Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Trying to See


My dad recently wrote an eclectic devotional called Trying to See.    I read it on Saturday in one sitting.  The beautiful thing about this book is that you can read it fast, but then you can read it again slowly, savoring each story.  It's a book about seeing God in everyday life through short stories, prayers, and commentary.  It's charming, heart-felt, and thought-provoking.  Enjoy the first chapter printed below and then hop over to Amazon to read the rest. 

243897

     On a summer day when the sun is on high beam and the breezes
are welcome caresses, Lake Superior is a visual and sensory force.
The water is so rare a blue that a proper adjective cannot be found
to describe it. If you are standing along Duluth’s high ridge you can
see the sweeping curve of the earth and watch the thousand-foot
ore carriers fall off the edge. From Park Point looking back toward
the city, black hulled, high mast sailboats skim the surface and large
cruisers manned by happy faces come and go at the marina. You’d
swear you were looking at a village planted on a steep hillside along
the Mediterranean. Wading in forty-degree water however, quickly
cools off that illusion. If you’re in a boat a few miles off shore, a
penetrating, primordial awareness overwhelms a person. It is an
awareness of the unbelievable enormity of the earth and its largest
fresh water ocean.
     When my children were still living at home we’d try to get up
there as many summers as we could. Duluth meant fun places to
eat and hanging out at the lift bridge. There, we could watch giant
ships from all over the world squeeze through the narrow canal,
their rotating radar scanners barely slipping under the raised deck of
the iconic bridge. Many of the crew would be out on deck waving a
happy hello to the crowds pressing on the rail.
     We also enjoyed the train ride. The city runs an open-air train
made of passenger cars with no walls or windows. You sit on
simple wood benches situated perpendicular to the sides of the car
so you can face each other and still look out in both directions. The
train creeps its way from the waterfront up to the high ridge of the
city and on through to the northeastern outskirts of town.
     On one such excursion two elderly ladies sat down across from
the four of us. They were both short and slight. They moved
slowly but were not frail. They boarded arm and arm and remained
that way. Their silver hair was professionally done and their make-up was
just so. They wore stylish clothing and each one was adorned with earrings,
bracelets, and wedding rings with diamonds that were not bought at the mall.
One couldn’t help but assume they were sisters.
     As the train crawled along, they started commenting to one
another about what they were seeing. Occasionally, they would slip
into an unfamiliar language and almost whisper to each other. Their
enjoyment of the vistas of the crystal blue sea was obvious.
     After ten minutes or so, one of the ladies turned her attention to
us and asked, “Are you locals?”
     “Yes we are.”
     “We’ve heard about a place called Palisades Head and wondered
if it was worth the trip further up the north shore?”
     “It is spectacular and worth the drive.” I assured them.
     Their query opened the door for some informal introductions.
Their names were Hattie and Lillian. An easy comfortableness
settled in on the six of us, and we carried on with a light friendly
conversation. For the first time since we met them they unclasped
their arms and created a slight space between themselves on the bench.
Hattie’s sleeves were three quarters length. As she and Lillian
adjusted their seating and unlocked arms her inner forearm became
visible exposing something that looked like a tattoo scar. It was old
and small. Hattie noticed that we noticed. She wasn’t offended. She
actually leaned forward, held out her arm and gave us a closer look.
     It was a number: 243897.
     It happened that at this time, my daughter was going through a
period in her early middle school education where she was studying
all things Nazi, Jewish, and WWII. She had read Ann Frank,
Number the Stars, and anything about Corrie ten Boom. She knew
before the rest of us what the numbers on Hattie’s arm meant. She
immediately crossed the aisle and sat next to her. Hattie gently
clasped my daughter’s hand and gave her a little squeeze and allowed
her to slowly graze her index finger over the numbers. She then
wrapped her arm around my daughter’s so now they were ones who
were arm and arm.
     “We were about your age.” Hattie said, breaking the silence.
     “We met at Majdanek.”
     She motioned to Lillian. Lillian slid up her sleeve just enough to
reveal her scar also. The numbers were not as clear as Hattie’s, but
there was no mistaking them for anything else.
     The ladies went on to tell a heart-wrenching story of terror,
brutality, loss…and survival.
     “Majdanek started out as a factory camp and eventually morphed
into an extermination camp,” she explained. “It was a place where
nostril violating stench and chimneys blackened by unholy fires
provided unrelenting daily torment. By some miracle we both
remained sane. We first noticed each other in a food line. Our
mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters were all gone. We became
inseparable.”
     “That is why we survived.” Lillian added.
     Hattie continued.
     “One night we heard gunfire and shouting, followed by big
explosions in the distance. The Germans fled the camp. By morning
the gates were unguarded, yet none of us left. We were emaciated
and pale. We didn’t have enough strength to walk anywhere anyway.
We all stood silently at the edge of the fences, staring into the
distance, waiting for we knew not what. The Allies came the next
afternoon. We didn’t know who they were, or why they were there.
But we knew they weren’t the Nazis.”
     Then Lillian recounted an unshakable memory.
     “There was a tall man in a brown uniform. He broke off a piece
of bread and held it out for me. When I reached through the fence
to take it I looked up. I still remember the officer’s eyes, vividly.
They were as exhausted as mine and he was crying.”
     Hattie knew of an uncle who had immigrated to America before
the hostilities broke out in Europe. The uncle took both girls in
and raised them as sisters until adulthood. They grew, married,
had families, and lived full lives. They never lost contact with each
other. Now in their twilight years they were both widows. Hattie
lived in California and Lillian in Manitoba. For the last twelve or so
summers they would pick a city in the U.S. to vacation together. The
city had to have a university and be close to natural wonders. Had
to have a university because they would audit a class during their
visit. As Hattie put it, “We need to keep learning new things to stay
sharp.” Natural wonders because, “Who wants to sit in a classroom
all day?”
     All too soon the train was pulling back into the station. My
family’s little ten-mile tourist ride had become much more than
merely taking in the views. We’d been transported back in time to
Eastern Europe with two young, Jewish orphan girls.
     My daughter and Hattie were still arm and arm. She told Hattie
about the books she had been reading and a movie she’d seen.
     “When I think about all that stuff I have trouble believing there
is a God.”
     Hattie squeezed her arm a little tighter and leaned in. “There has
to be a God my dear.”
     “Why?”
     “Because we can still love.”

“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Speaking of...

Hey blog readers!

I haven’t been writing very much this summer, partly because I am gearing up for some speaking events!  I know I haven’t met many of you, so if you’re interested in attending one of the events below, I really would love to meet you face to face.


Friday, October 3rd I will be hosting a break-out session at the MEMO/ITEM conference in St. Cloud for media specialists.  I will be speaking from 11:30-12:15.  My session is going to focus on my writing/editing journey and why I chose to self-publish. 



Sunday, October 12th, I will be speaking at Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud, MN.  Church starts at 10AM.  They are doing a series on Missional Living.  I’m going to be sharing my story, but I’m also going to dive into the mission I’ve felt called to as a result of writing Walking with Tension.  This event is free and open to everyone.  I will have books for sale that I’d be happy to sign.



Saturday, October 18th, I will be at The Blessing House in Victoria, MN.  I’m going to share my story of learning to walk with the tension of trusting a God who heals, yet has chosen not to heal me.  I will also be talking about my book.  It looks like they have many great classes; the cost is $25.



Finally, I will be speaking at the undergraduate chapel service at the University of Northwestern on Wednesday, November 19th as part of their Disability Awareness Week.



If you have an event that you would like me to speak at, I’d love to connect with you!  You can check out some of my speaking topics on my speaking page, or e-mail me at walkingwithtension@gmail.com and we can talk about crafting a talk that works for you!

You can listen to one of the first talks I gave about walking with God and with CP in 2010 at Church of the Open Door along with Steve Wiens on YouTube.



And, if you haven’t yet checked out Walking With Tension, it is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Joni & Friends 35th Anniversary Blog Contest

Jenny, Ken, Kris, and Joni MN '14

I still remember standing on the green chair in my father’s den, peering onto the top rows of his bookshelf, looking for something to read.  It was 1997.  I was 13, overly self-conscious of my mild cerebral palsy, desperately longing for God to reach out His hand and heal me. 

Joni was sitting on a corner shelf, stacked against a few other titles I didn’t recognize.  Perhaps I was drawn to the fact that a young woman grazed the cover. Maybe I was intrigued by its flowery title whose giant brown letters framed Joni’s face like a window, inviting me to peer back into the 1970s.

My next few days were spent with the world only in my periphery as it peeked out beyond the pages of the book.  Joni wrote with such gripping detail that I too felt as if I had broken my neck in a diving accident and spent my evenings recovering in a Stryker frame. 

It was Joni’s concluding words that gripped me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go:  I’d rather be in this chair knowing him than on my feet without him.

No!  I screamed in my head.  Isn’t there a third option!?  Can’t I love Jesus AND be healed?  I scanned the pages of her book in torment before I threw it under my bed.  Days later I placed in into a brown paper bag and carried it to the trash.
*             *             *
In 2012, I arrived at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat held at Castaway Club in Detroit Lakes, MN.  (Learn about family retreats and more at http://www.joniandfriends.org/) After much deliberation, I had accepted the invitation to volunteer as a short-term missionary (STM) for the week. 

I was simply overwhelmed.

I found myself in the bathroom one afternoon only to realize that the woman in the stall next to me was changing the diapers of her adult son.

I witnessed a middle-aged woman tend to her two adult sons with severe disabilities by herself because her husband had died of cancer that winter.

I wondered about the man seated in front of me each morning in the chapel.  Why didn’t he have a power wheelchair like everyone else?

Everyone seemed so happy during our nightly volunteer debriefing.  They were smiling and celebrating the precious connections they had made with their campers throughout the day…I wanted to grieve.

Then one day in small group, I looked across the room to witness a man who was crying.  Finally! There’s someone around here who is keeping it real. I thought to myself.
 
“Are you crying because of all you have lost due to your disability?” The STMs around him asked. The man signed “Yes,” and the volunteers began to weep.  The next day, he was introduced to the rest of us.

“This is Kris.  Kris was in a car accident.  He can’t talk with his mouth so he signs with his good hand one letter at a time.  1 is for yes and 2 fingers are for no.  Even though he can’t talk he still thinks like a typical adult.”

Upon hearing these words, I had one of those rare moments in life when I looked at Kris and saw years ahead.  My heart was broken for him, but at the same time, I just wanted to sit beside him and eat pizza together.  I wanted so desperately to go over to his house, sit by his chair, and watch him sign hour after hour until we learned how to communicate.
 
After a few exchanges on Facebook following camp, Kris asked me a simple question, “Do you like pizza?”
 
And so began our friendship.

The last two years have been beautiful and hard.  Learning how to interact with someone who is non-verbal is challenging, but within our conversations I have learned what a gift it is to simply be with another person, that so much can be accomplished and communicated simply by holding another’s hand.  Dallas Theological Seminary professor Dr. Victor Anderson was right when he said:

A ministry of friendship [to people with disabilities] does not depend on a vast biblical knowledge or refined pastoral technique.  Rather it displays loyal love to an individual and a family, modeled after the love God has shown to his broken people. Relational needs are seldom met with an occasional contact.  Family fragmentation may be irreparable, and feelings of aloneness that are controlled in one hour may be ferociously unleashed in the next.  Yet true friendship serves as a balm repeatedly applied and rubbed deep into the soul.

*                                     *                             *

Volunteering as an STM at Joni and Friends Family retreat has changed my life.  It has impacted the mail I receive, the books I read, and how I spend my money.  It has sparked a greater awareness in me to those in my immediate community who have been impacted by disability.  It has caused me to ask deep questions about the role churches can play in reaching out to those who are disabled and to wonder about the spiritual formation process that occurs within a person who suffers.

So much has changed since that day I threw a vintage copy of Joni in the trash.  This summer, Joni visited Minnesota’s Family retreat where Kris and I got to meet her.  Of all the things I said to Joni throughout this special week, the ones that kept falling most often from my lips were, “Thank you!” 


_________________ 
Jenny Hill is an elementary school library media specialist and the author of Walking with Tension a book about her walk with God and with cerebral palsy.  She is currently pursuing her doctorate at Bethel University where Joni visited this March.  Jenny regularly blogs about faith and disability at walkingwithtension.com  

Reference
Anderson, V. D. (2011).  Pastoral care and disability.  In L. J. Waters & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), Why o God?  Suffering and disability in the Bible and the church (pp. 231-243).  Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

The story of Kris was shared with permission.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Look Deep Into Nature

Dear Readers,

Our neighbors at the lake have this quote from Einstein painted on the back of their shed:


It's true, isn't it?  Something clears your mind when you look out at the waves roaring across the lake.  Your soul seems to brighten when you have the chance to let the sun shine down on you during a walk outside.  Your day changes when you have the chance to put down you cell phone and pick up a book to read in the hammock.

I took a break last summer from blogging and it did me some good.  Living life, staring deep into nature itself, produced some really good writing.  If you are new to my blog, here are a few entries from the last nine months that I suggest reading:

The Wailing Woman
How Do you Envision Heaven?
Man of Sorrows

It's been a busy writing year! On March 26th, I launched my book, Walking with Tension, chronicling my journey with God and with cerebral palsy.  Many have told me they cannot put it down.  A few have asked for a sequel.  If you're looking for a summer read, you can purchase it on Amazon for cheap!

I hope you have a wonderful summer!  If you happen to read Walking with Tension  in the coming months, I would love to hear from you!  Send me an e-mail at walkingwithtension@gmail.com or write a review on Amazon.  I look forward to posting again in September!

With Gratitude,
Jenny

Photo Source

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy Summer!

christinehillcards.com
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  Daniel 2:21

I walked into the office this afternoon to find a first grade boy wearing a paper headband and smiling. 

“Why are you wearing a headband?”  I asked.

“I was in a play!”  He said; his eyes swallowed up by his grin.

“What was your play about?” I asked with curiosity.

“It was about a king who had to decide what season was best!”

“What did he decide?”

“In the end, he decided that all seasons have their place in their time.”



This winter was ugly.  It did something piercing to my soul.  Precious plans were cancelled much to my disappointment.  Howling wind made my house shake.  My fireplace had to stay on far too long and it seemed to bring little comfort.  I found myself in the depths of seasonal depression sobbing on my floor. I still have haunting memories of eating disgusting leftovers out of my fridge on days where school was cancelled for days on end.

It was a season of saying unexpected goodbyes.  One close friend let me know of his resignation.  While I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, someone who’s been in my life for over a decade announced her retirement and another decided to move out of state.  All of this has left my head spinning, my heart heavy, and my eyes full of tears.

It was also a season of firsts.

Come on, who has ever heard of a polar vortex before now?  Suddenly, it’s become part of the meteorologist vernacular.

It’s the first time ever I’ve seriously wondered why in my 18 years living in my parent’s household they never thought of packing up our family and moving to someplace warm.  The Hills have been here for generations.  I don’t get it.

I also don’t get long range forecasts.  I studied them this winter like the Bible.  When was the sun coming?  On the first of Never.

Is winter really beautiful?  Do all seasons really have their place?

I started to feel a little better as Daylight Savings Time approached, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I began to really come alive.

My parents own a cabin in Nisswa, MN and I have great hopes that heaven will be something like it.  It’s on a little lake with the sweetest next door neighbors you’ve ever met.  It’s a quaint little cabin, nothing too fancy, but that in itself is an invitation to remember:

·         You really can put down your e-mail and work for a weekend and exchange it for a to-do list that includes napping and reading for fun.
·         There are days when time doesn’t matter except that it is 5:00 somewhere.
·         The best dinner is a burger on the grill and ice cream afterwards at The Chocolate Ox.
·         There’s more to hear in the background of your life than the grrr of a snowplow or your neighbor’s barking dogs:  you can go to sleep serenaded by the spring peepers and wake up to a chorus of birds.
·         Summertime and sunshine do exist.  Light can bathe your skin with warmth that fills you with hope—for once the Vitamin D pills can be left alone.  Your workout can take place outside.  Your body can sweat as it moves through the fresh air.
·         Family is precious.  Watching the next generation of little Hills spend the whole day in their swimming suits enchanted by the lake is a sight to behold: giggles at the feel of a flopping minnow in their hands, smiles spread wide across their faces while going for a boat ride with Grandpa, and bending down low off the dock to fill their buckets with enough water to make a sand castle. 
·         Evenings can be filled with bonfires and stories.  After the kids go to bed the adults can sit up and snack while playing cards.  We can crack jokes, make memories, and laugh and laugh and laugh.


Maybe the first grader I ran into today in the office was right.  Every season does have its place in its time.  I don’t like our winters.  But this one, as particularly painful as it was, made me grateful for the summer days that lie ahead.  Happy Summer everyone!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Presence Will Go With You and I Will Give You Rest




Last week I made mention of a scene in Exodus where Moses talked to God face to face like a man talks with his friend.  I’m so grateful that this very personal, human moment is included in the Bible.  It gives us a hopeful picture of the kind of close relationship we can have with God.  I’ve been reading forward a few verses this week:  Moses says some honest things to God; mostly that he’s finding himself leading people around in the wilderness and is in need of help.  God’s response to him is filled with two things I just love:

“My presence will go with you.”

“I will give you rest.”

I have to tell you, as a single woman who wrestles with fatigue, there’s really only two things I need to know most days:

·         I am not alone in life.

·         There’s a strong possibility of a nap in the near future.

I’ve also been thinking lately that perhaps His presence going with me is a truth that sometimes I appreciate more than the gift of His rest.

I’ve been training three days a week since early March for a5K.  I diligently stretch before and after each workout to prevent injury and soreness.  I’ve been taking the program twice as slow as prescribed.  I’ve steadily progressed forward each day; my body quietly whispering its “thank you” afterwards because my heart enjoys beating fast and my mind appreciates being cleared out. 

It’s also been a bit of a negotiated struggle.  I am face to face with my physical limitations as I move around the track and I must acknowledge and accommodate for them without letting them overtake me.  It’s a delicate dance: 1 step forward: “I can do this,” two steps back:  “My tight left hamstring is making this so hard.”  Even in the midst of this tricky tango I press on because amidst my stubborn determination and encouraging crowd of friends I also know God that is with me, bringing me His sustenance and breath.  He goes with me every step of the way. 

Then one morning, I woke up and found my right ankle was in pain.  I couldn’t recover just going about my daily life at its normal pace, so eventually I called my doctor.

Her prescription: Rest.

And so, for nearly the past two weeks; I haven’t been jogging.  I’ve been coming home and sitting on my couch, ankle elevated, ice wrapped around, ibuprofen in my tummy…waiting as my body heals. 

The first day this happened, I was in tears.  Why did I even try to do this!?  Why do I ever try to do anything!?  This was already a challenging goal and now this happened!!  I felt defeated and sad and contained.

Rest has an amazing ability to give us perspective.  As I sat on the couch this weekend I began to think about how spiritual life often mirrors this injury.  We can run hard and fast after good things, carefully doing everything “right” and suddenly find ourselves surprised by pain. It is in these moments that we must learn to stop and rest and wait and listen until it's time to go again; perhaps our pain is a signal to seek some help and make a few changes.  This kind of stopping interrupts your life and makes you change the order of things as you reflect and listen and gain perspective.  It's a discipline that doesn't come without cost, but may we be willing to pay the price!  And, what a better course we will continue on because of it!

When is the last time you stopped and pondered God’s overwhelming outpouring of love for you?  Have you sat still long enough lately to hear Him whisper?  Beth Moore said in a message that “Many of you have not experienced the tenderness of God because you have not let Him tend to you.  Tending takes time.”

So, this week if you find yourself in pain from all of your running, sit down, put your feet up.  Remember that the God who goes with you is also the One who gives you rest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Friendship of God


 “Who brought you to Jesus?”

A few weeks ago my pastor stood on stage as he posed this question.

I found myself in a reflective mood, scribbling notes on the back of my bulletin with my royal blue Sharpie.  The thing is…I have no dramatic salvation story.

There was no compelling sermon, alter call, or recitation of The Sinner’s Prayer.  Yes, I have wonderful parents who loved me, prayed for me, and brought me to church.  I had great Sunday school teachers who taught me the Word of God. 

But for me, that wasn’t how it happened.  In fact, I’ve never met the two songwriters who brought me to Jesus; I’ve just stared at their picture on the back of their songbook, thanked God for them, and imagined myself shaking their hands in heaven, grateful for the work they’ve done on earth.

I used to spend hours as a kid in my bedroom.  And, because I was a child of the ‘80s, I would lie in front of my cassette player and listen to music, Christian music, over and over again.  There was one cassette, “Wee Sing Bible Songs,” that had taken scripture and put it to music.  One of those verses was Revelation 3:20.  This song boldly spoke of Jesus, someone who was knocking at the door, wanting to come in. 

So, one day, I stood at the threshold of my bedroom door, looking out in the hallway, and simply said, “Jesus, you can come in.”  In that moment, I just wanted Jesus to be my friend, to come into my room and play with me along with my stuffed animals, my books, and my music; To jump on my bed, to know about my life, to listen to my prayers.

I think Moses must have experienced this type of relationship when he went into the Tent of Meeting and talked to God face to face, like a friend, using plain, honest language, just like I did standing at my door all those years ago.  My heart aches for the rest of the Hebrews who had to stand at their own tents outside, uninvited, longing for that kind of friendship as they worshiped God.

I don’t know how old I was the day I asked Jesus to come into my life to be my friend, but I do remember so many beautiful moments that came afterwards…all those nights when I would lie in bed at four, legs pinned in place, completely immobilized, entombed in a white body cast while I recovered from an operation which improved my gait.  I’d sing all those songs to Jesus from my tapes as I fell asleep.

I remember in first grade being so lonely and without friends, walking down the hallway at Pinewood Elementary, spilling my heart out without mouthing a word, and realizing in that moment, God’s comforting presence and ongoing desire to be my friend. 

As an adult too, on my first day of college as a doctoral student, I walked down the steps in my own home, nervous and scared, crying out to God like a kid, “I need you to hold my hand today!”  I shook all the way to St. Paul, but when I found the courage to get out of my car and walk into the door, I was immediately greeted by someone who recognized me from church, and was going to teach my first class.  Then I exhaled, so grateful that God was meeting me once again at the threshold of another door. 


There are moments though, when I haven’t wanted to open my door, and walk out into the world.  The anticipation of the people and situations I’m about to encounter seem overwhelming, and I’m not always sure that I have something to offer that’s of any value.  It’s in those scary moments that I hear His gentle whisper, “I’m right here Jenny, I’m right here.”  The kindness in those moments almost brings me to tears, because I remember the decades of His constant friendship, and together we go through the door and out into the world.

Image source

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Wilderness of Singleness


I’m not quite sure why women need their own church conferences, but there I was.

Sitting next to my friend Krista, Bibles open, listening to Nancy Guthrie preach.   The morning had been filled with music that was impossibly too high for my alto voice led by women wearing impossibly high wedge heeled shoes.  Everyone had perfect hair and trendy clothes; most were married with children.

There I sat, in the back of the sanctuary, staring down at my special needs feet, callused and deformed as they are, the likes of which will never wear wedge heels, pondering the volume of estrogen currently present in the room, and feeling very out of place.

Nancy was preaching that morning from Deuteronomy and as she led us on the Israelite journey through the wilderness, I began to see my singleness.  While the Israelites complained to God, I remembered my many prayers, sitting on the couch at home, slowly uncurling my index finger towards heaven (I call these my pointed finger prayers) , asking in exasperation, “Are you kidding me?  This is your great plan?”

It’s not so much that I desire to be married, as much as I have felt unprepared for singleness.  Growing up my youth leader did a really great job making sure that I understood that sex should be saved until marriage, to remain pure, but so much of this conversation centered on the assumption that there would actually be someone in my life to love.

I still have vivid memory of my pastor in college preaching on marriage and family, pausing, looking straight at me, and saying, “For some of you, this message will come in handy later in life.”

It’s later. 

I still haven’t found his words helpful.  In fact, I don’t remember a single word of his sermon; only that I was SINGLED out.

I pondered these memories as Nancy continued.

As she explained the taste of manna, I began to taste what it is to eat the same meal over and over again, eating at my dining room table alone.

Nancy expounded on a passage where the Israelites neared the Red Sea again, many years into their journey.  I thought about how the scenery of singleness can feel like walking through the wilderness because it never changes.  While others mark their lives by the growing and changing of their children; mine seems to be marked by circular routines.

The Israelites had to consider being attacked and feared being overtaken.  I often feel outnumbered in a family friendly society when I have none to come home to at night.  I’m discouraged to hear over and over again that marriage is the only relationship that reflects your relationship with Christ.  This leaves me with a challenging and uncomfortable question:  What does my life reflect?

As I sat in the back of the sanctuary, I came across this verse in Deuteronomy 1:36:

There [in the wilderness] you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."

I thought about all the ways I have seen the Lord at work in my life.  He is the first one I greet in the morning and the last one I speak to at night.  He greets me at the door when I come home from work and sits at my table while I eat dinner.  He listens to my prayers in the car and knows how to comfort me when I am alone in the midst of a crowd.

I thought of my many heartfelt prayers, asking God how He could possibly create me with such a strong desire to express and receive love through physical touch: a hug, a hold, a touch on the arm when I live alone.   The many times I’ve said, “I can handle being single if you would just send people into my life to hug me.”

Then He did.  I learned how to be honest about this need with others, and in turn, they’ve learned how to wrap me in their embrace.

When I got home, away from the high music, high heels, and estrogen overload, I lost it.  Tears of repentance fell from my eyes, as I sat in my bathroom, learning against the wall crumpled by conviction.

There [in the wilderness] you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."

As I ponder this verse, I imagine the Lord, scooping me up from the dusty ground, my twisted legs dangling over the side as He gathers me in His big strong arms.  I lay my head against His chest and hear His heartbeat.  This is a posture that defines my life as much as did for John, the Disciple Jesus Loved. He leans over and quiets me with His love as if I’m His little lamb.  And in this manner, He carries me through years of unchanging scenery and unwavering menus, through being surrounded and being alone, all the way, every step, until The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This Is Water


 “I wish someone would have told me that adulthood was living the same day on repeat,” I found myself confessing to a colleague one day in the teacher’s lounge.

“You needed someone to tell you that Hill?”  He stated at me with surprise.

I nodded in disappointment.

The thing is: I used to lay in bed at night as a kid and dream about my future.

When I delivered the commencement address at St. Cloud State at the end of my undergraduate career, I thought of all the good in the world I and my peers were about to pursue. 

Now I find myself dreaming less.  I have bills to pay and more responsibilities.

No one told me that many days were going to involve getting up, pulling on the nearest clean clothes, packing a lunch with food I am not excited to eat and heading to work.

Yes!  There are moments in my day that are stimulating, opportunities to connect with kids about the wonder of books and technology that are absolutely breathtaking…

And other moments of my life that involve:

Vacuuming

Paying Taxes

Taking the garbage out

Cleaning the bathroom

Getting Groceries

Getting Groceries again

And everyone’s favorite: being stuck on hold.

These moments are so cyclical and common and in life, yet no one has really taught us how to live in these moments, to truly appreciate them…to stop, and wonder.

In the absence of a good teacher, we have learned well how to retreat into our cell phones:  texting, and scrolling through social media.  We know how to turn to our additions.  We know how too the practice of mentally “checking-out,” whenever we’re bored, but when’s the last time we took the opportunity in our normal, routine day to pay attention?

A friend recently sent me a video clip called This is Water, a commencement address by David Foster in 2006 to the students at Kenyon College.  It challenged the way I live my life in my routine moments.  I hope it challenges you as well.





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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Marveled At Their Joy

Empathy sometimes shows up in unexpected places.

Every year, my church has an elaborate Tenebrae service on Good Friday. Everyone wears black as we sit in a dark sanctuary lit by torches which are slowly extinguished throughout the evening.  Scriptures are read, and songs are sung as we enter into the experience of watching and waiting as Jesus’ friends did on the night of His betrayal.

The evening is interactive.  A sponge dipped in vinegar is passed around so we can smell the pungent aroma on our fingertips.  A wooden cross is passed through the crowds so its weight can be felt.  There also comes a point in the service where we’re all invited forward to write our names on a black board at the back of the stage to be reminded that Christ died for each one of us by name.  In the end, the word “Finished” is illuminated.

I love this moment of the service.  Taking a pen and writing my name helps make the work of the cross personal.  This particular Good Friday I had spent part of the morning at the track training for a 5K.  Some of my students saw me there, and one of them, a little first grader, joined me for a lap.  It was really sweet.  I know I probably smelt bad and looked weird but she didn’t care. She just wanted to be near me. In those moments, I was reminded of how precious and tender and important my day job is.  I see my students, but they also see me.  So, this year, I wrote “Miss Hill” on the wall.  I wanted to remember that the love of God reaches me and my students at work.

It’s also at this moment of the service where I become aware of my dependence.  The steps to our stage have no railing so family and friends come with me every year to help me make my assent.  This year I walked by a few women on my way up front who had some more severe mobility issues than I have and wouldn’t be making the climb.

It gave me pause.

I wanted so much to bring them both a marker and a piece of paper and say, “Here, write your name.  I’ll bring it up there for you.”  But, I didn’t have a marker or a piece of paper, so I offered a greeting instead.

Once I had finished on stage and went back to my seat, I began to wonder how I would feel if I was confined to my seat.  What was it was like to be one of those women; watching as everyone else came forward? I know too well the pain of exclusion.  I am intimately familiar with the sorrow of disability that can exist in the soul, even one that knows the friendship of the God.  I considered their loneliness when they went home in the evenings.  I wondered about their day to day pain. 

Then, with a smile, I marveled at their joy.

Maybe these women who were sitting in their seats were rejoicing.  Maybe these women knew deep down better than anyone in the room that Good Friday was the day God became accessible.  Maybe they couldn’t climb the steps to our stage tonight, but the good news is that no one has to climb steep temple stairs any more or rely on a priest to make a sacrifice on our behalf.  When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the ground shook.  The veil was torn in two. 


Love came to us.

Photo by Bill Raab.  Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

13 Questions



On Monday night I had the delightful opportunity to speak at Church of the Open Door’s 20-Somethings young adult group.  This group means a lot to me.  I even have a scene in my book where I’m sitting around a table at 20-Somethings, alongside my peers, wrestling together over some deep questions.

I thought about these moments as I prepared my talk on calling.  I wanted to pose some deep questions because I believe that what God calls us to do is wrapped up in who God created us to be.  These questions seemed to be a “crowd pleaser,” so I’m posting them here for your reflection.  Pray about your answers.  Talk them over with close friends.  I think you’ll enjoy the answers they provoke.

1.        Where are you from?  Many of us were born and raised in Minnesota, but some of you were born elsewhere: maybe a different state or a foreign country.  Some of you were adopted.
2.       What kind of training have you received?  This could be formal or informal.  Answers could include: internships, mentoring, college degrees or licenses.  Maybe you’re currently pursuing a career or desire training in a specific field.
3.       What are you passionate about?  I used to have a college professor ask me this and it drove me nuts; I didn’t know how to answer him.  I know this is a vague question, but if you have an answer, write one down.  If not, the next two questions should help.
4.       What makes you giddy?  I’m talking about the kind of happy that keeps you up at night.  You are willing to text your friends at unforgiveable hours of the morning because you can’t help but share the news.  You want to tell everyone you know and everyone you don’t know.
5.       What makes you angry?  I’m not talking about being annoyed.  I’m talking about the kind of anger that helps you discover the fire within you that you didn’t know you had.
6.       What was the last story you entered into? What was it about? Perhaps you caught a news clip, read a book, saw a movie, or entered into a conversation where you felt like you entered into the story itself.  You could strongly identify with the character(s) and felt like you were living it right alongside them.
7.       Do you have a hero in real life?  Who is it and how have they impacted you?
8.       If you could quit your job and devote all of your time and energy to one of your hobbies, what would it be?  I’m not advocating this, but I do want you to think about what you enjoy doing.
9.       What is the last thing you sat down and cried about?  This does not include the sad movie you just watched, this has to be something that interrupted your plans and caused you to observe your grief.
10.   What are you afraid of?
11.   What do you find yourself circling back to in prayer?  I often find myself praying in my car because when you’re strapped in, there’s nowhere else to go.  You too?  Then think about your last several “car conversations” you held with God.
12.   What are some of your lingering desires?  This might be something so deep within you that you are afraid to say aloud.  When I talk about lingering, I mean something that you’ve wanted for a long time even though the seasons of your life have changed.
13.   What passage of scripture do you find yourself “chewing on?”  In other words, what verses often come to mind during the “empty” spaces of your day.

      In closing, I’d like to share this video with you from Mathew West.  It tells the story of a woman named Andrea who followed the call of God on her life.   This led her to start an orphanage in Uganda.  She was the inspiration for the song Do Something.  Enjoy!

        Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qX5wcFUV4I







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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Meeting Joni

2013 Joni Camp Volunteers



When I was 12 I pulled a copy of Joni off my parent’s bookshelf.  Joni (pronounced Johnny, her dad was hoping for a boy) Eareckson Tada was in a diving accident as a teenager, resulting in quadriplegia.  Her story is vividly told in her book, and as I flipped its pages, I felt as if I was living her accident right alongside her.  Screws were drilled into her head stabilizing her neck in a halo as she lay still on a Stryker frame, being flipped back and forth every few hours to prevent bedsores.  I read the whole thing in a little over a weekend.  I could not put it

down.

At the end of the book, Joni makes a brave statement about God, “I’d rather be in this wheelchair knowing Him, than on my feet without Him.”

I couldn’t handle it.

I threw her book under my bed in a rage of emotion.  As a 7th grader, more than anything in my heart, I just wanted God to heal me of cerebral palsy.  I wanted to go skiing and wear high heels.  I wanted gym class to be less awkward.  There was no way I even wanted to imagine being an adult still living with a disability, much less have peace about it.

Eventually, I threw the book in the trash, and for the next decade I lived in fear of Joni Eareckson Tada.  I had reoccurring nightmares about her and was freaked out that she was going to show up at my house in her wheel chair.  Traumatic scenes from her movie played over and over in my head.  I couldn’t look at a picture of Joni without growing tense and frightened, a fearful shiver running through my body.

Looking back, I wonder if her story evoked something in my subconscious, my body reliving its own trauma of the operation I underwent at 4 years old to improve my gait.  Both of my femurs were broken.  My tendons were severed. I lay in a body cast of six weeks, flipped back and forth.  There were no “child life specialists” in the 1980s; no counselor ever sat me down to help me process my experience. 

The body doesn’t forget even though time marches on.

Two years ago, a childhood friend invited me to join her at a Joni & Friends retreat, helping families vacation who have a member with a disability.  I initially declined, but after much consideration (including some relief that Joni wasn’t going to be there), soul searching, and tears, I decided to go. 

That decision impacted my life in ways I didn’t expect.

I met a whole community of people, many of them impacted by disability, which loved me and saw me as a whole person.  People whose lives are very different than mine, but in many ways are very much the same.  People who both intimately knew the pain of living with permanent disability and the quiet of joy of knowing a Savior who is with them and will sustain them every step of the way.  People who knew how to rejoice in the hope of heaven: where wheelchairs, autism, and cerebral palsy don’t exist.

This community of people gathers each summer because of the work of one woman: Joni Eareckson Tada.  This summer, she will join us in Minnesota for family retreat.

I had the opportunity to meet Joni late last month at an event in the Twin Cities.  Trembling, I handed her a copy of Walking withTension, and said, “I wrote a book: You’re in it.”  I told her my backstory, trying to contain my nerves, and with gentle kindness and beauty, she graciously accepted my gift.
A few days later, I received this note in the mail:

I just wanted to write a note of heartfelt thanks for giving me a personally autographed copy of your precious book Walking with Tension--it's not easy living with any disability, but in your book, you seem to guide the reader past the 'physical' and into a deeper understanding of who God is in the midst of pain. May all those who read Walking with Tension be blessed and inspired to look past their limitations, as well. God's grace and favor be yours!

Wow.

How gracious of God to pay attention to every detail of our lives, bringing healing and redemption even to the darkest and oldest parts of our fears.
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Want to learn more?

You can purchase Walking with Tension in paperback and e-book.  I tell about Joni in chapter 3.

Joni & Friends is the ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada.  They are still looking for volunteers to attend family retreat this summer.  Check it out!


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