I Took A Bath With 10 Naked Ladies and I Loved It.

IMG_4306I just returned from a visit to my second homeland, Casablanca, Morocco. I lived in that beautiful country for four years and never went to the hammam – the Moroccan version of a communal Turkish bathhouse where women and men (in separate quarters) go for weekly bathing rituals in a somewhat spa-like setting.

The experience always sounded terrifying to me because I was only aware of two facts: women walk around naked and an attendant scrubs you down from head to toe. No part of that sounded “fun” in the least. I don’t walk around my husband naked, let alone strange Muslim women.

On this particular visit, however, my friend Khadija tried to convince me into going to the hammam together. “It’ll be fun!” she said.

While still skeptical, I acquiesced to Khadija’s cajoling – mostly because she threw out the word “brave” when referring to westerners who try the hammam – and I SO want that word to define me…

Bring it!

After paying around eight dollars each, we entered the locker area and stripped down – leaving only our underwear on. Khadija explained that this was necessary because Islam forbids total nudity. I didn’t exactly feel “less nude” just because I had my little black bikini Target underwear on.

Khadija told me to just relax and “enjoy” the experience.

“Uh-huh. Okay, Khadija”

The bathing area consists of four connected rooms – each one large, bright, and cavernous with white and marble-y grey tile walls and ceiling, and white and grey swirled marble sinks, fountains and slab tables. Loud echoes bounced around the rooms from rushing water, splashing children, laughing women. This was most definitely a place to let your guard down and engage. I tried to let my guard down but couldn’t quite get past all the boobs. Every size, color and shape. Boobs for days. One thing I know for certain about our God: He IS a creative.

We walked through a large room that had at least a dozen marble sinks around the perimeter, each with hot and cold faucets – many of them running freely without anyone nearby. They do not worry about wasting water at the hammam. There were several naked women sitting on little stools at some of these sinks. They each held a small, brightly colored children’s sand bucket in their hands and were either soaping up their bodies or dumping water over their heads with their buckets. Water was overflowing the marble sinks and flowing loudly into a drain in the center of the room. A couple of little girls were splashing around in the water streams. No one seemed to really notice us. Everyone was just so matter-of-fact going about their cleansing business. Still – I couldn’t help but feel like a white sheep who had just walked into the black-sheep pen.

Khadija and I walked through the sink room and entered the sauna room. Its purpose was to sweat-open our pores so the scrubbing we were about to receive would be the most effective.

In the sauna, we also personally scrubbed down our bodies with this soft, pasty brown soap that every Moroccan uses every time they visit the hammam. I don’t know why they do it, they just do. Sometimes it’s best not to ask too many questions. As I was soon to discover…

After the sauna, my “attendant”, Souad, came to greet me. She was thrilled to have an American as a client! She said, “Me. I speak English!” I said, “Wonderful! I’m so relieved! I don’t speak Arabic!” And she said, “Nice you speak Arabic.” I said, “No, I said I DON’T. I only speak French. We used to live here and I was able to get by using only French.” And she said, “Nice you live here someday.”

I held back, but so wanted to say, “You. You no speak English.”

But, as it turned out, it entirely didn’t matter and it in no way affected my experience.

Souad brought me to yet another room where there were six or so marble slab tables. At the head of each table was a hand bar. I never read the book or saw the movie of the same name, “50 Shades of Grey” – but it was, honest to goodness, my first thought of use for that bar…   I looked at the other women being scrubbed down on their marble slabs – and sure enough, their arms were up over their heads holding onto that bar for dear life just to keep from slip-sliding off the wet tables as they were vigorously scrubbed down.

I had to dig deep to find my bravery at this point.

Souad had to clean the marble table first from the previous bather. So she hosed it down and took her arm and swept away any excess water on the table. Third world living had definitely taught me how to do “mind-over-matter”, so I quickly deleted from my mental hard drive all that I had learned in nursing school about sanitizing equipment and everything I knew about proliferating germs from working two years in Infection Control at Spectrum Health. I did not want to be hindered from “enjoying” this experience due to unnecessary knowledge…

There. Gone from memory. Brave again! Let’s proceed!

Souad wore a harsh, gritty scrubbing glove on her powerful right hand. It was only slightly less abrasive then the SANDPAPER I had used on the plastered walls of our Fixer-Upper! Souad squirted some warm oily soap over one small area at a time and with hands more muscular than most men, she scrubbed me down. At first, I felt the scrubbing to be a wee bit painful and I was searching my vocabulary for some Arabic words to tell her to “chill out a little, would ya?” – but after a few minutes of more mind-over-matter and mentally replaying Khadija’s words of advice, “Just enjoy yourself”, I began to relax. Soon, I forgot I was naked and that a stranger was scrubbing every nook, cranny and crevice of my body. She yanked my underwear up and down to be sure to reach every hidden part – (except, of course, the unmentionables because of that part of Islam….). She yanked so hard on my underwear that the elastic burst and I had to hold them up the rest of the time.

She scrubbed my front side. She held my legs high in the air, she steadied them one at a time in her armpit to wash the interior side, she held them off to the side, jerking me into positions I didn’t know I could do – all to access every square inch of my body. She rolled me over and scrubbed my backside. She went back over my legs and arms several times – even seeming, I think, a bit frustrated as she increased force.

It wasn’t until I sat up that I realized what exactly had transformed for the past half hour. I was surrounded by a pool of grimy, dirty piles of skin. MY grimy skin! What the @#%*!? Have I never washed myself??? Do I not shower every day??? What the heck AM I doing in the shower if I actually have this much grimy residue left behind?

I wanted to gag. I also wanted to run away from embarrassment. I didn’t even want to make eye-contact with Souad for fear that she was gagging, too. I tried to think of a quick lie that might explain why I was so dirty, like, “Well, you know, I just returned from a month-long camel trek in the desert with no water available for bathing…” But I realized Ms. Souad the “English speaker” wouldn’t understand me anyway.

It wasn’t until at least an hour later when I finally found a mirror that I realized what had happened. I was at least two-shades lighter. Whiter. Souad had simply scrubbed off the tan that I had spent all summer trying to acquire. I said a quick prayer hoping the body scrub also removed the negative carcinogenic effects of the sun…

After the scrub down, Souad took me to yet another room, where, instead of marble slabs, there were padded massage beds. Again, she “cleaned” the bed by hosing it down and wiping off the water with her arm. I clenched my saggy underwear with one hand and climbed on the bed. With one strong shove, Souad rolled me to my stomach and stretched my arms above my head. She then proceeded to apply some kind of grey mud that smelled like lavender to my entire body. And she massaged me – from freaking tip of my head to freaking tip of my toes. And here, here is where I nearly fell asleep and entered some kind of nirvana. I forgot where I was and I didn’t care that I was naked with nothing but stretched out underwear on. I didn’t care that Souad and I couldn’t communicate or that she had probably seen more terrain of my body than my husband. I didn’t care about anything anymore.

This was bliss.

From the massage table we went to the sink room and washed our hair and dumped water all over ourselves with those colorful little plastic buckets. It was kind of tricky as I had to hold up my underwear with one hand, but it was like a bunch of grown women playing in a splash pad/water park. I loved it. I stopped noticing boobs.

After the splash pad, we showered in traditional showers. To my memory, this made the fifth full-body washing of the day. We ended the experience by wrapping up in towels, grabbing a cold drink from the desk attendant and sitting in lounge chairs while watching Arabic MTV for about half an hour. My body a calm, contented, noodle – I could have easily fallen asleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so relaxed.  We sipped our drinks and laughed about our aging bodies, confessed how we sometimes screen phone calls and ignore texts, and talked seriously about Middle Eastern politics for a while.

I ended up tipping Souad about the equivalent of her day’s wage. Again, I didn’t care. Souad is some kind of soul-sister to me now.

Lastly, Khadija reassured me that everyone leaves behind piles of grimy skin – even when they are visiting the hammam weekly and that’s how you know the attendant did her job well! She also hypothesized that Moroccan women have less issue with body shame and striving for unattainable goals of body perfection because they grow up in the hammam observing the real female form. They develop a solid sense of self from seeing “normal” female bodies far more than observing those airbrushed models on the lying covers of magazines. I had to agree. She also told me to feel my skin and said, “Feels like a baby’s bottom, doesn’t it?” She also said we should go to the hammam together more often.

I couldn’t agree more, Khadija. I couldn’t agree more.

And here’s the thing: I think Moroccans are on to something with this whole hammam-gig. In addition to the “reality-check” it serves women with body image, I think the whole experience is also far more about bonding with girlfriends, getting real with one another and eliminating relationship inhibition than it is about bathing.

And we see this in other cultures, too:

Our oldest daughter is in her first year at university. She lives in the dorms and they have community bathrooms. She says the best bonding moments come in the bathroom – sometimes with tunes blaring, dancing in their bath towels and singing into toothbrush microphones; other times it is serious conversation with shared tears and prayers – but somehow, beautifully, these college girls develop intimate lifelong friendships in those bathrooms.

There’s something about being naked literally that makes one dare, but also want, to bare their souls as well. And it seems to me that sharing of our souls with a couple of our safe, bestie girlfriends is essential to becoming whole.

Hammam anyone???

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Reasons Why I’m posting dog poop and not prom pics

grace pics 095The Netflix hit series, 13 Reasons Why, has created a maelstrom within the media, parental circles, and my mind. The show is essentially about teenage suicide but largely focuses on bullying and teenage angst. Because of my profession as a psychiatric nurse, I wrestle with these things often. Out of curiosity, I watched the show and lost a lot of sleep mulling it over. The best review I’ve read and the one I most resonate with is from Jamie Tworkowski from “To Write Love on Her Arms”. You can read his summary here.

To help sort things out, I consulted my 16 year old and asked her, “What makes kids bully others?”

She said, “They think they’re ‘all that’ – they’re usually the popular kids.”

So I asked her, “What makes kids popular?”

She said, “Bullying others.” (She’s one part smart and two parts cocky.)

“But why?” I asked, “Why do they think they need to do that?”

She said, “It’s classic psychology, mom. Weak people feel they need to put others down in order to elevate themselves. Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions.”

Ahhh – so once in a while she DOES listen to what we’re telling her…

But her choice of words continued to haunt me: “Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions…..”

And I’ve been vexed ever since about what to do with my own social media – the KING of all perception adjustment. I long to be strong and secure, but, at the same time, I had been accumulating all kinds of clever and envy-worthy pics and posts this spring – just waiting for the exact right time to unload them on all my “friends” and “followers.”

I started to wonder if my “friends” and “followers” were more my “victims.” I started asking: How might my social media posts potentially cause harm to others? And when I answered myself honestly (I’m really good at lying when it comes to myself), I realized many of my posts could be considered bullying – making others feel bad about themselves or their situation. It depends who’s looking at it and from what perspective. But still.  I decided to desist from social media for a while.

That is, until my dog pooped on our rug.

Here are the 13 reasons why (in David Letterman fashion) I felt POOP was worthy of my social media feed:

  1. My friend’s daughter, a senior, did not go to her Junior/Senior prom. Not only did she not have a date, she didn’t even feel she had any girlfriends with whom she could attend. She told her mom that prom night was one of the saddest nights of her life. Hearing this, I knew I could no longer post my daughter’s prom pictures. I know we all want to believe that our “friends” and “followers” want to share in the joy of ALL our good news. Yet, studies consistently find that, for most people, a steady diet of viewing all the things other people are doing will actually INDUCE isolation – the exact OPPOSITE of a “social” media. Sometimes, when we think we’re sharing happy news, it’s really throwing daggers.
  1. One of our kids had their heart shattered this past year – a wound so deep, that many months have passed with very little healing. And when the heartbreaker posts pics and captions revealing a life of joy and new love, my child’s wounds reopen. We simply were NOT meant to see and know everything – and all this access to information that we’d be better off without is making us miserable. I don’t have the answer. Parents, should we cut our kids off from social media? Do we throw their phones away? How do we give them nerves of steel to deal with the barrage of images that are undoubtedly way more information than the human psyche can handle? How do I get those nerves of steel? I don’t know – but this cruel media world is why shows like 13 Reasons Why exist. I wish I had a better answer – but I just think sharing a lot more pictures of doggie defecation wouldn’t hurt.  Life is poopy sometimes.
  1. I have never once posted a photo of a family vacation or shared some terrific news and received the response of “Ah! So glad you shared this! Now I know I’m not alone with my incredible life! I feel so much better knowing your life is as perfect as mine!”  When life is going swimmingly, people aren’t generally lonely.
  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. We cannot REALLY get to know and understand one another until we know each other’s pain. I realize social media is not the venue to find REAL friends, but, when we share glimpses of reality, photos of hard times, and stories of suffering, our “friends” will see we are REAL and maybe, just maybe, we’d start feeling less alone. Maybe that would put the SOCIAL back in the media…
  1. I cannot take a decent photo to save my life. Social media makes those of us who stink at photography appear headless, washed-out, wrinkly, or red-devil-eyed.   Dang – I hope I’m not all those things…. but it feels like just because we sucky photographers don’t have a $1000 camera and a creative eye, we appear “less than.” I say we need SOCIAL MEDIA REFORM – where sucky photographers get Disney passes or something.
  1. Commonly heard among the young today, “Need a pic or it didn’t happen!” This is our culture – everything must be recorded and shared for verification. So, logic says, most people never have anything bad happen to them. No pics of hardship must mean no hardships have happened. But we all know better. So what will it take to get real with one another? Is it possible to put HONESTY into social media???
  1. I sat by a mom I had never met before at my daughter’s recent graduation ceremony. With tears in her eyes, she shared how she never imagined her son would make it to graduation. He has both a learning disability and social cue deficits – but no one would know this by looking at him. When her son walked across the stage, I cried. When my own daughter walked across the stage, I just smiled – because she was always expected to graduate and to do well. Why do we insist on sharing photos and stories of life-things that are totally EXPECTED?

When we learn of one another’s burdens and hardships, we get to experience in the joy of being overcomers – one of the greatest gifts Christ’s death on the cross affords us.

  1. When I wrote about our piece-of-crap house and the trials of fixing-up a fixer-upper (here), I received responses from thousands of people all over the world. They were all experiencing the same thing – DISILLUSIONMENT from HGTV, home magazines, Pinterest, AND social media pics of everyone’s beautiful homes. This has become a huge area where we are (often unknowingly) inflicting inferiority on one another. By constantly posting our beautiful, clean, and perpetually updated homes, we seem to be conveying the message, “I have it all together – and you, OH LOWLY YOU, with an unfinished basement, with weeds in your landscaping, with mounds of laundry in your hallway, with cobwebs in your corners, and with the PVC piping still spanning your sunroom ceiling which the previous tenants had used for stringing cannabis (or wait – that one MAY be just me….), you are such a mess, YOU LOWLY YOU.”

I actually want to see your laundry room on laundry day. I want to see your daughter’s room after six weeks of simultaneous soccer and musical practice. I want to see your kitchen after making a mother’s day meal. I want to see your bathroom after a full week at work. I want to see your garage the day after a garage sale. I want to see your basement storage rooms.

Because I desperately want to feel less lonely.

  1. At work at the psych hospital, I often ask my patients “What are you finding to be the most helpful part of your therapy here?” Hands down, the most common reply is this: “Listening to, and sharing with the other patients. They get me in a way that none of you (staff) can.”   Ah-ha!
  1. Every dog poops. Every dog owner, every day, picks up dog poop. It’s disgusting. But for me, taking a plastic Meijer bag (which, in and of itself, is abhorrent because you have to deal with all those angry stares from the granola moms at the Meijer check-out when you actually request plastic bags….) then turning it inside out to make a glove for myself, reaching down and grabbing my dog’s fresh, warm poop has to be one of the lowest points of my day. BUT, my days have descended to an abysmal low when said dog poops INSIDE our home – which, as she ages, is happening much too frequently.

Dog poop on our rug is one of the milder stories I could share from our lives right now – things have been pretty bad around here lately – but this is where I thought I’d start.  I almost kicked my dog today.  Almost.  I DIDN’T DO IT, OKAY?!?!  I’m just so sick of crap on our rug!!!  My life is light years away from glamorous, and right on the very edge of repugnant.  Is it just me? I’d be lying if my newsfeed reflected something different.

  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. I know I already used this one for #10. I’m just checking to see if you’re still reading (REAL bloggers say you should never write more than 1500 words. I’m already at 1600… but hang with me – the last 2 reasons are the best.)
  1. Some of my lowest, most lonely moments in life came right after getting my diagnosis of Lymphanegieoleomyomatosis (LAM). It’s so rare – only a small handful of us women in Michigan have it, and a not much bigger handful in the whole USA. There was no one living near me that I could talk to. And then…. then, I met my Facebook LAM family! Over 2000 women from all over the world connect via this forum. And I suddenly knew that I could deal with this sucky, lung-sucking, sucker of an illness – because ALL of them were dealing with it, too. Those women from all over the world have given me strength.

It sucks to have to talk about your illness on social media. But now even my sister’s family is deriving comfort, prayers and community by sharing her journey of brain cancer on social media. Posting about your “crap” really does help – in some cathartic, Jesus-y, miraculous way.

  1. The old proverb, “Misery loves company,” is incorrect. It should be, “Misery NEEDS company.” We were not made to do this life alone. It’s often the isolation and accompanying sadness that brings some people to take their lives. We NEED to help each other feel less alone. We NEED to share our sufferings. We NEED to become vulnerable with one another. And then maybe, just maybe, people will see they are not as alone as they thought. And maybe, just maybe, we will put the “social” back into our media. And maybe, just maybe, someone will decide to keep pressing on in life instead of the alternative.

Screaming into Nothingness (when God disappears)

 

Christmas moimages-2rning. As our girls tore into their stockings hung by the chimney with care, the phone rang. The phone call that changed everything. From now on, life will be defined as either “before” the call, or “after” the call.

 

My 45 yr. old sister had been rushed to the hospital after waking up with right-sided paralysis, vomiting and headache.

 

We’re a tight family. Without a second thought, we trashed our Christmas plans and bolted up to the hospital as well. And by “we” I mean, everybody – Grandmas, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, kids, and cousins. Someone pointed out how we must have looked like the Bravermans in the final episode of Parenthood.

 

Together, we exited this comfortable and familiar world called “normalcy” and were forced to enter a foreign galaxy called: “Neurology ICU”. Here, no English is spoken. Here, the air is thin and breathing is difficult. Here, minutes are hours and waiting becomes your livelihood. Here, appetite’s no longer exist. Here, sleep is stolen in 10 minute increments – in chairs – next to strangers who smell as if they haven’t showered in days. Here, you don’t remember if you’ve combed your hair or changed your underwear or brushed your teeth – but also, you don’t care. Here, you cry a lot.

 

ICU. IV. CT scan. MRI. Decadron. Dilaudid. Emesis. Norco. Emesis. Toradol. Emesis. Hemmorhage left parietal lobe. MRI. CT scan. PET scan. ICU. Tumor in eloquent area of brain. Differential diagnosis: Glioma. MRI. Surgery. MRI. ICU. EEG. Seizure? EEG. MRI. Diagnosis: High-grade Glioblastoma.

 

Welcome to our newest Galaxy: Brain Cancer.

 

And the common denominator of all those gathered in this galaxy? We are lost. None of us know our way around here. None of us know what to say, what to do. None of us know what we want, what we need. None of us know what questions to ask. None of us want to go home, none of us want to stay. None of us can eat.

 

None of us can pray.

 

None of us feel God anymore. We are told He inhabits this galaxy, too – but it doesn’t seem possible. There is so much pain and suffering and heartache and anguish here – this feels more like hell. God cannot inhabit hell, can He?

 

We wail and cry and mourn in this galaxy. It’s the only thing that comes naturally. And our cries turn into screams. And we scream into what feels like nothingness…

 

And yet…..

 

And yet….. our phones were lighting up from all the saints – the incarnate Jesus people – saying they were praying and giving us scripture to hold onto.  All the things we could not do.

 

Screaming into nothingness was all we knew to do. But the Jesus-people took it from there:

 

  • If you’ve ever hit “like” on the Facebook post for the hospitalized person simply to show you’re out there and you care – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever typed the simple word, “praying” on a carepages post – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever dropped off bar-b-que on the porch of someone going through a crisis because you know they’ll eventually need it – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever just showed up in the ICU waiting room with a basket-full of munchies and a tray full of subs – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever awaken in the middle of the night and thought of someone in a crisis and then prayed for them – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever felt God supernaturally gave you scripture to be shared with someone in crisis – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever just hugged someone – really hard and really long – because the deep pain of the situation left you with nothing to say – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever brought food to the home of someone in crisis even though they said they didn’t need any more – it mattered.

 

  • If you ever sent a “thinking of you” card – even a lame, dusty, covered-with-pink-grandma-style-peonies, cheap one that you resurrected from the bottom of your “card drawer” – it mattered.

 

 

When lost in the galaxy of brain cancer – or lung cancer, or breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter; or divorce, or reactive-attachment disorder, or death, or job loss, or the rejection of adult children, or alzheimers, or heart failure, or marriage infidelity, or financial ruin, or ALS, or any other crisis that launches you from earth – you cannot find your own way back. You truly are lost. And you cannot pray.

 

And the thing is, you’d stay lost in that galaxy forever – screaming into nothingness forever – if it weren’t for the Jesus-people who stepped up and prayed. In a crisis, the Jesus-people aren’t praying with you, they are praying for you.

 

I wonder.

 

I wonder if the Holy Spirit speaks through the prayers, the actions, the cards, the hugs and the bar-b-que, of the Jesus-people and if that’s what this scripture means:

 

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Muslims, Mexicans, and My daughter be forced to wear visible ID badges?

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I recently met an Armenian woman. She wore the traditional hijab and jellaba – the head covering and long flowing coat typical for Middle Eastern women and often associated with Islam.   Her skin was dark tan and her deep brown eyes were lined with kohl. She looked strikingly similar to every other Muslim woman I had met while living in Morocco. But instead of following the teachings of Muhammad, she worshipped Jesus.

images-1Selma is a Christian – yet dressed in the traditional Armenian attire encouraged by her Armenian Apostolic church . She educated me on the plight of Armenian Christians from Turkey.  Selma’s great-grandparents fled the country in the early 1900’s escaping a violent genocide under Ottoman rule, making Selma a fourth generation American.

She shared how she is still persecuted here in America. She has been scorned, mocked, spit upon, and even been rejected service in restaurants and stores – and it is NOT because she’s Armenian, it’s because she LOOKS like a Muslim. And today, she wakes up in a country with a president who considers Muslims one of our biggest “problems”, who’s refusing to accept Muslim refugees, and whose inflammatory speech does more to fuel fear toward Muslims than anything else.

She’s a legal American citizen, with a prestigious career. She pays her taxes, lives peaceably in her neighborhood, and practices the same religion that the majority of people in America say they do: Christianity. And yet, because she looks like the people group that American’s are growing to fear the most: Muslims, she is treated harshly – even discriminated against.

She said, “I know it’s just because no one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

**********

At the inner-city junior high where I volunteer, we watched a film on the life of Corrie tenBoom. Corrie, and her entire Dutch family, were sent to Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in their attic during World War II. After viewing the film, I debriefed with three 8th grade girls and asked them, “Do you think something similar – the systematic persecution and extermination of a people group – could happen today?”

A Mexican girl in my group immediately replied, “Absolutely. My parents [who speak very little English] are so afraid of being deported to Mexico. We are not illegals. But how will they know? Since we are Mexicans and immigrants from Mexico are being blamed for many of the problems in this country, it only makes sense that we’ll get blamed, too.  My parents say they already get a lot of dirty looks from white people. They think that someday we’ll have to wear an ‘M’ on our clothes. You know, to like mark us as legal – so people won’t be angry with us and try to deport us.”

I told her I didn’t think she had to worry. After all, her family IS legal.

She said, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know that?   No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

**********

I shared those concerns from my Mexican-American student at the dinner table that evening. And my Guatemalan-born daughter asked, “What about me? Do you think I’ll have to wear an ID-badge of some sort?”

I told her no way. She was adopted at birth. She’s an American citizen. She is American in every way.

But she replied, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know? No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

I couldn’t answer her. She’s Guatemalan – but could easily be Mexican. She’s adopted – but unless she’s walking beside her all-white family, you’d never know it simply from appearances. I can protect her from being deported, certainly, because she IS legal. But the fear in her eyes betrayed her. She’s awakening to the fact that the “they” she actually needs to fear isn’t the government – it’s those who are looking for a people-group to blame, someone to take umbrage with. And I can’t protect her from that. She looks just like the people that “they” say are the problem.

slovak-jews-with-star-of-davidThe Third Reich of 1930’s Germany forced Jews to wear the star of David badge to not just humiliate them, but to keep close watch over them and to facilitate in their deportation. It was an effective way to distinguish between people groups when judging by appearances didn’t work. 

As the political, ethical, religious and racial divide in this country continually grows; and as more and more people feel their freedoms, their money, and their security are actually threatened by a few distinct people groups; and being that my daughter looks JUST LIKE one of those people groups – I’ve really had to wonder: Is she safe here? Do I need to have my daughter wear an external ID to show the public she is “good”? Maybe a letter on her clothing – something like an “L” for legal, or “A” for adopted, or “S” for safe? How else will people know? How else do I help her feel safe?

Then it hit me:  The only other reasonable solution is to mark ALL THE OTHERS – those from the people groups that we, as a country, have deemed “the problem”.

The absurdity of that thought – and its frightening similarities to 1930’s Germany – is not lost on me.

**********

She’s an Armenian Christian – but she looks like other Muslims and she has received death threats.

She’s a legal third-generation Mexican-American – but she and her family could easily be taken for illegal Mexicans. The condemning glares already judge them.

She’s my adopted daughter from Guatemala – but she could be any illegal’s child. And she’s afraid she’ll be treated differently now.

**********

It’s not the government that these women need to fear. Whether we agree or not with the sweeping statements that have been made regarding entire people groups identified as “a problem” – the truth is, if so desired, the government CAN and WILL deport certain people and also create ways to keep other people out.

I’m mortified that my country is doing these things. But that’s not the REAL problem here. The problem is our ATTITUDE to those who are different from us. The problem is that we, the American public, are traveling a dangerous path towards ethnic cleansing. It begins with finger-pointing – “THOSE people over there – THEY are the problem!”

The finger-pointing inevitably turns into actions, “We must build a WALL!” or “We must ban all Muslims from entering!” or “We must make a public list of all crimes done by foreigners!” But those actions will lead us to a false sense of security and so whenever something goes bad in the land, we will only be left to find more people to blame. We’re adopting an “Us” vs. “Them” paradigm and creating a growing chasm between the two.

And all that propaganda leads to fear.   As our president continues to stir the pot of blaming and shaming, he incites more fear. And hate inevitably follows fear. It’s eerie how quickly and easily we resort to hating that which we fear.

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My daughter and my Mexican student and my Armenian friend do not need to fear their government, or their comb-over president, or being deported. What they legitimately need to fear – and it’s already proving to be true – is simply the hate from other Americans.

We have become our own worst enemy.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand.” Mark 3:25.

Teens: Want a tattoo for Christmas? How to get Mom to say “Yes”:

 

When our daughter Grace turned 16, she wanted a tattoo. She wanted one bad.

 

I had always believed tattoos were a terrible idea. First, the Bible says so (aka – a Christian’s favorite way to shut down a conversation…) And also, I felt God created us the way we are – with clear skin and no ink because He liked us that way and didn’t feel His handiwork needed to be improved upon.

 

However, those arguments don’t work. The Bible does mention tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), but if Christians today accept that passage as timeless law, so too, would we have to observe the following:  No eating shellfish or pork – locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, however, are encouraged.  No wearing any type of blended fabric and bathing after sex would be mandatory.  Men would also have untrimmed beards and be allowed many wives.  And women – oh my – we’d be killing turtle doves and pigeons left and right as we lived up to the host of rules regarding childbearing and menstruation!   No – I most definitely do NOT want to keep Levitical Laws!

We cannot pick and choose which old testament laws we’ll follow – either they are contextual and not explicitly meant for us today, or, we must agree to them all. Additionally, if God didn’t want us to improve upon His creation, why do I not object to make-up, hair-cuts, ear-piercing, and working out?

 

My arguments against tattoos were weak at best. But I still thought tattoos were stupid.

 

Then Grace asked for one. And she presented me with a well-thought out proposal that was difficult to refute. She reminded me of the following story that happened to some dear friends of ours:

 

Our friends had raised their children in a solid Christian home and taught them all the tenets of the faith. After highschool, however, their oldest son rejected Christianity. He chose to live life on the edges – doing all the things Christians consider “big sins”. When numerous problems began mounting in his life, his father tried to reason with him: “You know, son, I think if you returned to your faith you would find life easier. I think you’re making life harder than it has to be and coming back to Jesus would help.”

 

His son’s response was legendary. He whipped back with this retort: “Are you KIDDING ME?? No way, dad! Right now, I’m choosing the easy way! I’m choosing to live my life MY WAY!  If I were a Christian, THAT’S when my life would get difficult – because I would follow Christ with ALL of me. I could never be like all the Christians I know – who pick and choose the parts of Christianity they want to follow. No way. I’d be ALL-IN. I’d be BALLS-TO-THE-WALL, dad. I think life should be hard for a true Christian – not easy. For me, there’s no compelling argument to follow Jesus because I just don’t see anybody living ALL-IN.”

 

When the father shared that story with us, he said, “He had me. He’s right, you know. Not many Christians really do live ‘all-in’ and ‘balls-to-the-wall’. It really isn’t a compelling movement to follow when most people only follow it half-heartedly.”

 

So….. Grace reiterated this story and then lays this on me: “I want ‘ALL-IN’ tattooed on my wrist. I want to be constantly reminded to live for Christ – all of me – not just part of me.” She had given it serious thought, and wanted “ALL-IN” written in Arabic because it would remind her of when we lived in Morocco and she felt the most “all-in”.  She wanted it on her wrist because that is where the nails were driven that held Jesus to the cross.  She wanted the lettering facing HER, because this was HER reminder:  to live so ALL-IN that her Christian faith would compel others to follow Christ, too.

 

At least she wasn’t asking for a “BALLS-TO-THE-WALL” tattoo…

 

She started asking for the tattoo when she was sixteen. And Paul and I both said no. No way. We refused to let our lovely olive-skinned, underage teen daughter get inked. We have two surf-loving, guitar/drum playing, fairtrade-coffee-drinking, long-haired hippy sons in their young twenties and they’re not even inked yet.

 

I told her to go read Leviticus 19:28. Proof! KaPow!  (maybe she wouldn’t notice the parts about beards, wives, and menstruation…)

 

She told me to go read 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Romans 10:4

 

Touche’

 

I told her I’d think about it.

 

And her pursuit of that tattoo only built momentum over the coming year. If she ever fell short of the character we believed she had within her, she would say, “Well maybe if I had a tattoo to remind me of how to live…..”

 

She would often point out revered friends and/or popular role models who had tattoos and then ask, “Do you think [that particular person] lacks good judgment?”

 

She was good at this. Really good.

 

But as her 17th birthday inched closer, she hit me with the winning stroke:

 

“Mom, you know how the Bible says that our bodies are like temples? Well I was thinking – we find it perfectly acceptable and even good and necessary to adorn the temples, or churches, with things like stained glass windows, beautiful architecture and ornate carvings. And we believe this to be good because all of if should point others to the holiness and beauty of Christ” (I started to regret that we had taken her to numerous grand cathedrals all over Europe and Central America…) “Well, the way I see it, if we tattoo our bodies with beautiful art, or any symbol that points us or others to Christ, we are really trying to accomplish the same purpose. Only this is with our body-temples, not the building-temples. I think tattoos should have meaning. They could be art, or words, or symbols, but their meaning would be to remind ourselves or others that we serve a creative God, who delights in beauty, and is somehow glorified when we create beauty.”

 

She had me.

 

So on her seventeenth birthday, I took her to get her first tattoo. And I got my first one, too:

 

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We accidentally bought a crack house – and soon found ourselves addicted, too.

There is a spiritual heaviness in our upstairs back porch and all the praying people who walk through the place can feel it.

Our college-aged sons who have done their share of watching “Breaking Bad” and have lived in plenty of sketchy neighborhoods quickly identified the telltale signs of a crack room: excessive amounts of electrical outlets, burn marks and beaker shaped cut-outs on the long built-in counter, and an oddly located, poorly constructed, pad-locked closet. Our next door neighbor says the porch was actually a meth lab. The probation officer who keeps stopping by to find the former renters won’t tell us exactly what went on this house, but obviously, some of it was criminal. So we can’t be sure if it was meth or crack or both – but we’ve affectionately dubbed the porch: the “crack room.”

So now we know what to look for when questioning if a home is being used as a drug dispenser – which is not exactly a resume-building skill…

But even better than learning a few things about the drug trade, buying a crack house in the city, surprisingly, gave us a new appreciation for crack and we, too, are now addicted. Here’s how:

  • At the “crack” of dawn, the Catholic church around the corner rings it’s bell nearly 20 times. It is to remind Christians to pray the Lord’s prayer. And this is done three times a day, all over the world, at most Catholic churches. It reminds our family of Morocco’s call to prayer – and because Morocco still feels like “home”, the church bells help to make us feel more at home here in Grand Rapids. Sadly, there were no Catholic churches in the very-Protestant suburbia we left behind and we never heard church bells.
  • I “crack-up” whenever I hear the lion’s roar from the zoo across the street. Some people get to have horses and hot tubs on their properties. Others have tennis courts,  swimming pools, and lake-front beaches. We get to have lions.
  • Renovating this old house proved to me that plumber’s “crack” is no joke. Neither is electrician’s “crack”, carpenter’s “crack”, dry-wall guy’s “crack” or floor-guy’s “crack”. I mused at the fact that men love to look at the “crack” formed between women’s breasts, yet I found myself totally grossed out by the simple rear-crack of man’s anatomy. I still decided to take a peek every time anyway – purely for retribution…
  • There is a large “crack” in the plaster in our living room that we chose to not fix, but just painted over instead. It’s an every day reminder of my dear friend, Kathy, who painted that wall. And the day she selflessly came and helped me paint was such a beautiful picture of the body of Christ. We were NOT going to make our goal and get the house done before moving in, so all sorts of people with different talents stepped in and helped us and it totally saved the day and our sanity. We were never meant to do this life alone, folks. We are all just parts of the whole – and we really do need each other.
  • We share a driveway with our neighbors. In the “crack” dividing our two lanes, weeds are growing rampant – some nearly knee-high – but neither of us care. And I love it that there is no pressure here in the city to “keep up with the Joneses’”. Seasonal flowers and manicured lawns and fancy cars and new furniture and vacations are all luxuries – and here, we don’t freak out so much if those things don’t happen. We don’t feel judged. It’s very different here than in the burbs – and it simply suits us better.
  • When I sit on my porch and watch people walk by from every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background, I “crack” a smile. Something about being surrounded by great diversity draws Paul and I closer to God. We see HIM bigger when we are reminded of how BIG his heart is for ALL people.img_2474
  • When I drive anywhere from here, I usually encounter at least one beggar – and my heart “cracks”. But it was our choice to live in that tension. We want to be reminded every day of our blessings – and also to daily ask ourselves what our responsibility is to serve the poor and oppressed.
  • And lastly, renovating this house nearly “cracked” the foundation of our marriage. When things were at an all-time low, when we had spent so much time on the crazy-cycle – you know, the disrespecting, cutting, jabbing, eye-rolling, shouting – that it had somehow become our norm, when we had both reached a point where we wondered if our marriage was going to survive, there was this day – this ONE day…. Paul came home from work and I just happened to be going out the door as he came in, and he “cracked” a little smile, and there was something about the little creases that form in the corner of his eyes when he smiles that reminded me of the 18-year-old that I fell in love with over 34 years ago. That little “crack” of a smile reminded me that life is a journey – and he and I have been on a great one. It reminded me that every great journey requires challenges. Every great story must have obstacles for the heroes and heroines to overcome. Every great life is precipitated by lessons learned through hard times – for it’s only through the hard things that we can be sharpened to greatness. It reminded me that, just like the sun after a storm, or birthing a child after 12 hours of labor, or forgiveness after being wronged, or Jesus Christ’s resurrection after death,  a light always shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

His “crack” of a smile was the subtlest of reminders that everything was going to be okay.  We will shine bright again.

Testing our marriage to the very brink of breaking has been the most powerful lesson the “crack house” taught us – because in spite of satan’s attempts to destroy us, we still found God faithful. We still knew, that anchored IN HIM, we were gonna be okay.  And just like our marriage, the “crack house” doesn’t look too shabby anymore:img_2473

So now we wake up every day thankful for this new (to us) home, this new beginning, and new challenges.

In the words of the wise Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

Why Chip and Joanna are BIG, FAT, LIARS (But we should all be watching their show anyway…)

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I speak from experience. We just moved into our first (and last) fixer-upper. We chose the house because of the neighborhood – interesting social, religious, and economic diversity in a walkable neighborhood close to downtown Grand Rapids. We never once thought it’d be “fun” to do a fixer-upper. In fact, because we don’t have cable, we had never even heard of Chip and Joanna or seen their show before we were already knee deep in sheet rock.

But, curiosity got the best of me – and when our spring break hotel had cable, I binge-watched like 28 episodes of “Fixer Upper.” And now, like the rest of the world, I have a huge fan crush on the duo. This fact pisses me off, because I really want to hate them for making fixing-upping look “fun”.

However, as a REAL LIFE fixer-upper, AS WELL AS an expert on all things “Chip and Joanna”, I feel compelled to share our experience and contrast it to their show to expose them for the liars they are (or, to be fair, could it be they just have some incredibly crafty film editors??? It’s just not possible they are so perfect, is it???):

 

  • THEM:  Chip and Joanna generally run into one “minor snag” per renovation where they have to call the owner and ask for additional funds.
    • US:  With REAL LIFE fixing-upping, the shocking discovery that you have blown your budget to crap happens daily. (In fact, if you’re seriously contemplating a fixer-upper, you might want to ask yourself if you’re okay with selling your plasma, hair, AND sperm – because the good Lord knows it’s gonna cost you EVERYTHING else…)

 

  • THEM:  The Gaines’ kids are always polite, excited for their parents’ latest project, and eager to lend a hand.
    • US:  In REAL LIFE fixing-upping, your kids grow deaf to your endless requests for “help”.   Our kids needed to take muscle relaxers to alleviate facial tension from all their eye-rolling.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna (I’m just going to call them that from now on, because they do life together so nauseatingly unified, they might as well be one…) don’t have to wait three weeks for the dry-wall guy to show up, four weeks for the plumber, and an eternity for the carpenter who promised every day for a month he’d be there tomorrow….
    • US:  In the REAL WORLD, you might as well get your Pokemon Go up and going – because you will be killing ALL KINDS of time waiting for MR. NEVER-GONNA-HAPPEN to show up.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna never accidentally rips out a support beam, or blindly drives a nail into a water pipe, or gets impatient putting polyurethane on the wood floors causing it all to bubble and have to be redone.
    • US:  Just sayin’…..

 

  • THEM:  I’ve never seen Chipanna break a pane of stained glass window in a fixer-upper where the stained glass window was THE ONLY redeeming quality of the piece of crap house they were renovating…..
    • US:  Again, just sayin’…..

 

  • THEM:  Joanna never swears at Chip.
    • US:  In REAL LIFE fixing-upping, well…… no comment.

 

  • THEM:  Chip has all kinds of sweet pet names for Joanna – like Jo, Jojo, Mama and Buttercup.
    • US:  During our renovation, my husband had some choice names for me, too – but nothing like those…

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna never accidentally purchase a crack house.
    • US:  Yes, in fact, we did.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna never seem to have to deal with probation officers who show up at the door looking for the previous tenants.
    • US:  Yes, in fact, they’ve been at our door more than once.

 

  • THEM:  Joanna always looks so darn cute. Whether it’s at the work site, antique shopping, or during the big reveal, she’s invariably stunning.
    • US:  Me? I showed up at the work site every day with bed head, bags under my eyes, my shirt on inside-out (to save on washing my paint clothes so often) and wearing an old pair of too-small running shorts which gave me a not-too-attractive constant wedgie.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna always seem to throw together a hearty and healthy meal at the end of their long, hard work days.
    • US:  In REAL-LIFE fixing-upping, your evening meals look like this: McDonalds, Subway, Subway, Subway, and then every fifth day you “cook” and make everyone a tuna-fish sandwich that tastes like paint because of all the paint-brushes you have “saved for later” in your refrigerator.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna always gets the house done on time. Who are these freakin’ demi-gods that they always meet their deadlines? How on God’s green earth do they do it???
    • US:  Even though we gave ourselves SEVEN FREAKING MONTHS for our renovation, we weren’t even CLOSE to being finished when we moved in. Our house looked like a crack house and the worst-ever-KOA-campground had a baby. For our “big reveal”, our house looked like this:
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      Living Room – still awaiting paint

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      Solarium – aka our temporary kitchen. And yes, that’s a random toilet waiting to be installed

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      Family room – no freakin’ idea what we’re gonna do with this mess

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      Back stair-way – complete with protruding nails that impale you if you get too close!

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      Upstairs hall – and yes, that’s right, there’s no door to the bathroom because we can’t find it.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna will once and a while make a joke about mice – but you never see any – or remnants of any other vermin for that matter.
    • US:  Our house had a horrific mice infestation. There was mice crap in every single cupboard and drawer. Oh – and the previous tenants left multiple piles of petrified dog crap dispersed throughout the entire house as little “welcome” gifts. Just lovely.

 

  • THEM:  Chipanna always find shiplap in their reno-houses.
    • US:  What is it with WACO and shiplap???? A hundred years ago, people in Grand Rapids had very different ideas of what was “beautiful”. As we removed a hundred years of “decorating” layer by painstaking layer, we found: 8 (yes, EIGHT) layers of crispy wallpaper, ugly faux brick paneling, 6 layers of disgusting, asbestos-laden linoleum and 1 layer of tile that looked like an 8-yr-old installed it. Then – wait for it….. wait for it….. Lo and Behold! We finally discovered some shiplap! However, it was on the walls to the FREAKIN’ BASEMENT – the cold, dark, cinderblock Michigan basement that no one besides myself and spiders will ever see. How poetic.IMG_2200

 

 

HOWEVER – and this is why I will love Chipanna forever and ever a-men – it’s the reason we should all be watching more of their show: “Fixer-Upper” is far LESS about fixing up houses, and far MORE a beautiful tribute to marriage.

-Chip and Joanna tackle the notorious marriage-breaking endeavor of home renovation week after week and exemplify how we can love, honor, and respect our marriage partners even in challenging circumstances.  I can’t get enough of them.  They inspire me to be a better wife, person, and Christian.

– I love how they genuinely enjoy each other and laugh at each other.

– I love how Joanna laughs when Chip bloats his stomach (why do all men think this is funny?) Joanna seems to really, genuinely find Chip charming no matter how ridiculous his antics. And soon, I started to find Chip charming, too. But then I realized this: my husband does these silly little things, too. I had just had grown so cold and calloused – I was choosing to roll my eyes at him instead of seeing it’s just my prince trying to impress his princess.   He needs to see me impressed.

– Joanna looks at Chip likes he’s just the most handsome, strong, wise and powerful man she’s ever met. Wives – listen up – I think if we all looked at our husbands the way Joanna ogles Chip, we could probably save a lot of our marriages – because I really believe this is something all men are starving for.

– I love how they listen to each other before speaking.

– I love watching Chip watch Joanna. He looks like he wants to just lick her all-over.

– I love how they share hard news with one another – acknowledging the news stinks, but then, collaborating to find a way to “deal with it”. Ahhhhh – that’s beautiful marriage communication right there.

unknownI think this is genuine Chip and Joanna – that they’re not just “putting on a show.” They are the real deal – and we’d all do well to try to emulate them in our marriages. I pray for Paul and I to have a love for each other that’s a fraction as strong as Chipanna. And THAT, my friends, is the REAL reason I will keep watching Fixer-Upper. We might even have to get cable…

 

But we will NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER to INFINITY, tackle another Fixer-Upper ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Must We Suffer?

images-1The pit in my stomach grew with each pound of the hammer as my husband drove the “For Sale” sign into the ground of our front yard. I wasn’t handling this well – yet he seemed to be strong. But when he stood up and wiped a tear away from his eyes, I became unhinged.

What in the world were we thinking? Why, oh why, are we doing this again? Nobody knows the voice of God for sure anyway, do they? Afterall, it’s not like we HAVE to move to the inner-city – we can afford this beautiful house on this perfect cul-de-sac,  in this highly-desirable neighborhood, in this exemplary school district. So why should we move? Nobody does this. Are we just crazy?

Hoping to outsmart my tears, I ran inside and sat down to write through the pain. Writing’s my jam. My catharsis. But there were no words. I was hollow, empty, hurting, and mad at God.

For no particular reason, I opened up an unfamiliar file on my computer. I didn’t recall writing this piece entitled, “Must we suffer?” – but there it was. I had completely forgotten that about 4 or 5 months ago I had a dream that shook me to the core. I totally believe God sometimes speaks to us in dreams. It’s only happened to me a couple of times before. Only this time it took 5 months for me to receive the application.

 

My Lice Dream

In my dream, we had already made to move to Grand Rapids, the city our family has been preparing to relocate to for the last year. There was some kind of huge community event taking place in our new neighborhood. It was like a rock concert-meets-carnival-meets-church-picnic event. Everyone was happy, roaming around, eating and socializing. There was a young Hispanic girl – maybe 3 or 4 years old – who had taken to me after I smiled at her and offered her a sucker. She didn’t speak any English. And since I only know 10 words of Spanish, we bonded through smiles. Hand-in-hand, we took in music, kiddie rides, and wonderful ethnic food. After a while, she grew weary and I picked her up and carried her. She nestled her head into my shoulder.

A white woman came up to me and whispered in my ear, “You might want to keep a little more distance from that girl. Their family has a chronic problem with head-lice and with your long-hair on your shoulders, you’re just asking for it!”

I looked down at the little girl.  She didn’t understand what had just been said about her. She just looked up into my eyes, smiled, and pointed towards a cotton-candy machine. She was so happy. And she was happiest when I was enjoying her happiness.

HOWEVER, I inwardly cringed. In our six years of life overseas both of our daughters had had several bouts with head lice. I had spent countless nights painstakingly removing those repulsive insects and their nits from the girls’ long hair. It is disgusting and a total pain in the ass. I really did NOT want to get head lice. But even more – I didn’t want to let go of this sweet little girl or disappoint her in any way.

 

I continued to let her cling to me.

 

The next scene in my dream I am standing in front of a mirror and I pull back some of my hair to see the scalp and hopefully discover the source of my itching. And there they were – four or five little bugs, about the size of a sesame seed, scurrying off to find another hiding place on my scalp. I almost gagged.

I went to find the head-lice treatment kit. Since we had just moved into our new-to-us very old home in Grand Rapids, there were boxes everywhere, piles of crap in every corner, and mounds of clothing that would never find a home with these diminutive ancient closets. I went to the hall cupboard hoping to find some lice shampoo and the door fell off the hinges when I opened it. I tried to open the drawers below but one did not have runners and was jammed in a cock-eyed position; the other was painted shut. I felt the bugs running around on my scalp.

I went downstairs to the kitchen because I read somewhere that covering your head in mayonnaise can drown the lice. I had to skip over steps 4 and 9 because they were missing. In the kitchen, I was horrified to discover we hadn’t purchased a refrigerator yet. Apparently, in my dream, we had run out of money before we could finish the renovations. I looked into the family room where strips of 100 yr-old- wall-paper were still hanging from the walls and the ceiling (yes, the idiot owners before us had wall-papered THE CEILING!) I saw several windows that were still broken, huge cracks in the plastered walls, and the front door that didn’t shut properly had let rain seep in all night long. A large pile of rain-worms were soaking in a puddle two feet in front of me.

“This is squalor!” I ranted to myself. “I didn’t agree to live in squalor! I told Jesus we would follow Him to the inner-city and we would just love on people who are different from us. We just wanted diversity in a challenged neighborhood. That’s all! I told Jesus we were willing to leave Hudsonville and family and friends and just do our best to try to live like him in the city. So why does our house have to be nearly condemned and why do I have to have HEAD LICE???”

THEN I KIND OF WOKE UP, AND KIND OF KEPT DREAMING…. I WISH I KNEW FOR SURE IF I WAS AWAKE OR ASLEEP – BECAUSE I HEARD A MESSAGE FROM GOD AND KNEW FOR CERTAIN IT WAS HE WHO SPOKE TO ME. HE SAID:

 

CINDY. DID YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU COULD FOLLOW ME AND NOT SUFFER? DID YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU COULD PRAY TO ME AND ASK TO LIVE LIKE ME AND BE LIKE ME, THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB, YET NEVER HAVE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING YOURSELF? IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT, CINDY. WHEN YOU COME AND FOLLOW ME AND JOIN ME IN MY WORK, YOU COME TO THE PLACE OF SUFFERING. I NEVER PROMISED ANYTHING DIFFERENT. YET, THE BEAUTY OF FOLLOWING ME IS THAT I WILL CARRY THE BURDEN.”

 

 

Why I’d give booze/drug money to a beggar:

 

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*He was 5 years old when his mother’s boyfriend sodomized him. When he was 7, the people that lived in his house threw a party where everyone got stoned – so stoned, in fact, that they passed the boy around as their sex toy. A year later, he started smoking weed, too, just to escape the pain. When he was 10, he raped an 8 year-old girl because he thought that was normal behavior. When he was 11, his mom’s latest fling prostituted him  for drug money. At 12, the boy sold his first Ziploc baggie of marijuana. The money kept him from being pimped-out that weekend.  It also offered him a way to escape the pain of his beatings from the boyfriend – by remaining high himself. It wasn’t long and cocaine became the drug of choice. Because he knew of no other way to get through a day, he was soon addicted. He ran away from home at 14. He was incarcerated at 15. His repeated drug offenses combined with his tendency to steal money for drugs were more than any of his extended family or friends could take. He had burned every familial bridge and lost every friend he’d ever made by the time he was 16.

 

By the age of 18, he was a homeless, drug-addicted, high-school dropout with a record of two felonies and five misdemeanors. He couldn’t find a job to save his life.

 

At 19, after a failed suicide attempt, he was admitted to the psych-hospital where I work. It was his third attempt in three weeks. He was diagnosed with “Severe Depressive Disorder, Drug Abuse Associated.” He was done. He wanted out of this hell-hole that many of the rest of us like to call “the good life.”*

 

After he was discharged from the psych-hospital, I saw him begging on the corner of US-131 and Wealthy Street on a frigid, snowy Saturday. I was pretty sure if I gave him money, he’d use it for drugs.  Drug-abuse is the only effective coping skill he’s ever known. It’s what keeps him from attempting suicide EVERY day. I knew that seeing him alive meant he was numbing his pain with drugs – otherwise he’d surely be dead.

 

I gave him money.

 

But it didn’t make me feel good about myself. I felt a pit in my stomach. It’s such a cheap way out of helping the poor, the needy, or hurting. It’s so freakin’ easy to roll down the window and throw someone some cash, isn’t it? Or maybe we’ll opt to take the even easier path and keep the window rolled up tightly, lock the doors, and tell the kids in the backseat, “You see those beggars? They’re scammers. They just use that money for drugs and alcohol. You shouldn’t give money to beggars because they never use it for food or rent. I even read somewhere that sometimes beggars make more per year than daddy does!”

 

We are a busy people – we American Christians – with a million things to do just today.  So instead of parking the car, walking over to him, shaking his dirty hand, and offering the beginning of a nurturing relationship by taking him out for lunch – we either snub him or flip him a few quarters.

 

Getting out of the car and hearing his story will take time. It will take energy. It will take enormous emotional capital. And it will probably take a hellava lot of money (more than a few quarters) to help this guy. Investing in him may take years. Maybe the rest of your life. You will get dirty, tired and frustrated. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s probably the ONLY way you’ll make a difference in this boy’s life and – I’m just guessing here – it’s probably what Jesus would do.

One life at a time.  That’s how we can make a difference.  Just one at a time.  We get out of the car and make a difference.

 

There is simply NO POSSIBLE WAY that we can know a beggars situation simply by observing them on the street corner. There is NO WAY we can know what hell their life has been to bring them to this place. Why is it so easy to assume they are taking advantage of us (we who are sitting in our warm cars) instead of assuming life has beat them into this state of desperation? And when we drive by and refuse them any help at all because of the possibility they are taking advantage of us, we are passing sweeping judgments on all beggars.

 

But today, as I see my friend begging on the overpass, I’m in too much of a hurry. I don’t have time to park my car and chat with him. I wish I did. Because THAT is the only way to truly know and understand his circumstances. It’s the only way to have any hope of offering real, practical, and sustainable help.

 

So on this day, if I refuse to park my car and go talk to the young man, I must choose between the two lesser options: do nothing and drive on by risking that without drugs or alcohol to numb his pain he’ll try to take his life again, or give him money that I know he will use to buy drugs.

 

I’m going to choose to support his drug habit today. And I pray that I will continue simplifying my life to free up time, money and energy so I can actually INVEST in hurting people. I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t put a band-aid on problems (giving money), but chooses to dig deep, work hard, and sacrifice much in order to find lasting solutions.

 

I want to be the one who parks the car and strolls on over for a conversation.

 

 

*This is a fictitious person – made from a composite of people’s stories I’ve heard over the years. Any resemblance to an actual person is entirely coincidental.   But people just like this boy really do exist in my city, in your city, in every city.  And they frequently show up at my psych hospital as suicidal.  Sadly, I’ve even heard more horrendous stories than this one.  Last Saturday, however, I really did give money to a beggar I personally knew at the highway overpass in Grand Rapids.

 

What happened when we opened our HOME to Muslims

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IMG_1135A few years back our family of six spent four years living in Morocco. In a country that is nearly 100% Islam, we made many Muslim friends. A couple weeks ago, one of those friends decided to visit our family here in Michigan. She traveled with her 18 yr. old daughter who was coming to America for the first time.

Although we were virtually surrounded by Muslims while living in Morocco, it was an entirely new twist to have Muslims living with us – experiencing every-day life with us. This was far more up-close and personal.

 

What I learned made me uncomfortable. But probably not in the way you’re thinking.

 

My friend came bearing gifts – for me, my husband, the kids – even for our sons who no longer live home. She got up early and made coffee. She stayed up late and made Moroccan fried bread. Whenever I wasn’t looking, she did the dishes. She listened for hours and gave me counsel on life’s hard stuff. She would sneak off when we were at restaurants and secretly pay the bill before I even had a chance to object. She sat and listened to our kids rattle on about silly things she knew nothing about: American football, homecoming festivities, travel sports, and Tim Allen. While in Chicago, we were walking back to our hotel late in the evening and we encountered at least 5 beggars in the streets. She stopped to give money and/or food to each one. She even went into a market and bought a fresh loaf of bread for one beggar.

We watched TV, You-Tube, and American sports together. And she made me laugh ‘til I nearly peed my pants.

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Three times throughout the week (although I know there were many more) I found her kneeling, facing East toward Mecca, head bowed low to the ground in prayer. Every time it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed in earnest. Life in America is busy, you know….  

And, perhaps most remarkably, both my friend and her daughter went to church with us. They were not concerned in the least that our church might rattle their faith – they simply wanted, out of respect to our family, to fully experience our culture, our lives and our religion. They understand Christianity (at times, I fear, better than I do…) and they didn’t have questions about it. They just wanted to honor us by attending church.

My friend and her daughter oozed love for me and my family and our community – as well as the strangers in their midst – throughout their weeklong visit. Then, even after returning home, they mailed us beautiful Christmas gifts to thank us. Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas in the least, sent gifts to US just to bless US on our holy holiday.

 

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I call that love.

 

I am being haunted by an old Sunday School song. “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Really? Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will our behavior be so exemplary, so unique, and so incredibly loving that people will unequivocally be able to recognize what faith we ascribe to simply by our actions?  

What haunts me is that, in many ways, my Muslim friends are better at loving than I am.

 

Which begs the question: Did WE know THEY were Muslim by their love???

 

If you’re jumping to defensive mode and screaming “HELLOooooo!!!! ISIS!!!!” as proof that “they” do not love – well, I get that. Undoubtedly, there are factions who are acting in the name of Islam and represent the antithesis of love.  These people need to be stopped.

But something I learned in Morocco that is important for us to understand here, is that many Muslims in the East equate Christianity with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING coming out of America. They observe things such as: our greed and materialism, our divorce and abortion rates, the Kardashians, The Bold and the Beautiful, all-things Hollywood, our massive gun violence, or George W. Bush (whom they can only see as someone who indiscriminately blows up people and cities), and conclude: “See! That’s what Christians are like!” They are unable to separate the actions of our country from our dominant religion (Christianity) because in their home countries there is no separation of religion and state. To be Moroccan is to be Muslim. The king of Morocco is also the head religious leader. As is true in many Middle Eastern countries. So it is no wonder that, to them, everything coming out of America (and let’s be honest, most of it ain’t pretty….) must be Christian.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my Christian faith identified by the actions of Lamar Odom, Donald Trump or Miley Cyrus. Or how about the Unabomber, Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh?  Or what about people that blow up abortion clinics out of religious conviction or priests that rape little boys?

Please, world, don’t equate me, a devout follower of Jesus, with these people!  

Some may counter and argue that these people cannot possibly be true Christians anyway…. but that is entirely beside the point because again, in many Eastern Muslim minds, all American actions are Christian actions.

And yet, in some ways, that argument completely makes my point! Because, likewise, it is entirely unfair for Americans to judge the whole of Islam based on what our Westernized media chooses to report – which is only reporting the extreme actions of extremists.

But if you get to know the people, the regular, ordinary, every-day people that live and work and teach and heal and farm and shop and play soccer and have babies and read books and cook meals and go to school and watch movies and all the millions of other things that you and I do, well, these people are fully as good at loving as you and me. They are. I’m telling you, they are.

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If you don’t agree, perhaps you’d be willing to ask yourself a few questions:

How many Muslims do I know personally?

How many Muslims have spent considerable time in my home?

Where do I get my information about Muslims?

How many Islamic countries have I visited? What was my experience there?

How many people do I hang out with regularly that practice a different faith than my own? Do they know how to love? How do they express love? Do any of them love better than me?

Will they KNOW we are Christians by our love???  Will the title “Christian” ever represent to the world “a distinctly caring, self-less, and sacrificially giving people who love regardless of race or religion?” And if it did, would my own loving actions, kindness, and generosity be so recognizable so as to set me apart from the “world” and allow them to quickly identify me as a Christian???

I’m afraid, that for me, the honest answer is “no.”

So, in response to the hate that is being spewed from the media, our Facebook feeds, and many people with big microphones, I think those of us professing a faith in the resurrected Christ should ask ourselves, “Will they know we are Christians by our love?”  A chief yearning in my life is that my family, my church, my street, my community, my state and my nation exhibit a Christ-like love to our fellow mankind. I’m nearly to the point of despair at how miserably we’re all failing. And so, this is what I’ll do – which is really the only thing I can do – I’ll sing that great song of the season: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!”

The Date and the Cockroach

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Unknown-1When we lived in Morocco we had a serious cockroach problem. They were everywhere – that was the problem. I never understood it. I had believed cockroaches only lived in dirty places so I tried to keep our house impeccably clean. But these cockroach-demons thought it was their house, too, and refused to leave no matter what we tried to eradicate them. And they were unbelievably, disgustingly large – nearly big enough to saddle-up and ride. They were so big that one time when a cockroach flew in through our screenless window and smacked me in the shoulder I thought it was a bird (which happened on occasion in Morocco, too). And these vermin are uglier than sin, or Gollum, or even the flying monkeys of Oz. Unlike traditional cockroaches that prefer your basement, sewer or garbage cans, our cockroaches seemed to prefer our upper-level bedrooms. Also, just like satan, these roaches were nocturnal and would hunt us down at night. Sometimes they crawled up on our bed. On several occasions, they crawled up on us. One time, in the middle of the night, Paul had one crawl up on his face and it tried to suck the spit from his mouth. Yes, it did.

Lord, have mercy. How I hate cockroaches.

However, living in Morocco also presented us with glorious things that, as Michiganders, we couldn’t get enough of – like sunshine, the ocean, surfing, mint tea, and, most affectionately, the year-round fresh fruit. I loved the unique sweetness of the watermelon, the juicy clementines, and abundant yellow cantaloupe with a red dot drawn on the side. (I repeatedly asked the locals for the specific name of the cantaloupe and they always replied “Yes, of course, it’s name in English is: Yellow cantaloupe with a red dot on the side.”) But Paul, he liked the dates the best. He ate them like candy. He would always pick up a box of dates whenever he did the shopping and would sneak them in the house when I wasn’t looking. He had to sneak because I would have never, ever, ever, ever to infinity, bought a box of dates. Never. I was loathe to even try one because, to me, they looked EXACTLY like cockroaches. The date’s opaque reddish-brown color along with its oblong shape and size are identical to the cockroach! If you added a couple antennae and four of those nasty, jagged, fast-as-lightning legs – voila! – a cockroach. Paul would rip open a date and yank out the pit and it looked to me just like dissecting a cockroach. I get puke in my mouth just thinking about it. Disgusting.

But one fateful day on a visit to the home of our dear Moroccan friends, I felt obliged (coerced?) to eat a date. They were passed around as the before-dinner-snack. And because Moroccans are the most hospitable people on this planet I didn’t want to dishonor them by refusing the food offered. Furthermore, they kept insisting these were the best dates in all of Morocco and my life just wouldn’t be complete without experiencing their succulence. So, I inhaled deeply, thanked God that living overseas had taught me to perfect “mouth-breathing-while-chewing-to-avoid-tasting”, and I ate one. Lo and behold, the skies parted, the muzzein stopped his call to prayer, the wild dogs stopped their barking, the incessant chorus of horns from the congested Casablancan streets stopped their honking, and a fantastic ray of sunshine beamed through the nearby gothic window lighting up that whole bowl of dates with a heavenly glow. I had experienced the divine. I proceeded to bury my face in that bowl and without any reserve or conscience, I devoured those dates. Every last one of them. Forget what I said earlier about infinity – those dates are now on my all-time favorite foods list and I will most definitely be buying dates both now and forevermore. Amen.

However, my problem remained. Cockroaches and dates still look shockingly similar. And what if, on a certain occasion, I would reach into our cupboard and instead of grabbing a date, inadvertently grab a cockroach? That may seem hard to fathom, but I promise you, in my kitchen in Morocco – it was entirely possible. What if I didn’t notice it was a cockroach until it was too late, say, after I had bitten the head off? Or worse yet, the butt? How would I make sure that when I wanted to eat this beautiful, succulent fruit that God kissed the earth with, I wouldn’t mistakenly grab something that looks exactly like it, but is actually pure evil?

(Now I know what the Bible says about God having created every living thing. It only makes sense that he created the cockroach. But I just gotta believe there is another explanation. I think somehow satan got his greedy little hands on what was otherwise an innocent cricket or gentle grasshopper and mutated it ever so slightly to become the cockroach. Maybe Adam lost a bet or a coin-toss or something – I don’t know. But I cannot believe that my all-loving God saw the cockroach and pronounced it “good” – I’m sticking with “pure evil”).

Because that ‘ole enemy of our souls is such a masterful deceiver, he is expert at taking something beautiful and twisting it just enough that we think we are tasting of the good, but he’s selling us the lie. He masterfully disguises the evil, – my gosh, it looks exactly like a date –and lures us into taking a bite, only to find we’ve been duped – we are eating cockroach butt.

For example, we all need food to live. Food is good. Food is beautiful. Food for fuel is the date. When I eat half a pan of brownies while staring out the window simply because I’m procrastinating – that is the butt of a cockroach.

Anytime the good is mutated slightly – often ever so subtIy – we are at risk for unknowingly consuming or endorsing something that is entirely evil.

When the “good” becomes warped, or too time-consuming, or over-magnified, or power-fueled, or greed-based, it then becomes “evil”. This can apply to nearly everything: work, play, education, exercise, cleanliness, shopping, leadership, knowledge, friendships, even (oooooh, here I go….) Bible studies!

Here’s another one – one of the “hottest” of our day: kids’ sports. It’s an example of ensuing evil that is so subtle, so culturally accepted and applauded, that it is unbelievably easy to miss. I see parents everywhere who love their children – a lot – which, of course, is a good thing. And in the name of love they sign their little Johnny up for soccer, hoping Johnny will develop habits of discipline, make new friends, stay fit, and find something he is passionate about. But then, a few years down the road, the parents and Johnny alike are some kind of soccer horror story where the only thing they live, breathe, think and discuss is soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRRR! Unbeknownst to them, because it happened so subtly, they have sacrificed family dinners, vacations, attending church, time with their other kids, money they meant to give to charitable causes, and even peace of mind just so Johnny could play soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRR!   Because, the fact is, we cannot say “yes” to something without saying “no” to something else. Something ALWAYS gives. Of course, they will very defensively tell you having your child in sports is a good thing, and their humble hopes and goals are that Johnny will get to play in high-school, or even college, or possibly be the next Lionel Messi, so all of this “investment” will have its payoff.

But here it is: they are sucking on a cockroach butt.

The control that soccer has over their family’s life is no longer the beautiful fruit of the date – the beautiful thing that sports can and should be in the life of a child – but a raw and disease-ridden cockroach that will end up killing something in their lives. Perhaps it will kill Johnny’s passion. Or perhaps their marriage. Or their relationships with their friends, neighbors, or other children. Or their time that God meant for them to be in service to others. Or their money God meant for them to share. Or their diversified interests. Something will die. Because that is the scheme of satan – “….he comes to lie, kill and destroy”.   And when we mistake the cockroach for the date – something will die.

In no way am I suggesting soccer is bad. Soccer is good. Soccer and swimming, play practice and piano, basketball and baseball, scholastic tutoring and science Olympiad, clarinet lessons and camera club: ALL GOOD. These things are dates, and when given their proper place and appropriate level of significance in the lives of our children, these things produce good and beautiful fruit in their lives.

However, when a good thing (perhaps soccer, but could be any kid’s activity) becomes too all-consuming, combined with every other all-consuming activity we’ve said “yes” to for our kids, we, the FAMILY, become exactly that: CONSUMED. We are EATEN ALIVE by the monster of our lives that we ourselves are responsible for creating. We created it – but it is all because we first bought the lie. We were deceived into biting into that which looked exactly like a date.

The enemy of our souls is relentlessly whispering to us this lie: “Do it ALL, you good and faithful parents! Give your kids ALL of it! If you don’t, they won’t make it in this world. They won’t succeed if you don’t give them every opportunity available. They will never make the [insert goal] if you don’t sign them up for the [insert activity]. You’re gonna have to work harder, push more, eat faster, sleep less, give greater in order for your kids to succeed in this world – that’s just the way it is today. If you don’t give-in to this new world order, maybe you don’t really love your kids. Maybe you’re selfish. This is your KIDS we’re talking about…”

We’ve had several children in our home over the last few years that say they can’t remember the last family dinner they’ve shared around their dining room table. Cockroach butt. I’ve been to so many all-day swimming and volleyball and gymnastics tournaments and watched countless younger siblings curled up on a blanket in the corner playing video games or watching movies on an i-pad for eight hours straight while big brother or sister competes. Cockroach butt. When husbands and wives can’t remember their last date-night – cockroach butt. When elderly parents no longer get visits from their children and grand-children – cockroach butt. When moms are working to supplement dad’s two-job income just to support all the kids’ sports and activity expenses – cockroach butt. When “coping” means the whole family needs to be on Prozac – it’s definitely cockroach butt.

All this begs one of the most important questions for our generation: Have we made our KIDS a false god? Out of love, and thinking that it was good, could it be we have elevated the successes and goals of our children to an unhealthy place costing us our marriages, our family relationships, our friendships, our health, our family dinners, our philanthropic dollars, our generosity and hospitality to others, our sanity – and even our peace of mind? How crafty of satan to take that which is good (our love for our kids) and twist it just enough that it actually becomes a very dangerous, self-destructive thing in society. The date is really a cockroach.

And here is a truth: We don’t have to live like this. WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS! We only need to take a step back and really gaze into the eyes of the monster that is eating us – identify the monster as the cockroach and lay it down. LAY IT DOWN. Stop pretending that it’s okay.

It’s not okay. LAY IT DOWN.

If you, like me, have heard yourself whining about your fatigue, complaining about your busyness, or just plain sad that your life isn’t what you thought it’d be because some external factors are just sucking the life out of you, maybe we all need to reach in our mouths and pull out the stuff we’ve been chewing on and take a good look at it: Is it a date or a cockroach?

 

 

 

The Beauty of not being good enough – (Getting “Cut” from the team)

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My daughter got cut from the varsity volleyball team this fall. Having poured herself into that sport for the last four years and with dreams to even play in college, it was a blow of colossal proportions. Yet a virtual stranger who probably doesn’t recognize the power she wields decided, “Nope. You’re not good enough for me.”

“Cuts” are so aptly named, aren’t they? It actually feels like a physical cut: leaving one wounded, bleeding…. in pain. And the injury didn’t just end with Grace – her “cut” deeply wounded me and Paul as well. Maybe even worse. Nothing hurts us more than our children hurting… Grace came home after cuts and while wrapped up in each other’s arms we bled all over the couch together for a while. Eventually she smiled, got up, and said “I have no more tears. I’m tired” and she went to bed.

No matter how hard we parents try to create a justification for this indignation (blaming, shaming, name-calling, conspiracy-theory, etc.) the cold-hard reality of the situation, which we eventually have to come to terms with, is that our child was just told: “You are not worthy. You are not good enough. I did NOT choose you.” That’s the bald truth and it stings.

By morning the sting had dissipated some and I was thankful I hadn’t acted in haste and posted something nasty on Facebook or Twitter.

But on the second day a miracle happened. It was a Saturday, which is a day traditionally OWNED by volleyball. But now, having a totally free Saturday, Grace, Yulisa and I chose to participate in a peaceful protest in Grand Rapids. Afterwards, we went out to a swanky coffee shop for tea and scones. We sat outside in the sunshine and faced the street and pretended we were Europeans. We talked about civil rights, civil duties, religious freedoms, and standing up for what you believe in. We talked about Thoreau, Rosa Parks, and MLK. We talked about making your life count.

Between sips of chai, she gifted me with this: “Mom, I wouldn’t trade this moment, this conversation, this day spent with you guys for anything. Not even volleyball.”

I wanted to say this: “You have no idea what this means to me, baby. No idea. Having a terminal illness, I want to be so selfish with your time. Truthfully, I want it ALL. This sacred time with you girls beats cheering you from the side-lines, which is really no interaction at all, a million to one. Every time.”

Instead, I pondered those thoughts quietly and we three just held hands and wept a little.

And then we came up with an idea. We decided to begin a list of all the things she now COULD do because of the time reclaimed sans volleyball. Every one of us has been given only 24 hours in a day – and no one can say “yes” to everything. And while most people try to deny this, the truth is that whenever we say “yes” to something, it represents something else we are saying “no” to. Grace wanted to call out, and clearly identify what all those “something else’s” were in her life.

On school nights and Saturdays when she would have normally been playing volleyball, she was now able to participate in a variety of incredible things – things not limited to, but including the following:

  • Breakfast with her youth group leader
  • Sprawled out on her bed with Yulisa – sharing earbuds– giggling and listening to hours of music together
  • Dinner with long-time family friends discussing things like Middle-eastern and South-African politics, saving dating until college, and the role of the church with immigration – which required us to stay out way past midnight on a Friday night but not caring because we were going to SLEEP IN on a Saturday for once!
  • A day of boating/tubing with her friends (friends that SHE chose, not whom volleyball chose FOR her)
  • Visiting her grandma at the nursing home
  • A family birthday celebration at a snazzy restaurant where no one was rushed and we gorged ourselves on bottomless sweet potato fries and drank root beer floats till we were dizzy.
  • Took a road trip with her siblings to see Ben Rector in concert in Detroit.
  • Cheered on her HS soccer team, tennis team and swim team – realizing if EVERYONE is a participant, then NO ONE is a spectator. And everyone enjoys playing more with spectators present.
  • Playing her guitar and singing with the praise team for her youth group.
  • Went “thrifting” with a dear friend and she found a $75 sweater for $5.

And this is only a partial list from the first couple of weeks….

Upon reviewing that list, we came to a profound conclusion: It’s as if God had an actual plan for her life all along, so perfectly tailored for Grace and her giftedness, that at this juncture, there simply wasn’t time for volleyball anymore. It’s as if, in God’s brilliantly upside-down kingdom, He was saying, “Grace, you didn’t get cut, you were chosen!”

It’s not that volleyball is bad, it’s just not the team Grace was chosen FOR.

  • What if Grace’s youth group leader composed a team? She’d say, “Grace! I choose you!”
  • What if Grandma made a team? She’d day, “Grace! I want you! You’re chosen!”
  • What if her friends made up a team? They’d say, “Grace! We choose you!”
  • What it the community put together a team? A team of young go-getters who epitomize service to others? They’d surely say, “Grace, we want you!”
  • What if our family was a team? (and I do believe we are) – We’d raise our collective voices and say, “Grace! Welcome back to our team!”

Yep – Grace got cut from volleyball. But look at all the teams that DID choose her!

So if you, or anyone you love, has ever been “cut” from a team – or the musical, or the band, or from a university, or the [insert thing that you wanted so badly but didn’t get] – maybe we just need to ask a different question.

Maybe the question isn’t, “Why did I get cut?”

But instead, “For what have I been chosen?”

 

 

Sometimes I wish all my hair would fall out… Discovering the redemptive work of suffering

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My husband recently shared some sad news with me – a 65 yr. old friend of ours has been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was evident my husband was upset by this news, and he started saying something philosophical about the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death…. Blah, blah, blah….

I’m ashamed of this, but I stopped listening to him because I was jealous.

I was jealous of my husband’s reaction, and jealous that this man is 65 (I can only hope and pray that I will live to see my 65th birthday) and yet, because he has cancer, he will derive more attention and sympathy than all the women combined who lost their lives this past year to LAM yet were only in their 30’s and 40’s. I was jealous of the reality that when people hear the word “cancer” they immediately get all melancholy and philosophical because they pretty much know what the future looks like for the sufferer: chemo, radiation, hollowed eyes, emaciation, fatigue, hair-loss, and potentially, life-loss. It’s certifiable bad news – and I don’t wish to have cancer – heck no. And I certainly don’t mean to minimize its devastation. I’m just being honest with my struggles. I struggle with the fact that because of its prevalence, cancer is known and understood and therefore its sufferers are readily acknowledged, offered compassion, extended empathy and sympathy, and given permission to grieve.

I think this is true for most people suffering from a rare disease: we long to be understood, too.

I’m grieving, too. And it sucks.

The last six months have been miserable for me. But misery is relative and I personally know of many others who have it worse so I refuse to complain and I refuse to share with most people just what’s happening. More than the fear of dying is the fear people will remember me as a whiner. Oh God, no! It’s just that for these last several months it totally sucked to have this LAM-thing going on – physically and emotionally. But because all the things happening to me happened on the insides, no one had to know about it unless I told them.

So like every good Christian feeling compelled to infuse hope to all mankind even while feeling hopeless themselves, I persistently lied and told everyone who asked, “I feel fine.”

So, in the midst of my worst suffering (so far), what I heard most often was this: “Well, you sure look great! You sure don’t look sick!”

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One day, in the midst of a childish rant, I told my husband I wished all my hair would fall out. I told him I couldn’t find a way to explain what was happening to me in one short minute and that is about all the time most people will give you. They ask you how you’re doing – but they really don’t want to hear the long truth. I said if my hair all fell out, then they’d “get it” and they’d get all melancholy and philosophical for me, too.

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The shocked/hurt look on my husband’s face told me I’d gone too far. We both know many people who have lost their lives to cancer or are currently battling it – my comments were pure disrespect. He said “Sounds like you’re just looking for sympathy.”

I said, “Maybe. Or maybe I just want to be understood.” Since my diagnosis, I had repeatedly told him that the primary emotion I experienced was loneliness. Because LAM is so rare, because to understand the disease I’ve had to spend countless hours in research, because my husband and children and family and friends can’t possibly “get it”, because I have, to date, personally met only one other woman with the disease, and because everyone’s disease progression is so unique, I feel very much alone. 

He thought long and hard, then said, “You know, everybody is dealing with something – and most of those things we cannot see. I think most people feel alone in their suffering. Maybe we all just need to treat EVERYONE with more sympathy and understanding.”

My husband is wicked smart.

Maybe you are dealing with fibromyalgia. Maybe it is COPD. Or Lupus. Maybe it is a son/daughter who won’t speak to you anymore. Maybe you don’t know how you’re going to pay next month’s bills. Maybe your husband doesn’t love you anymore. Maybe your child has leukemia. Maybe your mother has Alzheimers. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Maybe you just lost your job. Maybe you’re not sure you can keep going anymore.

All these things – and many, many more – are things unable to be seen on the outside. And as you walk around your neighborhood, or go to the mall, the grocery store, the dentist, the Little League game – wherever – no one knows of your suffering.

Maybe you, too, wish your hair would just fall out so people would be able to see that you’re suffering. Maybe you are feeling desperate to be known in the deepest, truest sense and to be profoundly understood. And perhaps, that is simply our depraved human condition – a whole-hearted, visceral longing to be intimately known and understood… 

Perhaps that is by design, so we fall desperate at the feet of Jesus… 

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What I am SLOWLY learning in this arduous process of grief and acceptance toward my illness is that I am most definitely NOT alone. First of all, I am not alone because of the truth we are all dealing with something. No one is immune from the pain of this world. At one of my lowest points, I stumbled upon this video called, “It Ain’t Over” by Ed Dobson, a well-known Grand Rapids pastor battling ALS. Although our stories are very different, I immediately felt I had a friend in Ed, because he gets suffering. I instantly felt less lonely.

But even better than finding fellow pilgrims on similar journeys, I am not alone because I have a Savior, who by very definition of that title has come to RESCUE us! He who suffered greater than anyone ever has or ever will – He alone understands me and my suffering perfectly. I do not need a bald head to be understood.

We are not alone, my friends. And never will be.

And so I decided that the point of this suffering must NOT be for me to extract sympathy from others – it was never about me anyway. I decided the point of suffering must be to show the world that even IN our suffering we will glorify the ONE who suffered more than any other, who gave HIS life SO THAT we might have eternal hope and eternal life; and then, we must point others toward HIM.

That, I believe, is the redemptive work of suffering.

10 Simple Steps to Freedom from Spring Cleaning. Finally.

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen I found out I had a disease that would likely reduce my years on this planet significantly, I wasted no time and jumped into conservation mode by eliminating things from my life that are not important, not necessary, or just no fun. I’m trying to focus my time and energy on things that really matter.

So, with the words of our bronchitis-encumbered friend, I’ve kicked spring-cleaning to the curb, because “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

I have never understood why spring-cleaning is a thing anyway. What kind of fun-Nazi came up with this concept? Just when the temperature and the birds and little kids are all beckoning us out doors, we are guilted into cleaning our homes from top to bottom like some freakin’ locked-up Cinderella.

Not this Cinderella. No more.

So if you want to put an end to the guilt-trip called “Spring-Cleaning” – you can use my secret non-cleaning methods, which will certainly NOT earn you a headlining piece in Better Homes and Gardens, but WILL most definitely help you reclaim one of life’s most precious commodities: time.

The key to freedom from Spring-Cleaning is prioritization and simply determining how often certain chores are TRULY necessary. Here is my list of spring cleaning chores and the frequency I give them:

  1. Dust baseboards: Never. Why bother with this total time-sucker? Who cares about dust ALL THE WAY down there by your already stinky and dusty FEET????
  1. Washing windows: Every other year. Maybe. However, if the Sparty’s are doing well in March Madness AND your daughter plays spring soccer AND you’re planning a spring missions trip to Guatemala, you can stretch this out to three. Maybe four.
  1. Wash sheets: Whenever you darn well feel like it, and never a day sooner. Who are these people that wash their sheets weekly? These people who make us feel less than just because we’d rather have a root canal than wash bed sheets? Who are these masochistic individuals who are willing to endure the stubbed toes, the broken fingernails, the SWEAT that breaks out when replacing the previously ill-fitted and now significantly shrunken fitted sheet??? They are not my friends, I’ll tell you that much.
  1. Wipe down interior of cupboards and clean food and crumbs out of silverware drawer: Whenever the dishes and silverware coming OUT of the cupboards are as sticky as those going IN to the dishwasher.
  1. Clean out the refrigerator: When something spills and makes a sticky mess. (I was just a young bride when I noticed on my mother-in-law’s calendar the little word “refrigerator” inked in the last Wednesday of every month. I asked her what that meant and she said, “That’s refrigerator cleaning day. I take everything out and clean the inside thoroughly, and then pull it out from the wall and clean behind it, too.” I choked. She had been thinking so highly of me up until this point. I could sense her disappointment. We had been married at least TWO years by that time, and I had never once had a “refrigerator day.” Could this be a thing? Cleaning behind your refrigerator??? Why has nobody shared this information with me before? In a rare, raw act of defiance, I decided then and there that on this one issue I would seriously disappoint my sweet mother-in-law and choose “NO!” I will NOT have a monthly “refrigerator day!”)

So, just to be clear, when I say “clean out the refrigerator”, I’m simply referring to dumping moldy-oldies and just scanning the interior to make sure no living creature will crawl out at you when you reach inside. I am NOT talking about cleaning under or behind the beast. For me, that is done approximately: NEVER. So far, 29 years of being an independent refrigerator owner and NOT ONCE have I cleaned behind one!

  1. Organize closets: When you can’t shut them.
  1. Wash walls: Do you eat off your walls? Do you lick your walls? Do you prepare your meals on your walls? Do you unthaw your frozen meat on your walls? Do you fold your clean laundry on your walls? Do you change your baby’s diaper on the wall? I rest my case. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wash walls. Every 10 – 15 years you will repaint them anyway. Good enough.
  1. Vacuum under the bed: Unless you have a dog who sometimes eats food she shouldn’t which makes her a little psychotic to the point of thinking that the under-bed space is actually a doggy doo-doo zone and leaves you a mess that ferments for several days before you discover it, there really is no reason to vacuum under the beds. I claim “outta sight, outta mind” for this one.
  1. Professionally clean carpets: Do NOT waste your time OR your money on this scam! (I’m pretty sure the government owns both the carpet cleaning industry and the dry cleaning industry. They are both fake covers to extract more money from the unsuspecting American public by pretending to do something that is purely bogus! Surely by now, in our advanced human evolution, we ALL realize that dry cleaners simply step out back, shake out the garments, and then throw them in a funky-smelling plastic bag proclaiming, “Voila! Clean!” Likewise, I guarantee you that one hot minute after the carpet cleaner’s truck pulls out of your driveway, the Kirby vacuum cleaner saleswoman could bust into your house and suck up mounds and mounds of disgusting dirt, lint, and dog hair from your “clean” carpets and furniture making you feel that somehow you don’t love your family well for being so dirty and that what you really want to do is spend ten times too much on a vacuum cleaner. Let me save you the HEADACHE: do NOT bother with EITHER ploy to get you to pay for something unnecessary! I promise you, that little Eureka Wind-Tunnel that your grandma bought you for $59 at Walgreens and proudly gifted to you at your bridal shower a mere 28 years ago… she still works juuuuuuuust fine! Fine, I’m sure of it! Have faith!)

Carpet cleanliness in America is so overrated. Go ride your bike with your kid in this glorious spring weather – something terribly underrated.

  1. And last but not least: Dog Care. I just read an article on spring-cleaning for your pets – a serious exposition on why my dog Buddy needs extra special attention at this time of year, too. Well, let me save you those wasted hours as well, my friends. My special secret that only takes a few seconds and keeps Buddy smelling April-fresh year-round: spray her frequently with spring-scented Febreeze! While the manufacturer and PETA probably do not endorse this practice, it could very well be the best spring-cleaning tip I can give you!

(I initially learned of the spring-cleaning concept from the Dutch Master herself, my Grandma Visser, who single-handedly raised the bar on the phrase “Dutch clean.” I’m noticing a bit of a cold sweat here as I contemplate posting this possibly too-honest list…. She was also a very large, very candid woman who made me cry on more than one occasion simply by speaking her mind. I believe I’m hearing her voice posthumously in my head right now – “Girl! Have you no shame???” Well, probably not, Grandma. Probably not.)

Angels in the Sewage

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sewer.cvb_t290It may be true that snowstorms suck and this past February was the coldest Michigan has seen in over 100 years… but I think a February of solid rain in tropical countries is potentially worse. Here’s why:

We should have all died as we sloshed around, knee-deep, in Darrin and Julie’s sewage.

We were living in Morocco – a country that many would describe as “backwards.” Admittedly, it is confusing why the country still tolerates garbage everywhere – littering the streets, fields and beaches; or why buildings are left half-done for decades – sometimes with occupants; or why there are essentially no rules for driving: lane lines are entirely irrelevant and disregarded, traffic lights are merely suggestions, and many drivers don’t own a drivers license. Perhaps that does describe a “backwards” country.  But to me, it was all beautiful. Morocco was our home and because the people were thoroughly loving and kind, it was actually quite easy to look right past the confusing, backward parts.

Except one.

There was a serious lapse in logic when Moroccan builders built the low-cost cement row homes of which we rented. I’m no builder –  the farthest thing from it, actually. But even I wonder what the heck they were thinking when they would first pour a HUGE cement sewage holding tank, and then construct the home directly over it.

There are many reasons this seems stupid to me. The biggest reason is the cockroach population that proliferated so rapidly in that sewage tank that within weeks of a new home construction, they would find their way up the drainage systems and into our HOMES to find more food and water. Cockroaches were a part of our everyday life in Morocco. I hate cockroaches – almost as much as the flying monkeys of OZ. Now, I know God is the Maker of all, but I still think cockroaches must somehow be the spawn of satan. But that’s another story.

Probably the second stupidest reason that one should not build their home directly over their sewage tank, is that in torrential rains (which occur November through March in non-drought years in Morocco) the tank overflows and can potentially back up into your home. Lovely, huh?

In an act of love and selfishness, when our friends Darrin and Julie decided to join us and work in Morocco, we found a house for them just down the street from ours. We were thrilled to have them be our neighbors. We were so excited to get to “do life” together in our little Muslim surfing village on the outskirts of Casablanca.

One thing we never anticipated was that to “do life” together would mean we’d be wading knee-deep through their sewage.

The second year in their home, Darrin and Julie (and kids Sawyer and McKenna) woke up one day to water swirling around their ankles. It was rainy season, and it was a wicked one, and the rains had not let up for days. The Jones’ septic tank beneath their home couldn’t handle the water. It bubbled into their home from every shower drain, toilet, and even cracks in the concrete. By the time we heard of their disaster in the late morning, the water had risen knee-high. A small army of loving, self-less people raced to their aid and set up a rescue mission. We created a bucket brigade passing buckets of sewage water up a set of stairs and out the door to the street. More people were dumping buckets of sewage into the backyard – which itself was flooded, but we had so few options. Glory be, but someone found a small electric water pump – probably the ONLY water pump in this nation that seems to just accept flooding – and we placed it precariously on a chair in the middle of the flooded dining room. Julie sat on a chair next to it, creating her own little island in a swirling brown sea – and with her feet in the air, she filled the water receptacle with sewage water – bucket after bucket after bucket – praying the little pump would keep up with the rising waters. The rest of us prayed it wouldn’t fall off the chair.

There were people in nearly every room of their home, helping in every way. In addition to the bucket brigade, there were people in the back yard attempting to unclog a sewage drain hoping we could start sending water out that way. There were people in the garage who brought food in for all the workers. There were people standing in the street, in the rain, just trying to figure out how to help.

And every person that entered their home that day should have died.

Every person who came to help entered Darrin and Julie’s home on the main level, and then descended their stairs to the lower level where the kitchen, living area and two bedrooms were located. As we saw the rising sewage water, we would toss off our shoes, rip off our socks and roll up our pant legs. We’d grab a bucket and walk right into the sewage and get busy. I don’t remember anyone mentioning the risk of electrocution. I do remember watching people race to unplug certain things like the TV, computers, and lamps and thinking “I’m pretty sure standing knee deep in water and pulling on electrical cords is something Bill Nye the Science Guy said to never do.”  I do remember somebody mentioning that the water level had risen as high as the wall outlets. Outlets which carry 220volts, not the 120v we use in the USA. Outlets which were wired by electricians who are not required to be licensed in this country. Outlets which have delivered enough voltage into a full-grown man to launch him right off his feet (that would be Darrin as well, but, again…. another story).

Looking back, I do not know how, for the love of God, no one was electrocuted that day. We were standing in water that was soaking in electricity. And even more unbelievable – no one got sick. Not a single case of gastroenteritis, or salmonellosis, or shigellosis, or hepatitis, or giardiasis. Not even a rash or a fever or a fungus. Nothing.

And this, I believe, is the reason: There are angels in the sewers.

I believe we are entertaining angels unaware – everywhere and all the time. But what I have discovered to be true so often in my own life is that in the darkest, dankest, most stinky, ugly and disgusting moments – the angels are really felt. They are known. We feel protected and safe. And we feel kept.

Sometimes you have to roll up your pants and just step into the sewage of life. You have to risk electrocution and hepatitis. You have to be brave and just do it because it is the right thing to do. And so GO DO IT, my friends. Be brave and GO DO IT because angels will keep you. You will be kept.

Sometimes you don’t ask for it. You don’t even have time to rip off your socks and shoes or roll up your pants – you simply wake up one day and find yourself in the middle of swirling sewage.

This – this swirling sewage, is what my life feels like currently. I did not ask for this. I did not willingly choose to engage in this battle with crap. But still, I am noticing the angels. I am feeling held. I am feeling kept.

May you truly know, brothers and sisters, that there are angels among us. ESPECIALLY in the sewage.

If I Had Only Nine More Years Left to Live

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UnknownIt has been a year since I was diagnosed with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) a helluva stupid lung disease that is slowly consuming my lung tissue and sucking the life from me. There is no cure. It has been a hard year – and my disease has progressed even though I specifically, repeatedly, desperately asked God to not let that happen – and I feel constantly compelled to reexamine my life and it’s meaning. Last year, on Christmas Eve, I wrote a blog entitled “If I Only had 10 More Years to Live” – and how having a potentially terminal illness changed my life’s goals almost immediately. Living with this diagnosis for a year and letting that reality sink in has taught me even more – and I felt compelled to update that “bucket list”.

It’s like my own constitutional amendments…
1)  Contrary to what I wrote a year ago, I will NOT be keeping Snickers in my car 100% of the time to have on hand for panhandlers.

I piloted this program for several months and after single-handedly eating SIX bags of snack-size Snickers, gaining FOUR pounds, and only passing out ONE candy bar – I’ve decided I MUST come up with another plan or I won’t die of LAM, but Snickers toxicity! Because poverty and homelessness literally keep me awake at night, I’ve got to DO something. Ignoring the issue is not an option for me. I’ve decided I’m going to have Degage vouchers with me at all times to give out to panhandlers. They are coupons from our local inner-city mission that can be redeemed for a meal, bus fare, haircut, or hats and gloves. Even BETTER than a Snickers. Check out your own city mission and see what they offer – because every city has some (that is, homeless people AND helpful solutions).

2)  I will watch less volleyball.

I adore my daughter and want to fully support every endeavor that is important to her (and all five of my kids). However, the amount of time that sports are sucking from the life of our generation is sickening and I don’t want to be a part of that madness anymore.
Our culture has dictated societal “norms” for sports involvement that simply require more from our family that we’re willing to give. There is a great quote by Krishnamurti that made me realize I was succumbing to a dangerous trend: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a profoundly sick society.”

This lifestyle of dinner-in-the-car, homework-on-the-sidelines, texting-conversations, weekends-at-the-tournament, no-time-for-church, and washing-the-uniform-at-midnight, CANNOT be the best distribution of time that God had in mind when He planned for Christians to be His hands and feet! When we attend every stinkin’ thing our children participate in – in this world that has run amok with children’s athletics and child-focused activities – we are actually giving our children TOO much attention and thus making them our false god. Our children need our love and support, not our worship. Maybe if we took our children off the throne, we’d have more time for all the things Jesus told us to be about: the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the hurting, the marginalized, each other.

If I really do only have 9 years left to live, I want to have time for friends with cancer, widowed neighbors, young moms with screaming toddlers, teens from the inner-city, the stranger in the backed-up check-out line who looks like he’s ready to cry, AND my kids! I love my kids profoundly – and by saying I want to give them a little less side-line attention does not mean I love them any less. I just want to try to make the remaining distribution of my limited time a reflection of a heart that breaks for the things that breaks God’s heart. My WHOLE world is not my children.

3)  Maybe if I watch less volleyball, I’ll have more time for the things that I didn’t get around to (but really MEANT to!) from last year’s bucket list: ICE CREAM dinners at the trailer park and time with nursing home residents who don’t get any visitors. Or maybe I’ll combine the two and load up my car with kids from the trailer park and together bring 20 gallons of ice cream to the nursing home! To me, that sounds like a taste of heaven.

4)  And this whole Ferguson mess taught me something: I need to make some black friends.

One of the richest experiences of our lives has been living in Morocco and making true, deep, lasting friendships with Muslims. When Islam has a name, a face, an address, a friendship, it changes your perspective on all things “Islamic”. I love these people in Morocco. And they love me. And so I’m extremely cautious before deriving any kind of conclusion about what is really happening is the Muslim world.

During the Ferguson debacle, I realized I don’t understand racism in America hardly at all. While in America, I have largely lived in an all-white, middle-class, Christian bubble. I didn’t mean to do that – it just kind of happened. I certainly don’t know enough black people deeply enough to say I can understand their life or our differences. That fact made me so sad. I tried to keep my mouth shut through all of the debates going on over that mess in Ferguson. Maybe I’ll weigh in when I have a bunch of black friends and feel I understand their hearts better. I’m not talking about exploiting some fake friendships. I really do want some black friends – and I just want to acknowledge that right now I’m ignorant. And ignorant people should keep quiet

5)  This past year has taught me I need to spend LESS time with my mother-in-law…

This is one of the hardest for me because I was wrongly believing that I was the only one who could help her and meet her needs. But what I’ve been failing to do was accept dementia. Dark. Unfair. Cruel. Relentless. And I can’t fix it or make it go away and going to visit her every day was only leaving both of us exhausted. I have to let it go and accept that we are losing her slowly to this ugly disease. I can give her only what I can give her – no more, but never any less either. This has helped me in other areas of my life, too. I’ve learned I’m a fixer and I hate it when I can’t solve problems or make them go away. But accepting that OUR SAVIOR came, specifically, to carry all our burdens, means that all we have to do is show up. We don’t have to fix them or carry them or worry about them, we just need to be fully present in the midst of them. He really DID come to set us FREE!

6)  A year later, and I’m STILL not gonna watch any Reality TV (Sorry all you DWTS fans – but I just don’t get it) Apparently, however, we as a family are going to occasionally curl up in blankets and absorb five seasons of Parenthood and try to solve issues like autism, teen sex, affairs and cancer with the family Braverman.

7)  And on the no dusting and vacuuming vow I made last year… WELLLLLLLL, the truth is really two-fold. One, I’ve learned that a house full of dust and pollen and dog hair is REALLY bad for my failing lungs and I really do want to make those two suckers last as long as possible. And two, when I can write words in the dust on my coffee table, it distracts me so much I can’t even think. So, truth be known, I’ve started dusting again. But not washing windows. And don’t even ASK me what my closets and drawers and laundry room look like. Housework? Paring it down to the necessities – and it feels so right.

In fact, THAT’S IT! – That’s what you do when you feel you’ve been given your expiration date…. You pare it all down to the necessities – discovering what it is that you truly need and what truly makes you feel most alive!!! Thank-you, Jesus, for coming to earth a baby, living to know all pain and suffering, dying to conquer death, and being ALL that I would truly ever need.
“For lo, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2: 10, 11

On Mice and Ice

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This week, two dastardly events descended on our family.  First, our daughter spotted a MOUSE in my CAR – and it seems to have taken refuge under the passenger seat and we can’t get it out.  Now, every time I drive somewhere I’m terrified that vermin will jump out at me.  Secondly, a BLIZZARD hit Michigan… in NOVEMBER!  We’re supposed to be hosing off the patio furniture, cleaning out the gutters and planting mums in the landscaping in November – not having snow days, clearing off icicles and endlessly shoveling the driveway!
Our daughter Grace turned 16 this year and has now been driving for five months.  This snow-fall will be her first exposure to driving in the snow and ice – and she’s a little freaked by that.  So on the first evening of serious snow accumulation, while I was driving her to volleyball, she asked me a great series of questions on how to navigate icy, snowy roads.
It wasn’t until I got about half-way through the questioning that I realized what a precious, precious gift we have – those of us living in this frozen tundra – because much of what we need to know about navigating life we can learn from navigating ice!
Winter driving is simply a “test-run” to teach us how to get through the tough stuff in life! 
So I wrote a little summary on driving tips for my sweet daughter Grace to help her stay safe on nasty Michigan winter roads – and included the life applications to help her avoid “crashes” in life as well:

o   Go slow. Always drive SLOWER than what you think you need to.
Life is speeding by – that is true.  But if you insist on speeding with it, you will miss the VERY things that make life holy and precious – the essence of what it means to be alive.  Take it slow.  Breathe in the crispness of this winter air, hear the crunch of the snow beneath your boots, catch snowflakes in your mouth, bury your friends in snow drifts in our yard, savor the beauty of a world blanketed in white.  THIS is our Father’s world – and we get the gift of enjoying it.
o   When you feel you’re losing control on the ice and you start to slide (and you WILL slide someday, baby)- don’t slam on the brakes!  Just tap them lightly, slow down, and hold steady.
Likewise, if you find yourself going off course in life, don’t come to a halt!   Forward motion is necessary to take you OUT of the problem. You will make mistakes.  You will, at times, lose your way – but keep going forward and hold steady to that which you know is true.  Don’t ever find yourself on the side-lines just watching life go by, Grace.  Get in the game and keep moving…
o   Always have your cell phone with you.  If you do get into trouble, all you have to do is call for help.
Oh, Grace, when it comes to life, this is such a hard one for me!  Just remember, we were NOT meant to do this life alone!  Reach out to others when you get into trouble – and together, you can make it.
o   Keep your eyes on your mirrors and know what others’ are doing all around you.  If they are starting to slip and slide, get out of their way – don’t get caught in their wreckage!  But if you see someone go in the ditch, by all means, stop and offer help!  
Likewise in life, Grace, there will be those who are crashing and burning all around you – all the time.  Learn from them.  Help them.  But keep your distance from those who try to bring you into their wreckage.  Instead, love them unconditionally and offer help whenever you can.  Always, always, always, help those in need.
o   You see that well-worn track in the road?  Well, don’t take it.  It’s deceptive – because it’s actually very icy there.  Keep your wheels just off center of that track because you’ll get better traction where there’s a little snow and not just ice.  
And likewise in life, do NOT take the trail most traveled!  It, too, is slick and deceptive – alluring, but totally dangerous.  It’s that whole “wide gate”, “narrow gate” thing…  the path that “everybody else” is taking is the going to be the one that leads to destruction.  Take the road less traveled, Grace, and it will make all the difference.
o   Keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  Because when that damn mouse appears, and oh, you better believe that he’ll appear – you gotta be ready!  You DO NOT want to lose control when the mouse appears! 
None of us, not one, are exempt from troubles in this life.  They will come – for sure, they will come.  So having both hands on the wheel – which represents HE who directs our paths – will keep you ready for when those “mice” jump into your life so that you don’t lose control and crash.  When life gets hard – like when you have to change schools, or your friends hurt you, or you don’t get to play the sport you love, or your mom gets a terminal illness – you MUST have both hands on the wheel, Grace.  Hang on to Jesus with all that you have.
You can do this, Grace!  Remember – there will ALWAYS be ice and mice – but YOU have what it takes to drive right through the storms:  a Perfect Co-Pilot.

A Thank-you to Cancer and Other Ugly Nasty Diseases

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My dad was 71 when he was diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer.  Because he can be a rather grumpy old man who’s anger and temper are legendary in these parts (he was once evicted from his own high-school basketball game after getting so upset about a referee call that he slammed the ball into the floor with such force it bounced up and hit the ceiling)  my three sister’s and I were all a bit wary about how this journey would play out.  We knew he’d be a miserable patient.  We decided to take turns bringing him in for chemo and radiation in an attempt to spread out his hostilities.

This was my first real “go around” with someone battling cancer.  Sure, I had come alongside several others with cancer and helped with meals, rides, visits, etc.  But that’s different.  That’s just peaking in on their lives when it’s convenient for me and feigning understanding.  Because, truthfully, I didn’t have a clue what they were going through.  With dad, things got real.  It was a real, shared walk through the valley of the shadow of cancer. 

 Chemo and radiation appointments involve lots of waiting – so we spent countless hours in the terrarium-like café that anchors the cancer center in Grand Rapids.  Over orange-cranberry muffins and dark-black-coffee-no-sugar, Dad and I would talk about growing-up memories, golf-cart repair issues, sports, and all the “bull-shit lawmakers who have their heads up their asses.”

One day, in that lovely cafe with the smell of cancer thick in the air, I saw something new – a fresh perspective.  I saw a well-dressed business man in a tailored black suit – with expertly coiffed hair and his briefcase tucked upright by his feet – sitting opposite his bald mother, hand-in-hand.  She was attached to her chemo pump and she seemed to be soaking in every word of her attentive son.  I saw a young mom, with her three little children dodging in and out of her legs and the legs of the table, sharing hysterical laughter with her dying sister – a woman of 42 who was losing her battle to breast cancer.   I saw two middle aged women – one the sick and suffering and the other the best friend – leaning in as they talked, holding hands, sharing lives and sharing tears.

I was witnessing the holy gift of presence.

Wherever you are (at least in America) and whomever you meet, if you ask them, “How are you?” almost invariably the first word out of their mouths will be “busy.”  Or they may respond with busy’s sister, “tired.”  It’s pandemic – those are our culture’s predominant adjectives.  As I looked around at the many people in the café that day, I thought: These people are busy, too.  I’m sure they are just as busy as everyone else “out there”.  But then I realized, it is because of this thing called CANCER that they have all chosen to get off the crazy-cycle of life and spend today – this day – in the terrarium café of the cancer center, and be fully present for the person in their life who is battling this wicked disease.

They get it, I thought.  They get it that nothing else matters as much as the people in our lives.

For whatever else these busy people had going on in their lives – on THIS day they decided that people matter most.  Relationships matter most.  And they chose to say ‘’TODAY, I will honor my loved one with the gift of PRESENCE.”

When someone gives you something that you really needed, that you crave and long for, and fills a gaping hole in your life, I would say that is a gift.  Even if you didn’t know you needed it – it is still a gift.  Might cancer be a gift?  Is that what God was thinking???  Please understand –  I DO NOT think cancer is beautiful.  I think it is ugly and is a result of the Fall and I think God weeps when someone gets cancer.  But I do know this – what I saw in that café every time we went in for a chemo or radiation treatment was a beautiful side of humanity that we rarely get a glimpse of anymore:  people slowing their lives down enough to really REACH INTO the lives of another and bring hope, comfort, presence and peace.  It’s like they bring some heaven to earth. 

Cancer gives us the gift of presence.

Until my dad got cancer, I really didn’t want to hang around him much.  He can sometimes be down-right mean – and he yells at me when I’m driving.  He sometimes makes me feel six-years-old and I’ve just spilled the red Kool-aid on the shag carpet.  And he thinks anyone who isn’t a conservative Republican in the Reformed Church of America is an idiot (which causes trouble for me…).  But cancer changed all of that – I suddenly didn’t care about his mean tendencies, yelling in the car, and political views.  I just wanted to spend time with my dad because I realized our days on this planet are numbered and I wasn’t going to have him around forever.  This life is not our own, and we can no more control the beginning and the ending of it than we can control the rising and setting of the sun.  I started missing dad even before he was gone – and suddenly, more than anything, I wanted to spend long hours over orange-cranberry muffins in the cancer center’s café listening to his rants about Obama and his asshole neighbors at the trailer park.

I have learned over the years that my dad really does love me, but has a hard time expressing it.  I love my dad, too.  And I haven’t told him that enough.  Cancer gave me a chance to do it.

Sometimes it takes something as ugly as cancer to bring that out in people.

And now I am beginning the journey of my own walk through the valley of the shadow.  It may be years before I feel any of the effects of Lymphangeioleiomyomatosis (LAM), but I’ve seen the CT scan of my lungs and it is scary.  I’ve lost countless nights of sleep tossing and turning as I picture those cysts on my lungs hijacking the space meant for air exchange.  And because there is nothing that I, nor the medical professionals, can do at this point to treat my LAM,  I decided the one thing I could do was jump up and down and scream to the world that LAM exists and that it’s evil and ugly and should be eradicated!  I joined forces with my sisters and a few friends and organized a local 5K Walk/Run to raise LAM awareness and hopefully raise some money to help find a cure.  We decided to set rational expectations, and prayed for maybe 40 or 50 participants and set our financial goal at $2,000.

In mid-August, as the Lord blessed us with the best West-Michigan weather ever, around 275 people participated in our “little” 5K and we raised over $13,000 to help fund the search for a cure!  It was nothing short of miraculous and it took my breath away (no pun intended).  I looked around at that sea of people that glorious Saturday morning and realized, again, I was witnessing a beautiful side of humanity.  The side where all these incredibly busy people slowed their lives down enough – their one wild and precious life – to take part in an event that extended to me and every other woman with LAM  the gift of hope, comfort, presence and peace.  It was such an amazing celebration of life.  Even though LAM is ugly, the celebration that day was beautiful.  Truly beautiful.

I hate it that my lungs are slowly giving out on me – but I am beyond grateful and remain totally in awe that I got that little glimpse of heaven come to earth that day through the outpouring of love from all those people running a 5K.  Maybe failing lungs is just one of the many tools God uses to get humanity to counter the overbearing “stay-busy-and-tired” message of our culture and instead to slow down and give the gift of presence!

I’m telling you what, even when things seem bad – even ugly-disease bad – God is still good.

A Roaring LAM(b)

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Last year, on the day before Thanksgiving, I found out I have a terrible, rare, progressive and often fatal lung disease.  Nobody – not one of the experts, not one of the scientists, not one of the doctors – can tell me how many years I may have left to live.  But I get that – who but God really knows anyway?  However, the one thing they ALL seem to agree on:  I have a lot fewer years left than I did just two days before Thanksgiving – when I didn’t know I had Lymphangeileomyomatosis. 

It’s called LAM for short, because, let’s be real – no one is going to remember Lymphangeileomyomatosis.  LAM.  Seriously, God?  That’s my new moniker?  A LAM(b)?  Of all the animals on the planet that might be fun to be named after – I get to be called a lam(b)?  A lamb is a pokey, wobbly, helpless baby sheep.  As if being called a BABY of any animal isn’t enough, I get to be a baby animal from the sheep family – who are most widely known for their dim wit!  Ask anyone what they think of sheep and they’ll reply “stupid”.   Because of their confused and moronic tendencies, sheep have even been known to follow each other right off the edge of a cliff. 

At the most frail and freakish time of my life, I get to be a lam(b).  Not even a full-grown sheep who has learned a bit about sheepdom, but a shallow, immature, dependent little baby sheep.  How poetic.   And then the real irony is this:  I actually feellike a little baby sheep, too.  I feel dim-witted, confused, sheared, exposed – and most of the time I want to run – to flee, sometimes right off the edge of a cliff.

But then I read up a bit on sheep and sheep-things – and I found all kinds of reasons that make me proud to be one of them.  Here they are:

  1.  Sheep are known to follow their leader – the CLEAR leader.  Even blindly, without any understanding of where they are being led and why, sheep will follow their leader.  Likewise, the most important goal in my life is to follow my leader, Jesus, wherever and into whatever He leads me.  I want to have as much faith as my sheep-friends, so that I will follow Jesus blindly, even when I don’t understand where He is leading me.
  2. Sheep have such incredibly strong peripheral vision, they can actually see behind themselves without turning their heads.  If I am living my life as fully engaged as possible, I need to be able to learn from all that is behind me.  I don’t want to live in the past, which would only weigh me down, but I just need to be able to seethe past to know how to navigate the future and prevent recurring mistakes.  The ability to see behind ourselves – for both me and my sheep friends – could actually spare us all kinds of pain.
  3.  Sheep become stressed when isolated.  When I first got my diagnosis, I began wallowing in self-pity and since I knew not a single soul with the same disease, I could not commiserate my misery with anyone.  The more I isolated, the more stress and anxiety I experienced.  Apparently, sheep have learned that which I still struggle with – we were not meant to do this life alone.  We need community.  We were created for community.  Community is good.  And once I reached out to family and friends – my people/my flock – I felt the stress just wash away.
  4. Domestic sheep have a life expectancy of 10 – 12 years, but some live as long as 20.  When I first got my LAM diagnosis, I raced to the internet and Googled it.  Of course I did – it’s always our first move in the 21st century.  I was devastated to discover that most literature cited LAM as having a 10 year prognosis.  As I’ve investigated further, many people are currently suggesting the internet data is outdated, and that with earlier detection and possible lung transplant, LAM patients are now very capable of living 20 years or more – just like my sheep buddies. I don’t know how long I’ve already suffered from LAM, it could be I’ve had it for many years already.  But because I’m definitely a domestic sheep and not a wild one, I am praying and choosing to believe I could live for at least 20 more years.
  5. Sheep have been used, both in ancient times and in modern religious rituals, as sacrificial animals.  Is there any possible way that God Almighty allowed me to get this disease in order to call attention to it, raise awareness, potentially leading someone to find a cure, so that ultimately other young women might live?  Or bigger yet, is there any possible way that God Almighty allowed me to get this disease, asking me to glorify Him even in the midst of suffering, so that others might be drawn to HIM?  Oh my, even the thought of that takes my breath away.

So today, today I am embracing my inner sheep.  I am a LAM(b) who is choosing to accept that I am quite dim, that I definitely NEED my leader and I definitely NEED my community, and that I have been called into this suffering and that’s not a terrible place to be.  Because of those choices, I refuse to be a quiet little LAM(b).  I refuse to surrender to hopelessness and despair.  I refuse to accept “no cure”.  I am choosing to stand up and shout.  I choose to be a ROARING LAM(b)!!!

As you get older you care less and less what other people think about you – so you say whatever you want.  When you’re dying it gets even worse. My kids are constantly cringing around me because they never know what I’m going to blurt out next.  So here I go:  I am unashamedly going to shout from the rooftops that LAM is snatching young women’s lives and it DOES NOT have to be this way!   LAM is under-researched, under-funded and under-known.  I believe there is a cure and we only need to find it!  And so this roaring lam(b) – with a ton of help from my flock – is doing one BIG thing this summer to create awareness:

The 1stAnnual LAM Awareness 5k Walk/Run in Hudsonville

August 9that the Hudsonville Baldwin Street Middle School Baseball/Softball complex

7:30 a.m. Registration begins

9:15 a.m. Walk/Run begins

$32.50 registration fee (Because the average age of onset of LAM in women is 32.5 years old); 5K t-shirt, snacks, prizes, and FUN included.

Won’t you please come join me, my family, friends, and community, and help to create awareness for a little-known, but devastating disease?  All proceeds will go to the LAM Foundation – http://www.thelamfoundation.org/– a 501c3 and the sole organization working to raise funds to further awareness and find a cure for LAM.

For questions, please call Kris Zylstra at: 616-648-6323 or e-mail at:  zbowfamily@yahoo.com

Wiser Why’s

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I am told that when life just doesn’t make sense at all it’s okay to ask God, “Why?”   When maybe a single phone call, lab results, a fire, or a funeral, leave you suddenly questioning who is God, really, and if He’s truly good and concerned about what’s going on down here or if He’s just hanging out with the angels playing Settlers of Catan and watching Downton Abbey.

There are a few things that I know to be true but they don’t necessarily help:  I know God can handle our questioning – people love to remind me of that.  I also know that I don’t necessarily need an answer to the “Why?” in order to find peace and joy.  And I know that God will meet us where we’re at, which, sometimes, is in the middle of the unknown.  Those statements are all true, but presently feel so cliché and have not been all that comforting lately.  But I’ve also learned something in this season of asking a whole lot of “Why?” questions:  when I come up with some Wiser Why’s, I just feel better.  That’s it.  Asking a different, wiser set of “Why’s?” just seems to be carrying me these days – better than any cliché reminders.

  • When I want to ask of God: Why am I only 47 and have to start thinking about death because of this stupid lung disease?  My wiser Why is this:  Why is it that I have been given a disease that gives me years to live instead of one that gives me only weeks or months?
  • Why did my sweet friend Jill have to die at 44 yrs. old, in the prime of her life, leaving behind a loving husban
    Wd and 4 amazing kids?  My wiser why is this:  Why, Oh God, why, would you give insignificant little me the gift of 15 years of a beautiful friendship with someone as spectacularly special as Jill?
  • Why is it so freaking cold in Michigan?  I should be asking: Why is it that we have a heated home and yet I know full well just 20 minutes up the road there are people who have no home at all?
  • Why is every stinkin’ day a blizzardy-day in Michigan this year?  I could be asking: Why did God choose to make snow white?  He could have chosen to make it black, you know.
  • Why does it feel like this winter will never end?  A better Why would be:  Why, out of all the ugly- brown-70’s-ranch houses in West Michigan, did we choose this particular ugly brown house for our down-size – which just so happens to have a miracle bush by the front door which just so happens to attract chirping birds ALL WINTER LONG providing us with the sounds of Spring – ALL WINTER LONG?
  • Why can’t we take a trip to Hawaii like my sister?  A much wiser Why would be:  Why don’t I run to the bathroom, stick my head in the toilet and give myself a swirly?  We like to tell our kids:  ask a junior-high question and you’ll get a junior-high answer.
  • Why do some people do and say hurtful things yet seem oblivious to the hurt they leave in their wake?  A wiser Why would be:  Why am I so stuck on the hurt that has been done to me instead of looking to where I may have been the hurt-er?
                                                                                                                                                  
  • Why can’t my husband or children ever replace the empty toilet roll with a new one?  A wiser why would be:  Why, Lord, did you choose to give me a husband who loves me and four (fairly normal) children?  Why do some people pray for those things forever yet not receive them?
  • Why can’t I lose 20 pounds and have a figure like my co-worker Hillary?  A much wiser why would be:  Why is it that I have never known true hunger?
  • Why can some people eat like crap, smoke cigarettes, and drink their liver silly yet still live into their late 90’s – but even though I DIDN’T live like that, I might get robbed of a few decades?  Perhaps a wiser Why would be:  Why is Josiah so ridiculously funny that we can sit around the dinner table and laugh with (at) him for hours – helping us to realize we can know bliss without the aid of substances?
  • Why did my cousin Zac, who was more like a nephew and one of Andy’s best friends, have to die last summer at the age of 23 in a tragic, senseless car accident?  My wiser why is this:  Why, heavenly Father, did you pick bright eyed 5-yr.-old Anand out of all the millions of homeless and orphaned children in India, to be adopted by his family, to be brought home to America, to be renamed Zac, to touch and bless the lives of all who knew him, and to teach us all a little more about passion, love, and zest for life?  And this one:  Why, oh why, was he ALWAYS smiling?
  • Why do you allow pain and suffering, Almighty God, when I know darn well you could stop it all if you wanted to?  A wiser Why is this:  Why did it take me getting a diagnosis of a potentially terminal illness to stop the crazy-cycle life I was living and slow down enough to notice people, to notice need, to notice beauty, to noticequiet, and to notice God?