Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Story Behind the Book

I think, behind most good books, lays the story of an enduring friendship.  This post is about my friend and pastor Steve Wiens, who has cheered me and my writing on since we became friends in 2009.  Steve wrote the foreword to my book and has since written his own called Beginnings which will come out this Friday.  He will guest post next week so you can read more, but this week, I hope you enjoy the story below.

“I’ll write it out for you!” 

I stopped and looked wide-eyed at Steve, wondering where those words had come from that had just spilled out of my mouth.

It was a Wednesday night and the lobby at church was swarming with people.  I had just finished telling my story to a room full of junior high students and wasn’t ready to spill out a summary in the middle of a crowd.

“Maybe not tomorrow, but this weekend, I could write out my story and send it to you.  Would that be okay?”  I nodded along with my suggestion, trying to convince myself along with Steve that this was, in fact, a good idea.

We wrapped up our conversation, and as soon as I was out the door, I turned to my friend Camry and squealed, I think my life just changed!

That wintry night back in 2009 was a beginning.

There are rare moments in life where God allows you to see people, and, as you look at them, you don’t just see the moment you’re in, but several moments into the future.  You realize you are connected, even though you’ve just met, and somehow you know things about the person looking back at you, even though they’ve never been said. 

That night, in the midst of a buzzing church lobby, I looked at Steve and saw that he was a writer….

….but somehow, I was the one writing.

I went home, opened my laptop, and began to pour out my soul. I had never committed to paper, or really even said aloud what it was like to have cerebral palsy, to look down every day at feet that didn’t match.  I had never expressed to another person besides God how deeply hurt and disappointed I had been that God had decided not to heal me when I had begged Him day after day.  I was just learning how to love God again in this area of my life, to let some light in, to really trust that He held me in His hands….

I wrote and wrote and wrote…..my words became an e-mail attachment that became an article that became…a book.

Writing a gut-wrenching memoir is like subjecting yourself to a wound being cleaned, being scrubbed over and over again until you are deeply and fully healed. I remember one August afternoon I was sprawled out on the floor, exhausted.  I had wanted to write for six hours that day, but by 2 PM, I had fallen well short of my goal, bogged down by the work of carefully revising some of the most painful chapters in my manuscript.  I remember convincing myself to go back to the computer, to keep typing, and there I found an e-mail from Steve:


I've been writing a little bit lately. Just writing some essays that may be a part of a future blog. And I thought of you - and I wanted to say: Keep writing! Keep going! You have something to say and people need to read it! You go girl!


Steve did go on to write a blog, and I remember him texting me the morning it went viral.  I smiled, because Steve, along with the rest of the world, was realizing together how good his words were, how much they needed to be shared.  The writer I saw that night at church was beginning to compose.

I have had several unique opportunities since I finished Walking with Tension in 2014.  Joni Eareckson Tada and I both had articles published side by side in the Bethel Magazine.  We had an opportunity to meet months later and talk about the experiences of grief and disability.  This was quite miraculous, seeing as I threw her book angrily in the trash when I was a teenager.

I got to meet and thank Dr. Victor Anderson, a Dallas Theological Seminary Professor whose thoughts on friendship and contributions to the book Why O God have been such a mentor to me in my journey of accepting disability in my own life and in the lives of others.  The summer my book came out, Victor happened to be preaching alongside Steve and Northern Pines Camp and it was incredible!  I woke up every morning and wanted someone to pinch me, it was so good.  You can hear it all online

I’ve been on television, spoken at two universities, a few non-profits, and have had several opportunities to sit across from people who have also been impacted by disability as they share their stories.  I’ve had the occasional reader come up and thank me in public, sometimes in tears, because, as Steve tells me, my words have helped people name their vulnerabilities and move towards wholeness.

Perhaps my favorite experience, though, as I’ve begun to write, is watching my friendship with Steve unfold as we cheer each other on in sharing our words with the world.  Steve has written a beautiful book about creation called Beginnings, which comes out January 1st, 2016.  I’ve had the honor of reading this book in its entirety; what a gem. Steve tells personal stories in a warm and welcoming way as if he is your next door neighbor. Although I grew up reading the Bible, I found the way he illustrates stories accessible for me, sometimes for the first time in my life! There are spiritual practices and questions at the end that you can ponder on your own or together with friends. It’s a perfect gift for you or your small group.  I hope you read it soon and enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Joy List

I suffer from seasonal depression. 

Every year as we turn our clocks back and the clouds roll in, I get sad.  Driving at night, I feel almost as if the darkness is trying to reach into my car windows so it can devour my soul.  Kind of like Harry Potter’s Dementors, but without form.  I can become withdrawn from humanity, losing my appetite for human contact, and at the same time, feel desperately lonely. 

I’m less motivated:  I want to sleep more, eat more, and cry more.  Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year; that honor belongs to the month of July.  So, since mid-November, I’ve started to make what I like to call, The Joy List.  I’ve tried to notice and remember things in my life that bring joy.  I hope you enjoy reading mine, and in turn, are inspired to create your own.

Joy is…

The grandpa whose life was saved from what could have been a fatal freak accident and now gets to spend his golden years with his grandson, playing cars and trucks on the floor, laughing and holding each other close.

The auntie who visits her niece’s freshmen dorm to deliver the surprise that’s she’s been secretly saving for her niece’s college education for years…and the dream she holds to study abroad, the one she had been praying for that morning, is not only going to be a reality, but it’s going to be paid in full.

The friend who invites you to dinner, the one who has already attended her mother and brother’s funerals, has some news to share.  You squeal with delight and embrace in a hug because she is pregnant! 

Joy is eating dinner with friends.  Part way in you realize the food is so good, and you feel so relaxed and at peace, but the real reason you feel at rest is because of the people sitting with you; they know the real you and love you so much.

Joy is running into your little nieces and nephew while you are in town.  Everyone lights up and is so excited.  Every time.  The littles share their news and their love.  There are rounds of hugs and kisses before everyone goes on their merry ways.

That extra day off you weren’t expecting.

Your second cup of coffee.

Joy is standing in church to sing.  You catch the harmony and sing it out strong.  Suddenly your whole body is participating in expressing what is deep in the soul.  Joy is closing your eyes in that moment, imagining yourself standing before the throne room of God, earnestly pouring it out, this overflowing expression of gratitude Thank you, thank you, thank you, but in this dream you are standing there in this cute black and white party dress, with shiny red heels, whole and complete, but even then, you realize, the thing you want most, is still the love of God.

Joy is sitting in the living room by the fire.

Joy is watching the sun rise, painting the sky with fiery pink.

Joy is working hard to pedal up to the top of the hill in the park, pumping my legs, throwing my back into it, lecturing myself, You can do this, or your name isn’t Jenny HILL! Come on!  Joy is finally reaching the top and then sailing down it like a little kid.

Joy is giving your friend a second big hug, because the first big hug just wasn’t enough.

Joy is holding a wee baby, new to the world.  Kissing his head and whispering in his ear: You are precious.

Joy is celebrating with your friend who, after many years of work, has finally published his manifesto.

Joy is wearing pink and feeling pretty.

Joy is dancing around your kitchen to songs that make you happy.

Joy is discovering the beauty in the person you just met.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


I’m blessed to have people in my life who consistently ask me, “How can I pray for you?”  My answer lately has been, “You can pray that I would be more loving.”

I find myself wondering from the prescribed lectionary Advent readings to the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter.  There I find a menu of things I am: impatient, envious, boastful, and self-seeking.  I am an accountant, making a meticulous record of wrongs that have been done to me.  My keen memory is fabulous for the work of a librarian, but cumbersome when it comes to forgiveness. 

This idea of agape love that Paul is illustrating in chapter 13 evokes the picture of a love-feast.  As if our lives were a banquet table, all of our love spread out and available for others to enjoy.  Overflowing amounts of patience, kindness, and goodness to go around, gobs of protection, trust, and perseverance.  But, so often, my love does not look like a banqueting table.  Lately, my love looks more like a food fight.  I want to dip my spoon into the lime green Jello-O of envy, cock it backwards in a catapult, and fling it!

How do we become more loving?

How do we put down our spoons, putting the ways of childhood behind us like Paul suggests?

This, I have been pondering, for the better part of a decade.

We could pray for those who persecute us. (I think I just shot milk through my nose.) How interesting of David to observe in Psalm 23 that the Lord prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies, as if the love feast were especially available when we find it most challenging to commune with others. I’m learning that prayer for those who persecute us is more than an act of obedience, more than the “Christian” thing to do.  Sometimes the inky black that surrounds our enemies is more layered, confusing, and dark than our human souls can handle.  In our pursuit to love our enemies, we must reach out to the Light of World.  He is our only hope for a break through. 

We could spend time with people who suffer.  People who experience overwhelming need have so much to show us about the sustaining power and friendship of God towards those He loves.  The preciousness of their lives may motivate us to take an honest look in the mirror, realizing that we have both a real need and greater capacity for love and compassion in our hearts.  It is what has propelled me to accept the invitation to take a seat at the Table, simply asking the Father if I could have a second helping of His never-failing love.

For the past year or so, the name John Stumbo has come across in conversation.  One day he was running marathons, and the next he was he was lying in the hospital.  Unexplained weakness had visited his body, and for reasons that are unclear, John lost the ability to swallow.  His muscles simply stopped working.  John has now recovered from his mysterious illness, but what has taken place in his heart and mind is still unfolding.  He has since written two books, and is now the president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  I will include his thought-provoking testimony at the bottom at this post if you’re interested in watching.

I want to leave you with this beautiful essay written by John about love.  It is inspiring and convicting.  I hope you take the time to read it.

Here is just a preview:

Love is not about “look at me; see what I can do.” It’s not about how smart I am, how cool I act, how witty I can be, or how much God has used me. It’s not about how big my ministry is, how many books I’ve sold, how many books I’ve read, how many likes I get on Facebook, or how many people like me at all. Love isn’t about how much I’ve sacrificed or how hard I’ve worked. It’s not about my talents, my interests, my success, my anything.
Love isn’t primarily about me.
Love is patient with the person who doesn’t get the point the first or the fifth time.
Love is kind enough to do for another person at any moment what we wish others were kind enough to do for us.
Love is happy for someone when he or she succeeds, gets a promotion, a raise, a great vacation, a nicer car, a nicer home . . . has another child, a happy marriage, good health. Love is happy for those who are living the dream we can’t seem to attain.
Here is the link to entire article by John Stumbo, written in early November 2015: http://www.cmalliance.org/alife/we-will-love/

John’s Testimony

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:2

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


What is it like to experience peace when you are serving in the military?  I asked a veteran I know to write on this topic.  He graciously agreed to compose for me, but asked to remain anonymous.  I think you will find his words insightful.

I had just arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain after what seemed like an infinite flight. I was on my way to the USS ENTERPRISE to join the crew in the engineering department. It was a bright, sunny morning in the Middle East but it sure felt like bedtime to me. About 15 other people and I were waiting in the shade of a tent on a concrete pad with nothing but plain white buildings and sand in the background. Other than a couple of camels tied to a fence, it was not a very remarkable place.

I was anxious to find a phone to call my very pregnant wife who was scheduled to have a C-section with our first child later that week. Finally the bus arrived to bring us to the processing building where we were assigned a place to stay and told when we were scheduled to depart for our duty stations.

When I got to my hotel room, I finally had a chance to call home. My plan was just to tell her I made it and that I was going to the ship early the next morning. Turns out she was going to do all the talking. She answered her cell phone from her hospital bed where she had given birth to our daughter a few hours earlier. I had missed it by a day! The good news was, both she and the baby were great and she had friends there to take care of her. The bad news was, I was at least 6 weeks from getting home to see them.

Getting to a new ship is stressful enough when you’re focused on the task at hand but having a new baby that you’ve never even seen a picture of is something that keeps you distracted. My task was to get all of my qualifications complete while the reactor was critical because when we got home, we would be shutting down and heading into an overhaul period where I wouldn’t have a chance to operate the plant at power. My watch station was titled Propulsion Plant Watch Officer or PPWO. I supervised the controls of two reactors and the associated engine room.

I also was put in charge of a division of about 20 mechanics. These guys (and ladies) were smart and always wary of a new officer. And, they all knew WAY more than I did about the ship and how it worked. My days consisted of ensuring my guys were performing their maintenance checks, standing appropriate watches, taking logs, and staying out of trouble. When I wasn’t doing that, I was spending as much time as I could standing my own watch, under instruction, learning as much as I could. I had about 50 individual tasks I had to perform, dozens and dozens of hours of watch to stand, a division to run, and an engine room to keep operating – all the while trying not to get lost on this 1,000 foot floating monster. Just remembering where to go to eat was a challenge. Normally, these things are all taken in stride but I couldn’t stop thinking about my small family waiting for me at home.

Things were not moving as fast as I would have liked. Nothing moves fast in a nuclear power plant (unless of course they are going wrong). Weeks were flying by and I wasn’t getting my tasks done proportionately. I had qualified as the after steering safety officer which meant any time we were transiting anywhere near land, I was at the bottom of the ship in a place called “after steering” waiting for a control failure that would never happen; more importantly, I wasn’t making any progress on my quals. By the way, it takes FOREVER to transit the Suez Canal at 10 knots. The phone system availability was spotty and the internet was even worse. I was stressed. I missed my wife and ached to meet my daughter. The ship was either very hot or very cold, but always big and unfamiliar. Just finding the stinking bathroom was a 10 minute evolution that I didn’t have time for. There were over 5,000 people on board who all knew what they were doing except for me. They were everywhere yet I was alone.

Wait a minute. I wasn’t alone. The Lord put me on that ship at that time. He sets my challenges and enables me to meet them. He was there too. What does Ephesians say? Oh yeah, “For He himself is our peace.” Peace! That sounds good. That’s what I’d been missing. Not because it wasn’t there, it was; He was. I was so focused on myself, I forgot that God not only provides peace, He is our peace all the time! I needed to let Him be in control, not me. I needed to look up.

What a shift. I started to move well through my tasks. I started to feel confident in the control room. My guys started to get to know me and trust began to develop. I could find the wardroom, head, engine room and my stateroom in just under what would be considered a reasonable amount of time. We were heading home soon – in time for Christmas! I even managed to sing a few carols while down in the bowels of after steering (don’t worry, it was so loud down there that no one else had to listen).

We pulled into Norfolk on December 19th. It was a Wednesday. The folks who had become parents while they were away got to get off the ship earlier than most. There was a tent setup on the pier where family members could wait for their sailors. Most were outside, smiling with anticipation. I looked around and didn’t see any familiar faces. I went inside the tent and saw the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen in my short life. There was my dear wife, nursing a baby. She smiled. My little one was mostly covered with a blanket but her tiny little legs and feet were sticking out one side. I stopped in my tracks – there are no words for moments like that.

Peace. Sometimes you have to consciously look for it and sometimes it overwhelms you and your heart swims in it. But it is always there – He is always there – knocking on the door. I encourage you to open it.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Phil. 4:4-7

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hope {and L-O-N-G-I-N-G}

There are unexpected moments of wonder as a teacher when the roles between you and your students are reversed. The students teach you things at a moment when you least expect it and you suddenly become their student. It is sublime.  

Late one morning I was standing in my reading well with the kids huddled around me. Sometimes I feel like a mother hen with her chicks surrounding her nest. We were reading The Growing Table, a biography of Farmer Will Allen, who wanted to grow food to feed the world.  When I asked the kids how they would describe him after I had finished reading the story, one of the students raised his hand and said, "He was smart and he had longing."  As the words fell from his lips, I stopped, so intrigued. "What did you mean?" I asked, giving him a high 5. "He had longing to make his dream come true."

As I went to lunch later that day, I wondered about Jesus’ statement, Let the little children come to me…for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.  Kids are so full of wonder and perspective.  Uninhibited, unafraid to spill fourth what is in their soul.  Children, I am convinced, have something to teach us, and we are wise to surround ourselves with them, stopping to listen to what they have to say.

The student in my reading well gave me such pause because I experience a daily dose of L-O-N-G-I-N-G.

“Who thought up this word!?”  I have repeatedly asked my friends, almost angry.  “It has the word L-O-N-G in it!”

They shrug, unsure how to respond, not liking its nature either.

But I can’t get away from this experience of L-O-N-G-I-N-G.  It’s been stretching itself out in me for months.  Every day around 9:30AM, while I snack on nuts and cheese, and I feel this ache emerge from my soul.  It’s as if someone has taken their fist, reached into my chest, grabbed hold of my heart with their fingers, and is now pulling me along in their grasp.

Longing looks in both directions.  In one direction, longing stands at a closed door.  Grieving over a beloved past, unable to enter that time or experience ever again.  Longing knocks at the door in vain.  

Longing also turns and stretches out its fingers over a new horizon, open and willing to grab hold of a breathtaking future that is rising with the sun.  They skies are not filled with tears from this angle, but are bursting forth, highlighting the canvas with orange and pink.

It’s scary to name the things we are grieving or are reaching for.  We don’t want to say Hope’s name aloud, because we all know that Hope has an ugly step-sister, Disappointment.  She crowds the conversation sometimes, endlessly reminiscing about the pain of the past, and when she is done, you want to stop dreaming, stop feeling.  You leave the room, realizing you have nothing to say to Hope.

But the second grader in my reading well hasn’t meet Disappointment, or at least, hasn’t learned to listen to her yet.  His observation of longing, suggests that it is essential to moving forward, to being expanded.  “L-O-N-G-I-N-G is this insightful word that has given feeling to distance. This ache between where we are and where we want to be. Longing, I realized that day, is the discomfort that ultimately propels people forward to make change in the world, to make their dreams a reality. Longing holds hands with hope, and together, their friendship brings forth our dreams.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  Proverbs 13:12