Saturday, May 13, 2017

Professor Pain

Worst. Semester. Ever. 

I signed up for a course called Christian Living, and was hoping to get a good professor.  I’d heard great things about Professor Joy, “One of the most pleasant people to be around,” they said.  Professor Grace also had a good rep, “He gives his students all kinds of things that they don’t even deserve.  Unbelievable.” 

I had high hopes as I sat in the desk on the first day of class, taping my fingers, waiting for my mysterious professor to arrive.  In she walked, uncomfortably late, wearing black shiny heels that would have made me scream for a podiatrist.  She wore a spiky choke collar necklace to accent her scarlet dress.

“My name is Professor Pain,” she explained, “I’ll be teaching your course this semester.”

“Oh no.”  Groans erupted from around the room.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Students shifted in their seats nervously and some of them got up and walked out the door. 

Her syllabus seemed reasonable enough.  There were a few books to read including The Problem of Pain, along with other texts.  Mainly though, we were just supposed to keep a journal as we lived our lives, paying attention to where we felt pain and where we felt the presence of God. 

Time passed quickly as time does and suddenly I found myself alone in her office during finals week giving my oral exam.  We sat across from each other on hard wooden chairs, her eyes locked onto mine.

“So,” she said, leaning into me, “What did you learn?”

I leaned back in my chair, wanting to choose my words carefully before I spoke.  I reflected on all the times I had fallen: backwards, forwards, in public, at home, needing ice, and x-rays, and compassion. I had lifted my body up each time after I had stumbled while my soul remained defeated on the ground. 

I thought about the morning I woke up to discover I could hardly take another step because it felt like something was stabbing me in the heel.  

I thought about the pain of fatigue, and loneliness, and disappointment, while I sat on my couch, pondering singleness. 

I thought about how much I wanted to get out of pain whenever I was in it.  I leaned forward, stared Professor Pain in the face and said,

“You are relentless.”

Pain cocked her head back in a laugh. “Tell me more,” she said with a smile. 

“No, seriously,” I said, suddenly at ease, “You’re worse than Facebook notifications and texting combined.”

“What can I say?” she replied, throwing up her hands.  “I want more than office hours and email exchanges…. I prefer to walk with my students while they learn.”

She paused just then, leaning even deeper into me with a penetrating gaze, “I didn’t ask if you liked me as an instructor, most students don’t. I want to know what you learned in Christian Living.  What did you learn about God?”

The words of C.S. Lewis fell from my lips: "We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The room fell silent.

“I really want to be held by God.”  As I began to speak, tears filled my eyes and my voice began to quake.  “I want to be close to Him, and of course, I want to be away from pain.  It hurts.”

Professor Pain nodded her head knowingly, urging me forward.

“Those mornings when I was in pain, that’s when I really cried out to God, that’s when I found it in my heart to confess, I really need you.  I felt close to God.  I felt His comfort.  It was in the most painful moments where I realized that when I walk with pain, God is walking with me too--

--every step.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Healing Question

“My sister has multiple scoliosis,” she confided in me.  “This year she transitioned to using a scooter.  My family has had different reactions.  My mom is taking a class on miraculous healing; my dad is trying to get everyone to accept it.  I don’t know what to think.  I finally just asked my sister, “How do you want me to pray for you?”

The healing question.  It’s a BIG one.  I’ve found myself on the listening end of conversations like these lately, and it’s usually at this point that I ask people if I can give them a copy of Walking with TensionI’ve wrestled with the same questions myself, and while I haven’t come up with an answer, my hope is that my story is a companion to them on their own journey of faith.

I cannot offer an explanation of why some people are healed and not others.  Although, I did ask my friend and pastor Steve Wiens about it and I highly respect the answer he provided on his blog.

Looking back on my own journey, I do, however, want to offer this. 

Like it or not, your situation is forming you.  Most days, I don’t really think too hard about the fact that I have CP, but some days it is not ignorable.  It makes me tired, dictates the clothes I wear, and on occasion causes people to stare.  At times, I have felt defeated by fatigue, unpleasant in the face of my wardrobe options, and evaluated by piercing glances.  I do, however, agree with Charles Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.”  When I take the time to slow down, reflect, pray, write, drinking deeply of my life experiences, I’m learning that more is being formed in me than frustration, ugliness, and pain.  My fatigue is teaching me how to value rest, my wardrobe limitations have ignited more creativity in my sense of style, and being stared at has light a fire in me to ensure I see others well. 

It’s really okay to wrestle with God.  I didn’t think so at first.  He is God after all, right?  Shouldn’t I be at least as polite and controlled with Him as I am with a stranger?  And then, I read this fabulous quote by Phillip Yancey, someone who watched his father die from polio because he thought it was a greater act of faith to pray for healing than use an iron lung. 

"One bold message in the book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment--he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out."

What has helped me is to Google a picture of Jacob wrestling the angel.  There are many different artistic renditions, but after a while, you have to ask, “Are they wrestling or hugging?”  At least when you wrestle with God you are being held in his embrace.  You are face to face.  The lines of communication are wide open.  He is our high priest who understands, come boldly before Him.

There is going to be a day when this is all over.  Your pain right now is very, very real.  I love what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians.  Outwardly we are wasting away….the wrinkles are real.  The extra 10 pounds surrounding your midline is real.  The stamina that you enjoyed a decade ago that seems to have gone mysteriously missing—that actually happened. 

Yet, while aging and pain is at work, so is the eternal nature of God in us!  Don’t lose heart my friend!  There is more to the story:

…. Yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Double Feature!


I wanted to share some things I've created with you.  The first is a guest post I wrote for a blog called The Ruth Experience  It's a blog that's put together by three Minnesota women.  I wrote on a topic I don't explore very often: femininity.  What does it mean to be a woman when you are single, childless, and flat-footed?

I ponder the answer to this question in a blog post you can read here:

In February, I had a chance to speak at the Minnesota Elementary School Principal's Association (MESPA) about my dissertation research concerning principals and their use of social media.  My challenge was to memorize everything and present it in a 5 minute engaging presentation, inspired by TED talks.  My adrenaline was pumping, but I LOVE speaking so much!  I know dissertation research sounds boring, but I promise I got the whole room laughing.  If you have 5 minutes, I'd love for you to geek out and watch my talk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Almost Dr. Hill

Dear Readers,

I need to take another break from blogging.  I am three months away from finishing my doctorate, and I need to finish strong.  I have written a few guest posts for other blogs, and when they are posted, I will happily share them with you. 

Thank you for reading!

Almost Dr. Hill

P.S.  If you need some good stuff to read, I recommend Why Keep Going where I talk about my education journey and There is More, where my friend Steve Wiens describes what it is like to finish a marathon. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Constipation of the Soul

I wake up in darkness.   Many mornings I turn and glance at the green digital numbers of my alarm clock: 4AM; an hour and half earlier than my eyes need to be open and my brain alert.  I lay there in silence; my soul is full of tumult, my mouth unable to speak. 

How do we live, how do we pray, when we are experiencing constipation of the soul?  I like when the words flow smoothly like water from the kitchen faucet, even when they trickle down in a slow steady patter.  I enjoy words that come out with laughter, and I love when they burst forth in song.  Words through tears are painful, but sometimes it is our sorrow that ultimately unearths our depths. 

Having no words, but desperately wanting them.  That’s a different experience entirely.  I’m no expert on this situation, but here’s what I’m learning in this season of life.

It’s okay to have no words.  Not having words to adequately express yourself may be as much a part of the human experience as the ability to speak.  It’s in these moments that I take comfort in the words of Romans 8:26: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

It’s okay to have just one word.  I challenged myself this week with this question:  What if I just brought one word to God?  I wrapped myself in my blanket, sat in my chair, faced the window, lit a candle, and simply said, “Stuck.  God, I am stuck.” 

It’s okay to go to friends and family and ask them to use their words on your behalf.  This is a season where I have openly asked friends and family to pray for me.  There’s this beautiful story in Exodus 17 where the Israelites were winning a battle against their enemies as long as Moses held up his hands.  But, as the war raged on, Moses’ hands grew tired.  So, Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset (vs 13).  Sometimes we are facing a battle that can’t be won until our friends come alongside us with support.

It’s okay to pray words that someone else wrote.  Often in the dark hours of the morning, scripture I’ve memorized comes to mind and I pray them as if they were mine.  When my soul if full of tumult, I find myself asking the words of Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….I also think Ted Loder’s words in his book Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle are beautiful.

It’s okay to express your words in song and pictures.  One of the most tangible ways I’ve found to pray is to close my eyes during worship at church and picture the scenes that are swirling in my soul.  Sometimes I picture God hugging me in the midst of my need, but mostly I just hold scenes of my life in my mind before God acknowledging that He is at work.  When my eyes aren’t closed and focused, I also like to open my mouth and belt out songs with all of my breath.  There’s something emboldening about joining other voices in expressing what is true.  I love what Psalm 45:1 says, My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Man of Sorrows

I'm in the middle of composing some guest posts for other blogs that I hope to share with you soon!  In the interim, here is a re-post from 2014.

It was just before Thanksgiving when I found myself sitting in the second row at a funeral.  A good friend of mine lost her brother to cystic fibrosis. He lived to be 40, which is outstanding for someone living with CF, but still too young to die.  I watched as my friend laid her head on her husband’s shoulder, crying, and in turn, opening her arms wide to comfort nieces and nephews.  The morning was filled with the hope of heaven and the reality of earth.  

I sat there thinking about how this man never married or had children. Being born with disability or disease often leaves very loving people with naked ring fingers and empty wombs.   It’s sad.  Sometimes it makes a person feel like they are sitting behind glass watching everyone live their happy lives while you sit in the stands choking back tears, faking a smile as you wave to everyone else skating by.   It was haunting for me to identify with the man lying in the coffin.  I sat there at the funeral wondering if 50 years down the road that would be me.

Last Friday, my friend Steve posted this morsel on Facebook:

It took me a few weeks and a few more heavy moments, but eventually, I lay down on my floor and sobbed.  Not the kind where tears gently fall down your face and land on your lips, but the kind where your whole body heaves.  

Who is Jesus in these moments?

Sometimes it’s easier to believe Jesus really only came to earth for his final hours, and in our lives, the thing he must care about the most is the salvation of our souls.

Truly, the redemption of humankind and our salvation from sin and death are paramount.  But it doesn’t negate the fact that Jesus also cares about the mundane:  our earthly disappointment, our day to day pain.

As kids we see images of Jesus surrounded by children, smiling as he rides on a donkey.  As adults we ponder Jesus, who, for the joy set before him endured the cross… Certainly, there had to be many moments where Jesus was giddy, bubbling with joy as he worked to bring healing and redemption to the world.  Performing miracles was like pulling the curtain back giving the world a glimpse of heaven as if turning over the pages in a photo book revealing visions of home.  

So I find it interesting that “happy” is not how Jesus is heralded or remembered in scripture.  Isaiah foretells Jesus as a Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief.  Can you imagine it?  It’s as if Jesus was sitting down conversing with Grief, as if they were two old men, swapping stories, nodding their heads, often just sitting together in silence, acknowledging the weight of pain.

In Hebrews, the author writes that while Jesus was on earth, he made petitions to God with loud cries and tears.  Even before Gethsemane, I wonder if Jesus often had wet eyes to show the Father when he went off to pray.  Being that close to humanity had to wonderful, but it also had to be hard because sometimes beauty and suffering exists in the same face.

I imagine Jesus off in the corner, heaving and crying loud.  The disciples looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders and whispering, “He’s doing it again…”

“We’d better leave Him alone.”

With the end of the Advent season, it might be helpful to wonder what it was like for Jesus the first time he stretched out his hand and clenched his fist; feeling the limitation and the strength of tendons and ligaments and skin and bone working together in a human body.

It might be helpful to ponder what it like was for Jesus to change his perspective.  No longer looking down on us from above, but staring back into the face of humanity, the creation, seeing us through his own two eyes…. 

What was it like to leave the vastness, comfort, and eternity of heaven to be confined, hurt, and limited?  

All of these things point towards the fact that Jesus knew what it was to become human and dwell with us.  It reminds us that he is with us in our humanity even now.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


“What: Proprioception is the concept of knowing where your body is in space (body awareness) and the ability to safely maneuver around your environment. It also includes the use of heavy work activities and the ability to stimulate the joint receptors.”  (Source: Amanda, Matthews, OTR/L

A colleague introduced me to this concept last week and I was captivated by it.  Words can be restrictive containers sometimes; a poor limited method to express what is welling up deep within the soul, but sometimes they can be absolutely explosive, illuminating what we have been experiencing, but unable to name. Here was this word that I had never heard before: proprioception, five syllables describing a fascinating function of our bodies that I never knew existed.  Sometimes proprioception in children with autism or other conditions have a hard time sensing the world around them, so they exhibit behaviors like hitting the wall or the ground repeatedly.  A parent can be helpful by offering a hug, or placing their hands on their child’s shoulders so they are reminded that the ground is beneath their feet.

I fell in love with this word as it came up in conversation, because it seemed like a great metaphor for life.  Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been losing my grounding.  What once used to feel safe, secure, solid, and familiar seems to be shifting and moving in ways I didn’t expect or understand.  I’m not sure how to clearly navigate my environment right now.  I’m finding myself afraid and confused.  I’ve questioned my judgement, my motives, and my decisions.  In the end, I want to exercise until I’m tired, and I dream about endless hugs.  I wonder if I too, would like to cuddle up under a weighted blanket.

I’ve told trusted friends and family about my “proprioception,” and they’ve listened, tried to give advice, hugged, and prayed.  I’ve been praying too: In the morning, in the afternoon, before bed, and lately around 2:00AM.  My mind has been flooded with comforting scriptures, and I realize He is with me always.  This is going to last as long as it lasts, but until then, I must keep moving forward.

There’s been something else that’s become an unexpected comfort.  Not a fix, but a little ray of light creaking through the door into a dark room:  the words of C.S. Lewis.  I’ve been a Narnia fan since before I was able to read.  When I was a preschooler, PBS aired the BBC’s Chronicles of Narnia which Grandma let my brother and I watch one evening in the den when we were sleeping over.  It sparked my imagination and filled my heart with wonder…the Lion has meant much to me over the years.  This is probably why I get choked up when a child asks me if we have Narnia in the library.  I am convinced the wardrobe doors are open to all who seek to enter, and I can almost hear the pages call out in cheerful invitation to every reader, “Come further up!  Come further in!”

My girlfriends and I have decided to dive into the deep intellectual pool of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity this monthI’ve been hearing good things about this book since I gave a copy of it to my seventh grade English teacher in 1997, but I’ve been afraid  to read it myself for fear that I wouldn’t understand it, that Lewis’ words to adults weren’t for me.  In truth, I don’t understand all of his thoughts, but I have been reminded with childhood delight what a friend his words have been to me.  I will conclude this post with ten great quotes I found from @CSLewisDaily on Twitter…so beautiful and so good.