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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_2475

 

 

 

10 Truths Old Homes Teach Us

IMG_5771.jpg1. Warmth is overrated. We’re in the middle of a polar vortex. Those of us in old homes can feel cold air seeping in through the cracks and have even discovered ice on the INSIDE of our windows! Our old home can only be described as warmish AS the furnace is running; as soon as it stops – we freeze. In an old home, you cuddle under blankets when reading, watching TV, playing games, or even while eating dinner just to share body heat. But maybe it’s better that way. Maybe if everyone cuddled together a little more we’d be less likely to bicker about walls and things.

2.   Life is short and we are only one act of a large production. Our home is 100 years old and has been through at least 4 different owners. I think of all the history these plaster walls and wood floors have seen. I sometimes try to imagine all the family Christmas parties celebrated here, the girls who’ve descended these stairs in their prom dresses, the couples who fought and screamed so loud the neighbors heard, the Sunday beef roast dinners, the families who danced in the kitchen, the teen couples who shared their first kiss on our porch… This old households volumes of fascinating life stories and that somehow makes me feel less alone. I am just playing out my scene on the stage of This Old House. We are all just pilgrims passing through – but while we’re here, let’s give a killer performance!

3.  It’s okay to be a work in progress. Owning an old home can make you want to stick your head in a snow bank in the middle of a polar vortex unless you come to terms with the fact the “fixing-upping” will never truly be “done”. Repairs and maintenance on an old home are endless – our “to-do” list inevitably grows the instant we cross something off. But the upside is this: Old homes can also serve as a constant reminder that God’s never quite finished with us either! He, too, is working through His holy “to do” list on each one of us. I’m so thankful he’s not finished with me yet!

4.  People are more important than things. This Old House taught me that when I invite over a group of junior-high girls from the local inner-city school and they play hide-n-seek on all four floors and spend over an hour climbing into a cubby hole above the old stairs, and while having all that fun they put a hole in the wall, break a door handle, and spill red food coloring on the kitchen floor – I’ll simply shrug my shoulders and say: “Just adds character to the home”. The joy of four junior high girls is so much more important than keeping a “perfect” looking home.

5.  The hierarchy in rodent repulsiveness: Bats>rats>mice>cockroaches>stink bugs.

6.  No demons here. Whistling, creaking, and hissing noises do not indicate demonic presence in an old home (which I believed, in fact, to be our reality for a while…), but rather, the place is just telling you it’s there and it’s tired. Like my knees when I first get up to walk, or my husband’s jaw when he’s chewing, or the little lady who lived down the hall from my mother-in-law at the assisted-living facility who farted exactly every third step she took – we all start to make noises when we get older. Those noises just say “I’m here and I’m tired.”

7.  Old houses help us redefine need. When we told our friends we were moving to the city into This Old House, many said, “You can’t do it! You’ll go crazy with neighbors on top of you, no yard, parking on the street, tiny closets, laundry in the basement, etc., etc.” They all thought we’d lost it. And yet, we’re doing just fine and maybe even less crazy than we were before moving here. When asked to sacrifice, an old house teaches you those “losses” really aren’t losses but more like “changes”. It’s easy to confuse needs with wants.

8.  Bathrooms can be shared. Old Houses teach us that we really DON’T need the same number of bathrooms as people in a home and that hospitality has nothing to do with amenities. We used to live in a house with as many bathrooms as people – and there was never a time when all of them were in use at once. We are fortunate as Old Homeowners that our house does have one and a HALF baths (more like one and an EIGHTH bath, it is THAT small!) – which is an eighth bath more than most old homes! In two years, none of us have peed or pooped our pants in waiting. We have hosted more out-of-town guests in This Old House than in our big house with many bathrooms. Guests really don’t care about big, fancy bathrooms – they just want to visit and be fed. And you can do that in any old house.

9.  Perfection is a lie. It’s imperative to embrace imperfections when owning an old home. Years ago we had our perfect dream home custom built for us. We thought it was perfect, anyway – until it wasn’t. Within a few months, I had a long list of things I wished we’d done differently. So we kept “fixing-up” an already brand-new home. No matter what we added – a pool, finished basement, a home theatre, central stereo, etc. – there was always one thing more we’d come up with and say, “Then! Then this place will be perfect!”

But it never was.

Several moves later we landed in This Old House – and everywhere we look there is imperfection: slanted floors, broken window panes, crumbling plaster, loose hinges, doors that don’t completely shut, cracks in the wall and foundation. These things are our new normal and, incredibly, they serve as a constant reminder that perfection is a lie and I almost wasted a lifetime chasing it. They also remind me that all my imperfections, as well as those of my husband and my kids and the neighbors and my friends – they can be celebrated as they tell us of our humanness! This house is our home not because it’s beautiful but because WE, in all our imperfections, inhabit it! And all my people with their personal creaks, cracks and broken hinges  – are truly precious in both God’s sight and mine because they are HIS CREATION and I get to do life with them!

10.)  Homes are just piles of hay, sticks, and straw. As long as they provide shelter, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. I just read that in our city of Grand Rapids – a small to medium-sized city – we had over 500 people, including 49 children, staying at ONE homeless shelter last night. There are FOUR homeless shelters in our city and the others are overflowing as well. Tonight, the temps in Michigan are dipping to record-setting lows – somewhere around -25F. May I never again complain of all the creeks,           groans, repairs, mice, and drafts in This Old House and may I instead be thankful and willing and eager to share the shelter it provides.

 

And more than anything else, may we never forget where our TRUE shelter is found:

“I will live in your [God’s] tent forever and take refuge under the shelter of your     wings.” Psalm 61:4

 

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.”