Is it possible that snow in April, stupid lung diseases, and other atrocities could be good for us?

IMG_3843.jpgWe lived in the most glorious, sunny, mountainous and palm-treed locations both times that we lived abroad. Aix-en-Provence, France and Casablanca, Morocco are two dreamy places to have once been called “home”.

While living abroad, we met people from all over the states, as well as from around the world. Then we all moved on and returned to our “homeland” which means we now have friends scattered around the globe.

Visiting some of our friends in Southern California for the first time changed everything for me and my “Best Places In the World to Live” list. To be honest, my first thought when I encountered the beauty of southern California was not that I wished to live there, but one of feeling sorry for my Californian friends. Let me explain:

To me, the south of France and Morocco were these magical, breathtakingly beautiful holy sites where God revealed Himself to me. I cried the first time I saw the French Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, the palm-tree lined streets of Casablanca, and the Sahara Desert (to be fair, I do cry a lot…) Every time I encountered new beauty my Michigan-eyes had never known, I was left speechless, breathless, and entered a holy state of worship for a God who could (and would) create such beauty. My Michigan-eyes had beheld a LOT of glorious things in our mitten state, but just nothing like mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, oh – and that elusive SUNSHINE!!! (Today, on April 11, it snowed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Need I say more???)

So when on my inaugural trip to California I discovered identical beauty – mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, sunshine (which can all be seen AT THE SAME TIME, for heavens sake!) – I realized that there was NO WAY my Californian friends could have felt the same depth, love, and appreciation that I did while we all lived in France and Morocco. There is no way that they woke up every day and said, “Lord have mercy! Another sunny day!” (as I did). There is no way they took endless pictures of palm trees (as I did). There is no way they walked the beaches every day and said, “God in heaven, help me to carry this moment with me forever – even into the polar vortex that is bound to hit in the middle of my future Michigan winters” (as I did).

I was CAPTIVATED by the weather and the landscape of those two countries – but only because I come from a backdrop of cold, snowy, and relatively flat Michigan. My California friends who also lived in France and Morocco with us must have greeted each new day with “Just another day in paradise.”

And that difference in our two experiences is such a CRUCIAL thing for us to remember when life gets hard, ugly, disappointing or blizzard-y.

A light shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

Comfort is only as comfortable to the degree of discomfort it relieves.

Joy is only as joyful as the sorrow from which it rescues.

Pain relief is only helpful to the degree of suffering it relieves.

God is only as good as to the depth of which we recognize our sin and need of a Savior.

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When we meet people who (seem) to come from a very “charmed” life – who basically seem to escape all suffering in this life (they are smart, rich, thin, never struggled with teenage acne, their kids all make good choices, no cancer, disease, or disorders, no bad hair days, and their dog never poops on the living room rug… Kind of like the sun is always shining in their lives. You know the type…) well, it is tempting for us to wish we were them. It seems like THAT would be the life we all want and should strive (pray) for.

But I wonder…. I wonder if we’d be missing out on some very important things God wants to show us if our lives were void of the pain, the messy, the heartache (the snow?) I wonder if there are actually parts of GOD we would not know if we never knew pain, suffering, hurt and loss.

Why are we given so many different names for God if we’d never need them? If we all pursued and achieved the “charmed” life without any pain and suffering, certainly there are attributes of God we would never know.

 

How can we know God as our DELIVERER if we’re never in a horrible place from which we need delivering?

How can we know God as our COMFORTER if we’ve never been uncomfortable?

How can we know God as our HEALER and GREAT PHYSICIAN if we’ve never known illness or disease or suffered emotional/spiritual brokenness?

How can we know God as our PROVIDER if we’ve never ached for provision?

How can we know our God, the PRINCE OF PEACE if we’ve spent our whole lives avoiding conflict, running from adversity, never challenged?

How can we know our God, the SANCTUARY, if we’ve never been in a place of needing protection?

How can we know God as a REFUGE FROM THE STORM if our lives are always “sunny”?

How can we know God as the BREATH OF LIFE if we never recognize our desperate need for Him in ALL things?

How can we know God as our SHEPHERD if we never see ourselves as lowly sheep?

 

I’m not in any way suggesting we shouldn’t live in California! Nor am I saying God gives suffering – I believe HE IS PERFECT and would never author pain, loss, and suffering. But I do believe, with all my heart, that through the suffering we discover a God we hadn’t previously known – and we come to experience Him and love Him more fully, deeper and truer.

And, after all, isn’t that what He wants most from us???

 

 

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.

The Best and Worst Christmases Ever

It’s not the circumstances that define whether a Christmas is a “good one” or a “bad one” – it’s the recognition of His name…

images            People love to reminisce of Christmases past. But for me, reflecting on past Christmases will always present a horror: It was Christmas morning, 2016, when we received the call that my youngest sister Heidi was in the hospital. It’s serious, they said. Come right away.

            That may always be our worst Christmas – discovering Heidi had glioblastoma brain cancer and was given a year or two to live. The following Christmas, Heidi made it to the party, but barely. She joined Jesus just two weeks later.

There is simply no JOY in that story. None. How do we as a family keep that memory from stealing our JOY this Christmas and every year to follow? I wasn’t so sure it was possible…

But, in spite of myself, I did some Christmas reflection – searching for Christmases past that would hopefully stir some joy-filled memories. This is what I remembered:

Our first Christmas living in France was life-altering and left a permanent imprint. Since it was our first time living abroad, I was clueless on what to bring from the states and never even considered Christmas decorations. It seemed so frivolous. But as that first Christmas rolled around, we soon realized our house looked sad. We had zero decorations and basically no budget to buy any.

We told the kids to lower their expectations for Christmas that year – things would be VERY different on the east side of the Atlantic. There wouldn’t be multiple family gatherings. There’d be no snow or skiing outings. There’d be no trips to the mall or shopping sprees. And there’d be no drives through wealthy suburbs to look at Christmas lights. In fact, because we used our life’s savings to live in France (which bottomed out quickly from the rapidly declining dollar value), we explained that funds just weren’t available for presents. We prepared them for a simpler Christmas where we’d just focus on Jesus’ birth.

The kids had become so used to things being different from “back home in Michigan” that the news didn’t create much of a stir.

But one day, it was crafty Grace who could take it no more and started making paper-chains. With zero colored paper, she just made one extremely long chain with white computer paper. On her insistence, but to my chagrin, I hung that chain across the long expanse of our family room/dining room. It looked pathetic – like a 4-year-old had made it – because one had.

Christmas was two weeks away and so far we had one lonely white paper-chain draped across the family room like a sagging clothesline. But I swallowed my Christmas pride and told Grace we needed several more paper chains to complete the look. She made eight more and once they were strung up, the whole family room/dining room had a white paper-chain canopy overhead and it looked kind of, well, wintery. It may also have looked like a third-grade classroom in a poor inner-city school district, but hey, it was something.

We couldn’t find a Christmas tree farm to save our provincial butts. So we tracked down a 4-foot potted Scotch pine at a local nursery and plopped it on a table in the corner. It would have given even Charlie Brown grief. However, I sat little Gracie down with more white computer paper strips and she made more paper-chains for the tree. We then strung popped popcorn to make more garland. The following day a family who was moving back to the states stopped over with a box of junk they couldn’t fit in their luggage. At the bottom of the box were two strings of white lights. Jesus loves me, this I know.

Next, I showed the kids how to make paper snowflakes. They plastered them all over our windows and French doors. If there had been Instagram back then my pics would have received many likes. The kids’ excitement was mounting.

Miraculously, we received two unexpected deliveries. First, a huge package in the mail containing gifts from my family in Michigan – one for each of our kids. There would be gifts on Christmas morning after all! Second, a whole suitcase of surprises arrived (carried over by a random Michigan acquaintance). It was sent with love from the Outreach Team at our church. Inside we found all sorts of Christmas wonder: gifts for each of us, Christmas cookie cutters, sprinkles and icing, Christmas movies, wrapping paper and gift bags, wooden ornaments, a rustic-looking table runner, and a wooden angel tree-topper. Adding those decorations to our white winter-wonderland made everything chic and modern-farmhouse-like. I am the OG Joanna Gaines…

On Christmas Day, we started the day with pancakes (because as long as you have flour, eggs, milk and baking soda, they taste the same on every continent), followed by a reading of the Christmas story – slowly this year – to fill the gap left from all the things that usually fill Christmas Day. Next, we opened those precious few gifts – again, much slower than Christmases past – savoring the meaning and thought behind each one.

That afternoon, we met up with another family and filled over 100 small bags with Christmas candy and a little piece of scripture that shared the good news that Jesus was born and still lives today! Our combined tribe of ten spent the whole afternoon passing out the candy bags to passers-by in the city of Aix. We laughed and sang and danced in the streets. We successfully made most of those serious French people smile! This– this act of love that we never would have had time for on a typical Michigan Christmas Day – this was truly the spreading of Christmas cheer.

Without fail, whenever asked about their favorite Christmas while growing up, all four of our kids will say their Christmas in France. It was the simplest Christmas ever – barely any gifts and no real parties – but the kids unanimously pick it as their favorite. Isn’t that telling?

My revelation has been this: from the worst of Christmases to the best of Christmases, it isn’t about where we are, who we are with, what things look like or taste like, or whether we receive the Fit-bit we asked for. And furthermore, it’s definitely NOT about what crisis we may be in the middle of. Christmas is ALL about Christ stepping IN TO those situations and circumstances and bringing us the same reminder and promise year after year after year – He is with us.

It’s really not the circumstances around us that define whether a Christmas is defined as a “good one” or a “bad one”. Even as I continue to grieve Heidi’s passing and I reminisce over special Christmases spent abroad, all I really need to know (all any of us really need to know!) to have the most JOYous of holidays is so simple (yet so easily missed) – it is the recognition of the power of the name: Immanuel.

Immanuel – God with us. When we know that, believe that, in live in that truth, Christmas is beautiful. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re going through, Jesus is our Immanuel. Rejoice!!!

 

 

Then Sings My Soul

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This is us – in France – because I’m determined to live “all-in” until God calls me home.

 

Five years ago today I found out I’m dying. People try to make me feel better by saying: “Aren’t we all?” But five years ago today, they told me I had a lung disease that would most likely take my life many years prematurely.

Since that dreadful pre-Thanksgiving day in 2013, I’ve learned a lot about LAM and so has the medical community at large. We’ve learned that early diagnosis improves prognosis and with increased awareness of this rare disease, we’re starting to diagnose sooner. Since being diagnosed, the FDA has approved a chemo-drug that slows down the progression of the disease. The drug sucks – I get all the side-affects – but I’m still thankful for it because it does seem to have slowed my case of this lung-sucking disease. Many women aren’t so fortunate – it seems younger women get a more progressive case of the disease and some have lost their lives only five years after diagnosis.

When I was first diagnosed, all the literature said 10 years was the average life expectancy with LAM. Now, with our new ass-kicking drug and earlier diagnosis, many are saying prognosis could be much longer – perhaps even 20 – 25 years! It all depends if you get the “fast track” or the “slow track”. I’ve never been very fast at anything, so I’m figuring my odds are good.

Plus, I feel great. I totally live my life with hardly any concessions. I’m more tired than I’d like to be, but that seems to be the pandemic American curse and so I’ll never know if that is LAM or life. I like naps, but who doesn’t? And my other middle-age friends (the honest ones, anyway), say they’ll steal a nap whenever they can, too! I cannot, however, climb too many stairs at a time and our four level home is soon to become an issue. I don’t know what the heck the deal is with stairs – I feel like I could climb a tree, but not stairs. It’s weird.

Five years ago I wrote about my initial reaction to getting LAM.  At the time, I thought I’d be fortunate if I were able to live 10 years. I am more optimistic today, but still look at every new year as a total gift – one God didn’t have to grant me.

Every day, every breath – a gift.

But I’m also reminded almost every day that I am not exactly healthy. The worst – the VERY worst thing about LAM thus far has been the slow revelation that I cannot sing like I used to. Last week in church the worship leader picked out the best, most awe-inspiring worship songs ever and as I tried to belt out the alto part, I lost my breath. A lot. I was gasping for air and had to stop singing. Then came a coughing fit. This now happens every week in church.

Those that know me best know how I adore music. It’s always playing in our home, my car, my head. When we built our dream home (that we later sold – to live more simply so others could simply live) I told my husband I wanted central stereo more than I wanted central plumbing! (He graciously granted me both.) I like ALL things musical – instrumental music, piano, orchestra, opera, concerts, musicals AND all genres of singers/bands. On one playlist I have Maroon 5, Queen, the Civil Wars, Lady Antebellum and Mercy Me – no joke. Our last two music concerts were Justin Timberlake and Ben Rector. If it has a musical note attached, I’ll listen. And, despite a ridiculous high probability I’ll get the words wrong, I’ll ALWAYS sing along!!!

The thing is, this past Sunday, when I lost my breath and couldn’t continue singing, we were smack-dab in the middle of Amazing Grace – the place in the song with that bone-tingling crescendo. You know it. No one can help but belt out this line: THEN SINGS MY SOUL, MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE…

Did you hear that? How amazing is that??? My voice need not sing, because:

THEN SINGS MY SOUL!!!

Oh the joy I felt! My soul can sing! Forever and ever amen – NO DISEASE can ever stop my soul from singing!!

At that moment, I noticed that both my husband (to my left) and my daughter (to my right) were singing at the top of their lungs: THEN SINGS MY SOUL, MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE…. A row behind us was a rich, full baritone voice harmonizing in the bass clef. Somewhere, very close by, because all I could do was listen at this point, I heard a powerful soprano singing at the top of her lungs. She gave me chills. And the “choir” surrounding me there in church seemed to be encircling me, saying, “No worries, Cindy, we got you covered.” They did not know it, but they were carrying me that day – they helped me feel and know the music and assured me that I always have been, and always will be able to say to my God: How Great Thou Art.

Even though, to us (our entire family), life feels like it may always be a series of loss upon loss upon loss from here on out, miraculously, there also seems to be an invisible net that keeps us from falling – splat – onto the cement bottom of life. With every loss, I truly anticipated the fall – hitting hard pavement – splayed out and bloody with zero chance of recovery.

But it never happened.

Somehow, some supernatural hand grabbed me from my belt loops and snatched me up and carried me back to the functioning world.

Many times I didn’t want to keep functioning. Sometimes I felt the darkness of depression sneaking in and it made me want to scream at people or at the very least, ignore them. Sometimes I wanted to stay in bed all day and pretend Heidi is still alive. Sometimes, still, I want to run and run and run and see if my lungs will explode. Sometimes I want to run far away and move to Aix-en-Provence, France and just pretend the problems of this world aren’t real. But that same supernatural hand that reached down and pulled me from certain pavement splattering, draws me back with supernatural power to life.

He tells me it will all be worth it in the end – that all this pain and suffering is not wasted if I choose to grow from it. He lovingly shows me all the things that make life worth living for – even if I can’t sing anymore. He sweetly reminds me that if I’m still living, then I’m supposed to be here.

Five years later. Another pre-Thanksgiving day – another reminder that my lungs are giving out on me. But it also reminds me that my soul shall never cease the singing of His praises. No one can ever snatch that away from me.

And for that, I can truly be thankful.

THEN SINGS MY SOUL,

MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEE,

HOW GREAT THOU ART,

HOW GREAT THOU ART

 

What Does God Smell Like?

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It’s been six weeks since Heidi died. I have spent innumerable hours thinking about her in heaven. I like Revelation 7:9-17 best for a descriptive image of what she does with all her time. Without any cancer, suffering, work, eating, sleeping, etc. – just imagine all the time we’ll have for praising God in heaven!

 

But lately, for some odd reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about what things Heidi smells in heaven. I wonder if she now smells the way God smells – and I don’t mean in the sense as to what scent they give off, but how does God’s almighty and perfect olfactory sense work? What smells does He smell when he takes a whiff?

 

What is a pleasing aroma to God? What scents does He fill the heavens with? And therefore, what do the inhabitants of heaven smell when they take a whiff?

 

I have a friend* who has, for as long as I’ve known her, worn the same perfume. She must really like the scent. I think it smells like a hideous combination of mosquito repellent and my grandma’s bathroom spray.  Which I find curious.

 

I have another friend* who has severe haliotosis. I take a (hopefully) subtle small step back whenever we’re in conversation. Not-too-ironically, her husband is somewhat of a close-talker. Not only that, he’s also touchy-feely. He’s always hanging all over her – right up close – smelling that bad breath. Does he not notice? I wonder.

 

I know some other people* whose home smells like a decomposing animal. (We used to have packs of wild dogs roam our neighborhood in Morocco and they would sometimes fight to the death. I know all too well what a rotting dead animal smells like.) These are decent people who have regular jobs and clean their house and do laundry and such. I don’t think they’re hiding anything (taxidermy? Animal sacrifice???). But do they not notice the abhorrent smell of their home? I wonder.

 

All these things have made me wonder about our own human olfactory sense. Because, clearly, God has made us all to smell things differently. What seems abhorrent to one, seems decent, even lovely and pleasant to another. It’s incredible!

 

And so I wonder about God. Since He is GOD and the very CREATOR of the distinctly unique olfactory sense within each one of us, certainly His olfactory sense must be distinctly different from OURS!

 

And, interestingly, the Bible frequently talks about aromas. It is no secret that some are truly pleasing to God and others are not. Genesis 8:21, Leviticus 2:2, Leviticus 6:15, Ephesians 5:2, Ezekial 20:41, Isaiah 5:24, Ezekial 8:17.

 

So how do we know when we’re smelling that which perhaps God finds pleasing? Could it be we’re missing the divine in certain smells because we’re tripped up by our own noses?

 

I recently met a woman new to my neighborhood and she asked where I shop for groceries. I told her whenever I have enough time, I prefer Aldi’s because of the incredible savings. She pulled up her nose and said she refuses to shop there. “It stinks,” she said.

 

I know what she means. Aldi’s has a distinct smell. It smells like busy, haggard single moms trying to make ends meet. It smells like daycare. It smells like tired and worn out dads working two physically laborious jobs. It smells like people forced to view deodorant, shampoo and soap as luxuries. It smells like families who have chosen to eat over getting the washing machine fixed. It smells like humanity – real live people working hard to make it in this life and that includes shopping at Aldi’s. I wondered: What if the Aldi’s scent is a pleasing aroma to God because of all it represents?

 

Does God maybe even prefer the smell of Aldi’s to that of the fancy grocery store on the other side of town that pumps a new-baked cookie smell down every aisle to encourage over-spending and over-consumption?

 

Does God smell those differences and do they represent the differences in humanity to Him?

 

A few years ago, a dear friend and I traveled to Guatemala together. In awe of returning to the country we both love so much, we walked through the airport terminal in silence. When we reached the lobby, we simultaneously set our bags down. In a totally unplanned moment, we both breathed in deep and let the smells of Guatemala fill our nostrils. I said, “I love this smell.” She said, “Me, too.”

 

Guatemala smells like one part exhaust, two parts green chilis, three parts burning rubbish, and four parts body odor. I would imagine many human nostrils would not find it pleasant. But to me, it represents the birthplace of my daughter, the multiple service-learning trips we have taken there and also, some of the most poor, hard-working, and forgotten people on the planet. I love their smell, because it reminds me of them.

 

I wondered – does God love their smell, too? Could it be God loves the smell of Guatemala, Burundi, Haiti, and the Congo (just to name a few) because He is always close to the poor, the broken, the downhearted?

 

I wonder if God is drawn to the funky smells of this earthly home – simply because that’s where the majority of His hurting people are. Slums of Mumbai. Garbage city of Cairo. La Limonada of Guatemala. Under the highway overpass. Mission for the homeless (in your city and in mine). And millions of other places most of us are unaware exist.

 

Our family has lost four beloved family members in just a little more than a year. I have been at the bedside for each one in their last few days here on earth. Repeatedly, in those final days, those of us gathered at the bedside would comment that it felt like our loved one had one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. That space – that liminal space between heaven and earth, life and death, old body and new, is probably the most holy space I’ve ever had the privilege to enter. And there is a distinct smell in that holy of holies. I wonder if that is because they start to smell like heaven.

 

I do not believe heaven will smell like lilacs, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, or lavender fields. Some people might like those things (me), but certainly, there are those who do not!

 

I think heaven has a smell all it’s own and just like most things in heaven – it will surprise us.

 

* In order to protect the innocent, I have changed some vital information so that there is virtually no way anyone could figure out who I am talking about here.  I may or may not have changed the gender of the referred upon.  I may or may not have been referring to more of an acquaintance than a long-time friend.  I may or may not have been referring to someone from my past (or present).  I may or may not have been referring to someone deceased (or alive).  Even Paul, who should know these stories well, could not guess who I was referring to.  So rest easy, all my friends – it’s not you…