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)

Humble Pie – What happens when our heads get too big…

My car died a couple of months ago – on the way to work and in the middle of the highway, no less. It made me terribly late as well as the recipient of many honks and obscene gestures from all the busy and important people whose cars never break down.

But, as luck would have it, she died the day before we dropped our last child off at university. And last child has a car she won’t be using at school, so it’s not like I was carless. However…. Said car is peppered with dents, scrapes, and scars from years of inexperienced teenage drivers. Said car has a long yellow scratch where older sister nearly took out a fire hydrant. Said car has it’s bumper held on with zip-ties. Said car smells like sweaty teenagers. Said car sits so low, I have to do a power-squat to get in and out. Said car’s trunk doesn’t like to stay shut and will sometimes fly open while I’m doing 80 on the highway. Said car is covered with hip bumper stickers I don’t really understand.

You get the drift. Not exactly a car a 50-something professional likes to hop into on her way to work at the psychiatric hospital…

I’ve noticed that it’s not as if this car is simply OUR FAMILY’S dumpiest car ever – but that wherever I go – grocery store, hospital, church, restaurants – the car is always THE DUMPIEST in the entire lot! I sense extra eyes on me as I, a (hopefully and somewhat) accomplished looking middle-aged woman, climb into a beat-up, 20 yr. old coupe that screams “HIGH SCHOOL!” I keep wondering what they are thinking about me and I find myself wanting to shout to perfect strangers, “It’s not mine – it’s my teenager’s car!”

At first I found it funny and laughed it off when people looked at me slant eyed. But lately, I’ve noticed a little corner piece of my soul that’s not okay and it’s been feeling a lot like embarassment.  And that reality has been hitting me hard. Paul and I have prided ourselves in kissing materialism good-bye and it is one of the main themes of my upcoming book. Why in the world do I suddenly care about the car I’m driving?

I’m completely flummoxed by my own insecurities and ashamed that I’m dealing with something I thought I killed and buried 20 years ago.

A sermon I used to preach to the kids has been echoing in my head: You do NOT need to impress others.  You are completely who you are with or without any “embellishments.”  You are smart, beautiful, important and good – and it matters NOT what you do or don’t have.  Your true friends are those who love you for who you are deep down – not how you present yourself or how impressive you appear.  They love you just the way you are.

Ahhhhh – there, Cindy, that is the message. Who you trying to impress anyway? Who cares what other people think? The only people that matter are those that know you and love you just the way you are – no matter what kind of piece of crap car you’re driving….

So this past week I drove the crap car to work with the window down the whole way. I wanted to check my hair before getting out of the car, and when I flipped open the mirror, lo and behold, this is what I found:

Clearly, my teenage daughter had put it there for herself to serve as a powerful reminder she didn’t need to worry about appearances, but dang, I sure needed this message, too! I needed to be reminded that God loves ME more than I can fathom and that my value and worth have absolutely nothing to do with the house I live in, the clothes I wear, the college degrees I’ve earned, or the cars I drive.  God doesn’t see any of that.  He just sees me.  And He calls it beautiful.

We cannot impress our way into the kingdom – it is simply a gift. God looks at us and sees all the dents, the dings, the scratches and many hard-earned miles and doesn’t care.  He sees beyond all that and says, “You are enough. Just you. I love you just the way you are.”

Now, we could just run out and buy another car and get a new shiny impressive one – but we also have THIS saying in our house: Just because you can afford something doesn’t make it right. MAYBE, just MAYBE God wanted us to drive a crap car for a while to really contemplate our inherent worth.

Because that crap car has been a beautiful reminder of God’s goodness and mercy and that I need to do NOTHING to impress Him, we are STILL driving the crap car all over town! It reminds me that God sees my soul and calls me worthy despite my sin.

Don’t Listen To Me – Go With Steve!

Today, I planned to share how shitty I feel.

I planned to rant about my lung disease and how unfair it is that as a non-smoker I’m suffering from something totally similar to COPD.

I planned to curse a lot and tell you what it’s like to have a disease no one can outwardly see.

I planned to expose some vulnerability and tell you that all my days are not positive and sometimes I just want to cry and feel sorry for myself.

I planned to share what a “BAD LAM DAY” looks like (this is what my LAM sisters and I call them) – where simple things like taking a shower, walking through a parking lot, or taking a flight of stairs leaves me so exhausted I want to take a nap.

I planned to write a post that doesn’t end with smiley faces, exclamation points, and “Isn’t Jesus wonderful?” like I typically do.

I planned a bunch of things in my head for today’s post.

But then today unfolded…

I lead a group of 6th and 7th grade girls in a Discipleship Program at the Potters House School where I volunteer. Their Bible verse for today was this: “When Jesus spoke to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’” John 8:12

I decided hearing the true life story of a blind man would fit with the verse perfectly, keep the girls attention, and hopefully aid them in memorizing the verse.

So I asked Steve to come speak to our group.

About 30 years ago, as a married man with two children and one on the way, Steve began losing his eyesight from a devastating disease called: Retinitis Pigmentosa. He fought through diminishing eyesight for several years and managed to continue driving and keep his job. But, eventually, with three young children and the weight of providing for his family on his shoulders, he could no longer deny it – he was legally blind. Today, Steve can see absolutely nothing.

Steve shared how he initially bargained and became angry with God after his diagnosis. He shared how debilitating his anxiety became as he faced a future of KNOWN blindness. But the GLORY of his story comes as he realized he had only been looking at the negative side of being blind. Until one day when he imagined Jesus hanging on the cross (the most negative experience known to man: crucifixion) and he realized the cross makes a “PLUS” sign! The cross, by it’s very nature of construction, forms a POSITIVE symbol!!!

This realization turned Steve’s world around and he began writing all the things he was thankful for. He wrote POSITIVE statements about his situation, instead of negative. At one point he told our group, “In a way, I have found freedom in my blindness. You are all DEPENDENT on your eyesight. I am INDEPENDENT of that sense, so I am not bound by it. When I look at it that way, I experience a new kind of freedom.”

Steve may be the most POSITIVE and OPTIMISTIC person I know. And he’s totally blind.

First one, than two, than three tears were streaming down my face. Steve had touched me in the depths of my pain.

All I could see about LAM today was that it was disabling me, making me feel “less than” and “less able.” In a swift moment, Steve helped me to see that I’ve been made free from having to be as productive as most people. As healthy people so often DEPEND on their ability to accomplish much, I am INDEPENDENT of that pressure. My body tells me what I can and cannot do, and there’s not a darn thing that can be done to change it. So, in a sense, I am free from that pressure.

Oh friends! The JOY of the LORD is our STRENGTH! And He alone will give us the insight and power to take the hardest, most painful parts of our lives and turn them around into something that can be used for HIS GLORY!

God alone can show us the POSITIVE when all we can see is the NEGATIVE!

So everything I had planned for this blog was trashed.

Steve showed me a better blog.

Go with Steve!

Reboot: 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?”

 

 

The Tale of Two Porches

The Impressive White Wrap-Around Porch:

I was thrilled when I was dreamed into life. Every component of the home knows there are two of us that carry the most weight and significance: the kitchen table – where our people gather to share, grow, and learn to love; and the front porch – where our people interact and love on the world around them.

Being an exceptionally beautiful, deep, wrap-around porch, I had some serious expectations from my family. Since they had four children, I envisioned them using me for playing games on summer evenings, for catching fireflies, for playing guitar and singing songs, and rocking their babies to sleep on my rocking chairs. But they never did any of those things.

The Mrs. decorated me for every season and for every holiday. I was a stunner. She spared no expense. I didn’t mind – but it’s not what I was made for. It was like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. With each passing year, I hoped the family would slow down enough to enjoy me. I hoped they would see how vital it is to be out in the front of the home, to wave to cars passing by, to chat with the neighbors, and to just sit for a spell and enjoy each other. But they never did.

My Mr. and Mrs. were busy people. Their cars flew up and down the driveway many, many times a day. I never understood what they were so busy chasing, but they were chasing something for sure. I thought the kids looked tired, but Mr. and Mrs. kept a fast pace nevertheless. I never knew where the kids were much of the time – but I often saw the Mr. and Mrs. working hard in their yard. They mowed that huge lawn every few days – hours and hours and hours of mowing. They were always vacuuming the pool, tending the landscaping, washing cars, waxing the boat, etc. The kids had four-wheelers, bikes, golf carts, motorcycles – basically anything they asked for. But to me, it just seemed like the more things they bought, the more they had to take care of and the less time they had to relax and enjoy me. I thought they’d eventually exhaust themselves and sit on my rockers for a moment with a cold lemonade or beer. But they never did.

My owners lived in my big white house for nine years and I don’t ever remember them enjoying my beautiful view and just relaxing with me. Not ever. Not once.

One day, an old college friend stopped by to see my Mr. and Mrs. Immediately upon exiting his car, he condescendingly said, “Wow, now that’s an impressive home!” The Mrs., completely oblivious to his patronizing tone, said, “It is pretty, isn’t it?”

Suddenly I knew. She didn’t get it. She never did. The Mrs. never wanted a big wrap-around porch like me for the vital role I’m supposed to play in the home. She wanted me because I’d be impressive. That, I suppose, I did fairly well, too.

 

* * * * * *

 

The Old Rickety Porch:

I am over a hundred years old and I am tired. I am sagging on one end and many of the brick pavers of my floor are missing. The siding around my front door is peeled back and flaps in the wind. But I do not care about any of that and I will not complain – because I am a porch and I am doing the thing I was created for! I am the bridge between the inside of the home and the world outside. My owners LOVE to spend time out on their porch rockers and watch the world – the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world of the west side of Grand Rapids. It’s like they’ve never had a porch before – they can’t get enough of me! Even though they’re incredibly busy with careers and kids and aging parents and sickness and death, they come out here almost every evening, weather permitting.

Being a porch, I am privy to many interesting conversations. My Mr. and Mrs. have chatted out here with people from all over the world, discussing everything from immigration to gun violence to Jesus to the best wine. They must have lived in different countries, too, because they also talk about how stubborn they must be that in order to truly understand that people are more important than things God had to yank them half-way around the globe. They talk about how they used to live compared to how they live now and how they’ll never go back, even though they could easily afford it. I’ve overheard their remorseful accounts of all the years they wasted mowing lawns, vacuuming pools, washing cars and cleaning boats. I don’t know what they’re talking about – because they don’t do any of those things now.

Their kids – the marrieds and the singles – love to hang out with me, too. Sometimes, they’ll all reminisce about the “old days” when they had a great big wrap-around porch they never used. They’re able to laugh about it now. I’ve heard the Mr. and Mrs. thank God that their kids didn’t give up on them. I’ve heard them say how grateful they are to have learned before it was too late that spending time with their kids was more important than giving them stuff.

As soon as the snow disappeared, my Mr. and Mrs. were back out on my rocking chairs. Some evenings, the laughter from the high-spirited rugby game in the park across the street beckons them outside (even though they clearly cannot figure out rugby rules to save their lives). They love to talk to ALL the passersby – to pet the dogs, talk to the babies in strollers, or just offer a friendly “Hello – Have a great day!” They’ve befriended the college kids up the street, the older, slower gentleman who collects empty pop cans so he can buy Legos, the politician on the corner, and the homeless guy on his bike. They love to sit out here and talk to other neighbors sitting out on their porches; and because our homes are so close, it’s like we’re one big block-long porch anyway.

I’m thankful my Mr. and Mrs. get it. They understand the two most important parts of any home are the table for gathering the family to teach it how to grow in love; and the front porch, where the family extends that love to the world.

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