They’ll Always Need Me?

“You can’t leave… I love you.”

“If I had known you weren’t staying forever, I would have come out to hear you more.”

“You can’t leave… I need you.”

“I’m so sorry for messing up so much. If that’s why you’re leaving, ask God to forgive me and stay. I love you.”

All four of those lines were uttered over and over again by various men and women last night as I prepared them for the fact that I wasn’t coming to work with them anymore. Most of them had become valuable friends and siblings in the Lord. Most of them would say anything in order to get a smile and to sit next to me so we could talk. Some of them made me feel as if I was indispensible to them coming to the Lord. 

That’s why I left.

Here’s the thing about ministry: It’s incredibly easy to do godly things and yet not even realize you’ve been blinded to the fact that God has truly taken a backseat. I wrote in my journal several weeks ago, “Jesus, praying for these men and women isn’t enough. I can’t step away from them. They need me too much.”

There are several other serious frustrations that led to my choice to leave a ministry that continues to hold a part of my heart. However, the fact that I had started to believe that prayer wasn’t enough, that God couldn’t make changes within the hearts of the men especially without my knowledge… That’s terrifying. The fact that accountability and my own spiritual health and Biblical accuracy had become an option rather than a necessity was just as sobering.

What many of these men and women will never know is that obedience to the Lord in stepping away from them hurt more than I ever expected. But if I had stayed, I wasn’t loving them– I was using them. The addiction to being needed is an incredibly hidden, yet overwhelmingly strong bondage.

If I couldn’t break that bondage myself, how could I ever expect these people I have learned to love to break that bondage themselves?

Hesitant Reminders

Tonight was my last night with a two month commitment that started 18 months ago. A commitment that was supposed to be simply filling in as an interpreter for a short time turned into TTY phone calls, letters and weekly visits for 18 months.  

I loved it from the get-go. I dreaded it every Wednesday from the get-go. The look on the man’s face tonight reminded me why I never “called in sick”. The deep hug as he walked out the door for the last time reminded me why I never acted on the grumbling and frustrations I always seemed to have at the last minute.

God wanted me involved in this man’s spiritual growth. I agreed to it because “two months” sounded incredibly noncommital. Exhausted college students like noncommital things. God kept me coming even past the two month commitment date because He knew I needed that connection to the culture and language of my heart.

I learned seeveral things about ministry while loving up on this man for almost the past 2 years.

1) The more you dread the task, the more God’s work shocks you.

2) Most of what God does through you is incredibly miniscule and unseen– that’s okay.

3) The more you tell God you’re too weak to serve, the longer He surprises you with the strength to serve anyway.

4) You can go in thinking people need you and you will always leave feeling as if you needed them.

5) The second you learn to trust God with your time, resources and energy, He’ll trust you with His time resources and energy.

6) Heart involvment isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

I closed the chapter of a huge part of my heart this evening as this man and I said our final good byes. He started out as a mission of mine and ended up a friend who taught me just as much as he learned from me.

Welcome to the unsung beauty of missions, Friends. Missions isn’t always romantically beautiful… but it can stlil change your life forever.

Changing Prayer

Prayer is what has kept me alive.

It had nothing to do with the IVs of drugs, the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel or the optimism often present in my precious mother. Though all those were God-given things, they didn’t keep me alive. Prayer did.

I have countless memories of moments where praying helped my seizure-filled brain clear enough to see Jesus. I have memories of nurses tellling me my private hospital room felt different, all the while holding stacks upon stacks of emails boasting one thing in common: Prayer.

Let me be clear.. it wasn’t the action of prayer — the liturgical “Dear Jesus ___________, amen” as it were, that kept my heart beating and my brain cognitively stable. It was the understanding that prayer connected my situation to the One True Holy God. When my body screamed in pain, prayer interceded for my life, my heart and my Spirit in ways I’ll never begin to comprehend.

Currently, I’m enrolled in a Principles of Prayer class at Grace College. Within this class, it is our goal to understand the power and privilege of prayer in a Christian’s life; of which I am one. You can’t really put a grade on that study. Within this course I’m astounded at what things I have forgotten (ignored?) about prayer since my body found a base-line of health.

I won’t lie– it’s probably one of the most embarassing things about my life thus far.

As I was praying for a friend this evening, I was reminded of how precious prayer was to my young heart while I laid in a hospital bed. What changed? Why is prayer seen as more of a duty than a joyful, intimate, scandalous moment with my Lord and Savior?

I came to the conclusion that only one thing has changed. I’ve forgotten to ask and expect big things to occur in and because of my prayer life. I’ve started to treat prayer as a dutiful expectation rather than a response of adoration… Therefore, I expect less of God.

Pondering that this evening, I heard God whisper one, simple yet powerful thing to my heart:

I’m still big enough to be The Ultimately Supreme God. Act like it when you pray.

My Name Doesn’t Matter

The inside joke around my friends and I is that names don’t matter in my world because I use sign language more than English. I hate admitting this, but… it’s actually true. You should feel impeccably special if I can remember your spoken, English name after the first time we’ve met because, well, in Sign Language (what I call my heart language) names are flexible. Literally.

It’s too culturally endearing to fully describe, but the reality is, when you walk into a room of Sign Language dependent people, they give each other a sign that represents that person. You can have a “Sign name”, but if anyone else’s Sign name looks like yours, one of you has to adopt a different one for the night…. Have I lost you yet?

Regardless of what all that meant, my point still stands. I’m not being disrespectful by not learning your name… I’ve just learned to act as if it’s not the number one important thing about you cuz it can change.

My boyfriend Peter is learning how to sign. Some days I’m astonished at what he knows after 3 months of learning and some days I want to hurt him for not knowing enough. He got all the patience and logic between the two of us. It’s slightly unfair. When it comes to learning the cultural understanding behind Sign names he’s just as confused about the whole thing as anyone else.

Yesterday, he was informed by someone else who uses Sign Language that a person can have more than one name depending on the circumstance. For whatever reason, he took that to mean he got the right to “name me.”

I don’t think he understood what he did when he randomly switched to a signed conversation in the middle of our friends’ kitchen (who praise God, don’t know Sign Language) and let me know what I get to be in his mind.

Once I caught on, I just about started crying…. Peter named me. In deaf culture you just don’t do that on a whim very often. If you have the audacity to give someone a different Sign name, especially when they don’t need one at the moment, it better mean something and better be for a darn good reason.

I had to fight back tears even more when I walked away and I heard God chuckle. I could almost hear Him saying,

“If you get choked up about ‘secret names’ now; I can’t wait to tell you the name only I have for you. Just wait, Baby Girl… this is only the beginning.”

Unhindered Freedom

My hands have helped heal hearts; those same hands are incapable of cutting up a steak for dinner.

My eyes have conveyed kindness and relayed love in the midst of a storm. Those same eyes are often times blind to the same affection sent in my direction.

I can rely on my legs and feet to help me stand up in the midst of conflict and, by the grace of God, not move away from what I know is Truth. Those same legs and feet often times give way and crumble away to nothing when I need them most.

I often times dissolve into tears over the desire to be hindered less. Just as quickly, however, those tears turn joyful as I realize those hinderances make me need Jesus. Because of that, they are the greatest gift I own.

As I shared with someone last night one of the pettiest hinderances I live with, I fought back tears. It’s just not fair to be a 20-something and have to see myself as weak and needy over something most 8 year olds can do on their own. It’s just not right.

It didn’t matter that my need didn’t inconvenience the man I was leaning on. It inconvenienced my self-perceived strength. That hurt more than a scalpel pulling at damaged skin. I don’t want to be weak. Dang it.

As laughter refilled the conversation, I shook off my frustration and acted as if nothing was wrong. But my smile became real when I heard God chuckle and remind me:

Its an oxymoron to call a Christian with a disability “hindered.” Those hinderances waltz me into the arms of my Maker– if I let them.

Goodbyes and Loving Well

I grew up saying goodbye.

I’ve said goodbye more times than I can remember. I rarely ever got to grow up with a friend always next to me because, as a missionary kid, I was either leaving or being left. Work-teams, village trips, state-wide mission retreats… I learned to get deep quickly because I didn’t have long to love them well. I loved the adventure of growing up in my back-yard mission field, but even now, friendships that don’t disappear freak me out.

I wasn’t the only kid and young adult that struggled with the way missions will train friendships to do weird things. While hanging out with a young girl several years ago out in an Alaskan village, she looked at me and sweetly informed me that she’d like to like me but she knows I’ll leave and never come back. No remorse, no bitterness, no hatred; just a very candid insight into missionary friendships.

I never realized the oddity of living that way until people openly started pitying me for not having a “best friend”. Apparently, best friends are something I – especially as a woman – desperately need. Sweet people at the college I attend ask questions like, “Who do you hang with a lot?”

The only answer I can give them seems to be, “The people I’m in front of at the moment?” I’m not trying to be sarcastic, ambiguous or rude… it’s just life. I love the people I regularly fellowship with whom my heart needs and cherishes, but I’m completely “okay” with saying goodbye and connecting with them if and when I get the chance to do so later on.

Saying goodbye and truly meaning it doesn’t seem to happen as often today because of technology. I said good bye to one of my closest friends back in May, and even though we teared up a little bit, we somehow manage to connect at least every other day. Goodbye doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

That said, because of the way my heart formed friendships growing up, I learned to love and pour into the person or people I’m in front of for the moment. They may not be my best friend, or even someone my heart needs… but they’re all I’m pouring into because they’re who God gave me for now. I receive just as much as I give, and God takes care of the rest.

Someone once asked me how I felt about always leaving and seemingly never settling down. Before I was able to babble on unnecessarily, a fellow missionary kid piped up, “She loves who she meets and prays for connections to those her heart needs.”

That is the definition of loving well.

The God I Lusted After

Recently, I received a very interesting note from an admirer. Thankfully, it wasn’t from a fellow college student; if it was, I wouldn’t be able to shrug it off and use it as a weird illustration. It wasn’t the most tastefully done note I’ve ever received… I know one thing: he loves me. Or at least he thinks he does.

Problem #1- The man doesn’t know me. He recognizes my face, knows my singing voice… But he doesn’t know me. He knows I’m the person to come to for cheap sign-language, but he doesn’t use sign. So his attraction to me is incredibly unfounded. But he’s convinced he would enjoy me. Ohhhh, okay.

Problem #2- The man has no idea what he wants. One line of his note said, “I want to hold your hand and cross the line that says ‘do not trespass…'” Wait. What? Why? There are so many levels to that plea… Which one… Oh never mind. No. He wants companionship but he has no way to rationalize the fact that his request logically can’t be met. (Believe me, I get it… But no.) The second I start fleshing out his fantasy with my character, his fantasy will fall apart. Let me say it again– he had no idea what he was asking.

I’ll be honest, praying for this man’s confusion hasn’t been on my mind this morning. I’m too fascinated by his version of reality, I jumped into analyzing. Someday, hopefully not too long from now, I’ll pray first, analyze second.

As I read over my newly acquired note for the third time, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My admirer was doing to me what believers in Christ (myself included) often do to God.

1. We don’t know God, but we want intimacy with him that we don’t have to work on.
2. We have no idea our fantasy of “easy love” doesn’t go deep enough to answer what we long for. The second we get to know the God we say we want, we’ll realize that our fantasy of the “get-what-I-want Jesus” doesn’t work. But we’re willing to see if our half-butt attempts will work. Just in case. We don’t know what we want. But hey, we like Jesus. That’s enough, correct?

My note had one more part that broke my heart. “Write me, call me… I have no one.”

Although carnally I refuse to give this man what he wants… I could just hear the days when my heart screamed to my God, “Write me, Call me.. I have no one.” I could also hear God weep as He whispered, “But Child, I have. You want lust, I offer love. The choice is yours. Go deeper. I’m here.”

Sarcasm is My Worst Disorder

Sarcasm is my first language. Sign language my second (sort of). English is my third. Translation? When people misunderstand my medical dilemmas, I am not the one to gently explain ANYTHING.

As anyone who knows me well will tell you (after much free counseling, “Cassie’s a work in progress” conversations), I use sarcasm to hide. And dag gummit, I am super good at it.

I received some not-so-fun secondary information at the neurology office a couple weeks ago. It’s nothing to be concerned about because… It’s just life of an epileptic, Cerebral Palsy Victor, and Tzeitze Disorder recipient.
I called it secondary information for a reason. I’m still livable, so there’s nothing to worry about. However, after 24 years of living in this rockin’ awesome time-bomb of a body, I focus on the secondary concerns. I focus on them because my body seems to enjoy making those secondary concerns really, really, really fun. (Sarcasm. See???)

Going over my fears with a friend here at Grace College, I told him the news dripping with sarcasm, inside lingo, and a lot of hand motions. He took me seriously. Like, entirely seriously. He teared up, hugged me tight and asked me in the most sincerely scared voice ever, “Are you sure being away from your family is wise right now?”

Wait. Just wait. What? Why? … Oh. Oh. He… He took me seriously. I used death-bed confession lingo because I’m tired of hearing doctors tell me to “live (my) life and the medical staff will clean up when things stop working again.” I wanna be normal medically. Just once, I want doctors to look at me and tell me they see cases like this all the frikkin’ time & they have a Heaven-kissed solution. But, since I didn’t get that this time around, employ sarcasm to hide my anger, frustration and just down right fear.

… Nope. Poor man-friend did not get the neon sign flashing above my head that said, “Don’t listen. Too mad to shoot straight.” No, I’m not dying, Dude. Seriously. Promise. No, I wasn’t lying to you just then, I’m just incredibly ticked off. Probably shouldn’t use words that make it sound like I’ll have no mental capacity by the time I’m 40. Oops. Oops. Oops. Darn sarcasm.

After I cleaned up from my complete narcissistic debrief to the poor guy, two things occurred to me.
1. I hide because I don’t want to be seen as needy, scared or even vulnerable. Not okay. Not right. Not fair to the Family of my heart.
2. I would love 5 minutes with the Physician of all physicians to first, heal me of my need for all this bloody sarcasm and second… Tell me what’s actually happening in my body and which disorder is truly at fault.

Dang it. I want Jesus. I want Heaven. I want the ability to have no need for sarcasm. I want to go Home. At least I know Jesus will get my sarcasm!

The Deaf God

I haven’t posted here much in the past couple weeks mainly because in order to post you must have time to breathe. I forgot that’s not something I’m allowed to expect in this adventure. Between classes, work, and college life -Homecoming is important for the first time in 13 years – I’m seeing straight. But barely.

I have started working with a team of people that visit a group home of sorts twice a week. There happens to be a deaf individual in the group for a certain amount of time. Because sign language is seen as my primary language, I was asked to come and interpret so he could be a part of the services. Fantastic! I love my times with this man… It’s sweet to watch his eyes light up because all the sudden… someone actually understands. It’s worth the 6am wake up call.

I had forgotten however, what it’s like to sign with a deaf individual outside of Alaska. Just as any hearing person can tell if you’re from Texas or Maine… Deaf people know accents in sign language. The very first thing *John said to me after the typical deaf greeting was, “Woman, you sign funny!”
Yes. Yes, I do, Sweetheart.

Added to my “Alaskan Accent” is the fact that my cerebral palsy effects my ability to sign with complete accuracy. I’m still understandable, but the first 5minutes with a new audience is filled with crazy laughter as they learn the way my hands work and I learn their speed. When I signed the word, “forgiven” to *John, he took off on a litany of questions that all came down to the same question, “Why would you learn to sign that so weird?!” … Regardless of the culture shock to us both, *John and I have a blast.

One of the pangs to my heart is *John hasn’t received much communication in some time. Because of that, for the first week that I was with him, I let the service become second priority and just let him talk. This ranged from discussing how he got placed in the group to asking me if I had any children. The man was relentless, but one thing was clear. He just wanted information!

Today while I was with him, I asked him to clarify what “believing in Jesus” meant. None of my team knew his story, so in typical me-mode I just got down to the stuff that mattered. *John answered my question beautifully. His eyes filled with tears as he explained that the blood of Christ covered his sins and that because of Jesus’ dying on the cross, *John knew that he had been given eternal life.

Wow… I don’t know how many of you know what it’s like to hear the Gospel in your native language, but it takes your breath away. Both he and I struggle with English (he more than I -obviously) but we were both having so much fun seeing the comprehension in each other’s eyes. God is good.

When we finally agreed on a sign for forgiveness, *John’s simplicity of God’s grace took my breath away. Theologically, Charles Spurgeon would take issue with the way it got left in the end.. But *John gave more passion behind clinging to Grace and the power of the resurrected Son of God than I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

And then, I messed the beauty up. I brought up the topic of praying daily. Along with that I approached the fact that confession of sins is a daily thing- even for believers. *John’s tears came hard, and they came fast. The joy was gone from his eyes as he changed the subject and started telling me about taking a test for his GED.

In fairly typical ASL-way, I interrupted him and drew him back to the original subject and forced out the questions, “Why you hurt?” “What tears mean?” I think the only other time my heart hurt that badly for understanding was… Well, never. What he said next broke me to the core.

“Cassie, I can’t hear. I allowed pray once.. Jesus forgive me then. He not understand me again. How I know what he think if he can’t understand me?”

God gave me the ability to simplify the truth in a way I never thought possible. *John knows he can still communicate with God despite what he assume(d) was a barrier. He doesn’t understand how it’s possible, but he made sure I knew he’d believe it because he trusted my opinion. (This is where the ability to make a person laugh quickly helped a ton.. God knew what he was doing! )

I walked away from today begging God for the one thing most of America sees as a curse. I begged God to prove to *John that God is a deaf God. That somehow, He would be deaf in front of *John.

Hallelujah, God is not hindered by whether the rest of the world understands what He’s doing. When God says He will go to the ends of the earth for anyone… Maybe he meant, “To the deaf, I am deaf, but my love is heard.”

Shocking laughter

I knew the day was coming. Any of you that happen to know someone with Cerebral Palsy or have it yourself know what I’m talking about. The day where… No matter how much you try to hide whichever body part is effected; no matter how much you work at not letting a new crowd see what some deem a “deficiency”, someone spots you. And it’s all over. Let the drinking from the fire hydrant of questions begin…

Don’t get me wrong, I love my quirks. I think it’s hilarious. But the wide eyed look of shock when you run directly into a treasured person -who is by no means small- usually ends with, “Dude! First off, how did you not see me, and.. What the HECK is your hand doing?”

Well Sir, ya see, sir.. Um. I don’t know? It felt like dancing and your waist is it’s stage and I can’t tell it to stop cuz it’s just too darn cute, okay? No.. No. That’s not an appropriate response at a Christian College. (It’s not appropriate anywhere). Someday, some merciful PhD needs to spend millions of dollars investing in a short quip that explains cerebral palsy to a blushing man. It’d do a world of good. Any doctors out there willing to contribute, let me know.

Cerebral palsy is a motor skill disability. A large portion of the people mildly effected look normal. Heck, they are normal. (Yes, I’m an expert and of course I’m going to say that). Fine motor skill “deficiency” (not being able to pinch something to pick it up, inability to move one finger at a time) are the most typical.

When the person is tired, however, all bets are off. All of them. Hyper tension sets in, and somehow, these digits and limbs that you were able to command three seconds before grew their own brain. Pronto.

When that happened the other day, I did something I’ve done since before I can remember. I crossed my legs, put my arm between my legs and squeezed. Object of the move? Don’t.. Let.. The..monster… Out. I look like I’m trying not to pee, but it works. I just pour on the humor and people don’t notice.

I ended up explaining it to the best of my ability to someone this week. His response? (Side note, Minors in Bible are just as bad as majors in Counseling)

“So, your left side really DOESN’T know what your right side is doing! Wonder what Jesus would’ve done if YOU were in the crowd the day He said that!” (Matthew 6:3) I wasn’t sure how to break it to him that my Dad had let that joke make its grand entrance years ago. Oh well, the guy was proud of it.

The questions stopped when he realized just how much it didn’t matter. When I started teaching him simple phrases in sign language, he got confused when my right hand never looked exactly right. With a look of concentration as he glared at his own hands, I heard him mumble, “Remember.. Pay no attention to the hand behind the curtain. Just do what you’re told.”

I think I’ve entered Oz. My quirks followed me, though.