than we are today? Why or why not?
  6. When have you let fear and insecurity overcome your own willingness to care for others?
  7. What is one way you can bring some good into the world during this dark time?

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Nanci Osborne
Nanci Osborne
May 2, 2020 2:51 pm

Hi Terry- I really enjoy your posts. Thank you for including us in these. Our oldest son, though raised in the church, struggles with his faith. I know he needs to find his way- but I forward your articles to him. Thank you.

David Kuntz
David Kuntz
May 2, 2020 4:30 pm

Longtime listener, first time caller. I enjoyed the piece, Terry. I think what struck me is your ability to confront those thoughts in yourself about the lady in the store. Often I brush them off, this lady is selfish. Like you said. This and that, turn our attention to the great things others are doing in this world almost to ignore or numb those thoughts. It is extremely important I have found. If we can give that lady a little context we free ourselves up to give ourselves a little context. I admire the courage it takes to see her… Read more »

May 2, 2020 4:43 pm

Thank you! I enjoy reading your posts. There certainly is a ripple effect, I have seen it in a young couple we know. They give stuff to others that they could have sold for hundreds of dollars. I think the secret is, there is no thought of reciprocity.
Stay safe

May 4, 2020 1:47 pm

Thanks Terry for this reminder that what we put into the universe can have results we could never anticipate. We are called to plant seeds…that is faith. But, I will admit it is often easy for me to put judgement into the universe and that has consequences as well. Stay well.

Dave Werley
Dave Werley
May 5, 2020 11:31 am

To take time and act on “the nudge” that one is given quite frequently, is our openness to God’s presence and His Spirit offerng us a hint to how we might serve Him and someone else. To ignore “the nudge” is to limit God’s ability to bless someone through our own actions. Too often, I feel myself “too busy”, too otherwise insvolved in many other ways, to want to stop from whatever my own directions are, to turn in the direction (often 180 degress the other way) to God’s ways. Terry’s piece has reminded me and repushed me once again,… Read more »

Dave Werley
Dave Werley
May 5, 2020 11:44 am

Terry, you have reminded me of one of the special ways, God seeks to blerss my life. We all are given little nudges to consider doing something or being something that we haven’t up to that point, been willing to do or be. God always seeks to give us life, true life, abundant life, the richest possible life. Too often we are content to ignore, deny, or keep our own priorities first, and we risk of losing out on the blessings God has hoped for us and others being blessed by us! Thanks, Terry, for helping us see God’s greater… Read more »

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
May 5, 2020 5:19 pm

Terry, Your message is filled with so much wisdom. I wanted to pick-up on the widower who was on the receiving end of good deeds by neighbors. I really miss our Sunday church services where the regulars catch-up with others each week. However, since I live alone now, I find it comforting that several people just add me to their weekly call list and I find great enjoyment in just having a phone chat, which can easily turn into a half hour. I now think of folks I have not seen for well over a month and I try to… Read more »