We accidentally bought a crack house – and soon found ourselves addicted, too.

There is a spiritual heaviness in our upstairs back porch and all the praying people who walk through the place can feel it.

Our college-aged sons who have done their share of watching “Breaking Bad” and have lived in plenty of sketchy neighborhoods quickly identified the telltale signs of a crack room: excessive amounts of electrical outlets, burn marks and beaker shaped cut-outs on the long built-in counter, and an oddly located, poorly constructed, pad-locked closet. Our next door neighbor says the porch was actually a meth lab. The probation officer who keeps stopping by to find the former renters won’t tell us exactly what went on this house, but obviously, some of it was criminal. So we can’t be sure if it was meth or crack or both – but we’ve affectionately dubbed the porch: the “crack room.”

So now we know what to look for when questioning if a home is being used as a drug dispenser – which is not exactly a resume-building skill…

But even better than learning a few things about the drug trade, buying a crack house in the city, surprisingly, gave us a new appreciation for crack and we, too, are now addicted. Here’s how:

  • At the “crack” of dawn, the Catholic church around the corner rings it’s bell nearly 20 times. It is to remind Christians to pray the Lord’s prayer. And this is done three times a day, all over the world, at most Catholic churches. It reminds our family of Morocco’s call to prayer – and because Morocco still feels like “home”, the church bells help to make us feel more at home here in Grand Rapids. Sadly, there were no Catholic churches in the very-Protestant suburbia we left behind and we never heard church bells.
  • I “crack-up” whenever I hear the lion’s roar from the zoo across the street. Some people get to have horses and hot tubs on their properties. Others have tennis courts,  swimming pools, and lake-front beaches. We get to have lions.
  • Renovating this old house proved to me that plumber’s “crack” is no joke. Neither is electrician’s “crack”, carpenter’s “crack”, dry-wall guy’s “crack” or floor-guy’s “crack”. I mused at the fact that men love to look at the “crack” formed between women’s breasts, yet I found myself totally grossed out by the simple rear-crack of man’s anatomy. I still decided to take a peek every time anyway – purely for retribution…
  • There is a large “crack” in the plaster in our living room that we chose to not fix, but just painted over instead. It’s an every day reminder of my dear friend, Kathy, who painted that wall. And the day she selflessly came and helped me paint was such a beautiful picture of the body of Christ. We were NOT going to make our goal and get the house done before moving in, so all sorts of people with different talents stepped in and helped us and it totally saved the day and our sanity. We were never meant to do this life alone, folks. We are all just parts of the whole – and we really do need each other.
  • We share a driveway with our neighbors. In the “crack” dividing our two lanes, weeds are growing rampant – some nearly knee-high – but neither of us care. And I love it that there is no pressure here in the city to “keep up with the Joneses’”. Seasonal flowers and manicured lawns and fancy cars and new furniture and vacations are all luxuries – and here, we don’t freak out so much if those things don’t happen. We don’t feel judged. It’s very different here than in the burbs – and it simply suits us better.
  • When I sit on my porch and watch people walk by from every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background, I “crack” a smile. Something about being surrounded by great diversity draws Paul and I closer to God. We see HIM bigger when we are reminded of how BIG his heart is for ALL people.img_2474
  • When I drive anywhere from here, I usually encounter at least one beggar – and my heart “cracks”. But it was our choice to live in that tension. We want to be reminded every day of our blessings – and also to daily ask ourselves what our responsibility is to serve the poor and oppressed.
  • And lastly, renovating this house nearly “cracked” the foundation of our marriage. When things were at an all-time low, when we had spent so much time on the crazy-cycle – you know, the disrespecting, cutting, jabbing, eye-rolling, shouting – that it had somehow become our norm, when we had both reached a point where we wondered if our marriage was going to survive, there was this day – this ONE day…. Paul came home from work and I just happened to be going out the door as he came in, and he “cracked” a little smile, and there was something about the little creases that form in the corner of his eyes when he smiles that reminded me of the 18-year-old that I fell in love with over 34 years ago. That little “crack” of a smile reminded me that life is a journey – and he and I have been on a great one. It reminded me that every great journey requires challenges. Every great story must have obstacles for the heroes and heroines to overcome. Every great life is precipitated by lessons learned through hard times – for it’s only through the hard things that we can be sharpened to greatness. It reminded me that, just like the sun after a storm, or birthing a child after 12 hours of labor, or forgiveness after being wronged, or Jesus Christ’s resurrection after death,  a light always shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

His “crack” of a smile was the subtlest of reminders that everything was going to be okay.  We will shine bright again.

Testing our marriage to the very brink of breaking has been the most powerful lesson the “crack house” taught us – because in spite of satan’s attempts to destroy us, we still found God faithful. We still knew, that anchored IN HIM, we were gonna be okay.  And just like our marriage, the “crack house” doesn’t look too shabby anymore:img_2473

So now we wake up every day thankful for this new (to us) home, this new beginning, and new challenges.

In the words of the wise Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

What happened when we opened our HOME to Muslims

IMG_1135A few years back our family of six spent four years living in Morocco. In a country that is nearly 100% Islam, we made many Muslim friends. A couple weeks ago, one of those friends decided to visit our family here in Michigan. She traveled with her 18 yr. old daughter who was coming to America for the first time.

Although we were virtually surrounded by Muslims while living in Morocco, it was an entirely new twist to have Muslims living with us – experiencing every-day life with us. This was far more up-close and personal.

 

What I learned made me uncomfortable. But probably not in the way you’re thinking.

 

My friend came bearing gifts – for me, my husband, the kids – even for our sons who no longer live home. She got up early and made coffee. She stayed up late and made Moroccan fried bread. Whenever I wasn’t looking, she did the dishes. She listened for hours and gave me counsel on life’s hard stuff. She would sneak off when we were at restaurants and secretly pay the bill before I even had a chance to object. She sat and listened to our kids rattle on about silly things she knew nothing about: American football, homecoming festivities, travel sports, and Tim Allen. While in Chicago, we were walking back to our hotel late in the evening and we encountered at least 5 beggars in the streets. She stopped to give money and/or food to each one. She even went into a market and bought a fresh loaf of bread for one beggar.

We watched TV, You-Tube, and American sports together. And she made me laugh ‘til I nearly peed my pants.

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Three times throughout the week (although I know there were many more) I found her kneeling, facing East toward Mecca, head bowed low to the ground in prayer. Every time it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d prayed in earnest. Life in America is busy, you know….  

And, perhaps most remarkably, both my friend and her daughter went to church with us. They were not concerned in the least that our church might rattle their faith – they simply wanted, out of respect to our family, to fully experience our culture, our lives and our religion. They understand Christianity (at times, I fear, better than I do…) and they didn’t have questions about it. They just wanted to honor us by attending church.

My friend and her daughter oozed love for me and my family and our community – as well as the strangers in their midst – throughout their weeklong visit. Then, even after returning home, they mailed us beautiful Christmas gifts to thank us. Muslims, who don’t celebrate Christmas in the least, sent gifts to US just to bless US on our holy holiday.

 

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I call that love.

 

I am being haunted by an old Sunday School song. “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Really? Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will our behavior be so exemplary, so unique, and so incredibly loving that people will unequivocally be able to recognize what faith we ascribe to simply by our actions?  

What haunts me is that, in many ways, my Muslim friends are better at loving than I am.

 

Which begs the question: Did WE know THEY were Muslim by their love???

 

If you’re jumping to defensive mode and screaming “HELLOooooo!!!! ISIS!!!!” as proof that “they” do not love – well, I get that. Undoubtedly, there are factions who are acting in the name of Islam and represent the antithesis of love.  These people need to be stopped.

But something I learned in Morocco that is important for us to understand here, is that many Muslims in the East equate Christianity with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING coming out of America. They observe things such as: our greed and materialism, our divorce and abortion rates, the Kardashians, The Bold and the Beautiful, all-things Hollywood, our massive gun violence, or George W. Bush (whom they can only see as someone who indiscriminately blows up people and cities), and conclude: “See! That’s what Christians are like!” They are unable to separate the actions of our country from our dominant religion (Christianity) because in their home countries there is no separation of religion and state. To be Moroccan is to be Muslim. The king of Morocco is also the head religious leader. As is true in many Middle Eastern countries. So it is no wonder that, to them, everything coming out of America (and let’s be honest, most of it ain’t pretty….) must be Christian.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my Christian faith identified by the actions of Lamar Odom, Donald Trump or Miley Cyrus. Or how about the Unabomber, Ted Bundy, Timothy McVeigh?  Or what about people that blow up abortion clinics out of religious conviction or priests that rape little boys?

Please, world, don’t equate me, a devout follower of Jesus, with these people!  

Some may counter and argue that these people cannot possibly be true Christians anyway…. but that is entirely beside the point because again, in many Eastern Muslim minds, all American actions are Christian actions.

And yet, in some ways, that argument completely makes my point! Because, likewise, it is entirely unfair for Americans to judge the whole of Islam based on what our Westernized media chooses to report – which is only reporting the extreme actions of extremists.

But if you get to know the people, the regular, ordinary, every-day people that live and work and teach and heal and farm and shop and play soccer and have babies and read books and cook meals and go to school and watch movies and all the millions of other things that you and I do, well, these people are fully as good at loving as you and me. They are. I’m telling you, they are.

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If you don’t agree, perhaps you’d be willing to ask yourself a few questions:

How many Muslims do I know personally?

How many Muslims have spent considerable time in my home?

Where do I get my information about Muslims?

How many Islamic countries have I visited? What was my experience there?

How many people do I hang out with regularly that practice a different faith than my own? Do they know how to love? How do they express love? Do any of them love better than me?

Will they KNOW we are Christians by our love???  Will the title “Christian” ever represent to the world “a distinctly caring, self-less, and sacrificially giving people who love regardless of race or religion?” And if it did, would my own loving actions, kindness, and generosity be so recognizable so as to set me apart from the “world” and allow them to quickly identify me as a Christian???

I’m afraid, that for me, the honest answer is “no.”

So, in response to the hate that is being spewed from the media, our Facebook feeds, and many people with big microphones, I think those of us professing a faith in the resurrected Christ should ask ourselves, “Will they know we are Christians by our love?”  A chief yearning in my life is that my family, my church, my street, my community, my state and my nation exhibit a Christ-like love to our fellow mankind. I’m nearly to the point of despair at how miserably we’re all failing. And so, this is what I’ll do – which is really the only thing I can do – I’ll sing that great song of the season: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!”

The Date and the Cockroach

Unknown-1When we lived in Morocco we had a serious cockroach problem. They were everywhere – that was the problem. I never understood it. I had believed cockroaches only lived in dirty places so I tried to keep our house impeccably clean. But these cockroach-demons thought it was their house, too, and refused to leave no matter what we tried to eradicate them. And they were unbelievably, disgustingly large – nearly big enough to saddle-up and ride. They were so big that one time when a cockroach flew in through our screenless window and smacked me in the shoulder I thought it was a bird (which happened on occasion in Morocco, too). And these vermin are uglier than sin, or Gollum, or even the flying monkeys of Oz. Unlike traditional cockroaches that prefer your basement, sewer or garbage cans, our cockroaches seemed to prefer our upper-level bedrooms. Also, just like satan, these roaches were nocturnal and would hunt us down at night. Sometimes they crawled up on our bed. On several occasions, they crawled up on us. One time, in the middle of the night, Paul had one crawl up on his face and it tried to suck the spit from his mouth. Yes, it did.

Lord, have mercy. How I hate cockroaches.

However, living in Morocco also presented us with glorious things that, as Michiganders, we couldn’t get enough of – like sunshine, the ocean, surfing, mint tea, and, most affectionately, the year-round fresh fruit. I loved the unique sweetness of the watermelon, the juicy clementines, and abundant yellow cantaloupe with a red dot drawn on the side. (I repeatedly asked the locals for the specific name of the cantaloupe and they always replied “Yes, of course, it’s name in English is: Yellow cantaloupe with a red dot on the side.”) But Paul, he liked the dates the best. He ate them like candy. He would always pick up a box of dates whenever he did the shopping and would sneak them in the house when I wasn’t looking. He had to sneak because I would have never, ever, ever, ever to infinity, bought a box of dates. Never. I was loathe to even try one because, to me, they looked EXACTLY like cockroaches. The date’s opaque reddish-brown color along with its oblong shape and size are identical to the cockroach! If you added a couple antennae and four of those nasty, jagged, fast-as-lightning legs – voila! – a cockroach. Paul would rip open a date and yank out the pit and it looked to me just like dissecting a cockroach. I get puke in my mouth just thinking about it. Disgusting.

But one fateful day on a visit to the home of our dear Moroccan friends, I felt obliged (coerced?) to eat a date. They were passed around as the before-dinner-snack. And because Moroccans are the most hospitable people on this planet I didn’t want to dishonor them by refusing the food offered. Furthermore, they kept insisting these were the best dates in all of Morocco and my life just wouldn’t be complete without experiencing their succulence. So, I inhaled deeply, thanked God that living overseas had taught me to perfect “mouth-breathing-while-chewing-to-avoid-tasting”, and I ate one. Lo and behold, the skies parted, the muzzein stopped his call to prayer, the wild dogs stopped their barking, the incessant chorus of horns from the congested Casablancan streets stopped their honking, and a fantastic ray of sunshine beamed through the nearby gothic window lighting up that whole bowl of dates with a heavenly glow. I had experienced the divine. I proceeded to bury my face in that bowl and without any reserve or conscience, I devoured those dates. Every last one of them. Forget what I said earlier about infinity – those dates are now on my all-time favorite foods list and I will most definitely be buying dates both now and forevermore. Amen.

However, my problem remained. Cockroaches and dates still look shockingly similar. And what if, on a certain occasion, I would reach into our cupboard and instead of grabbing a date, inadvertently grab a cockroach? That may seem hard to fathom, but I promise you, in my kitchen in Morocco – it was entirely possible. What if I didn’t notice it was a cockroach until it was too late, say, after I had bitten the head off? Or worse yet, the butt? How would I make sure that when I wanted to eat this beautiful, succulent fruit that God kissed the earth with, I wouldn’t mistakenly grab something that looks exactly like it, but is actually pure evil?

(Now I know what the Bible says about God having created every living thing. It only makes sense that he created the cockroach. But I just gotta believe there is another explanation. I think somehow satan got his greedy little hands on what was otherwise an innocent cricket or gentle grasshopper and mutated it ever so slightly to become the cockroach. Maybe Adam lost a bet or a coin-toss or something – I don’t know. But I cannot believe that my all-loving God saw the cockroach and pronounced it “good” – I’m sticking with “pure evil”).

Because that ‘ole enemy of our souls is such a masterful deceiver, he is expert at taking something beautiful and twisting it just enough that we think we are tasting of the good, but he’s selling us the lie. He masterfully disguises the evil, – my gosh, it looks exactly like a date –and lures us into taking a bite, only to find we’ve been duped – we are eating cockroach butt.

For example, we all need food to live. Food is good. Food is beautiful. Food for fuel is the date. When I eat half a pan of brownies while staring out the window simply because I’m procrastinating – that is the butt of a cockroach.

Anytime the good is mutated slightly – often ever so subtIy – we are at risk for unknowingly consuming or endorsing something that is entirely evil.

When the “good” becomes warped, or too time-consuming, or over-magnified, or power-fueled, or greed-based, it then becomes “evil”. This can apply to nearly everything: work, play, education, exercise, cleanliness, shopping, leadership, knowledge, friendships, even (oooooh, here I go….) Bible studies!

Here’s another one – one of the “hottest” of our day: kids’ sports. It’s an example of ensuing evil that is so subtle, so culturally accepted and applauded, that it is unbelievably easy to miss. I see parents everywhere who love their children – a lot – which, of course, is a good thing. And in the name of love they sign their little Johnny up for soccer, hoping Johnny will develop habits of discipline, make new friends, stay fit, and find something he is passionate about. But then, a few years down the road, the parents and Johnny alike are some kind of soccer horror story where the only thing they live, breathe, think and discuss is soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRRR! Unbeknownst to them, because it happened so subtly, they have sacrificed family dinners, vacations, attending church, time with their other kids, money they meant to give to charitable causes, and even peace of mind just so Johnny could play soccer, Soccer, SOCCER, SOCCCCCCCERRRRRR!   Because, the fact is, we cannot say “yes” to something without saying “no” to something else. Something ALWAYS gives. Of course, they will very defensively tell you having your child in sports is a good thing, and their humble hopes and goals are that Johnny will get to play in high-school, or even college, or possibly be the next Lionel Messi, so all of this “investment” will have its payoff.

But here it is: they are sucking on a cockroach butt.

The control that soccer has over their family’s life is no longer the beautiful fruit of the date – the beautiful thing that sports can and should be in the life of a child – but a raw and disease-ridden cockroach that will end up killing something in their lives. Perhaps it will kill Johnny’s passion. Or perhaps their marriage. Or their relationships with their friends, neighbors, or other children. Or their time that God meant for them to be in service to others. Or their money God meant for them to share. Or their diversified interests. Something will die. Because that is the scheme of satan – “….he comes to lie, kill and destroy”.   And when we mistake the cockroach for the date – something will die.

In no way am I suggesting soccer is bad. Soccer is good. Soccer and swimming, play practice and piano, basketball and baseball, scholastic tutoring and science Olympiad, clarinet lessons and camera club: ALL GOOD. These things are dates, and when given their proper place and appropriate level of significance in the lives of our children, these things produce good and beautiful fruit in their lives.

However, when a good thing (perhaps soccer, but could be any kid’s activity) becomes too all-consuming, combined with every other all-consuming activity we’ve said “yes” to for our kids, we, the FAMILY, become exactly that: CONSUMED. We are EATEN ALIVE by the monster of our lives that we ourselves are responsible for creating. We created it – but it is all because we first bought the lie. We were deceived into biting into that which looked exactly like a date.

The enemy of our souls is relentlessly whispering to us this lie: “Do it ALL, you good and faithful parents! Give your kids ALL of it! If you don’t, they won’t make it in this world. They won’t succeed if you don’t give them every opportunity available. They will never make the [insert goal] if you don’t sign them up for the [insert activity]. You’re gonna have to work harder, push more, eat faster, sleep less, give greater in order for your kids to succeed in this world – that’s just the way it is today. If you don’t give-in to this new world order, maybe you don’t really love your kids. Maybe you’re selfish. This is your KIDS we’re talking about…”

We’ve had several children in our home over the last few years that say they can’t remember the last family dinner they’ve shared around their dining room table. Cockroach butt. I’ve been to so many all-day swimming and volleyball and gymnastics tournaments and watched countless younger siblings curled up on a blanket in the corner playing video games or watching movies on an i-pad for eight hours straight while big brother or sister competes. Cockroach butt. When husbands and wives can’t remember their last date-night – cockroach butt. When elderly parents no longer get visits from their children and grand-children – cockroach butt. When moms are working to supplement dad’s two-job income just to support all the kids’ sports and activity expenses – cockroach butt. When “coping” means the whole family needs to be on Prozac – it’s definitely cockroach butt.

All this begs one of the most important questions for our generation: Have we made our KIDS a false god? Out of love, and thinking that it was good, could it be we have elevated the successes and goals of our children to an unhealthy place costing us our marriages, our family relationships, our friendships, our health, our family dinners, our philanthropic dollars, our generosity and hospitality to others, our sanity – and even our peace of mind? How crafty of satan to take that which is good (our love for our kids) and twist it just enough that it actually becomes a very dangerous, self-destructive thing in society. The date is really a cockroach.

And here is a truth: We don’t have to live like this. WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS! We only need to take a step back and really gaze into the eyes of the monster that is eating us – identify the monster as the cockroach and lay it down. LAY IT DOWN. Stop pretending that it’s okay.

It’s not okay. LAY IT DOWN.

If you, like me, have heard yourself whining about your fatigue, complaining about your busyness, or just plain sad that your life isn’t what you thought it’d be because some external factors are just sucking the life out of you, maybe we all need to reach in our mouths and pull out the stuff we’ve been chewing on and take a good look at it: Is it a date or a cockroach?

 

 

 

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.

If I Had Only Nine More Years Left to Live

UnknownIt has been a year since I was diagnosed with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) a helluva stupid lung disease that is slowly consuming my lung tissue and sucking the life from me. There is no cure. It has been a hard year – and my disease has progressed even though I specifically, repeatedly, desperately asked God to not let that happen – and I feel constantly compelled to reexamine my life and it’s meaning. Last year, on Christmas Eve, I wrote a blog entitled “If I Only had 10 More Years to Live” – and how having a potentially terminal illness changed my life’s goals almost immediately. Living with this diagnosis for a year and letting that reality sink in has taught me even more – and I felt compelled to update that “bucket list”.

It’s like my own constitutional amendments…
1)  Contrary to what I wrote a year ago, I will NOT be keeping Snickers in my car 100% of the time to have on hand for panhandlers.

I piloted this program for several months and after single-handedly eating SIX bags of snack-size Snickers, gaining FOUR pounds, and only passing out ONE candy bar – I’ve decided I MUST come up with another plan or I won’t die of LAM, but Snickers toxicity! Because poverty and homelessness literally keep me awake at night, I’ve got to DO something. Ignoring the issue is not an option for me. I’ve decided I’m going to have Degage vouchers with me at all times to give out to panhandlers. They are coupons from our local inner-city mission that can be redeemed for a meal, bus fare, haircut, or hats and gloves. Even BETTER than a Snickers. Check out your own city mission and see what they offer – because every city has some (that is, homeless people AND helpful solutions).

2)  I will watch less volleyball.

I adore my daughter and want to fully support every endeavor that is important to her (and all five of my kids). However, the amount of time that sports are sucking from the life of our generation is sickening and I don’t want to be a part of that madness anymore.
Our culture has dictated societal “norms” for sports involvement that simply require more from our family that we’re willing to give. There is a great quote by Krishnamurti that made me realize I was succumbing to a dangerous trend: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a profoundly sick society.”

This lifestyle of dinner-in-the-car, homework-on-the-sidelines, texting-conversations, weekends-at-the-tournament, no-time-for-church, and washing-the-uniform-at-midnight, CANNOT be the best distribution of time that God had in mind when He planned for Christians to be His hands and feet! When we attend every stinkin’ thing our children participate in – in this world that has run amok with children’s athletics and child-focused activities – we are actually giving our children TOO much attention and thus making them our false god. Our children need our love and support, not our worship. Maybe if we took our children off the throne, we’d have more time for all the things Jesus told us to be about: the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the hurting, the marginalized, each other.

If I really do only have 9 years left to live, I want to have time for friends with cancer, widowed neighbors, young moms with screaming toddlers, teens from the inner-city, the stranger in the backed-up check-out line who looks like he’s ready to cry, AND my kids! I love my kids profoundly – and by saying I want to give them a little less side-line attention does not mean I love them any less. I just want to try to make the remaining distribution of my limited time a reflection of a heart that breaks for the things that breaks God’s heart. My WHOLE world is not my children.

3)  Maybe if I watch less volleyball, I’ll have more time for the things that I didn’t get around to (but really MEANT to!) from last year’s bucket list: ICE CREAM dinners at the trailer park and time with nursing home residents who don’t get any visitors. Or maybe I’ll combine the two and load up my car with kids from the trailer park and together bring 20 gallons of ice cream to the nursing home! To me, that sounds like a taste of heaven.

4)  And this whole Ferguson mess taught me something: I need to make some black friends.

One of the richest experiences of our lives has been living in Morocco and making true, deep, lasting friendships with Muslims. When Islam has a name, a face, an address, a friendship, it changes your perspective on all things “Islamic”. I love these people in Morocco. And they love me. And so I’m extremely cautious before deriving any kind of conclusion about what is really happening is the Muslim world.

During the Ferguson debacle, I realized I don’t understand racism in America hardly at all. While in America, I have largely lived in an all-white, middle-class, Christian bubble. I didn’t mean to do that – it just kind of happened. I certainly don’t know enough black people deeply enough to say I can understand their life or our differences. That fact made me so sad. I tried to keep my mouth shut through all of the debates going on over that mess in Ferguson. Maybe I’ll weigh in when I have a bunch of black friends and feel I understand their hearts better. I’m not talking about exploiting some fake friendships. I really do want some black friends – and I just want to acknowledge that right now I’m ignorant. And ignorant people should keep quiet

5)  This past year has taught me I need to spend LESS time with my mother-in-law…

This is one of the hardest for me because I was wrongly believing that I was the only one who could help her and meet her needs. But what I’ve been failing to do was accept dementia. Dark. Unfair. Cruel. Relentless. And I can’t fix it or make it go away and going to visit her every day was only leaving both of us exhausted. I have to let it go and accept that we are losing her slowly to this ugly disease. I can give her only what I can give her – no more, but never any less either. This has helped me in other areas of my life, too. I’ve learned I’m a fixer and I hate it when I can’t solve problems or make them go away. But accepting that OUR SAVIOR came, specifically, to carry all our burdens, means that all we have to do is show up. We don’t have to fix them or carry them or worry about them, we just need to be fully present in the midst of them. He really DID come to set us FREE!

6)  A year later, and I’m STILL not gonna watch any Reality TV (Sorry all you DWTS fans – but I just don’t get it) Apparently, however, we as a family are going to occasionally curl up in blankets and absorb five seasons of Parenthood and try to solve issues like autism, teen sex, affairs and cancer with the family Braverman.

7)  And on the no dusting and vacuuming vow I made last year… WELLLLLLLL, the truth is really two-fold. One, I’ve learned that a house full of dust and pollen and dog hair is REALLY bad for my failing lungs and I really do want to make those two suckers last as long as possible. And two, when I can write words in the dust on my coffee table, it distracts me so much I can’t even think. So, truth be known, I’ve started dusting again. But not washing windows. And don’t even ASK me what my closets and drawers and laundry room look like. Housework? Paring it down to the necessities – and it feels so right.

In fact, THAT’S IT! – That’s what you do when you feel you’ve been given your expiration date…. You pare it all down to the necessities – discovering what it is that you truly need and what truly makes you feel most alive!!! Thank-you, Jesus, for coming to earth a baby, living to know all pain and suffering, dying to conquer death, and being ALL that I would truly ever need.
“For lo, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2: 10, 11