Fat Legs (The Ripple Effect)

A sunny but cool 60 degree day finally arrived in Michigan and I couldn’t wait to slide into my favorite fall skinny jeans. After digging them out from under the shorts and tees, I slid both legs in and easily zipped them up. But they felt weird. The waist fit the same as I remembered from last year, but the legs… OH MY FREAKIN’ GOSH…. What’s up with the legs of these jeans? Did someone shrink the legs of these jeans over the summer? Who’s washing my jeans on the HOT/HOT cycle and drying them a thousand times in the HOT/HOT dryer? Wait, are these even my jeans???

Truth: the skinny legs on the skinny jeans were strangling my legs – and NOT because the jeans had changed. My legs were fatter.

WHO’S TO BLAME?

At first I was mad at God. He’s an easy target because you can’t see Him and see how sad you’re making him with your anger. I told God I’ve been praying about my weight and He doesn’t seem to hear me. I’m sick of you not listening to me God…

Then I got mad at Weight Watchers. Come on, you silly WW people! What good are you if you don’t help actual people lose actual weight??? But then I remembered I hadn’t been to a meeting all year. Apparently, just paying the monthly dues does nothing to get the weight off.

Also got angry at Planet Fitness (see above paragraph for same irrational logic).

But as soon as I descended the stairs, nearly popping open the side-seams of my now skinnier-than-ever skinny jeans, I realized an important concept:

OUR BAD CHOICES HAVE A RIPPLE (NO PUN INTENDED) EFFECT. THEY CANNOT BE CONTAINED TO ONE SMALL AREA OF OUR LIFE. THEY IMPACT THE ENTIRETY OF OUR BEING.

It would be nice if when I overeat, I only experience a little weight gain in say, my armpits, toes, or behind my ears where no one would notice. But in reality, weight gain affects our ENTIRE being. The effects are not only experienced externally, it also leaves a grievous impact on internal things like stress on major organs, hardened and narrowed blood vessels, as well as our ability to fight infection and regulate our hormones.

Similarly, whenever we make bad choices about how we think, live, or treat others, those choices are like cancer and they will affect the WHOLE of us. And the WHOLE of us will look and feel a little bit sicker.

AND FAT LEGS CAN LOOK LIKE A LOT OF THINGS:

When we get drunk and act gross or disgusting and then brush it off as “just having a little fun” – IT’S FAT LEGS, for sure!

We canNOT think our little “issue” with gossiping is harmless – IT’S FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!

If we tell little white lies to make ourselves look better – remember, IT’S ACTUALLY FAT LEGS!

We may be so caught up in a culture of materialism that we don’t even consider there is a relational price to pay for our choices. But what is it really? FAT LEGS!

We may believe no one is hurt by our pornography addiction. This one is FAT LEGS AND THIGHS!!!

It’s fun to go shopping for retail therapy and think it’s harmless. But is it? FAT LEGS!

Even if treating our spouses with disrespect is so habitual we contend it’s no big deal, remember… FAT LEGS!

It’s so prevalent in this society to spend hours on social media thinking it has no ramifications in our life. FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!!!

WE MUST OWN OUR ILLNESS

The hard truth is, all these things, and thousands of other bad choices we make daily, really do affect ALL of our being. We cannot contain our poor choices to only one aspect of our being and simultaneously applaud ourselves for being (mostly) healthy. It doesn’t work like that!

The ripple affect of sin in our lives – in any form, in any area – is an overall sick person.

Whenever we let bad choices, bad habits, bad thoughts creep into our everyday, the result will always be ALL AROUND less-healthy individuals. And it shouldn’t surprise us if someday we wake up with fat legs.

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.

**********

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???

 

 

10 Truths Old Homes Teach Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it never was.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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!!!

 

 

Why I’d give booze/drug money to a beggar:

 

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*He was 5 years old when his mother’s boyfriend sodomized him. When he was 7, the people that lived in his house threw a party where everyone got stoned – so stoned, in fact, that they passed the boy around as their sex toy. A year later, he started smoking weed, too, just to escape the pain. When he was 10, he raped an 8 year-old girl because he thought that was normal behavior. When he was 11, his mom’s latest fling prostituted him  for drug money. At 12, the boy sold his first Ziploc baggie of marijuana. The money kept him from being pimped-out that weekend.  It also offered him a way to escape the pain of his beatings from the boyfriend – by remaining high himself. It wasn’t long and cocaine became the drug of choice. Because he knew of no other way to get through a day, he was soon addicted. He ran away from home at 14. He was incarcerated at 15. His repeated drug offenses combined with his tendency to steal money for drugs were more than any of his extended family or friends could take. He had burned every familial bridge and lost every friend he’d ever made by the time he was 16.

 

By the age of 18, he was a homeless, drug-addicted, high-school dropout with a record of two felonies and five misdemeanors. He couldn’t find a job to save his life.

 

At 19, after a failed suicide attempt, he was admitted to the psych-hospital where I work. It was his third attempt in three weeks. He was diagnosed with “Severe Depressive Disorder, Drug Abuse Associated.” He was done. He wanted out of this hell-hole that many of the rest of us like to call “the good life.”*

 

After he was discharged from the psych-hospital, I saw him begging on the corner of US-131 and Wealthy Street on a frigid, snowy Saturday. I was pretty sure if I gave him money, he’d use it for drugs.  Drug-abuse is the only effective coping skill he’s ever known. It’s what keeps him from attempting suicide EVERY day. I knew that seeing him alive meant he was numbing his pain with drugs – otherwise he’d surely be dead.

 

I gave him money.

 

But it didn’t make me feel good about myself. I felt a pit in my stomach. It’s such a cheap way out of helping the poor, the needy, or hurting. It’s so freakin’ easy to roll down the window and throw someone some cash, isn’t it? Or maybe we’ll opt to take the even easier path and keep the window rolled up tightly, lock the doors, and tell the kids in the backseat, “You see those beggars? They’re scammers. They just use that money for drugs and alcohol. You shouldn’t give money to beggars because they never use it for food or rent. I even read somewhere that sometimes beggars make more per year than daddy does!”

 

We are a busy people – we American Christians – with a million things to do just today.  So instead of parking the car, walking over to him, shaking his dirty hand, and offering the beginning of a nurturing relationship by taking him out for lunch – we either snub him or flip him a few quarters.

 

Getting out of the car and hearing his story will take time. It will take energy. It will take enormous emotional capital. And it will probably take a hellava lot of money (more than a few quarters) to help this guy. Investing in him may take years. Maybe the rest of your life. You will get dirty, tired and frustrated. It’s not going to be easy. But it’s probably the ONLY way you’ll make a difference in this boy’s life and – I’m just guessing here – it’s probably what Jesus would do.

One life at a time.  That’s how we can make a difference.  Just one at a time.  We get out of the car and make a difference.

 

There is simply NO POSSIBLE WAY that we can know a beggars situation simply by observing them on the street corner. There is NO WAY we can know what hell their life has been to bring them to this place. Why is it so easy to assume they are taking advantage of us (we who are sitting in our warm cars) instead of assuming life has beat them into this state of desperation? And when we drive by and refuse them any help at all because of the possibility they are taking advantage of us, we are passing sweeping judgments on all beggars.

 

But today, as I see my friend begging on the overpass, I’m in too much of a hurry. I don’t have time to park my car and chat with him. I wish I did. Because THAT is the only way to truly know and understand his circumstances. It’s the only way to have any hope of offering real, practical, and sustainable help.

 

So on this day, if I refuse to park my car and go talk to the young man, I must choose between the two lesser options: do nothing and drive on by risking that without drugs or alcohol to numb his pain he’ll try to take his life again, or give him money that I know he will use to buy drugs.

 

I’m going to choose to support his drug habit today. And I pray that I will continue simplifying my life to free up time, money and energy so I can actually INVEST in hurting people. I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t put a band-aid on problems (giving money), but chooses to dig deep, work hard, and sacrifice much in order to find lasting solutions.

 

I want to be the one who parks the car and strolls on over for a conversation.

 

 

*This is a fictitious person – made from a composite of people’s stories I’ve heard over the years. Any resemblance to an actual person is entirely coincidental.   But people just like this boy really do exist in my city, in your city, in every city.  And they frequently show up at my psych hospital as suicidal.  Sadly, I’ve even heard more horrendous stories than this one.  Last Saturday, however, I really did give money to a beggar I personally knew at the highway overpass in Grand Rapids.