Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Everything Give Thanks

I wrote this post back in 2012, but I thought I would pull it out this week in honor of Thanksgiving.  I’ve been learning how to wear hardware with grace over the past three years; I’ll post a picture of myself at the end so you can see what I look like going to work in the morning.  

This morning I grumbled a little bit as I strapped on my new carbon-fiber leg brace at the breakfast table. I knew today was going to busy and I needed all the support I could get. My brace and custom made shoe inserts have been very helpful, but it often means I have to wear tennis shoes with my dress pants to work.

"Be thankful!" I commanded myself as I moved around the kitchen. "Be thankful there's a clinic right in MN that treats CP. Be thankful you were able to get an appointment right away. Be thankful for health insurance. Be thankful you live in a country where you can even get a brace."

"Ok." I negotiated with myself. "I'll be thankful." But secretly I wanted to wear stylish shoes today. I pined for my new black boots that were sitting upstairs in my closet. I thought of colleagues who are always dressed so nice, coordinating their outfits from head to toe. I had coordinated my outfit today too--from head to...ankle.

After lunch a class came into the media center for their lesson. One of the students had injured his leg and had most of it temporarily immobilized. He was limping. "Now he's like you!" The class chirped.

"You're right!" I nodded. I sat down in a chair, pulled my pant leg up to my knee, and showed the class my brace. We talked about what it was and why I wear it. I let them ask questions. I didn't have to try to be thankful anymore, because in that moment I was thankful that today wearing my brace was helping me to connect more effectively with the students in front of me.

Today I was certain that the six and seven year old children that were sitting in the reading well had become my teachers, illustrating what Paul had learned in 2 Corinthians. God's grace really is sufficient for me and His power really is being made perfect in my weakness.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope in the midst of the things you find challenging to be thankful for, you get a glimpse of goodness.  That’s what this moment was for me.

Next week I’ll start writing on the themes of Advent.  The first one is Hope.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Limited and Limitless

What does it mean to be limited AND limitless?

I know what it means to be limited.

Eighth grade marching band…why did I even ever attempt that? My peers asked me every day to quit.   I still remember seeing my mother’s compassionate face in the crowd as I attempted to march down the street while carrying the bells, simultaneously struggling to keep my oversized sunglasses on my face.  When the season was over, I didn’t just quit marching, I quit band altogether.

I remember trying to run a 5K in July 2014.  I trained for 18 weeks leading up to the race and during that time I dealt with pain, inflammation, and the tangled challenge that is cerebral palsy.  There were days where I swore my legs got together, voted to strike, but neglected to inform my will or my determination.  I would get ready to run around the track and my body hardly wanted to move.  By the time the race came, I could only jog the first mile before I ran out of gas and finished walking the rest of the way. 

And then there was the time, just over a year ago, when I had an appointment at Gillette.  I spent hours discussing the minutiae of my disability with various medical professionals.  If I wasn’t sad coming in the door, I was certainly deflated on my way out.  I didn’t cry though until my mom dropped me off at home and saw what a crazy mess my house was.  I had been hiding the fact that I really didn’t have the energy to clean my floors, AND teach, AND get a doctorate, AND maintain friendships.  I clutched my mother, buried my face into her chest, and cried.

Limitations are often seen as hurdles and people, especially those with disabilities, are considered successful if they can somehow overcome them. 

I don’t see limitations as hurdles and success for me is not about doing the impossible. 

Limitations for me are boundaries, and success is about learning how to live well within them.  Life is more than a race, it is a classroom.  When I let my limitations teach me, when I slow down long enough to appreciate challenges from all angles, that’s when I’ve truly experienced transcendence.
Fatigue has been the bane of my existence. There have been moments when I wish I could shed my tired body like the robe that it is, letting it lie on the floor in a heap while it recovers so my spirit can go about its business, free from its container. Fatigue has defined how I spend much of my time, it has limited opportunities I’ve had in life, and made me ask some dark questions about my potential when I can’t find the energy to get off the couch. But fatigue has also taught me the value of rest, helped me to unwrap the gift of Sabbath, and has given me the opportunity to focus with precision on the things I value most, because there simply isn’t enough time or energy to do it all.  As one person with CP said, “It's not just my legs. CP affects every part of my body and causes chronic fatigue and pain. Please be patient, for I have to spend my energy wisely.”

But what of being limitless?

When I wake up after 8 hours of sleep feeling like I haven’t gone to bed yet, when I struggle to get off the couch, when I have to sit down at church and sing because I’ve run out of the stamina to stand….

When I need to remember that my limitations themselves are limited…that’s when I like to read this passage, saying it like a prayer:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 New International Version (NIV)
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I’ll conclude with this Ted Talk by Phil Hansen, an artist who embraced the tremors in his hands, which ultimately transformed his artwork and expanded his artistic expressions:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

I have known the Scheevel Family since 2002.  As a freshman in college, I sat in the same pew at Hope Covenant Church each Sunday.  I had the privilege of visiting Hope Covenant last month when Nick and Rachel Scheevel spoke about the birth of their son, Caleb.  You can listen too, look for October 18th, “Love One Another—Baby Caleb’s Story.”  I came home from church that Sunday, sat at my kitchen table, and thought, I’d love to have Rachel write their story out for my blog.  It’s a  such a sweet testimony to the beauty of life.  Enjoy!

By Rachel Scheevel

Out on our deck hangs a well-visited birdfeeder. It has been a treat at this time of year to watch the different varieties of birds pass by on their way to warmer climates. And while we get the occasional woodpecker or blue jay, the most frequent visitor is the sparrow. These little creatures present a daily reminder for me of God's protection and provision, even in the midst of fear and uncertainty. I have needed this reminder over the past year, as our family has been stretched and challenged in ways we never anticipated.

In May of 2014, we found out that the son we were expecting had a neural tube defect. Because of this, his skull had a large hole in it, and the doctors and ultrasound technicians informed us that at least 50% of his brain had hemorrhaged outside of his skull. Multiple opinions confirmed that he had zero hope of survival beyond a few weeks.

My pregnancy continued and we prepared ourselves to say hello and goodbye to our son, Caleb. We learned what it felt like to grieve, and we began to learn how to wait on God. In this wilderness of Waiting, we saw Him stand with us, quietly and steadily.

Caleb was born on September 29th, 2015, in a surprisingly uncomplicated and swift delivery. Our little sparrow. He nestled his way into our hearts slowly over the next few weeks and continued to defy the doctors' predictions. We began a series of surgeries that gave us increasing hope and challenged our endurance. Instead of preparing for another pregnancy, a redemption, God redeemed Caleb and began to heal our family from fear and grief.

Our journey with Caleb is not a smooth one, and complications continue to arise, but we know that God will never leave us, and He sees us in our struggle. We know that, just as He has a plan for the sparrows that visit our birdfeeder, He has a plan for our family and for Caleb's life. It may not be the plan that I would have made, but already, I can see the beauty in it.

The task of praying for Caleb has challenged many hearts all over the country, and his sweet smile and story have touched the countless medical professionals he's interacted with. Nick and I are learning tenacity and advocacy. We are also getting better at holding the grief of others, because we have had a taste of it ourselves. Even though our challenges with Caleb have stretched us in ways that we never wanted or planned, we value the experience.

We don't know what the future will hold, and that can be so frustrating. Having all the answers and knowing everything seems so attractive. But, we have to remember, everyone thought Caleb would die, and here he is - a year into his crazy, beautiful life - moving and growing and surprising us all. So we remind ourselves, when the end of a discouraging day arrives and we grieve the complexity of our story, that just like God holds the sparrows, He holds our future as well. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

This Good Word Podcast: Hero

Hello Readers!

 Last week I had the opportunity to sit down beside with my dear fiend Steve Wiens to record an interview on his podcast This Good Word.  Every week Steve chooses one word to discuss, and the word we talked about together was “hero.”  Steve has told me on several occasions that I am one of his heroes, but the really sweet thing is that the feeling is mutual!

Steve has cheered my life on since we meet in 2009.  He is extremely gifted, and has generously shared those gifts with me.  He has encouraged my writing from the first keystrokes of Walking with Tension to its publication, nearly four and half years later! 

Steve has many great qualities:  He runs marathons; he has written a book called Beginnings  coming out January 1st, and preaches thoughtful sermons where he pastors at Genesis Covenant Church.  All these things are terrific, but my favorite thing about Steve is that he is my friend.  He has taken a genuine interest in my life and I am grateful.  We all need someone like that.

I hope you have time in your schedule to listen our conversation recorded below.  It’s honest and unedited.  We talk about friendship, writing, cerebral palsy, and, of course, heroes. 

At the end of this post, I’ve included three ways I have used in the past to honor people I love.  Maybe during this month of thanks and giving, you’d like to try one of them out.


Three ways to honor those we love:

Write a letter or a poem.  There’s something really impactful for both the writer and the reader to take the time to thoughtfully name the ways in which a person has impacted your life.  If life allows, sit down with the person over coffee or a meal and read it aloud.  Give them a copy to keep.  It will be a gift to both of you.

Send Thank You Notes in November instead of Christmas Cards in December.  Make a list of 40 people who have given to you this year.  It could be something momentary like an encouraging word something enduring like years of friendship.  Whatever it is, write it down along with the reason it impacted you and mail it out this month.  It’s a great way to reflect on your year with gratitude and a unique piece of mail to receive.

Host an honor night.  Get together with your closest friends and schedule a night for each of you.  Whoever hosts makes their favorite meal for everyone to enjoy and is the one being honored that evening. Following dinner, the guests focus their conversation on the host and present the honoree with gifts representing their friendship.  Be creative!  It could be a letter, artwork, video, prayers, or something else. Each person gets a turn to honor their friend with words and memories, affirming the good gifts God has placed in their life and naming how their friendship has made an impact.  It might be your most favorite thing you’ve ever done with your friends or small group and a great way to practice seeing the beauty in each other.