Waiting Through the Pain (December 25, 2016)

Dear Friends,

I am so sorry you haven’t heard from me in such a long time.  I have been in the middle of a flare-up for a couple of months, and it is painful and draining.  I have tried to sit and write, and my writing goes nowhere.  With all that has been going on in this world, you would think that certainly God would give me something to say, but nothing has come through my mind or my fingers.  In this season of anticipation, I am honestly waiting.

I am not waiting to feel better; I know it will come in its own good time.  I am waiting for the pain to pass.  It will happen, but not on my schedule.  It is difficult to endure at times, but I am comforted to know that I am not the only one who has gone through struggles with pain.  Paul wrote of a thorn in his flesh  “to keep me from being too elated.”  2 Corinthians 12:7  The psalmists wrote often of pain.  “But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me.”  Psalm 69:29  “For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.”  Psalm 38:17

The problem with pain is that it distracts us from so many things, including God.  It weakens us physically as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  One drags through the day,     sometimes with grand ambitions of what will be accomplished, sometimes with the hope of just getting the bare minimum accomplished – getting bathed and dressed and the animals fed.  I am so grateful that I have a loving, understanding husband, although I often fear that he must be so tired of coming home to yet another day of nothing accomplished.  I am also grateful that it is Christmas break, and I have secured the services of a high school friend, who can look at a room and see what needs to be done without my telling her.  Thanks to her my family’s Christmas presents were wrapped and boxed and mailed last Monday, and my office filing was taken care of.  While I was trying to figure out what to do next, she cleaned out the magazines on my end table.  I am blessed.

I used to be able to do two things a day; on an exceptional day I could handle three.  Now I’m lucky if I can do one, and I am grateful for those times.  Volunteering with the children at school gives me a sense of purpose and worth.  Attending Bible Study keeps me connected to the Lord and other Christians.   Going to the gym with my husband, if only to use the hydromassage, helps me get out of my house.  Participating in the Christmas Pageant (although I had to hide the script in my Bible and read all of my lines – my short-term memory is shot) gave me a chance to forge connections with our youth and celebrate Christmas in a new way.

Today is Christmas.  I still haven’t sent out the Christmas cards.  They may be Epiphany cards this year.  But we celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in church.  We brought requested food to the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen.  (Did you know there was a whipped cream shortage?  Apparently a nitrous oxide factory exploded and since it is a propellant and a preservative in canned whipped cream, it has caused a nationwide shortage, but we were able to find plenty at our Costco.)  We’ve renewed our homeless bag ministry since our city closed the campground where those without housing were allowed to sleep overnight.  There are lots of cold people on the street now.  The local market cooked our meal, and it is excellent.  And there is plenty for anyone who might stop by.

On this night when we remember and give thanks for the gift of the Christ Child, I wish you all  a blessed holy day, full of joy and gratitude.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to write to you again, but please know you are in my thoughts and prayers every day.

Dear Lord, I thank you first for the gift of your Son.  By coming to earth as one of us you demonstrated the depth of your love for us.  Thank you for the gift of Scripture, which can guide us and inspire us, comfort us and instruct us.  Thank you for the saints who have gone before us, and for those who live among us now.  Their love and their lives encourage us when we weary or our path is unclear.  And thank you for the promise of the resurrection, of knowing that we will always be with you.  Because of Jesus there is hope, and the world has never been the same.  Amen.

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This Is Why I Worry (October 9, 2015)

“This is why I worry.”  My husband placed a memorial service bulletin in my lap and sat down.  I didn’t know what to say, but I soon found I was glad he’d opened the subject.

The wife of one of his co-workers, a lovely young woman only 35 years of age, had passed away recently.  She had Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, and fibromyalgia, none of which are fatal.  But she was gone nonetheless.

“Now you know why I check to see that you’re still breathing during the night,” my husband told me.  I had no idea.  Yes, I am a mess of disabling conditions and diseases, but I don’t think of them as fatal, or myself as dying.  Worse, I had never considered what my husband might be thinking or feeling.

My dear husband travels a lot for work, and he confessed that he worries that when he comes home, he might find me deceased.  I had no idea.  How much fear he must carry with him!  I have resolved to make each homecoming a joyful experience for him, even when I’m not feeling well.  I told him I understood a bit of his fear, because he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and until it was well-controlled, I had fears of him having a stroke while he was driving.

I wonder how may of us with chronic illnesses realize how much our partners and caregivers worry about us, or are fearful of finding us in dire situations?  Have we ever had “that” talk with them?  It isn’t easy, but I think it’s necessary.  We don’t know what unspoken fears they might be facing, and there might be strains on our relationships because of those fears.  Speaking our anxieties out loud, giving a name to them, makes them less frightening.  It might even bring us closer.

It may be difficult getting your partner to open up about their fears concerning you.  No one likes to admit their vulnerability, and the people caring for you, in particular, don’t want you to think they are weak.  But caring isn’t weakness; loving isn’t frailty.

I am grateful that God gave me such a loving, caring partner (we celebrate 40 years of marriage this weekend) and I resolve once again to take the best care of myself that I can.  This gift of life and love is precious, no matter what challenges I encounter along the way.

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

Dear Father/Mother God,  Thank you for taking care of us, for providing us with friends and family to be your loving hands here on earth.  Help us to remember that sometimes they worry about us more than we do, and to do our best to reassure them through our smiles, through our words, through our actions.  They are your angels on earth.  Help us be deserving of their care, and let us be angels, too.  In your blessed Son’s name we pray.   Amen.

All It Takes Is Faith (August 28, 2016)

I have a wonderful veterinarian who makes house calls, sort of like the doctor on “Royal Pains.”  Her office is her car.  It contains equipment, medications, everything she needs to visit and treat her patients.  She prefers running her practice this way because she can see her patients in their native habitats, so to speak.  She can take her time getting to know them, and understanding their situations.  And she gets to know their owners, too.

Last week I called her because Sadie was out of her flea medication, and her rabies vaccination was coming due.  She came over that day and gave Sadie an exam (it turned out she had an ear infection), gave her her rabies vaccine, and ear drops as well as her flea and tick medication.  And we had time for a visit while she took care of Sadie.

We talked about our sons.  Mine is a wildland firefighter, and although he has moved into management of the helitack base as he has grown older, he is still an active firefighter.  Each year the wildland fires seem to be worse, and last longer.  The vet’s son is a Marine, off to active duty in the Middle East.  How, I asked her, does she handle the stress?  She smiled at me and said, “Faith.”

I smiled because that is my answer, too.  I turned my son over to God many years ago (he has been doing this job for over twenty years).  Faith is the answer to so many problems and questions.  Faith is the answer when one loses a beloved pet for no apparent reason.  Faith is the answer when your town is surrounded by fire.  Faith is the answer when we are disabled by illness or injury, or our child is born less-than-perfect.

We don’t know why these things happen, but we do know that faith will see us through.  We know that God doesn’t let us suffer needlessly.  There is a community of believers, a community of fellow wanderers on the path, a “cloud of witnesses” who have been there before us and who will follow us.  They are here now.  We are not alone unless we choose to be.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Dear God, We thank you that we are not alone, that we can depend on you, that you give us friends and family to remind us of your presence.  Help us to trust in you.  Amen

Down But Not Out (July 17, 2016)

It’s all been almost too much.  I can’t seem to shake this illness which affects different areas of my respiratory system.  Several friends have passed away in the last month or so.  Two more died this past week.  Another is fighting cancer and several serious diseases piled on top of each other.  A beloved teacher in my old hometown was murdered by her husband, who then took his own life.  My current wheelchair is not working so I’m using my old one, which has some problems but can get me around if I don’t press it too hard.  And I’ve started the painful process of requesting a new one from my physician and my insurance company.  I am fatigued beyond words.

I say it has almost been too much.  But it has not.  I may be down, but I am not out.  God is with me.  Christ sustains me.  I can do this!

Saturday was the celebration of life service for one of the pillars of our church here in Eureka.  It was also the service for my dear friend in Bishop who went to be with the saints.  And it was the day another church member here in Eureka went home to God.  His wife called me early in the morning to let me know.  I consoled with her, and made arrangements to sit with her during the church service later that day, where we hugged each other and shared our grief.

I recently watched a film about Mother Teresa called The Letters.  In it I learned that Mother Teresa suffered from what she called emptiness; she didn’t feel the presence of God within her, she felt totally alone.

I, too, often feel empty (not that I am, or could ever, compare myself to Mother Teresa), and I wonder if that is what allows me to give to others with such joy.  I feel a connection to God when I am serving others.  Perhaps not feeling God within her allowed Mother Teresa to see the face of Jesus in others.  Perhaps feeling empty allows each of us to serve as conduits, to allow the mighty force of God’s love to flow through us.  If things are going too well, perhaps we don’t think of God as much, and we don’t feel the need to reach out to others.  And perhaps we don’t rely on God so much.  Maybe empty isn’t such a bad thing.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:37-39

And that love empowers us to do more than we could ever imagine doing on our own.  We can dream dreams so big we can change the world.

Dear Lord, Thank you for loving us.  Thank you for empowering us to share your love and your message with others.  Thank you for giving us the desire to want to make things better, and the strength to see things through.  With your help, we know we can build your kingdom here on earth.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen

Sowing Seeds (June 12, 2016)

The head of a missionary family our local congregation is supporting spoke at our church recently, telling us about their work in southeast Asia.  They are Christians working in a predominantly Muslim country, and something he said caught my attention.  Seeds, he said, grow best where the soil is all busted up.  That is what life is like where he and his family are living and working – all busted up.

Their work is, necessarily, discreet.  They are helpers, not evangelists.  If someone needs help with their garden, or fixing their roof, or repairing a bicycle, learning English, or anything at all, they are there to help.  They do not openly evangelize or try to make converts – that would be very dangerous.  But in private conversations they do share the gospel, and people do come to believe.  Some consider themselves Christian Muslims, maintaining their cultural heritage.  The ministry, and its results, aren’t exactly what this missionary family anticipated.

It reminded me of my first ministry, a cooperative effort between several churches to do  outreach in the Hispanic community.  Most of the people on the committee didn’t understand the Hispanic culture, so when I asked one of the pastors if I could hold an Easter service at that church, I was told I had to guarantee a minimum of 30 people in attendance.  The reasoning was I had to have a certain number of people to serve as ushers, to take the collection, to read the Scriptures, etc. and to collect enough of an offering to pay the organist.

I couldn’t help this person understand that many Hispanic congregations are quite small, especially at the beginning, and don’t follow the formal structure of our Anglo worship services.  Oftentimes there is no music but the clapping of hands, or a single guitar.  The answer was still no, I couldn’t use the church.

I wonder how often we start a new ministry or outreach with preconceived notions of how the results should (or must) look.  When the soil is all busted up, the seeds have a better chance to grow, but the crop might look different than we expected. It doesn’t make it wrong.

Jesus certainly sowed seeds in many unexpected places – a Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, a Syrophoenecian woman, a couple of centurions.  After his death, when his apostles believed only Jews should receive the good news of Jesus, God changed the game plan – first with Paul and then with Peter’s vision of the descending cloth.

While drawing up a mission plan for a new ministry is important, I think it’s just as important to be open to new and unexpected ways that ministry might develop and look.  Instead of counting it a failure if things develop differently than we planned, it’s important to evaluate and even appreciate those different developments and prayerfully consider how God is leading us.  Our plans are not necessarily God’s plans.  And our ways are not necessarily God’s ways.  I’m sure that Paul never planned to establish the church in Europe with a group of women at the river in Philippi, but that is what God provided.  And despite Jonah’s protests, God cared about the 120,000 people in Nineveh.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

We thank you, Lord, for the opportunities you give us to minister in this world.  Help us to remember to look at each other with your eyes, not our own.  If we will just follow you, and trust in you, the kingdom of God will grow and prosper.  Help us, we pray.  Amen.

It’s Our Tradition (May 8, 2016)

Some twenty years ago I was blessed to accompany my husband to Baltimore on a business trip.  While he was in meetings, I wandered the city.  Baltimore is a wonderful place for Methodists to explore.  It is the site of many important locations in the story of American Methodism.

Mt.Vernon Place UMC is built on the site of the Howard mansion.  Mrs. Howard was the daughter of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner, and the church itself is a prime example of Victorian Gothic architecture, conceived as a “cathedral of Methodism” when it was built in 1872.

Old Otterbein Church was established in 1771 by a German Evangelical Reformed Church congregation, which lent the chapel to Joseph Philmore to organize the Lovely Lane Meeting House congregation.  Francis Asbury convinced Phillip William Otterbein to accept the pastorate at Baltimore in 1774, where he remained for the rest of his life.  Asbury preached many times at Otterbein’s church. In time Otterbein and Martin Boehm formed the United Brethren in Christ Church.  (In time the Evangelical United Brethren would join with the Methodist Church USA to form the United Methodist Church.)  The current building was erected in 1785 and is the oldest in continuous use in Baltimore.

Lovely Lane Methodist Church is known as the “mother church of American Methodism” because it was here that the Christmas Conference of 1784 was held organizing the Methodist Episcopal Church, and ordaining Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as its first Bishops.  The current sanctuary was designed by Stanford White and completed in 1884.  When I visited in 1996 the building was undergoing needed repairs, and a fundraising campaign was underway.  I see from the church’s webpage that the renovations continue.

I took particular delight in the museum at Lovely Lane.  It was in the basement, and featured a variety of interesting items, including the kneeling bench at which Francis Asbury prayed, many historical documents, portraits, a “parson’s wallet” (empty, of course), and a can of Welch’s grape juice.  It was the grape juice the intrigued me.

The lovely lady who gave me my tour told me the story of Welch’s grape juice, how it had been developed by Thomas Welch, who developed a process to pasteurize grape juice so it could be used during the Eucharist in lieu of wine.  As I thought about that this morning, I realized it was a fine case of accommodation.  Not only was it in line with Wesley’s admonitions against “manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors,” it was an accommodation to those whose substance abuse problems would place them in an untenable position when it came to participating in the sacrament.

Drinking unfermented juice accommodated their need to abstain, without marking them as somehow separate or different.  That isn’t always possible, but accommodation and inclusion should always be our goal. It’s already our tradition.

 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Luke 14:13*

(Like many of you, I am cringing at the words “crippled” and “lame.”  But I researched the verse through many different translations, and those are the words.  We are more mindful of the terms we use for disabilities today.)

Dear God, Thank you that you have taught us to care for one another, and to make the road straight, the load lighter, and the day joyful.  Through your Son Jesus Christ you have granted us the assurance of eternal life and the knowledge that we are never alone.  We are grateful. Help us remember that you welcomed and loved us in all our imperfections, and help us to do the same.  Amen.

There’s a Place for Us (May 1, 2016)

When we lived in Bishop we celebrated a night of Las Posadas every year at our church.  For those of you not familiar with Las Posadas, it is a remembrance of Joseph and Mary’s search of lodging on their way to Bethlehem.  In the traditional Las Posadas, the journey is celebrated over nine nights, with the Pedir Posada (seeking lodging) being sung back and forth between people representing the peregrinos (pilgrims) and the posaderos (innkeepers).

The peregrinos ask for lodging, telling the posadero how long they have traveled, and that their wife is soon to give birth.  The posadero tells them that there is no room, and that they will have to move on.  Finally, the peregrinos tell the posadero that have a they are traveling with Mary, the queen of Heaven, and the posadero bids them enter.  Inside everyone gathers for prayer, songs, and a party.  The children have a piñata, and everyone enjoys a wonderful meal.

I’m telling you about Las Posadas not because Christmas is coming, but because Mary and Joseph found lodging.  It wasn’t the best lodging, as you will recall, but someone opened a door.  Last fall our brother Howard Guetherman brought up the subject of hotel rooms.  He shared his problems trying to find an accessible room on the ground floor, and wondered how many of us had similar problems finding rooms that suited our needs.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful, he thought, if we could get hotels more interested in making hotel rooms more accessible and welcoming?

I recently learned of a new website that gives us a chance to rate hotel rooms based on their accessibility.  https://www.brettapproved.com is a site established by wheeler Brett Eising, who left his job in corporate America to start brettapproved because he believes that everyone, regardless of any given disability or mobility challenge, deserves to travel confidently.  The site lets users review and rate hotels, restaurants and entertainments venues.  While brettapproved is in its infancy, and reviews are slim in many areas, your participation will help us all.  You can sign up to be a participant at the website.  Guidelines for reviews are listed at https://www.brettapproved.com/faq.  I have signed up and can’t wait to find more accommodating lodgings when I travel.

I think that as brettapproved grows, hotels and restaurants will start to pay attention.  Communicating with hotels and restaurants directly, as Howard did with the hotel over his inappropriate room on the third floor (how to get a wheelchair and user safely down to the ground floor in case of a fire?) is also important, being sure to do so calmly and respectfully.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Dear Lord, We thank you for the new resources that you put before us to help one another as we search for a home away from home.  Help us to educate each other, and the places where we stay, to be more welcoming and accommodating.  Amen.

Rising Up (March 13, 2016)

I read the saddest prayer request recently.  It said, in part, “______’s son ______ took his own life last Saturday.  ______ had a bad accident a few years ago and was paralyzed and wheelchair dependent. His anguish is over. . .”

All I could think of was loss:

  • loss of someone’s precious son
  • loss of the opportunity to minister to this man
  • loss of the opportunity to educate him about the possibilities his wheelchair afforded him

And I thought of the wording of this request, “his anguish is over.”  Why does the world regard life in a wheelchair as anguish?  Why are we “wheelchair dependent” and not liberated by our wheelchairs?

I thought back to when I first started using a wheelchair, nearly thirteen years ago.  I was so blessed to have angels who guided me into the process; Lupita and Santiago, who prepared me for life in a wheelchair before I actually got one, and Jill, who modeled life in a wheelchair every day.

When I first realized I might have to live life in a wheelchair, I fought the idea.  I was struggling with a walker, telling myself and everyone around me that it was “temporary.”  The reality was that I was in terrible pain, that I could walk only a few feet before I had to stop and sit and give my back and knees a rest.  At the end of class I had to struggle back to my apartment and rest with ice on my knees and tears in my eyes.

Santiago and Lupita looked at me and asked, “What if this isn’t temporary?  You need to think about what you will do.”  And they showed me how they arranged their home and did their chores and got around in their wheelchairs.  Santiago drove and had a service dog, two things I hadn’t thought about.  I admired their practicality, and the way they didn’t let anything get in their way, but found a way to work around everything.

When I got my chair, I realized it was a blessing.  I was no longer in so much pain.  I could get places much faster than I could in a walker.  I used to walk fast, and now I could ride fast!  My friends joked I would get a speeding ticket.

My friend Jill fought the norms and stereotypes to become a teacher in 1968, despite becoming a quadriplegic following a ski accident.  She was also an artist and philanthropist, raising tens of thousands of dollars for Native American scholarships.  She was also the first person to volunteer for the mentoring program our church started in the 1990s.  She once said, “I never thought of myself as a different person because of the accident.”  She also drove and I’d see her van around town as she did some shopping or sketching.

Perhaps we should consider forming “angel groups” in our churches to welcome new wheelchair users, and others dealing with new disabilities into the fold.  I keep wondering what would have happened to __________ if someone had been his angel, his encourager, had helped him into the land of disability and opened his eyes to the new possibilities that awaited him.

We also need to work on the attitudes of those around us.  I remember comments about my “giving up” or “not praying hard enough,” questions about when I was going to “get better,” many expressions of sympathy for the tragedy that had overtaken my life.  Some assumed I couldn’t continue in ministry.  Many assumed my life was over.  We must change this mindset!

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  John 15:12 NRSV

Dear Lord, Help us.  Help us to recognize the pain in others’ hearts, and to reach out in love and understanding.  Help us to share each person’s worth and value, and celebrate their role in our human family.  Each of us has a part to play, has something to give.  Help us lift up and encourage each other to be your servants in this world.  Amen.

Like a Rock (February 14, 2015)

Do you ever draw a blank?  Have a great idea, and then when it comes time to put it to paper, you can’t remember it?  Or start what sounds like a great idea, and then it just fizzles?  That is what has been happening to me lately.  I sometimes think I should carry a recorder with me all the time, just to catch my “brainstorms” for later. But perhaps I’ll capture them, just to discover they weren’t so great after all!  I don’t know if this is a temporary condition, or another part of my new life condition, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

I was very excited a few weeks ago to read an article in Smithsonian about rocks.  Rocks? you might ask.  Yes, rocks.  The article, entitled “Life and Rocks May Have Co-Evolved on Earth,” seemed to confirm a theory I have held for a long time, and it made me feel a little less crazy.  I have always thought that rocks and minerals, like animals and plants, are living organic things; they just move at a much slower pace, more slowly than we can detect.  Each time we dynamite our way through a mountain, or drill a tunnel, or a well, we are harming a living thing.   And that in turn reminded me of a very controversial book I read back in the 1970s.

It was written by Dalton Trumbo, who had his own share of controversies.  He was a Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.  He was forced to work clandestinely, winning two Academy Awards (for Roman Holiday and The Brave One) while using pseudonyms and “front” writers.  The book was “Johnny Got His Gun,” an anti-war novel about a young man named Joe Bonham, that won the 1939 National Book Award Most Original Novel prize.  (It was also made into a powerful film in 1971.)

What struck me most about the story was not Joe’s horrific wounds – he loses all his limbs and his face, including his eyes, ears, tongue, and teeth – but the way in which he is treated.  He is kept in a dark room with no sunlight, even though he can feel the warmth of the sun on his skin.  He can communicate by pounding his head in Morse code, but no one pays any attention to his wishes – only one kind nurse who has little power.  He asks to be placed in a glass box and tour around the country to demonstrate the horrors of war.  Of course his wish is not granted.  He tries to suffocate himself, but he has a tracheotomy he can’t control or remove.  His brain still functions perfectly, but he is treated as if he doesn’t exist.  He is utterly powerless.

Sometimes many of us feel like Joe.  We feel powerless to control our situations.  Our doctors or caregivers don’t listen to us, or don’t seem to hear us.  We feel violated, impotent.  We’re like rocks, mountains, being blasted and drilled, and no one thinks anything of it because we’re just there.  We’re not like “real” people, we don’t really matter.  It’s like my friend’s priest, who said there was no need to install an accessible bathroom, because people in wheelchairs “never came to church.”  “Did he ever think,” she asked him, “that maybe they didn’t come to church because they knew they wouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom?”

It is hard to reckon with unthinking people, especially when they’re clergy.  But it isn’t a call to lie down and quit trying.  It’s a call to be there, to remind them, to be the little pebble that scratches the lens in the glass that causes the person to focus more carefully.  We are not nothing.  We matter.  We are many, and we can be a force with which to be reckoned, if we just remember whose we are.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

    My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

    all the days that were formed for me,

    when none of them as yet existed.”  Psalm 139 13:16

Dear Lord, remind us that when we call on you, you hear us.  Remind us that you planned our days and our years, and we do not live them alone.  Remind us that you have a purpose for us, and there is a purpose behind everything that happens to us.  And no matter how grim our circumstances, no matter how unseen or unheard we might feel, let us remember that you are with us.  You are our strength, our hope and our light.  Amen.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God  Psalm 17:6

Books to Widen a Child’s World (January 24, 2015)

Hello, dear friends.  I’m sorry it’s been so long since I have written.  It’s been a challenging few weeks.  I’ve been fighting more infections, I took a fall off my deck bringing in the bird and squirrel feeders, and family members have been going through some difficult times.  I am weary.

I find as I grow older that the physical resources that allowed me to bounce back from falls and illnesses and emotional crises when I was younger just aren’t there.  Faith and trust in God aren’t enough to bring me bouncing back.  They’re enough to keep me going, but this aging, wounded body needs more time and rest than I’m willing to admit.

There were lucky breaks, so to speak.  When I fell, I didn’t break anything but my pride.  I fell face first onto river rock, but luckily I was wearing my glasses, and the lenses took the brunt of any facial damage.  And since they were my old prescription, and I was getting my new permanent glasses the following week, there wasn’t much damage done.  I did get some nasty bruises, and my right shoulder is still painful, but all-in-all I am fine.  And a friend from church will be installing a safety railing.

Some of you know I volunteer as an Early Literacy Tutor in a local elementary school.  I’m always looking for good books that are easy to read, beautifully illustrated, and keep my children excited about literature.  I was thrilled to learn about the Schneider Family Book Award, which was established in 2004.  It honors books written about a character with a disability in three different age groups, younger children (ages 0 to 8), middle grades (ages 9 to 13), and teens (ages 14 to 18).

According to the American Library Association, “The definition of disability is very broad. The disability may be physical, mental, or emotional and the person with the disability may be a child or adult, who does not have to be the main character. The character must, however, play a significant role in the story.”  And books are very well-written.  “It is not uncommon for there to be some overlap with other literature awards each year, which emphasizes the Jury’s search for well-written, quality literature for young people, just with a slightly different lens. . . If no title is deemed worthy within a category, the Jury can choose not to give an award in that category, as they did in the young child category in 2012. There is, in fact, a scarcity of quality books received for consideration in the birth to 8 category.”

The founder of the award, Dr. Katherine Schneider, is senior psychologist emerita from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Counseling Services, who happens to be visually impaired.  “Dr. Schneider often mentions the dearth of books having a character with a disability when she was a child – let alone well-written ones. The Award allows young people with a disability or living with someone with disability to read good literature about characters like themselves.  However, “(j)ust as stories featuring soccer players aren’t meant just for soccer players to read, neither are books having a character with a disability. We know reading about something helps the reader understand the people and the situations. Certainly that is part of the intent of the award.”

I have read several of the books and am so excited to share them with my students, and with you.  A list of all the winners can be found at:  http://www.ala.org/awardsgrants/awards/1/all_years

I hope you will join me in getting these books into our local church, school and public libraries, and into the hands of young readers.

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our[a] hearts, to be known and read by all;” 2 Corinthians 3:2

We thank you, Lord, that new minds are opening the doors of possibility for our young people through the wonder of books.  Help us to disseminate these resources in our communities, and be encouragers of all our children, so that they will have open hearts, open minds, and open doors.  Amen.