Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Actual Pastor


www.stevewiens.com Twitter: @stevewiens


Honestly, more than making an impact or changing the world, what I most want to be is a gentle, healing presence.”

These are words written by my friend and pastor, Steve Wiens.  Steve authors a blog called The Actual Pastor, and on Monday he will be re-posting a piece that I wrote called The Wailing Woman.  I hope you enjoy it; feel free to share!

While you’re at Steve’s blog, please take a look at a few of his posts.  They’re written with insight and so, so good!  Here are some highlights:

If you recognize Steve’s blog, it might be because his post about parenting went viral.  That article, along with several others, ended up being published in the Huffington Post! 

Steve comes from a talented family of writers.  His wife, Mary, is a poet.  (She was also published in the Huffington Post), and his sister Lisa is a writer and pastor who works at St. Matthews in the Twin Cities.  Oh yeah, and he may not have a blog, but Joel Hanson is Steve’s brother-in-law.  So, along with essays, the music written in this family is amazing too!

Steve is a reader.  When he started his blog, he also started a book club to discuss Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.  The discussion is over now, but the posts are still thought-provoking.  And, if you’re looking for a book, especially one about vulnerability and shame, I recommend it!

He’s a runner with a big heart.  Steve has run several marathons including Twin Cities and Boston.  A few summers ago, I asked him to write an essay about what it is like to finish such a race.  This September, Steve ran the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to help raise money for an organization called Eyes that See.

And finally, if you’re dreaming of the lake and the snow outside is making you pine for brighter days and warmer weather, read this post: For Those of You Who Have Grown Weary.  It’s one of my personal favorites because it talks about how tired we find ourselves and our need for the restoration that only comes from God.  

I hope you enjoy The Actual Pastor.  It just might be something you’d like to add to your inbox!  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Thank you for reading my blog, encouraging my writing, and being patient with me while I took a much needed break this summer!  I hope you've had a chance this season to stop and ponder Emmanuel:  that Jesus left heaven to be with us, the Holy Spirit is with us now, and someday we will spend forever in heaven with Him.  Can't wait!

Speaking of things I can't wait for....my book, Walking with Tension, is due out this spring on Amazon in paperback and ebook.  My plan is to launch it on March 26, 2014...my 30th birthday!  I promise to keep you posted!  For now, here's a sneak peek at the cover art, designed by my friend, Aimee LibbySteve Wiens, my friend and pastor, wrote the foreword.


One last thing, please enjoy this video holiday video! (If you can't see the video below, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrQgIAx_xM0)   Merry Christmas and may you have a very Happy New Year!

Jenny




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Looking for Emmanuel

 We were asked at church to submit a photo and caption answering this question, “How do you want Christmas to be different this year?”  This was my response:
I want to stop white-knuckling my way through December long enough to actually slow down and enjoy it.

And then, it happened.

I was forced to loosen my death grip on my precious calendar December 4th.  I had been asked to speak to some students and mentors at church about disability.  So I spent much of Thanksgiving weekend preparing, delighting in the anticipation of sharing on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  If any of you speak, you know what it is to carry a message; you live with it; it grows in you until it’s time to deliver.

But, it snowed that night and the event was cancelled.  I spent the evening by the fire writing, pondering my disappointment. 

I’m still learning from this situation, but among other things, I’ve been asking these questions:
 
What if I let myself be interrupted? (Yuck.) 

What if I was willing to loosen the grip on my calendar creating space for God to do work in my life that I can’t plan, and maybe, at first glance, don’t even like? (Let’s be honest, this still feels uncomfortable.  I’m cringing as I write it.)

What would it be like to slow down this season and actually look for God at work in my life; to experience Emmanuel?

It happened when I didn't want to go for a walk that afternoon because it was so cold, but my body seemed to groan from all the sitting I did that day, so I relented. I pulled on extra layers, but they didn't seem like enough as my fingers were still chilled 20 minutes in. Gradually, my body started to warm. The sun peeked through the clouds in an encore of brilliance for the day. It shown down; I felt warm and embraced. My heart poured forth a spontaneous expression, "Thank you God for this moment." 

This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing light and warmth.

It happened late Sunday afternoon while grocery shopping at Target. I was headed home to eat dinner alone as I prepared to face another week.  My cell phone rang: Teresa.  “Come over for dinner!  I’m making your favorite, cheesy potatoes.”  Suddenly my loneliness was interrupted by company: my niece’s smiles, warm dinner conversations, and a walk through the neighborhood to see the lights. 
 
This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing comfort and joy.

It happened in church on a Friday night.  I had had a disappointing week, so while everyone stood to sing, I remained sitting. I didn’t have much praise inside of me.  My throat was dry from crying that afternoon, so I let myself be silent. Grief has introduced me to the Man of Sorrows, and in that moment, I turned my face towards Him. I imagined Jesus sitting in the chair next to me, holding my hand, whispering His truth.  Light has come into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing us the Light of His Word.


It happens in the morning when I steal just a few more minutes wrapped in my prayer shawl while the candle is lit.  It’s like an extra hug from the Almighty before heading out the door.  It happens while driving to work. I turn the music up loud. My car transforms into a sanctuary.  The space fills up with sound as my heart fills up with joy.  As I finish up singing, We’ll praise your name forever..and put my car in park, I’m ready to face a new day. 
 
This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing His presence into our praise.
 
Where have you seen Emmanuel this season?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Waiting: The angst of growth we cannot see


Advent is the season of waiting.  It’s pregnant with expectation and hope.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

One winter night, the phone rang waking me from a distant dream.  My nephew was about to make his entrance into the world.  I pulled on some clothes and drove through the night to the hospital.  The morning was filled with bad coffee, fast food, and walking the halls with excitement.  It was like I had just boarded a plane:  I hadn’t showered, my sleep had been interrupted, and my heart ached for the moment when a loved one would be in my arms.


As the Today Show wrapped up, Calvin emerged.  Watching a human being enter the world was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.  It is unbelievable how the body changes, making space for new life.  (Watch this video of a crab shedding its old skin.  It’s remarkable!) I witnessed a miracle that day; Calvin is so beautiful!

Expectation and arrival can be a gift, but it can also be painful.  Desire can propel us, filling us with excitement and hope.  But unmet, the fire of desire can nearly ruin us. 

The bible seems to be full of this story: People who see the promises of God, but are asked to wait for long periods of time before becoming recipients.  Sarah knew God was going to give her a baby, but she was 90 before that promise came to pass.  Along the way came a baby named Ishmael fathered by her husband and her concubine and a whole lot of family drama.

Joseph found himself in a similar fix.  Early on he had visions of leadership, but the road to Egypt was long and winding.  He became a slave and then a prisoner before he was ever brought to Pharaoh. 

Waiting is hard because it delays the thing we so desperately desire.  When what we want gets put on hold, we are poignantly reminded who really is in control.  This reality can propel us to finally confess our deepest desires not just to our friends but also before a loving God.  We feel the angst of growth we cannot see.  We hold on to the hope that Henri Nouwen was right, “Waiting is a period of learning.  The longer we wait, the more we hear about Him for whom we are waiting.”

Enjoy this piece I wrote called Sensing Hope
 
Taste
I think of communion; God declaring that He is the Bread of Life, extending an invitation to come and eat because He offers everything we need.  But sometimes….
It tastes like losing your appetite because your stomach is full of ache.
Eating too much, too often, to try and fill a void.

Touch
It’s the feeling of being held and needing to be held when no one is around to embrace your skin.  It’s the feel of tears falling down your cheeks and dropping into your lips.
Holding your breath.
Holding on.
Feeling weighty.  Needing to grasp something heavy to grapple with the heaviness of life. 

Sight
It looks like Dr. Seuss’ The Waiting Place.
Praising God in church with reckless abandon.  People confess to staring.  You do it anyway.
Checking your e-mail to find no response.  No messages on your phone…again.
Coming home to an empty house.
Empty handedness.

Smell
Hope smells like rain.  A remnant of a storm to be sure, but also the promise that new ground is being watered to bring fourth life.  Spring will come again with the unexpected delight of new and beautiful things growing out of the dirt.

Sound
Tears.
Screams.
Sobs.
Laughter.
The song: Strangely Dim, by  Francesca Battistelli

Photo by  C. Hill
Waiting Place Source

Monday, December 2, 2013

Confessions of a Christmas Grinch: How Looking Through the Lens of Advent has Helped to Enlarge My Heart


I have a confession to make: I’m a Christmas Grinch.  I honestly don’t like the holiday season.  As I watch my calendar fill up with expectations and demands, I find myself wanting to white-knuckle the kitchen table, close my eyes tight, and hope with everything in me that somehow when I open my eyes, it will magically be 2014.

It’s a season where I struggle with the music.  I’m constantly flipping stations and feeding my CD player so I don’t have to listen to Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  “It’s NOT the most wonderful time of year!”  I’ve found myself yelling while driving to work after shoveling my driveway, scraping my car window, and leaving 20 minutes early so I can arrive on time.

Snow and ice are not my friends.  Darkness and I aren’t on friendly terms either.  I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and I usually fall about once a month on the ice; sometimes resulting in lingering pain. 

Winter driving is also not one of my favorite activities.  One New Year’s Eve I found myself in the passenger seat as my mom was driving me home from college.  We hit a patch of ice and the car began to swirl around and around like a tilt-a-whirl. In desperation, my mom reached out her hand to protect me and cried, “Oh Jenny, what are we going to do!?”  I sat up straight in my seat and silently said to myself, I guess this is the day I meet Jesus.  It’s amazing how much peace God gives you the moment you think you are about to die; I’m now convinced death is a beautiful thing.  Even though our car landed safely in the ditch and we went home that evening unscathed, I’ve lived in fear of the weather ever since. 

Unfortunately, I don’t fully understand the love language of gift giving.  I’m learning that a present is a way of saying to another person, “ I see you, I know the things you care about, and I want to reflect it in this gift,” but my primary love language is physical touch. I want to be held.  I want those I love to open their arms wide and receive me in their embrace.  No need to pick up something from Target—just sit next to me on the couch. 

My struggle with the Christmas season is why I love the gift of Advent.  It’s an opportunity to view the season from a whole different perspective. It’s the invitation to look through the lens of the gospel and remember three things:

Christ came:  Last December I found myself trying to grasp the threads on my bedroom floor carpet as I lay there shrieking with sobs and tears.  (I wrote about this in a post titled When Words Fail.) Children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT had just been murdered and I couldn’t make sense of it.  The only thing that brought me comfort in the coming days was the knowledge that Jesus was born into a similar terror.  My Savior knew my pain.

Jeremiah 31: 15 A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

Christ will come again:  Last week I wrote about the hope of heaven.  My heart fills joyful expectation as I wait for that great day.

Revelation 21:4  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Christ is with us even now!  Whether you like this season or not; whether December brings you good news of great joy or a keen awareness of sadness and pain, God is with us now, near to us in the midst of this season.

"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").  Mathew 1:23

What’s Advent all about?  Check out this 2 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S02KOlw7dlA

Monday, November 25, 2013

How do you envision heaven?



Revelation 21:4
4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”


Do you ever wonder about heaven?  I let my imagination wonder.  Here’s what I envision:

I hope my room in heaven looks like the main reading room at the Library of Congress.  Rows and rows of ancient books line dark wooden shelves.  There are ornate ceilings, and lots of nooks and crannies with inviting views where I can snuggle up and read.  The lake is at my doorstep.  There’s a dock and a fishing boat and beautiful sunsets.  The Great Blue Heron soars across the water, and because it’s heaven we can talk to each other; he tells me about fishing and I tell him about my day.
 
There’s lots of time to spend with loved ones.  My little nieces and nephew come over every day.  We have story time together and then go out and play in the sand.  My childhood dog is there, tail whipping around and tongue hanging out as he pants a wet smile. 

Heaven is a place where disability doesn’t exist.  Personal care attendants will have to find a line of work.  No one is fed with an IV or syringe. No one eats alone.  No one knows what loneliness is.  Shame is no longer something people carry.  No one wears diapers or uses a wheelchair.  My friend Kris who was injured in a car accident is out playing football once again and my friend Krista, born with a rare genetic condition causing her bones to fuse is out winning beauty pageants; not just because her new body is stunning, but because her character is too.  My students who once had intellectual disabilities are earth are now solving math problems and teaching me things.  My students with autism haven’t lost their childish charm, but in heaven, they can finally speak!

 I have a whole closet full of high heels: hot pink, leopard print, but I think I’ll wear the red ones, at least for the first 100 years.  My feet will match because they will no longer be deformed.  No scars will line my legs.  I won’t have to manage fatigue any longer, suffer from back pain, or have an awkward posture.  My balance will be perfect; my gait will be flawless.  Maybe I’ll even take up running.  Maybe I’ll do it in my red heels.

I hope there will be lots of time for learning.  I want to sit down and have private tea with all my favorite English authors: C.S. Lewis, Paul Brand, J.K. Rowling, and Agatha Christie.  I want to pick their brains about their wonderful imaginations, plot lines, and spend time thanking them for the way their words carried me through life.  I want to take a graduate theology course from Paul the Apostle.  I want to learn about animals from the animals themselves.

I think there will be lots of time to meet people.  I hope we all have a reception line where we get to greet the people that impacted our lives and the people we in turn impacted.  I hope I’ll get to meet my ancestors as far back as I want, and spend lots of time with Grandma who left my life abruptly in 1998. 

In heaven, I won’t have to worry about seasonal depression any more.  There won’t be clouds or darkness to drag me down, but plenty of sunshine and endless light.  There will be times of quiet intimacy with God that are precious and also lots of time to worship together.  I think there will be lots of music and dancing.  Our pitch will be perfect and song will be rich and deep when we sing alone, but everything will come together when we sing as a choir, every voice fitting together like pieces in a puzzle, creating a masterpiece that fills the expanse of heaven.  We’ll want to sing and praise Him forever and ever.

And God finally will be with us.  We will touch him and he will hold us.  We will look into His eyes and He will stare back at us and in that moment we will finally know what it is to know and be known….how I long for that day!

In case the thought of heaven makes you want to sing, may I recommend this song?  Yours will Be (The Only Name) by Big Daddy Weave:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnDTDLOM0rY

 1 Corinthians 13:12
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.


Photo Credit

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Here's to Teachers Who See the Awesome!


I was an awkward teenager.  I didn’t know how to style my hair; I didn’t own any make-up, and I was completely clueless when it came to boys.  They simply weren’t on my radar screen.  It’s as if I have always been a “librarian in training.”  I wore sweaters to school, had glasses on my face, and I spent too many quiet evenings at home reading books.

I spent a lot of time in the library too.  I was a great student, but what motivated me above the thrill and joy of learning was shame.  I felt like a failure for having a physical disability. I hated my body.  I wanted to weave something to cover all of the awkwardness up, so I made a robe from my perfect academics, except they weren’t perfect; I only had a 3.9 G.P.A. in a line-up of several people with 4.0s.  

I remember not liking high school.  I remember wanting the whole experience to be over.  I remember wanting to be an adult.

I also remember that moment sitting in Mr. Olsen’s English class as a junior when he stood in front of us and said, “You all need to learn how to speak.  This class is very talented and I know there are many of you who will one day make some very important speeches.  I want you to be prepared.”

I squirmed in my seat; hopeful and disappointed at the same time.  I knew that I would never address my classmates at commencement, but somehow I knew he was talking to me.  Mr. Olsen was a unique kind of teacher—one who taught beyond the curriculum and considered the whole student.  He wanted to know my name as much as he wanted me to enjoy The Great Gatsby.  He saw me a whole person; he dared to see my talent in the midst of my awkwardness.

I remembered him throughout college as I pushed myself to do better.  When I stood before 7,000 people at St. Cloud State University on Mother’s Day 2006, delivering my valedictory speech, I smiled, not only because of my achievements and honors, but because Mr. Olsen was right—I was making that very important speech.

I always wanted to thank Mr. Olsen for believing in me, and this summer I got my chance.  I ran into him at Perkins one morning and thanked him.  He turned to me, smiled, and said, “I knew you had it in you kid.”
 
Did you have a teacher along the way who helped “reveal the awesome” potential in you?  This week is American Education Week.  What better time to e-mail your alma matter, hop on to Linked In, or look up your teacher on Facebook.  Tell them what an impact they have made; you will be glad you did.

Enjoy this video by Kid President.  (If you can't see the video below, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs)




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finding the Courage to Be Myself: My reaction to being seen on WCCO


There are moments in my life when, because I have cerebral palsy, I don’t like being myself.  I feel inadequate, awkward, and tired.  I wonder how people perceive me and if they like what they see.  But, after this happened last week, I found the courage and confidence to like being myself.  I realized it was okay to let myself be seen, even though my butt sticks out when I stand, my arms get spastic when I'm excited, and my feet are covered with Reeboks because of the inserts and AFO that holds me up each day. Seeing myself on screen, helped me see, that even in the midst of all that awkwardness, I am beautiful.  I like what I see and so do other people.  For the first time, in a long time, I was happy about the place I am at in life, the work God is doing, and the people He has called me to.  I finally wanted to be me! 

Thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support over the past few days.  I am secure in my conviction that I am loved.

Please enjoy the letter and videos that follow.  I did receive permission to share this letter in its entirety from Aimee Libby. Aimee, this is one of the most beautiful letters I've ever read.  Thank you for taking the time to write it and for honoring me.

From: Aimee Libby
Subject: Excellent Educator nomination
Date: October 4, 2013 at 3:56:42 PM CDT
To: morning@wcco.com

Hello,

 My name is Aimee Libby and I have two kids who attend St. Michael Elementary (STME) in St. Michael, MN. My oldest child (Peyton) has special needs from an injury at birth, and is in 3rd grade at STME. Peyton struggles with Expressive & Receptive Language Disorder and Global Apraxia (both neurological planning/processing disorders). We have been at STME for three years, and while we have met and interacted with countless amazing staff members there both in the regular ed and SPED classrooms, there's one person in particular who has had a huge impact on our family – and who is making a HUGE impact on our entire community. Her name is Jenny Hill. She is the Media Specialist at STME, and she was born at 29 weeks gestation with Cerebral Palsy. The very first week our daughter, Peyton, was at STME, she came home raving about "Miss Hill". I had no idea who she was, so I looked her up on the school staff directory online. I remember thinking, "Weird, she's just the librarian". When my husband and I asked Peyton why she liked Miss Hill so much, her response was, "She's different. Like me." Little did we know that Ms. Hill was very actively teaching so much more than simply how to check out a book.

 Over the past few years, we've gotten to know Miss Hill and have been amazed at what a great asset she is to STME and to our community. She's very open with the kids about her disability. In talking with her, we have been so encouraged to hear her mission as an educator - to make sure every student knows they are loved, appreciated, and respected. I once asked her how she's able to so freely discuss her disability after having such a difficult time growing up, feeling as though she was alone and without any friends. I know for myself, it's often difficult to talk about or explain my daughter's disability to others, but Jenny does it with grace and ease. Her response blew me away, she said, "I have seen that sharing my story has the power to provide hope, inspiration, and encouragement to others who are struggling". Wow.

About a year and a half ago I helped start a Special Olympics team here in St. Michael-Albertville…and Jenny has been one of our biggest fans! She invited my daughter and I to be a part of the daily "morning news" at STME during "Acceptance Week" last April to help inform the kids what Special Olympics is all about, she has helped promote fundraisers for our team, she has also been doing an amazing job encouraging kids to look beyond people's disability (whether physical or cognitive). Through sharing her story and being transparent to both students and staff at her building, she's trailblazing a beautiful path for all current and future students with special needs/disabilities to walk down – one that is filled with cheerleaders along the way and even friends walking ON that path with them, hand-in-hand. Jenny is promoting acceptance, but more importantly, she is working so very hard to teach each student she comes in contact with that "different" is good. Because deep down, we're all "different" in one way or another.

 We can't say enough good things about Miss Hill! And we'd love for her to be recognized for all that she's doing (much of which she probably doesn't even realize) simply by being herself and being open with everyone regarding her disability. She is truly one in a million and we're so lucky to have her at STME!

Thanks for your time and consideration!
 Sincerely,
Aimee Libby

On Thursday morning, Edward Moody from WCCO showed up in the middle of my first class to hand me an award and name me their Excellent Educator of the Week.
If you cannot see the video embedded below, visit this link: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/video/9505775-excellent-educator-jenny-hill-at-st-michael-elementary/




I also want to express my gratitude for Steve Wiens in how he honored me this weekend at Church of the Open Door.  If have time, please watch this message in its entirety.  It is very good.  Steve tells my story around the 20 minute mark.  Here is the link: http://vimeo.com/79120409


Monday, November 4, 2013

Jesus Wept


The fellowship of suffering….I experienced it last week when I opened up about the pain of being stared at in public.  Many of you who responded were people who have experienced this pain yourself.  Your reaction was not one of pity or encouragement, but rather expressions of understanding, “Well said.” “Thank you.”  “I’ve had similar experiences.”  This is the fellowship of suffering—when what we read points to our pain with such pressure we can feel it, and at the same time brings relief because the words have brought friendship to our grief.

This, however, leads to a good question.

How do we react when we haven’t had similar experiences?  What do we do when our friends and family are facing the unbearable?  What do we say when all of our words and information seem cheap and wrong and the best option it would seem, is to say nothing, yet it is these situations which cry the loudest for our concern?

This is not the time to try to fix things.

It’s not the time to offer friendly advice or a story.

Please don’t send a message to “think on the bright side.”

I think these are the times when we must learn to sit with one another in the midst of pain and weep.

This is not an easy thing to learn.

Let’s face it; many of us are reserved native Minnesotans, myself included.  I also have Norwegian roots.  I’m not a crier.  It’s like Tom Hanks  has been two inches away from my ear my whole life screaming, “There’s no crying!!”

But, as I continue to interact with people who are suffering, I am slowly learning how to weep.  It’s like I hold it all inside until it’s pressing down on my chest.  When I sit down alone to pray, it all comes out with so much force I can hardly breathe.  I’ve learned to thank God for these moments, to ask Him for tears and to thank Him when they come because a hard cry seems to be the only release and the only authentic expression I can offer.

Jesus did this.

In John 35:11, upon hearing of Lazarus’ death, we read the famous line, “Jesus wept.”  Jesus, who had just boldly proclaimed to Martha that He was “The Resurrection and the Life,” the only One who could really fix the situation, was reduced to tears when he saw other people’s pain.  He wept with them.  He joined with them in their suffering.  It was this act that caused the crowd to cry, “See how he loved him!”

Want to read more?  Tanya Marlow is a minister, blogger, and a person who lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Read what she has to say in an article written for Relevant Magazine.

Photo Credit






Monday, October 28, 2013

What it feels like to be stared at in public


I’ve been stared at by men and women alike in public.  It’s an odd thing, catching the eye of someone observing the way I walk.  When it’s a woman, she’s usually elderly and experiencing some kind of mobility issue herself.  There’s this weird moment of one-upmanship where she glances at me from head to toe, giving a nod that says, Yes, we’re both struggling to move, but at least I didn’t look like you in my 20s!  I’m winning!

The occasions where men have stared at me have been a different experience.

It happened once in college at a party when a man looked at me and demanded, “Are you limping!?” and continued to stare until I gave him an answer.  I wanted to throw my milk in his face.

It happened when I took my first doctoral course at Bethel University.  I stepped off an elevator to witness a man watch me walk down the hall.  I turned and caught him in the act.  He gulped and turned red. 

It happened last April while walking into a coffee shop.  I thought the man going in the door was checking me out as I walked toward him.  I could feel his eyes on me.    As I got nearer, I realized he was gawking at the way I walk---then I watched him frown.  What he saw was disappointing.

In that moment, I wanted to say all kinds of angry things, but, I said nothing. I let him open the door for me, and watched him find a table, where he proceeded to pull out his big bible and concordance.

Being stared at is like being stared through.  Only the shell of your being is seen; your soul goes unnoticed.  It hurts.  It cuts in a way that leaves a mark.  It makes you want to stay inside, stay home, and stay single!  It challenges you to believe that what you have to offer the world is unwelcome.

Even though you know you’re valuable, you feel you’ve just been appraised and found lacking.  Even though you are loved by many people in your life, you go home and ask dark questions, “Does everyone look at me this way; are some just better at hiding it than others?”  “Am I always going to be disappointing?”  “What is it about me that needs to change?”

All of these painful experiences of being stared at in public have taught me this:

How we see each other matters. 

Looks can pierce. They can also heal.
 

You and I get to decide what role we’re going to play.

Perhaps one of the most powerful gifts we can ever give away is to love someone with our eyes—to make eye contact and smile.  Being seen in a way that acknowledges the soul can change a person.  Some of the pain of the past can melt.  When a person sees eyes staring back at them, reflecting love, not disappointment, they realize they are safe to be themselves, even when all of their flaws are on display.  It gives them courage to believe that what they have to offer the world is not only welcome, but a much richer place because of it.

Let’s love each other well.  Let’s do it with our eyes.

Photo Credit

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

To Love Another Person Is To See the Face of God!


My earliest memories of listening to Les Miserables are sitting in the back of Dad’s truck, leaning towards the cassette player as a copy of the Original London Cast rang out from the speakers.  What was this beautiful sound that delighted my ears and stirred my soul?  Who were these intriguing people singing with such passion and desire?  As their names and stories tangled and wove within my mind, I was even more drawn to the music.

I would turn the pages of the Star Tribune on Sunday afternoons while lying on the living room floor.  When I would see an ad with Cosette’s hair waving in the wind, I would spring up and beg, “Can we please go see the show?”

The answer was always, “When you’re older.”

So, as I grew, I learned the story of Les Mis: Jean Valjean’s crime, Javert’s pursuit, Fantine’s sickness, Cosette’s misery, Eponine’s heartbreak, Marius’ love.  I remember pouring over Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in seventh grade at the public library.  I was composing an art project that I wanted to conclude with a rich quote from Victor Hugo.  It was here that I came across this little gem, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we all are loved.”  It’s still one of my favorites.

On a hot August evening in 2002, I finally saw the show.  From the opening act to the curtain call, my heart was gripped as I watched the stage turning through the years; all the scenes I had imagined as a little girl were finally coming to life.  I heard the people sing!  I wanted to join in their crusade!  The end of the show is so passionate and real; it still brings tears to my eyes and turns my heart towards justice.

The show concludes with this famous line, “Remember, the truth that once was spoken; to love another person is to see the face of God!”

This is a line that has lingered in my mind since the early days of sitting in Dad’s truck, drinking in the words with wonder.  What does this mean?  It’s a truth I’ve pondered while driving to work, drinking my morning coffee, or lying in bed at night.

Of course, I think it means that when we stare into the eyes of another we have the chance to behold God’s crowning beauty.  We are created in the image of God and when we truly stop to peer into another’s soul, we learn more about what God looks like.

I also believe that love can change our perspective.  (See 1 Peter 4:8).  When we look through the lens of love, we see beyond pain to behold the promise of redemption.  We remember the blood of Jesus covers us and offers forgiveness.  This is true and available not only for our friends and our enemies, but also for us.  God looks at us not with anger, but with compassion.  Holding this perspective helps us look at others the same way.

Lately, I’ve come to realize this:  When we love another person, they have the opportunity to see the face of God.  God’s lavish qualities are so vast, they are sometimes hard to grasp.  It is these qualities that are often best understood when they are first reflected in another person.

I know God loves me, but I feel it most vividly when I’m wrapped in a hug.

I know God hears me, I but I see it most l clearly when people show up in my life meeting needs and desires I have never vocalized outside of prayer. 

I know God redeems, but I saw it first when Prisoner 24601 became Jean Valjean.

What does “To love another person is to see the face of God!” mean to you?

Here is the finale.  The famous line happens in the last minute.




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Facebook is where I friended envy. She is the green-eyed monster.



 There came a point last spring where I had to take a break from Facebook.  One morning I woke up and realized that I was looking at other people’s lives every day as if they were flash cards, hard-wiring my brain to continually focus on all that I didn’t have: a husband, kids, an active social life, vacations, money….


I would sit in front of my laptop and see other people’s lives take off, their careers advance, their contributions noticed.  Instead of becoming thankful for all the work God was doing in the lives of the people I knew, I became angry.  I wished God was blessing my life in the same ways.

Facebook is where I friended Envy.  She is the green-eyed monster.

I tried to keep this monster at bay, told myself it’s just part of human nature, but when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I closed my laptop, cried about it before God, and I told my girlfriends. 

They did something about it.

The next week one of them showed up with this fabulous blog post and podcast, Smiting the Green-Eyed Monster.  If you have 15 minutes or are struggling with envy yourself, I highly recommend it.

When we were done listening, we took out paper and markers, and my girlfriends wrote out all the things they were thankful for in their lives.  I took a different route.  On one page I wrote out a confession, detailing someone I was envious of and why.  One the second page I wrote out a prayer, asking God to bless this person, thanking God for all the ways He has blessed their life.  We went around the circle and shared our creations.

It was powerful.

Envy hasn’t totally un-friended me after one evening, but here’s what I’m learning about her:

1.  Sometimes we need to take a break from social media.  Not only because these tools can breed envy, but also because we need silence.  Somewhere within the mixture of jealousy, covetousness, and envy, may lay honest desires.  All of this needs to be unpacked and opened before God and maybe even a few good friends.

2.  We can fight envy with thankfulness.  When we see God at work in someone’s life, we have a tremendous opportunity to join Him in the work He is already doing by thanking Him and asking for His continual blessing.  The diversity within the Body of Christ is breathtaking and sublime, but She is the most stunning when we are all playing our own unique role, not when we’re chasing after and trying to steal someone else’s part.

3.  Finally, God really is enough.  Not only for the people you see who are being blessed but also for you.  I don’t think we always believe this is true because of the picture we carry. Sometimes the “enough” of God looks like cheap plastic wrap covering a bowl.  It’s stretching and tearing, barely making a fit.

When in fact, I believe, the “enough” of God is like being covered in a big green priestly robe.  You hold out your arms to discover that not only are the sleeves long enough, but the whole thing is made of generous amounts of fabric, rich and deep, covering us so we are ready to serve Him.

Has Facebook made you envious?  How are you fighting it?


Photo Credit

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why Keep Going? Musings on continuing a doctorate

I'm guest blogging today at The Well.  It's a "gathering place for women in graduate school and beyond."  I wrote about a topic I don't discuss very often...the pursuit of my doctorate.  Enjoy!

“Why are you getting your doctorate?” 

“You’re nuts!”

“I’d never do that.”

I’m two years into the process of pursuing my doctorate and when I hear comments like these, they make me pause and consider:
  • My dwindling bank account, rising tuition costs, and unsubsidized loans.
  • The crippling fatigue I feel when the week is over. I’ve just worked 40+ hours, completed coursework in the evening, and tried to juggle relationships.
  • The nakedness of my ring finger.
  • My house that looks like a neglected child: dishes in the sink, piles of laundry, and a continually barren refrigerator.  My bathroom looks like a crime scene.
I try to “read for fun,” but my brain is too over-stimulated to take in more information.  Read more: http://thewell.intervarsity.org/blog/why-keep-going-musings-continuing-doctorate
 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do you ever wonder about what you don't see?


“Do you ever wonder about what you don’t see?”  My pastor asked this weekend during his sermon.

You have no idea. I thought, nodding my head.

Often high functioning people with CP struggle with visual-spatial relationships.  I don’t easily understand maps. I didn’t really grasp how to draw a straight line with a ruler until I was in tenth grade. The day I figured it out in geometry was amazing.  (I still own said ruler).  I can’t remember what side of the envelope the stamp goes on.  I’ve gotten lost in the one-story elementary school building that I’ve worked in for six years. Our Dean of Students caught me one day, walking in the hall, confused.  I was ten kinds of embarrassed! I’ve gotten lost in my own neighborhood, even though there’s really only one road.  Truth is, you could remodel your house, display all the Christmas lights you own, or hang out on your lawn with your six children….I might not notice.

This summer, fed up and frustrated with my inability to perceive all that was in front of me, I went to see a neurological ophthalmologist.  He dilated my pupils until I looked like a feline, took blinding pictures of my optic nerves, and told me to come back for a field of vision test.  I hoped that he could give me some answers, explaining why hallways sometimes look like mazes or why I have to tell myself that my contact case really is in front of me when the bathroom counter resembles a cruel game of I SPY.  Hundreds of dollars later, he had nothing to offer.  Suddenly, I was the bleeding woman in Mark 5.  I had spent all my money and it had gotten me nowhere.

All of this has caused me to do one thing, wonder about what I don’t see.  Beyond my toothbrush and my car keys, I’ve begun to wonder about the people in my life who are overlooked and have considered how I might notice and include them.  Want to join me?  I don’t have all the answers; I know I’ll continue to miss people that are right in front of me, but here’s a few things I’ve tried that help.

1.     When I’m alone, I regularly spend time thinking about people.  Who needs to be encouraged?  Who needs to be thanked?  What big things are going on in people’s lives that need to be noticed the next time I see them?  Who seems lonely, excluded, undervalued?  How can I come alongside these people, so they’ll feel they belong?  Who am I struggling with right now and how I can bring peace into that relationship?  Who haven’t I seen in a while?

2.     Before I go into spaces where I know there will be lots of people, I remind myself to slow down.  I think some of my inability to see others has to do with my own hurriedness.  I’ve noticed that slowing down helps me focus, perceive more people who are in a crowd, and improve my ability to listen.

3.     I regularly ask God for help.  Throughout the spaces of the day, I simply exhale and ask, “God, help me see.”  This reminds me of the ongoing invitation to see, value, and include others, my inability to do it well, and God’s desire to help.

What helps you notice and include others?

Photo Credit

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Elephant in the Room


Disability is the elephant in the room.

Talking about disability is awkward.  Writing about disability is awkward.  Both attempts usually bring about a silence that is…awkward!  When people do engage with it, I usually get one of two responses; one from adults: 

“I just don’t see you that way.”

And one from kids:

“Miss Hill, I saw you.  You were walking so different. It looks funny. You look weird.” 

Both reactions make me want to fight hard against being myself.

Sometimes I want to be another person.  I spend gobs of mental energy imagining how happy I would be if I was someone else:  I covet their gifts, their career, their opportunities, their relationships and assume that my life has less to offer the world.

Sometimes I  just try to blend in:  I wear trendy clothes and work hard at saying nothing.
 
Most days, I try to hide who I am.

It’s like I’m holding a deck of cards in my hand, depicting roles I play: auntie, student, librarian, friend that I’d be happy to place on the table, face up, for you to see, but the disability card I hold close while giving you my best poker face.  I don’t want to show you this card because:

Having a physical disability that marks each step I take is hard.

Embracing all the ways this has changed me is harder still. 

Lord have mercy, but some days I’d be happy to trade cards in my hand which say things like, “What I’ve learned about God in the midst of suffering,” for another card that reads, “What it’s like to have an athletic body.”  I’m sorry to admit it, but I’d also entertain a deal where my “character formation” card is swapped for one that reads “normal.”

But, I can’t separate my spastic legs from the rest of my body any more than I can separate the experience from the rest of my identity.

Many of us are taught from a young age that to emphasize a disability is rude and to overlook it is polite.  I think both approaches can be detrimental.  Disabled or not, we must choose to see each other as whole people.

We must do the courageous work of showing up each day to our lives as ourselves, letting others see our entire hand of cards, bearing our uniqueness to the world.

Enjoy this TED Talk by Caroline Casey.  I watched it once and cried.  I watched it the next morning and cried again.  I hope you find it impactful.



Photo Credit: nbc.com

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Wailing Woman





I had just stepped into the bathroom when I heard her.  We were both in the lobby of a clinic for adults with permanent disabilities.  Graciously, I walked in the door that morning.  She was wheeled in, under the constant care of an attendant, orthotics strapped to her ankles and calves.  The skin on her knees was severely chapped.  I assumed that along with cerebral palsy, she was living with epilepsy. 

When I entered the lobby she was carrying on a conversation, but as soon as I had turned the lock to the rest room door, the woman sitting just outside began to wail.  It wasn’t a tantrum.  There wasn’t a hint of high-pitched whine in her song.  Selfishness wasn’t what motivated her cry.  What arose from this woman’s soul was sorrow.

I began to wonder as I stood there washing my hands if the sound I was hearing was what resonated in Jesus’ ears as he walked the streets and people cried out to him in need.  How could he stand it; the unrelenting wail from someone who was deeply crushed?  Her bellows interrupted the silence of the waiting room, challenging what was acceptable and polite. 

Part of me wished that it would stop.  How could I really be here? I stared ahead at the adult length pressurized bed that was set up in the bathroom.  You read that last sentence right.  A dignified changing table lay in front of me with hand sanitizer and directions for care-givers mounted on the wall above.  Some of the adult patients here need to wear diapers.

I considered how I hadn’t worn diapers since I was a toddler, silently thanked God for my independence, and continued to focus on the piercing cry outside my door.  I was drawn to it, wondering how Jesus would react to this situation if he were me standing in this room.  Somewhere deep within the winds of her scream, I could hear a whisper To this you were called.    I closed my eyes and imagined Jesus for a moment, standing on a dusty street, hearing this all too familiar noise, sensing a call to act.

I walked out the door and took a seat, unsure of what to do.  I wanted to get up from my chair, walk across the room and sit next to her.  But, asking what’s wrong seemed inappropriate, not only because she was a stranger, but because I knew the answer.

Everyday this woman wakes up in a body that doesn’t work right.  The spasticity of her muscles has confined her to a chair strangling her ability to walk, move, and bend.  Every day looks the same: lonely, dependent, disappointing.  Instead of living a life that has gradually sprung upward from childhood to independence, her life has come to a screeching halt; instead of a dorm room, a group home, instead of a college text, an expanded cable package.

Her constant doctor’s appointments have become the focus of her calendar.  This is the only time she has a chance for another person to see her outside her home, a variation in her routine.  Doctors are continually prescribing drugs, inquiring how she’s doing.  This is how I’m doing!  Her cry seemed to demand.  You’re all here to treat my body, but it is my soul that is crushed!

I wanted to join with her in in her confession, because in that moment I was pretty sure she was the most authentic person in the room.  The clarity at which she was admitting her need was so transparent it was scary. I wondered if this is why Jesus was so drawn to people like the woman in front of me, why the gospel is full of accounts of Jesus encountering need.  I’m hurting, I’m broken, I’m in need.  See me and my pain! She seemed to cry without hesitation.  No hiding.  No pretending.
 
I wanted to move towards her, but instead I sat in my chair and buried my head in my paper, reading Dear Abby.  Moments later, a social worker came out and wheeled her away so no one could hear her.  I was relieved for the quiet but unsettled in my response.  Why do we quiet the cry of the hurting, preferring our comfort, ignoring those in front of us who are honest about their need?

 Photo credit

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What if?

I love being seen.
I love being greeted with a smile and a hug.
I love when my nieces realize I’ve come over for a visit.
I love standing behind a microphone.
I love adding flair to my outfit.
I love hearing laughter after telling a joke.

I’d love to be well known.
I’d love to be successful.
I’d love to speak more often in public.
I’d love to publish a book.
I’d love to know more people.

I love being seen.

Hmmmm……

Wonder with me:

What if the “big things” God has called you to do, were actually small?
What if instead of striving to be bigger and better, your goal was simply to remain faithful to the things that were in front of you?

What if you accepted the invitation to be hidden?
What if no one knew your name?
What if you often went without acknowledgement, without thanks?

What if your influence only reached a handful of people?
What if you never developed a following on Twitter, no one liked you on Facebook, or read your blog?
What if that was okay?

What if you paid the most attention to those who were ignored?
What if you walked into a room and changed your focus?
What if you stopped asking, “Who sees me?  Who do I know?”
What if you started asking, “Who needs to be seen?  Who needs to be known?”

What if you let others see your unpolished parts?
What if you looked inside your heart and embraced who you really were?
What if you found the courage to quit comparing yourself to others?
What if you realized it isn’t a competition and you haven’t won or lost?

What if it was about being seen by God, knowing He is well pleased?
What if?


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How do you think God sees you?

This summer I was asked, “How do you think God sees you?”  I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I have taken some time since to ponder and let my imagination run wild.  Enjoy!



Paul ends 2 Corinthians with this sentiment: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

I imagine the Holy Trinity sitting around an old wooden table, laughing, eating crusty bread, and drinking dry Merlot.  They’re reclining, wearing white robes and sandals just like the pictures in Sunday school class.  They crack a few jokes and maybe even text OMG to the Father.  (Why not?  That would be funny!) Suddenly the conversation changes as the three talks seriously, specifically about you and me.

The fellowship at the table has been rich and deep, but the Trinity decides that they want it to be richer and deeper still.  They want to include us at the table.  Jesus looks to the Father, nods to the Holy Spirit, and says, “I’ll go.” 

Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his heavenly robe and puts on humanity.  He steps out of the door of heaven and onto the face of the earth.  You and I are lost, but Jesus begins to search; walking through darkness, carrying light. 

In no time at all, Jesus finds you.  Maybe you’re in the back corner of a sanctuary.  You can’t draw near to Him because of all that cripples you so Jesus moves towards you instead.  Maybe you’re lost in the crowd, stumbling shoulder to shoulder, trying to push others out of the way.  You’re straining to get ahead.  Jesus is suddenly standing before you at the Stop sign, asking you to slow down, to follow Him.  Maybe you’re sitting alone at the lunch table, feasting on shame, loneliness, and despair.  Jesus sits down next to you, bites into an apple and smiles.
 
Wherever you are, in a corner, on a crowded street, alone, Jesus finds us and sees us in all of our poverty.  He sees our dependence, our lack, our need, our sin.  He sees all of our darkness.    But instead of turning away, Jesus looks deeper into our souls and sees value, beyond what we could ever hope to be worth and in a remarkable act of kindness, seeing all of us; for all that we are, turns towards us and says, "Hey, want to be friends?"

“I want to walk with you all the days of your life, and when they are over; I want to take you to heaven to meet my friends.  We have a place at the table waiting, just for you.”

Photo Credit

Friends, how do you think God sees you?