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…

 

 

 

A lament for Heidi

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After a long 24 hour bedside vigil, I was finally able to come home, change my clothes and shower. But it’s not over. I’ll go back to her bedside shortly, and breathe in her precious smell until she smells like heaven.

I know how this goes. My youngest sister will be the fourth beloved, precious family member we will lose in just over a year.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand. What is going on here???

Last year, on Christmas morning no less, we first learned Heidi had a brain tumor. Later that same week we were informed it was glioblastoma – the fastest growing, most deadly and ruthless form of brain cancer with an average prognosis of 12 – 14 months Screaming into Nothingness (when God disappears). Here we are, in month 13 and she is days (maybe hours?) away from dying. Heidi is anything but average, but in death, her numbers will align fairly well with the statistics.

She will leave behind a husband, Chad, who has been her best friend since forever. They were married 23 years. Chad and Heidi have two children – Ashley, 17, a high school senior, and Nate, 14, an eighth grader. Don’t tell me they’ll be okay. They won’t – at least not yet. Their momma is about to die.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand.

It’s NOT okay to lose your momma when you’re a teenager. I have analyzed this situation from every angle and I can find nothing that makes sense or eases the pain. And I think I could punch someone in the face right now who tries to tell any of us how God works all things together for the good.

There is no way this can be good. No way.

Unless, perhaps…. Unless I don’t understand what “good” really is….

As a family we have all wrestled with mortality and God and His plan throughout Heidi’s illness. But one night, while in a long nighttime wrestling match with God, I suddenly wondered if His idea of good is simply not the same as ours. Maybe He doesn’t have a Webster’s. Maybe when He Google’s “good”, He doesn’t read of the things we typically think of (health, wealth, prosperity, fitting into your size 6 jeans, sipping wine along the Cour Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France…)

If God is good, and I have NO DOUBT He is, then His definition of good CANNOT be the same as ours.

Because, Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand you otherwise.

It’s interesting, but in my experience, the things that we typically think of as “good” and as our “blessings” are often the things that create a separation between God and us. They are things that, often unintentionally and often subversively, lead us to believe we don’t need a God. Things like enough money (or too much), enough food (or too much), enough vacation (or too much), enough or too much of everything, as well as the absence of disease and absence of trials.

Conversely, it is the sufferings of this life that bring us to our knees and to the place where we find our desperate need of a Savior.  And I believe that more than anything God longs to draw us closer to Him. He wants nothing more for all to come to know him and accept the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior.

So what if maybe, just MAYBE…., in God’s dictionary, “health” is not the absence of disease, but, instead, one who knows he/she is nothing apart from Christ, and that we live and breathe and have our being in Him alone.  Since God IS good, and longs to give us good things, MAYBE, “health” has nothing to do with our physical bodies.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, “wealthy” does not refer to one who has a hefty savings and retirement account, drives a fancy car, and owns all manner of material possessions. Maybe being wealthy actually means to understand that friends, family and a purpose in life are some of the richest gifts offered to us. Maybe we’re rich when we realize how little we actually need “things” and start living more simply – when we have more time for people instead of accumulating and maintaining our “things”. Maybe wealth is the opposite of what we always thought.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, a “blessing” isn’t a concept we can actually get our heads around. Maybe, saying we’re “blessed” when referring to health, wealth, jobs, children and good fortune causes great pain to those struggling with cancer, infertility, unemployment, a prodigal son/daughter, rape, poverty, oppression, rejection, loneliness, etc. because it implies God has withheld His blessings from those people.  ESPECIALLY – oh especially – when we Christians suggest it is the LACK of faith that produces suffering in this life are we guilty of serious theological malpractice!

Are suffering people NOT blessed???  Are we able to escape all trouble and heartache if our faith is simply strong enough??? When people suffer from the evils in this world is it a reflection of their lack of faith???

Hell no.

It just can’t be. Or God is not good. God must have a different definition of “blessed” then we do.

Otherwise, God, I just don’t understand.

So, I decided to start reading God’s dictionary. I cannot make sense of Heidi’s passing any other way. I need a God who IS GOOD. One whom I can trust even when I’m angry at Him. One who IS PRESENT everywhere. One who doesn’t pick and choose favorites and grant the rich, the beautiful, and those born into first-world countries more “blessings” than the rest.

This is what I found in God’s dictionary:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn – for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart – for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers – for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3 – 10

So as I resume this bedside vigil there are TWO things I can know for sure: Chad and family will be comforted. And Heidi, well, she shall soon see God, for she is truly pure in heart.

This precious family does not have the “blessings” that most people think of – they are in the valley of the shadow of death and this is an impossibly sad and difficult place. But, I’ve just GOT to believe that according to God’s dictionary, they are blessed indeed.

Otherwise, Lord, I just don’t understand. You just don’t make any sense to me.

And then the Lord said to me:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

 

13 Reasons Why I’m posting dog poop and not prom pics

Watching ’13 Reasons Why’ has led me to sharing how my dog is always crapping on our rug.

grace pics 095The Netflix hit series, 13 Reasons Why, has created a maelstrom within the media, parental circles, and my mind. The show is essentially about teenage suicide but largely focuses on bullying and teenage angst. Because of my profession as a psychiatric nurse, I wrestle with these things often. Out of curiosity, I watched the show and lost a lot of sleep mulling it over. The best review I’ve read and the one I most resonate with is from Jamie Tworkowski from “To Write Love on Her Arms”. You can read his summary here.

To help sort things out, I consulted my 16 year old and asked her, “What makes kids bully others?”

She said, “They think they’re ‘all that’ – they’re usually the popular kids.”

So I asked her, “What makes kids popular?”

She said, “Bullying others.” (She’s one part smart and two parts cocky.)

“But why?” I asked, “Why do they think they need to do that?”

She said, “It’s classic psychology, mom. Weak people feel they need to put others down in order to elevate themselves. Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions.”

Ahhh – so once in a while she DOES listen to what we’re telling her…

But her choice of words continued to haunt me: “Strong people are secure in who they are and don’t have any need to adjust other people’s perceptions…..”

And I’ve been vexed ever since about what to do with my own social media – the KING of all perception adjustment. I long to be strong and secure, but, at the same time, I had been accumulating all kinds of clever and envy-worthy pics and posts this spring – just waiting for the exact right time to unload them on all my “friends” and “followers.”

I started to wonder if my “friends” and “followers” were more my “victims.” I started asking: How might my social media posts potentially cause harm to others? And when I answered myself honestly (I’m really good at lying when it comes to myself), I realized many of my posts could be considered bullying – making others feel bad about themselves or their situation. It depends who’s looking at it and from what perspective. But still.  I decided to desist from social media for a while.

That is, until my dog pooped on our rug.

Here are the 13 reasons why (in David Letterman fashion) I felt POOP was worthy of my social media feed:

  1. My friend’s daughter, a senior, did not go to her Junior/Senior prom. Not only did she not have a date, she didn’t even feel she had any girlfriends with whom she could attend. She told her mom that prom night was one of the saddest nights of her life. Hearing this, I knew I could no longer post my daughter’s prom pictures. I know we all want to believe that our “friends” and “followers” want to share in the joy of ALL our good news. Yet, studies consistently find that, for most people, a steady diet of viewing all the things other people are doing will actually INDUCE isolation – the exact OPPOSITE of a “social” media. Sometimes, when we think we’re sharing happy news, it’s really throwing daggers.
  1. One of our kids had their heart shattered this past year – a wound so deep, that many months have passed with very little healing. And when the heartbreaker posts pics and captions revealing a life of joy and new love, my child’s wounds reopen. We simply were NOT meant to see and know everything – and all this access to information that we’d be better off without is making us miserable. I don’t have the answer. Parents, should we cut our kids off from social media? Do we throw their phones away? How do we give them nerves of steel to deal with the barrage of images that are undoubtedly way more information than the human psyche can handle? How do I get those nerves of steel? I don’t know – but this cruel media world is why shows like 13 Reasons Why exist. I wish I had a better answer – but I just think sharing a lot more pictures of doggie defecation wouldn’t hurt.  Life is poopy sometimes.
  1. I have never once posted a photo of a family vacation or shared some terrific news and received the response of “Ah! So glad you shared this! Now I know I’m not alone with my incredible life! I feel so much better knowing your life is as perfect as mine!”  When life is going swimmingly, people aren’t generally lonely.
  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. We cannot REALLY get to know and understand one another until we know each other’s pain. I realize social media is not the venue to find REAL friends, but, when we share glimpses of reality, photos of hard times, and stories of suffering, our “friends” will see we are REAL and maybe, just maybe, we’d start feeling less alone. Maybe that would put the SOCIAL back in the media…
  1. I cannot take a decent photo to save my life. Social media makes those of us who stink at photography appear headless, washed-out, wrinkly, or red-devil-eyed.   Dang – I hope I’m not all those things…. but it feels like just because we sucky photographers don’t have a $1000 camera and a creative eye, we appear “less than.” I say we need SOCIAL MEDIA REFORM – where sucky photographers get Disney passes or something.
  1. Commonly heard among the young today, “Need a pic or it didn’t happen!” This is our culture – everything must be recorded and shared for verification. So, logic says, most people never have anything bad happen to them. No pics of hardship must mean no hardships have happened. But we all know better. So what will it take to get real with one another? Is it possible to put HONESTY into social media???
  1. I sat by a mom I had never met before at my daughter’s recent graduation ceremony. With tears in her eyes, she shared how she never imagined her son would make it to graduation. He has both a learning disability and social cue deficits – but no one would know this by looking at him. When her son walked across the stage, I cried. When my own daughter walked across the stage, I just smiled – because she was always expected to graduate and to do well. Why do we insist on sharing photos and stories of life-things that are totally EXPECTED?

When we learn of one another’s burdens and hardships, we get to experience in the joy of being overcomers – one of the greatest gifts Christ’s death on the cross affords us.

  1. When I wrote about our piece-of-crap house and the trials of fixing-up a fixer-upper (here), I received responses from thousands of people all over the world. They were all experiencing the same thing – DISILLUSIONMENT from HGTV, home magazines, Pinterest, AND social media pics of everyone’s beautiful homes. This has become a huge area where we are (often unknowingly) inflicting inferiority on one another. By constantly posting our beautiful, clean, and perpetually updated homes, we seem to be conveying the message, “I have it all together – and you, OH LOWLY YOU, with an unfinished basement, with weeds in your landscaping, with mounds of laundry in your hallway, with cobwebs in your corners, and with the PVC piping still spanning your sunroom ceiling which the previous tenants had used for stringing cannabis (or wait – that one MAY be just me….), you are such a mess, YOU LOWLY YOU.”

I actually want to see your laundry room on laundry day. I want to see your daughter’s room after six weeks of simultaneous soccer and musical practice. I want to see your kitchen after making a mother’s day meal. I want to see your bathroom after a full week at work. I want to see your garage the day after a garage sale. I want to see your basement storage rooms.

Because I desperately want to feel less lonely.

  1. At work at the psych hospital, I often ask my patients “What are you finding to be the most helpful part of your therapy here?” Hands down, the most common reply is this: “Listening to, and sharing with the other patients. They get me in a way that none of you (staff) can.”   Ah-ha!
  1. Every dog poops. Every dog owner, every day, picks up dog poop. It’s disgusting. But for me, taking a plastic Meijer bag (which, in and of itself, is abhorrent because you have to deal with all those angry stares from the granola moms at the Meijer check-out when you actually request plastic bags….) then turning it inside out to make a glove for myself, reaching down and grabbing my dog’s fresh, warm poop has to be one of the lowest points of my day. BUT, my days have descended to an abysmal low when said dog poops INSIDE our home – which, as she ages, is happening much too frequently.

Dog poop on our rug is one of the milder stories I could share from our lives right now – things have been pretty bad around here lately – but this is where I thought I’d start.  I almost kicked my dog today.  Almost.  I DIDN’T DO IT, OKAY?!?!  I’m just so sick of crap on our rug!!!  My life is light years away from glamorous, and right on the very edge of repugnant.  Is it just me? I’d be lying if my newsfeed reflected something different.

  1. Vulnerability precedes intimacy. I know I already used this one for #10. I’m just checking to see if you’re still reading (REAL bloggers say you should never write more than 1500 words. I’m already at 1600… but hang with me – the last 2 reasons are the best.)
  1. Some of my lowest, most lonely moments in life came right after getting my diagnosis of Lymphanegieoleomyomatosis (LAM). It’s so rare – only a small handful of us women in Michigan have it, and a not much bigger handful in the whole USA. There was no one living near me that I could talk to. And then…. then, I met my Facebook LAM family! Over 2000 women from all over the world connect via this forum. And I suddenly knew that I could deal with this sucky, lung-sucking, sucker of an illness – because ALL of them were dealing with it, too. Those women from all over the world have given me strength.

It sucks to have to talk about your illness on social media. But now even my sister’s family is deriving comfort, prayers and community by sharing her journey of brain cancer on social media. Posting about your “crap” really does help – in some cathartic, Jesus-y, miraculous way.

  1. The old proverb, “Misery loves company,” is incorrect. It should be, “Misery NEEDS company.” We were not made to do this life alone. It’s often the isolation and accompanying sadness that brings some people to take their lives. We NEED to help each other feel less alone. We NEED to share our sufferings. We NEED to become vulnerable with one another. And then maybe, just maybe, people will see they are not as alone as they thought. And maybe, just maybe, we will put the “social” back into our media. And maybe, just maybe, someone will decide to keep pressing on in life instead of the alternative.

Must We Suffer?

images-1The pit in my stomach grew with each pound of the hammer as my husband drove the “For Sale” sign into the ground of our front yard. I wasn’t handling this well – yet he seemed to be strong. But when he stood up and wiped a tear away from his eyes, I became unhinged.

What in the world were we thinking? Why, oh why, are we doing this again? Nobody knows the voice of God for sure anyway, do they? Afterall, it’s not like we HAVE to move to the inner-city – we can afford this beautiful house on this perfect cul-de-sac,  in this highly-desirable neighborhood, in this exemplary school district. So why should we move? Nobody does this. Are we just crazy?

Hoping to outsmart my tears, I ran inside and sat down to write through the pain. Writing’s my jam. My catharsis. But there were no words. I was hollow, empty, hurting, and mad at God.

For no particular reason, I opened up an unfamiliar file on my computer. I didn’t recall writing this piece entitled, “Must we suffer?” – but there it was. I had completely forgotten that about 4 or 5 months ago I had a dream that shook me to the core. I totally believe God sometimes speaks to us in dreams. It’s only happened to me a couple of times before. Only this time it took 5 months for me to receive the application.

 

My Lice Dream

In my dream, we had already made to move to Grand Rapids, the city our family has been preparing to relocate to for the last year. There was some kind of huge community event taking place in our new neighborhood. It was like a rock concert-meets-carnival-meets-church-picnic event. Everyone was happy, roaming around, eating and socializing. There was a young Hispanic girl – maybe 3 or 4 years old – who had taken to me after I smiled at her and offered her a sucker. She didn’t speak any English. And since I only know 10 words of Spanish, we bonded through smiles. Hand-in-hand, we took in music, kiddie rides, and wonderful ethnic food. After a while, she grew weary and I picked her up and carried her. She nestled her head into my shoulder.

A white woman came up to me and whispered in my ear, “You might want to keep a little more distance from that girl. Their family has a chronic problem with head-lice and with your long-hair on your shoulders, you’re just asking for it!”

I looked down at the little girl.  She didn’t understand what had just been said about her. She just looked up into my eyes, smiled, and pointed towards a cotton-candy machine. She was so happy. And she was happiest when I was enjoying her happiness.

HOWEVER, I inwardly cringed. In our six years of life overseas both of our daughters had had several bouts with head lice. I had spent countless nights painstakingly removing those repulsive insects and their nits from the girls’ long hair. It is disgusting and a total pain in the ass. I really did NOT want to get head lice. But even more – I didn’t want to let go of this sweet little girl or disappoint her in any way.

 

I continued to let her cling to me.

 

The next scene in my dream I am standing in front of a mirror and I pull back some of my hair to see the scalp and hopefully discover the source of my itching. And there they were – four or five little bugs, about the size of a sesame seed, scurrying off to find another hiding place on my scalp. I almost gagged.

I went to find the head-lice treatment kit. Since we had just moved into our new-to-us very old home in Grand Rapids, there were boxes everywhere, piles of crap in every corner, and mounds of clothing that would never find a home with these diminutive ancient closets. I went to the hall cupboard hoping to find some lice shampoo and the door fell off the hinges when I opened it. I tried to open the drawers below but one did not have runners and was jammed in a cock-eyed position; the other was painted shut. I felt the bugs running around on my scalp.

I went downstairs to the kitchen because I read somewhere that covering your head in mayonnaise can drown the lice. I had to skip over steps 4 and 9 because they were missing. In the kitchen, I was horrified to discover we hadn’t purchased a refrigerator yet. Apparently, in my dream, we had run out of money before we could finish the renovations. I looked into the family room where strips of 100 yr-old- wall-paper were still hanging from the walls and the ceiling (yes, the idiot owners before us had wall-papered THE CEILING!) I saw several windows that were still broken, huge cracks in the plastered walls, and the front door that didn’t shut properly had let rain seep in all night long. A large pile of rain-worms were soaking in a puddle two feet in front of me.

“This is squalor!” I ranted to myself. “I didn’t agree to live in squalor! I told Jesus we would follow Him to the inner-city and we would just love on people who are different from us. We just wanted diversity in a challenged neighborhood. That’s all! I told Jesus we were willing to leave Hudsonville and family and friends and just do our best to try to live like him in the city. So why does our house have to be nearly condemned and why do I have to have HEAD LICE???”

THEN I KIND OF WOKE UP, AND KIND OF KEPT DREAMING…. I WISH I KNEW FOR SURE IF I WAS AWAKE OR ASLEEP – BECAUSE I HEARD A MESSAGE FROM GOD AND KNEW FOR CERTAIN IT WAS HE WHO SPOKE TO ME. HE SAID:

 

CINDY. DID YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU COULD FOLLOW ME AND NOT SUFFER? DID YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU COULD PRAY TO ME AND ASK TO LIVE LIKE ME AND BE LIKE ME, THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB, YET NEVER HAVE TO SACRIFICE ANYTHING YOURSELF? IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT, CINDY. WHEN YOU COME AND FOLLOW ME AND JOIN ME IN MY WORK, YOU COME TO THE PLACE OF SUFFERING. I NEVER PROMISED ANYTHING DIFFERENT. YET, THE BEAUTY OF FOLLOWING ME IS THAT I WILL CARRY THE BURDEN.”