Friday, February 25, 2011

Disability + Life = No Money and No Time

I'm battling my need for money and my trust in the Lord as my provider. Again.

I was in this place 4 years ago, and God answered my prayers exponentially. Yet here I am again doing more than my body can physically handle, but it's because bills need to be paid. I've been doing the Financial Peace University through Dave Ramsey (as mentioned in other blogs) for about 2 years now. It has been a hard road to give up the things I see that other people have or turn my eye from what I want in order to use the resources God's given me wisely. But I just don't get where in this plan there is a section for "if you have a disability, do this."

Having a disability is horrible when it comes to money. The government basically punishes you for trying to be independent and hold a real job if you want them to help you. You're only allowed to make a certain amount (which is extremely below poverty level - seriously) in order to qualify for assistance. And even if you decide to go this route, the supplemental income from SSA/SSI doesn't cut it. Yet on the other hand, I try to hold a job in society and be independent and prosperous. But, I know that my body can't handle it some days. But, I still do it. And I still need another job in order to make ends meet. So, what's the point in trying to be independent?? And where is the prosperity?

I'm really struggling with trusting God right now. I'm ready to cry, give up, and say I'm done. Of course that's what Satan wants me to do. But it's how I feel right now. Working 12 hour days on top of trying to care for my body now that I have a disability. Well, let's just say it doesn't work. There is no time to "relax," go to the gym, enjoy a movie, etc. In fact, I envy people who have time and energy for vacations on the weekends or can go to the gym after work. The time it takes to grocery shop, unload the car, cook something, clean the kitchen, wash the clothes, fold the clothes, take a shower, clean the house, etc, etc, etc.... the list goes on and on. Those of you who use a wheelchair and do everything by yourself understand what I'm talking about. I just don't know how much longer I can do this. And it's not a matter of me budgeting or cutting things out of my life. I already budget and have cut so much out of my life. I live in a cardboard box basically in order to reduce the cost of rent. I honestly don't go to the grocery store very often because I don't have time to cook and I don't have money for eating healthy. So, I just choose not to eat and drink a lot of coffee when I get to work and see what's on the table.

I really try not to complain too much, because I know this is the path that God's given me and I need to live life to the best of my ability and with excellence. But I just don't understand some things. When I was first hurt (almost 11 years ago), I wanted people to treat me just like an able bodied person. I didn't want any accommodations or exceptions made for me. It was my denial speaking. I have learned over the years, however, that I'm not like everyone else and what would take an able bodied person 30 minutes to do, it takes me about twice as long. It is frustrating, yes. I feel like I'm burning the candle at both ends and not doing anything well. However the reality is that I know what I'm doing at my job, I'm extremely educated, I've exceeded my monetary goal, and I'm doing extremely well. But it doesn't seem to be enough, and that is so frustrating! And, bills don't pay themselves, and the government sure doesn't help.

*Sigh*. I really don't know where to go from here. I hope that a beacon of light will come through, because I feel like no one truly understands (or wants to listen) what life is like for someone with my disability, at my age, doing it all by myself. Right now, I feel like I'm working to live rather than living to work. And it just seems to get worse the older I get in age and in this disability. Where is the balance?

I want to protect my body and give it the recovery time that it needs from each day in order for me to live a long life, but at this rate.... gosh. Who knows. Praying that God will give me sustainability. Somehow. I just want my life back and be able to enjoy it rather than having to constantly worry about money.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Learning Quest

There are very few people that I know who are still in college - meaning in their late teens or early 20's and enrolled in school and for the most part, away from home. I love seeing life through their eyes - their inquisitiveness, their depth, their search for what the truth is in life. It brings me back to my college days and how free-spirited I felt.

I loved my days in college. Though it was a small private, Christian school, it helped develop who I am today. During my college days, I felt in charge of my life, time wasn't a factor, and sleep really didn't mean anything. I exerted my independence, broke a few rules "just because" I had never done anything "bad" before, and fantasized over boys in my class about what our future would be "if only." There were girls who I wished I was like, professors who taught me more than what the syllabus stated, and a balance of questioning life and trusting God.

As a little girl, I was always up late reading books. I remember my mom having to frequently come into my room to tell me to turn the light off. Yes, I tried the whole flashlight trick, too. It didn't work. Every time we went into a shopping center, I'd go to the area where the books were to see what book I wanted to read next. Sometimes, I was finished with a book before the end of the same day we bought it.

I have a fascination with books and bookstores. I love what's written on the pages - and what's written in between the lines. Books to me are like purses to some women. There are probably three books on my nightstand that I'm reading, and a dozen more on one of my many bookshelves of which I have yet to read. I'm challenged by each, and I learn something from them all. And I hate having to get rid of books! How does one choose which one is unworthy of sitting on a bookshelf any longer? Oh, the thought tears my soul. There is a nostalgia about an old book - a lost art, perhaps - that cannot be replaced by a Kindle. I'm sorry. It's just not the same as turning a page with your fingers and smelling the scent of the paper.

I digress.

College was the first time I was challenged to read "big" books. Books like Machiavelli, Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Karl Marx, and Jane Austen. I loved the discussions that came about by the words of these authors as well as the push to search within myself for what I believed.

College was the first time I was kissed (gasp!). It was the first time I wore flip flops in the shower. And if I think hard enough about it, I think it was the first time I ever went line dancing. There was a local place just over the hill called Señor Frogs. The name always perplexed me as line dancing, spanish, and frogs didn't go together, but I learned many line dances including my favorite, Cotton-Eyed Joe.

But as I reflect on others' current experiences and questions that they search answers for as they are in the midst of their own college days now, it makes me yearn to learn again. I love learning and strengthening my brain to be wiser and use it for more than I use it for now. If money weren't an issue, I'd probably consider being a lifetime student. I already have my Masters Degree. I sometimes wonder out loud how Dr. Roth would sound. Hmm.... :)

But seriously. Maybe that is what God has been nudging me to do as of lately. Honestly, I do not care about the titles or really even the degree. I just want to take random classes to enhance my own knowledge, to challenge my thinking, and to have even more intellectual conversations with others. What an amazing organ the brain is. Thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to learn and for providing the tools to stretch our minds. And thank you to those who are still in school to challenge my thinking through your own. The opportunity to learn never ends.


(The photo is borrowed from a phenomenal photographer and friend named Mary Anne Morgan. Check out more of her work on her blog by clicking here. Her daughter, Annie, inspired the blog I just wrote. Check out her own blog here. She is a true artist with her words, and my blog dims bleakly in comparison to hers. This family has etched a special place in my heart, and I love learning simply by having the opportunity to glimpse into their lives from afar. I wish I lived closer but cherish the time I had with them when I was near.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Honor Of ...

Over the past couple of weeks, I've done a lot of reflection over my life. Not everything has gone the way I have wanted it to (imagine that!), not all of my decisions were good ones, and during some periods of time, I didn't have the best role models in my life of which to look up to. But as I grow older - and hopefully wiser - I'm realizing that being an adult is hard stuff, especially when you have more to worry about than just yourself.

When I was younger, I definitely took my parents for granted. I didn't realize that even though we went through some hard times, they did the best they could with what they had and the experience that they had been through. As I look at this picture above, I realize that my parents are about my age in this picture. I can't imagine having a 4 and 2 year old right now in my life!! (Especially a 4 and a 2 year old that were me and my brother! Ha!)

But in particular over the last few weeks, I've taken the time to really look at my dad's life, his childhood, his upbringing, the things he went through, and who he is today. So today's Valentine's Day post is dedicated in honor of my handsome dad - the only man who will know the most about me, seen me through the good and the bad, and who I love so much!

My dad was born and raised in a small town in Minnesota. He was handsome from the day he was born, and even looking at his high school pictures, he's someone I would have been attracted to! (Don't get crazy on me here people. I'm not interested in dating my dad!) In that small town, my dad was a pretty big deal. He was a phenomenal hockey player and was in the paper all the time for his mad skills on the ice. Seriously. There are other brothers and one sister in his family who are equally talented in their own way. But looking through past pictures and articles of my dad, it makes me proud of who he was back then.

My dad started his young life pretty rough when in junior high, he became the first victim in Minnesota of a school shooting. My dad was 14 years old. The shooter was aiming to kill my dad along with another teacher. The bullet went right into my dad's chest and was read his last rights there in hospital. But by the grace of God, he lived, and I am so thankful because God had a purpose for his life! Sadly, the other staff member died. My dad still carries a reminder of that shooting across his chest every day by a large scar from his sternum to his abdomen. This only bares the physical scars from that torturous day as he still sometimes wrestles with the emotional side of it all. As I hear and read the story from that day, it brings tears to my eyes that my dad had to go through so much at such a young age.

My dad married his high school sweetheart - my mom - (though they knew each other since grade school) and they will have been married for 36 years this coming June. Even though I get grossed out sometimes at how publicly my dad loves my mom, it is very sweet to see how much he cares for her. He has become a role model for me to look up to, and I hope that whoever I marry can love me as much as my dad loves my mom right now. I am very much like my dad, though for many years I tried to convince myself that I wasn't. I love like my dad loves - affectionately. The more I examine myself and compare myself to my dad, I am so much more like him than I ever thought. I love building things, and my favorite show growing up was "This Old House." Ha! I love the outdoors, gardening/flowers. When I was about as old as I am in the picture above, I remember planting azalea bushes with my dad one spring day. Like a man would, he was out planting in his shorts with his shirt off because it was a hot day in Georgia. I wanted to be just like my dad while "helping" him plant, too, so I decided to work without my shirt on, too! I don't do that anymore. :)

Probably the biggest thing that I love about my dad is his heart for others. My dad is the most caring person on the earth. He would give the shirt off of his back for anyone, give his last dollar away to someone who needed it, and be a shoulder for someone to lean on when in pain. He is currently in Minnesota comforting his childhood mentor who lost his wife to cancer yesterday morning. The second my dad heard that she only had days left to live, he was on a plane. I love my dad's heart so much, and after all that he's been through himself, his biggest joy comes from being there for others. And I am the same way. And those who I love are the same way. My dad has created in me a great quality because of who God made him to be.

He has been there for me during times where I desperately needed help. Like the time I couldn't figure out why the car wouldn't start in the grocery store parking lot. It was because I still had it in "Drive." Or the time I ran out of gas multiple times in my early days of driving. Or when he was okay with me accidently running into the back end of our truck in the driveway because I mixed up which was the gas and the brake. But most importantly, he has been there for me during my days of sadness regarding my paralysis. Though he doesn't understand it completely and can't fix it, he does everything he can to make my life easier.

I am so proud to call dad, MY dad, and I'm so thankful that God allowed him to survive that cold morning in Minnesota so that he and my mom could marry and give birth to me. I love my dad so much (even though we don't always agree and he can be a little bit overprotective of me at times). I love to watch how God has changed him and done a 180 from who I knew him as a child. If you have ever had the chance to be around my dad, you can count yourself a lucky person indeed. As I get older, I realize how awesome of a man he is! I hope he is around for decades to come so that I can continue to learn from him and so that others can be blessed by knowing him, too.

Happy Valentine's Day, Dad! I love you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Whatever It Takes

I can't believe it's already the beginning of February. I love living in California during this time of the year when the rest of the country seems to be living in negative degree temperatures. This picture was taken while in Palm Springs a few weeks ago. The weather was nearly perfect in so many ways, and the landscape to which my eyes were able to be saturated with was like a spa resort for my mind. I was able to let my mind "shut off" for a moment and bask in God's goodness.

He has been so good to me. He has done GREAT things for me. When I think about the Lord - how He saved me, how he raised me, how he picked me up and placed my feet on solid ground - it makes me want to say "Hallelujah Thank You Jesus!" Lord you are worthy of all of my praise.

But I've seen the other side of all this goodness. I've been through the trenches, cried the tears, and felt the heartache. And I have close, dear friends who are there now. It makes my heart yearn for their healing, but it's also given me a new perspective to how people may or may not have known how to respond to me when I was in my depths of despair. Some of the situations my friends are going through, I have no experience in. I don't feel valuable enough to give adequate advice at the least. However, I know that pain is pain and it all feels horrible, so that is what I try to relate to - and how I allowed Jesus to lead me through it and out of it.

I recently went back to the place I was raised on a work trip but was able to visit with my family as well. While there, I visited the church where I was raised during my early years in school. My mom is still the church organist there after 20 something years. They have done a lot of renovation on the church, and much of it doesn't even look the same as how I remember it. But, there is one part of the church which almost looks untouched - the chapel.

I remember so many Sunday nights spent in that chapel with the hard wooden pews that looked as if they had been there since the Civil War era. As a little girl, I remember whenever I would get bored with the sermon, I would stare and admire the beautiful stain-glassed windows that depicted various scenes in the Bible. I remember one Sunday particularly well. It was a Sunday evening and we were in that old chapel sitting on those old wooden pews. I was a scrawny 9 year old girl at the time - late 1980's, and sitting next to my mom who was close to the same age as I am now. I was young and innocent, not knowing all there was to this concept of Christianity, but something that the pastor said that evening tugged at my heart. I had been in church long enough to know who Jesus was, what he did for me, and how to live with Him forever. I knew that tug I was feeling in my heart was Jesus.

During the invocation, I looked at my mom and whispered to her that I wanted to get saved from my sins and become a Christian. I wanted to walk down the aisle by myself and accept Jesus as the leader of my life and do right by Him and His word. I was excited to start this new life with Jesus! But instead of walking down the aisle that night, my mom whispered back to me and said kindly as more of a command than a question, "Why don't you wait until next Sunday when your dad is here." I felt deflated, and I also remember praying that entire week that Jesus wouldn't come back to get us because in my little 9 year old mind, I wouldn't get to go to Heaven and instead, I'd be going to Hell.

Thankfully the next week came, Jesus didn't come (smiling), and I was able to profess my faith to the congregation in the "big church" on Sunday morning and later get baptized. But a few weeks ago, now 2011, as I looked into that old chapel with the old wooden pews, my eyes immediately focused in on the area where I stood as a little 9 year old girl, whispering to my mom that I wanted to be a Christian. My mom was with me again on this evening, 20 something years later, and I told her about that experience. She had no recollection of the event or conversation.

There are so many things in life that change in which we don't have any control over. The church I grew up in has changed from how I remember it, friends who I thought would always be in my life have come and gone, objects that I thought I'd never get rid of have since been given to Goodwill, and as I get older, it seems that things change faster and faster.

Yes, change and pain will continue to happen. I remember thinking once I became a Christian that I wouldn't fight with my brother anymore, that my dad would stop drinking, my grandma wouldn't get older, and that life would become happy and rosey. The opposite happened in many instances, and so much was out of my control. It confused me, yet I still kept praying to Jesus that He'd take it all away and make it better.

But it's good to know that a few things in life stay the same. I believe in my heart that that night when I was 9 years old telling my mom that I wanted to become a Christian, that Jesus heard me. It didn't matter whether or not I walked down the aisle and signed the piece of paper. It didn't matter if my dad was there or not to witness this act of obedience. All that mattered is that I knew what it took to be with Jesus forever and that He would be my sustenance throughout life. I quickly learned that even as a Christian, I would still continue to fight with my brother, my grandmother ended up passing away, and life didn't end up perfect. I still sinned and didn't always do things "right." I still make decisions that I know I shouldn't do, and yet no matter how many times I seem to "mess up," God has enough grace to say "it's okay, I forgive you." No human I know can forgive as much as Jesus has and can. I have endured a lot of pain since that evening in the chapel, and it's my hope that I can somehow be there for those friends who are hurting during their time of desperation rather than saying "Why don't we wait until next week." Remember how much of an impact words can leave on a person.

So even though I feel so blessed right now for all the Lord has brought me through and picked me up out of, I am reminded of those who are still in that questioning mode if God remembers them. My prayer is that they are reminded - YOU are reminded - that whatever it takes, believe that there is a God who loves you, hears you, and isn't waiting until "next week" to listen to your prayers. Find a place where you can allow your mind to rest, enjoy the time and moments that Jesus gives you throughout the week to be with Him, and ask Him all the questions you want to know the answers to. In time, you will hear those answers if you're willing to listen.

Never would I have ever said "whatever it takes" about my car accident and paralysis, but through this event in my life, I have learned more about the character of Jesus, the make-up of people, and the love for myself that may or may not have happened if this incident hadn't have happened. But, whatever it takes. Lord, thank you for guiding me through the fire and for storing each of my tears in Heaven. I'm sure I have a big lake named after me up there! But from that pew in the chapel until I get to Heaven, I have to be willing to say "Whatever it takes."