America at the Crossroads

“I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”Thomas Edison (1847-1931), American inventor and businessman who has been described as America’s greatest inventor.I celebrated an anniversary yesterday, but it’s not exactly an anniversary one might celebrate if one has this particular anniversary as a part of their life. Six years ago as of yesterday (back on September 25, 2014), I left the last actual physical home address that I lived at in search of affordable senior housing. After six years of looking for it and I still haven’t found it yet, you’d think there was a major senior housing shortage or crisis in America. And regular senior apartment complexes (not income based) have rents that are through the roof. The last senior apartment complex I checked at that just opened up a few months ago starts at $1,173/mo. for a one bedroom 718 sq. ft. apartment–and that’s just for the rent. Add on a valet garbage fee (I never heard of that before a few months ago), electric, water, internet/cable, and gas if the stove/oven runs on gas, and you might as well buy a house at those prices if you can afford it. Many senior apartments cost more then that for far less square footage, too (like in the 500 sq. ft. range). You’d think all seniors in today’s America are sitting on retirement nest eggs accumulated over the years (I supposed many are, but many aren’t that fortunate, either).

So where have I been living these past six years while I’ve been looking for affordable senior housing? I’ve been living in extended stay hotel rooms as my only housing option, and I’ve been at my current address/hotel room for over four years now–not that I intended to live in hotel rooms for this long, but, well, life happens, right? And they aren’t cheap, either. I paid $285/week back in Florida, and I currently pay $231/week where I’ve been living for over four years here in Texas. I much prefer where I am staying right now as I have a kitchenette area with a full size refrigerator, two-burner stove top, a microwave, and kitchen sink and counter space, and cabinets. And I have a queen sized bed to sleep on, and 42″ HDTV with Dish Network on the wall above a small chest of drawers, a kitchen table and two chairs, and a bathroom with a shower (approx. 220 sq. ft. total). I have a little corner of closet space, too. And I even have enough room to put out a little Christmas tree each Christmas that I’ve been here.

Back at that hotel room in Florida, I didn’t have any type of kitchenette where I paid $285/week, but I did have a table and two chairs. I also had an microwave (the only thing to cook with) and a dorm-size tiny refrigerator with no freezer space, a queen sized bed, and I did have a 42″ HDTV on the wall with Dish Network. At that hotel they didn’t allow you to use any other type of cookware, like a portable burner or a small George Foreman type grill. If you had to cook something, the microwave was your only option. Eating in my room got really old after a few months of staying there. I did finally get used to the taste of microwaved fish.

You’d be amazed at how many folks live in hotel rooms (probably most do it not by choice but by necessity). I never even knew people lived in hotels until it happened to me. In fact, here’s just one article on the topic you can read titled, 15 Survival Tips for Living in a Hotel Room.”

Hotel taxes are a real kicker to have to pay, too, and they differ from state to state. The hotel taxes in Florida can add up to $36-40 per week on a hotel room that costs $285/wk, and they don’t drop off until a guest has stayed concurrently every night at the same hotel for six months. That’s a significant amount of money every month depending on the rent price of the room. It can add up to as much as $160-200/mo. on top of the cost for rent on a hotel room.

Here in Texas, the hotel taxes drop off after 30 days (a huge difference from Florida), and all of the hotel taxes you paid for those first 30 days is given back to you if you stay beyond the first 30 days. And you never have to pay those hotel taxes again if you stay at the same hotel long term. When I came back to Texas over four years ago from Florida, it was mainly just to take a break from the dismal affordable senior housing search that went on for two years in Central Florida with nothing ever opening up for me; however, the hotel room and rent price is what has kept me staying here over the long haul as the hotel rent with a kitchenette costs less then in Florida, too, and when you’re on a budget that counts, big time. Besides, I really like the city I’m living in here in Texas, too. But I haven’t given up totally on returning to Florida. I just can’t afford to return there just to live in another hotel room there.

However, my housing search hasn’t been any better here in Texas then it was back in Florida. What’s up with the senior housing scene in America? And it is no joke when I say that those seniors in need of assisted living facilities or with serious health issues requiring an assisted living facility need to have a huge retirement nest egg built up over time to afford those places where the rent is several thousand dollars a month. I am shocked at the prices of rent for seniors whether in an assisted living facility or just a regular (not income based) senior apartment complex for independent living (those without serious health issues). And affordable low income senior housing is about as hard to find in America today as ice is to find in the middle of a desert.

Honestly, I’ve been totally shocked (and after all I’ve experienced over the past dozen years since I accepted and then lost that job here in Texas and I never found another one, it takes a lot to shock me) at the senior housing situation I have found now that I’ve gotten old enough to be looking for it. Fortunately, I’m in excellent health so I don’t need an assisted living facility that costs two arms and two legs and your first born child who is at this point probably middle aged. But I can’t afford any of the senior apartment complexes I’ve visited that aren’t income based (try $800/mo. plus other expenses for a  tiny 441 sq. ft. studio–still vacant after I looked at it a year ago–that upon entering it looks like it’s missing an entire room–and it is). And they don’t even supply a washer and a dryer for that price, plus you pay water, valet garbage, electricity, internet/cable, and well, gee, at least you get to live with other seniors who mostly live in the much larger, $1,300-$1,600/mo. rent apartments that at least have one bedroom.

After six years of looking for senior housing (I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s been a pretty sorry adventure so far), I applied back in March–right at the time the COVID-19 pandemic started–at yet another senior apartment complex that was built and opened in the summer of 2017. It’s very nice and income-based, and I supplied all the information they needed (it’s a pain all the paperwork that is required for income-based apartments). In April I was told that a one-bedroom apartment (705 sq. ft. with a washer and dryer and a really nice kitchen area) was available for me to rent, and 17 days before my scheduled move-in date I received an email from the assistant manager stating my new address at that complex plus she gave me the info I needed on the electric company and cable/internet company they use to set up those services in my name. Since I lost all of my furniture 11 years ago after losing my job here in Texas, I also needed to buy some furniture for this apartment (and I had mentioned that to the assistant manager). However, until my signature was on a lease, I decided I wasn’t doing anything yet. Good thing I didn’t do anything with the utilities or buying any furniture for it as one day before I was scheduled to move into that apartment, I received an email from the assistant manager stating that their compliance department had reviewed my financial information and determined that I did not qualify for that apartment at that rent price after all, and that I could not move into it.

Say WHAT? Seriously?

I’ve rented apartments all of my adult life until I lost that job in Houston 11 plus years ago that screwed me financially from that point on since I never found another job, and I was still ten years away from normal retirement age back then, too (I was 56). Not only did it screwed my finances and my retirement, it screwed a bunch of other stuff, too. However, when I was working it was no big deal to finding an apartment. Now I can’t find one even if my life depended on it, and I’ve been looking for six years.

If there is one thing regarding all that we as a nation have gone through just since 2020 started with the COVID-19 pandemic and leading into a summer of outrage, racism issues, riots, and violence that seems to know no end, America isn’t what it used to be. I got that wake-up call 11 years ago after I lost that job, and a lot of you are starting to get it now, too, during this year of 2020. I’ve had 11 years to get used to not being able to live like I had been used to living before I lost that job 11 years ago, and life as I knew it took a nosedive that I didn’t know how to get out from under. And in those same 11 years I’ve learned a lot about the very serious undercurrents going on in every corner of our nation whether in major cities or in small town America.

And I doubt whether it is Biden or Trump who wins in November that it will make even a tiny bit of difference for me and the many others stuck in hotel living or long term unemployment, or who are getting screwed at their jobs or with their retirement funds or trying to find decent and affordable housing, or you can add anything else to this list you want because that the kind of year 2020 has been, and I don’t think 2021 is going to be magically different no matter who takes the oath of office in January.

Now would be a good time to say, “Wake up and smell the coffee.” I never expected what happened to me 11 plus years ago to change my life so drastically, nor did I expect to find so many closed doors when I spent six years after losing that job 11 years ago trying to find another job, or these past six years looking for affordable senior housing that has never materialized, either. A Democrat was president when this first started in my life back in 2009 when I lost that job, and a Republican is president right now during these past almost four years of the six years I’ve been living in a hotel room, and from my perspective looking out a hotel room window, neither party has made any difference that I can tell.

Change doesn’t start with whoever wins the White House in November. Change starts with us and how we treat each other. Right now. Today. Or doesn’t that even matter anymore? And that’s…

The Million . . .

Dollar . . .

Question . . . .

YouTube Video: “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1971) by Leon Russell:

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Being Teachable

In the midst of such a challenging year as 2020 has turned out to be, we can grow weary and think things are just too big for us to handle. And, for the most part, they are. And that’s exactly the time we need to be encouraged and reminded that it is God, and not us, who is in control.

In a message (sermon notes) published on July 21, 2019, titled, Psalm 86: A Humble, Confident Cry for Help,” by Matthew Breeden, Elder and Teaching Pastor at Southern Hills Baptist Church, he states:

When People are Big and God is Smallis the title of a book that I read many years ago but that I still think of often. The premise of the book is that we are prone to giving more weight to what other people say rather than to what God says. In our thoughts we make people big and God small.

In a similar way many of us are guilty of seeing our situations and thinking they are too big or too complicated while at the same time minimizing the power and care of God. We are guilty of believing that our situations are big and God is small.

In Psalm 86 we see a prayer of a man who has a proper perspective. While he finds himself in a difficult situation he remains confident that God hears and is able to save him. He’s sure that even though his situation is dire, his God is bigger and desires to show mercy to those whom He loves.

A common feature in ancient literature is the use of structure to highlight a main idea. In Psalm 86 David uses a distinct structure to show what’s central to his thinking. While the psalm starts and ends with references to his situation and his requests for salvation, the center sections of the psalm are completely focused on God and David’s devotion to God.

This structure reveals David’s heart. He certainly wants to be saved from trouble (this is made clear in vv. 1-7 and 14-17) but above all He emphasizes the character of God (vv. 8-10) and his own devotion to God (vv. 11-13). The situation is difficult but He is confident in His God.

David’s Request: A Humble Plea to the God who Hears His People (86:1-7) 

  • David believes that God hears and answers prayers – In vv. 1-7 there are 8 prayer requests. At first read it may seem like David is trying to persuade God, but in fact these verses reveal David’s humble confidence in God. He is praying to God with confidence that He hears and responds. 
  • David appeals to God based on their relationship – Throughout this section David emphasizes his relationship to God as His servant. He doesn’t see God as a distant unreachable figure, but as his Lord who will care for those who are His own.
  • David is sure of the ways God relates to His people – In verse 5 David recounts the ways God relates to His people: God is good and forgiving and faithful in love.

David’s Praise: An Expression of Trust and Confidence in God’s Character (86:8-10)

  • If we read verses 8-10 in isolation from the rest of the psalm it sounds like it would be part of a psalm of praise. It’s remarkable to remember that this is included in a prayer for salvation as David is running for his life. But what’s clear is that David understands the “bigness” of God and trusts that God can save him from any situation.
  • Application: How quick are you to remember the truth of who God is in the midst of a difficult time? How dialed in are you to the truth when you are going to God in prayer? Do you tend to focus on the enormity of struggle rather than on the ‘bigness’ of God?When we are really conscious of who God is then it should enable us to pray with boldness.

David’s Devotion: A Humble Commitment to Obedience and Worship (86:11-13)

  • Without the context vs. 9 may seem somewhat ordinary, but the fact that this is included in prayer for salvation makes it more remarkable. In the middle of a prayer for protection David is asking God to grow Him and to teach Him so that He can walk in the truth.
  • Even in the midst of difficulties David is focused on the character of God and he is poised to give thanks and praise to God–trusting that He will hear and save him. 
  • Application: When life gets hard our spiritual growth and the praise of God may be the furthest things from our minds, but we should want them to be front and center. We should want to love and trust God so much that even in the struggles we are asking Him to hold us close and teach us.

David’s Request Restated: A Humble, Confident Cry for Help (86:14-17)

  • In many ways vv. 14-17 mirror vv. 1-7. Once again we see that while David is crying out for help he is confident in God and His ability to save him. David is also hopeful that God will be praised as others see God’s protection of His servant. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on BeliefNet.com, titled, 5 Things Every Christian Should Know About Psalm 86: There’s More to David’s Prayer Than You Think,” by Angela Guzman, Writer at Large for BeliefNet, she writes:

Psalm 86 is a prayer of David. Before we look at what is said, let’s revisit the scripture.

Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.

Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.

Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.

When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.

For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.

Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me–they have no regard for you.

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother I did.

Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

It’s thought that Psalm 86 was not penned upon any particular occasion, but was a prayer that David himself often used. It’s also presumed that he often recommended the prayer to others that were battling an affliction within their lives. After re-reading the psalm, it’s evident that the language is very plain and lacks any poetic flights or figures in comparison to other psalms.

David is very passionate with his words and at times can sound somewhat preachy; however, when someone is driven by their faith, sometimes passion can be misconstrued as being overly preachy. This passion and desire for real resolution and understanding is visible through David’s pleads. He pleads his relation to God and interest to him; he pleads his distress, he pleads God’s good will towards all that seek Him, and he pleads God’s good work in himself, by which is qualified.

The elements to keep in mind and take a deeper look at include:

Label of David

Psalm 86 is a very in-depth lesson on prayer. Interestingly enough, Psalm 86 is Book three of the Psalter and is the only one labeled as written by David. Many readers will say that this indicates that it’s not an original psalm. Instead the psalm pieces together verses and phrases from other psalms and scriptures, which causes people to believe that David didn’t actually write it himself.

Timing

It’s impossible to put a specific time in David’s life for this prayer because there are too many possible points where this connects with his overall circumstances. In addition, David calls God “Adonai,” master, seven times.

15 Requests

In Psalm 86 you’ll find a man who puts his faith in God while crying out desperately. The psalm is filled with 15 requests—some of them are repetitive. All in all, the requests break down into four sections. In 86:1-7, David cries out in great need for God to hear and act on his behalf. In 86:8-10 there is a deliberate request of praise when David declares God as the only true God—the Lord of the nations. Then in 86:11-13, David asks for God to teach him and unite his heart to fear God so that he can glorify Him forever. And then finally in 86:14-17, David appeals to God’s mercy and grace to deliver him.

The Lesson

The ultimate lesson and bigger picture that encompasses the entire psalm is, “Our great needs should drive us to pray to the great God, who alone can deliver us.” God is the only one who has control over the world that we live in. No matter how hard we wish, the Lord is the only one who can really provide us with the strength and hope to get where we yearn to be. Once we all learn to put God first, then everything else will fall into place. All in all, God is the key to everything.

Prayer

From time to time, an individual’s pride can become blinding and get in the way of the reality that God has put into play.

In Psalm 86:14, David mentions the band of arrogant, violent men that are seeking his life. David understands his need and this drives him toward prayer. Psalm 86 helps Christians to recognize their own selfishness and helps to shed light on the bigger picture of relationships within families and the church.

Throughout the entirety of Psalm 86, David gives glory to God. He praises Him throughout the prayer in the most humble and reverent adoration. Throughout everything he never takes away from God’s greatness or infinite greatness. Furthermore, he identifies his infinite goodness as well.

We all need the salvation of the Lord. There are so many trials and tribulations within the world, therefore, it is imperative that we pray to God for mercy and allow Him to help lead us away from potential sins. (Quote source here.)

With so many things going on in America right now to include a very divisive Presidential election taking place in eight weeks from now, may this psalm remind us of how much bigger God is then anything going on in America and the rest of the world, and may it drive us to pray as David prayed in humility and confidence in our great God!

I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 86:11Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me…

An undivided heart . . .

That I may fear . . .

Your name . . . .

YouTube Video: “Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns:

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