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???

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teens: Want a tattoo for Christmas? How to get Mom to say “Yes”:

My arguments against tattoos were weak at best. But I still thought tattoos were stupid.

 

When our daughter Grace turned 16, she wanted a tattoo. She wanted one bad.

 

I had always believed tattoos were a terrible idea. First, the Bible says so (aka – a Christian’s favorite way to shut down a conversation…) And also, I felt God created us the way we are – with clear skin and no ink because He liked us that way and didn’t feel His handiwork needed to be improved upon.

 

However, those arguments don’t work. The Bible does mention tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), but if Christians today accept that passage as timeless law, so too, would we have to observe the following:  No eating shellfish or pork – locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, however, are encouraged.  No wearing any type of blended fabric and bathing after sex would be mandatory.  Men would also have untrimmed beards and be allowed many wives.  And women – oh my – we’d be killing turtle doves and pigeons left and right as we lived up to the host of rules regarding childbearing and menstruation!   No – I most definitely do NOT want to keep Levitical Laws!

We cannot pick and choose which old testament laws we’ll follow – either they are contextual and not explicitly meant for us today, or, we must agree to them all. Additionally, if God didn’t want us to improve upon His creation, why do I not object to make-up, hair-cuts, ear-piercing, and working out?

 

My arguments against tattoos were weak at best. But I still thought tattoos were stupid.

 

Then Grace asked for one. And she presented me with a well-thought out proposal that was difficult to refute. She reminded me of the following story that happened to some dear friends of ours:

 

Our friends had raised their children in a solid Christian home and taught them all the tenets of the faith. After highschool, however, their oldest son rejected Christianity. He chose to live life on the edges – doing all the things Christians consider “big sins”. When numerous problems began mounting in his life, his father tried to reason with him: “You know, son, I think if you returned to your faith you would find life easier. I think you’re making life harder than it has to be and coming back to Jesus would help.”

 

His son’s response was legendary. He whipped back with this retort: “Are you KIDDING ME?? No way, dad! Right now, I’m choosing the easy way! I’m choosing to live my life MY WAY!  If I were a Christian, THAT’S when my life would get difficult – because I would follow Christ with ALL of me. I could never be like all the Christians I know – who pick and choose the parts of Christianity they want to follow. No way. I’d be ALL-IN. I’d be BALLS-TO-THE-WALL, dad. I think life should be hard for a true Christian – not easy. For me, there’s no compelling argument to follow Jesus because I just don’t see anybody living ALL-IN.”

 

When the father shared that story with us, he said, “He had me. He’s right, you know. Not many Christians really do live ‘all-in’ and ‘balls-to-the-wall’. It really isn’t a compelling movement to follow when most people only follow it half-heartedly.”

 

So….. Grace reiterated this story and then lays this on me: “I want ‘ALL-IN’ tattooed on my wrist. I want to be constantly reminded to live for Christ – all of me – not just part of me.” She had given it serious thought, and wanted “ALL-IN” written in Arabic because it would remind her of when we lived in Morocco and she felt the most “all-in”.  She wanted it on her wrist because that is where the nails were driven that held Jesus to the cross.  She wanted the lettering facing HER, because this was HER reminder:  to live so ALL-IN that her Christian faith would compel others to follow Christ, too.

 

At least she wasn’t asking for a “BALLS-TO-THE-WALL” tattoo…

 

She started asking for the tattoo when she was sixteen. And Paul and I both said no. No way. We refused to let our lovely olive-skinned, underage teen daughter get inked. We have two surf-loving, guitar/drum playing, fairtrade-coffee-drinking, long-haired hippy sons in their young twenties and they’re not even inked yet.

 

I told her to go read Leviticus 19:28. Proof! KaPow!  (maybe she wouldn’t notice the parts about beards, wives, and menstruation…)

 

She told me to go read 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Romans 10:4

 

Touche’

 

I told her I’d think about it.

 

And her pursuit of that tattoo only built momentum over the coming year. If she ever fell short of the character we believed she had within her, she would say, “Well maybe if I had a tattoo to remind me of how to live…..”

 

She would often point out revered friends and/or popular role models who had tattoos and then ask, “Do you think [that particular person] lacks good judgment?”

 

She was good at this. Really good.

 

But as her 17th birthday inched closer, she hit me with the winning stroke:

 

“Mom, you know how the Bible says that our bodies are like temples? Well I was thinking – we find it perfectly acceptable and even good and necessary to adorn the temples, or churches, with things like stained glass windows, beautiful architecture and ornate carvings. And we believe this to be good because all of if should point others to the holiness and beauty of Christ” (I started to regret that we had taken her to numerous grand cathedrals all over Europe and Central America…) “Well, the way I see it, if we tattoo our bodies with beautiful art, or any symbol that points us or others to Christ, we are really trying to accomplish the same purpose. Only this is with our body-temples, not the building-temples. I think tattoos should have meaning. They could be art, or words, or symbols, but their meaning would be to remind ourselves or others that we serve a creative God, who delights in beauty, and is somehow glorified when we create beauty.”

 

She had me.

 

So on her seventeenth birthday, I took her to get her first tattoo. And I got my first one, too:

 

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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?