Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Words Fail

Sometimes there are no words to express our feelings.

Sometimes words feel like a container for our emotions, 

pressing us down, 

covering us like a lid.

This morning, after I finally had a minute alone, I went into my closet, wrapped my fingers around the shelving until my knuckles turned white, and screamed.  When I was done, I crawled onto the carpet of my bedroom floor, covered my face and sobbed.  It’s hard to feel the angst of sorrow and the pain of tragedy. It feels tight like a rubber band needing to be stretched further and twisting like a wash cloth being firmly wrung out. 

No act of contrition seemed appropriate for what happened yesterday in Connecticut.

As I lay on my floor, I thought about my role working in an elementary school.  Each morning hundreds of students are welcomed into our building where I know each one by name.  I thought about how we regularly practice lock-down drills, hiding in discrete areas, away from windows, away from danger.  We tell our students and ourselves, “This is only a drill.  It’s just practice.”  

Apparently it’s not.

I thought about my nieces and nephews who will grow up with a loving family, many of us public school educators who will smile and tell them, “School is a wonderful place to be,” trusting that when we send them on the big yellow school bus, they’ll come safely home in the afternoon, waving an art project in their hands, lips smiling, bubbling over with news of their day.

And even though my mind DOESN’T WANT TO GO there: 

I think about how much I appreciate my principal and how I aspire to be one someday.  The school in Connecticut lost theirs. If I taught in that school I would have to resign.  

I think about dead bodies lying on the ground and the horror that would shackle my own body if the students that bring me joy every day were somehow lying in front of me, painfully lifeless.  

My world would become empty if my nieces and nephew were cruelly snatched out of it and my brother and sister-in-law were left to grieve without relief.   

I am angry and sad and questioning.

A few weeks ago I was sent this video of John Piper reading a poem about Jesus visiting the Inn Keeper who housed his family the night He was born.  The Inn Keeper tells Jesus about the massacre of children that insured because of His arrival.  When I first watched it I found it disturbing; now I can’t think of anything more appropriate.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Make A Joyful Noise Unto the Lord!

It comes like an unwelcome visitor each winter.  As clouds fill the sky and darkness covers the evening, my countenance changes from happy to blue.  I find myself wanting to burst into tears for no other reason than to express the feeling of sadness growing in my chest.  I often feel withdrawn from people, as if I’ve lost my appetite for human interaction.  So, I pop Vitamin D like candy, pound the pavement at the Outlet Mall, and spend time with those I love, but sometimes these activities are of little help.

Spring can’t come fast enough.

I noticed last week that my seasonal visitor has yet to arrive.  Sure, its been warm, but I think my cheer has been a result of singing.  This fall I was invited to be part of a Christmas choir at Servant of Christ Lutheran Church.  I accepted the invitation and once a week, I stepped out of the darkness of the night and into the warmth of the church.  Sitting next to the altos, cracking jokes with the bases, we worked together to transform notes on a page into beautiful music.  Today, in the midst of heavy snowfall, we had our concert.  

Now that the excitement is over, I’ve been thinking about how much I love singing.   What an amazing ability God has given us not only to speak, but to change our voice into song.

I delight in it.

Part of my delight comes from a deep desire to respond physically to the goodness of God.  Living in a body where I come face to face with limitations every day, it’s rare for me to find a physical activity that I can fully engage in—much less enjoy.  When I am singing, I am totally uninhibited and my whole body can give itself fully to praising the Lord.  Even when I grow weary from standing and have to sit down, air still fills my lungs and sound spills forth from my lips.  With everything I have I can physically express my joy in the Lord.   

Feeling a little blue?  Here’s some help from a very young Mariah Carey singing Joy to the World!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Everything Give Thanks

I feel like I’ve aged quite a bit this past  year—having to sit more frequently at work while teaching, sometimes squirming to manage low back pain.  This October I visited Gillette Lifetime Clinic in Lake Phalen where they provide compassionate and comprehensive care for adults with CP.  After a 3 ½  hour appointment where six medical professionals paraded in and out of my room, we decided that I should wear a brace on my left leg.  It’s sleek, made of carbon fiber like the Olympic athlete double amputee that ran this summer.  I’ve noticed a difference, I feel more supported when I walk and sometimes it seems I have more energy at the end of the day…It’s just that wearing a brace is not what I envisioned doing at 28.

This morning I grumbled a little bit as I strapped on my new carbon-fiber leg brace at the breakfast table. I knew today was going to busy and I needed all the support I could get. My brace and custom made shoe inserts have been very helpful, but it often means I have to wear tennis shoes with my dress pants to work.

"Be thankful!" I commanded myself as I moved around the kitchen. "Be thankful there's a clinic right in MN that treats CP. Be thankful you were able to get an appointment right away. Be thankful for health insurance. Be thankful you live in a country where you can even get a brace."

"Ok." I negotiated with myself. "I'll be thankful." But secretly I wanted to wear stylish shoes today. I pined for my new black boots that were sitting upstairs in my closet. I thought of colleagues who are always dressed so nice, coordinating their outfits from head to toe. I had coordinated my outfit today too--from head to...ankle.

After lunch a class came into the media center for their lesson. One of the students had injured his leg and had most of it temporarily immobilized. He was limping. "Now he's like you!" The class chirped.

"You're right!" I nodded. I sat down in a chair, pulled my pant leg up to my knee, and showed the class my brace. We talked about what it was and why I wear it. I let them ask questions. I didn't have to try to be thankful anymore, because in that moment I was thankful that today wearing my brace was helping me to connect more effectively with the students in front of me.

Today I was certain that the six and seven year old children that were sitting in the reading well had become my teachers, illustrating what Paul had learned in 2 Corinthians. God's grace really is sufficient for me and His power really is being made perfect in my weakness.

I am so thankful!

Stumbo Family Story

Monday, November 26, 2012

Disability Ministry Goes to Seminary...Pt. 2

Last week I let you into my inbox to read a conversation that I’ve been having with Daniel Thomson.  Here’s the rest!  

Jenny:  Daniel, when we met you had asked me about my story.  It seems that people are so candid within the disability community about sharing their stories, but I am still growing used to it.  Mine's painful and personal, but you can scroll down to the bottom of this page  on my blog and watch the YouTube video of the interview I did with my pastor talking about my walk with God and with CP.  

Daniel: I enjoyed reading your blog and watching the video—I am confident that what you are doing now is at least part of the reason for God not healing you physically –to shine for Him in your disability (and the spiritual healing that accompanied your journey)! Faith always shines brighter in darkness -- that's where people need to see and hear it. So, keep shining!

Jenny: Thanks for the encouragement!  Daniel, what motivates you to engage with disability ministry?

Daniel:  Part of the reason I am motivated to do what I do -- as a Physical Therapist and now as a teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary and Dallas Baptist University -- is to bring to light stories such as your own -- people who are suffering, disabled, often alone, often asking "why," and helping to get their stories told to those in the community who need to hear it. You see, there is such a need and a benefit on both sides to bridging the world between non-disabled and disabled. To bridge those who suffer and those who are not suffering helps to present a realistic picture of our humanity in this present world. And those Christians who suffer -- yet let their light shine -- display the truth of the Gospel in a way that could not come about if God did not permit the suffering in the first place.

Jenny:  What about Christians who believe in the “prosperity gospel?”

Daniel: Non-Christians and even Christians who hold a "prosperity gospel" view, look at stories such as yours and start to ask -- maybe there is something to this eternal hope that they cling to? Maybe there is something to this joy and peace of God that sustains one who suffers? Maybe you have come to realize as a dear friend of mine who has a severe disability once told me, "I believe it takes more faith to live well with a disability than to be healed of one!" It is this kind of faith that is real. It is this kind of faith that the church needs to see. And it is this kind of faith that witnesses to a lost world, especially the people of the world who suffer not knowing the hope and Truth we know. It is people like you that push me each day to press on! So, keep doing what you are doing!

Jenny:  Can you give another example of bridging this gap within popular culture?  

Daniel:  Case in point. I just watched tonight for the first time, the movie, the "Soul Surfer." What a great movie about Bethany Hamilton and her life story. Not sure if you know the story, but she was and is a surfer who got her arm bit off by a shark -- yet, persevered -- trusting ultimately in God's sovereignty and plan behind it all -- she kept surfing and used her disability as a platform to let her light shine -- and shine it does! You remind me of her -- keep shining bright and trusting Him -- people such as yourself are the heros of the faith, not ones who's faith is to be questioned. Some day we will all look back on this journey and marvel at all that God did and does -- through the jars of clay that we are just as we are -- yet each molded and being molded for a unique and specific purpose...PRESS ON!

Jenny:  Thanks so much Daniel!  I have watched Soul Surfer I love what she says, “Surfing isn't the most important thing in life. Love is. I've had the chance to embrace more people with one arm than I ever could with two.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Disability Ministry Goes to Seminary...Pt. 1

Last month I mentioned an iTunes course I stumbled upon called Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church, by Dallas Theological Seminary.  I’ve enjoyed watching the video clips and have been challenged and inspired by its messages….You can imagine my surprise when I happened to bump into the professor of this class, Daniel Thomson, at a conference I recently attended!  Our meeting soon led to a swapping of stories and an e-mail interview of sorts that I would like to share with you—this week and next.  Enjoy a sneak peek at a delightful conversation.

Jenny:  Can you share a little history about how this class came about?  It’s very unique.

Daniel: I practiced as a Home Health Physical Therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas -- and through that -- saw life with disability at its worst. I saw the tension on the caregiver. I saw marriages fall apart. I saw the stress and strain on those with disabilities just trying to survive. Through it all, I kept finding myself asking the question, "Where is the church?" I mean occasionally someone would bring by a casserole, but there was little organic community -- at least for an extended period.

Jenny:  I find myself also asking, "Where is the church?" often when I consider people living with disabilities.  Where did your experiences lead you?

 Daniel: So, long story short, my questions led to my coming to DTS in 2005 as a student. And I had questions not only about where the church was, but also, where was God? When I got to seminary, I quickly found out that nothing was being taught on both topics (and only one other seminary in the world offered a class on it -- Reformed Theological Seminary online -- which I took that course to learn more). Not even one lecture at DTS on ministry to those affected by disability was being taught -- and the light bulb went on -- if the leaders don't have a vision for this and are not teaching their churches, no wonder there are so few Disability Ministries. If the shepherds don't lead, the flocks don't follow.

Jenny:  Then what happened?

Daniel: So, during my first year at seminary, I started a dialogue with Joni Eareckson Tada and her team at Joni and Friends. After one trip to L.A. to meet with them, I drafted the following weekend a syllabus for a course called, "A Biblical Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church." I basically put in it what I would want in a course on suffering and disability -- half of the course putting forth a biblical view of suffering, the other half more of an application to those affected by disability. After a three year journey to get the course approved by various committees -- we taught the course for the first time in the Fall of 2009 -- I graduated from DTS earlier that spring. We have since offered it online every semester since, live twice. 

Jenny:  There’s a book that goes with this class too, right?

Daniel:  The book, Why O God, came from the class. Many of the lecturers we used wrote a chapter for the book. We have since created a sister version of the class at Dallas Baptist University and will teach a doctoral version at DTS this coming summer. So, our hope is to give future pastors and Christian servant leaders a vision for ministry to and through those affected by disability with a grounded Biblical view of suffering -- this is how God works -- we just need to shed light on it and help the church (through its leaders) to get on board….

…to be continued.  Next week Daniel is going to share what motivates him to minister to people with disabilities.  See you then!

Want an inside look?  Take a seat inside Daniel’s course singing “It is Well.”

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