Humble Pie – What happens when our heads get too big…

My car died a couple of months ago – on the way to work and in the middle of the highway, no less. It made me terribly late as well as the recipient of many honks and obscene gestures from all the busy and important people whose cars never break down.

But, as luck would have it, she died the day before we dropped our last child off at university. And last child has a car she won’t be using at school, so it’s not like I was carless. However…. Said car is peppered with dents, scrapes, and scars from years of inexperienced teenage drivers. Said car has a long yellow scratch where older sister nearly took out a fire hydrant. Said car has it’s bumper held on with zip-ties. Said car smells like sweaty teenagers. Said car sits so low, I have to do a power-squat to get in and out. Said car’s trunk doesn’t like to stay shut and will sometimes fly open while I’m doing 80 on the highway. Said car is covered with hip bumper stickers I don’t really understand.

You get the drift. Not exactly a car a 50-something professional likes to hop into on her way to work at the psychiatric hospital…

I’ve noticed that it’s not as if this car is simply OUR FAMILY’S dumpiest car ever – but that wherever I go – grocery store, hospital, church, restaurants – the car is always THE DUMPIEST in the entire lot! I sense extra eyes on me as I, a (hopefully and somewhat) accomplished looking middle-aged woman, climb into a beat-up, 20 yr. old coupe that screams “HIGH SCHOOL!” I keep wondering what they are thinking about me and I find myself wanting to shout to perfect strangers, “It’s not mine – it’s my teenager’s car!”

At first I found it funny and laughed it off when people looked at me slant eyed. But lately, I’ve noticed a little corner piece of my soul that’s not okay and it’s been feeling a lot like embarassment.  And that reality has been hitting me hard. Paul and I have prided ourselves in kissing materialism good-bye and it is one of the main themes of my upcoming book. Why in the world do I suddenly care about the car I’m driving?

I’m completely flummoxed by my own insecurities and ashamed that I’m dealing with something I thought I killed and buried 20 years ago.

A sermon I used to preach to the kids has been echoing in my head: You do NOT need to impress others.  You are completely who you are with or without any “embellishments.”  You are smart, beautiful, important and good – and it matters NOT what you do or don’t have.  Your true friends are those who love you for who you are deep down – not how you present yourself or how impressive you appear.  They love you just the way you are.

Ahhhhh – there, Cindy, that is the message. Who you trying to impress anyway? Who cares what other people think? The only people that matter are those that know you and love you just the way you are – no matter what kind of piece of crap car you’re driving….

So this past week I drove the crap car to work with the window down the whole way. I wanted to check my hair before getting out of the car, and when I flipped open the mirror, lo and behold, this is what I found:

Clearly, my teenage daughter had put it there for herself to serve as a powerful reminder she didn’t need to worry about appearances, but dang, I sure needed this message, too! I needed to be reminded that God loves ME more than I can fathom and that my value and worth have absolutely nothing to do with the house I live in, the clothes I wear, the college degrees I’ve earned, or the cars I drive.  God doesn’t see any of that.  He just sees me.  And He calls it beautiful.

We cannot impress our way into the kingdom – it is simply a gift. God looks at us and sees all the dents, the dings, the scratches and many hard-earned miles and doesn’t care.  He sees beyond all that and says, “You are enough. Just you. I love you just the way you are.”

Now, we could just run out and buy another car and get a new shiny impressive one – but we also have THIS saying in our house: Just because you can afford something doesn’t make it right. MAYBE, just MAYBE God wanted us to drive a crap car for a while to really contemplate our inherent worth.

Because that crap car has been a beautiful reminder of God’s goodness and mercy and that I need to do NOTHING to impress Him, we are STILL driving the crap car all over town! It reminds me that God sees my soul and calls me worthy despite my sin.

God of the City

IMG_6254Last week our car had its front window shot out (yes, as in, with a gun) while parked in the street in front of our house. At least 10 other neighbors had their cars hit as well and we had to call the police and fill out police reports and we were all late for our morning commitments.

No houses or people were hit, so that’s good. And just four hours and fifty dollars later, we had a new window put in.

It’s the city. These things happen.

 

What is God’s Country?

I grew up in rural west Michigan and figured I had no choice but to live in a rural setting forever. Afterall, everyone called it “God’s country” and I certainly didn’t want to live anywhere God wasn’t.

A thousand twists and turns later and Paul and I find ourselves living in the heart of Grand Rapids. Not the worst neighborhood of our city, but (clearly) not the best either.

I realize that if one has the resources to choose where they live, debating over which locale is best (city, suburbs, country) is completely arbitrary because it’s purely personal preference. We didn’t have to move to the city. We could have stayed in the burbs and we could have stayed at our “big dream house” that we had built in the country. We chose city life.

And now, we have found a spiritual-ness to city life that proves God dwells powerfully here, too.

 

10 Ways We See God in the City:

1 – In the city, we have met people from all kinds of different race, religion, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds from our own. Whenever I hear someone (usually caucasian) ranting about issues/problems with blacks, gays, Muslims, the poor, immigrants, pro-choice, pro-life, atheists, Democrats, Republicans, etc. I will ask them, “Do you know any? Like, do you HANG OUT with anyone from (that particular people group)?” If they reply “Well, not exactly”, I won’t listen any further. If we do not know people who are different from us, we do not have the right to talk about what “they” are like, what “they” do or think or feel. When we made close friends with many Muslims in Morocco, our entire view shifted from what we previously thought or believed about Islam. It is imperative to truly KNOW the “other” before commenting (or worse, ranting) about them and their perceived impact on your own existence. I believe we’re extremely misguided to derive our opinions from Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow.

 

2 – In the city, we drive down bumpy, neglected roads as we take in broken street lights, graffiti, and panhandlers. These serve as a constant reminder that the world is not a perfect place and no matter how hard we strive to curate perfection in our lives (whether by beautifully perfect homes, perfectly edited Instagram feeds, perfectly manicured lawns, etc. ) the truth is, PERFECTION is for heaven and this world is broken. Most of the world suffers unspeakable pain, hurt, loss and brokenness and we MUST NOT forget that truth. For me, I need the daily reminder the city offers.

 

3 – In the city, we see people. People are seen out walking, hanging out at bus stops or street corners, or just visiting one another on their front porches. People in the city don’t drive their cars into their houses (as once described to me by a little Moroccan boy who couldn’t fathom the phenomenon of “garages”), but instead, we park on the street and SEE one another with every coming and going. When Paul and I were younger we sought to escape others, now we seek them and the city just works better for that.

 

4 – We hear church bells in the city.

 

5 – I can hear my neighbors conversations if both our homes have the windows open. Living in the city means you watch your language more carefully. It’s like having a built-in accountability partner.

 

6 – We have nuns playing soccer with the students across the street during Catholic-school recess. I don’t care who you are – if you’re having a bad day, watching nuns play soccer with little kids will just make you happy. It’s like having Julie Andrews out your front window.

 

7 – We may get our cars shot at once and awhile, but you know what? It brought us all out onto the street that morning and we learned the names of a few neighbors we hadn’t met and we all banded together with common loss and concern and empathy. It’s through the hardships that we truly bond with one another. I don’t believe in seeking hardships, but I also don’t think cocooning ourselves in an attempt to avoid life’s hardships is the life God desires for us either.

 

8 – Living amongst those from a lower socio-economic status serves as a daily reminder to not become lovers of money. It’s so dang easy for us to believe we need more, more, more. But when I am surrounded by those who have less, I have to really wrestle with my spending habits and discern if I really need those new throw pillows more than Julie down the street needs diapers for her children.

 

9 – Living in the city you do not need to waste your money on marijuana. If the situation calls for it, you can just stroll over to the park and inhale a big enough whiff to get a little buzz for free.

 

10 – In the city, you can get REAL tacos from little hole-in-the-wall taco stands that serve REAL corn-flour tortilla shells. You’ll never be able to eat a flour tortilla shell again (Gross. Just gross.)

 

But is it SAFE?

 

I don’t particularly care for people driving down my street shooting at our cars (or shooting at anything, for that matter), but I LOVE what Mrs. Beaver said to Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when Lucy asked if Aslan was safe:

 

She said, “Of course He isn’t safe, child, but He is good.”

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Porches

The Impressive White Wrap-Around Porch:

I was thrilled when I was dreamed into life. Every component of the home knows there are two of us that carry the most weight and significance: the kitchen table – where our people gather to share, grow, and learn to love; and the front porch – where our people interact and love on the world around them.

Being an exceptionally beautiful, deep, wrap-around porch, I had some serious expectations from my family. Since they had four children, I envisioned them using me for playing games on summer evenings, for catching fireflies, for playing guitar and singing songs, and rocking their babies to sleep on my rocking chairs. But they never did any of those things.

The Mrs. decorated me for every season and for every holiday. I was a stunner. She spared no expense. I didn’t mind – but it’s not what I was made for. It was like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. With each passing year, I hoped the family would slow down enough to enjoy me. I hoped they would see how vital it is to be out in the front of the home, to wave to cars passing by, to chat with the neighbors, and to just sit for a spell and enjoy each other. But they never did.

My Mr. and Mrs. were busy people. Their cars flew up and down the driveway many, many times a day. I never understood what they were so busy chasing, but they were chasing something for sure. I thought the kids looked tired, but Mr. and Mrs. kept a fast pace nevertheless. I never knew where the kids were much of the time – but I often saw the Mr. and Mrs. working hard in their yard. They mowed that huge lawn every few days – hours and hours and hours of mowing. They were always vacuuming the pool, tending the landscaping, washing cars, waxing the boat, etc. The kids had four-wheelers, bikes, golf carts, motorcycles – basically anything they asked for. But to me, it just seemed like the more things they bought, the more they had to take care of and the less time they had to relax and enjoy me. I thought they’d eventually exhaust themselves and sit on my rockers for a moment with a cold lemonade or beer. But they never did.

My owners lived in my big white house for nine years and I don’t ever remember them enjoying my beautiful view and just relaxing with me. Not ever. Not once.

One day, an old college friend stopped by to see my Mr. and Mrs. Immediately upon exiting his car, he condescendingly said, “Wow, now that’s an impressive home!” The Mrs., completely oblivious to his patronizing tone, said, “It is pretty, isn’t it?”

Suddenly I knew. She didn’t get it. She never did. The Mrs. never wanted a big wrap-around porch like me for the vital role I’m supposed to play in the home. She wanted me because I’d be impressive. That, I suppose, I did fairly well, too.

 

* * * * * *

 

The Old Rickety Porch:

I am over a hundred years old and I am tired. I am sagging on one end and many of the brick pavers of my floor are missing. The siding around my front door is peeled back and flaps in the wind. But I do not care about any of that and I will not complain – because I am a porch and I am doing the thing I was created for! I am the bridge between the inside of the home and the world outside. My owners LOVE to spend time out on their porch rockers and watch the world – the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world of the west side of Grand Rapids. It’s like they’ve never had a porch before – they can’t get enough of me! Even though they’re incredibly busy with careers and kids and aging parents and sickness and death, they come out here almost every evening, weather permitting.

Being a porch, I am privy to many interesting conversations. My Mr. and Mrs. have chatted out here with people from all over the world, discussing everything from immigration to gun violence to Jesus to the best wine. They must have lived in different countries, too, because they also talk about how stubborn they must be that in order to truly understand that people are more important than things God had to yank them half-way around the globe. They talk about how they used to live compared to how they live now and how they’ll never go back, even though they could easily afford it. I’ve overheard their remorseful accounts of all the years they wasted mowing lawns, vacuuming pools, washing cars and cleaning boats. I don’t know what they’re talking about – because they don’t do any of those things now.

Their kids – the marrieds and the singles – love to hang out with me, too. Sometimes, they’ll all reminisce about the “old days” when they had a great big wrap-around porch they never used. They’re able to laugh about it now. I’ve heard the Mr. and Mrs. thank God that their kids didn’t give up on them. I’ve heard them say how grateful they are to have learned before it was too late that spending time with their kids was more important than giving them stuff.

As soon as the snow disappeared, my Mr. and Mrs. were back out on my rocking chairs. Some evenings, the laughter from the high-spirited rugby game in the park across the street beckons them outside (even though they clearly cannot figure out rugby rules to save their lives). They love to talk to ALL the passersby – to pet the dogs, talk to the babies in strollers, or just offer a friendly “Hello – Have a great day!” They’ve befriended the college kids up the street, the older, slower gentleman who collects empty pop cans so he can buy Legos, the politician on the corner, and the homeless guy on his bike. They love to sit out here and talk to other neighbors sitting out on their porches; and because our homes are so close, it’s like we’re one big block-long porch anyway.

I’m thankful my Mr. and Mrs. get it. They understand the two most important parts of any home are the table for gathering the family to teach it how to grow in love; and the front porch, where the family extends that love to the world.

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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?

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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?