The Worst Houseguest Ever (and how to get rid of her)

We’ve had the worst houseguest all winter. In fact, I’ve never despised anyone more. It’s bad enough she showed up unannounced – but now she hangs out in the WORST possible places, and REFUSES to leave! I’ve been downright rude to her and I’m always telling everyone how much I hate her, even when she can hear me. She doesn’t care. She won’t leave and her annoying presence aggravates me more and more every day. So I started serving her all the nastiest foods: kale, green smoothies, turmeric tea, brussel sprouts. In fact, all the sprouts. She, however, laughed in my face and propped her feet up on my coffee table as if to say, “I ain’t goin’ anywhere, girlfriend. Get used to it.”

I told her in no uncertain terms that I will never get used to it! I refuse to give in to her obstinate and demoralizing ways. She will never get the best of me and I’ll kill her if I have to – but she is NOT stayin’!

So in yet another attempt to get her to leave, I signed up for a membership at Planet Fitness. This will surely piss her off, I thought. She lugged along with me to my workouts and again, very condescendingly laughed at me when I was sweating after just 15 minutes and struggling to get through a full workout.

This is the MOST unwelcome guest I’ve ever entertained. And I never even meant to host her – she just kind of appeared. Slowly… I noticed her more and more and more. She just latched on – attached to me like a barnacle, a leech, a life-sucking demon.

So now, in an effort to destroy the guest I never wanted, I go to Planet Fitness as much as possible. But the problem is, I hate Planet Fitness, too. It’s so depressing because I feel like everyone’s grandmother. It doesn’t help that I live in a college town and all the perky little college girls wear painted on leggings over their perfect tight butts and strut around with all their trendy tattoos and bras for shirts. And even though this college is my alma mater, I think they now disregard literacy as a criteria for admission. Although I am clearly perched DIRECTLY beneath the words “Judgment Free Zone” – I can still feel their glaring weasel-y eyes on me as they think “I’m never gonna let myself go like that mom. When I’m old, like her, I’ll still wear these tight-ass leggings and turn heads at the gym.”

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College girls at my Planet Fitness look like this. Seriously??? No wonder I feel like poking my eyeballs out whenever I leave.

My mom says paranoia runs in our family – but I think she just tells me that to get in my head and watch me self-destruct so she can tell the rest of the family and all her condominium friends what a nut-job I am when they admit me to the psychiatric hospital where I work…

And on this one particular day, with my stupid guest latched heavily to me, my soul was especially downcast. I was feeling so burdened with my health issues, a body that felt like it was failing me, and just overall feeling “less than”. What I really wanted to do was stay in bed til Memorial Day, but somehow I’d found a modicum of strength to drag my sorry ass to Planet Fitness.

I found my favorite treadmill right underneath the sign “Judgment Free Zone” just in case any college Barbie dolls forgot the rules. I walked/ran for as long as my compromised lungs would let me.

I wanted to cry. My lungs said, “Stop! We’re hurting!” My unwanted guest said, “I told you I’d never leave! You are stuck with me forever strapped to you!” My feet said, “Will you ever break down and buy some orthopedic tennis shoes???” My head said, “Face it, Cindy, you are old, fat, and irrelevant.”

My heart said, “I’m broken. Let’s get out of here.”

So I bolted for the door.

And then….

HOLY OF HOLIES….

A beautiful college-aged brunette who was working the Planet Fitness desk – her Chemistry book open on her lap – looked up at me, smiled, and said, “I like your hair.”

I looked over my shoulder convinced she must be addressing someone else. There was no one else there.

I pointed to myself as if to say, “Who me??? This old lady here with enough extra weight I’ve even personified it as an unwanted guest??? This embarrassment to the Planet Fitness establishment who couldn’t even exercise a full hour? You mean me???”

She said, “Yeah. It’s cool. I like the color and the cut.”

Flabbergasted. I’m pretty sure I forgot to say, “Thank-you.” or even a meager, “And I like your tight leggings”.

As soon as I was in my car I sheepishly checked my hair, “You know, your hair really ain’t too bad. It’s not grey yet. And with just a little highlighting help in the winter, the color’s not disgusting. Maybe you’re not a total loser…”

And I literally felt my head lift a little. I felt the unwanted guest shrivel up a bit as I decided to face her head on, admit she was all my fault, and commit to eliminating her entirely. I felt the sun peak through the clouds. I felt like God himself was saying to me, “I love you. I don’t care about a few extra pounds. I don’t care about what others say or think about you. You are special to me and I’m especially fond of you.”

And that, my friends, is the power of ONE COMPLIMENT. My whole view of the world shifted in that moment with one simple remark. And I stepped out of Planet Fitness that day having learned some priceless things:

  • We absolutely CAN change the world one smile, one kind word at a time.
  • WE get to choose the narrative of our lives. There’s much we can’t edit (disease, death, loss, trauma, broken relationships, etc.) but we CAN choose the direction of the story based on our response to those things.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of our words – both for the good and the bad. Use them wisely!
  • Listen to God. His words are always best.
  • Go to the gym. It doesn’t totally suck.
  • Don’t eat the tootsie rolls on the way out of Planet Fitness! Can you say, “Saboteur”???

Go get ‘em friends! Show those unwanted guests the door! Anything in your life that you didn’t want and didn’t ask to take up residence – maybe it’s jealousy or anger or fear or drinking or extra weight or working too much – whatever it is, tell it to take a hike and  get back the life you know is yours!

(And if you’ve ever worked at Planet Fitness and you tell me that employees are instructed to compliment patrons who look like they’re on the verge of tears, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT AND I WILL UNFRIEND YOU FASTER THAN YOU CAN SAY “LEGGINGS”!)

 

 

 

The Best and Worst Christmases Ever

It’s not the circumstances that define whether a Christmas is a “good one” or a “bad one” – it’s the recognition of His name…

images            People love to reminisce of Christmases past. But for me, reflecting on past Christmases will always present a horror: It was Christmas morning, 2016, when we received the call that my youngest sister Heidi was in the hospital. It’s serious, they said. Come right away.

            That may always be our worst Christmas – discovering Heidi had glioblastoma brain cancer and was given a year or two to live. The following Christmas, Heidi made it to the party, but barely. She joined Jesus just two weeks later.

There is simply no JOY in that story. None. How do we as a family keep that memory from stealing our JOY this Christmas and every year to follow? I wasn’t so sure it was possible…

But, in spite of myself, I did some Christmas reflection – searching for Christmases past that would hopefully stir some joy-filled memories. This is what I remembered:

Our first Christmas living in France was life-altering and left a permanent imprint. Since it was our first time living abroad, I was clueless on what to bring from the states and never even considered Christmas decorations. It seemed so frivolous. But as that first Christmas rolled around, we soon realized our house looked sad. We had zero decorations and basically no budget to buy any.

We told the kids to lower their expectations for Christmas that year – things would be VERY different on the east side of the Atlantic. There wouldn’t be multiple family gatherings. There’d be no snow or skiing outings. There’d be no trips to the mall or shopping sprees. And there’d be no drives through wealthy suburbs to look at Christmas lights. In fact, because we used our life’s savings to live in France (which bottomed out quickly from the rapidly declining dollar value), we explained that funds just weren’t available for presents. We prepared them for a simpler Christmas where we’d just focus on Jesus’ birth.

The kids had become so used to things being different from “back home in Michigan” that the news didn’t create much of a stir.

But one day, it was crafty Grace who could take it no more and started making paper-chains. With zero colored paper, she just made one extremely long chain with white computer paper. On her insistence, but to my chagrin, I hung that chain across the long expanse of our family room/dining room. It looked pathetic – like a 4-year-old had made it – because one had.

Christmas was two weeks away and so far we had one lonely white paper-chain draped across the family room like a sagging clothesline. But I swallowed my Christmas pride and told Grace we needed several more paper chains to complete the look. She made eight more and once they were strung up, the whole family room/dining room had a white paper-chain canopy overhead and it looked kind of, well, wintery. It may also have looked like a third-grade classroom in a poor inner-city school district, but hey, it was something.

We couldn’t find a Christmas tree farm to save our provincial butts. So we tracked down a 4-foot potted Scotch pine at a local nursery and plopped it on a table in the corner. It would have given even Charlie Brown grief. However, I sat little Gracie down with more white computer paper strips and she made more paper-chains for the tree. We then strung popped popcorn to make more garland. The following day a family who was moving back to the states stopped over with a box of junk they couldn’t fit in their luggage. At the bottom of the box were two strings of white lights. Jesus loves me, this I know.

Next, I showed the kids how to make paper snowflakes. They plastered them all over our windows and French doors. If there had been Instagram back then my pics would have received many likes. The kids’ excitement was mounting.

Miraculously, we received two unexpected deliveries. First, a huge package in the mail containing gifts from my family in Michigan – one for each of our kids. There would be gifts on Christmas morning after all! Second, a whole suitcase of surprises arrived (carried over by a random Michigan acquaintance). It was sent with love from the Outreach Team at our church. Inside we found all sorts of Christmas wonder: gifts for each of us, Christmas cookie cutters, sprinkles and icing, Christmas movies, wrapping paper and gift bags, wooden ornaments, a rustic-looking table runner, and a wooden angel tree-topper. Adding those decorations to our white winter-wonderland made everything chic and modern-farmhouse-like. I am the OG Joanna Gaines…

On Christmas Day, we started the day with pancakes (because as long as you have flour, eggs, milk and baking soda, they taste the same on every continent), followed by a reading of the Christmas story – slowly this year – to fill the gap left from all the things that usually fill Christmas Day. Next, we opened those precious few gifts – again, much slower than Christmases past – savoring the meaning and thought behind each one.

That afternoon, we met up with another family and filled over 100 small bags with Christmas candy and a little piece of scripture that shared the good news that Jesus was born and still lives today! Our combined tribe of ten spent the whole afternoon passing out the candy bags to passers-by in the city of Aix. We laughed and sang and danced in the streets. We successfully made most of those serious French people smile! This– this act of love that we never would have had time for on a typical Michigan Christmas Day – this was truly the spreading of Christmas cheer.

Without fail, whenever asked about their favorite Christmas while growing up, all four of our kids will say their Christmas in France. It was the simplest Christmas ever – barely any gifts and no real parties – but the kids unanimously pick it as their favorite. Isn’t that telling?

My revelation has been this: from the worst of Christmases to the best of Christmases, it isn’t about where we are, who we are with, what things look like or taste like, or whether we receive the Fit-bit we asked for. And furthermore, it’s definitely NOT about what crisis we may be in the middle of. Christmas is ALL about Christ stepping IN TO those situations and circumstances and bringing us the same reminder and promise year after year after year – He is with us.

It’s really not the circumstances around us that define whether a Christmas is defined as a “good one” or a “bad one”. Even as I continue to grieve Heidi’s passing and I reminisce over special Christmases spent abroad, all I really need to know (all any of us really need to know!) to have the most JOYous of holidays is so simple (yet so easily missed) – it is the recognition of the power of the name: Immanuel.

Immanuel – God with us. When we know that, believe that, in live in that truth, Christmas is beautiful. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re going through, Jesus is our Immanuel. Rejoice!!!

 

 

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

 

I Took A Bath With 10 Naked Ladies and I Loved It.

IMG_4306I just returned from a visit to my second homeland, Casablanca, Morocco. I lived in that beautiful country for four years and never went to the hammam – the Moroccan version of a communal Turkish bathhouse where women and men (in separate quarters) go for weekly bathing rituals in a somewhat spa-like setting.

The experience always sounded terrifying to me because I was only aware of two facts: women walk around naked and an attendant scrubs you down from head to toe. No part of that sounded “fun” in the least. I don’t walk around my husband naked, let alone strange Muslim women.

On this particular visit, however, my friend Khadija tried to convince me into going to the hammam together. “It’ll be fun!” she said.

While still skeptical, I acquiesced to Khadija’s cajoling – mostly because she threw out the word “brave” when referring to westerners who try the hammam – and I SO want that word to define me…

Bring it!

After paying around eight dollars each, we entered the locker area and stripped down – leaving only our underwear on. Khadija explained that this was necessary because Islam forbids total nudity. I didn’t exactly feel “less nude” just because I had my little black bikini Target underwear on.

Khadija told me to just relax and “enjoy” the experience.

“Uh-huh. Okay, Khadija”

The bathing area consists of four connected rooms – each one large, bright, and cavernous with white and marble-y grey tile walls and ceiling, and white and grey swirled marble sinks, fountains and slab tables. Loud echoes bounced around the rooms from rushing water, splashing children, laughing women. This was most definitely a place to let your guard down and engage. I tried to let my guard down but couldn’t quite get past all the boobs. Every size, color and shape. Boobs for days. One thing I know for certain about our God: He IS a creative.

We walked through a large room that had at least a dozen marble sinks around the perimeter, each with hot and cold faucets – many of them running freely without anyone nearby. They do not worry about wasting water at the hammam. There were several naked women sitting on little stools at some of these sinks. They each held a small, brightly colored children’s sand bucket in their hands and were either soaping up their bodies or dumping water over their heads with their buckets. Water was overflowing the marble sinks and flowing loudly into a drain in the center of the room. A couple of little girls were splashing around in the water streams. No one seemed to really notice us. Everyone was just so matter-of-fact going about their cleansing business. Still – I couldn’t help but feel like a white sheep who had just walked into the black-sheep pen.

Khadija and I walked through the sink room and entered the sauna room. Its purpose was to sweat-open our pores so the scrubbing we were about to receive would be the most effective.

In the sauna, we also personally scrubbed down our bodies with this soft, pasty brown soap that every Moroccan uses every time they visit the hammam. I don’t know why they do it, they just do. Sometimes it’s best not to ask too many questions. As I was soon to discover…

After the sauna, my “attendant”, Souad, came to greet me. She was thrilled to have an American as a client! She said, “Me. I speak English!” I said, “Wonderful! I’m so relieved! I don’t speak Arabic!” And she said, “Nice you speak Arabic.” I said, “No, I said I DON’T. I only speak French. We used to live here and I was able to get by using only French.” And she said, “Nice you live here someday.”

I held back, but so wanted to say, “You. You no speak English.”

But, as it turned out, it entirely didn’t matter and it in no way affected my experience.

Souad brought me to yet another room where there were six or so marble slab tables. At the head of each table was a hand bar. I never read the book or saw the movie of the same name, “50 Shades of Grey” – but it was, honest to goodness, my first thought of use for that bar…   I looked at the other women being scrubbed down on their marble slabs – and sure enough, their arms were up over their heads holding onto that bar for dear life just to keep from slip-sliding off the wet tables as they were vigorously scrubbed down.

I had to dig deep to find my bravery at this point.

Souad had to clean the marble table first from the previous bather. So she hosed it down and took her arm and swept away any excess water on the table. Third world living had definitely taught me how to do “mind-over-matter”, so I quickly deleted from my mental hard drive all that I had learned in nursing school about sanitizing equipment and everything I knew about proliferating germs from working two years in Infection Control at Spectrum Health. I did not want to be hindered from “enjoying” this experience due to unnecessary knowledge…

There. Gone from memory. Brave again! Let’s proceed!

Souad wore a harsh, gritty scrubbing glove on her powerful right hand. It was only slightly less abrasive then the SANDPAPER I had used on the plastered walls of our Fixer-Upper! Souad squirted some warm oily soap over one small area at a time and with hands more muscular than most men, she scrubbed me down. At first, I felt the scrubbing to be a wee bit painful and I was searching my vocabulary for some Arabic words to tell her to “chill out a little, would ya?” – but after a few minutes of more mind-over-matter and mentally replaying Khadija’s words of advice, “Just enjoy yourself”, I began to relax. Soon, I forgot I was naked and that a stranger was scrubbing every nook, cranny and crevice of my body. She yanked my underwear up and down to be sure to reach every hidden part – (except, of course, the unmentionables because of that part of Islam….). She yanked so hard on my underwear that the elastic burst and I had to hold them up the rest of the time.

She scrubbed my front side. She held my legs high in the air, she steadied them one at a time in her armpit to wash the interior side, she held them off to the side, jerking me into positions I didn’t know I could do – all to access every square inch of my body. She rolled me over and scrubbed my backside. She went back over my legs and arms several times – even seeming, I think, a bit frustrated as she increased force.

It wasn’t until I sat up that I realized what exactly had transformed for the past half hour. I was surrounded by a pool of grimy, dirty piles of skin. MY grimy skin! What the @#%*!? Have I never washed myself??? Do I not shower every day??? What the heck AM I doing in the shower if I actually have this much grimy residue left behind?

I wanted to gag. I also wanted to run away from embarrassment. I didn’t even want to make eye-contact with Souad for fear that she was gagging, too. I tried to think of a quick lie that might explain why I was so dirty, like, “Well, you know, I just returned from a month-long camel trek in the desert with no water available for bathing…” But I realized Ms. Souad the “English speaker” wouldn’t understand me anyway.

It wasn’t until at least an hour later when I finally found a mirror that I realized what had happened. I was at least two-shades lighter. Whiter. Souad had simply scrubbed off the tan that I had spent all summer trying to acquire. I said a quick prayer hoping the body scrub also removed the negative carcinogenic effects of the sun…

After the scrub down, Souad took me to yet another room, where, instead of marble slabs, there were padded massage beds. Again, she “cleaned” the bed by hosing it down and wiping off the water with her arm. I clenched my saggy underwear with one hand and climbed on the bed. With one strong shove, Souad rolled me to my stomach and stretched my arms above my head. She then proceeded to apply some kind of grey mud that smelled like lavender to my entire body. And she massaged me – from freaking tip of my head to freaking tip of my toes. And here, here is where I nearly fell asleep and entered some kind of nirvana. I forgot where I was and I didn’t care that I was naked with nothing but stretched out underwear on. I didn’t care that Souad and I couldn’t communicate or that she had probably seen more terrain of my body than my husband. I didn’t care about anything anymore.

This was bliss.

From the massage table we went to the sink room and washed our hair and dumped water all over ourselves with those colorful little plastic buckets. It was kind of tricky as I had to hold up my underwear with one hand, but it was like a bunch of grown women playing in a splash pad/water park. I loved it. I stopped noticing boobs.

After the splash pad, we showered in traditional showers. To my memory, this made the fifth full-body washing of the day. We ended the experience by wrapping up in towels, grabbing a cold drink from the desk attendant and sitting in lounge chairs while watching Arabic MTV for about half an hour. My body a calm, contented, noodle – I could have easily fallen asleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so relaxed.  We sipped our drinks and laughed about our aging bodies, confessed how we sometimes screen phone calls and ignore texts, and talked seriously about Middle Eastern politics for a while.

I ended up tipping Souad about the equivalent of her day’s wage. Again, I didn’t care. Souad is some kind of soul-sister to me now.

Lastly, Khadija reassured me that everyone leaves behind piles of grimy skin – even when they are visiting the hammam weekly and that’s how you know the attendant did her job well! She also hypothesized that Moroccan women have less issue with body shame and striving for unattainable goals of body perfection because they grow up in the hammam observing the real female form. They develop a solid sense of self from seeing “normal” female bodies far more than observing those airbrushed models on the lying covers of magazines. I had to agree. She also told me to feel my skin and said, “Feels like a baby’s bottom, doesn’t it?” She also said we should go to the hammam together more often.

I couldn’t agree more, Khadija. I couldn’t agree more.

And here’s the thing: I think Moroccans are on to something with this whole hammam-gig. In addition to the “reality-check” it serves women with body image, I think the whole experience is also far more about bonding with girlfriends, getting real with one another and eliminating relationship inhibition than it is about bathing.

And we see this in other cultures, too:

Our oldest daughter is in her first year at university. She lives in the dorms and they have community bathrooms. She says the best bonding moments come in the bathroom – sometimes with tunes blaring, dancing in their bath towels and singing into toothbrush microphones; other times it is serious conversation with shared tears and prayers – but somehow, beautifully, these college girls develop intimate lifelong friendships in those bathrooms.

There’s something about being naked literally that makes one dare, but also want, to bare their souls as well. And it seems to me that sharing of our souls with a couple of our safe, bestie girlfriends is essential to becoming whole.

Hammam anyone???

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels in the Sewage

sewer.cvb_t290It may be true that snowstorms suck and this past February was the coldest Michigan has seen in over 100 years… but I think a February of solid rain in tropical countries is potentially worse. Here’s why:

We should have all died as we sloshed around, knee-deep, in Darrin and Julie’s sewage.

We were living in Morocco – a country that many would describe as “backwards.” Admittedly, it is confusing why the country still tolerates garbage everywhere – littering the streets, fields and beaches; or why buildings are left half-done for decades – sometimes with occupants; or why there are essentially no rules for driving: lane lines are entirely irrelevant and disregarded, traffic lights are merely suggestions, and many drivers don’t own a drivers license. Perhaps that does describe a “backwards” country.  But to me, it was all beautiful. Morocco was our home and because the people were thoroughly loving and kind, it was actually quite easy to look right past the confusing, backward parts.

Except one.

There was a serious lapse in logic when Moroccan builders built the low-cost cement row homes of which we rented. I’m no builder –  the farthest thing from it, actually. But even I wonder what the heck they were thinking when they would first pour a HUGE cement sewage holding tank, and then construct the home directly over it.

There are many reasons this seems stupid to me. The biggest reason is the cockroach population that proliferated so rapidly in that sewage tank that within weeks of a new home construction, they would find their way up the drainage systems and into our HOMES to find more food and water. Cockroaches were a part of our everyday life in Morocco. I hate cockroaches – almost as much as the flying monkeys of OZ. Now, I know God is the Maker of all, but I still think cockroaches must somehow be the spawn of satan. But that’s another story.

Probably the second stupidest reason that one should not build their home directly over their sewage tank, is that in torrential rains (which occur November through March in non-drought years in Morocco) the tank overflows and can potentially back up into your home. Lovely, huh?

In an act of love and selfishness, when our friends Darrin and Julie decided to join us and work in Morocco, we found a house for them just down the street from ours. We were thrilled to have them be our neighbors. We were so excited to get to “do life” together in our little Muslim surfing village on the outskirts of Casablanca.

One thing we never anticipated was that to “do life” together would mean we’d be wading knee-deep through their sewage.

The second year in their home, Darrin and Julie (and kids Sawyer and McKenna) woke up one day to water swirling around their ankles. It was rainy season, and it was a wicked one, and the rains had not let up for days. The Jones’ septic tank beneath their home couldn’t handle the water. It bubbled into their home from every shower drain, toilet, and even cracks in the concrete. By the time we heard of their disaster in the late morning, the water had risen knee-high. A small army of loving, self-less people raced to their aid and set up a rescue mission. We created a bucket brigade passing buckets of sewage water up a set of stairs and out the door to the street. More people were dumping buckets of sewage into the backyard – which itself was flooded, but we had so few options. Glory be, but someone found a small electric water pump – probably the ONLY water pump in this nation that seems to just accept flooding – and we placed it precariously on a chair in the middle of the flooded dining room. Julie sat on a chair next to it, creating her own little island in a swirling brown sea – and with her feet in the air, she filled the water receptacle with sewage water – bucket after bucket after bucket – praying the little pump would keep up with the rising waters. The rest of us prayed it wouldn’t fall off the chair.

There were people in nearly every room of their home, helping in every way. In addition to the bucket brigade, there were people in the back yard attempting to unclog a sewage drain hoping we could start sending water out that way. There were people in the garage who brought food in for all the workers. There were people standing in the street, in the rain, just trying to figure out how to help.

And every person that entered their home that day should have died.

Every person who came to help entered Darrin and Julie’s home on the main level, and then descended their stairs to the lower level where the kitchen, living area and two bedrooms were located. As we saw the rising sewage water, we would toss off our shoes, rip off our socks and roll up our pant legs. We’d grab a bucket and walk right into the sewage and get busy. I don’t remember anyone mentioning the risk of electrocution. I do remember watching people race to unplug certain things like the TV, computers, and lamps and thinking “I’m pretty sure standing knee deep in water and pulling on electrical cords is something Bill Nye the Science Guy said to never do.”  I do remember somebody mentioning that the water level had risen as high as the wall outlets. Outlets which carry 220volts, not the 120v we use in the USA. Outlets which were wired by electricians who are not required to be licensed in this country. Outlets which have delivered enough voltage into a full-grown man to launch him right off his feet (that would be Darrin as well, but, again…. another story).

Looking back, I do not know how, for the love of God, no one was electrocuted that day. We were standing in water that was soaking in electricity. And even more unbelievable – no one got sick. Not a single case of gastroenteritis, or salmonellosis, or shigellosis, or hepatitis, or giardiasis. Not even a rash or a fever or a fungus. Nothing.

And this, I believe, is the reason: There are angels in the sewers.

I believe we are entertaining angels unaware – everywhere and all the time. But what I have discovered to be true so often in my own life is that in the darkest, dankest, most stinky, ugly and disgusting moments – the angels are really felt. They are known. We feel protected and safe. And we feel kept.

Sometimes you have to roll up your pants and just step into the sewage of life. You have to risk electrocution and hepatitis. You have to be brave and just do it because it is the right thing to do. And so GO DO IT, my friends. Be brave and GO DO IT because angels will keep you. You will be kept.

Sometimes you don’t ask for it. You don’t even have time to rip off your socks and shoes or roll up your pants – you simply wake up one day and find yourself in the middle of swirling sewage.

This – this swirling sewage, is what my life feels like currently. I did not ask for this. I did not willingly choose to engage in this battle with crap. But still, I am noticing the angels. I am feeling held. I am feeling kept.

May you truly know, brothers and sisters, that there are angels among us. ESPECIALLY in the sewage.