How to Launch Into Winter with COVID All Around Us

My stupid COVID dog (not that she has it, but we bought her because of it) woke me up way too early one morning. I wouldn’t mind if our Governor mandated all humans shall not stir before 8:00 a.m.

Vie (my COVID dog’s name – which is French for “life”) needs a walk immediately upon waking or she’ll poop in the house. So at the crack of dawn I headed outdoors in my pajamas for a dog walk.

With sleepy-eyes and morning breath I bumped into my neighbor just two doors down. She was loading her last piece of luggage into her car before heading to the airport. She was meeting up with her parents so they could tearfully send her off to live in the Middle East. She’s young (25?), very blonde, very attractive, and traveling solo to teach at a high school in Afghanistan. Yes, you heard that right:

Af-freakin’-ghanistan.

God knew this one last impromptu meeting was needed by both of us. We had a precious exchange there on the sidewalk and I was able to send her off with a blessing. With mutual  tears, she departed. I wondered how in the world her parents were handling this. Afghanistan. Who even does that? (Okay…. So maybe I did that. But WE went as a family. I had a brave husband at my side along with two strapping, tall teenaged sons and two very confident daughters. I was not ALONE. And Morocco is no Afghanistan. Not even close. People actually take vacations to Morocco.)

Before I had much of a chance to process the bravery of this young woman, I turned the corner and ran into a homeless man. He was picking at garbage in the park across from our home and so I greeted him warmly, “Hello!”

He launched into a rambling apology, “I’m sorry. So sorry. We didn’t mean it. We’re leaving.” It was then I noticed his tent that was erected just beyond the children’s play area. A second man was exiting their “home” as we spoke.

“Sorry for what?” I asked.

Without making further eye contact, he shuffled away saying, “We slept too long. We’ll be gone soon. So sorry.”

Homelessness in Grand Rapids is a thing – as I imagine it is in every city. But I’ve heard we are known as a destination for the homeless because we have plenty of shelters and food distribution centers, clean parks, friendly police and a plethora of Christian organizations that will do anything to help. But COVID has definitely made the homeless issue worse here in GR.

One thing I know for sure: Homelessness is not of the kingdom of God. This is not the way things are supposed to be.

I quickly realized the reason my stupid COVID dog woke me up so early is because God knew I needed to run into my Afghanistan-bound neighbor and my neighbors with no home because I needed the reminder that life is rarely what we thought it’d be or even what it’s supposed to be.

Watching my neighbor leave for Afghanistan I thought, “I bet when she was born and her parents first saw her rosy little cheeks, blonde tufts of hair and blue eyes they never once thought: “I hope that someday this one will move to Afghanistan all alone – a place where young beautiful blondes really stand out and American’s are not particularly welcome.”

I bet her parents never once imagined this for her future. But…

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” Proverbs 16:9

I bet when my two homeless neighbors were in high school, they never once thought to themselves, “I hope someday I will be without a home. I just know that I’ll end up jobless, with no prospects, and unable to secure safe shelter.”

 But…. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.”

We were invited to 3 weddings this fall where the bride and groom watched many lifelong dreams shatter as they moved up their wedding date, changed the venue, and shrunk the guest list due to COVID.

But… “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.”

Our college graduate daughter was supposed to be living abroad in France or Spain or Honduras right now developing her language skills but instead she is home here with us working as a barista.

Because a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.

Referencing changed plans and directions is not meant in any way to minimize those who have lost loved ones from COVID. Those losses are incalculable and we can’t even begin to make sense of that. But I think that, without exception, we ALL had plans, dreams, and hopes for 2020 that look nothing like the 2020 we’re living. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

THESE WERE NOT OUR PLANS, GOD!!! DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING???

Never before have we all been so at the mercy of the Lord’s plans. We can barely plan next week, let alone next month or next year.

But one beautiful takeaway of this COVID reality is to realize I am not in charge of me and you are not in charge of you. We can plan all we want and hope and dream and whine when these things may have to be changed, cancelled, or never come to fruition – but the truth is that The Lord Our God alone is sovereign and we can never take his place on that throne no matter how much we think we belong there.

We can only surrender our plans and trust Him.

That’s it.

That’s all.

Whether in Afghanistan, a COVID-unit at the hospital, the Champs-Elysees in Paris, in a tent in the park, or stuck under the same roof between the same 4 walls for an entire year, the Lord has indeed directed those steps and he alone establishes those steps that lead us into our futures.

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!

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?”