I AM OUT OF CONTROL

When we lived in Morocco, every single day felt like a monumental challenge. It certainly wasn’t because of the people (they were incredibly kind, generous and welcoming). The challenge primarily came from being so out of place – so keenly aware we were foreigners and didn’t have much sense on how to navigate an alien nation. Simple things like retrieving cash from an ATM, adding minutes to our cell phones (no iphones there), getting groceries, visiting the orthodontist, buying underwear, paying bills, etc., etc. were all accomplished so differently from what we were used to they’d suck us dry of time, energy, and brain space. The language barrier also played a part (we often complained of headaches in the evening from speaking French all day long).

For example, we had to pay our utility bills in person in the nearby village. Payments had to be in cash, in an envelope, in the exact amount. If you forgot the envelope or needed even 10 dirhams back, they’d refuse the payment. If you couldn’t say your address clearly in either Arabic or French, they couldn’t process your payment. Some days the office was closed (for no apparent reason) so it was a crap shoot if you’d be able to make your payment or not. It was an enormous headache (quite different than having your bills electronically paid each month…)

Because life was so hard in Morocco, I was immediately stripped of cockiness and confidence. I quickly learned how incredibly incapable, insufficient, and dependent I was. I had NO CONTROL.

We had only been their a few weeks when I woke up one morning paralyzed by fear. I couldn’t imagine getting out of bed and facing the day – there was just so much unfamiliarity and overwhelming newness bombarding me each day, I was beyond exhausted and discouraged. I remember thinking, “I don’t even want to swing my legs over the side of this bed because when my feet hit the ground, there’s no turning back.” So I cried out to God and said, “I can’t do this without you, God. I can’t even let my feet hit the floor until I know you’ve got me completely covered. Help me, God. Help me.”

And every morning, for four years, before arising each morning, I said that little prayer. It’s the only way I dared to start the day. I could have never survived Morocco without that prayer.

Sadly, we had only been living back in Michigan for a few weeks when I realized I had ceased that morning practice. In America, it was just so easy to accomplish everything and I could do it all on my own. In America, I’m confident, self-sufficient, capable and energized. Simply getting money from the ATM is a no-brainer and I use NO brain space whatsoever. The same is true for the doctor’s office, grocery shopping, talking to the neighbors, and parent/teacher conferences. Life’s so simple, uncomplicated and easy back in America, it’s almost as if I don’t need a God anymore.

So it’s no wonder I stopped inviting God into my day before swinging my legs over the side of the bed.

Then came COVID-19.

I have a nasty debilitating, progressive and degenerative lung disease. I am in that “high-risk” group that those in the media treat as disposable by constantly reminding the public that the old and weak are going to make up the bulk of the dead, so the rest of the population need not worry so much.

But because of my lung disease, COVID-19 has given me a new wake-up call and once again reminded me how OUT OF CONTROL I really am. My life is not my own and I am at the mercy of a virus that not even the brightest minds in this entire world can explain or predict.

Every day I wonder if this is the day.

So I’ve returned to that morning practice that I should have never stopped. Before I even swing my legs over the side of the bed, I pray: “Okay, God, this day is yours. You alone know the pathway of an unseen virus. This is all in your hands and I MUST trust your sovereignty. Whether I live or die or am asked to simply sit here for another 12 weeks, give me peace. Whatever your will, Lord, I don’t want my feet to even hit the ground until I know you have me covered.”

And then I get out of bed. My feet hit the floor and I say, “Here we go, Cindy.” It’s weird, but I truly feel like no harm can befall me. Even if the COVID-19 finds me, I know that virus can never steal my joy. Am I afraid? You bet. But I KNOW that I am covered – and that covering makes all the difference.

Tell me, my friends, how are you covering yourselves in this unprecedented crisis? I’d love to hear all your innovative ways!

Lessons from the brain dead

imagesI was absent from one of the most transformative events in my life. It happened to my husband while in Guatemala but left an indelible print on me and I’ve never been the same since.

Back in the day when we believed visiting Guatemala regularly would bring lasting change to the country, we often included orphanage visits as part of our “missions” week. (Anecdotally, our views on short term mission trips and their purpose and product have morphed significantly since those early days. For deeper probing, here are a few resources:  Relevant MagazineThe Poor Will be Glad and When Helping Hurts)

On this particular visit, Paul and his fellow well-intentioned travelers decided to stop at a new orphanage that was home for children with special needs. No one in the group could have anticipated what they were about to see.

He described the place to me as a small home made up of three adjoining rooms. The first and last rooms were filled with beds for the children – the middle room served as their dining room, lounge and play room. The place was lit too brightly by flickering overhead fluorescent lights and smelled of urine and vomit. The staff barely noticed yet another American “tourist” group stopping in; so with lack of direction, the group migrated to the playroom hoping to play with the kids.

Paul held back. He described some kind of supernatural power drawing him to the sleeping quarters made up of rows of beds and cribs.

He heard her before he saw her. Her shallow, slow breathing rattled and gurgled with every breath. Next, he smelled her. It was a hideous combination of bad breath, urine, and body odor. Although the crib was abnormally large, Paul expected to find an infant. It was, after all, a crib.

 

When he peered in, he was quite taken aback by the sight.

 

Her name was Corinna and she was 10 years old and that crib had been her whole world her entire life. She was born severely handicapped and has never walked, talked, fed herself or even sat upright. She stairs blankly to the left – always to the left because her head is stuck that way. Without provision of physical, recreational or occupational therapy to the residents their bones and muscles and brains just atrophy away day after day.

Corinna was not hooked up to any machine or life-assisting devices. She just existed. Her stiff and contorted body pained Paul to even look. But instead of pulling away, he felt compelled to lean in. He put his head right in front of hers. He stroked her hair, he talked to her, and he prayed for her.

 

She barely blinked.

 

A few days later back in Michigan, Paul recounted this experience to me: “Cindy, it was like there was no one there – she was so vacant. And yet, I felt the presence of God with her. All I could think was this: God loves this precious one. She has been bed-ridden her whole life, she has never said a word and never will. She, by all practical purposes, is brain dead. She can do absolutely nothing for herself. She can do absolutely nothing for others – to show appreciation, to show love, to enjoy life, or – especially – to secure her salvation. And yet, God still loves her as much as he loves anybody. God actually sent his son to DIE for Corinna – to give her this life that seems so unlived. God’s love just blew me away as I sat holding Corinna’s hand. The beauty of that moment made me weep with love for her and for what an amazing God we serve.”

 

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Paul and I tried to take a walk together today, but we had to stop frequently so I could catch my breath. I told him to just do the talking because I’m no longer able to walk and talk at the same time.

My medications are causing me more problems than I care to share. And I’d quit the whole lot of them if I didn’t believe in some weird medical-background-way they’re helping me live longer.

And with each tiny sign of deterioration I feel a little less whole, less human. A little less significant. A little less worthy.

And on my bad days I worry. I worry that I haven’t done enough. I worry that I haven’t said enough or shared enough with my kids. I worry that I didn’t accomplish much or do enough good. I worry that I’ll never finish my book and I’ll never have anything of significance to leave behind. I worry that within a generation or two people will forget me and that my life didn’t matter.

Then I worry that I worry about such stupid stuff.

 

But today I remembered Corinna. She who lay there in a crib for 10 years and never once actually “did” a single thing. Although she could barely move, she reminds me of how much God loves each and every one of us – his precious creation, made in HIS image – and that he would have died for us even if we were the only one.

I believe Jesus whispered in her ear every single day, “You are my beloved, Corinna. Of you, I am especially pleased.”

And I wonder how is it that I keep returning to my old patterns of fear and doubt and anger and resentment for my sucky lot in life – because, when I remember Corinna, I remember that I, too, am Jesus’ beloved, no matter what I am able to do or not do, say or not say, be or not be.

Yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.

 

 

On Dying Slowly

IMG_4907.jpgOne of the lowest, crappiest things well-intentioned people say to you when they find out you have a terminal illness is this: “Well, you know, we’re all dying really.”

Of course we are. Nobody believes these bodies will last forever. But sometimes it just stinks to be me because someone gave me a TIME LINE. I feel like I have an expiration date written on my forehead of which healthy people know nothing about. When we’re healthy (I still remember those days fondly) we don’t really think about dying. In fact, we live as if we’re immortal. While disease free, I’m not sure it’s even possible to wrap our minds around the fact that someday IT will happen to ME…

At least I didn’t. I was living like I’d live forever. Eating shit. Wasting time. Worrying about stupid stuff. Having petty fights. Chasing things. Praying only when life got hard.

These were all things I was going to work on, “Someday”.

“Someday” came crashing down hard on me when “Someone” gave me that lifetime-timeline with an “approximate” end-date. Of course, no one knows EXACTLY when that end-date will be. But, more than likely, my life will be truncated dramatically by this stupid disease.

 

HOWEVER….

 

(In any story worth telling, there should always be a big HOWEVER, right?)

HOWEVER…. With only a few years since my diagnosis and the subsequent slowing down of my life, I’ve learned about a million new things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

 

1) Dying slowly provides opportunities to do some life editing.

When people die suddenly (at least those who are past their prime) we humans like to console one another and say stupid stuff like: “Well, at least he didn’t have to suffer”, or “What a wonderful way to go –one moment on earth, the next moment with Jesus.”

I get why they say that stuff. Truth is, no one knows what to say to the dying or the grieving. We all just clamor for a few words and they always come out sounding stupid.

What I do know from my own experience is that when you find out your life may be cut short by an illness, but not immediately, you are left with a lot of time to think.

Some people, upon learning their days are numbered, might run out and get busy, busy, busy – doing all the things they’ve always wanted to do and seeing all the people they’ve ever known. Not me. I’ve SLOWED way down. I’m sleeping more (a holy activity, if you ask me), I’m praying more, watching nature more, sitting quietly on my porch and just thinking more, and doing LESS of the things that people generally ascribe importance to in their lives: work, entertainment, social engagements, etc.

Some days, every breath feels so incredibly holy that I just want to sit in silence and savor it. I want to thank God for every inhale and exhale and I don’t want to miss that opportunity by being busy. Dying has put God right in my face and being busy makes me feel like a shmuck because I can so easily ignore Him.

And so I think God gave me the opportunity to die slowly in order to ditch some baggage and edit my life down to a quieter, slower, better version of myself.

 

2) Dying slowly gave me new eyes to see things I’d previously overlook.

The tree outside my office window (the reclaimed crack-room) had small buds for leaves one day, and on the VERY NEXT DAY they grew an INCH! Yes, I measured!!! An INCH, my friends, in less than 24 hours!!! Do not tell me there is no God.

Squirrels can actually mate on the run. It’s true. I watch them do it on the regular from my little crack-room-office.

Whenever Yulisa is excited or has exciting news to share with me her right eyebrow pops up just a little higher than her left one. If her emotion is better described as happiness, then her eyebrows stay even.

There is a very disheveled man who meanders through the parking ramp of my downtown market every Tuesday and begs people for money. Only on Tuesdays. And he smells like homelessness and his shoes have holes in them. The first time I stopped, looked him in the eye, and told him I’d buy him some bread and apples, he looked directly back and me and said, “Thank-you. And Thank-you for noticing me.”

 

3) Dying slowly gives you time to say all the things you’ve meant to say, or should have said, or simply haven’t said well in the past, to all the people you love the most. 

I’ve got some work to do on this yet – but I’m glad I still have more time to do it. I’ve tried to reach out to all the people I knew I had hurt or at least fell short on my end of the relationship responsibilities and I’ve asked for forgiveness. I know there’s more out there, and I hope I can talk to them all eventually.

My sister Heidi had 13 months from diagnosis ‘til heaven – and she was very sick and battling fiercely the entire time. She was robbed of the chance to leave much of a written “love letter” for her family regarding their futures. I’m still mad at God for that. So I’m trying to write down all the things I’d most likely say to my kids when I’m in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – just in case I don’t see those decades. I also want to address my future sons-in-law and future grandchildren in case I never get to meet them.

 

 

I think if I spent a little more time on my porch quietly thinking I could expand this list to at least 25 things – because OF COURSE there are more than THREE things that dying slowly has taught me. But they say blogs should never be more than 1000 words…. Whoever “they” are must know that you, the reader, are losing interest right about now….

I’ll just say this: Dying sucks always. Dying immediately like my cousin Zac at 23 in a tragic car accident, or my friend’s father by heart attack, or the lady down the street who’s husband passed in his sleep leaving her with 10 kids – those situations suck WAY worse than mine. I have found some solace in dying slowly and I’m trying to make the most of it. 

Do not feel sorry for me. But instead, thank God for all the ways He uses evil in this world to draw others toward HIM!!! I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rae Dunn, Jesus, and a Washing Machine

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Am I the truly the last one to the Rae Dunn Party? I have only recently discovered it’s magical lure when my sweet friend gifted me a mug engraved with“Sing” after she read my blog on how I’m struggling to sing.

Apparently, RD is the latest craze and people are clamoring and clawing their way to select stores and clandestine gas station rendezvous to get their hands on more of this imperfectly perfect pottery.

Now, much to my chagrin, I am too.

Days after unapologetically jumping that pottery bandwagon, I’m sitting in my car in the black, wee morning hours (which, if you know me, should already clue you in I’m no longer thinking rationally) waiting for Home Goods to open their doors so I can rush in and deploy some rusty high school basketball skills and “box out” any obnoxious Johanna Gaines wannabe’s so I can beat them to the latest installation of Rae Dunn goodness.

The longer I sit here in the parking lot, the more I feel something disturbing in my soul. I’m feeling queasy about this shopping virus I’ve caught. Honestly, the real me – the healthy me – knows this is not what I want to be about. It’s not what I want to do with my precious time. It’s not where I want to spend our money or my energies either.

Furthermore, I need more cute mugs about as much as I need another hysterectomy.

But as I wait in my warm car and contemplate all this I ask myself, “So if this is not who you want to be, then why are you really here, Cindy?”

I should be at home. I have a long messy list of people in real need waiting for me back home: several friends in the midst of difficult, serious trials who could all use a loving phone call, my junior-high discipleship girls begging for an afternoon of my time, my widowed mom needing a “check-in” because I just don’t do that enough, a friend in Morocco hoping for a call as she faces a mountain of paperwork in an attempt to move their family to Canada, and a hard-working-tax-season husband who I desperately needed to reconnect with over a lunch date. And the list goes on…

People. All these people who are important in my life. People I love dearly and care passionately about their wellbeing. But yet, I’m escaping the responsibility of caring for them to instead chase down some stupid Rae Dunn dishes.

Why?

**********

When our lives were flipped upside down – almost 20 years ago now – Paul and I prayed every day that our lives would better reflect that which we said we believed. Specifically, we wanted our lives to reflect that PEOPLE are always more important than THINGS. At that time, we knew we had been spending too much of our time on things (whether buying things, taking care of our things, saving for more things, scrolling and dreaming about things or just talking about our things) we KNEW this was not the way of the kingdom. So we fervently prayed God would flip that on its head.

For the most part, He did.

So what the heck am I doing here in the Home Goods parking lot about to buy more THINGS while PEOPLE who genuinely need me today wait???

Many smart people have been able to hone in on this pervasive problem that is mine today and name it.

Jon Acuff, the bestselling author of Do Over and Finish calls it a “Hiding Place” – an activity you focus on instead of your goal or living out your true calling. Steven Pressfield in his highly acclaimed book The War of Art calls it the “Resistance” and describes it as a “toxic force that deforms our spirit” and keeps us from our truest selves.

That is definitely true for me. I’m hiding, resisting and avoiding. I’m avoiding the “messy” things in my life by running to a store. Because this is brainless, instant gratification. And, let’s be honest, there’s no REAL cost (because I believe if something costs you only money, it’s really no cost at all). Shopping is just dang easy.

The way of Jesus – the way of loving people with all of me – is rarely easy.

And as far back as Bible times, the earliest followers of Christ struggled with the same crap:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15 -20 

The apostle Paul doesn’t really go on at this point in the text to tell us how to respond when this happens, except to acknowledge it IS SIN living in us.

And we KNOW that we cannot overcome sin on our own. It’s just not possible.

We sin. We need a Savior. Period.

Holiness begins with knowing just how unholy we are. So that’s where we begin.

We acknowledge we are a sin-full people. We confess. We come clean.

WASH. RINSE. REPEAT.

Jesus – our holy washing machine.

I’m so thankful for a Savior who operates my rinse cycle – who puts my car in drive and pulls me out of the Home Goods parking lot so I can go home and do that which I know I’ve been called to and made to do.

Anyone else care to bravely share what things they do that they do not want to do? Are there things that pull you away from that which you know is right to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Ain’t Your Sexy Valentine

 

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Clean water crisis. Human-Trafficking. Immigration. Orphan care. Affordable Housing. Failing Education Systems. Gun Violence. Teen-age pregnancy.

Sitting in this hip coffee shop I can hear twenty-somethings all around me talking about what’s wrong with humanity and how they aim to fix it. Millennials are raising the bar for the rest of us. They’re hyper-aware of societies ailments and far more actively involved in finding solutions than previous generations.

Yet increased awareness presents a serious problem that’s pervasive in “woke” people of ALL ages: It has become the “in” thing to do. Buying TOMS shoes, a week at an orphanage in Central America, sending bottled water to Flint, Michigan, and filling food baskets at Thanksgiving – all such Facebook-worthy ways of serving Jesus. I can’t even count the times I’ve seen a Facebook or Insta post with a white, middle-class high-schooler/college kid surrounded by raggedy-clothed, dirty-faced black/Asian/Indian/Hispanic orphans from their recent short-term “missions” trip abroad.

But if we engage in something that’s uber trendy, we must stop and ask ourselves: What’s my motive?

Write a check. Angel tree. Annual service day at a soup kitchen. Donate clothes. “Like” all the posts by the latest hip justice organization. Put said organization’s sticker on our computer. Run a 5k for awareness. GoFundMe pages. Youth groups spending a day in the inner city. Wear a trendy justice t-shirt. Carry a cool mug inscribed #endhumantrafficking.

And why? Why is there such a BOOM in this movement?

I’d like to suggest we’re crazy about this movement of increasing awareness because it’s easy.

Easy. Appealing. Quick. Non-habit forming. No sacrifice.

One could even say these approaches to following the way of Jesus are somewhat “sexy”: We are seen. We are heard. We look good and feel good with our “service”. Others think we’re incredible. Sexy, right? In fact, we could post any of those hot service opportunities on Valentine’s day with #mytruelove and everyone will think we’re holy.

I’m not bashing those experiences or remotely suggesting they be stopped. I most definitely feel there is a place and a time for such things. The problem, as I see it, is that we (Christians) are mostly looking for a quick, non-painful way to appease our Jesus-driven consciences and we’re much too quick to flaunt it for our own acclaim.

We Christians are FAR less likely to do the long, hard, costly, sacrificial and unnoticeable work that is the backbone of the Christian calling.

But Jesus said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.

He straight-up told us: It ain’t supposed to be easy, friends!!!

Jesus did all kinds of hard, subversive, and not very Facebook worthy things. He hung out with those marginalized by society. He touched people that nobody else would touch. He shared meals with those no one else would. He went to places nobody else would go. Jesus didn’t do sexy things.

If Jesus had a Facebook page, we’d probably scroll right through his posts. It is THAT mundane. THAT uncomfortable. THAT un-sexy.

To go all-in for Christ will most likely lead you to hard, toilsome work with basically no recognition. It’ll be costly and time-consuming. It sometimes costs money, but can also cost friends, reputations, and safety. It’s not usually quick and easy and it’s not usually comfortable.

When I think of the un-sexy way of Jesus, I think of some of these people:

  • A neighbor who has invested YEARS into the life of a troubled, fatherless, high-schooler who doesn’t appreciate it and throws away every opportunity provided for him. But our neighbor refuses to give up and pursues him with relentless love and care. Not sexy.
  • My friend who has visited her father, uncle, and aunt, twice a week, every single week at the local nursing home for over 10 years! As their ONLY living relative, they wouldn’t get a single visitor if it weren’t for her. Not sexy.
  • We know a guy who after Hurricane Katrina sold everything and MOVED to New Orleans. A lot of us did sexy things for Katrina-victims and pasted it all over social media. Our friend LIVED there for two years. Not sexy.
  • We have friends who live in Honduras. They run an organization that works to abolish corruption within the extremely corrupt Honduran government. The work is dangerous – an attorney from their organization was shot and killed in broad daylight by gang members. This work is COURAGEOUS, costly, takes decades, slow progress, and sometimes exasperating. Not sexy.
  • There are many schoolteachers who CHOOSE to work in some of the poorest districts in our city. The pay is poor, their resumes won’t ever be impressive (failing students make teachers look bad – no matter how awesome they really are) but they believe in making a difference in the lives of kids who just maybe need a break in life. They will do this for 20, 30 maybe 40 years and they may never see the fruit of their labor. Not sexy.

The un-sexy work Jesus invites us into may be long-suffering, toilsome, tiring and expensive, but we’re not doing it for ourselves – it’s UNTO HIM!

  • What if we mentored troubled kids – any age – and stuck with them through ALL THEIR GROWING years?
  • What if we volunteered with Kids Hope and actually gave a kid hope?
  • What if we joined a refugee/immigration settlement organization and spent the next FIVE years mentoring a new family?
  • What if we talked to our neighbors, learned of their suffering, and prayed with them weekly?
  • What if we made homemade casseroles and brought them to the homeless camps (trust me, they exist) every week?
  • What if we enter in to the roller-coaster life of the mentally unstable – the bi-polar friend, the depressed sister-in-law, the suicidal teen, the homicidal neighbor?
  • What if we mentored those in troubled pregnancies?
  • What if we helped pay the heat bill every winter for a family who heats their home with the stove?
  • What if we gave up eating out for six months just so another family could EAT?

You know what I think would happen if we did some of these things? We’d be tired. We’d be involved with these issues for a really long time and get frustrated with the slow pace of change. We might even get angry at those we are serving. We’d want to give up and quit over and over and over.

But we’d be doing the work of Jesus, for HIM, and for His glory. Not ours.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

This is the way of Jesus. And it ain’t sexy.

Don’t make Jesus your sexy Valentine.