for me to announce that my new website is live at http://www.sighsandhallelujahs.com! Please join me there — and remember to change your bookmarks and saved address to the new site.
Join me at my new website. See you there!
Tonight’s fortune cookie: “You will soon meet an important contact at a social event.”
What the cookie-maker failed to realize is that their product may be consumed by a guy who only works or studies as of late!
Earlier this week one of the halogen light bulbs in my dining room chandelier exploded, spraying glass fragments throughout the area and toward my living room. It was actually a very frightening, loud explosion with smoke billowing from the light and glass flying in every direction. That night I swept up the affected area and I’ve kept the light off since due to the exposed wires.
So this weekend I made a call to a friend to seek help. I hate having to flat-out ask for help! But since the exposed bulb wiring was a hazard if the light was switched on and I couldn’t reach it, I had to seek assistance. My friends immediately agreed to come over today.
We planned to have lunch together while they were over here as well, since we had been trying to plan time to meet up these past few weeks anyway. What ensued from their willingness to come over to help was a delightful meal and good conversation — something I didn’t have in mind when I humbly sought out their assistance. It’s these surprising times in life that catch me off guard that turn out to be the finest moments of my days.
When Vince and Julie arrived, Vince went to work on the light and Julie and I began working on the meal. Julie chopped up a variety of fresh vegetables for a stir-fry while I cooked the rice, lit the barbecue and baked eggs rolls in the oven. Add in some barbecued elk meat and fortune cookies and we had a filling, tasty meal!
At one point in the process of preparing the meal, Vince was vacuuming the carpet near where the light had exploded (something I’d not taken time to do yet) and Julie was cooking the stir-fry. I stood back in amazement, taking a minute to recognize and to be thankful for the great friendships that I am blessed with. When was the last time you had guests over that ended up cleaning and cooking for you? (Yes — it was just last weekend during my parents’ visit for me, but I digress…)
When I made that call to get help yesterday I felt like I was imposing on my friends in asking them to come up for an hour or two to help me out. Instead, after thoroughly enjoying our time together and telling each other as much, as these dear friends left this afternoon I couldn’t help but realize what a blessing we’d been for each other.
Although one of the fortunes in the cookies I ate stated that tomorrow was going to be a good day for me, I couldn’t help but pause and think what a great day today had been. My, oh my, I am one fortunate cookie!
In less than a month I turn 33 years old. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the early birthday gift to remind me of this impending milestone.
33 isn’t really a big deal, in my mind. Yes, it’s approaching the mid-30s, but the thought of it has yet to strike me as problematic. What has struck me is how my body feels more tired and worn these past few years as I’ve crossed over into my 30s. I realize this is not all that unique — all of us age and feel the effects.
I also realize, though, what great bodies and minds we’ve been given as human beings. Given enough time, effort and training, we can adapt to most anything. As a child I learned to write with my feet at a young age and I often participated in neighborhood games like baseball and football by holding the bat or football between my shoulder and chin and throwing the baseball with my feet.
However, as I get older, I’m becoming more aware of the body’s ability to wear out when you use it for abnormal purposes. The past couple of years I’ve experienced pain in my right knee; my predominant leg. I use this leg for most daily activities such as eating, shaving, etc. and the bending and flexing at weird angles has been hard on my knee. The doctor has asked me to limit my activities with that leg (climbing stairs and the like), but I really don’t have an option to significantly cut down on motions where I bring my foot up to my head or mouth.
This is one of the harder facts of life for me — my body is wearing out quicker than most due to the daily strain of reaching, grabbing, and clutching that I do with my feet. I’ve got physical therapy exercises that would help as well, but I rarely complete them. At some level, I still like to think that I’m invincible. That is until my knee starts throbbing after a long week. (Typing is not a helpful action for my knee, either. See the note about the illusion of invincibility just above!)
So, weekends like this one are most welcome. The past couple of days my parents visited from eastern Washington and that meant extra help and a relief from some day-to-day tasks. I used to think of this as being spoiled, being lazy or proving that I was not independent. As I get older, though, I’m beginning to see that accepting help is none of those things.
My parents love helping by taking a shopping trip to Costco with me, cooking and cleaning up, helping do laundry and any other various projects that I need help with. Yes, as I’ve said here before, I do need help! Having my parents visit is proving more valuable the older I get.
I guess I’m maturing with the passing years. Every so often I still find myself trying to do things on my own when others freely offer help, but that’s simply built into my spirit as it’s what has helped me become the man I am today. Old habits die hard.
Thanks, Mom & Dad for all your help! And, thank you friends for your support both physically and emotionally. Believe me, this old man appreciates it!
These past couple weeks have been odd times, combining busyness at work, trying to catch up on reading for classes and illness. Mixed in there was time with friends, hosting a Super Bowl party and a great evening of food, conversation and basketball spent with my cousin, Bradd.
Overall, though, it’s easy to summarize these past couple weeks as chaotic. Symbolized by the fact that I skipped posting last week, at some level I’ve just been keeping my head above water. Basic survival at its finest!
I don’t offer this as an excuse or to earn your pity. First, it’s my blog — so I don’t need a great excuse for skipping a week! 🙂 And, instead of pity, I hope you’ll join me in finding the special moments within your life that is undoubtedly busy as well.
Let’s explore this a bit further. A couple weeks ago I wrote about finding beauty in the struggle and this post will follow closely in it’s footsteps, because these “moments” that I speak of are the places in my life where I’ve recently found great joy (and even a bit of rest) in the midst of the chaos.
I won’t get into the ugly details, but suffice it to say that these past couple weeks have had me jumping from one urgent task to the next. Nothing like attending to whatever is on fire at the moment! (But, this type of approach to life led me to spend the last several nights sleeping in the guest bed simply because I didn’t want to take the time to put sheets on the master bed. I hope you can see the humor in this as I do; especially, as today I recognized all this led to was having to change the sheets on TWO beds!).
In all of this, though, there have been special moments where I’ve escaped from the hamster wheel to appreciate this life I’m living. Here are a few examples from this past weekend:
– This afternoon I ran two errands, both in preparation for my upcoming client meetings this week. Instead of rushing through them, though, I was surprised by the sun and I enjoyed my time driving and cleaning out my car in the spring-like Seattle weather.
– Tonight I took a study break to make a quick meal. In granting myself a break without the imminent pressure to get back to reading, I made a great salad and leisurely enjoyed a glass of wine with my meal.
– Throughout the weekend I took time to connect with friends and family, even if just through phone calls and texts. A call from my 3-year old niece was easily the most surprising and enjoyable connection of the weekend!
– I’ve always been a multi-tasker, so I’ve had the Olympics on the TV over the past couple of days as I’ve studied, worked and done chores around the house. The stories and events have been a nice means of escape, even if only for a few seconds at a time.
These are the moments that I speak of. The special times where I pause to appreciate the details within the mundane and necessary tasks that fill my day. This is my life’s struggle — to find happiness in the day-to-day tasks. And, this weekend I did well!
I hope you, too, can pause and appreciate those times and places where you can smell the precious scent of life and taste the sweetness of being human,.
At age 4, Itzhak Perlman was struck by polio and his legs were severely paralyzed. Now well into his 60s, this amazing musician still uses crutches to walk on and off stage.
I entered Benaroya Hall on Thursday night without this knowledge and I was struck by the amount of effort that it apparently took Mr. Perlaman to walk on to the stage to perform. For those familiar with the symphony culture, you are aware that for some strange reason soloists and conductors walk off and back onto the stage multiple times before intermission and at the end of the performance. After seeing Itzhak Perlman slowly amble front and center for his initial performance, I assumed those traditions would be excused due to his limited mobility. I was wrong.
Not only did Mr. Perlman enter and exit the stage several times, he also awkwardly walked up a small set of stairs in order to conduct the symphony. As he approached the first of three steps and swung his leg out to lift it up on the step, there was an audible gasp from the audience. The gasp was in response to the seemingly unstable way that Mr. Perlman climbed the stairs, with most in attendance unsure that he’d manage to make even the first step up.
But, as I should know, those of us who have lived with disabilities most of our lives can often easily complete tasks that others think difficult (if not impossible) for us. There was a sense of relief as Mr. Perlman carefully climbed the stairs, plunked himself down on the chair and set his crutches down at each side.
As I left the Seattle Symphony performance that evening, I struggled to place words to what I had just experienced. Ask my friend, Elisabeth, that joined me that night. I tried to convey to her what I was feeling, but I’m not sure any of my words made sense!
It wasn’t until I was driving home that the words came to me. What I had witnessed was amazing beauty in the struggle. Had an athletic, perfectly ambulatory performer jogged out onto stage that night and played with the same perfection that Perlman had, I would have been impressed. But, I left that night with a level of gratitude and amazement that was only present due to the amount of effort that it seemed to take Mr. Perlman to simply get on and off stage.
(Check out an earlier performance by Itzhak Perlman below. In this video you can see the struggle in him walking.)
These past few days I’ve been thinking about what it is that makes beauty so stunning when it’s in the context of struggle. It’s the contrast, I suppose. The music was elevated even further by the fact that Mr. Perlman spends so much energy just getting from place to place. He could easily say, “I’m going to retire and rest.” Instead, he presses forward to be a great ambassador for both music and disability.
Through this experience I have begun to better appreciate what people mean when they tell me they see beauty in how I use my feet to complete daily tasks. It simply seems like survival to me, but there is likely much beauty within the daily struggle. This is so true for all of us – disabled or not. Now, my – and our – goal is to see that beauty as we are present in and push through the struggle.
Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, continues to create work that is not only entertaining but also informative. As you may recall, Mr. Spurlock attempted to eat McDonald’s food 30 days straight in the aforementioned movie. Well, he has continued to take a similar approach with his TV series, 30 Days.
Though the topics vary widely, from living on minimum wage to asking an Arizona Minute-Man to live with an illegal immigrant family, the approach remains the same – put someone in a unique and uncomfortable situation for 30 days so they can experience what had previously been foreign to them.
Now Spurlock has masterfully accomplished this task when it comes to giving us a taste of disability. In the segment below Ray Crockett, a former NFL player, is asked to live in a wheelchair for 30 days. What unfolds over the course of the show is the most insightful and honest perspective on living with a disability that I’ve encountered.
Ever wondered what it’s like to be me? I encourage you to watch the full episode just below.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
(Disclaimer: the segment is 43 minutes long and deals with intense topics. But, it is well worth the time if you are curious about the impact of disability on an individual.)
Although Crockett’s stint in a wheelchair was different from my experience of a life without arms, several points resounded loudly:
1. The burden on family members that have been pressed into the role of care-taking is extraordinary. Ray’s wife quickly experiences this and, in addition to the time and energy required of her, there is a heavy toll on their relationship as she shifts from the role of wife to caretaker. As I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate the extra energy that both my parents and my older brother exuded in helping me throughout my growing-up years.
2. As the doctor at the beginning of the episode suggests, I have experienced the dynamic of how store clerks will refuse to interact with you when you are with an able-bodied person. Even as I sign a receipt, a clerk will often make eye contact with the other person and hand them the receipt — virtually ignoring me.
3. Living with a disability requires a different train of thought as to how you function at home. Ray was fortunate in that he had the resources to adapt a car with hand steering, to widen doorways and to build ramps. Most people with disabilities do not have those same financial resources.
Although I feel I’ve done very well thus far — even to the point of living alone — it has been through much emotional and financial support from individuals and government resources. This is where the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” logic that dominates our society completely falls apart, in my opinion.
4. The desire to participate in activities that your body will not allow you to do is extremely frustrating. Ray recognizes this as he watches his sons play basketball and is impacted heavily by not being able to join them.
I’ve loved sports my entire life and have always wanted to participate in whatever way possible. My mom tells me that at a young age I came walking into the house crying, upset that I couldn’t join the other neighborhood boys in a game of basketball. This is not a just matter of not being good at a sport — it’s the physical inability to do something you love.
5. Disability complicates relationships and issues of sexuality, even if only in the mind of the person with a disability. As seen in this 30 Days episode, the mates of disabled people often say that disability is not a big issue or even something that they consider much, but it still weighs on the day-to-day interactions of intimate relationships. From the mate’s care-taking role to social pressures, the relationship carries an extra burden.
6. Life with a disability simply requires extra effort to complete daily tasks.
7. Ray’s mom suggests that people with disabilities don’t want you to ask them about what happened. Completely untrue! Ignoring the obvious physical disability is insulting and exhibits a lack of curiosity on the part of others.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Too busy to write, to study and to relax.
So much to be done — I’m just far too busy.
Too busy to go to church, to exercise or to do the dishes.
A mess: my kitchen and my mind share this in common.
Too busy to eat well and to take care of myself physically.
This pinched nerve in my neck serves as a reminder.
Too busy to plan my trip of a lifetime.
Italy beckons in the near future, but I’m too busy to plan for rest.
Too busy to pray or even to weep for Haiti.
If ever there was a time, it is now.
Too busy to feel; to feel for myself or for others.
A mind distracted has no emotion.
Why so busy, my soul?
What must you prove?
A man without arms juggling is surely entertaining, if not impressive.
Especially when he juggles so many balls at one time.
Making up for the wounded body God placed me in is tiring.
Maybe I was meant to live at a slower pace?
Maybe we all were.
But, that slower life is where the pain and mystery sneaks in.
It’s where emotions come in waves;
where I’m forced to wrestle with God.
In just being, I am forced to look at myself in the mirror.
Naked, not wrapped in my activities or achievements.
Forced to see myself as a person that cannot earn approval.
It’s a place I’d rather avoid.
And, well, I’m just too busy to linger there.
Too busy to sabbath.
Too busy to do what I desperately need.
Far too busy to be still.
This past week I’ve been extraordinarily aware of the words and actions of people around me. Tonight, after calling in a pizza order, I pulled up to Domino’s as another gentleman was carrying his pizza out the door. He hopped in his car, where his wife was waiting, as I walked into the shop with my wallet on my shoulder. A few minutes later I turned around to see his SUV still parked, with both he and his wife looking at me through the storefront windows.
I thought it was odd, but it became even weirder when he started the car as I exited the building — both of them watching me intently the entire time. I got in my car while he backed out of the parking stall a couple spaces to my left. But, instead of pulling behind me and leaving the parking lot, he simply waited for me to back up and exit before he shifted from reverse into gear to exit out the opposite driveway. I guess I was completely fascinating to them — in the same way I assume I’d stare at an alien as it walked across the crosswalk in front of me. The staring from both he and his wife was not well disguised… not in the least.
It’s times like this where I wish I had a middle finger. I’d have used it on this guy!
And, oh, the guy at the Domino’s counter uttered a phrase I’ve heard many times throughout my life (see the first bullet point below). It was a f#$%@ing fantastic trip when it comes to dealing with the reality of my experiences without arms.
That inspired me to consider several of the phrases that I’ve heard consistently throughout my life:
– “Oh, I didn’t expect for you to be able to sign that.” Just what the guy said tonight. It’s understandable, considering you’re asking the guy without arms across the counter from you to sign a receipt! It usually leads to a decent exchange between me and the individual that states it, though. I offer that I’ve had lots of practice and the exchange usually ends with a kind compliment from the other person.
– “Which pocket is it in?” When I’m alone I have to ask a cashier to help me get my wallet out of my pocket. “Jacket pocket,” I answer. Most of the time I’m thinking to myself, “Do you think I’d ask you to pull it out of my pants pocket?!” They often seem relieved by my answer!
– “Are you cold?” This is the single most frequent question I get asked. The assumption is that I am hiding my arms inside my shirt because I’m cold. I would understand it — if I were six years old! From the moment I hear the question I can anticipate the horrified look on the other person’s face when I answer, “No, I was just born without arms.” There’s really no way to salvage the conversation at that point!
– “How are you going to do that?” Hey, I appreciate the honesty! Sometimes I’m wondering the same thing. More often than not, though, it is in response to something like how I’m going to pick up two bags of groceries at the same time. Again, I usually smile kindly and offer that I’ve been at this no-arms thing for a while and I have lots of experience. That’s often met with a blank stare as I complete the task in question. It’s usually only after I walk away that they snap out of their “WTF?” mode.
With each of these encounters I don’t necessarily hold it against the people who say these things. It’s not everyday that you encounter a person without arms. And, I’m not that sensitive that I’m offended by every double-take or odd reaction.
But, I must admit, sometimes it does get old. I’d just love to go a day or a week without hearing these phrases.
In reflecting back on 2009, I am left with one word that has played a more significant role in my life than any other this year: mystery. Although the word applies to many facets of my life recently, it has been particularly true of my interpretation of God and our relationship.
Although I’ve spent the last several years asking questions about my birth and the “why”s that go with that, this is the first year that I can honestly say that I’ve had that conversation directly with God. And, it is the first time that I’ve presented some of that questioning in such an open, public manner. I’m glad I’ve engaged in these areas; yet, I can tell you that none of my questions have been answered — or at least answered in a manner that I am currently satisfied with.
That’s the thing about God. His ways are extremely mysterious to me.
But, that’s not all bad. The thing I’ve come to realize about God is that I am engaged in a relationship with him – times of ups and downs, times that require work, times of contentment and times of extreme frustration. As is true with a solid relationship, though, I’m realizing it can bear these fluctuations in emotions.
I don’t need God to answer all my questions, just to be confident that he hears them and to know that there are times that he weeps alongside me.
Christmas brings us a fascinatingly mysterious story. Yet, it’s a story that I feel we’ve tried our best to take the mystery out of. Images from our nativity sets show a clean manger lined with fresh straw, Mary and Joseph with smiles on their faces and Jesus sleeping quietly.
Silent Night? Holy Night? I’m wondering if, in that moment, Mary and Joseph would have named the night as such.
Imagine the tumultuous travel that would be inherent for a woman nearing birth while riding on a donkey. The frustration of being denied access to an inn – on a night Mary would give birth, nonetheless. And, I can only imagine that Mary’s mouth was not only shouting blessings to heaven as she lay there birthing a child in a damp, stinky manger that had been used to house animals.
There are so many pieces to this story that do not make sense – so much so that you can only think that the facts are true, because no one would make up a story this crazy to introduce the Son of God!
Think about these few basic pieces of the narrative that make up the Christmas story:
– A virgin giving birth
– No room at the Inn in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, leaving the birth of Jesus to be held in an empty stable
– Angels appearing to sheperds, telling them, “Do not be afraid”
– A new star in the sky lighting the way for the Wise Men to find Jesus
– Herod demanding that all males be killed at the time of Jesus’ birth
This is crazy, mysterious stuff! There’s no way around it. As much as you sing soft, quiet hymns, dim the lights and light candles in the room for a Christmas Eve service, I simply can’t get away from the absolute insanity of this story.
As a friend recently told me, though, God’s insanity is far better than man’s knowledge.
No, God does not make sense to me – but I’m not sure he was meant to. For centuries he has made himself known to humans in a way that few comprehend. So, why should I expect that to change for me?
God seems crazy. His ways appear insane. And, his methods are often mysterious.
That’s fine with me, though. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d like some of the answers that would be offered to in response to my questions anyway!