How Not To Die

This is not to be confused with deceptive click-bait leading you to think I have the secret to staying alive in this health crisis. Heck if I know – I don’t even think Dr. Fauci really knows. Me? I’m sitting all alone in a cabin sucking on oranges, doubling up on multi-vitamins, and binge-watching TV COVID updates like it’s the new season of Stranger Things. My only human interaction is shouting across the yard to my drunk hippy neighbors and FaceTiming the kids.

No, the nature of this post is quite the opposite of how to stay alive.

Let’s be honest, every one of us – at some point since hearing about this deadly virus – has thought about dying. Who wouldn’t? This thing is a killer and whether we believe it or not, we will all be touched in some grisly way by this virus. I don’t think any of us were ready to be thrust into morbid conversations about sickness, PPE, viral load, pandemics, and a TV-ticker that literally counts the dead. Yet suddenly EVERY stinkin’ one of us has to concern ourselves with the reality that “it” could be coming for us. Even us.

Generally speaking, our culture is not all that adept in dealing with dying. We value LIFE! YOUTH! ACTION! STRENGTH! and don’t give much credence to the reality of sickness, tragedy, suffering and the inevitable end to our existence. We like to put old people in homes so we don’t have a daily reminder of our own mortality. We would rather pour our hard earned money into removing our facial wrinkles, coloring over our grey hair and adding long, lush eyelashes as opposed to taking care of grandma. We prefer to minimize, ignore, or even deny the reality of death.

I know I did, anyway.

That was, until I had no choice but to deal with it.

I’ve had a head start on the general population to contemplate death when I was diagnosed with a really crappy lung disease about six years ago. Early on, the prognosis was grim with most websites giving between 5-15 years to live. I’ve been extremely fortunate and it seems my disease progress is on the slower end of that spectrum. Still, I’ve given a lot of thought to my death and how to die well.

Morbid, I know. But I was recently brought back to some of the most powerful insights on dying from Morrie Schwartz as he shared them with his former student, Mitch Albom in Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is my favorite:

“When you know how to die, you know how to live.”

Isn’t that brilliant? Perhaps if our culture WOULD give more thought and discussion to dying, perhaps we’d live BETTER! Let’s not miss this opportunity the coronavirus has given us to stare down death and ask ourselves, do I know how to die? And therefore – do I know how to live?

When I received my LAM diagnosis, I came up with many things I wanted to do differently with my truncated life. Anyone who knows me knows I’m totally a work in progress, but when I was handed an approximate expiration date, I was forced to evaluate my preparedness to exit this reality. I came up with several ways I knew I did NOT want to die:

Angry – You know that feeling when your heart is racing, your stomach is churning – nearly to the point of vomit – and you break into a cold sweat whenever you see that certain person or even hear their name? You know what I’m talking about? Yeah, that. I definitely don’t want to die with any of that in me.

Unforgiving – I’m sure you’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. No way would I want to take that kind of toxicity to the grave with me. I’m still working on reaching out to all the people I’ve struggled to forgive in my life. I wasn’t able to forgive my dad for the hurt he caused me before he died – and I grieve that critical omission to this day. Forgiving is an important work. But it is work.

Afraid – Am I afraid of this virus? Heck yeah. I once heard pastor Ed Dobson, who was dying of ALS, say: “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of the getting dead.” Exactly. The only way we can go into that dark night – whether that be this week, next week or thousands of weeks from now – without fear is to know our eternal salvation is secure, to be able to say, “My soul is good, I’m ready to go.”

Bitter – This is the ugly twin sister to unforgiveness. But bitterness can actually CAUSE high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach issues and lost sleep. I know I don’t want to DIE with bitterness in my soul – but even moreso, who would want to LIVE like that? People can spot if we’re bitter even from outside a 6 ft. social distance. And it’s so unbecoming. No one wants to hang around bitter people – not in life or death. Lord, take my bitterness away.

Rich – One thing I know is that those who die with lots of money, still die. And having an accountant husband I’ve learned it’s practically a sure thing that when the rich die, they WILL leave behind seismic family feuds and division amongst the children. Who would WANT that for their offspring? I don’t want to die with any money – I think life is best lived by giving away as much as humanly possible. I just read this article about the Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. There is little doubt COVID-19 will destroy them when it enters their camps. Our money is about all that can help them right now. There must be at least a million different ways we could use our money right now. Come on, Christians – let’s BE the church!

Alone – Worse than actually dying from COVID-19, I’m more afraid of gasping for my final breaths all alone in the ICU without Paul or my kids at my side. The fact that visitors are not allowed in hospitals at all anymore feels like a big win for satan as his tactic is always to isolate then destroy. I’ve even decided that should I contract the virus, I’m gonna stay home until I recover or succumb. I want my people with me. I know the proper Christian response is that with Christ, I’m never truly alone. I know that. But that doesn’t seem real or helpful right now. I’ve worked in the ICU. I know what a lonely place it is even when your family MAY visit. I don’t want to go there now. Hell no.

I guess I’m learning just how precious and priceless my people are. Sometimes they are even Jesus to me.

Also – As the whole freakin’ world is experiencing the coronavirus, I think it has reminded us of just how globalized our world is and how all humanity is connected.  I’ve often wondered if Jesus was waiting for the internet before returning because he WANTED us to know global connectedness. Jesus was clear in the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is this: to love your neighbor as yourself.” I wonder if Jesus has been waiting for us to see that the WHOLE WORLD is our neighbor. We must love ALL humanity, not just those who look and think and act just like us. We will never be alone if everyone is a brother or sister.

Bored – I’m not all that proficient at social media, but even I found about 100 ways one could get involved in bringing hope and peace and comfort in the midst of this COVID-19 storm. One of the best ways to find meaning in this life is to lay down our own agendas and serve others. There is no better time than now to begin. The need is astronomical. Lord, forgive us for using the word “bored” in the midst of a rampant humanitarian crisis. We have all been created on purpose for a purpose – and the most fulfilling, God-glorifying thing is to find that purpose.

I know it’s hard to talk about death at such a somber time in history, but let us remember, thinking about dying can inform how we LIVE!

Today, I’m still here. You’re still here – so let’s LIVE ALL-IN! Let’s not waste these precious days with mind numbing nothingness.

May we never forget that every single day and every single breath are just God-breathed gifts so that when we die (not if) we will be able to say, “I’ve lived well.”

I AM OUT OF CONTROL

When we lived in Morocco, every single day felt like a monumental challenge. It certainly wasn’t because of the people (they were incredibly kind, generous and welcoming). The challenge primarily came from being so out of place – so keenly aware we were foreigners and didn’t have much sense on how to navigate an alien nation. Simple things like retrieving cash from an ATM, adding minutes to our cell phones (no iphones there), getting groceries, visiting the orthodontist, buying underwear, paying bills, etc., etc. were all accomplished so differently from what we were used to they’d suck us dry of time, energy, and brain space. The language barrier also played a part (we often complained of headaches in the evening from speaking French all day long).

For example, we had to pay our utility bills in person in the nearby village. Payments had to be in cash, in an envelope, in the exact amount. If you forgot the envelope or needed even 10 dirhams back, they’d refuse the payment. If you couldn’t say your address clearly in either Arabic or French, they couldn’t process your payment. Some days the office was closed (for no apparent reason) so it was a crap shoot if you’d be able to make your payment or not. It was an enormous headache (quite different than having your bills electronically paid each month…)

Because life was so hard in Morocco, I was immediately stripped of cockiness and confidence. I quickly learned how incredibly incapable, insufficient, and dependent I was. I had NO CONTROL.

We had only been their a few weeks when I woke up one morning paralyzed by fear. I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed and facing the day – there was just so much unfamiliarity and overwhelming newness bombarding me each day, I was beyond exhausted and discouraged. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to swing my legs over the side of this bed because when my feet hit the ground, there’s no turning back.” So I cried out to God and said, “I can’t do this without you, God. I can’t even let my feet hit the floor until I know you’ve got me completely covered. Help me, God. Help me.”

And every morning, for four years, before arising each morning, I said that little prayer. It’s the only way I dared to start the day. I could have never survived Morocco without that prayer.

Sadly, we had only been living back in Michigan for a few weeks when I realized I had ceased that morning practice. In America, it was just so easy to accomplish everything and I could do it all on my own. In America, I’m confident, self-sufficient, capable and energized. Simply getting money from the ATM is a no-brainer and I use NO brain space whatsoever. The same is true for the doctor’s office, grocery shopping, talking to the neighbors, and parent/teacher conferences. Life’s so simple, uncomplicated and easy back in America, it’s almost as if I don’t need a God anymore.

So it’s no wonder I stopped inviting God into my day before swinging my legs over the side of the bed.

Then came COVID-19.

I have a nasty debilitating, progressive and degenerative lung disease. I am in that “high-risk” group that those in the media treat as disposable by constantly reminding the public that the old and weak are going to make up the bulk of the dead, so the rest of the population need not worry so much.

But because of my lung disease, COVID-19 has given me a new wake-up call and once again reminded me how OUT OF CONTROL I really am. My life is not my own and I am at the mercy of a virus that not even the brightest minds in this entire world can explain or predict.

Every day I wonder if this is the day.

So I’ve returned to that morning practice that I should have never stopped. Before I even swing my legs over the side of the bed, I pray: “Okay, God, this day is yours. You alone know the pathway of an unseen virus. This is all in your hands and I MUST trust your sovereignty. Whether I live or die or am asked to simply sit here for another 12 weeks, give me peace. Whatever your will, Lord, I don’t want my feet to even hit the ground until I know you have me covered.”

And then I get out of bed. My feet hit the floor and I say, “Here we go, Cindy.” It’s weird, but I truly feel like no harm can befall me. Even if the COVID-19 finds me, I know that virus can never steal my joy. Am I afraid? You bet. But I KNOW that I am covered – and that covering makes all the difference.

Tell me, my friends, how are you covering yourselves in this unprecedented crisis? I’d love to hear all your innovative ways!

Derailed

We became empty nesters last August. Because I feared boredom and purposelessness – as well as the fact my medications cost an astronomical amount and my employment offers better prescription coverage – I decided to go back to work full-time. Additionally, after shelving my career for 20 years to raise kids, I was excited to get back into nursing – especially psychiatric nursing.

At least that’s what I told people.  

Another truth is this: I had a big ‘ole chip on my shoulder. I was hell-bent on proving that I physically had what it takes to work a fulltime job like any other healthy 53 year old.

And I did it. I showed myself and the world I can work full-time. But I am definitely not healthy.

I also proved I was living in denial.

The truth is I have a lung-sucking disease and working full time has nearly been the death of me. I kept the job afloat, but nothing else. For seven months I’ve basically done two things: work and sleep. With zero energy left after a day of work, and every day home spent sleeping, I soon felt the sting of deteriorating relationships. I didn’t Skype my kids as much as I/they wanted to. I didn’t spend near enough time with my mom – our last living parent – and I missed her. I had no energy for lunch dates with friends or volunteering in our neighborhood.

Although my pulmonologist says exercise is essential for protecting the last bit of healthy lung tissue I have left, I’ve had no energy to do that either. On top of all THAT, I’m now probably damned to hell, too, because I only went to church ONCE that whole time of working so much.

And maybe, just maybe, the worst part was this:  I stopped writing.

SMELLY PEOPLE GOT ME BACK ON TRACK                                                      

I recently scooted in to my neighborhood Dollar Store that’s sandwiched between an Iraqi-owned liquor store and a Psychic Angel who takes walk-ins. I was running late (surprise!) and I sighed in frustration when I got to the counter and was fourth in line. (The Dollar Store is not typically known for it’s speedy checkout, if you didn’t know…) First in line was a toothless woman, smacking her gums, buying a full week’s worth of groceries. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? The next lady sported a good five-day bed-head, wore pink footed pajamas underneath her coat and boots, and was purchasing four 2-liters of Mountain Dew. AT 9:30 IN THE MORNING??? The guy just ahead of me was lugging his oxygen tank, breathing like Darth Vader, and buying cough syrup, cough drops and fever medicine. LORD, PLEASE LET THIS NOT BE CORONA!!!

My three compatriots smelled like cigarettes, booze, bacon, and body odor.

I rolled my eyes and checked my watch. These neighbors of mine who shop at the Dollar Store to meet all their needs were making me (more) late. I was angry and somewhat disgusted with them. Then the old man ahead of me turned around, and with twinkling eyes and a smile said: “Good thing no one’s in a hurry.” His breath was so hideous I nearly fainted. But God used all those smells to reorient me.

A few years ago, when we moved to the city, I chose my new grocery store in an unorthodox manner. There are two lovely stores close to our home – always clean, well-stocked, nice checkout clerks. But just to the north, through the roughest part of our neighborhood, is one of Michigan’s oldest Meijer stores – but it doesn’t smell quite right. There have been murders in the parking lot. With my first visit, I immediately knew this would be my new “home” store.

Paul was inquisitive about this decision and I explained, “We came here for diversity. I don’t want to smell perfume and flowers when I go shopping, I want to smell humanity.”

Standing in line at the Dollar Store I was struck by how derailed I’ve been. THESE three in line ahead of me are my people! These are the people we moved here for! These are the smells I love because it represents REAL people with REAL needs and REAL hurts. I don’t want to live in a fake utopia. I want to live in the real world and be constantly reminded of the reality of suffering. That is why we moved to Grand Rapids – to DO LIFE with these neighbors.

More than anything, we moved to the city so we could encounter people not like us and spend time with them and learn from them. The LAST thing I wanted to be was too busy, too important, or too good to love them! The LAST thing Paul and I ever wanted to be were typical rat-race-suburbanites simply transplanted to the city and subsequently disgusted with the people around us!

I had been derailed! I forgot who I was!

REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, AND WHOSE YOU ARE

Feeling fairly healthy these last seven years, I’d forgotten a bargain I’d made with God. When I was first diagnosed with LAM, I had told God I’d live my life solely investing in the lives of others if he’d just give me 10 more years to live. But as time progresses and it appears maybe I’ve drawn the long stick with this LAM disease and might even live considerably longer than 10 years, I forgot about living my life with total intentionality. Sure, I can make good money working, but there’s not a damn thing I want in this life that money can buy.

And then – dang – if God didn’t use ZEPHANIAH of all books to speak to me this week: “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

I had made plenty of “silver and gold” during my derailment, but I’m terrified of the thought of my entrails spread out like dung because I had chosen money over matter.

THE BEAUTY OF DERAILMENT

However, the good news is this: derailment does not have to mean train wreck. It doesn’t mean all is lost. It doesn’t mean throw in the towel or burn it all down. The beauty of derailment is that, if we’re willing, it can be corrected.

God never moves, but sometimes we do. His train tracks are eternally secure, we just sometimes veer off them. But he is always patient with us and will wait as long as it takes for us to get back on track.

“Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:40

“And I am confident of this very thing, that he who begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Phillipians 1:6

So I’m back to volunteering, spending time with friends and family, and taking long walks with Paul while we solve the world’s problems. And I’m back to writing again.

Here we go!

(p.s. If you want to stay informed of my book progress, please sign up with your e-mail address on my website so you can receive my newsletter updates and prayer requests)

A Hiding Place (When the next Holocaust comes, you can come live with me)

Upstairs, on the third floor of our former crack home, awaits a really big and really empty, comfortably furnished attic apartment. Now that we are empty nesters, we’re deciding how best to use it.

An exchange student? A foster child? Airbnb?  

Perhaps.

But because our pastor mentioned the Holocaust this past Sunday and because these Impeachment hearings have only served to heighten the sad division in our nation and the growing hostility between people groups, we had to wonder if was time for a new conversation. We conjectured a scenario where our country reaches a boiling point where the only conclusion is the genocide of a certain people group so that we, as a nation, can truly be free. We wondered if there could ever be a time where we might want to use our attic similar to ‘The Hiding Place’, where the Ten Boom family hid Jews at the real risk of their own family’s safety. We discussed whom might the “Anne Frank” be that we would someday hide in our attic?

I have no doubt that previous to the Holocaust, all the Christian Germans who insidiously backed Hitler in the days of Ten Boom would have insisted, “That (a genocide) would never happen here. Not to us or our Christian country.” 

And yet it did.

So as two people desperate to be anything but naïve, Paul and I speculated:

“Could it be we’re already close to a boiling point? I mean, we know illegal immigrants who, if discovered, will be sent back to Honduras. While most people will say they’re not actually against immigration, they just want people to come legally – what we know FOR CERTAIN is that our immigration system is so broken, a legal entry takes upwards of 20 years. During that time, while our friends would be waiting in Honduras for their legal immigration request to be processed, their American-born children will graduate from high-school, go to college, get married, have babies, get cancer, go on vacations and celebrate birthdays and holidays without them.”

Paul and I decided we’d have no problem hiding illegal immigrants up in our attic so they could stay with their families instead of being deported.

Then we talked about the LGBTQ community who feel oppressed and targeted. What if this country boiled over in hate for this particular group, blaming them for the problems of our country and insisting their elimination is the only answer? Would we be willing to hide gays, lesbians, trans, and drag queens in our attic?

Absolutely, we decided.

From there, we discussed several other groups of people that often get “lumped together” and blamed for problems in our country: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, the rich, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, the mentally ill, the homeless, druggies, Pro-life, Pro-choice, left, right, and upside down.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following comments before – and although they’re not quite as bad as they must have been in 1940’s Germany – they’re still painfully hateful and divisive (and remember, the “they” can be any of the groups I’ve mentioned as well as about a thousand others…):

  • They hate America. They don’t care about you at all.
  • They’re all drug-lords, rapists, and thugs.
  • If only they could see how wrong they are.
  • They cost so much money – they’re draining our economy.
  • They only care about themselves.
  • They only care about one thing and it drives all their other decisions.
  • They’re everywhere – and they’re taking our jobs.
  • They’re stripping our country of what matters most.
  • They’re stealing my rights.
  • They make me feel unsafe.
  • Their beliefs are from the pit of hell.
  • They’re so sure they’re right, they’d kill to protect their beliefs.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The more we hear these kinds of sentiments and the more they are repeated over and over and over, the more we are convinced they are real and true. And that’s exactly how Hitler convinced a whole country it was in their best interest to extinguish “the problem.”

So Paul and I decided, being the totally woke and cool (do woke people say “cool”?) people that we are, there is not a single people group we would refuse to stay in our attic if they were the target of a genocide.

HOWEVER…

As soon as we felt the smugness of our loving behaviors, it suddenly hit me: “But what if WE’RE on the wrong side of the equation, hon? What if WE’RE the ones being targeted for a genocide because we’re followers of Jesus and therefore we love everybody else, too??”

But Paul, in all his great wisdom, hit me with this: “Hmmmm. But in every scenario we’ve discussed, whether black and white, left or right, rich or poor, there are always two sides to the equation – meaning that in our “boiling point” scenario one side has to be right, therefore one has to be wrong.

However, in Math, an equation is one where two values are EQUAL.

Perhaps the great equalizer, the one who IS the equal sign (=), the one who MAKES all the equations, is God. And with God there are never two sides. There isn’t an in or out, left or right, good or bad, there’s just love.”

So what if we just love everybody? Will we be persecuted for that someday?

Perhaps.

But I doubt it.

I yield back the rest of my time.

Fat Legs (The Ripple Effect)

A sunny but cool 60 degree day finally arrived in Michigan and I couldn’t wait to slide into my favorite fall skinny jeans. After digging them out from under the shorts and tees, I slid both legs in and easily zipped them up. But they felt weird. The waist fit the same as I remembered from last year, but the legs… OH MY FREAKIN’ GOSH…. What’s up with the legs of these jeans? Did someone shrink the legs of these jeans over the summer? Who’s washing my jeans on the HOT/HOT cycle and drying them a thousand times in the HOT/HOT dryer? Wait, are these even my jeans???

Truth: the skinny legs on the skinny jeans were strangling my legs – and NOT because the jeans had changed. My legs were fatter.

WHO’S TO BLAME?

At first I was mad at God. He’s an easy target because you can’t see Him and see how sad you’re making him with your anger. I told God I’ve been praying about my weight and He doesn’t seem to hear me. I’m sick of you not listening to me God…

Then I got mad at Weight Watchers. Come on, you silly WW people! What good are you if you don’t help actual people lose actual weight??? But then I remembered I hadn’t been to a meeting all year. Apparently, just paying the monthly dues does nothing to get the weight off.

Also got angry at Planet Fitness (see above paragraph for same irrational logic).

But as soon as I descended the stairs, nearly popping open the side-seams of my now skinnier-than-ever skinny jeans, I realized an important concept:

OUR BAD CHOICES HAVE A RIPPLE (NO PUN INTENDED) EFFECT. THEY CANNOT BE CONTAINED TO ONE SMALL AREA OF OUR LIFE. THEY IMPACT THE ENTIRETY OF OUR BEING.

It would be nice if when I overeat, I only experience a little weight gain in say, my armpits, toes, or behind my ears where no one would notice. But in reality, weight gain affects our ENTIRE being. The effects are not only experienced externally, it also leaves a grievous impact on internal things like stress on major organs, hardened and narrowed blood vessels, as well as our ability to fight infection and regulate our hormones.

Similarly, whenever we make bad choices about how we think, live, or treat others, those choices are like cancer and they will affect the WHOLE of us. And the WHOLE of us will look and feel a little bit sicker.

AND FAT LEGS CAN LOOK LIKE A LOT OF THINGS:

When we get drunk and act gross or disgusting and then brush it off as “just having a little fun” – IT’S FAT LEGS, for sure!

We canNOT think our little “issue” with gossiping is harmless – IT’S FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!

If we tell little white lies to make ourselves look better – remember, IT’S ACTUALLY FAT LEGS!

We may be so caught up in a culture of materialism that we don’t even consider there is a relational price to pay for our choices. But what is it really? FAT LEGS!

We may believe no one is hurt by our pornography addiction. This one is FAT LEGS AND THIGHS!!!

It’s fun to go shopping for retail therapy and think it’s harmless. But is it? FAT LEGS!

Even if treating our spouses with disrespect is so habitual we contend it’s no big deal, remember… FAT LEGS!

It’s so prevalent in this society to spend hours on social media thinking it has no ramifications in our life. FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!!!

WE MUST OWN OUR ILLNESS

The hard truth is, all these things, and thousands of other bad choices we make daily, really do affect ALL of our being. We cannot contain our poor choices to only one aspect of our being and simultaneously applaud ourselves for being (mostly) healthy. It doesn’t work like that!

The ripple affect of sin in our lives – in any form, in any area – is an overall sick person.

Whenever we let bad choices, bad habits, bad thoughts creep into our everyday, the result will always be ALL AROUND less-healthy individuals. And it shouldn’t surprise us if someday we wake up with fat legs.