Is it possible that snow in April, stupid lung diseases, and other atrocities could be good for us?

IMG_3843.jpgWe lived in the most glorious, sunny, mountainous and palm-treed locations both times that we lived abroad. Aix-en-Provence, France and Casablanca, Morocco are two dreamy places to have once been called “home”.

While living abroad, we met people from all over the states, as well as from around the world. Then we all moved on and returned to our “homeland” which means we now have friends scattered around the globe.

Visiting some of our friends in Southern California for the first time changed everything for me and my “Best Places In the World to Live” list. To be honest, my first thought when I encountered the beauty of southern California was not that I wished to live there, but one of feeling sorry for my Californian friends. Let me explain:

To me, the south of France and Morocco were these magical, breathtakingly beautiful holy sites where God revealed Himself to me. I cried the first time I saw the French Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, the palm-tree lined streets of Casablanca, and the Sahara Desert (to be fair, I do cry a lot…) Every time I encountered new beauty my Michigan-eyes had never known, I was left speechless, breathless, and entered a holy state of worship for a God who could (and would) create such beauty. My Michigan-eyes had beheld a LOT of glorious things in our mitten state, but just nothing like mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, oh – and that elusive SUNSHINE!!! (Today, on April 11, it snowed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Need I say more???)

So when on my inaugural trip to California I discovered identical beauty – mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, sunshine (which can all be seen AT THE SAME TIME, for heavens sake!) – I realized that there was NO WAY my Californian friends could have felt the same depth, love, and appreciation that I did while we all lived in France and Morocco. There is no way that they woke up every day and said, “Lord have mercy! Another sunny day!” (as I did). There is no way they took endless pictures of palm trees (as I did). There is no way they walked the beaches every day and said, “God in heaven, help me to carry this moment with me forever – even into the polar vortex that is bound to hit in the middle of my future Michigan winters” (as I did).

I was CAPTIVATED by the weather and the landscape of those two countries – but only because I come from a backdrop of cold, snowy, and relatively flat Michigan. My California friends who also lived in France and Morocco with us must have greeted each new day with “Just another day in paradise.”

And that difference in our two experiences is such a CRUCIAL thing for us to remember when life gets hard, ugly, disappointing or blizzard-y.

A light shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

Comfort is only as comfortable to the degree of discomfort it relieves.

Joy is only as joyful as the sorrow from which it rescues.

Pain relief is only helpful to the degree of suffering it relieves.

God is only as good as to the depth of which we recognize our sin and need of a Savior.

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When we meet people who (seem) to come from a very “charmed” life – who basically seem to escape all suffering in this life (they are smart, rich, thin, never struggled with teenage acne, their kids all make good choices, no cancer, disease, or disorders, no bad hair days, and their dog never poops on the living room rug… Kind of like the sun is always shining in their lives. You know the type…) well, it is tempting for us to wish we were them. It seems like THAT would be the life we all want and should strive (pray) for.

But I wonder…. I wonder if we’d be missing out on some very important things God wants to show us if our lives were void of the pain, the messy, the heartache (the snow?) I wonder if there are actually parts of GOD we would not know if we never knew pain, suffering, hurt and loss.

Why are we given so many different names for God if we’d never need them? If we all pursued and achieved the “charmed” life without any pain and suffering, certainly there are attributes of God we would never know.

 

How can we know God as our DELIVERER if we’re never in a horrible place from which we need delivering?

How can we know God as our COMFORTER if we’ve never been uncomfortable?

How can we know God as our HEALER and GREAT PHYSICIAN if we’ve never known illness or disease or suffered emotional/spiritual brokenness?

How can we know God as our PROVIDER if we’ve never ached for provision?

How can we know our God, the PRINCE OF PEACE if we’ve spent our whole lives avoiding conflict, running from adversity, never challenged?

How can we know our God, the SANCTUARY, if we’ve never been in a place of needing protection?

How can we know God as a REFUGE FROM THE STORM if our lives are always “sunny”?

How can we know God as the BREATH OF LIFE if we never recognize our desperate need for Him in ALL things?

How can we know God as our SHEPHERD if we never see ourselves as lowly sheep?

 

I’m not in any way suggesting we shouldn’t live in California! Nor am I saying God gives suffering – I believe HE IS PERFECT and would never author pain, loss, and suffering. But I do believe, with all my heart, that through the suffering we discover a God we hadn’t previously known – and we come to experience Him and love Him more fully, deeper and truer.

And, after all, isn’t that what He wants most from us???

 

 

Then Sings My Soul

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This is us – in France – because I’m determined to live “all-in” until God calls me home.

 

Five years ago today I found out I’m dying. People try to make me feel better by saying: “Aren’t we all?” But five years ago today, they told me I had a lung disease that would most likely take my life many years prematurely.

Since that dreadful pre-Thanksgiving day in 2013, I’ve learned a lot about LAM and so has the medical community at large. We’ve learned that early diagnosis improves prognosis and with increased awareness of this rare disease, we’re starting to diagnose sooner. Since being diagnosed, the FDA has approved a chemo-drug that slows down the progression of the disease. The drug sucks – I get all the side-affects – but I’m still thankful for it because it does seem to have slowed my case of this lung-sucking disease. Many women aren’t so fortunate – it seems younger women get a more progressive case of the disease and some have lost their lives only five years after diagnosis.

When I was first diagnosed, all the literature said 10 years was the average life expectancy with LAM. Now, with our new ass-kicking drug and earlier diagnosis, many are saying prognosis could be much longer – perhaps even 20 – 25 years! It all depends if you get the “fast track” or the “slow track”. I’ve never been very fast at anything, so I’m figuring my odds are good.

Plus, I feel great. I totally live my life with hardly any concessions. I’m more tired than I’d like to be, but that seems to be the pandemic American curse and so I’ll never know if that is LAM or life. I like naps, but who doesn’t? And my other middle-age friends (the honest ones, anyway), say they’ll steal a nap whenever they can, too! I cannot, however, climb too many stairs at a time and our four level home is soon to become an issue. I don’t know what the heck the deal is with stairs – I feel like I could climb a tree, but not stairs. It’s weird.

Five years ago I wrote about my initial reaction to getting LAM.  At the time, I thought I’d be fortunate if I were able to live 10 years. I am more optimistic today, but still look at every new year as a total gift – one God didn’t have to grant me.

Every day, every breath – a gift.

But I’m also reminded almost every day that I am not exactly healthy. The worst – the VERY worst thing about LAM thus far has been the slow revelation that I cannot sing like I used to. Last week in church the worship leader picked out the best, most awe-inspiring worship songs ever and as I tried to belt out the alto part, I lost my breath. A lot. I was gasping for air and had to stop singing. Then came a coughing fit. This now happens every week in church.

Those that know me best know how I adore music. It’s always playing in our home, my car, my head. When we built our dream home (that we later sold – to live more simply so others could simply live) I told my husband I wanted central stereo more than I wanted central plumbing! (He graciously granted me both.) I like ALL things musical – instrumental music, piano, orchestra, opera, concerts, musicals AND all genres of singers/bands. On one playlist I have Maroon 5, Queen, the Civil Wars, Lady Antebellum and Mercy Me – no joke. Our last two music concerts were Justin Timberlake and Ben Rector. If it has a musical note attached, I’ll listen. And, despite a ridiculous high probability I’ll get the words wrong, I’ll ALWAYS sing along!!!

The thing is, this past Sunday, when I lost my breath and couldn’t continue singing, we were smack-dab in the middle of Amazing Grace – the place in the song with that bone-tingling crescendo. You know it. No one can help but belt out this line: THEN SINGS MY SOUL, MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE…

Did you hear that? How amazing is that??? My voice need not sing, because:

THEN SINGS MY SOUL!!!

Oh the joy I felt! My soul can sing! Forever and ever amen – NO DISEASE can ever stop my soul from singing!!

At that moment, I noticed that both my husband (to my left) and my daughter (to my right) were singing at the top of their lungs: THEN SINGS MY SOUL, MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE…. A row behind us was a rich, full baritone voice harmonizing in the bass clef. Somewhere, very close by, because all I could do was listen at this point, I heard a powerful soprano singing at the top of her lungs. She gave me chills. And the “choir” surrounding me there in church seemed to be encircling me, saying, “No worries, Cindy, we got you covered.” They did not know it, but they were carrying me that day – they helped me feel and know the music and assured me that I always have been, and always will be able to say to my God: How Great Thou Art.

Even though, to us (our entire family), life feels like it may always be a series of loss upon loss upon loss from here on out, miraculously, there also seems to be an invisible net that keeps us from falling – splat – onto the cement bottom of life. With every loss, I truly anticipated the fall – hitting hard pavement – splayed out and bloody with zero chance of recovery.

But it never happened.

Somehow, some supernatural hand grabbed me from my belt loops and snatched me up and carried me back to the functioning world.

Many times I didn’t want to keep functioning. Sometimes I felt the darkness of depression sneaking in and it made me want to scream at people or at the very least, ignore them. Sometimes I wanted to stay in bed all day and pretend Heidi is still alive. Sometimes, still, I want to run and run and run and see if my lungs will explode. Sometimes I want to run far away and move to Aix-en-Provence, France and just pretend the problems of this world aren’t real. But that same supernatural hand that reached down and pulled me from certain pavement splattering, draws me back with supernatural power to life.

He tells me it will all be worth it in the end – that all this pain and suffering is not wasted if I choose to grow from it. He lovingly shows me all the things that make life worth living for – even if I can’t sing anymore. He sweetly reminds me that if I’m still living, then I’m supposed to be here.

Five years later. Another pre-Thanksgiving day – another reminder that my lungs are giving out on me. But it also reminds me that my soul shall never cease the singing of His praises. No one can ever snatch that away from me.

And for that, I can truly be thankful.

THEN SINGS MY SOUL,

MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE,

HOW GREAT THOU ART,

HOW GREAT THOU ART