Sunday, May 25, 2008

TRAVELING IN THE WHEELCHAIR OF LIFE: Part 2 – Wheelchair Fever - May 24, 2008

You’ve heard of cabin fever. Gardeners, eager to plant flowers, may still be experiencing it, given the unseasonably cool May we are having. Well, I’m in the throes of wheelchair fever. As an introvert who loves her solitude, who can sit for hours reading or writing, I imagined that this stint in a wheelchair would be a breeze. WRONG.

Like my three retrievers, Panda, Hope, and Faith, I sit at the window, looking longingly out at the world, all of us whining, squirming, and chomping at the bit when we see a squirrel and can’t get outside to enjoy its company.

In some ways, this wheelchair provides freedom. I can get around the house quite well, although I can’t ride it down the stairs to the family and laundry rooms. I can maneuver the hallway path at Anderson Psychiatric Clinic well enough. But beyond these tiny spheres, I need help from others to get where I want or need to be.

Shortly after getting the wheelchair, I crashed headlong into the wall of my limitations. My mother-in-law had come down from Ft. Wayne for a few days to help out after my surgery. She’d taken me to my very first post-surgery social event—my AAUW book discussion group—and returned me safely to the house. I wheeled myself to my bedroom to release the dogs from their kennels and assumed that Mom had followed me in and closed the door to the garage. As I followed Panda, Hope and Faith to the kitchen to let them outside, I discovered that both the door to the garage and the garage door were wide open. Hope and Faith took advantage of the opportunity to embark on an adventure.

I grabbed my walker and charged out the front door, hoping I could beckon them back, but they were nowhere to be seen. I hobbled out on the sidewalk to get a better view and could see Hope down the street. I called and called, “HOPE! FAITH! COME!” but my girls were exercising selective hearing. I barked at Mom to bring me my wheelchair and I took off down the driveway and out into the street in pursuit of my wayward retrievers.

“FAITH! HOPE! COME!” I shrilled at the top of my lungs as I wheeled my “Cruiser III” as fast as I could. By this time, I spotted Hope being shooed out of a neighbor’s garage and I pumped my arms as fast as I could. Finally, my neighbor, Charles Shumate, noticing my dilemma, got off his rider mower and chased my dogs homeward. Charles and Mom were able to capture the rambunctious retrievers and lead them to the house. Exhausted from the chase, I wheeled myself slowly home, relieved that this adventure concluded positively.

At the end of our driveway there is a sizable bump which prevented me from getting my chair up onto the driveway. So, I backed my chair up a few feet and took a running start, like I do with my recumbent trike. I hit the bump hard and the chair tipped completely backward, spilling me awkwardly onto the pavement. I landed with a thud, hitting my head. Charles came running down the driveway to see if I was hurt. Other than sore elbows and a sorely bruised ego, I was fine.

Unexpected things happen in life that stop us short and knock us over. It’s tough to admit that we have limited capacities. Our “best laid plans of mice and men” are dumped by the wayside, leaving us in a heap, stunned and spinning. Such events call us to slow down and turn to God for direction.

Like my trusting Charles, who righted my wheelchair and delivered me home safely, I need to trust that God will wheel me safely where he wants me to go. But it’s tempting to keep my hands on the handrim and use my feet as rudders and breaks.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TRAVELING IN THE WHEELCHAIR OF LIFE: Part 1 – Expect the Unexpected - May 17, 2008

I’ve had a bum knee for eighteen years. It all began, one summer day, when I bent down to tie my Nike and something slipped out of place in my knee, resulting in excruciating pain. An MRI revealed nothing sinister, and I’ve dealt with my malady these many years.

I knew it was just a matter of time before I’d need to undergo surgery. After all, my family had endured fourteen knee surgeries. My brother, Michael, has had three, my daughter, Beth, four and my niece, Kelly, takes the prize with seven. All of the above are athletic people. I, on the other hand, am a klutz. The closest I come to displaying athletic ability is when I ride my recumbent tricycle.

Well, recently, along with my knee innards feeing like shifting sand, I developed a huge lump on the back of my knee. I immediately thought CANCER! and made a doctor’s appointment. The lump turned out to be a cyst caused by my knee leaking oil. Sounds like a problem for an old jalopy, doesn’t it? Surgery was in order.

I chose to have my surgery this spring because I want to be up and running by the time Evan, my seven-month-old grandson, begins walking. If he’s anything like his daddy, I have a mere two months before I need this knee back in service for toddler chasing.

A few days before my date with surgery, I dug Beth’s crutches out of a cobwebbed corner of the basement and gave them a try. I couldn’t crutch three steps without keeling over. The doctor had said I’d only need to use them for two days following surgery, so I figured I could manage with a walker for that brief time.

When the doctor got his teeny-tiny scope, instruments and camera inside my knee, he discovered it was in much worse shape than the MRI and x-rays had revealed. After cleaning away the damaged cartilage and arthritis, he performed a microfractive surgery, which is medical-ese for drilling tiny holes in my knee. If this procedure works, my knee will develop new cartilage. Oh, not like the cartilage I was born with—more like a scab, I’m told, which is better than having no bone coverage at all.

“Well, she’s not going to be happy with me,” predicted my gown-clad orthopedic surgeon. He was speaking to my husband, immediately following surgery, as I slept blissfully nearby.

I appreciate my surgeon’s thoroughness in tending to my knee. Unfortunately, recovery from microfractive surgery takes lots longer than for a simple trim-some-cartilage-and-get-out surgery. I’m not allowed to bear weight on my left leg—for six weeks. I’m dismayed by this unexpected turn, but I know my surgeon operated in my best interest.

So, instead of spending spring time in the great out-of-doors riding my trike, gardening, hiking among the wildflowers in the woods, etc., I’m a wheelchair wallflower.

In my better moments, I look at this unexpected turn as fodder for writing. In my less-than-better moments, I feel sorry for myself; I yell at the dogs for walking, ever so s-l-o-w-l-y, in front of my wheelchair; and I whine to my husband, but not too much. I need to stay in his good graces. He’s currently my ticket to freedom, and I certainly wouldn’t want to alienate him. I balance my whining with words of appreciation, to which he sarcastically says, “You owe me big time.”

So over the next few weeks, I will be whining (er, I mean, writing) about “Traveling in the Wheelchair of Life.” Maybe next week I’ll tell you about my wheelchair wheelie—but only if you promise not to squeal on me to my surgeon.

As for my toddler chasing, while I’m confident I can keep up with Evan on the straight-aways in my wheelchair, it’s the turns and stairs that have me concerned. His mommy and daddy announced on Wednesday that Evan is now crawling. It’s going to be a tight race as to who will be up on their feet first.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who
love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD – Part 7: Arrayed in Grace - May 10, 2008

The kiln has cooled and the Potter eagerly opens the door on his long awaited vessel of clay. One by one he removes the pots from the kiln, handling them gingerly. His hands recognize his precious pot even before his eyes do. Eagerly he holds it up to the light, turning it every which way, exploring his final product. He runs his hands lovingly over the cool, hard surface, admiring its shape and hues.

Now the Potter adds his final touches to his creation. He may paint designs on the surface of the vessel—pictures that tell a story, a geometric design, or flowers, perhaps—or garnish it with touches of gold or precious gems. And then—THEN—he turns his vessel over, and with great flourish and tears of joy, the proud Potter adds his signature to his work of art.

As a work of God’s hands, I am so much more than clay and glaze and paint and gilding. There are secret ingredients at work in this earthly yet spiritual vessel. First of all, I have been created in the image of my Maker. A touch of the divine enlivens my clay. Secondly, I am a living, breathing being (more like a fragrant, life-giving loaf of bread than a lifeless jar of clay), growing and developing spiritually, due to the yeasting of the Holy Spirit.

I give praise to my maker, joining Isaiah who proclaimed, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10) The paint, gilding, and jewels that array my earthly shell are endowed with mysterious properties: salvation and righteousness.

In our society, we are so focused on our outward appearance and beauty that we tend to discount our personal assets—our intelligence, talents, skills, personal qualities, values, etc. If we are often blind to our own goodness, how are we to recognize and appreciate the mysteries of the Potter that pulse within our spiritual being?

In a famous Old Testament passage, the great prophet Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, saying “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) By human standards, Jesus was not handsome. In fact, there was nothing special about him that made him appealing and attractive, such that people were drawn to him by his looks— just a thirty-something, average Joe.

Jesus knew that, “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Jesus became an earthly vessel, just like you and me; a vessel from whom our Heavenly Father’s love and grace flows.

So, my fellow vessels of clay, the next time you get down on yourself, remember whose you are and who you are in Christ:
  • You were carefully chosen and created by the Divine Potter
  • There are secret spiritual ingredients at work within you.

  • You are created in the very image of God. The fact that you are prone to sin does not negate this amazing truth.

  • You are a one of a kind creation. Gratefully, joyfully—and yes, proudly—bear the signature of your Maker.

  • You are adorned with salvation and righteousness, thanks to your loving Creator and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus.

  • And on those days when you just can’t look beyond your physical appearance and see your worth, remember that you are every bit as good lookin’ as Jesus!

We’ve spent seven weeks talking about being God’s vessel; now it’s time to let the Potter have his way with us. Let the spinning begin!

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will.
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Adalaide Pollard, 1907

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD – Part 6: Godly Suffering - May 3, 2008

“ …So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God,
keep on doing what is right,
and trust your lives to the God who created you,
for he will never fail you.”
1 Peter 4:19

Last week, I left you roasting in the Creator’s kiln. You kicked and screamed all the way to the kiln, questioning God’s judgment, but at some point, you yielded to God’s will.

Yielding is more than difficult. Yield is “a general term referring to any sort of giving in before force, domination, argument, entreaty, appeal.” Synonyms for yield expand the pallet with shades of surrendering (submit and capitulate), yielding through weakness (succumb), and yielding out of respect (defer). We might also say that we buckle, cave, or knuckle under. If you want me to yield, dispense with force, domination, or argument. I respond more willingly to entreaty or appeal. To surrender or capitulate shouts “LOSER.” Deferring out of respect is somewhat palatable, but I’d really rather be in charge. Are you identifying with my distaste for yielding? So why subject ourselves to the fiery furnace of God’s formation?

The apostle Peter offers us these disconcerting words of encouragement: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. ... it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! (1 Peter: 4:12-16)

Our trials make us partners with Christ—in his suffering. Peter is referring to a unique suffering—suffering for being a Christian. As an American, I worship whom and how I please. I’m familiar with the pain of physical and emotional suffering and the angst of spiritual upheaval, but I’ve not been persecuted for “being” a Christian.

Recently I viewed “The Reckoning,” a documentary film about the Dutch Resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. The film tells the true stories of ordinary citizens who came to the aid of the Jews, risking their own safety and very lives.

I try to imagine myself in the shoes of Diet Emmon, a young woman who transported counterfeit identity and ration documents under the noses of the Nazi soldiers. How would I feel, sitting on a train when German soldiers board and begin to search the train? How would I feel hearing that my fiancé, also a member of the resistance, was captured and exterminated in a prison camp? How would I react when arrested and imprisoned for three months, not knowing what my fate would be? And on release, would I be able to return to resistance work, as Diet did?

I pray I never have to experience such suffering, but Christians and non-Christians alike, worldwide, suffer religious persecution as a way of life. But I will offer what suffering I experience to my Savior. My suffering is fraught with resistance and complaining, but I offer my suffering, such as it is, to come alongside Christ in the suffering he endured for me.

Centuries ago, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo were thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar. Yet they testified that “if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." God joined them in the furnace and saved them from the fire. (Daniel 3)

This fire was not the kiln of God, but the inferno of Satan. Whether we are being shaped by our Master Potter, or suffering in the hands of evil, God is with us.

“…lo, I am with you always,
even unto the end of the world.”
Matthew 28:20