Unlikely Megaphones 

His cerebral palsy made mine look like a cakewalk. His hand wasn’t simply weak or lame, it was so twisted you only shook his thumb, not his entire hand. His speech was perfect, but he could only smile with one side of his mouth. His gate was jolted, unsteady and scary to watch.

I was 10 the first time I realized he was married; 12 when I met his wife for the first time. His wife never stopped talking about how happy she was and it was obvious they both loved each other and loved life. If anything, at my young age, I was a little grossed out by how “newlywed-ish” they were. 

But, regardless, I couldn’t get over it. He was married and he and I had the same disability. He was proof that disabled people could not only make marriage work, but make it work incredibly well. As a kid who struggled with being accepted because of my differences, the idea of ever being married was an impossible dream.

Over a decade later, with my own marriage as an example, I know the truth. My friend and his wife were not blessed with Pollyanna optimism. They both had to choose Christlike joy no matter their circumstances on a daily occurrence. But it came at a price. Almost always that price was steep, and equally worthwhile.

He had to give up his pride; she had to learn how to serve.

He had to trust her; she had to affirm him.

She had to learn to see beauty when other’s saw awkward; he had to learn how let her.

They had to work together to find fulfillment despite the daily hurdles they faced. 

They both had to learn to laugh at the unknowns and giggle at their differences.

They both had to ignore what the world said of their marriage and focus on what Christ called them to: Serving Him together and giving the world a picture of love.

Personally, I cringe every time I have to ask my husband for help. Memories of my mother entrusted with the same tasks and doing them alone taunt me on an hourly basis. But asking for my husband’s help gives me a chance to sacrifice my pride, and gives him a chance to serve like Christ. In return, I have a chance to prove God never wanted us to fulfill His glory alone.

In Sunday School, kids are taught the mantra and Bible verse, “In your weakness, He (Christ) is made strong.” Physical disabilities are proof of such truth. Marriages which involve disabilities are megaphones of that truth to the world. 

This disability is no longer my disability — it’s our platform to show Christ. What a glorious opportunity to be entrusted with… together. 

Showers, Laughter, & Insanity

Living with hyper-tension spastic cerebral palsy has always been a fast track to weird. I realize that’s not proper English, but the disorder isn’t socially proper, either, so I’m making an exception. 

There’s a reason why, when I’m in public, my closest friends and relatives are on alert, watching out for the right side of my body when I’m tired. My palsied right arm and hand can get into anything and anyone within moments, especially when I’m too tired to go above and beyond to control it. 

My friends play the game like champs but there have been days when I can tell I’ve just done something to someone and maybe I really don’t want to know specifics. 

Let me clarify: The right side of my body has limited feeling and it mimics anything my left hand does. For example, as I type this with my left hand, my right hand is sitting happily between my legs hopping up and down like a circus clown because it wants to help and doesn’t know any different. In layman’s terms, it does its own thing and some days, I’m completely unable to tell it to stop or explain what it’s doing. 

Cerebral palsy. You have to laugh or you’ll die from embarrassment. 

Tonight, I ’bout died laughing and no one (Praise Jehovah) was around to actually see it. Showers, to keep it shallow here, are an adventure when I’m tired. If I don’t somehow imprison Righty, it knocks over every container, pushes against every wall and even picks up razors. (I can see it now: Headline- Woman killed by her own self. Not seen as suicide. Story at 11.)

So, anyway, I do what any other daggum independent 20-something with cerebral palsy does: I put the right hand behind my back and there it stays so I can shower in peace. Simple. Right? 

Wrong. 

“Shower,” in my book, is code for “Daydream and fix everything.” Sometimes, I totally lose track of everything – including Righty – because I’m too busy overthinking about something. 

All the sudden, in the middle of my moment of serenity tonight, I feel this tiny hand on my back. Scared me so badly I literally backed into the wall to get away from whoever it was in the shower with me. It then dawned on me, ever so mercifully before I escaped from the shower altogether. 

The hand on my back was my hand. Yep. That just happened, y’all. Insanity comes in stages, right? 

Check-listed Forgiveness

I idolize check-lists. I’m not a person who has to physically check off a task, but regardless, I need to know what I’m supposed to do next. You’ll get a blank stare and a few pointed questions if the extent of your offer is, “Come over whenever you want.” Mkay, great. What time is “whenever”? What do I bring? How long am I expected to be there? Is there a reason I’m coming over?

Are you expecting anything from me?

My “check-list mentality” makes Christianity intrinsically heartwrenching. It’s especially frustrating when I stand in front of the concept of forgiveness. I wronged you, you forgive me… Now, what do I do next? How many times do I need to bring it up again before it’s obsolete? Do you need me to do something before you purely love me as deeply as you did before I wronged you? 

Asking those questions towards another human being is called survival. I have learned with many that when they say, “I forgive you” what they mean is, “I’ll say something I don’t mean because I don’t want to be seen as a jerk.” Forgiveness doesn’t erase anger, but it should erase shame. Because humans are, well, humans, that doesn’t happen as often as it probably should.

But what about asking those questions when I’ve wronged my holy and righteous God and savior? Have I ever needed to ask God what His stipulations were for forgiving me? Have I ever had to look at that gift and then sheepishly ask God, “So, for how long is that mine this time? Two years? A week? What do I need to do to help you continue holding my ineptness over my head? What deals can I make with you so you won’t be angry any longer?”

No. I’ve never had to do that. He’ll listen to my train of thought, sure. But I can almost hear his heart break every time I try to add my own magic to His already perfect forgiveness.

When God sent His Son to die on the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection paid the debt of my sin, my checklist was ripped to shreds. It’s as if He handed me a new list with only one entry:

1. You are Mine.

Silent Screams 

Whether you want to believe I’m an introvert or not, the one thing I’m not is silent. The command to “wait patiently” infers the command to be quiet and not jump ahead of the Lord. I have yet to experience a moment where that was my first choice.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and he heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

The idea that I’ve waited patiently for the Lord is a relative statement. Waited? More like asked God to give me what I want and then clean up whatever mess I leave behind. Patiently? What? That’s a… that’s a thing?

The promise that my God has heard my cry has been overwhelmingly seen in my life. He holds the definition of my tears even when I do not. The fact that he inclined to me is proof that he understands that, sometimes, he has to fix the small, inconsequential things within my mind before I’m ever willing (or even able) to wait and be patient.

I put the cart before the horse again recently. I asked God to show up. He took too long. I panicked. I’m not very likable when I panic, by the way. {Insert horribly indecent joke about being female here.} When I went about fixing what I was fairly certain was broken, I could almost hear God mutter, No, Baby Girl. You don’t want to fix that. Stop it. Hold on. You’re heart wants more than your actions will get you. Hold onto Me. Wait for Me. Be silent and wait.

Yesterday as I watched God answer my heart’s cry before I could even understand its need, I almost laughed at the beauty. Despite my shortsighted assumptions, He stepped over what I thought I wanted and gave me what I needed. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but within the pain lies the glory of God’s faithfulness.

When Psalms 40 is quoted, often time it is only quoted as an encouragement that God will hear us and we “simply” need to wait patiently. The reality is, that’s not where the Psalms’ deepest beauty is found. The deepest beauty is found when we come to terms with the fact that God inclines to us and hears more than just our prayers. 

He hears our hearts no matter how silently our hearts may be despite the words we shield it with.

Living Beyond Assumptions

All he did was asked questions over an article. 

His eyes got as big as saucers as I explained the medical journey behind the 1,800 word synopsis being offered to a publication company. One explanation led to another… And another… And another. The questions were painfully typical and mundane. I felt as if I was answering the curious questioner in my sleep. My writing had led me towards this type of impromptu interview before. 

But then, he said it:

“Wow. I guess you’re really not that frightening at all. Listening to your story, hearing you explain it, everything that made you super uncomfortable (to be around) makes so much more sense. I never would have guessed… Like, geez, you’re great.”

He smiled the smile of a man who wanted to be applauded for a gracious compliment. I smiled a smile that threatened to whisper, “Because I love Jesus, I won’t break your nose when I punch you.” I’m 26-years-old and people’s fears over my disabilities still make me crumble to the ground in tears. Being afraid of my disabilities is understandable.

But if you suffer silently through those fears, all you’re saying is that you’re afraid of me

I can’t say I’m much better than this poor man who has become a victim of my sarcasm. I giggle at the differences within the disabled community because, even though I may feel uncomfortable at times, I feel accepted. But don’t you dare ask me to be open in other areas.

My biggest fear and struggle is learning how to talk to an addict like an equal. They’re my equal? Wait… You mean they can hold a conversation?

This isn’t a discussion about right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Our society has become such a culture of hiding behind assumptions we have become our fears. 

My young friend saw my differences the moment he met me a year ago. He was too afraid to ask.

I have reasons to be afraid anytime I’m around a person who abuses drugs. I’ve been at the mercy of certain addicts’ evils before. But believe it or not, when you can get them talking, they simply want to be seen and reminded of their value. I often forget that because I can be too afraid to write an exception to my self-righteous rule.

I learned a long time ago that God never told me my comfort was His first concern. His command is to love those around me no matter the cost. 

If I live in fear of the unknowns, I’ll never experience the joy of living fully by loving those I don’t understand.

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Speaking Unknown Languages

This morning, I found myself reliving the past and cherishing the present. 

I laughed at the blessing of what I have surrounding me this Christmas Eve. I’ve been given memories I’ll never forget, loved ones I’ll always cherish… I can’t thank God enough for all these things. My worlds have officially collided. Every time I see strangers becoming family around my parents’ dinner table, I can hear God whisper, “This is both a reminder of eternal redemption you can’t run from & a gift of absolute love.” 

But still, in this quiet morning where memories can flow without interruption, I found myself missing Ohio. Last year, I was a guest in a friend’s home; a cherished stranger-made-family. I could have easily felt like a fish out of water, but I rarely did. 

Hearing German, Korean and Japanese happened often during that Christmas. Every once in a while, I’d throw in some Sign Language just to make my friends giggle… At times, my surrogate German-Mama would forget to speak English when addressing me and the kitchen would erupt in laughter at the confusion. 

Last Christmas Eve, in four different languages, we sat down and told the Christmas Story. As Jesus’ birth was celebrated simultaneously in each language, I laughed for fear of crying. 

It was a minuscule taste of what I can only imagine Heaven to be like. Voices raised with confidence, speaking the Truth of our Redeemer in our respective heart language. We shared knowing smiles as we let each other express our Jesus differently, knowing our bond would always hold some mystery. 

I’m surrounded by English speakers this year. Each time I hear snippets of the Christmas Story – Holy God coming to Earth as a baby to save His people – I smile. Jesus is so much more than a story.

He breaks down language barriers, cultural differences & economic struggles and creates family out of strangers. 

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself. 

Stuttered Leadership

“Your stutter disappears when you sing. It’s like Moses – so cool!”

To be quite honest, the very first thought upon hearing my acquaintance’s thoughts weren’t very nice. I handle being observed a lot better 1-on-1 than I do in a Church crowd. I wanted nothing more to deny I had a stutter at all. It only made me stutter more. 

Though I somehow got through the totally unexpected comment, I walked away with only one question on my mind:

Why? 

The man was right. When I sing, you would never know I struggle with English. When I sing, no one has time to ask questions about my authority in being on stage. I always wanted to be a singer. Up until I was 19, there was nothing I wanted more.

Why couldn’t God agree to re-writing my story so my life and career could be something I’m comfortable doing like singing?

As it stands, I’m pursuing a career in writing and secondly in ministry – two things I’m highly uncomfortable doing but have been firmly called to do. (We would include the whole bit about what God has called me to in relationship here, but that’s just not gonna happen) Every time I step into ministry, I’m nervous. Every time I write, I can hear myself questioning what the heck I’m doing. 

I feel incredibily inadequate in the shoes God has commanded me to fill. The sweet congregant’s comment about my “stutter” just made me realize it in a different light.

I started pitying Moses. I mean, he was probably a blastedly good shepherd. Exodus shares that he was a shepherd for 40 years. I betcha a million dollars that man ruled the whole sheep-thing. He was probably really comfortable with his dumb animals in the desert.

But regardless of his comfort level, God, in His infinite wisdom, put the stuttering shepherd in front of the Egyptian King and in charge of an entire nation. Poor, poor Moses. The guy just wanted to be comfortable. But… You can’t challenge a king and a nation without talking, stutter and all.

Moses really wanted God to pay attention to the fact that he stuttered. God paid attention to it and made him the leader of exiled Israel anyway. Again… Poor Moses.

Again… WHY?!

I struggled the rest of the day (okay, I’m still struggling) with the fact that, according to one man, my inadequacies are out in the open but God still has me up front in a leadership role. I would love to now leap into a long, divine monologue God gave me late at night answering every deeply seeded need in my heart. But I can’t, cuz hallelujah, He didn’t give one. I was only reminded of one very hard, incredibly gorgeous truth:

When I am seen as inadequate, people are led to look at Christ who is more than adequate. 

No Longer Beautiful?

As an epileptic teen, I had a body that made the models jealous. When you have a seizure 20 times a day for 5 years, fat doesn’t have time to accumulate on your frame. My parents tried everything. There was a season where my daily diet included potato chips and a large strawberry milkshake. (To this day, my mother harkens back to how bad of an idea that was because she had to get a milkshake, too.)

No luck, though. I was 18 years old, 85-90 pounds and I had muscle in places that made people talk. I loved it, to be honest. I thought it was funny. In secret, it became my identity — My claim to fame outside of the doctors and blood draws.

 Now though, in my mid-twenties and relatively healthy, I read off those stats and I get that beautiful glance that says, “It’s not polite to tell you you’re lying, but there’s no way you… Yeah, no.” Whereas once upon a time I felt as if I could lift anything, now I’m thankful when my arms are free of anything.

I cried when I put on a size 2 jeans my freshman year of college at 19 years old. Cried. As in, oh my word, my world is over. I’m a frikkin’ size 2. I was always told my size made me beautiful. Maybe the well-intentioned souls that uttered those words meant it made me more beautiful. Who knows. That sentiment ends depending on the number of your jeans and the letter in your shirt, apparently?

When I put on a size 6 at 22, I’m fairly certain I had the fleeting (not acted upon) thought, “Jesus, 5 seizures will make me lose a size; whatdya say?” Needless to say, I never got my wish (halle-frikkin’-lujah). A size 6, to be fair, would be heavenly these days. Just sayin’. 

I hate to admit it, but after 18 years of not having to work at turning heads, there are days it’s all-consuming to realize I’m not someone who stands out in a crowd. Americans have completely re-written the definition to “beautiful.” 

I’m not saying it’s wrong to work towards being healthy. By all means, dang it, do it. But someday soon, can we stop only reserving the word beautiful for the women and men that look like they belong in a fashion show?

 As Christians, it’s very easy to see what the world has done to beauty and stand around critiquing the critique of the critique. Why do what we can to change things when we can just put our 2-cents in and walk away without any responsibility in changing what’s wrong with our world?

I challenge you, I challenge myself, to live with the Biblical definition of beauty written on our minds.

Love for others and love for God. That’s it. That’s all beauty really is.