Don’t Listen To Me – Go With Steve!

Today, I planned to share how shitty I feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then today unfolded…

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

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

So I asked Steve to come speak to our group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So everything I had planned for this blog was trashed.

Steve showed me a better blog.

Go with Steve!

How To Find Purpose For Your Pain

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

They are saving my life.

HOW FLINT SAVED GRAND RAPIDS

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

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

GRAND RAPIDS, TOO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSONS FROM A WOUND

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

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

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

THANK-YOU FLINT PEOPLE!

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

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

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

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

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

Sticky Seats and Behavior

IMG_6548A dear friend recently asked if I wanted to meet up for drinks to solve all of our problems and the world’s. I desperately needed a good laugh, which is a given with this friend, so, I said, “YES!”  She wanted to meet at Applebee’s. I told her Applebee’s grossed me out their seats are sticky. 

So we went to another local bar/eatery and talked for hours.

We saw a strange thing:  A couple we both knew who are well-known, prominent leaders in our community and vocal followers of Christ were sitting at the bar (not the strange part – I’m not one of those Christians…). The couple appeared to be there together, but it was obvious they knew just about everyone else at the bar as they flitted from person to person. The wife was dressed, well, concisely if you know what I mean (I saw boobs and butt cheeks if you really wanna know…). And she just laughed too loud, flipped her hair too often, leaned over the other men at the bar a little too far, and was just all around TOO MUCH. The two of them were rarely side-by-side and spent the evening drinking until their drinking began “showing”. It felt like a scene from “Cheers” – everyone else knew their names and they all seemed a little too much at home. This was obviously not their first rodeo.

They stayed at the bar the entire time my friend and I discussed every marriage, parenting, and career topic – PLUS solved world hunger AND the border wall issue! When we left FOUR HOURS later at 11:00 p.m., the couple still showed no signs of leaving.

As much as I reprimanded myself “Stop it, Cindy.  You have no way of knowing what’s really going on. You don’t know their life, their struggles, or their needs.  Don’t judge, Cindy.  Stop it!” I still found myself just feeling a little yucky from their behavior.

It was confusing.  It just didn’t add up.

I do believe “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” To “judge” means to make a final conclusion or verdict about someone or something. It’s never a good idea to make a judgment based on appearances alone. HOWEVER, it’s also true that a book cover often reveals A LOT about what’s inside! We shouldn’t make a judgment, but it’s perfectly acceptable to learn about the book and decide if you even want to open it up based on the cover alone.

WE LEARN ABOUT THE INSIDE BASED ON WHAT THE OUTSIDE IS DOING!

Learning something from appearances and judging them are two totally different things.

If I see a book with this on the cover:

You can be darn sure I won’t even pick it up. It would be unfair of me to say the CONTENT of a book like this isn’t good – I just know that I have really no interest in getting to know this book at all. Math gives me a migraine and makes me want to throw things and yell at people. I want nothing to do with it.

Likewise, the behaviors we observe in other people tell us if we want to know them or their beliefs better or not.

And then I wondered – what if I flip that truth on it’s head?….

Maybe instead of focusing on the appearance of others or concerning myself why someone else’s behavior seems incongruent with the Christ-likeness they profess, maybe I should use those circumstances to remind ME that others are watching ME, too!

Since that bar scene, I’ve been wondering, “What behaviors do I exhibit that at times could be interpreted, or even misconstrued as inappropriate?”  “Are there things that I do, say, think, feel, that are also incongruent with the Christ-like life I want to emanate?”

IMG_5810

I hope and pray that when I lay my head down at night and replay the day in my mind I’ll have peace that my actions, conversations and activities didn’t confuse people about the gospel. Because those images are then associated with me and it’s hard to shake an image we’ve observed.

Images often stick with us and leave an indelible imprint – just like Applebee’s seats.

Lessons from the brain dead

imagesI was absent from one of the most transformative events in my life. It happened to my husband while in Guatemala but left an indelible print on me and I’ve never been the same since.

Back in the day when we believed visiting Guatemala regularly would bring lasting change to the country, we often included orphanage visits as part of our “missions” week. (Anecdotally, our views on short term mission trips and their purpose and product have morphed significantly since those early days. For deeper probing, here are a few resources:  Relevant MagazineThe Poor Will be Glad and When Helping Hurts)

On this particular visit, Paul and his fellow well-intentioned travelers decided to stop at a new orphanage that was home for children with special needs. No one in the group could have anticipated what they were about to see.

He described the place to me as a small home made up of three adjoining rooms. The first and last rooms were filled with beds for the children – the middle room served as their dining room, lounge and play room. The place was lit too brightly by flickering overhead fluorescent lights and smelled of urine and vomit. The staff barely noticed yet another American “tourist” group stopping in; so with lack of direction, the group migrated to the playroom hoping to play with the kids.

Paul held back. He described some kind of supernatural power drawing him to the sleeping quarters made up of rows of beds and cribs.

He heard her before he saw her. Her shallow, slow breathing rattled and gurgled with every breath. Next, he smelled her. It was a hideous combination of bad breath, urine, and body odor. Although the crib was abnormally large, Paul expected to find an infant. It was, after all, a crib.

 

When he peered in, he was quite taken aback by the sight.

 

Her name was Corinna and she was 10 years old and that crib had been her whole world her entire life. She was born severely handicapped and has never walked, talked, fed herself or even sat upright. She stairs blankly to the left – always to the left because her head is stuck that way. Without provision of physical, recreational or occupational therapy to the residents their bones and muscles and brains just atrophy away day after day.

Corinna was not hooked up to any machine or life-assisting devices. She just existed. Her stiff and contorted body pained Paul to even look. But instead of pulling away, he felt compelled to lean in. He put his head right in front of hers. He stroked her hair, he talked to her, and he prayed for her.

 

She barely blinked.

 

A few days later back in Michigan, Paul recounted this experience to me: “Cindy, it was like there was no one there – she was so vacant. And yet, I felt the presence of God with her. All I could think was this: God loves this precious one. She has been bed-ridden her whole life, she has never said a word and never will. She, by all practical purposes, is brain dead. She can do absolutely nothing for herself. She can do absolutely nothing for others – to show appreciation, to show love, to enjoy life, or – especially – to secure her salvation. And yet, God still loves her as much as he loves anybody. God actually sent his son to DIE for Corinna – to give her this life that seems so unlived. God’s love just blew me away as I sat holding Corinna’s hand. The beauty of that moment made me weep with love for her and for what an amazing God we serve.”

 

              * * * * * * * * *

 

Paul and I tried to take a walk together today, but we had to stop frequently so I could catch my breath. I told him to just do the talking because I’m no longer able to walk and talk at the same time.

My medications are causing me more problems than I care to share. And I’d quit the whole lot of them if I didn’t believe in some weird medical-background-way they’re helping me live longer.

And with each tiny sign of deterioration I feel a little less whole, less human. A little less significant. A little less worthy.

And on my bad days I worry. I worry that I haven’t done enough. I worry that I haven’t said enough or shared enough with my kids. I worry that I didn’t accomplish much or do enough good. I worry that I’ll never finish my book and I’ll never have anything of significance to leave behind. I worry that within a generation or two people will forget me and that my life didn’t matter.

Then I worry that I worry about such stupid stuff.

 

But today I remembered Corinna. She who lay there in a crib for 10 years and never once actually “did” a single thing. Although she could barely move, she reminds me of how much God loves each and every one of us – his precious creation, made in HIS image – and that he would have died for us even if we were the only one.

I believe Jesus whispered in her ear every single day, “You are my beloved, Corinna. Of you, I am especially pleased.”

And I wonder how is it that I keep returning to my old patterns of fear and doubt and anger and resentment for my sucky lot in life – because, when I remember Corinna, I remember that I, too, am Jesus’ beloved, no matter what I am able to do or not do, say or not say, be or not be.

Yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.

 

 

Let’s stay woke for World Refugees

IMG_6803At first, he didn’t speak up, but I could tell he was listening in on my dilemma. I was trying to explain to a young Syrian mom how to administer the antibiotic to her sick child. My translator, a sweet Egyptian girl, was having trouble understanding my English and the Syrian mom was having trouble understanding her Arabic (as the two countries speak a different dialect). We were getting nowhere.

The man eventually leaned in and said, in perfect English, “Perhaps I could help?”

I was surprised to hear English from one of the refugees we were there to serve. I responded, “You speak English! Awesome! Can you translate for me?”

With tenderness and compassion, he easily explained to the Syrian mom exactly how to administer the medication. She thanked him profusely.

I asked him where he learned to speak English so well. He told me he was a physician. He studied in both England and Australia. He was here today, at our pop-up medical clinic, to get his own blood pressure medication. He had been unable to obtain any for many months and was concerned about his blood pressure

As I took his blood pressure, he went on to explain how helpless he felt living in the refugee camps. He wanted to help his fellow displaced Syrians, but he had no money, no access to medication, no credentials that would allow him to work in a Lebanese medical facility, and he had no medical equipment at all – not even his stethoscope. He told me he and his family fled like everyone else – in the middle of the night with the clothes on their backs and enough food for the journey. Period.

Refugee status is no respecter of age, gender, education, religion or background. If your country falls apart and you need to flee – you simply flee. There is no time to separate out the “haves” from the “have nots” when you are fleeing for your life. And now, everyone resides side-by-side in a make-shift village constructed from wood scraps and tarps. For seven years my physician friend has been in this refugee camp.

Seven years and waiting.

Today, I want to pause and re-feel the pain I felt that day. I want to remember the courage, the resilience and the perseverance that I saw in the faces of each and every Syrian refugee I met. I want to stand in solidarity with them and to do my part in this big mess to say, “WE WILL NOT FORGET YOU!”

I went to Lebanon with a team led by Dr. Lina Abujamra, a Lebanese ER physician who resides in Chicago and is the founder of Living With Power Ministries and shegiveshope.com.

Their work in Lebanon includes:

  • Medical and Dental clinics near the Syrian border and refugee camps (they have led 9 clinics so far, over 7,000 patients have been treated and $80,000 has been donated toward medications and treatments.
  • Food and community outreach programs (over 200 people are fed monthly)
  • Housing initiatives (the ministry has subsidized housing and living expenses for 20 families monthly.)
  • A nurses-aide training program for Syrians (the first training took place Feb-May 2019)
  • Helping to support educational programs for both school-aged kids and college students.
  • This July the ministry will run it’s first summer camp for Syrian refugee children.

WAYS YOU CAN HELP:

  • REMEMBER REFUGEES and PRAY FOR THEM. Just because the refugee crisis isn’t in the news every day doesn’t mean it is over. It’s actually getting worse. A refugee is defined as someone who has been forced to flee their home because of persecution, war or violence. Paul is in Honduras right now as I write. He is experiencing firsthand accounts of why people are flooding out of Honduras. Trust me – they classify as REFUGEES!
  • STAY INFORMED. Pay attention to the news and use your influence to spread the word about refugee-related issues. Amidst growing anti-refugee rhetoric and policies, it’s never been more critical to stay informed and speak out!
  • FINANCIALLY SUPPORT organizations who are supporting refugees locally, nationally, and globally. You can get AWESOME merch (like the shirt I’m wearing in the pic) here at: http://shegiveshope.com/.
    You can support the work of Lina’s teams at https://www.livingwithpower.org/global/

    And another fantastic organization that Paul and I support is:
    Preemptive Love Coalition

    Or if you want to give locally in the West Michigan area here are three great organizations:
    Tree Tops Collective
    Samaritas
    Bethany Christian Services

  • GO WITH ME TO LEBANON!!! I’m dead serious. If my health allows (which seems to wax and wane), I plan to go back to Lebanon and serve with the Medical team. If you’re interested (whether you have a medical background or not), let me know!But I must warn you, it will change your life.