Hope on wings like eagles

When I was a little girl, I was told that I would never walk. I had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and the doctor’s outlook was grim.

It never crossed my mind that they were right. I asked God to let me walk and He said I would walk, so I believed Him.

A surgeon crossed my path who believed that if he cut the right nerve in my leg, I could walk. This idea was considered so farfetched that my insurance refused to pay for it. But that didn’t stop that surgeon from sneaking me into the hospital to perform the surgery illegally. I still remember laying across a table in his office while doctors surrounded the table to watch the surgeon remove the stitches from my leg. Everyone was anxious to see if the surgery was a success.

Spoiler: It did.

***

It takes a lot of faith for a doctor to risk his career so that a little girl might walk.

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility to act. I don’t fully understand the balance between the two but I know that God’s promise that I would walk could not be fulfilled if the surgeon had not been faithful to act on his conviction.

I wonder how  much of God’s blessings we miss out on simply because we deny the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, I think we suppress what God is asking of us because it doesn’t make sense to us.

Example: Two years ago, God asked me to quit my job and move to the Valley. He even told me what job I would have, a job I now have, but I only went halfway. I quit my job but refused to move. So for three months, I suffered. Each time God asked me to move, I said no because starting over didn’t make any sense. I applied for jobs left and right, getting rejected over and over. I cried out to God for freedom, not understanding why He was making me wait. But the truth was, God had already revealed his plan for redemption for me; I just refused to listen. I had hardened my heart to the Holy Spirit. I don’t think it was deliberate disobedience. I think I dismissed the voice of God because I didn’t believe He would be that clear and direct about something that would drastically change my life.

Long story short, I moved to the Valley and got the job God told me I would have. My life has become more beautiful than I could possibly imagine.

When God says move, for crying out loud-move! Why waste one second of your life challenging what He asks of you?

This verse meant a lot to me during that time in my life:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

-Habakkuk 3:17-19

You don’t need to see how everything will work out in order for things to work out. Just move!

 

Nothing is ever wasted

One of my favorite prose pieces is “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. In the piece, she proposes this idea that we are not merely the age we are but a collection of the ages we have been. We experience the ages we have been in response to situations we are in

I am 27.

I recently went home for Thanksgiving. It was my first holiday with my family. I expected flash backs and hurt feelings over past memories but that didn’t happen.

I kept having flashbacks to being 19.

I’ve felt 19 on numerous occasions over the last year. I’m not really sure why. I think it has to do with that time in my life feeling so new, ready to embark on a fresh adventure.

 “Tonight feels like the last night of camp. 19, bare feet in wet grass. The sky red with a light breeze. I remember how sweaty I was, my cotton shirt clinging to my back. My hair a greasy mess. I had never felt better. I had spent my last $25 on this treasured Bible that I could carry around everywhere. $22 and some change if I remember correctly. And in that moment, when everything was silent and peaceful, I wasn’t thinking about what 7 years later would look like. I was only thinking about what it would look like when it was over. What redemption would look like.

Tonight, my only emotion is a memory.”

Redemption 7 years later didn’t look like what I thought it’d look like. It was different. I didn’t get married this year or end up where I had wanted to be. What I got was so much better.

I got my health back. Because of medical treatment, I get to have a future. A real one, full of plans and dreams. All with a fully-functioning brain and a heart for Jesus.

For 7 years, I weathered storms of illogical thinking, hallucinations and erratic behavior. I made plans I could never finish, dated men I could never commit to and talked faster than a Gilmore Girl.

Redemption didn’t come the way I thought it would. Instead of a knight in shining armor, it came in the form of a hospital gown and proper medication.

I remember being 19. I remember having my whole adulthood before my eyes and the wild uncertainty that I experienced with elated joy.

Wistfully, I regret the time I lost because I was sick. It would have made my life easier had I had been diagnosed earlier. But God ultimately allows what will bring Him the most glory. Somehow, this mess of a life that I’ve endured is not wasted time.

So as I move forward with making plans, forming commitments and nestling into God’s promises, I’m grateful for the future I get to have. I get to finish my undergrad, go to law school (hopefully) and learn to love this messy life God gave me. I’m grateful for the way things didn’t turn out.

Nothing is ever wasted.

Baseball Camp

One of my favorite childhood memories is of my summer at baseball camp.

It’s one of the stories I tell a guy I’m interested in because I want him to know I’m not just a cute girl in a dress.

Probably the most interesting part of the story is that I had only been walking for about a year after being told by the doctors I would never walk.

And yet, by age eight, you would find me running through the hallways of my school just for the heck of it. Breathless laughter as I pretended I could play soccer with my classmates and dodge balls in gym class. When I found out there would be a baseball camp offered through my church, I begged my parents to let me go.

I love baseball!

Since when? My mom asked.

I let out an exasperated sigh. Since always Mom! I just wanna go!

Secretly, I think my parents delighted in the fact that I was so eager to try anything and seemed oblivious to people’s perception of me.

For someone so small, I was never afraid of the flying balls. I could never hit them very far but I did my best to get to at least first base before I got caught. I never kept score or thought about winning. I was just thrilled to be living a life different than what was expected of me.

The future seemed uncertain for the first time in my young life and I relished in it. Everyone had been so convinced that I would end up a certain way, my future grim and dark.

But I never considered it to be true. Somewhere deep inside me, I had joy lit on fire, igniting this hope, this certainty that said surely everyone would be wrong.

It’s still there, that joy. Still guiding me and reminding me that people’s perception of me is not as significant as the security of hope I have in Christ.

I don’t know much more about baseball than I did at eight years old but the memory of that summer is the reminder that the hope that lives in me has never been put to shame.   

Biblical justice (For Someone with a Mental Illness)

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head.

You need to go to the hospital.

The words cause a stir of panic. I can’t do this, but I’m running out of time. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear my friend’s voice. How you handle this will determine if you’ve learned from the mistakes of your upbringing.

I look up at the counselor. It’s a rarity for me to make eye contact with anyone. I’ve never understood why.

You’re declining fast. I can’t force you to get help but I can encourage you.

I decide to go.

The ER feels like a memory. They draw blood and take vitals. My legs won’t stop moving. They kick back and forth while the nurses feed me and tell me how sweet I am. My voice sounds childlike.

It takes two hours from the point of entering the ER to admission into inpatient care. Unheard of, the ER nurse says. Someone upstairs must be looking out for you.

God is, I think. God is providing. 

Inpatient care is no joke. They take away my belongings and fit me in donated clothes. I didn’t bring anything with me. I want to leave within minutes of arriving. I don’t want this. I never wanted to hurt myself. I’m just not well. I don’t know why.

This is the hardest choice I’ve ever made. The doctors and nurses are kind and compassionate. We are all trying to find out what is wrong with me. Because I am the most positive person I know but my thoughts speak darkness over my life. Even as I walk around the ward, my heart is abounding in hope by the Holy Spirit as I trust in God. I know nothing happens without His permission. Something about this screams justice, that God is outpouring His light to take out the darkness that has overwhelmed my life for the last few years. I’m just not sure why it feels this way.

The diagnosis is not a surprise. By the end of Day 1, we know I am on the spectrum. I am sick. I have a new(ish) disability. The friends and family I call are not surprised. They are happy for me. They say my behavior makes sense now. The disconnect between my emotions and thoughts make more sense.

I am fighting for my health in a way that I never have before. Cerebral palsy has nothing on my new diagnosis. It is the end of Day 2 when I start to feel different. My brain feels different. It doesn’t hurt anymore. It feels less cluttered. One little pill has started to change the way my body thinks.

I start talking to the other patients, asking them questions about their lives. I find out quickly where all my experience working with people with disabilities comes to good use. I give the other patients advice on navigating services. I’m teased lovingly for offering help when I’m here to get better.

I can’t help it, I think. No matter where I am, I will always be an advocate.

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head. I cry grateful tears. My brain is not typical but it is becoming well at a miraculous speed. This, I am not surprised at. God has always been quick to heal me when I have agreed to surrender.

I get to leave the hospital early. The follow-up appointment has already been made and my brain feels amazing. It is not until I am home the following day that it hits me what God has accomplished in a matter of days.

It is when I realize that I can feel the carpet under my bare feet that tears come rolling down my cheeks. The only words that come out in prayer are Thank you.

I never knew that because of an undiagnosed mental illness, I have never truly felt the ground under my feet. I have not been fully connected mind, body, spirit. As I experience the joy of feeling every fiber of my bedroom carpet, I know God has proclaimed justice over my life. I feel His victory. He won.

Stories: Jenny

“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” – Proverbs 31:25

“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” – Proverbs 31:25

When I was in the seventh grade, our school published a newspaper. One of the features in it was a column highlighting things that were considered trendy or “in” and things that were not trendy or “out”. I remember some of the trendy things in 1995 being backpack purses, baby tees, knee high socks/stockings, platform sneakers, “The Rachel” haircut, and all things Sanrio.

I also remember a few things that were “out” like hand-me-down clothes, high-waisted pants (It was all about the hip huggers.), hair scrunchies, and wearing glasses (Why?!). The one item on the list I remember most distinctly was leg warmers. It was so not cool to wear them! I remember feeling like it was a personal attack on my sense of style, because I was the only person in my school who wore them. I laughed with my friends about the absurd article, it was such an obvious tactic to bully the “uncool” kids, but deep down it hurt.

Clothes have always been a source of contention for me. I was born with a disability called Spina Bifida. It affects my mobility and I am able to walk using orthotics or leg braces. When I was a teenager I was embarrassed to wear them, and so I would usually wear pants or jeans. Yet, when the occasion required a dress or skirt, I would bunch a pair of leg warmers over my braces, almost like knee highs but, apparently not, since those were considered “in”. Clothes never fit right. Pants are perpetually too long, shirts are always too narrow in the shoulder or waist. When I use my wheelchair, if clothes don’t fit, they hang over my wheels and always get dirty. (Wearing white is impossible!) Needless to say, being a teenager without much stylistic freedom was a real esteem-killer. I had to come up with some creative ways to express my individuality, while having a very narrow selection to choose from.

In 2010, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Disabled Divaz” fashion show held by the Aurora Foundation. The event was created to raise awareness to the fact that people with disabilities, especially young women, don’t have access to the same clothing options as the rest of the population. It’s an issue of exclusion and lack of awareness perpetuated by impossible beauty standards that the so-called “industry” has set forth. Having worked in disability advocacy for a number of years I have seen the esteem issues that many people deal with. There are a few “disability” clothing companies, but the clothing is not very attractive and usually more expensive than your average department store finds.

jeeny

Lack of access to affordable, fashionable clothing is, in my opinion, just as important has having access to employment and healthcare. When you look good you feel good, and therefore are more likely to go after the job you want and take care of yourself by going to the doctor, etc. This special event gave young women the opportunity to work with a designer, creating a signature look to fit them and reflect their personal style, in spite of their limitations. My designer created a beautiful, green dress that I could wear at my wedding reception. The event was a fundraiser for the foundation and a competition for the designers. My designer actually won! I was so proud to be a part of something that changed the community’s attitude toward people with disabilities.

I had a life-changing experience when I turned sixteen. That is the year I committed my life to Christ. I suddenly had someone who knew me and loved me exactly as I am! I still struggle with my self-esteem, but I know that I don’t have to worry about what I wear. I also know that the people who know Him and know me, love me regardless of what I’m wearing. As an adult, it mostly comes down to what’s comfortable and doesn’t wrinkle in the dryer! “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? –Matthew 6:25

Recently, I read an article that said Tommy Hilfiger has modified his clothing line for children, so that those with disabilities have the option to wear the same clothes. This is an exciting step in the right direction and I hope that other designers will recognize the importance of having access to fashionable, functional, clothing choices. In the meantime, I might just find me a pair of leg warmers to sport, because dress season is right around the corner!