Monday, February 25, 2013

From Where I Sit

My church is currently preaching through the book of Acts.  The focus the past few weeks has been in Act 3, where Peter and John encounter a man lame from birth at the gate called Beautiful, and heal him.  People who know my past have been asking me for my thoughts on this story, kindly wondering how I’m feeling while I sit in church absorbing this scene. 

This story resonates with me in profound and personal ways.   It’s so easy for me to close my eyes and insert myself into the story, having been born with a crippling condition:  begging at the gate day after day, struggling through life.  Then, all at once, everything changes.  Two men whom I’ve seen only from a distance suddenly stop, focus their attention, and offer something so much more substantial than lunch money.  I can imagine what it would be like to instantly saw goodbye to fatigue, spasticity, and pain; I’m sure I would take off walking and leaping and praising God too!

Even though I haven’t encountered God in a way that has changed my body, I have encountered Him in a way that has changed my heart.     Walking alongside God over the years, learning that His grace really is sufficient, and His power really is made perfect in my weakness has made my heart leap for joy!  He has made me glad.

People have complex needs.  I think so often that when we encounter people with physical disabilities, we perceive their physical challenges as the most obvious and immediate need they face.  However, it might not be the most profound issue pressing against their heart.  I think we need to be open to whatever gift God may want to bring someone.  Jesus gave us this example when he asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10).

What strikes you about this story?

Friday, February 15, 2013


Last month I was invited to participate in a health screening clinic at work in order to get a discount on my health insurance.  It was no big deal, except that it required participants to fast ahead of time.  No problem!  I thought as I made an appointment for 8:00AM.  I’ll just grab something to eat afterwards. 

Except “afterwards” never really came.

Due to some scheduling challenges, my appointment didn’t take place until 10:40AM, and by that time I was starving.   My yogurt sat in the fridge uneaten and my coffee lingered in my thermos, gradually losing its heat.   While filling out my forms in the waiting room, our administrative assistant asked me how I was doing.  I looked at her square in the eyes with a little more tenacity than was appropriate and exclaimed, “I just want to eat something!”  

I can’t believe people chose to fast as a spiritual practice.  I thought to myself later.  I don’t feel holy or closer to God; I just feel like I want to bite people’s heads off!

So, when my church announced that it was going to observe Lent this year, I began to get curious about this tradition.  I learned quickly that participating in Fat Tuesday was a joy!  I had four meals and two cups of coffee that day without any guilt.  

But, when it came to thinking about what I would give up for the season, I felt a little stymied.  “Can you choose to add something “good” into your routine, instead of giving something up?”  I asked my colleagues at work.  “Because,” (and I actually said this), “I can’t think of something to give up, I think I’ve been pretty good this year.”

I got a few silent stares in response and began to wonder if I should be giving up ignorance and pride for Lent.  Lent, I was quickly discovering, was not about trying to get on “Santa’s Good List,” to avoid getting coal in your stocking…although, there are ashes involved…..

I went home and spent some honest time in prayer.  I won’t be giving up food this season or social media, but rather an activity that I participate in and enjoy, but wonder if it is the best use of my time and energy.  I want to abstain from it for the next 40 days and then consider if I should give it up for good.  I’m curious to see how God meets me in its absence and if I will be more poignantly reminded that I need less of myself and more of Him. 

Are you curious about Lent?  My pastor, Steve Wiens, started a blog this week exploring this theme of Lent.  Steve is a talented teacher and writer, and if you are looking for something substantial to read, even beyond this season in the church calendar, check out his blog at


Saturday, February 9, 2013


I’m trying to read three books about suffering simultaneously. At points, it seems like an exercise in mental gymnastics. There’s a web of opinions about what exactly causes suffering, what happens when we suffer, and how we might experience endurance or relief. Suffering for me, feels like being asked to live on the inside of a glass box. My palms are pressed firmly against the pane, curiously watching as other people enjoy their life. The scenery changes with the season.

Today, I see people enjoying marriage and family while I experience life alone. I watch others enjoy the activity of their bodies, running 10Ks on the weekends and playing basketball for fun. I assess my fatigue, and strap a brace onto my left leg before heading out the door to work. I observe my fellow 20-Somethings relishing friendships with others who are the same age. I usually feel disconnected when I talk to young adults; there’s a chasm of experience that exists between us. My life, it feels, has been thrown off track.

I’ve grown weary while turning the pages of my books, setting one down to pick up another. Occasionally I’ll savor a sentence or two, but it is this metaphor that I’ve found the most helpful.

Suffering is an isolating experience. One that makes me feel as if I were hiding down the hall in a dark bedroom, waiting. My head is turned towards the door hoping someone will come and offer comfort. When will this end? Does anyone see me here? Can any good come of this?

Jesus, hearing of my plight, sheds the afghan from around his waist and exchanges his evening slippers for a pair of shoes. Quieting the fire, he leaves the warmth of home and steps into the chill of the night. Snow is falling. It’s very cold and stormy outside, but the weather is something he can calm. Reaching the front door of my house, he begins to knock with determination.

Startled by the sound, I call from the bedroom with anticipation, “Come in!” Once inside, Jesus looks around my house and down the hallways, seeking me out, finding me in the bedroom, lying there in my suffering. Slowly, he comes beside the bed, and takes me by the hand. As he wraps his fingers securely around my palm, my loneliness begins to melt. I look into his eyes and realize—he has no intention of leaving my side.

He leans forward and whispers to me three things about himself I need to hear:

I am good.
I am near.
I am at work.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Carried to the Table

“God, why do you love me?”  I asked aloud as I sat on my couch Friday night.  I thought about my appearance when I move, my spasticity, and lack of grace. I thought about how kind God has been towards me; how closely He has paid attention and attended to the details of my life.  The two ideas clashed.  With some perplexity, I tried to imagine what it must look like from His perspective to be my friend: A tender and loving God embracing me with all of my physical quirks. “I’m so…awkward!”  I let my confession linger in the air.

 Once a month, I have the opportunity to serve communion at my church.  I’ve only been doing it since July, but in the last eight months, I’ve seen many faces come through my line.  Some people are weary; bags hanging heavily under their eyes.  As they come forward, they turn their ear towards my mouth, waiting to hear the words they need most, “The body of Christ was broken for you.  The blood of Christ was shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Suddenly, they turn to meet my gaze and with a sincere exhale say, “Thank you.”

I’ve served people who used walkers and children who need to be held.  I’ve served strangers and dear friends.  I’ve served communion standing up and sitting down.  I’ve served the young and old, the smiling and the serious.  My favorite though, is people who come forward, hands cupped, waiting expectantly to receive the elements.  

As I held my basket this weekend, I thought about God’s fellowship with me, His desire to dine, to share His friendship with people who look and move differently.  I imagined all my friends with physical disabilities sitting around a table with Him, enjoying a meal, smiling and having a great time: accepted, loved, and happy.  

I thought about Mephibosheth, “lame in both feet,” who when called before the throne of David, had a moment of honest exasperation like I did this week on my couch.  Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

But the story doesn’t end in exasperation.  Out of kindness for Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan, David offers a permanent invitation for Mephibosheth to fellowship with him at the king’s table.  I love the last line of this story:  And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.

God wants to fellowship with us out of kindness for who we are:  His children.  We are precious to Him and that’s enough reason to extend a permanent invitation.

But there’s more.

I believe God sees the very real challenges that accompany our human condition. He cares deeply about the pain that we experience.  In the midst of it all, He extends His fellowship because His meal has something to offer.  His broken body brings us wholeness and His blood brings healing to our hearts.  

Stumbo Family Story