Sprinkling Hope

Blue skies and sunshine unexpectedly showed up after days of rain in Portland.  I find that words of encouragement perk up people’s spirits the same way.     

A few weeks ago, I ventured into a new large church for the first time.  I only knew a handful of people, so I was quite surprised when a woman rushed up to me during the church service.  She said, “I know you and I really need to talk to you.”  I didn’t have the foggiest idea who she was and I wondered if my memory lapse was given away by the blank expression that washed over my face.

 When she started describing our brief encounter, relief swept over me as I recalled a beautiful summer day about twenty years ago. Some friends invited my little girl and I to a blue grass concert. Since I can’t drive, this was quite a treat! 

I took a wheelchair with me since I have cerebral palsy and can’t walk well.  Surveying the crowd from my wheelchair, I spotted a woman with a small boy in a wheelchair too.  When I talked to her, all those years later , she said I was still  grieving over his condition.  But why  gave me courage when you  told me  “God has a plan and purpose for his life, he’ll  be able to do anything he wanted too.”  She laughed and said, “And he is!”

Talking to her again, reminded me that, despite the fact that we must face our own challenges, God can still use each one of us to give others courage.

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How’s Your Focus

A few years ago, my close friend JoAnne, had a concussion as a result of an accident with a horse.  At the same time, my daughter was collecting references for college, so she asked me to find out if JoAnne would write one.

One day, while JoAnne was still recovering, I asked her how her focus was.  I was puzzled when she told me her double vision was improving every day.  We both started to laugh when I said, “I was wondering if you felt good enough to write the letter Rachael needs.”

Even though I have cerebral palsy I’ve been able to live on my own with the help of caregivers.  Last week my caregiver who helps me get ready for the day, wasn’t scheduled to work. Getting myself presentable to go out that night was very time consuming.  Fortunately, a friend came over and helped me finish getting ready.  I felt agitated because I couldn’t do more.  But she kept saying she was amazed because of how well I had done.

2017 is here and has plenty of possibilities.  With it will come plenty of challenges and choices.  They’ll either make me feel sorry for myself or lead me to my Heavenly Father so He can help me refocus on the things that are truly important.

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Be Still To Be Filled

I got a new hummingbird feeder a few weeks ago. For a few days after I hung it up I felt a bit disappointed because I didn’t see any birds. Finally I got a colorful plant that they’re attracted to and that made all the difference. Soon after I got the new plant, I was thrilled when a pair of them visited for a few seconds. I have noticed now, that the longer I have a feeder hanging on my patio, the more birds come. Some stay longer than others, delighting my heart as they take in nutrition. They never seem to stop moving. Even when they are at the feeder their tiny wings are fluttering at a rate of 80 times per second.

We are a lot like hummingbirds, flitting from here to there. We may want to hear from our Heavenly Father, yet quieting our minds feels impossible. Like the hummers sipping at the feeder, our busy minds prevent us from hearing what our Heavenly Father wants to whisper in our ear.

I’m glad that He invites us to “be still and know” that He is God. As beautiful as my little friends are, I want to be more than a flash of busy color. I want to be quiet long enough to absorb His message of love so I can share it with others.

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The Rest of The Story

My book, It Takes More Than Legs to Stand, just came out on Amazon.  Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see this day.    I am going to tell you about some of the high lights of my journey.

Several years ago I saw an article about the Oregon Christian Writers Summer conference in Christian News Northwest.  The description of Marion Duckworth’s class interested me because she was teaching a class on memoirs. My friend, JoAnne and I decided to go to the conference for one day.  I met Marion five minutes before I had to go home.   A few days after the conference was over, I called and asked she would help me write my memoir.  She told me to send her some of my material.  Before I sent her anything I looked her name up on Google.  Seeing the list of her accomplishments, I thought she’d surely laugh at me.  But I was wrong.  Over the past several years, she taught me the craft of writing. She’s encouraged me when she heard me fighting the temptation to give up, by asking me, point blank, “Has God called you to write?” Of course the answer has always been “Yes.”

Creative juices often flow the best when I can bounce Ideas off friends.  One of my favorite memories of my journey was of a sunny afternoon when JoAnne and I sat at her dining room table looking over a river, as we developed an outline for my book.  When we were down we decided to go to another OCW summer conference because they are always a great time to learn our craft and network with other writers.  The only problem was it was an extremely hot summer and I had run completely out of energy.    Several of my friends were going down to the river to cool off and   I rode my scooter down to watch them play in the water.  One of my friends got a chair for me so I could put my feet in the water.

People who attend writer’s conferences can submit articles and book proposal so they can get feedback from editors.  In the past year I decided to self-publish my book, so I didn’t submit my manuscript. David Sanford, one of the presenters,  introduced himself to me when I was waiting for my ride home from the conference.  As we began to visit I knew that this was a very significant conversation.  A short time later he joined Marion in helping me publish It Takes More Than Legs to Stand. 

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Hidden Gifts

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On the first weekend In December, for several years, I have had the opportunity to go to the Tryad retreat at the beach.  It was started by my friend David O’Brian who had cerebral palsy.  After graduating from Echola Bible School, he made his home in Cannon Beach Oregon.  He was passionate about sharing the love of God with everyone especially those who also had disabilities.

Since he knew that many of his handicapped friends didn’t get to go to the beach, he decided to invite them to Cannon Beach Oregon for fun and fellowship.  In fact throughout the many years, as friendships developed the conference felt like a family reunion.   Several of the people had very fragile physical conditions and needed specialized care, so just arranging transportation was pretty complicated.   The students, from Ecola helped at conference.  Many of them didn’t have any previous experience with people with disabilities until they met us.  It felt a bit awkward for each of us for a while but it didn’t take long before friendships were formed.

David took great care in choosing people to lead worship and speakers who share the Word of God.

Planning for such an event must have felt like a daunting task, especially since he needed assistance with own basic needs.  But, as David prayed God always answered and people stepped forward to help his plan take shape.  No matter what was thrown in front of him, he never gave up.  He example will always give me courage to continue doing the things God has put in my heart.

Sometimes gifts come from unlikely sources. David usually met us at the door when we arrived for the retreat, but this year he watched us from his heavenly home.  When I got home from the retreat I reflected on his life. Besides giving me a great time at the retreat he gave me tenacity.  And I am grateful for   David’s gift to me which was the reminder that God can do great things when we offer him what we have.  He showed me what can happen when we push through our problems.

Be on the lookout for hidden gifts that God wants to give you this season.  Please share then with me.

 

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All Abilities Celebrated

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This past week, my friend Jill and I attended the ‘Beyond the Ramp’ Conference, hosted by the Interfaith Disability Network of Oregon.  The main speaker was Bill Gaventa, the coordinator of the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, the Associate Editor of Intellectual and Development Disabilities and former editor of the  Journal of Religion Disability, and Health. As pastors and lay persons from different faith communities in the Portland area gathered to talk about disabilities and faith, we were encouraged by words from Bill focusing on the theme, ‘from mission to member to mission.’

My interest was piqued when Bill stated that “People with disabilities don’t want to be the mission field or a project.” Wow, I wholeheartedly agree with this because when people feel like a project, it makes us feel like a victim of our circumstances. Unless there is a relationship between the two people, it makes the them appear unequal.  Even though the person ‘helping’ them does so with the best intentions, the individual being served can be made to feel frustrated because our gifts are overlooked.

The Church will flourish when they welcome people with disabilities not as a mission, but as members, because everyone wants to be a part of the greater community. We all have gifts and abilities that help the body to flourish and grow. We want to be involved in the mission of the Church as a whole once we have become members; we don’t want to continue to be the mission.

Another great thing about this conference was that everyone was from around this area and I am looking forward to networking with them. It is kind of like fishing, you have to know where the pods of fish are in order to catch anything! It was a great opportunity to connect with pastors and see what their congregations and communities are doing.  When I told some of the pastors that I was the Area Director of Joni and Friends, they expressed an interest in hearing more about it, and that was an encouragement to me.

One of my main goals for Joni and Friends here in the Portland area is to help people of all abilities realize their significance in the body of Christ. I was very encouraged to find churches in the area that have already started to create an awareness in their faith communities about the gifts and abilities of all of their members. If you know of churches or individuals who are interested in joining us in this mission, let me know by sending me an email at lswafford@joniandfriends.org; or share the good news with them that there are churches that are welcoming the abilities of everyone!