Derailed

We became empty nesters last August. Because I feared boredom and purposelessness – as well as the fact my medications cost an astronomical amount and my employment offers better prescription coverage – I decided to go back to work full-time. Additionally, after shelving my career for 20 years to raise kids, I was excited to get back into nursing – especially psychiatric nursing.

At least that’s what I told people.  

Another truth is this: I had a big ‘ole chip on my shoulder. I was hell-bent on proving that I physically had what it takes to work a fulltime job like any other healthy 53 year old.

And I did it. I showed myself and the world I can work full-time. But I am definitely not healthy.

I also proved I was living in denial.

The truth is I have a lung-sucking disease and working full time has nearly been the death of me. I kept the job afloat, but nothing else. For seven months I’ve basically done two things: work and sleep. With zero energy left after a day of work, and every day home spent sleeping, I soon felt the sting of deteriorating relationships. I didn’t Skype my kids as much as I/they wanted to. I didn’t spend near enough time with my mom – our last living parent – and I missed her. I had no energy for lunch dates with friends or volunteering in our neighborhood.

Although my pulmonologist says exercise is essential for protecting the last bit of healthy lung tissue I have left, I’ve had no energy to do that either. On top of all THAT, I’m now probably damned to hell, too, because I only went to church ONCE that whole time of working so much.

And maybe, just maybe, the worst part was this:  I stopped writing.

SMELLY PEOPLE GOT ME BACK ON TRACK                                                      

I recently scooted in to my neighborhood Dollar Store that’s sandwiched between an Iraqi-owned liquor store and a Psychic Angel who takes walk-ins. I was running late (surprise!) and I sighed in frustration when I got to the counter and was fourth in line. (The Dollar Store is not typically known for it’s speedy checkout, if you didn’t know…) First in line was a toothless woman, smacking her gums, buying a full week’s worth of groceries. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? The next lady sported a good five-day bed-head, wore pink footed pajamas underneath her coat and boots, and was purchasing four 2-liters of Mountain Dew. AT 9:30 IN THE MORNING??? The guy just ahead of me was lugging his oxygen tank, breathing like Darth Vader, and buying cough syrup, cough drops and fever medicine. LORD, PLEASE LET THIS NOT BE CORONA!!!

My three compatriots smelled like cigarettes, booze, bacon, and body odor.

I rolled my eyes and checked my watch. These neighbors of mine who shop at the Dollar Store to meet all their needs were making me (more) late. I was angry and somewhat disgusted with them. Then the old man ahead of me turned around, and with twinkling eyes and a smile said: “Good thing no one’s in a hurry.” His breath was so hideous I nearly fainted. But God used all those smells to reorient me.

A few years ago, when we moved to the city, I chose my new grocery store in an unorthodox manner. There are two lovely stores close to our home – always clean, well-stocked, nice checkout clerks. But just to the north, through the roughest part of our neighborhood, is one of Michigan’s oldest Meijer stores – but it doesn’t smell quite right. There have been murders in the parking lot. With my first visit, I immediately knew this would be my new “home” store.

Paul was inquisitive about this decision and I explained, “We came here for diversity. I don’t want to smell perfume and flowers when I go shopping, I want to smell humanity.”

Standing in line at the Dollar Store I was struck by how derailed I’ve been. THESE three in line ahead of me are my people! These are the people we moved here for! These are the smells I love because it represents REAL people with REAL needs and REAL hurts. I don’t want to live in a fake utopia. I want to live in the real world and be constantly reminded of the reality of suffering. That is why we moved to Grand Rapids – to DO LIFE with these neighbors.

More than anything, we moved to the city so we could encounter people not like us and spend time with them and learn from them. The LAST thing I wanted to be was too busy, too important, or too good to love them! The LAST thing Paul and I ever wanted to be were typical rat-race-suburbanites simply transplanted to the city and subsequently disgusted with the people around us!

I had been derailed! I forgot who I was!

REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, AND WHOSE YOU ARE

Feeling fairly healthy these last seven years, I’d forgotten a bargain I’d made with God. When I was first diagnosed with LAM, I had told God I’d live my life solely investing in the lives of others if he’d just give me 10 more years to live. But as time progresses and it appears maybe I’ve drawn the long stick with this LAM disease and might even live considerably longer than 10 years, I forgot about living my life with total intentionality. Sure, I can make good money working, but there’s not a damn thing I want in this life that money can buy.

And then – dang – if God didn’t use ZEPHANIAH of all books to speak to me this week: “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

I had made plenty of “silver and gold” during my derailment, but I’m terrified of the thought of my entrails spread out like dung because I had chosen money over matter.

THE BEAUTY OF DERAILMENT

However, the good news is this: derailment does not have to mean train wreck. It doesn’t mean all is lost. It doesn’t mean throw in the towel or burn it all down. The beauty of derailment is that, if we’re willing, it can be corrected.

God never moves, but sometimes we do. His train tracks are eternally secure, we just sometimes veer off them. But he is always patient with us and will wait as long as it takes for us to get back on track.

“Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:40

“And I am confident of this very thing, that he who begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Phillipians 1:6

So I’m back to volunteering, spending time with friends and family, and taking long walks with Paul while we solve the world’s problems. And I’m back to writing again.

Here we go!

(p.s. If you want to stay informed of my book progress, please sign up with your e-mail address on my website so you can receive my newsletter updates and prayer requests)

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!

Reboot: The Beauty of not being good enough – (Getting “Cut” from the team)

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My daughter got cut from the varsity volleyball team this fall. Having poured herself into that sport for the last four years and with dreams to even play in college, it was a blow of colossal proportions. Yet a virtual stranger who probably doesn’t recognize the power she wields decided, “Nope. You’re not good enough for me.”

“Cuts” are so aptly named, aren’t they? It actually feels like a physical cut: leaving one wounded, bleeding…. in pain. And the injury didn’t just end with Grace – her “cut” deeply wounded me and Paul as well. Maybe even worse. Nothing hurts us more than our children hurting… Grace came home after cuts and while wrapped up in each other’s arms we bled all over the couch together for a while. Eventually she smiled, got up, and said “I have no more tears. I’m tired” and she went to bed.

No matter how hard we parents try to create a justification for this indignation (blaming, shaming, name-calling, conspiracy-theory, etc.) the cold-hard reality of the situation, which we eventually have to come to terms with, is that our child was just told: “You are not worthy. You are not good enough. I did NOT choose you.” That’s the bald truth and it stings.

By morning the sting had dissipated some and I was thankful I hadn’t acted in haste and posted something nasty on Facebook or Twitter.

But on the second day a miracle happened. It was a Saturday, which is a day traditionally OWNED by volleyball. But now, having a totally free Saturday, Grace, Yulisa and I chose to participate in a peaceful protest in Grand Rapids. Afterwards, we went out to a swanky coffee shop for tea and scones. We sat outside in the sunshine and faced the street and pretended we were Europeans. We talked about civil rights, civil duties, religious freedoms, and standing up for what you believe in. We talked about Thoreau, Rosa Parks, and MLK. We talked about making your life count.

Between sips of chai, she gifted me with this: “Mom, I wouldn’t trade this moment, this conversation, this day spent with you guys for anything. Not even volleyball.”

I wanted to say this: “You have no idea what this means to me, baby. No idea. Having a terminal illness, I want to be so selfish with your time. Truthfully, I want it ALL. This sacred time with you girls beats cheering you from the side-lines, which is really no interaction at all, a million to one. Every time.”

Instead, I pondered those thoughts quietly and we three just held hands and wept a little.

And then we came up with an idea. We decided to begin a list of all the things she now COULD do because of the time reclaimed sans volleyball. Every one of us has been given only 24 hours in a day – and no one can say “yes” to everything. And while most people try to deny this, the truth is that whenever we say “yes” to something, it represents something else we are saying “no” to. Grace wanted to call out, and clearly identify what all those “something else’s” were in her life.

On school nights and Saturdays when she would have normally been playing volleyball, she was now able to participate in a variety of incredible things – things not limited to, but including the following:

  • Breakfast with her youth group leader
  • Sprawled out on her bed with Yulisa – sharing earbuds– giggling and listening to hours of music together
  • Dinner with long-time family friends discussing things like Middle-eastern and South-African politics, saving dating until college, and the role of the church with immigration – which required us to stay out way past midnight on a Friday night but not caring because we were going to SLEEP IN on a Saturday for once!
  • A day of boating/tubing with her friends (friends that SHE chose, not whom volleyball chose FOR her)
  • Visiting her grandma at the nursing home
  • A family birthday celebration at a snazzy restaurant where no one was rushed and we gorged ourselves on bottomless sweet potato fries and drank root beer floats till we were dizzy.
  • Took a road trip with her siblings to see Ben Rector in concert in Detroit.
  • Cheered on her HS soccer team, tennis team and swim team – realizing if EVERYONE is a participant, then NO ONE is a spectator. And everyone enjoys playing more with spectators present.
  • Playing her guitar and singing with the praise team for her youth group.
  • Went “thrifting” with a dear friend and she found a $75 sweater for $5.

And this is only a partial list from the first couple of weeks….

Upon reviewing that list, we came to a profound conclusion: It’s as if God had an actual plan for her life all along, so perfectly tailored for Grace and her giftedness, that at this juncture, there simply wasn’t time for volleyball anymore. It’s as if, in God’s brilliantly upside-down kingdom, He was saying, “Grace, you didn’t get cut, you were chosen!”

It’s not that volleyball is bad, it’s just not the team Grace was chosen FOR.

  • What if Grace’s youth group leader composed a team? She’d say, “Grace! I choose you!”
  • What if Grandma made a team? She’d day, “Grace! I want you! You’re chosen!”
  • What if her friends made up a team? They’d say, “Grace! We choose you!”
  • What it the community put together a team? A team of young go-getters who epitomize service to others? They’d surely say, “Grace, we want you!”
  • What if our family was a team? (and I do believe we are) – We’d raise our collective voices and say, “Grace! Welcome back to our team!”

Yep – Grace got cut from volleyball. But look at all the teams that DID choose her!

So if you, or anyone you love, has ever been “cut” from a team – or the musical, or the band, or from a university, or the [insert thing that you wanted so badly but didn’t get] – maybe we just need to ask a different question.

Maybe the question isn’t, “Why did I get cut?”

But instead, “For what have I been chosen?”

 

 

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

 

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.

**********

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???