Trees

When we moved back from Morocco, I noticed a lot of dead trees – many more than what I remembered from before our move. I kept mentioning this to others and they’d say they hadn’t noticed and then they’d look at me quizzically, as if their worst fears were realized: Yep. She was brainwashed by some crazy Islamist over there and now, not only does she love Muslims, she’s lost her grip on reality, too.

But I am convinced trees are dying at a more rapid rate than they used to. Kinda like people right now.

PATRIARCH TREES

All this virus stuff propagating thoughts on death and disease has made me consider these dead trees. And I’ve observed a few things: The biggest and oldest trees grow taller every year and push farther heavenward as they seek the sun. They are like wise, old patriarchs who are masters at protecting, nurturing, sheltering and beautifying. Their tall, sturdy trunks reveal years and years of battle scars: they have fought valiantly in many a storm. Their inside rings secretly reveal their age and their bark tells the stories eternally etched as lover’s initials or all those who “were here.” Further inspection discloses nooks and crevices that served as safe havens to multiple needy forest creatures over the years. Even into old age, their role for the world so evident: Their roots go so deep, they are unshakeable.

These trees have done their good work for decades, maybe even centuries. But eventually, they will tire and fade and die because nothing lasts forever. And they will most certainly be missed by anyone who notices the trees. Something vital and essential to our landscape will be gone! However, GOOD NEWS!  The old trees have left behind numerous smaller trees in their perimeter and they have now grown to the point where they are ready to mature independently. Why are these young trees so ready and able? Because they have been nurtured, protected, and sheltered by the taller, bigger, and older trees! And you know what happens when the old trees finally die? The little ones below suddenly receive more sunlight! They are able to push heavenward a little easier without the heavy shade of the older trees!

REVERENCE

This is what I’ve noticed in best communities: they revere the old trees. They surround them with beauty like flowers or hostas and a bench. Often, the bench has a gold commemorative plaque honoring someone who did some good thing. Passersby will stop and read the plaque, sit on the bench and admire the tree that shades it. They’ll run their hands over the bark and try to figure out how old the tree is and who the people are behind all the carved initials.

No one digs up old trees and places them all in one location so they can die huddled together, spreading diseases faster than a forest fire. No, the tall, old trees are out in the public square, in the parks and in our yards. We revere those trees because we know they’ve EARNED their spot and their recognition. We sit beneath them and thank them for their years.

Why can’t the same be true for elderly people?

What if we sat at the feet of elderly people and revered them and appreciated their experiences and wisdom? What if we asked them if we could feel their skin and wrinkles? What if we asked Grandma how she met Grandpa? What if we asked them how they chose their professions? What if we asked what it was like to live during World War II? What if we asked them if they had old journals or diaries and if we could read them together? What if we asked them what kind of music they listened to growing up and then listened to it together? What if we made plaques commemorating what astounding individuals they are and put them on their doorposts so everybody could see? What if we respected the elderly as much as we respected old trees?

A PRAYER FOR THE TREES

I asked my mom about the tree comparison recently. At 79 years old, she says she is ready to “bow out” of the woods and let the younger trees rise up and take her place. She told me all her (older) friends feel the same way. She said it’s okay if a crazy virus takes her life. “God knows the number of my days. It’s the classic circle of life. I’m okay to make way for you younger trees to rise up and have your time in the sun.”

My prayer for you and for me, is that as we age, we can be like the trees.

May we all, at the end of our days, be able to say our roots go down deep, that we provided shelter and food and a home for those in our vicinity with need. May our exterior not be perfect, but showing clear signs of wear and tear that signify we have lived fully – engaged in the difficult but necessary work of life. May we say that although our presence in the “forest” around us ended, we did, indeed, encourage growth to our surroundings and may we look about us and recognize a whole forest of younger people ready to take over our many roles of service. And may those young people look up to us patriarch trees and say, “It has been nice having you in my forest. I’d never be who I am today without you in my life.”

How Not To Die

This is not to be confused with deceptive click-bait leading you to think I have the secret to staying alive in this health crisis. Heck if I know – I don’t even think Dr. Fauci really knows. Me? I’m sitting all alone in a cabin sucking on oranges, doubling up on multi-vitamins, and binge-watching TV COVID updates like it’s the new season of Stranger Things. My only human interaction is shouting across the yard to my drunk hippy neighbors and FaceTiming the kids.

No, the nature of this post is quite the opposite of how to stay alive.

Let’s be honest, every one of us – at some point since hearing about this deadly virus – has thought about dying. Who wouldn’t? This thing is a killer and whether we believe it or not, we will all be touched in some grisly way by this virus. I don’t think any of us were ready to be thrust into morbid conversations about sickness, PPE, viral load, pandemics, and a TV-ticker that literally counts the dead. Yet suddenly EVERY stinkin’ one of us has to concern ourselves with the reality that “it” could be coming for us. Even us.

Generally speaking, our culture is not all that adept in dealing with dying. We value LIFE! YOUTH! ACTION! STRENGTH! and don’t give much credence to the reality of sickness, tragedy, suffering and the inevitable end to our existence. We like to put old people in homes so we don’t have a daily reminder of our own mortality. We would rather pour our hard earned money into removing our facial wrinkles, coloring over our grey hair and adding long, lush eyelashes as opposed to taking care of grandma. We prefer to minimize, ignore, or even deny the reality of death.

I know I did, anyway.

That was, until I had no choice but to deal with it.

I’ve had a head start on the general population to contemplate death when I was diagnosed with a really crappy lung disease about six years ago. Early on, the prognosis was grim with most websites giving between 5-15 years to live. I’ve been extremely fortunate and it seems my disease progress is on the slower end of that spectrum. Still, I’ve given a lot of thought to my death and how to die well.

Morbid, I know. But I was recently brought back to some of the most powerful insights on dying from Morrie Schwartz as he shared them with his former student, Mitch Albom in Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is my favorite:

“When you know how to die, you know how to live.”

Isn’t that brilliant? Perhaps if our culture WOULD give more thought and discussion to dying, perhaps we’d live BETTER! Let’s not miss this opportunity the coronavirus has given us to stare down death and ask ourselves, do I know how to die? And therefore – do I know how to live?

When I received my LAM diagnosis, I came up with many things I wanted to do differently with my truncated life. Anyone who knows me knows I’m totally a work in progress, but when I was handed an approximate expiration date, I was forced to evaluate my preparedness to exit this reality. I came up with several ways I knew I did NOT want to die:

Angry – You know that feeling when your heart is racing, your stomach is churning – nearly to the point of vomit – and you break into a cold sweat whenever you see that certain person or even hear their name? You know what I’m talking about? Yeah, that. I definitely don’t want to die with any of that in me.

Unforgiving – I’m sure you’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. No way would I want to take that kind of toxicity to the grave with me. I’m still working on reaching out to all the people I’ve struggled to forgive in my life. I wasn’t able to forgive my dad for the hurt he caused me before he died – and I grieve that critical omission to this day. Forgiving is an important work. But it is work.

Afraid – Am I afraid of this virus? Heck yeah. I once heard pastor Ed Dobson, who was dying of ALS, say: “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of the getting dead.” Exactly. The only way we can go into that dark night – whether that be this week, next week or thousands of weeks from now – without fear is to know our eternal salvation is secure, to be able to say, “My soul is good, I’m ready to go.”

Bitter – This is the ugly twin sister to unforgiveness. But bitterness can actually CAUSE high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach issues and lost sleep. I know I don’t want to DIE with bitterness in my soul – but even moreso, who would want to LIVE like that? People can spot if we’re bitter even from outside a 6 ft. social distance. And it’s so unbecoming. No one wants to hang around bitter people – not in life or death. Lord, take my bitterness away.

Rich – One thing I know is that those who die with lots of money, still die. And having an accountant husband I’ve learned it’s practically a sure thing that when the rich die, they WILL leave behind seismic family feuds and division amongst the children. Who would WANT that for their offspring? I don’t want to die with any money – I think life is best lived by giving away as much as humanly possible. I just read this article about the Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. There is little doubt COVID-19 will destroy them when it enters their camps. Our money is about all that can help them right now. There must be at least a million different ways we could use our money right now. Come on, Christians – let’s BE the church!

Alone – Worse than actually dying from COVID-19, I’m more afraid of gasping for my final breaths all alone in the ICU without Paul or my kids at my side. The fact that visitors are not allowed in hospitals at all anymore feels like a big win for satan as his tactic is always to isolate then destroy. I’ve even decided that should I contract the virus, I’m gonna stay home until I recover or succumb. I want my people with me. I know the proper Christian response is that with Christ, I’m never truly alone. I know that. But that doesn’t seem real or helpful right now. I’ve worked in the ICU. I know what a lonely place it is even when your family MAY visit. I don’t want to go there now. Hell no.

I guess I’m learning just how precious and priceless my people are. Sometimes they are even Jesus to me.

Also – As the whole freakin’ world is experiencing the coronavirus, I think it has reminded us of just how globalized our world is and how all humanity is connected.  I’ve often wondered if Jesus was waiting for the internet before returning because he WANTED us to know global connectedness. Jesus was clear in the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is this: to love your neighbor as yourself.” I wonder if Jesus has been waiting for us to see that the WHOLE WORLD is our neighbor. We must love ALL humanity, not just those who look and think and act just like us. We will never be alone if everyone is a brother or sister.

Bored – I’m not all that proficient at social media, but even I found about 100 ways one could get involved in bringing hope and peace and comfort in the midst of this COVID-19 storm. One of the best ways to find meaning in this life is to lay down our own agendas and serve others. There is no better time than now to begin. The need is astronomical. Lord, forgive us for using the word “bored” in the midst of a rampant humanitarian crisis. We have all been created on purpose for a purpose – and the most fulfilling, God-glorifying thing is to find that purpose.

I know it’s hard to talk about death at such a somber time in history, but let us remember, thinking about dying can inform how we LIVE!

Today, I’m still here. You’re still here – so let’s LIVE ALL-IN! Let’s not waste these precious days with mind numbing nothingness.

May we never forget that every single day and every single breath are just God-breathed gifts so that when we die (not if) we will be able to say, “I’ve lived well.”

A Hiding Place (When the next Holocaust comes, you can come live with me)

Upstairs, on the third floor of our former crack home, awaits a really big and really empty, comfortably furnished attic apartment. Now that we are empty nesters, we’re deciding how best to use it.

An exchange student? A foster child? Airbnb?  

Perhaps.

But because our pastor mentioned the Holocaust this past Sunday and because these Impeachment hearings have only served to heighten the sad division in our nation and the growing hostility between people groups, we had to wonder if was time for a new conversation. We conjectured a scenario where our country reaches a boiling point where the only conclusion is the genocide of a certain people group so that we, as a nation, can truly be free. We wondered if there could ever be a time where we might want to use our attic similar to ‘The Hiding Place’, where the Ten Boom family hid Jews at the real risk of their own family’s safety. We discussed whom might the “Anne Frank” be that we would someday hide in our attic?

I have no doubt that previous to the Holocaust, all the Christian Germans who insidiously backed Hitler in the days of Ten Boom would have insisted, “That (a genocide) would never happen here. Not to us or our Christian country.” 

And yet it did.

So as two people desperate to be anything but naïve, Paul and I speculated:

“Could it be we’re already close to a boiling point? I mean, we know illegal immigrants who, if discovered, will be sent back to Honduras. While most people will say they’re not actually against immigration, they just want people to come legally – what we know FOR CERTAIN is that our immigration system is so broken, a legal entry takes upwards of 20 years. During that time, while our friends would be waiting in Honduras for their legal immigration request to be processed, their American-born children will graduate from high-school, go to college, get married, have babies, get cancer, go on vacations and celebrate birthdays and holidays without them.”

Paul and I decided we’d have no problem hiding illegal immigrants up in our attic so they could stay with their families instead of being deported.

Then we talked about the LGBTQ community who feel oppressed and targeted. What if this country boiled over in hate for this particular group, blaming them for the problems of our country and insisting their elimination is the only answer? Would we be willing to hide gays, lesbians, trans, and drag queens in our attic?

Absolutely, we decided.

From there, we discussed several other groups of people that often get “lumped together” and blamed for problems in our country: blacks, whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, the rich, the poor, Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, the mentally ill, the homeless, druggies, Pro-life, Pro-choice, left, right, and upside down.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following comments before – and although they’re not quite as bad as they must have been in 1940’s Germany – they’re still painfully hateful and divisive (and remember, the “they” can be any of the groups I’ve mentioned as well as about a thousand others…):

  • They hate America. They don’t care about you at all.
  • They’re all drug-lords, rapists, and thugs.
  • If only they could see how wrong they are.
  • They cost so much money – they’re draining our economy.
  • They only care about themselves.
  • They only care about one thing and it drives all their other decisions.
  • They’re everywhere – and they’re taking our jobs.
  • They’re stripping our country of what matters most.
  • They’re stealing my rights.
  • They make me feel unsafe.
  • Their beliefs are from the pit of hell.
  • They’re so sure they’re right, they’d kill to protect their beliefs.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The more we hear these kinds of sentiments and the more they are repeated over and over and over, the more we are convinced they are real and true. And that’s exactly how Hitler convinced a whole country it was in their best interest to extinguish “the problem.”

So Paul and I decided, being the totally woke and cool (do woke people say “cool”?) people that we are, there is not a single people group we would refuse to stay in our attic if they were the target of a genocide.

HOWEVER…

As soon as we felt the smugness of our loving behaviors, it suddenly hit me: “But what if WE’RE on the wrong side of the equation, hon? What if WE’RE the ones being targeted for a genocide because we’re followers of Jesus and therefore we love everybody else, too??”

But Paul, in all his great wisdom, hit me with this: “Hmmmm. But in every scenario we’ve discussed, whether black and white, left or right, rich or poor, there are always two sides to the equation – meaning that in our “boiling point” scenario one side has to be right, therefore one has to be wrong.

However, in Math, an equation is one where two values are EQUAL.

Perhaps the great equalizer, the one who IS the equal sign (=), the one who MAKES all the equations, is God. And with God there are never two sides. There isn’t an in or out, left or right, good or bad, there’s just love.”

So what if we just love everybody? Will we be persecuted for that someday?

Perhaps.

But I doubt it.

I yield back the rest of my time.

Fat Legs (The Ripple Effect)

A sunny but cool 60 degree day finally arrived in Michigan and I couldn’t wait to slide into my favorite fall skinny jeans. After digging them out from under the shorts and tees, I slid both legs in and easily zipped them up. But they felt weird. The waist fit the same as I remembered from last year, but the legs… OH MY FREAKIN’ GOSH…. What’s up with the legs of these jeans? Did someone shrink the legs of these jeans over the summer? Who’s washing my jeans on the HOT/HOT cycle and drying them a thousand times in the HOT/HOT dryer? Wait, are these even my jeans???

Truth: the skinny legs on the skinny jeans were strangling my legs – and NOT because the jeans had changed. My legs were fatter.

WHO’S TO BLAME?

At first I was mad at God. He’s an easy target because you can’t see Him and see how sad you’re making him with your anger. I told God I’ve been praying about my weight and He doesn’t seem to hear me. I’m sick of you not listening to me God…

Then I got mad at Weight Watchers. Come on, you silly WW people! What good are you if you don’t help actual people lose actual weight??? But then I remembered I hadn’t been to a meeting all year. Apparently, just paying the monthly dues does nothing to get the weight off.

Also got angry at Planet Fitness (see above paragraph for same irrational logic).

But as soon as I descended the stairs, nearly popping open the side-seams of my now skinnier-than-ever skinny jeans, I realized an important concept:

OUR BAD CHOICES HAVE A RIPPLE (NO PUN INTENDED) EFFECT. THEY CANNOT BE CONTAINED TO ONE SMALL AREA OF OUR LIFE. THEY IMPACT THE ENTIRETY OF OUR BEING.

It would be nice if when I overeat, I only experience a little weight gain in say, my armpits, toes, or behind my ears where no one would notice. But in reality, weight gain affects our ENTIRE being. The effects are not only experienced externally, it also leaves a grievous impact on internal things like stress on major organs, hardened and narrowed blood vessels, as well as our ability to fight infection and regulate our hormones.

Similarly, whenever we make bad choices about how we think, live, or treat others, those choices are like cancer and they will affect the WHOLE of us. And the WHOLE of us will look and feel a little bit sicker.

AND FAT LEGS CAN LOOK LIKE A LOT OF THINGS:

When we get drunk and act gross or disgusting and then brush it off as “just having a little fun” – IT’S FAT LEGS, for sure!

We canNOT think our little “issue” with gossiping is harmless – IT’S FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!

If we tell little white lies to make ourselves look better – remember, IT’S ACTUALLY FAT LEGS!

We may be so caught up in a culture of materialism that we don’t even consider there is a relational price to pay for our choices. But what is it really? FAT LEGS!

We may believe no one is hurt by our pornography addiction. This one is FAT LEGS AND THIGHS!!!

It’s fun to go shopping for retail therapy and think it’s harmless. But is it? FAT LEGS!

Even if treating our spouses with disrespect is so habitual we contend it’s no big deal, remember… FAT LEGS!

It’s so prevalent in this society to spend hours on social media thinking it has no ramifications in our life. FAT LEGS, PEOPLE!!!

WE MUST OWN OUR ILLNESS

The hard truth is, all these things, and thousands of other bad choices we make daily, really do affect ALL of our being. We cannot contain our poor choices to only one aspect of our being and simultaneously applaud ourselves for being (mostly) healthy. It doesn’t work like that!

The ripple affect of sin in our lives – in any form, in any area – is an overall sick person.

Whenever we let bad choices, bad habits, bad thoughts creep into our everyday, the result will always be ALL AROUND less-healthy individuals. And it shouldn’t surprise us if someday we wake up with fat legs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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