Today Is a Present (May 24, 2015)

I had a dear friend named Celeste who had multiple sclerosis.  It was a severe case that  eventually stole her life.  It started when she was was in her late teens, robbing her of the chance to finish her Master’s Degree.  By the time we became friends she was living in a wheelchair, could barely see through her coke-bottle-thick glasses, and using her hands was difficult for her.  But she had a wonderful mind, and a tremendous heart.

She was struggling to raise a rebellious teenage son and deal with the state medical, public assistance, and housing systems.  Although she could no longer read, she volunteered at the elementary school, listening to other children read.  She was a very independent person, and tried very hard to do things for herself.  She loved to go for rides with me, to the store or to the park.  But her desire to be active was greater than her energy.

I remember (with chagrin) my “energy point” talk.  “Imagine you are given,” I told Celeste,  “100 energy points a day.  Suppose it takes 70 points a day for your normal daily activities – bathing, brushing your teeth, eating, dressing, etc. That leave you 30 points for other things.  You can’t do more than 100 points in one day.  If you do, you will crash.”

I say I remember with chagrin because those words have come back to haunt me.  I used to have super-energy; now it seems I have none.  Since I have become ill, my energy has declined at an alarming rate.  Just year ago I used to be able to do two things a day; now I can do only one.  And that means I can go to church on Sunday, but I can’t sing with the Worship Team because I put too much energy into singing.  It means I can go grocery shopping with my husband on Saturday, but I can’t go out to dinner that night, not even for fast food.  It means if I overdo it, I get sick, or take two or three days to get my strength back.  It means I must take a nap every day, sometimes two.

I worry some days that perhaps I am nearing the end of my life, and this is the signal, this wearing-down of my batteries.  Other days I tell myself I am just ill, and aging, and things don’t work the way they should.  Either way, I know God has a plan for me, and I just need to trust it.  But it is difficult when I feel I have so much more I must accomplish.  But the more I worry, the less energy I have.  That, too, takes energy points.  And it robs me of the joy of just being present in God’s amazing world.

Are you, too, “sick and tired of being sick and tired”?  Managing each day can be a chore.  But each day when you open your eyes remember to thank God that you were given this day.  It is a gift, the present.  Yesterday is gone, tomorrow uncertain.  When we remember to ask for God’s help as we diligently pace ourselves, each day can be a blessing, and we can bless others.  I have to believe that is why I am still here.

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  Colossians 1:11-12

Dear Loving God, We thank you for the gift of life in the form each of us has received it.  Help us to appreciate that gift, to use it wisely, to revel in its blessing and to bless others with its richness and glory.  Bless those who are traveling to spread your message of inclusiveness.  Let hearts, minds and doors truly be opened to all.  Amen.

We Are One (May 17, 2015)

I read a fascinating article this week, “How to Recognize Evil.”  While the key to recognizing evil took only four words, the rest of the article was riveting reading.  Basically, “Love unites. Evil divides.”  It’s that simple.  I spent most of the day mulling that over, and I realized it is right.  Evil divides.*  Ghettoes.  Apartheid.  “Separate but equal.”  Colored waiting rooms, drinking fountains, restrooms, etc., etc., etc.  The back of the bus.  Special education.  Wheelchair seating areas.

When I was nine, I was identified as gifted and put into what was called the “HAP” program, High Academic Potential.  Once a week we were called out of our classroom and placed with a special teacher for enrichment activities.  All I knew was that somehow I was different, and I didn’t like being different.  I didn’t like being being noticed, pulled out of class, having the other kids wonder what was wrong with me.

Now I tutor first and second graders who need extra help with reading and math, but I do it in the classroom.  All the children know me, and I actually work with all of them at times, when the aide is absent, or a parent volunteer doesn’t show up, so there isn’t much of a stigma attached to it.  Everyone seems to like spending time with Miss Diane.  But some of my students are also pulled out to the Learning Lab.  They don’t seem to like leaving class.

I don’t want to suggest that the special education process is inherently evil, but how we separate students into “special” groups might be.  The school where I volunteer has a group of students with severe developmental delays.  They are kept separate from the rest of the student body, never interacting with the other children.  Is this considered mainstreaming?  I don’t pretend to have any answers, but how will our children begin to know each other if they are kept apart in school?

Overt segregation by race is now considered unthinkable by most people, at least in public.  There is no more “back of the bus.”  But wheelchair seating is a ghetto of its own in most public facilities, a single area hollowed out of an auditorium, or the back row of a church, or the very front of a bus.  I realize this is probably cost-effective, or requires the least amount of work, but does it really integrate the wheelchair or walker user into the rest of society?

It’s funny, because I really don’t think of myself as disabled, or a wheelchair user, until something reminds me of that fact.  I’m just me.  I forget to mention that fact to people, and sometimes they’re surprised when I show up, and sometimes I can’t get in a building, or find a place to sit, or I have to provide my own transportation to go somewhere with a group.  But I guess I just think the world should be open and accessible to everyone.  God unites.

But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”  1 Corinthians 6:17

Dear Lord, Help us remember that in your kingdom it is not “us” against “them,” it is only “we.”  Help us to be inclusive, not exclusive, in all we think, say, and do.  Let us work to build a world that welcomes everyone, for we are all made in your image.  Amen.

*http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6053/how-to-recognize-evil

Trust in the Lord (May 10, 2015)

Last week I went to Santa Rosa to see a retina specialist.  My vision has been declining again, and of course I have been pondering losing my sight.  And I have been wondering just how broad God thinks my shoulders are. How, I wonder, will I get around if I can’t see to drive my power wheelchair?  How much smaller will my world become?

I have tried to be calm, confident and practical.  I applied for a new paratransit card, just in case I wouldn’t be able to drive any longer.  (I learned I really shouldn’t drive at night.)  I found our town has a Lighthouse for the Blind where I can learn new skills.  I’ve been working on an embroidery for my husband for Father’s Day.  I am having trouble distinguishing the colors in it, so I want to finish it now, just in case I can’t do that kind of work any longer.   And I’ve been savoring all the beauty I see around me, trying to hold fast to each memory.

I received good news.  The medical retina specialist referred me to the surgical retina specialist in her office, and both felt that an operation could help me.  I will undergo surgery on my left eye in late June.  A layer of my macula will be peeled away, and fluid drained from behind the macula.  In three to four months my vision should improve.  And if the first surgery goes well, I will have surgery on my right eye a few months later.  There is reason to hope.

I have worried, but not excessively.  I know that no matter what happens to me, God has things well in hand.  While the thought of losing my sight is daunting, it is nothing that can’t be handled.  I’ve learned to live my life in a power wheelchair, and drive a ramp van.  I’ve learned to live with pain as my companion.  I’ve learned that I can no longer do as much in a day as I used to, and learned to be happy with what I can do. I’ve learned that what I do, as little as it might seem to me, makes a difference in the world, and that gives meaning to my life.  And that is enough.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    in him my heart trusts;

so I am helped, and my heart exults,

    and with my song I give thanks to him.  Psalm 28:7

Thank you, Dear God, for caring for us.  Thank you for your constant companionship, for sharing our journeys, for carrying us when we are weak, for encouraging us when we feel hopeless.  With you all things are indeed possible.  Amen.

We Are Strong (May 3, 2015)

It was a stressful weekend.  I’m generally only able to do one thing a day, but Saturday found me doing three, and Sunday two.  We went to a pancake breakfast sponsored by the organization that takes care of our yard.  The young men who help us are so kind, and we were delighted to find that their organization also houses a Christian bookstore and a coffee house.  They were asking only $1 for breakfast, and we couldn’t understand how they could raise any funds at that price, but when we were there we understood it was a ministry to allow everyone to eat at a price everyone could afford.

The organization helps young people turn away from lives of addiction and learn job skills that transfer into well-paying employment.  It is faith-based, and the name of their bookstore and coffee house is Club 5:17, referring to 1 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  It was a great start to our day.

Saturday evening we went to an art show opening at the local Agency on Aging.  All the artists were seniors, and the works were a varied assortment of paintings, sculpture, photography, and quilting.  It was part of our community’s Arts Alive program, held the first Saturday evening of each month.  Many businesses, galleries, and museums open their doors free of charge to celebrate the arts.  There may be music, dance, or visual arts on display.

Between these two events we had the weekly shopping, church services, and two Celebrations of Life to attend.  Within a week we lost two long-time members of our church.  Both were lovely women.  One was vivacious and outgoing.  Everyone, it seemed, knew her.  Her service was very well attended.  The reception afterward was so crowded I couldn’t even get through the door.

The other woman was more reserved.  When her family arrived, they were sure they would be the only ones there.  I assured them people from church would be coming as well.  While the church wasn’t full, there was still a good number of people present.  I’m glad her family saw what church family is all about.

I sat with the widower at the second service.  He was so alone, and so sad.  He gripped my hand and squeezed it .  Sometimes he’d share stories, some good, some not so good.  I was so glad I was able to be there for him.  He expressed doubt about being able to continue by himself.  I told him he was strong.  He said no, I was strong, and pointed to my wheelchair.  And that got me thinking.

We are strong.  The fact that we get up each day and live our lives to our fullest proves we are strong.  The fact that we share God’s love, reflect the light of Christ, and participate in our ministries proves that we are strong.  We choose not to let our circumstances overwhelm us.  We choose to present ourselves to the world just the way we are.  “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father. . .”  1 Corinthians 10:111-12a  

Dear Lord, We thank you for the gift of adversity, which has refined us, like silver and gold, to be your witnesses in this world.  Help us to remember that we are stronger than we think, and that we have invaluable gifts to share.  Amen.