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:


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


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!


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.
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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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I Need People Cheering Me On

Last summer, my sister-in-law ran a 5K in Nisswa, MN.  The rest of us sat on the sidelines, drinking coffee, cheering her on.  When she finished she suggested that we all run it next year as a family.

I’m not a runner.

But I do thrive on achieving long-term goals. 

After I completed 16 weeks of doctoral level coursework this winter and launched my first book (Learn more about Walking with Tension here), I figured I better move towards something, or I’m going to be lost.

So, on Monday, March 3rd, I headed to the Reebok store and purchased new running shoes, and on Tuesday, March 4th I laced them up and hit the track.

I’m training using a modified version of the Couch to 5K program, taking two weeks for each phase of the program instead of one.  My goal is not necessarily to run the race this summer, but to at least be prepared to run/walk it successfully.

I wish I could tell you that every day has been awesome.

There have certainly been times when moving has felt like a devotion to God.  I pray as I move; sometimes I even imagine Him running beside me, cheering me on.  There have been moments when I've changed my socks and shoes, holding my callused feet in my hands, offering a word of thanks for feet that have worked so hard for so long to support a body that moves differently.  There have been moments of surprise of how well my body can move and will even compensate for hamstrings that are tight.

The truth is: most days are hard.

I always wonder when people say they “Saw me at the activity center.”  What do I actually look like in their eyes? Tangled yet determined I’m sure. (Last week I was passed by a mom walking while pushing a stroller.  “But you were jogging! She encouraged me afterwards.) Sometimes it’s hard not to get mad at every muscle in my body because sometimes I swear that unbeknownst to me, every muscle in my legs convened a committee meeting without my consent and decided not to cooperate; stubbornly rebelling with every step.  Sometimes the reality of cerebral palsy is discouraging.  I want to push harder and faster, but my muscles are tight.  It feels like someone is hitting the breaks
More than anything, I realized today that I need a cheering section.

I've been hesitant to write about this goal, because I wasn't sure if I really could take myself seriously, but I realized today as I went around the track that I’d really like to finish what I've started.  I took most of last week off due to my book launch and resulting fatigue.  I wouldn't have gone today if I wouldn't have reached out to a colleague and said, “Just for accountability’s sake, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m going to the track,” and out the door I went.

I began to wonder as I moved around the track, what it would be like if I got over my insecurities and let people know what I was trying to attempt.  July 4th seems like a long way away today, but I don’t want to give up. 

So, if you feel so inclined, cheer me on.

Send me an e-mail, give me a shout out on Facebook, or simply ask me, “How’s it going?”  I’d love to know I have people in my corner, cheering me on.

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