A Chance To Grow

      A few minutes ago I was lying in bed getting ready to read a novel when I got the sudden idea to read something out of the Bible instead. I brushed the thought aside and continued messing around on my phone for a minute and then I opened up the app where the novel is (and let me tell you that as someone whose arms and hands don’t work as well as they used to, I love the fact that my phone can hold books because it’s so much easier for me that way).
       Once again the thought of reading the Bible popped into my mind and I said aloud “OK I’ll do it but I don’t know what I’m going to read.” I’d just finished up reading 1st and 2nd John yesterday and hadn’t decided what to read next. When I opened the Bible app it was on James chapter 1 which is what we were looking at in Sunday school this morning.
      And there it was, the thing that I was supposed to read and unbeknownst to me the column that I was supposed to write. That’s often how these things work for me.
     There are some pretty challenging verses in the Bible and several verses out of James 1 have been difficult for me. Verse 2 reads “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (NLT).
      Often when I read that verse, my sarcastic side comes out and I think “Well I should be a pretty happy dude then.” I don’t know about anyone else, but rarely do I feel any joy when I have trouble. Frustration, confusion, and anger maybe, but probably not joy.
     Verse 3 goes on to say “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (NLT). One word in particular sticks out to me in that verse and it’s the word chance.
      My faith seems to be tested on a pretty regular basis. I’m sick, and my health is not good. I’ve had to make rapid changes to my lifestyle that I didn’t want to including moving into handicapped accessible housing, using mobility equipment, scaling back daily activities and much more. I’m not complaining, that’s just how life goes sometimes.
     Making life changes, dealing with disappointing doctor visits and having to deal with unfortunate relationship dynamics caused by my disability have definitely tested my faith on several occasions.
     Doubt is something that people often don’t feel comfortable talking about but I feel like it’s something I need to do. I’ve doubted. A lot.
     I’ve had doubts at one time or another about seemingly everything I thought that I’d learned about God. I can recall a couple of different times where I felt absolutely destroyed after yet another doctor visit where I went away without a diagnosis. I felt empty.
     I didn’t understand why things had to be this way and I was so angry.
     What I have learned is that God is there with me through the doubt. No matter how angry I might be or how lonely I might feel, He is still there with me. And He always will be.
      Feelings come and go, but God never leaves.
     Lately I’ve taken to looking at my life as a boat traveling the waves of the ocean. No matter what highs or lows may come my way, as long as my ship stays afloat it will always keep moving closer to where it’s supposed to go. God has control of the ship and the best thing I can do is to let go of the wheel and embrace that.
     Is it easy? Of course not, and sometimes I will struggle but God will still be there.
     Verse 5 says “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (NLT).  I hate asking for help as much as the next person but there’s no one better to ask than the one who has all of the answers.
     So do I feel full of joy about my troubles?  Certainly not at first and that’s where I think the word chance comes into play. If I ask for and accept God’s help, then my endurance WILL grow. If I don’t, then in my experience that’s when bitterness grows and my pain will have been for nothing. It’s all about how willing I am to humble myself and trust my creator.
     It’s hard to see the bright side in difficult situations but rest assured that the next time it might feel like life is kicking you when you’re down, you have a loving God just waiting for you to ask Him for His help and wisdom.
      And yes, your endurance will grow as He guides you through your struggles, enabling you to more effectively do His will. If you ask me, that is something to be joyous about.

People Are People

Every now and then I like to read through the gospels again.

It usually starts with me thinking I’m only going to read one and invariably I end up reading all of them. The book of Matthew was the first book of the Bible that I ever read in it’s entirety and it’s still my favorite. But as I was continuing to read through the others recently, a few verses stood out to me in a way that they never had before (which of course is an amazing feeling and one of the many reasons I read daily).

Verses 1-2 of John chapter 9 say,

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (NLT)

The first thought that popped into my head was “Man, peoples’ attitudes haven’t changed much in 2000 years have they?”

Now I feel the need to amend that thought here immediately: I have met many people since I’ve become sick that have been respectful, loving, caring, and above all else just treat me like they would any other person, and I love them with all my heart. Because in a world where you look different from almost everyone, it is literally a life-saver to have people who love you no matter what.

Unfortunately as we all know, the world at large isn’t usually so understanding. Looking noticeably different from everyone else is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s the worst part of my day. I just don’t get to be like everyone else anymore, no matter how much I might want to.

I don’t get to turn off my health problems.

When I was just using a cane it wasn’t really that bad. Yes, I’d get irritated when people would stare at me when I was walking around but at least I could hide it when I was sitting. These days when you see me out in public (which isn’t all that often anymore), I’m probably in a wheelchair. I love my scooter, but in a lot of situations the wheelchair is just more functional.

I don’t get to blend in anymore. When I’m out shopping, I’m not a 33-year-old guy who’s buying beef jerky, salsa and a can of ravioli that’s on sale but will likely never get eaten; I’m Wheelchair Guy (buying those same things of course).

And I’ll be the first one to admit, I suck at being Wheelchair Guy.

I’m not comfortable with it at all, on any level really. Add to that the fact that my arms don’t work like they’re supposed to anymore, so I’m just not able to push the chair very well and I‘m probably in a lot of pain trying to do it.

The point of all of this is that I’m very aware of any slights (real and occasionally imagined) that are thrown my way because of the health problems that I have.

When I read that verse, it stuck a chord with me in a way that it hadn’t before. I’ve had people speak to me about my disability in a way that suggested that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. In a way that quite frankly, felt dehumanizing. I felt like I no longer count on the same level that everyone else does because my body doesn’t operate as well as most of the population.

And it happens more often than I ever would have thought.

I’ve learned that there are right and wrong ways to deal with this kind of thing. Considering the source is usually a pretty good first step. Before I actually became a person with a disability, I’d never really had much experience being around someone who had one and I get the impression that most people haven’t either.

Really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad at someone for not knowing something that they probably haven’t had a chance to learn. So when the disciples asked Jesus this question, I don’t imagine that it was out of malice but possibly just out of inexperience.

They probably just really wanted to know.

Verse 3 says,

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means and it wouldn’t surprise me if I never truly understand.

But if I had to guess I would say that it means that God loves every single one of us, regardless of where we start out at.

God will take care of every single one of us, and in some cases it’s more noticeable than it is in others, and that’s good because we need to see the work that God does around us every day.

My situation is different from the blind man in the story in many ways, but the main one that matters at the moment is that he was born with his disability and mine showed up after I turned 30.

But if God allows me to get a wheelchair or a scooter at the exact time that I need one despite the fact that I don’t have the money for it or whatever the case may be, then the power of God can be seen in my situation too.

My arms are burning with pain as I write this column, and for my own good I need to wrap it up soon. But I truly believe that God is giving me the desire and ability to write it even though I know there’s a very good chance that I will be in so much pain tomorrow from doing it that I’ll likely wish I wouldn’t have.

God is showing His power through me.

I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because–believe me–I feel like I’m the least qualified or worthy person to say something like that.

What I’m really trying to say is this: I’ve been called an inspiration by people for simply trying to do whatever it is I have to do to just keep living a halfway normal life. The strange thing about not being “normal” anymore is that when I actually do manage to do “normal” things, it’s considered inspirational to others.

I’m okay with that, because to me the word “inspirational” really just means that the power of God is being seen in me.

God is giving me the ability to do things in spite of the fact that they are much harder than they used to be. God is giving me the ability to keep going, no matter how rocky, winding and foggy the road might be.

That’s the power of God. I feel blessed that occasionally people might see it in me.

So I encourage everyone to let their light shine. I know it’s not easy to do and often we don’t really know how to do it. I believe, though, that if we truly strive to follow God and love others, that no matter what we end up doing it will truly be “inspirational.” When the power of God can be seen in your family, friends, someone you’ve never even met or–once in a great while–maybe even in yourself, how can that be anything less than an inspiration?

Everything Has Changed and Nothing Has Changed

It’s been right about three years since I started getting sick.

I don’t know the exact date, but it was in the summer of 2012. Knee pain turned into limping, which gave way to falling down. After two years of using a cane, a wheelchair was added into the mix followed by a mobility scooter. Leg problems persisted and issues with my arms popped up too. Life is very different than it used to be for me. Everything has changed, except for the most important thing.

God is still there.

The length and severity of my health issues has not changed my standing with God. I’m His. He made me. Nothing that has happened to me has come as a surprise to Him. God didn’t forget about me for a while and then one day look over and say “Dan, what happened to you? Why are you in a wheelchair?”

It doesn’t work that way. I know this because he takes care of me on a daily basis, giving me everything I need. I’m unable to work very much at the moment, but I have a place to live and food to eat. I get discouraged, but God has given me people to encourage me and love me even when I’m so frustrated that I would rather push them away. There are days where I feel like the pain is unbearable but God always sees me through to the next day.

Looking in the mirror can be a tricky proposition sometimes.

Physically I’m not the same. I’ve gained about 65 pounds in the last two years. I’m either leaning on a cane or sitting in a wheelchair. I don’t look like the person that I picture in my mind when I think about myself.

But if I look past all that, I can start to see what God sees. I can see a person that He loved enough to save. Someone He loved enough to redeem. God sacrificed His son Jesus so that I wouldn’t be condemned for my sins. When He looks at me He sees someone made in His image. Nothing I did made Him see me this way. In fact, I did everything I could to NOT believe in Christ. He loved me enough that He found a way that I could believe in spite of myself.

Just in time too. I first believed in Jesus Christ in early 2012, about six months before my health would start to falter. I firmly believe that if He would not have led me to believe before I got sick that it probably wouldn’t have ever happened.

I was an angry, bitter man who was convinced that God didn’t love him. Adding life-changing health problems on top of that would have been disastrous. I believe that God loved me so much that he rescued me just before I would have shut Him out forever.

That’s how much He loves me and that hasn’t changed. It never will.

Seeing ourselves as God does is something that I think can be difficult sometimes for many of us. Life changes, our appearance changes, but God’s love for us does not change.

If you’re looking in the mirror and you don’t like what you see, try to think about what God sees. It’s pretty hard to not like that.

Decisions, decisions

Since it first started over two years ago, I have always felt that I’m not very good at this whole “being sick” thing.

My skill set doesn’t seem to match up too well with the difficulties my illness has presented me with. I often wish that there was some sort of class I could take (or being more honest, Youtube video that I could watch) that would teach me the things I need to know to make my life easier and help me to deal with my declining health.

One of the obstacles that I run into a lot is that I now have a constant need to learn to adapt, and I have to balance that with my stubborn resistance to change. What I often fail to see during these situations is that every problem is a new opportunity for God to show me how He provides for me.  I rarely see it as it is happening, and sometimes even in hindsight it might take a while to see it, but that doesn’t mean that He’s not there.

He is always there.

I have found myself thinking a lot lately about a time almost two years ago when I started using a cane.  I didn’t want to, I can tell you that. I first started having difficulty walking in mid-2012 and it became serious a lot quicker than I thought it might.

When people first started suggesting that I use a cane I didn’t really give it much thought.  I had confidence that as soon as I went to a specialist, he would know what was wrong with me and would be able to fix it and things would be back to normal in no time.

Plus, there’s no way I could be seen around town using a cane, it would be too embarrassing.  People would make fun of me. The sight of a thirty-one year old man using a cane would attract too much attention and I didn’t want any part of that.

There were a couple of facts that I couldn’t deny though. I had a terrible limp and it wasn’t getting any better. I prayed often for God’s healing and direction, things that I continue to do today.

The weeks rolled by and it became harder and harder for me to get around. At this point, concern from others was coming on an almost daily basis and the topic of the cane kept coming up.  Eventually I ended up talking to my employer about it and he echoed the concerns that everyone had about my health and well-being.  His exact words escape me, but I still remember the tone of his voice being one of genuine concern and a true desire to help me.  We talked about the pros and cons of it for a few minutes until I just felt a peace about the idea that I hadn’t felt before, the kind of peace that can only come from God.

I left work that day knowing 100% that I needed to start using a cane.

I arrived back home and I went to find a roommate of mine that was a bit older than me and used a cane.  Who better to know where to get one than someone who already used one?

When I found him I didn’t even have a chance to say a single word before he handed me my first cane (I’ve stopped counting but I’ve got to be on about number 10 by now, they don’t last nearly as long as you’d think). I asked him how he knew, and he replied “Knew what?” No one had told him that I was going to come ask him where to get a cane, no one had any time to as I’d just made up my mind about it less than an hour ago. He just had one waiting for me because he thought it would be useful.

God had given me this sudden peace about using a cane and then provided one for me.

He took care of me and helped me to make a very difficult decision. Adaptation has become an increasingly necessary skill the worse my health gets.  A few months after I started using the cane, I started falling.  It changed everything. My reliance on God and other people had to increase as a result and it has but not without some major struggles along the way.

I am very grateful for the people who God has put in my life. My employer has supported me every single step of the way, going as far as to completely change what my job is so that I can continue to collect a paycheck. I have been blessed with co-workers that genuinely care for me and do their best to ensure that I can keep working. My family and friends have likewise been extremely supportive  and helpful and given me a great example to follow when it comes to faith.

I draw on all of their strength and the never-ending love of Jesus as I face a situation that is extremely similar to what I faced two years ago, only this time it’s with a wheelchair. My concerns are largely the same as they were before.

I’m still a slow learner too, as until recently it seemed as if maybe I’d forgotten what God had taught me when He gave me my first cane.  I learned that peace from God is one of the greatest gifts a person can ever receive, and to not squander it but to use it to do whatever God’s will for me might be. Maybe it’s having the courage to use a cane or a wheelchair or perhaps it’s having the courage to tell someone about what Christ has done for me.

As if it wasn’t enough that He rescued me from dying in sin and forgave me for my sins, He continues to care about me in a way I’m only beginning to have the smallest grasp on.

Every one of us has difficult decisions to make and I pray that you would have the peace and love of Christ to guide you though them. James 4:8 says “Come close to God and God will come close to you.” It’s one of my favorite verses in the Bible and also something that I sometimes find myself not doing like I should. It’s funny though how adversity and tough decisions can show us the true character of God and bring us closer to Him.

Take care everyone.