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???

 

 

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!!!

 

 

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.

Ignorance is bliss, but knowing is better.

 

Traveling home from Africa this time was the most hellish trip ever.  It wasn’t for the fact there was a crying baby on every single flight.  It wasn’t for the fact my daughter accidentally packed her shampoo in her carry-on creating a long delay for us during security checks.  It also wasn’t for the fact that her “slip up” must have, apparently, created terrorist suspicion of me, so the Frenchy she-man, who knew we were dangerously close to missing our flight, proceeded to slowly comb through my carry-on with microscopic detail – making me open up all our Moroccan gifts of nuts and dates then sniffing and fingering them, then sifting through each tile of our Bananagrams and Pairs of Pears games, followed by unwrapping our bubble-wrapped Moroccan pottery, and even frisking all my dirty underwear (seriously?) – causing us to sprint to our gate to catch our connection to London.  It wasn’t for the fact that the video system was broke on our long flight so we couldn’t watch any movies, or that the 8 hour flight was extended to 9 from poor weather, or that even my African-mutt street dog would have pulled up her nose at the in-flight food.  And it wasn’t even made hellish because we landed in Chicago in the middle of a “Polar Vortex”, where much of the city was paralyzed from arctic temperatures hovering at -25F keeping us stranded in Chicago for a night.
No, it was none of those reasons that made this the worst trip ever.  It was because we were suffering from a bad case of “knowing”.  Knowing means you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, ignore the problems anymore.  We have always told our kids, “With knowledge comes responsibility.” This plane ride was painful simply because we had been reminded once again of our responsibilities to those that are struggling in the world and we were forced to confront the truth that we had grown dispassionate.
Spending this past week in Morocco was like peeking our heads out from under the covers of our warm, comfortable bed.  We smelled, tasted, felt and experienced life outside of our peaceful, safe, suburban-middle-class, American slumber.  When you peek your head outside the covers the immediate frigid cold blast that slaps your face is the realization that much of the world is suffering.  It suffers from the relentless grip of poverty, it suffers under the tyrannical rule of dictators, it suffers as children are forced into slavery and to be soldiers in a war they don’t want or understand, it suffers as girls (even as young as 6 yrs.) are chained to beds naked and forced to have sex as often as 20 times a day, it suffers as families who fear genocide must flee from the only home they’ve known and move to another country to live in a tent and squalor for decades, and it suffers when all these things and so many, many more are taking place this very moment and we refuse to do our part.  If I am honest, I must admit that our 2 ½ years back in the states has slowly induced a state of drowsiness, where we were sheltered from the world’s problems and were focusing more on ourselves and our stupid little first-world problems.  It happened insidiously, but we had begun caring too much about things like finding all the right Christmas presents, our kids’ getting enough playing time in their sports activities, our favorite collegiate teams winning in sports, having the right outfit to wear to parties, redecorating our house, or planning our next vacation.  Do not misunderstand me here:  none of those things are necessarily bad in and of themselves.  But if we allow these things to define our existence, then we may need to stick our heads out from under the covers.  The world is huge, the needs of this world are catastrophic, and I believe we are NOT supposed to live in a myopic, self-serving slumber, but that we have been called by the Creator of this Universe to engage somehow, some way, to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  To do that, we must be informed of the great needs of our day, whether in some far-off land, our own city, or our own backyard.  And then, with palms open heavenward, dare to ask of God, “What about me, Lord?  How do you want to use me?”
I have often wondered if the reason our Lord has tarried so long in returning is because He was waiting for the information age.  He knew that there would come a day whereby the click of a button would give us access to information regarding the human condition everywhere else in the world.  Before the internet, I’m not sure we would have been held accountable for understanding and responding to the suffering in the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  We all know.  Or do we?  We also can choose to not click that button and not look at what is happening outside the warmth and comfort of our plush, 400-count, down-filled duvet covers.  We can keep our heads buried if we want to.  We can choose ignorance – and maybe that feels good for a time because we don’t have to own the pain of the world’s suffering.  I will agree – it is painful to stick your face out of the covers and experience that cold blast wake-up call.  But as we flew home on that treacherous, hellish flight, and as I wrestled with the pain of “re-awakening” to the suffering in Morocco, I decided ignorance might be bliss, but knowing is better.  I refuse to live my life choosing to ignore that which I believe God has called us to engage.
When I didn’t know I had this incurable lung disease, I was blissfully ignorant.  Those cysts have been on my lungs for many months, probably even years, I just didn’t know it and I lived my life as if they were NOT there.  I was aimlessly meandering through life almost as if I were immortal – believing there would always be time later to get my life in order and do the really important stuff.  When I first received my diagnosis I was devastated – furious with God to the point of giving Him the silent treatment (27 years of marriage and resorting to the silent treatment in our big fights and I still haven’t learned that it is childish and entirely useless…).  Yet, I now see that God was lovingly allowing me to come to terms with my mortality.  And it is because of that diagnosis that I re-evaluated everything and am choosing a more pointed, focused and engaged life.  It was nice when I didn’t know about the disease because I could ignorantly live my life under the warm and comfortable covers and believe everything to be just fine.  Yet, my lungs were being invaded by disease!  Everything was not fine at all!  Even though I’m now aware this disease may take my life, and it was pure pain getting that news, I still believe knowing is better.
One day, after I had received my diagnosis, I was sitting in our comfy chair facing out to our wooded backyard.  I sat in silence with God and felt a chill down my spine as I took in the view.  Everything appeared incredibly spectacular:   the sun seemed brighter than ever before, the snow seemed whiter, a cardinal perched on a low-hanging tree branch seemed redder, and the sky seemed bluer.  I soaked it all in and found myself acutely aware of every single gifted breath I was taking.  I knew I’d been given new eyes – and I saw that all things had become more remarkable and noteworthy and magical – and I don’t think I would have taken back my old eyes even if God had offered.
Ignorance is bliss, but knowing is better.