Don’t Listen To Me – Go With Steve!

Today, I planned to share how shitty I feel.

I planned to rant about my lung disease and how unfair it is that as a non-smoker I’m suffering from something totally similar to COPD.

I planned to curse a lot and tell you what it’s like to have a disease no one can outwardly see.

I planned to expose some vulnerability and tell you that all my days are not positive and sometimes I just want to cry and feel sorry for myself.

I planned to share what a “BAD LAM DAY” looks like (this is what my LAM sisters and I call them) – where simple things like taking a shower, walking through a parking lot, or taking a flight of stairs leaves me so exhausted I want to take a nap.

I planned to write a post that doesn’t end with smiley faces, exclamation points, and “Isn’t Jesus wonderful?” like I typically do.

I planned a bunch of things in my head for today’s post.

But then today unfolded…

I lead a group of 6th and 7th grade girls in a Discipleship Program at the Potters House School where I volunteer. Their Bible verse for today was this: “When Jesus spoke to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’” John 8:12

I decided hearing the true life story of a blind man would fit with the verse perfectly, keep the girls attention, and hopefully aid them in memorizing the verse.

So I asked Steve to come speak to our group.

About 30 years ago, as a married man with two children and one on the way, Steve began losing his eyesight from a devastating disease called: Retinitis Pigmentosa. He fought through diminishing eyesight for several years and managed to continue driving and keep his job. But, eventually, with three young children and the weight of providing for his family on his shoulders, he could no longer deny it – he was legally blind. Today, Steve can see absolutely nothing.

Steve shared how he initially bargained and became angry with God after his diagnosis. He shared how debilitating his anxiety became as he faced a future of KNOWN blindness. But the GLORY of his story comes as he realized he had only been looking at the negative side of being blind. Until one day when he imagined Jesus hanging on the cross (the most negative experience known to man: crucifixion) and he realized the cross makes a “PLUS” sign! The cross, by it’s very nature of construction, forms a POSITIVE symbol!!!

This realization turned Steve’s world around and he began writing all the things he was thankful for. He wrote POSITIVE statements about his situation, instead of negative. At one point he told our group, “In a way, I have found freedom in my blindness. You are all DEPENDENT on your eyesight. I am INDEPENDENT of that sense, so I am not bound by it. When I look at it that way, I experience a new kind of freedom.”

Steve may be the most POSITIVE and OPTIMISTIC person I know. And he’s totally blind.

First one, than two, than three tears were streaming down my face. Steve had touched me in the depths of my pain.

All I could see about LAM today was that it was disabling me, making me feel “less than” and “less able.” In a swift moment, Steve helped me to see that I’ve been made free from having to be as productive as most people. As healthy people so often DEPEND on their ability to accomplish much, I am INDEPENDENT of that pressure. My body tells me what I can and cannot do, and there’s not a darn thing that can be done to change it. So, in a sense, I am free from that pressure.

Oh friends! The JOY of the LORD is our STRENGTH! And He alone will give us the insight and power to take the hardest, most painful parts of our lives and turn them around into something that can be used for HIS GLORY!

God alone can show us the POSITIVE when all we can see is the NEGATIVE!

So everything I had planned for this blog was trashed.

Steve showed me a better blog.

Go with Steve!

How To Find Purpose For Your Pain

This is what the road in front of my house looks like. It’s dirty, disgusting, loud and annoying. And it’s been going on all summer. But I couldn’t be more relieved to have the road crew here.

They are saving my life.

HOW FLINT SAVED GRAND RAPIDS

Before 2014, American’s never concerned themselves with clean water. That’s an African problem, we believed. It took the Flint crisis of 2014 to wake us up to the devastation caused by unclean water. It took the death of 12 people and another 84 people contracting a waterborne illness for us to realize the severity of this issue and finally speak up.

Because the brave people of Flint chose to speak up and fight this atrocity against a system stacked against them, cities across the nation had a wake-up call.

GRAND RAPIDS, TOO?

At the beginning of the summer we were notified our street would be ripped up and under construction for five months due to lead pipes that needed to be changed out. We had zero clue that our drinking water might have been compromised. But Grand Rapids chose to preemptively address a potentially hazardous situation so we wouldn’t become the next FLINT.

The good people of FLINT have suffered for 5 years as they’ve battled for the basic human right of clean water. But BECAUSE OF THEIR SUFFERING, I didn’t have to. Growing children in our neighborhood won’t suffer debilitating effects from lead exposure. Unborn babies on our street won’t have preventable birth defects due to lead their mommas unknowingly ingested. I can’t explain the gratitude I feel toward the whole city of FLINT.

Quite often, our pain and suffering, can be used to bring good to others.

Because maybe sometimes we have to suffer so others don’t have to.

AND HERE’S THE THING: IT’S TRUE FOR ALL OUR SUFFERING!

I was promiscuous in college. It was the darkest, most painful season of my life. But I made it even worse by keeping it a secret for 12 years. It wasn’t until I shared my past with my husband that we were able to work through the pain and suffering and find wholeness and redemption on the other side.

Now, I tell everyone who will listen about that worst season of my life.

WHY? Because it’s the ONLY WAY my pain gets redeemed! If I can help to prevent just one young person from taking the same dangerous path I took, it gives my pain purpose.

No one wants to suffer. And Christians are notorious for trying to convince us we don’t have to. (You know, “Just-follow-Jesus-and-you-will-never-suffer-again). But it’s a lie. Jesus was very clear on the subject: “In this world you will have trouble and suffering, but have courage, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

We will suffer. But the story does NOT have to end there.

LESSONS FROM A WOUND

As a nurse, I’ve learned the only way a deep wound can heal is with debridements – frequent and consistent cleanings with removal of infectious tissue. Deep wounds require light, air, and debridements. If you cover them up and leave an infectious deep wound alone, the infection will spread and kill you.

The same is true for the painful, dark parts of our lives.

We can always choose to cover those parts up – refusing to expose them to light and cleansing – but that’s how they’ll slowly kill us.

THANK-YOU FLINT PEOPLE!

Can you imagine if the crisis in FLINT was covered up and never exposed? As someone on immunosupressants, it wouldn’t be long before lead ingestion would have made me terribly sick. And probably all across America people would be unknowingly drinking dirty water.

Likewise, if I never shared with my kids the pain and suffering I caused in our marriage because of the terrible choices I made in college, my own kids might have suffered the same fate. How tragic!!! I refused to let that happen!!! So I put the fear of God in my kids regarding premarital sex – hoping and praying they could hold off until marriage. I may have carried it wee bit too far when my daughter recently confided, “Mom, You were so anti-boys and dating, I was honestly terrified of my first kiss!”

Anyway, my point is this: Do NOT hide your pain and suffering. Share it at the appropriate times, in the appropriate places, and with the appropriate people so that others may learn from your pain and, if possible, avoid it themselves.

It’s such a tangible way to spread LOVE to our brothers and sisters on this planet.

“Suffering ceases to be suffering when we find meaning for it” Viktor Frankl

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.”

 

              * * * * * * * * *

 

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.

 

 

Six Critical Life Lessons Learned from a Hacker

I was furiously typing away – hoping to complete another chapter of my book in the two hours I’d managed to wrangle free. Suddenly, a warning popped up on my screen, “CAUTION! You have a virus attacking your computer! Stop immediately and call Apple: 555-5555” (the title of this blog should let you know why I’m not sharing the actual number…)

I’ve heard of these scams. I wasn’t born yesterday or over fifty years ago (okay – a tiny white lie with that one…). But I did know enough to be skeptical. I tried to exit out of the pop-up. No luck – it wouldn’t close. I tried to close all my windows and the Apple wheel of death appeared refusing to budge. So I decided to just shut my computer down (my go-to solution for techy issues). But the computer had totally froze and when I hit the off key it started screaming at me – an unearthly, loud and high-pitched alarm. I frantically tried to stop it by pushing every key on the keypad. Nothing. Totally frozen keyboard and a shrieking computer that hurt my ears.

It felt like satan himself was communicating to me from my computer. (Hmmm…. Now there’s a thought!)

I asked my daughter to quickly access her own device and ask Google if this was a legitimate warning and if I should call the “Rescue” number flashing across my screen. Google isn’t so smart after all: the first thing to appear in her search was an affirmative – Yes, indeed, sometimes Apple will alert you to viruses that are attacking in real time.

So I hurriedly called the number and talked to Rashid. (I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking… the fact that Rashid could barely speak English should have, possibly, been my first clue….) But at first, Rashid was super sweet and helpful. He calmly walked me through the steps necessary to stop the screaming alarm. Then he explained a few more steps that would allow him to interface with my computer, which, he said, was necessary to diagnose the problem. I watched, helplessly, as he navigated the cursor on my screen and moved quickly in and out of windows and in and out of my settings. Then he confirmed my computer had, indeed, been attacked by a wicked virus. The very worst, he said. He pulled up graphs on my screen depicting the damage and just how much of my data had been infiltrated. He said to remove all the infectious material would take about 24 hours and all I had to do was pay $79 and he would fix the whole darn thing.

What a doll, that Rachid.

I may look old and stupid, but I tell you what, once in a while, when the thing is wretchedly stinky, I’m able to smell a rat.

I hung up on Rachid as fast as you can say “India” and slammed my computer shut. I set it in the corner like a bad child and didn’t open it again for 24 hours. The truly honest and genius boy-child at my local computer store fixed everything the next morning in mere minutes. He felt pity for such an old, helpless lady like me to be taken so badly by a hacker that he didn’t even charge me for his services.

Once I calmed down from the debacle, I realized I was actually thankful for everything I learned from Rachid:

1.  We are not in control of squat. As I watched Rachid guiding my cursor all over the screen and clicking away to “convince” me of my desperate need of his services, I felt incredibly helpless. I didn’t know if I should trust him or not – all I knew is this: “I have no control anymore.” It reminded me of how often that is true in life. We want to believe we can control things – but when our child rebels and runs away from home, or our best friend betrays our trust, or we lose our job, or we get the “cancer” call, or we lay our parents down for their eternal rest, or we find out we have a stupid lung disease that’s robbing us of steady breathing and a long life – well, all those moments serve to remind us that we don’t control SQUAT. We are wasting our time and energy trying to control that which we were never meant to have reign over.

2.  Satan is real. A while ago a well-meaning friend told me I look for satan under every bush. She was suggesting that perhaps I give the enemy of our souls more credence than I should. I don’t know, maybe I do. Sometimes I think I just watched too many horror movies in junior high…

But what I know for sure is this: That old Liar roams to and fro looking for ways to steal our joy and wreck our faith in Christ – but the sooner we recognize his schemes the sooner we can put a stop to it! Don’t be afraid to ascribe evil to he who authors it!

3.  We never make good decisions when in the midst of a crisis. When we find ourselves in a crisis, we need to, if possible, BACK AWAY! Give the thing time to simmer down. We need to give ourselves some space to slow our breathing, gain composure, pray, and THEN process the crisis thoughtfully. Only then can we gingerly step forward into finding a solution.

4.  Real, authentic, caring help truly does exist in this world. Go seek it.

5.  Never think too highly of yourself. I was devastated thinking that while Rachid had access to my computer for those 24 hours he was probably reading and stealing all of my information on my computer. My wise, gentle hubby had to (carefully) remind me that I’m not THAT special. We don’t work for the government, we’re not made of millions, and we’re not famous – so what could a hacker really “steal” from my computer that would matter? A blog on how we renovated a crack house??? The little circular I wrote on how to deal with menopause??? The poem I wrote for my dying dad??? Did I really think some hacker from India would steal my Christian memoir book and somehow get publishers to do what I have been unable to do and publish my book under his pseudonym??? Rachid becomes Rachelle and suddenly he is the next Anne Lamott???

 I had to admit, Paul had a point…

6.  If you have nothing to hide, it doesn’t matter who looks at your stuff. Without a single incriminating photo, without essays bashing high-profile people, without massive wealth, and without anything to share except the gospel of Jesus Christ, I should have had NO FEAR of someone stealing my content. In fact, I should have HOPED they would!

My prayer for us today is to not fear the hacker – or anything or anyone set on destroying us. May we be a people unafraid or unashamed of someone looking at our computer content or our browsing history. May we recognize those who are bent on causing pain, hurt and chaos in our lives and STEP AWAY from them whenever possible. And may we not think so much of ourselves or our work that our computer carries more importance than it should.

And may we never forget that when a TRUE crisis arises (and they will, brothers and sisters, they ALWAYS do….) help is only a shout away:

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-8

 

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.