It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, but I’ll do my best to condense my overflowing brain in to something resembling a blog post.
Recently I was in Georgia for the 5th annual conference for the Pursuit Community (an amazing nationwide ministry you can read more about by clicking the link in the top of the “Friends & Sponsors” section in my sidebar.) As has held true year after year at this event, God showed up in incredible ways. This year’s verse ruminated on the theme of “a new thing.” I came to Georgia with open hands, ready for God to show me something incredible without my own constraints and expectations getting in the way, and yet I was still utterly blown away by what He revealed through speakers and attendees alike, all speaking the same messages to me over and over.
I felt consistent confirmation that God has laid a path before me that is uniquely my own. Sure, this industry is full of experts and mentors and plenty of well intentioned advice, but over and over He spoke plainly to my heart that His plan for me is a NEW thing: not a repeat of anyone else’s story. He hasn’t called me to be the next “so and so,” but rather to embrace the story He has written specifically for me. More than that though, He’s given me a calling that He created me perfectly equipped and suitable for in every way – not in spite of my weaknesses and struggles, but BECAUSE of them. His strength is perfectly displayed in my weaknesses, His story beautiful showcased in His faithfulness and grace to me each day. I felt confident that I don’t need to #hustle or knock down doors to make all my own opportunities, I need only to be ready to obey whenever He says to go, and be patient on His perfect timing. The Joy Parade is going to be exactly what He wants it to be exactly when He wants it to be it, even if I don’t always have an exact vision for what that is. Sometimes admitting we don’t have all the answers is the first step to something so much bigger and better than we could have imagined for ourselves.
The cross country travel to and from the conference definitely wreaked havoc on my body though, and I saw a lot of how the world treats people with invisible illnesses and disabilities. On the one hand, I need to give an enormous shoutout to the wonderful people at Southwest Airlines. From the moment I checked in at PDX for my first flight, all the way to loading my bags into my car as I was ready to head home, the folks at Southwest went above and beyond to ensure I was cared for in every way. They never hassled me about needing the extra help, they never demanded I produce extensive documentation to prove my need for assistance, but rather they jumped at the opportunity to provide extra services to me the moment they could sense I was in pain. They ended up setting me up with a wheelchair escort through all the airports I traveled through, which helped with the journey far more than I anticipated, as well special preboarding for all 4 flights so they could give me the opportunity to sit in the front row (where you get some extra leg room and a chance to put your legs up on the front wall when needed.) I had never even set up or arranged these services before booking my trip, but when I asked for help loading my bags onto the belt when initially checking in at Portland? The attendant immediately noticed signs of struggle and sprung into action. I was incredibly touched by the service I received on each leg of my trip, and Southwest has certainly won this customer for life.
The passengers I encountered along the way were unfortunately not always as kind. I recognize, its unusual to see a young 30-something in a wheelchair, and its even more confusing when that person stands up from the chair to move into their seat. Here’s the thing though: disabilities don’t all look the same, and not everyone who needs to use a wheelchair is paralyzed. It was clear there were a few business passengers (who had likely paid the extra fee for their coveted A1 boarding status) who were pretty convinced I had wheelchaired my way into preboarding in front of them without even paying a dime. And since I accepted the first row seating as offered, I got to see each and every one of them glower at me as they passed by to choose seats of their own. It was one of those times I wished my disabilities were a little less invisible. I wanted to tell them I would gladly board the plane last and have someone else live with chronic pain in my place, but I sat silently in my seat and did my best to meet their annoyed stares with apologetic smiles the best I could. In the end I was grateful for the additional help Southwest had offered me, because at the end of each travel day by body was a total wreck. There were plenty of tears, lots of night waking from the pain, and eventually I had to use some of the narcotic pain meds that I usually try everything to avoid. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been without all the extra help from the airline.
Since arriving home from my trip I have finally let go of a long fight with embarrassment and accepted once and for all that it was time to buy my first collapsible cane. I have been fighting this day for some time, much in the same way I initially fought glasses, but this trip really solidified for me how much more pain I am putting myself in by refusing to use the tools designed to help me when I need them. I don’t need to use the cane all the time, but since I have regular issues with both my knees and my hips, it’s certainly a helpful aid to have on hand. I’ve done my best to embrace this with a sense of humor as much as I can, and I even chose a gold cane so that, as I told my husband, it would “match my iPhone.” He of course tells me I just need a fur coat and a fedora and my pimp costume is ready for Halloween, and I’m pretty sure my boys just see it as some kind of weapon. All in all, I know that the cane is another sign that pain will always be a part of my story, but that acceptance of my reality is the healthiest step towards making the best of the body I’ve been given. As I told some students at a recent talk I gave: this pain is my constant reminder that this world is not my home, and that my Jesus is passionately pursuing me each and every moment of the day, reminding me that He has so much more for me than this world can hold. I’ll always be blessed to have such a longing for heaven so deeply entwined with this pain, and for that I can only be grateful. I know he’s not done with me yet, and this silly collapsible cane will only be one tiny page in the story He’s writing.