Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Six Inches of Power

I dream about wearing high heels.

I loved covering Barbie’s pointed toes with colored shoes to match every outfit she owned hour after hour as a child.  I loved the way her legs looked in them, even though they couldn’t bend.  Sometimes as an adult, I ask my friends if I can try on their heels just so I can see what I look like while they stand next to me in the mirror propping me up.  I hope in heaven, I will have a closet of heels and get to wear the shiny red ones any time I want. 

 I found myself trapped in this day dream again while sitting at a meeting one night.  The woman next to me was wearing these cute black and white plaid heels with black tips and a little gemstone on the top.  I would look like such a beautiful woman in those…and then I stared down at my own shoes: black, flat, orthotic.  I like to have a little hint in my wardrobe that I might, in fact, be a librarian.  My shoes scream it.

There are moments when I’m frustrated by my footwear, especially the years I spent in Reeboks while trying to manage inserts, planter fasciitis, and a brace.  Some days I would close eyes and tell myself, don’t think about it, don’t think about it, it’s not as bad as you think it is.  Then I would open my eyes, see my Reeboks with a dress; Yuck! Cringe, and go to work.

I found myself one day after work sitting in a shiny lobby waiting to meet with a financial advisor.  The receptionist had brought me a hot cup of coffee which I attempted to sip, but every time the door opened, there was this loud “click” which made me jump and spill on myself every time.  Not going to lie, it was a rough 10 minutes. 

Luckily I was soon rescued and seated in a private room away from the pesky door.  The woman in front of me began clicking through slides on a screen, telling me about retirement, health insurance, and Roth IRAs.   She had spent her life making friends with numbers when I had spent my time befriending words.  My head was already spinning slightly when she gradually pushed her chair away from the table and said, “I know it’s just the two of us, but I typically stand up through this part of the presentation.”  Suddenly, there was a tower in front of me, propped up by six inch heels.  Her stilettos were the exclamation point on the end of a sentence that clearly read I am ABOVE you!

This wasn’t about Barbie anymore.

As I looked up at her, I began to feel:




I looked down, and for a moment, I felt thankful.  Thankful that my misshapen feet have somehow kept me by default from towering over another person, making them feel as miniscule as I felt in that moment.   I pictured my students in my reading nook, huddled around me.  I wondered what kind of message I was portraying in the fatigue I’ve resigned myself to; to, instead, sit and look at my students from eye level instead of standing above them.

Perspective can be life altering; eye level is one thing, but…

What does it mean to come underneath?

I’ve pondered this question often since my encounter with those six inch heels.

I thought about it again while sitting in a pedicure shop in Minnetonka as a little Vietnamese woman sat on a stool and carefully washed and massaged my feet last March, bringing some relief to my aching fascia.  As she painted my nails, I learned that she faithfully worked seven days a week, serving others in this way.  Her act of service was a gift to me and almost felt holy.

I imagine that when Jesus came to earth, he likely walked its roads in sandals.  And when it was time, he took a towel, wrapped it around His waist, and washed the feet of his disciples.  Jesus came for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but he also came for financial advisors, tired librarians, and Vietnamese pedicurists.  He came for you and He came for me.  He came so we might learn from Him to take off our six inches of power and position, so that we too, might learn to serve.

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself....

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Be the Bridge

My single girl friends are bending the ear of heaven asking for a mate; my married ones are praying for babies. I have a hard time even pretending in the presence of the Almighty that these are my deepest desires.

I’d like to become a speaker.

Not the Matt Foley SNL character living in a van down by the river, or the disabled champion who perpetuates the myth that there are no limits and anything is possible. 

I want to teach people to see each other—to walk into a room and switch the question from “Who do I know?” to “Who needs to be known?”; to look deep into the soul of a human being and see the whole person.  I would love to inspire others to catch a glimpse of our identities reaching far beyond our attractiveness and flaws.  We must learn how to honor each other because we are human; to behold beauty even in the face of our enemies and those who are different because we were all created in the image of God. Even in our quirks and imperfections we must do the courageous work of boldly showing up to our lives as ourselves, because our uniqueness can ultimately become the gift we offer the world. 

Like a mirror, my friend looked at me in the eyes one night and said honestly, “You should be speaking.” 

I had to hold back a few tears. 

What do you do when desire and potential are growing inside yourself, but you’re not sure how to let them out? 

What do you do when there is a part of your identity you’re afraid to let others see except they can’t stop seeing it and neither can you?

Sometimes you hide in your bathroom and cry.

Sometimes you step up to the microphone and speak.

This past October (2014), I led a workshop where several librarians and I sat in a room together and discussed my writing and publishing journey using CreateSpace. I was transparent and they laughed about the honesty of my experience.  I learned that day that as a speaker, “I’d rather keep it real than keep it perfect.”  My friend framed this for me and I look at it every day on my kitchen counter.

I spoke at Hope Covenant where I went to church in college.  I shared about my friend Kris and met a few people following my talk who live with cerebral palsy.  One person in the audience whose life has been impacted by disability couldn’t say anything to me afterwards because my message had reduced him to tears.  Speaking is often about letting your story intersect with the work God is already doing in people’s hearts.

Later in the month, I was asked to speak at a non-profit organization nearly an hour from my house.  Upon arriving I was told that no one had signed up for my session.  I drove home confused and frustrated, learning that not every opportunity that comes across your desk is a good one.

So, when November rolled around and I was preparing to speak at the University of Northwestern, St. Paul Chapel, I thought that perhaps I would simply reuse material that I had developed in October.  But, as every good speaker knows, speaking is as much about listening as it is about talking.  As I began to pause, remembering my life as an undergraduate, I scratched everything I had days before the presentation and developed a completely new talk—it turned out to be my favorite one I’ve ever given.

It didn’t make it on to iTunes, so I posted it to YouTube and included my slides.  Its 34 minutes and I hope you’ll take time to enjoy it.  I share my story, what it’s like to be stared at in public, and my deep convictions that skipping your morning coffee is a crime.  I talk about the need to see each other, to take risks, and unpacked what we might learn about loving others with disabilities from a man in the Bible named Mephibosheth who was “crippled in both feet.”

Be the Bridge Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOkwN59vqHw

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

His Words on Sunday

Note:  I'm relaunching my blog today after a year's hiatus.  To celebrate, I'm doing a double feature.  "I miss your blogs..." talks about what I've been up to this past year.  But, it is the post below that I really couldn't wait to share with you.  Enjoy!

There are two friends that I often see on Sundays.  One speaks for a living….the other can’t open his mouth.

My friend Steve Wiens is the pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. Genesis meets in a theater at a Jewish Community Center that is 40 minutes from my house.  Sometimes it feels like a long drive, but in all the times I’ve gone, I’ve never regretted the journey.  The seats in the auditorium are teal and the stage often holds a set of whatever play is being performed that afternoon.  The church is so full of young families that I joke it’s the church of the car seat.  I’ve stumbled over many on my way to the communion line.

Steve used to stutter growing up, but if you heard him preach on a Sunday morning you would never know it.  Steve unlocks words, explores their original Hebrew or Greek meanings, and helps makes them available to all who listen.  He’s a demonstrative talker.  He likes to move around and makes gestures and faces.  He asks questions of his audience as he speaks because he really believes that we all have something to learn from one another.

Steve also has a podcast called This Good Word.  I love listening to it on my iPhone while I’m going through my morning routine or driving to work.  His voice fills up my car with sound, my head with thoughts, and my heart with hope.  Steve understands something about what it means to be human and knows how to share words in ways that are insightful, honest, and uplifting.  He knows how to create community even when his audience spans the globe.

I love listening to people talk after hearing Steve speak for the first time.  I think they’re blown away by how brilliant he is, but at the same time so warm, relatable, and inviting.  Steve is a good teacher, and many people just like me have received his words on Sunday week after week as some of their favorite gifts.

If the Vikings are playing at noon, I give quick hugs to my friends after church and dash into my car, though town and out into the country.  I stop at the house that has a ramp leading to the door and am greeted by a welcoming party of two Yorkies and a drooling mutt. My friend is sitting inside.

“Hi Kris.”  I call as I enter.

Kris waves his index finger to say hello.  Most Sundays he’s decked out head to toe in neon; all six feet nine inches of him.  Kris was in a car accident one icy November night in the middle of his college career.  The resulting injuries and surgeries following his crash have been life-altering.  The body he lives in has changed, but his mind is fully intact.

Kris lost the ability to open his mouth, so while I eat pizza during the game, Kris’ smoothie hangs from an IV bag.  Kris has double vision and a paralyzed left hand, so the best way he has found to communicate is through one-handed finger spelling.  Slowly, with great concentration, Kris begins to move his fingers on his working hand to spell out what he wants to say one careful letter at a time.  His long fingers labor intently to express his thoughts; his thumb doesn’t always want to participate.

Some days our communication is clear and I can understand his signs with ease.  Some days are harder and I need the help of a friend and a notepad.  Kris has a sign for “erasing the chalk board” so to speak, and individual signs for people in his life.  Mine kind of looks like “Live Long and Prosper” and I find it fitting. 

His words on Sunday are also teaching me but they’re not explaining the Hebrew language or filling space with sound.  Kris’ silent signs are helping me learn patience, presence, and the beautiful, undeniable truth that every human life has value.  Kris was once asked what he thinks about doing someday in heaven.  He began to sign to me, “I want to be heard.”  Kris, I can’t wait to listen. 

When the game ends, I drive home to get ready for another week.  As I finish my to-do list for the weekend and consider the week ahead, I pause to ponder the dichotomy of my friendships and consider the beauty of words and signs, silence and sound.  I thank God for my friends Steve and Kris; friends who have shared their words with me on Sunday.

I miss your blogs...

Have you stopped writing?  I looked back at him unsure how to respond.  I really liked your blog.  I had never really thought about people with disabilities before reading your posts.  I learned a lot.

Did something happen?  I’m no longer receiving any posts…She honestly thought there was a technical problem with her e-mail; the problem however, lay with the writer having nothing to send.

Did you give up on your blog?  My library friend looked at me with a knowing glance piercing through the rims of her glasses.  She had faithfully followed my blog for years, and now there was nothing to follow.

I’ve been grateful for these little exchanges over the past twelve months.  It’s encouraging to know that your words are missed when you take an unplanned hiatus from blogging.  It’s been a year since I’ve written a post, so I thought my first entry should include an explanation.

The answers to the above questions are:



Sort of…

No, I have not stopped writing.  I actually have been very busy writing, but nothing you would want to read in a blog post.  This summer I chained myself to the kitchen table and finished writing my doctoral dissertation on MN elementary school principals and their use of social media.  It was just as much work as writing my memoir, Walking with Tension. But, as the school year has unrolled, my research has found its application.  Alongside my new principal we are updating Facebook and Twitter almost daily, reaching parents, and making connections.  It’s been fun and rewarding to watch evolve because I am slowly starting to see my interest make its impact.

Yes, something did happen. Ten years ago United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Central MN helped me find an internship at the Library of Congress in Washington DC during my senior year of college.  Facebook was in its infancy, Twitter had yet to be invented, and I still owned a phone that looked like one of Star Trek’s communicators.  Blogs were emerging, and I was able to share my experiences at America’s Library with UCP on their site. Years later, after I had completed my first draft of my book, I wrote for them again from 2011 to 2014.  I became friends with the executive director who retired just months after my book came out. Their Website has since been redesigned and my blog posts have been archived.  UCP has been gracious to me over the years, and I am thankful.  Writing for an organization was a motivator and helped keep me accountable.

So, I kind of gave up on blogging because I got busy speaking, studying, teaching, writing….  I’ve wanted to write something else besides academic papers in the last year, but haven’t found the time, energy, or motivation.  The demands of working as full time as an elementary school library media specialist and part-time doctoral student can tap your writing well and leave you dry.  Words quickly become work instead of wonder; labor in place of love.

Yet, there has been this longing in me whose desire I can’t even name, but I think writing might have something to do with it.  It’s like a dear friend who you know you should call, but you just haven’t.
And then, this e-mail came from my mom early one morning, “…I miss your blogs.  Powerful messages came from them.”

Writing uncorks a person, letting the aged, rich wine of their soul spill forth onto the page.  I want to pick up my pen again. I want to put words on paper.  I want to be reflective and transparent, offering a view that includes faith, disability, and life.

So now, I have a question to ask you:

Will you be my reader?

I’m going to try to update my blog weekly, but it’s easier to stay motivated if I know there are people out there reading.  I also recently created a Facebook page where I want to post pictures when I speak, have book signings, or update my blog. 

I’m doing a double-feature this week, because I just couldn’t wait!  Please enjoy His Words on Sunday.