Saturday, June 21, 2008

TRAVELING IN THE WHEELCHAIR OF LIFE – Part 5: "Get Up!" - June 21, 2008

Jesus said to him,
"Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."
John 5:8

Recently, I spent a frustrating afternoon of wheeling myself to and fro in our galley kitchen, bumping my wheelchair clumsily into cabinets, and rolling over various dog appendages. My coup de maitre, however, occurred when I pulled lose the bottom shelf in the refrigerator door with a wheel of my chair, spilling pickle and jam jars—which rolled all over the kitchen.

“Rex, I’d really like you to spend a few hours in this wheelchair,” I said sweetly, later that day, “so you can see what I’ve been going through.”

Rex’s answer was swift and unequivocal: “I’ll sit in a wheelchair, if and when I have to, but no sooner.”

“Not even for me?” I asked incredulously.

“No,” sweet, and simple. My hubby is a kid at heart and I thought sure that he’d jump at the opportunity to operate such a cool vehicle, performing a few wheelies to impress his girl. Slipping my feet into his shoes, I could certainly understand his perspective, so I wasn’t (too) miffed. Between his comment and my mental “shoe-fitting,” however, I did briefly contemplate tossing the delicious dinner I had so lovingly created for him in the trash. This would be a double whammy, since I rarely cook to begin with. But being a marriage and family therapist by trade, I knew that such a reactionary response would not result in a pleasant evening. So I just made him fix his own plate.

During my fourth week in the wheelchair, our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary came—and went. I was not in a celebratory mood. I want to walk into the restaurant on my own volition when we celebrate this benchmark in our marriage. Thus, I’m looking forward to dining on—hmm—succulent Alaskan King crab legs dipped in drawn butter, perhaps. Oh, and, of course, I will thoroughly enjoy my dining companion as we reminisce the past and dream for the future.

Well, the day finally arrived when my doctor said: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Granted, that’s a paraphrase, but he gave me his blessing and sent me out the door with a few exercises to do. The joy of this day is right up there with the day my hubby proposed, our wedding day, and the births of our children. You may think I’m joking, but six weeks in a wheelchair is comparable to waiting years to meet the right man, waiting fifteen months from time of proposal until my jaunt down the aisle and back, and nine months of pregnancy (times three, equals 27 months).

I celebrated my healing with lunch at Panera Bread, followed by a leisurely shopping spree. Said spree yielded a beautiful black dress with variegated white polka-dots, to wear when we celebrate our anniversary. I have a lot to celebrate. During my tenure in the wheelchair, my long-suffering mate has been an absolute sweetheart. I’d hate to know how many trips to the fridge I sent him on, just to retrieve a Dr. Pepper or an ice cream bar. He wheeled me here, there and everywhere, loading and unloading my chair into and out of the car, in spite of his temperamental back. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I’m the most blessed woman alive.

I’m also very grateful to God for the medical miracles that heal hurting limbs. But more than this, I am grateful because I know that my Savior would jump tall buildings at the chance to take my place in my wheelchair. He went to the cross to save me from my sins, and now he’s said, “Linda, get up!"

I am thrilled to be on my feet again. I’m putting my six weeks of obsessing about the gift of mobility to good use by preparing a series on walking, entitled, “Walking Buddies.” I hope you’ll enjoy a stroll with me.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
… soar on wings like eagles;
… run and not grow weary,
…walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:31

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

TRAVELING IN THE WHEELCHAIR OF LIFE – Part 4: Handicapped, Disabled or Differently-abled? - June 14, 2008

In this day and age of politically correct language, I’m thoroughly confused on when to use certain terms, lest I cause offense. When is it proper to refer to someone, such as myself, as handicapped, disabled or differently-abled?

When it comes to sports, I’m definitely handicapped—a congenital defect encoded in my genes. My instinctive reflex to dodge or duck when a ball flies my way, desperately weak ankles and poor eye-hand coordination make me likely to be last picked in all but the most domestic activities. Challenge me to a bed-making race, and I’ll win blue ribbons for speed and neatness. Challenge me to cleaning a bathroom and…well, you’ll win that one.

I am currently disabled due to knee surgery and a lengthy healing process requiring that I not put weight on my left leg. I get by with the use of a wheelchair, walker, and hopping-about on my right leg. The latter requires modest athletic ability, which as I pointed out earlier, I am lacking. Your prayers for my safety are coveted.

And I am differently-abled in ways too numerous to list. While you may be able to slam a baseball over the fence, I am able to slam computer keys and produce words and thoughts that are equally a hit in my field of play. I am able to listen by the hour (which comes in handy on my job as a therapist) while you may be a non-stop gabber. Don’t ask me to do any form of math and I’ll not ask you to define or spell esclandre, prosopopoeia or guerdon. (Cheer up; I don’t even know what they mean—I’m just messing with you.) We’re just differently-abled, you and I.

Recently I decided to negotiate the grocery store in one of those nifty motorized carts that are now provided for the handicapped, disabled, and/or differently-abled individual. You may not have ever noticed, but a grocery store is an obstacle course in disguise. All those produce, baked goods and soda pop displays, set at angles to keep the physically-abled from racing through the store, are a nightmare for those of us on wheels.

The scariest part for me, however, was backing my buggy up when I failed to stop in time to collect the particular cookies or laundry detergent I was after. Putting my vehicle into reverse set off an obnoxious alarm, not unlike that installed on road construction equipment. I’m not noted for my vehicular backing ability, so I recommend you clear the aisle, street or driveway if you see and hear me operating any mode of transportation in reverse.

The most difficult aspect of grocery shopping, however, was getting into the freezer cases for my weekly supply of Lean Cuisine and Skinny Cow Ice Cream Bars. The freezer doors at my store open outward rather than sliding aside. If you want to feel differently-abled, I invite you to attempt to line up a mobile cart, just so, open the door and lean in for your item.

I do wish to thank all the kind people who helped me retrieve the Wheat Chex and other items stowed on the top shelves. My thanks, also, to those who did not laugh at me and those who pretended to nonchalantly get out of my way (I know you were scared to death and wanted to run for your life!) There are a lot of kind-hearted, gracious and tolerant people eager to be of assistance.

But I am truly baffled by those who were oblivious to this first-time mobile grocery cart driver, who wasn’t quite sure what she was doing. For future reference, I suggest that you look both ways from now on when you cross a grocery aisle to grab an item, watch for out-of-control drivers at all corners, and for goodness sake, YIELD to anyone on wheels.

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
Romans 12:6

FYI: Esclandre, prosopopoeia, and guerdon were the final three words in the National Spelling Bee, held on May 30, 2008.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

TRAVELING IN THE WHEELCHAIR OF LIFE – Part 3: "Be Still" - June 1, 2008

“Be still and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Recently I rose from my wheelchair and began to walk. I immediately realized what I was doing and was horrified. I’m one of those strange people who follow doctor’s instructions to a tee, and walking is a no-no for two more weeks. In spite of my alarmed reaction, I continued to walk. I cannot explain my behavior, except to say that it transpired in a dream. Numerous times, though, I’ve caught myself on the verge of really getting up to walk. What I wouldn’t give to be able to walk to the kitchen for an ice cream bar or to run down stairs to fetch a book. Why, I’m almost looking forward to the day when I can enter the yard to do doggy-doo-doo-duty.

Why, oh why, am I stuck in this wheelchair? The message I keep getting is, “Be still, Linda…” I’m rereading God’s Joyful Surprise, by Sue Monk Kidd, and this message flashes at me like a garish neon sign from every other page. It pops up in everything I read, in fact, like an annoying pop up internet commercial, but without the congratulatory announcement that I am the 10,000th visitor, and “click here to claim your prize.”

It’s so hard to be still, physically or mentally. Recently, my daughter observed me reading in my wheelchair, wheeling back and forth, as if in a rocker. “Mom, that’s the perfect chair,” she declared, cheerily, “for someone like you with restless leg syndrome.” I also have restless brain syndrome, AND restless spirit syndrome, as well.

As I sit, rocking back and forth, it occurs to me that maybe God is urging me to be still. Maybe he is longing for me to listen to him; to become quiet and to put away my long “to-do” list for God, and simply listen. “It’s not like God to yell in order to make Himself heard over all the sounds in our world,” states Sue, in God’s Joyful Surprise. “Rather He calls on us to turn from our frantic lives and grow quiet.”

Grow quiet—in this noisy life of mine? Quiet implies silence, and, “without listening, silence is just a vacuum. But learning to hear His whisper is the most delicate miracle of all.” Julian of Norwich said that when a person is at ease or at rest with God, she “does not need to pray, but to contemplate reverently what God says.”

I often tell my clients that 90% of communication is listening. This has to be true, also, in our relationship with God. Just think, when we go to God in prayer, we don’t have to say a thing—just listen. And in our loss for words, our confusion, our tangle of emotions, “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)

During warm weather, a part of my bedtime ritual is to sit outside on the deck and listen to the sounds of the night. As I sink into the velvety darkness, and as the silence envelops me, I slowly become aware of voices in the nearby woods—a symphony of tree frogs, cicadas, owls, even raccoons. What I initially experience as silence is actually a cacophony of critters. I love the feeling that I am not alone. I love that in the midst of darkness is life.

Perhaps listening for God is similar to my nighttime listening. In the dark times, God often seems absent and silent. But could it be that if I quiet myself I will feel God’s presence, hear God’s whispers? Can I relax into God’s presence and let God be God? Can I trust the Spirit to intercede for me? This depth of relationship with God is what I long for.

Perhaps my wheelchair is just the vehicle I need to enter into this intriguing silence where God waits for me.

“I have stilled and quieted my soul.”
Psalm 131:2