B ~ So There, Death: Freedom

(Continued) Do you ever have those moments from a song or talk or sermon that come back to prey on your mind? Moments that seem to be seared in your memory for what they meant to you? I had two this summer that seemed related. Here is B. A preceded this.

I am well aware of the miracles recorded that Jesus performed and also that there were a lot more miracles that were never recorded. Despite knowing them well, here, again, I learned in a startling way what I did not know. One day near Capernaum, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, two blind men came to Jesus. It was the first time blind were given sight and there is no record of the disciples ever healing blindness. Ok, I knew that. I also know that lepers were considered unclean, lived apart from others, and were considered to be extremely contagious – untouchable. I learned now that the blind and also others with handicaps (ok, now you get why this caught my attention anew) were all considered unclean, a scourge on humanity, rejects of culture, and certainly not to be touched. Here, these two blind men – who were likely close to death since there were no hard-fought ADA (Americans with Disability Act) laws and they could not see to work, get about, or do much of anything living as rejects of society – declared that Jesus was the Son of David and asked that he heal them. Jesus could have simply announced that they could see, but rather, he chose to touch their eyes and pronounce them healed. He touched them! Through this simple interaction, they declared him the Messiah – Savior of all – and he declared them clean, fit to be touched, and included with society.

Side bar: Here is another eureka for me that I have yet to wrap my mind around. Perhaps others have the answer I’m trying to come to grips with. In both the tabernacle and the temple, there were levels of access culminating in the Holy of Holies providing only the High Priest access. But, remember the outer levels? The unclean and handicapped could not enter. Pause. Ok, so for 63 years of my life I could have entered the temple. All of a sudden, at 64 I would no longer be allowed access? Maybe I’m too American but I do not understand that – in either Old or New Testament days. Note: the tabernacle and temple were not accessible. Period.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind men but also gave them liberty, freedom, and inclusion. They were no longer marginalized but had full access to the temple, which was the only space for worship in those days. How accessible are our churches? How welcomed and included are those with a wide array of handicaps to our churches?

Usually in church, it’s the music that moves me to tears. This time, it was the sermon. Perhaps it wasn’t just for me but because of a summer in which we faced difficult loss. There was a lot of sadness including a miscarriage. We tried to support a brother-in-law, a cousin, and a dear friend with cancer. It was also a summer in which we watched a friend die a devastating death just a year after his wife lost her battle with cancer. This left their children and grandchildren without that anchor of support. I was fighting tears throughout the service and trying to get it together with bowed heard during the final prayer. A friend who typically sits in front of our reserved for families and those with handicaps back pews because she needs to leave early, touched me on my shoulder on her way out, leaned down, and whispered, This ones for you, Collene.

Later this reminded me of finding out, literally by mistake, that the one and only accessible excursion on our cruise, based on their literature as well as assurances on two calls to the cruise line’s dedicated handicap phone number, was only available for those who could stand and climb steps. What? This was in the largest city and capital of the country. Ma’am, the excursion desk staff woman told me, there is not one accessible bus in xx(capital city)xx. Our emotions went from anger to frustration to disappointment and finally to, Wow, thankfully we’re only visiting and not living in this country.

Even greater, I’m thankful that I live in a world where Christ saves us regardless of abilities and gives us life abundantly.

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A ~ So There, Death: … You

(First of 2 parts) Do you ever have those moments from a song or talk or sermon that come back to prey on your mind? Moments that seem to be seared into your memory for what they mean to you? I had two this summer that seemed related. Here is A. B will follow.

My husband and I need to arrive almost everywhere we go early because, not only do we need a handicap spot, we need a handicap spot with the blue slash marked area. Apparently many, even with handicap hang tags, do not understand these spaces are designed specifically so those with ramps have space to lower that ramp plus space to actually roll down and off. (But, that’s an entry yet to be written.) One advantage of getting to our church early is that we get to hear our 70-100-voice choir rehearse their songs. I noticed it was Abide with Me one morning and thought, “Oh, good, this is one song that won’t move me to tears.” I had grown up with this song and it seemed a bit slow and ho-hum. Well, I hadn’t heard the rendition by GM, Minister of Music and Director. Our brass ensemble, rather than the full orchestra, was playing this day. The Brass were seated at our directors left with the choir in front of him. As the service progressed and it drew to the choir’s contribution, the words caught me. (Italics added)

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers flee and comforts fade,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need your presence with each passing hour.

What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

 

I fear no foe with you at hand to bless,

Ills have no weight, and tears their bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, your victory?

I triumph still, if you abide with me.

I’m not a swearing person or taken to crude language but at this point I am moved and am thinking, so there death! xxx you death! You had your chance but I’m still alive. I’m living to do more – (of what)?

Hold now your Word before my closing eyes.

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

At this point the director has been building the brass and voices but he’s demanding even more. He stamped his left foot and dug down-and-out with his fisted left hand to inspire the brass.

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

And, now, instead of the soft pianissimo I am used to hearing with this song, the director digs down-and-out with his right hand to inspire the choir to give all they have for:

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

(Henry Francis Lyte)

Whew! Death, you did have your chance with me. I was at death’s doorstep, unconscious, and on life support for days leaving my family feeling helpless and praying as much as they dared and as boldly as they dared. Little by little I’ve gotten to this point. Not easy for my family or me. But, here I am and I’m still working to be as independent as possible. I’m asking God to abide with me and bless the work I’m trying to do. It’s certainly not what I expected to do or much of anything that involves moving about. Thankfully, we live in a world of being able to communicate with the keyboard and Internet. Is that what I’m to do? Am I to be here longer for our children and families? Is my manuscript going to be accepted and published? It seems the message I have to share is crucial for mobility challenged children, their parents, and health personnel. What message am I to share through my blog? I will trust and watch how he abides with me, not quietly but working to the fullest I can. So, there death! Take that!

My Personal, Pint-Sized Angel

harper-1

A much-appreciated feature of our church is the many doors equipped with buttons for handicapped access – well beyond ADA requirements. (Don’t you just love when people do the right thing – not just the legal requirements?) On Sundays, part of the effort to make all feel welcomed is to have leaders in the church stand at the door to greet those coming in. A person typically stands by the access button and pushes it for everyone, offering an open door, but especially before an ‘otherwise abled’ person needs to push it.

A few weeks ago, the welcome person had her 3-year-old granddaughter standing with her. Mimi would remind the munchkin to push the button when helpful. I typically make a point to notice the welcoming person, catch their eye, smile, and thank them so they understand how much appreciated this small gesture is. I noticed the young girl and smiled, thanking her. Now, often when adults see my wheelchair, they quickly look away as if embarrassed, shutting down any need for further communication. This serious, little one looked directly at me after taking a hard look at my wheels. “Why do you do that?” she asked genuinely. I rolled up closer, looked her back directly in the eye, and explained in 3-year-old terms how I had been hit by another car just down the road from church. I went on to tell this attentive youngster that this happened when she was a very little girl. I used to walk just like she does, but now I can’t move below here (gesturing midway between my waist and shoulders.) I lifted my one leg to show that it was useless. She asked a couple more questions, I asked her name, and then we both went back to our own tasks.

After the service, I went to the gathering space where coffee is served. It just happens to be near the area where adults meet their youngsters after their church-school. I was delighted to notice this cute munchkin come back to see me. I gave her a big smile and said, “Hi, Harper! Glad to see you again.” This precious one reached out and gave me an unexpected hug. We chatted a bit about what she had done in church school, and we said good-bye. The following week, Harper came up to me where my husband and I sit – back of church where the cutout pews provide space for wheelchairs. She again gave me a welcomed hug, and we talked briefly about her week. Nearly each week she is at the door with Mimi or comes to find me in the back of church before the service starts. We briefly chat about her week, friends, her day, or how she looks.

During Advent, the children were gathered in front of the sanctuary as usual for the Word for Children. The leader was explaining that they would be lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath. It stood for joy. Harper spontaneously raised both arms, turned a bit sideways, and struck what looked similar to a ballet pose. This was greeted by an immediate chuckle from the congregation. Harper’s pose underscored the meaning of joy in a much more meaningful way than any words could.

The last two weeks Harper has entered the back doorway that separates the sanctuary from the foyer, spotted me, and literally run to me to give me a big hug. What a wonderful way to begin the service and week for both Harper and myself. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Harper is my pint-sized angel. Her greetings are truly a gift of God.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrew 13:2, NIV)

Watch for your little angels. Shalom, Collene