Sticky Seats and Behavior

IMG_6548A dear friend recently asked if I wanted to meet up for drinks to solve all of our problems and the world’s. I desperately needed a good laugh, which is a given with this friend, so, I said, “YES!”  She wanted to meet at Applebee’s. I told her Applebee’s grossed me out their seats are sticky. 

So we went to another local bar/eatery and talked for hours.

We saw a strange thing:  A couple we both knew who are well-known, prominent leaders in our community and vocal followers of Christ were sitting at the bar (not the strange part – I’m not one of those Christians…). The couple appeared to be there together, but it was obvious they knew just about everyone else at the bar as they flitted from person to person. The wife was dressed, well, concisely if you know what I mean (I saw boobs and butt cheeks if you really wanna know…). And she just laughed too loud, flipped her hair too often, leaned over the other men at the bar a little too far, and was just all around TOO MUCH. The two of them were rarely side-by-side and spent the evening drinking until their drinking began “showing”. It felt like a scene from “Cheers” – everyone else knew their names and they all seemed a little too much at home. This was obviously not their first rodeo.

They stayed at the bar the entire time my friend and I discussed every marriage, parenting, and career topic – PLUS solved world hunger AND the border wall issue! When we left FOUR HOURS later at 11:00 p.m., the couple still showed no signs of leaving.

As much as I reprimanded myself “Stop it, Cindy.  You have no way of knowing what’s really going on. You don’t know their life, their struggles, or their needs.  Don’t judge, Cindy.  Stop it!” I still found myself just feeling a little yucky from their behavior.

It was confusing.  It just didn’t add up.

I do believe “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” To “judge” means to make a final conclusion or verdict about someone or something. It’s never a good idea to make a judgment based on appearances alone. HOWEVER, it’s also true that a book cover often reveals A LOT about what’s inside! We shouldn’t make a judgment, but it’s perfectly acceptable to learn about the book and decide if you even want to open it up based on the cover alone.

WE LEARN ABOUT THE INSIDE BASED ON WHAT THE OUTSIDE IS DOING!

Learning something from appearances and judging them are two totally different things.

If I see a book with this on the cover:

You can be darn sure I won’t even pick it up. It would be unfair of me to say the CONTENT of a book like this isn’t good – I just know that I have really no interest in getting to know this book at all. Math gives me a migraine and makes me want to throw things and yell at people. I want nothing to do with it.

Likewise, the behaviors we observe in other people tell us if we want to know them or their beliefs better or not.

And then I wondered – what if I flip that truth on it’s head?….

Maybe instead of focusing on the appearance of others or concerning myself why someone else’s behavior seems incongruent with the Christ-likeness they profess, maybe I should use those circumstances to remind ME that others are watching ME, too!

Since that bar scene, I’ve been wondering, “What behaviors do I exhibit that at times could be interpreted, or even misconstrued as inappropriate?”  “Are there things that I do, say, think, feel, that are also incongruent with the Christ-like life I want to emanate?”

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I hope and pray that when I lay my head down at night and replay the day in my mind I’ll have peace that my actions, conversations and activities didn’t confuse people about the gospel. Because those images are then associated with me and it’s hard to shake an image we’ve observed.

Images often stick with us and leave an indelible imprint – just like Applebee’s seats.

Lessons from the brain dead

imagesI was absent from one of the most transformative events in my life. It happened to my husband while in Guatemala but left an indelible print on me and I’ve never been the same since.

Back in the day when we believed visiting Guatemala regularly would bring lasting change to the country, we often included orphanage visits as part of our “missions” week. (Anecdotally, our views on short term mission trips and their purpose and product have morphed significantly since those early days. For deeper probing, here are a few resources:  Relevant MagazineThe Poor Will be Glad and When Helping Hurts)

On this particular visit, Paul and his fellow well-intentioned travelers decided to stop at a new orphanage that was home for children with special needs. No one in the group could have anticipated what they were about to see.

He described the place to me as a small home made up of three adjoining rooms. The first and last rooms were filled with beds for the children – the middle room served as their dining room, lounge and play room. The place was lit too brightly by flickering overhead fluorescent lights and smelled of urine and vomit. The staff barely noticed yet another American “tourist” group stopping in; so with lack of direction, the group migrated to the playroom hoping to play with the kids.

Paul held back. He described some kind of supernatural power drawing him to the sleeping quarters made up of rows of beds and cribs.

He heard her before he saw her. Her shallow, slow breathing rattled and gurgled with every breath. Next, he smelled her. It was a hideous combination of bad breath, urine, and body odor. Although the crib was abnormally large, Paul expected to find an infant. It was, after all, a crib.

 

When he peered in, he was quite taken aback by the sight.

 

Her name was Corinna and she was 10 years old and that crib had been her whole world her entire life. She was born severely handicapped and has never walked, talked, fed herself or even sat upright. She stairs blankly to the left – always to the left because her head is stuck that way. Without provision of physical, recreational or occupational therapy to the residents their bones and muscles and brains just atrophy away day after day.

Corinna was not hooked up to any machine or life-assisting devices. She just existed. Her stiff and contorted body pained Paul to even look. But instead of pulling away, he felt compelled to lean in. He put his head right in front of hers. He stroked her hair, he talked to her, and he prayed for her.

 

She barely blinked.

 

A few days later back in Michigan, Paul recounted this experience to me: “Cindy, it was like there was no one there – she was so vacant. And yet, I felt the presence of God with her. All I could think was this: God loves this precious one. She has been bed-ridden her whole life, she has never said a word and never will. She, by all practical purposes, is brain dead. She can do absolutely nothing for herself. She can do absolutely nothing for others – to show appreciation, to show love, to enjoy life, or – especially – to secure her salvation. And yet, God still loves her as much as he loves anybody. God actually sent his son to DIE for Corinna – to give her this life that seems so unlived. God’s love just blew me away as I sat holding Corinna’s hand. The beauty of that moment made me weep with love for her and for what an amazing God we serve.”

 

              * * * * * * * * *

 

Paul and I tried to take a walk together today, but we had to stop frequently so I could catch my breath. I told him to just do the talking because I’m no longer able to walk and talk at the same time.

My medications are causing me more problems than I care to share. And I’d quit the whole lot of them if I didn’t believe in some weird medical-background-way they’re helping me live longer.

And with each tiny sign of deterioration I feel a little less whole, less human. A little less significant. A little less worthy.

And on my bad days I worry. I worry that I haven’t done enough. I worry that I haven’t said enough or shared enough with my kids. I worry that I didn’t accomplish much or do enough good. I worry that I’ll never finish my book and I’ll never have anything of significance to leave behind. I worry that within a generation or two people will forget me and that my life didn’t matter.

Then I worry that I worry about such stupid stuff.

 

But today I remembered Corinna. She who lay there in a crib for 10 years and never once actually “did” a single thing. Although she could barely move, she reminds me of how much God loves each and every one of us – his precious creation, made in HIS image – and that he would have died for us even if we were the only one.

I believe Jesus whispered in her ear every single day, “You are my beloved, Corinna. Of you, I am especially pleased.”

And I wonder how is it that I keep returning to my old patterns of fear and doubt and anger and resentment for my sucky lot in life – because, when I remember Corinna, I remember that I, too, am Jesus’ beloved, no matter what I am able to do or not do, say or not say, be or not be.

Yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.

 

 

Let’s stay woke for World Refugees

IMG_6803At first, he didn’t speak up, but I could tell he was listening in on my dilemma. I was trying to explain to a young Syrian mom how to administer the antibiotic to her sick child. My translator, a sweet Egyptian girl, was having trouble understanding my English and the Syrian mom was having trouble understanding her Arabic (as the two countries speak a different dialect). We were getting nowhere.

The man eventually leaned in and said, in perfect English, “Perhaps I could help?”

I was surprised to hear English from one of the refugees we were there to serve. I responded, “You speak English! Awesome! Can you translate for me?”

With tenderness and compassion, he easily explained to the Syrian mom exactly how to administer the medication. She thanked him profusely.

I asked him where he learned to speak English so well. He told me he was a physician. He studied in both England and Australia. He was here today, at our pop-up medical clinic, to get his own blood pressure medication. He had been unable to obtain any for many months and was concerned about his blood pressure

As I took his blood pressure, he went on to explain how helpless he felt living in the refugee camps. He wanted to help his fellow displaced Syrians, but he had no money, no access to medication, no credentials that would allow him to work in a Lebanese medical facility, and he had no medical equipment at all – not even his stethoscope. He told me he and his family fled like everyone else – in the middle of the night with the clothes on their backs and enough food for the journey. Period.

Refugee status is no respecter of age, gender, education, religion or background. If your country falls apart and you need to flee – you simply flee. There is no time to separate out the “haves” from the “have nots” when you are fleeing for your life. And now, everyone resides side-by-side in a make-shift village constructed from wood scraps and tarps. For seven years my physician friend has been in this refugee camp.

Seven years and waiting.

Today, I want to pause and re-feel the pain I felt that day. I want to remember the courage, the resilience and the perseverance that I saw in the faces of each and every Syrian refugee I met. I want to stand in solidarity with them and to do my part in this big mess to say, “WE WILL NOT FORGET YOU!”

I went to Lebanon with a team led by Dr. Lina Abujamra, a Lebanese ER physician who resides in Chicago and is the founder of Living With Power Ministries and shegiveshope.com.

Their work in Lebanon includes:

  • Medical and Dental clinics near the Syrian border and refugee camps (they have led 9 clinics so far, over 7,000 patients have been treated and $80,000 has been donated toward medications and treatments.
  • Food and community outreach programs (over 200 people are fed monthly)
  • Housing initiatives (the ministry has subsidized housing and living expenses for 20 families monthly.)
  • A nurses-aide training program for Syrians (the first training took place Feb-May 2019)
  • Helping to support educational programs for both school-aged kids and college students.
  • This July the ministry will run it’s first summer camp for Syrian refugee children.

WAYS YOU CAN HELP:

  • REMEMBER REFUGEES and PRAY FOR THEM. Just because the refugee crisis isn’t in the news every day doesn’t mean it is over. It’s actually getting worse. A refugee is defined as someone who has been forced to flee their home because of persecution, war or violence. Paul is in Honduras right now as I write. He is experiencing firsthand accounts of why people are flooding out of Honduras. Trust me – they classify as REFUGEES!
  • STAY INFORMED. Pay attention to the news and use your influence to spread the word about refugee-related issues. Amidst growing anti-refugee rhetoric and policies, it’s never been more critical to stay informed and speak out!
  • FINANCIALLY SUPPORT organizations who are supporting refugees locally, nationally, and globally. You can get AWESOME merch (like the shirt I’m wearing in the pic) here at: http://shegiveshope.com/.
    You can support the work of Lina’s teams at https://www.livingwithpower.org/global/

    And another fantastic organization that Paul and I support is:
    Preemptive Love Coalition

    Or if you want to give locally in the West Michigan area here are three great organizations:
    Tree Tops Collective
    Samaritas
    Bethany Christian Services

  • GO WITH ME TO LEBANON!!! I’m dead serious. If my health allows (which seems to wax and wane), I plan to go back to Lebanon and serve with the Medical team. If you’re interested (whether you have a medical background or not), let me know!But I must warn you, it will change your life.

God of the City

IMG_6254Last week our car had its front window shot out (yes, as in, with a gun) while parked in the street in front of our house. At least 10 other neighbors had their cars hit as well and we had to call the police and fill out police reports and we were all late for our morning commitments.

No houses or people were hit, so that’s good. And just four hours and fifty dollars later, we had a new window put in.

It’s the city. These things happen.

 

What is God’s Country?

I grew up in rural west Michigan and figured I had no choice but to live in a rural setting forever. Afterall, everyone called it “God’s country” and I certainly didn’t want to live anywhere God wasn’t.

A thousand twists and turns later and Paul and I find ourselves living in the heart of Grand Rapids. Not the worst neighborhood of our city, but (clearly) not the best either.

I realize that if one has the resources to choose where they live, debating over which locale is best (city, suburbs, country) is completely arbitrary because it’s purely personal preference. We didn’t have to move to the city. We could have stayed in the burbs and we could have stayed at our “big dream house” that we had built in the country. We chose city life.

And now, we have found a spiritual-ness to city life that proves God dwells powerfully here, too.

 

10 Ways We See God in the City:

1 – In the city, we have met people from all kinds of different race, religion, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds from our own. Whenever I hear someone (usually caucasian) ranting about issues/problems with blacks, gays, Muslims, the poor, immigrants, pro-choice, pro-life, atheists, Democrats, Republicans, etc. I will ask them, “Do you know any? Like, do you HANG OUT with anyone from (that particular people group)?” If they reply “Well, not exactly”, I won’t listen any further. If we do not know people who are different from us, we do not have the right to talk about what “they” are like, what “they” do or think or feel. When we made close friends with many Muslims in Morocco, our entire view shifted from what we previously thought or believed about Islam. It is imperative to truly KNOW the “other” before commenting (or worse, ranting) about them and their perceived impact on your own existence. I believe we’re extremely misguided to derive our opinions from Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow.

 

2 – In the city, we drive down bumpy, neglected roads as we take in broken street lights, graffiti, and panhandlers. These serve as a constant reminder that the world is not a perfect place and no matter how hard we strive to curate perfection in our lives (whether by beautifully perfect homes, perfectly edited Instagram feeds, perfectly manicured lawns, etc. ) the truth is, PERFECTION is for heaven and this world is broken. Most of the world suffers unspeakable pain, hurt, loss and brokenness and we MUST NOT forget that truth. For me, I need the daily reminder the city offers.

 

3 – In the city, we see people. People are seen out walking, hanging out at bus stops or street corners, or just visiting one another on their front porches. People in the city don’t drive their cars into their houses (as once described to me by a little Moroccan boy who couldn’t fathom the phenomenon of “garages”), but instead, we park on the street and SEE one another with every coming and going. When Paul and I were younger we sought to escape others, now we seek them and the city just works better for that.

 

4 – We hear church bells in the city.

 

5 – I can hear my neighbors conversations if both our homes have the windows open. Living in the city means you watch your language more carefully. It’s like having a built-in accountability partner.

 

6 – We have nuns playing soccer with the students across the street during Catholic-school recess. I don’t care who you are – if you’re having a bad day, watching nuns play soccer with little kids will just make you happy. It’s like having Julie Andrews out your front window.

 

7 – We may get our cars shot at once and awhile, but you know what? It brought us all out onto the street that morning and we learned the names of a few neighbors we hadn’t met and we all banded together with common loss and concern and empathy. It’s through the hardships that we truly bond with one another. I don’t believe in seeking hardships, but I also don’t think cocooning ourselves in an attempt to avoid life’s hardships is the life God desires for us either.

 

8 – Living amongst those from a lower socio-economic status serves as a daily reminder to not become lovers of money. It’s so dang easy for us to believe we need more, more, more. But when I am surrounded by those who have less, I have to really wrestle with my spending habits and discern if I really need those new throw pillows more than Julie down the street needs diapers for her children.

 

9 – Living in the city you do not need to waste your money on marijuana. If the situation calls for it, you can just stroll over to the park and inhale a big enough whiff to get a little buzz for free.

 

10 – In the city, you can get REAL tacos from little hole-in-the-wall taco stands that serve REAL corn-flour tortilla shells. You’ll never be able to eat a flour tortilla shell again (Gross. Just gross.)

 

But is it SAFE?

 

I don’t particularly care for people driving down my street shooting at our cars (or shooting at anything, for that matter), but I LOVE what Mrs. Beaver said to Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when Lucy asked if Aslan was safe:

 

She said, “Of course He isn’t safe, child, but He is good.”

 

 

 

 

A One Take Wonder

imagesMy last birthday was a total bust. My gift was fever, shakes, pukes, body aches and diarrhea at 30,000 feet in the air on a transatlantic flight from hell. Barfing into an airplane toilet takes “gross” to a whole new level…

The next three days were a blur where reality and dreams blended like a thick cloud hovering over my sweaty sheets. I felt incredibly sorry for myself and my poor family could do nothing right and it didn’t seem like they were doing enough to save my life (which, to me, was clearly hanging in the balance…)

My sweet daughter came up with a brilliant idea to try and make amends: she bought our family tickets to a Ben Rector concert hoping to redeem the birthday that had gone down the toilet (pun intended).

After waiting in line for two hours at the concert venue, we were finally able to race to our “spots” on the floor and landed a coveted position in the “second row” (if there IS such a thing as rows in a mosh-pit). This was a standing-up kind of concert where old people like me should have known better and paid the extra hundred bucks for a seat. But I wanted to be cool like my daughters and all the other millennials so I insisted I’d have no problem standing up for 7 hours straight and wouldn’t be bothered in the least to have multiple 20-year old drunk guys rubbing up against me.

Rather than bury my head in my phone while we waited (like the millennials), I chose to people watch. I got an interesting little life lesson from the two girls in front of us. After all, we were so close I could have licked their necks if I’d wanted to. So you can’t really call it eavesdropping, I just wasn’t closing my ears.

The girls began their wait by taking a selfie. I get it. That’s what we all do in these GRAND situations – we let the world know how GRAND our life is. We did it, too. Of course I wanted all my middle-aged friends to see how cool I was – at a Ben Rector concert – standing-freakin’-up –surrounded by drunk millennials!!!
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But the two girls encroaching my personal space didn’t take just ONE selfie, they took at least 50. No joke. They took one from every angle, then switched p, then fixed their hair and took some more, then took their cool flannel shirts off and tied them around their waists and took some more.

 

What happened next is the part I’ll never forget: the editing.

 

With their new phones and latest apps, they whitened their teeth, trimmed their inner-thighs and lightened their hair. They brightened the yellow in their shirts and softened the grey. They smoothed down the fly-aways in their hair and made their skin look silky. One said their teeth looked unnaturally white, so they dialed that back a little. Then they switched it back again. On and on and on this went – perfecting perfection. Believe me – I had nothing else to do but watch the two of them as I waited for my man, Ben.

And it all made me long for the days when we put ACTUAL FILM in our cameras and simply took ONE PICTURE in a grand situation and then prayed that when we brought the film to the local Walgreens to be developed we wouldn’t all have our heads cut off or red-devil eyes.

I think by now everyone knows that social media can’t be trusted. It’s actually quite a lie, isn’t it? The carefully curated images and the subtly blissful-nuanced stories we share on social media – simply because we can edit – are not the true us. When we only post a picture that took us 50 tries to get a “good one” and only post the content that makes us look thin, rich, fun, smart, courageous, exploring, and ridiculously busy, then we’re not sharing the REAL us.

 

You know it. I know it.

 

But we all keep doing it anyway. It’s a serious cultural problem and it’s filling up my psych hospital with all kinds of people feeling “less-than” and suicidal.

And I don’t think anyone really knows what to do about it.

If an old school film-camera took a snap-shot of our lives I’m betting it would look more like a morning fight with the spouse over the credit card bill, a child getting a detention for forgetting her French horn for the twelfth time, sitting with a loved one receiving chemo at the cancer center, a broken washing machine during a season with three kids in sports, a friend who’s drifting away, family feuds over where your mother with dementia should live, or burning dinner for the fifth night in a row.

So why don’t we see or hear more of these stories?

When we edit every part of our lives to be lovely and perfect – even if it is primarily to impress others – it feels like real life is no longer allowed to exist. Those of us stuck in “real life” soon feel like failures.

I’m not suggesting bearing our souls on social media is going to fix this, but I do believe that more often than not, it IS okay to share your burdens with a few TRUSTED souls. Not only is it okay, I believe it’s necessary. Maybe we NEED to hear that our kids aren’t the only ones who are bullied. Maybe I NEED to see your chunky inner thighs. Maybe you NEED to see that I burn dinner almost every night.

Paul and I once left a church we loved dearly because it felt like we were the only ones in the whole congregation who messed up the gift of sex. We felt so isolated in our pain. We had confessed and been forgiven by both God and each other, but we never dared to share our story at church – it just seemed like no one there could have possibly understood. They all seemed so perfect. No one ever talked about issues or problems at that church, so our (wrong) assumption was they didn’t have any.

Maybe, as much as anything, we need to feel safe to share when we’ve screwed up. Maybe, if we knew our messes would be met with the knowing nod of our friends and neighbors saying to us, “Yes, my dear, I hear you and I see you. And just like God, I forgive you, too. Let it go and let me share with you my own broken story, my dear…” maybe then we’d be more likely to share.

 

Because in real life, you don’t get to edit.

In real life, you only get one take.