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:

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: