Come As You Are? (thoughts on healing)

Jasmine is walking away from the camera, using a rolling walker, as she goes down a long corridor into a large glass room with high glass ceilings.
When not using my cane, my other mobility aid of choice is my walker.

It seems in church circles, whenever the topic of disability is raised, the conversation turns to healing. Whether we’re examining the stories of Jesus healing people in the gospels or recounting miraculous stories we may have heard or seen in our own life experience there’s a fascination with physical cure through prayer.

The church I attend is doing a month-long series on disability right now and healing has come up frequently. Some of the kids in my parish are doing a book study together as part of this series. (We are reading Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper.) Many of the themes from Sunday’s sermons are echoed in the book discussion questions.

I was privileged to help lead the kids book study this past week when the topic of healing came up. The characters in the book were praying that an unborn baby would be born healthy and without disability. We talked about the reasons why they might pray that way. In the end we concluded that no matter how the baby was born the parents would love it fully. Its ability or disability wouldn’t matter because it would be their child.

The conversation then turned to whether people with disabilities want to be healed/cured. The kids figured that each disabled person probably has their own feelings about that. You would need to get to know them to find out. (Wise children!)

I then told them two stories from my own life, related to healing, and asked them to guess which I preferred.

  • In the first, I was meeting with a woman at work to see if our companies might work well together. I met her in the lobby. As we walked to my office, she saw my cane and asked if I had injured myself. I explained that I have a neuromuscular disease. When we got to my office, instead of taking a seat she stood behind me and placed her hands on my neck. She began praying for a miraculous healing cure to happen right then and there. Her prayer was passionate and lasted several minutes. Finally, I told her I didn’t think we were going to have a miracle happen on the spot so maybe we should start our meeting.
  • The second story was about a day that my legs started strong but, as time went on, they became weaker and weaker. By the afternoon I was holding on to the walls, leaning heavily on my cane, and obviously struggling to walk. One of my coworkers saw me and asked whether he could add me to the prayer list at his church. I said “Yes, thank you! Can I tell you how I pray for myself? I pray that I will be patient when my body slows me down. That I will be calm when my pain makes me cranky. That I will still be a helpful partner to my husband and a good mother to my daughter.” He said that he would add those requests to the church prayer list.

The kids all guessed that I preferred the second interaction. They gave some of the reasons why they thought this way: my coworker knew me already, he asked me if it was okay, it was a conversation that I got to be part of, etc. My favourite answer came from a 10 year old girl named Rose. She said, “The lady assumed you didn’t like yourself the way you are!”

I wish that all of us had Rose’s insight into questions of prayer and healing in our churches. What would it look like if we welcomed one another as we are, and took the time to learn how to love each other well? Maybe we would all be a bit more comfortable in our own skin, and appreciate the diverse and beautiful ways that God has created us.

This post originally appeared on The Disability and Faith Forum as part of a series of posts in response to a month-long teaching series at The Meeting House on disability.

This far

It’s 1 in the morning and I’m lying in bed unable to sleep.

My head is killing me. I’ve taken super strength Tylenol and a couple doses of Advil but i can still hear the blood pulsing in my ears and my brain feels pinched.

Falling asleep is usually a slow process for me and so I replay things in my mind to unwind. Then I move on to imagining the things I’m looking forward to. I fall asleep most nights visualizing my hopes.

But lately every future plan is tinged with fear. Hope is replaced with apprehension. I flip through my usual bedtime thoughts to try to find one that’s calming but come up empty handed.

How can life go on like this? How can we survive being trapped by this pandemic indefinitely? There has to be a breaking point, and surely it must be soon. This is untenable.

I flip onto my back and cry out to God – I can’t sleep. All I have in my head is pain and fear. What am I supposed to do? I’m stressed and restless and can’t sleep.

As soon as I voice it, I remember a conversation I had with my husband a couple weeks ago.

I told him “help me remember that when I’m feeling stressed and restless those are symptoms that I need more oxygen. I can’t recognize it myself when I’m in it.”

Immediately I realize that’s the problem so I flip on the light, grab my breathing bag (technically called a Lung Volume Recruitment kit) and pump up my lungs. And oh goodness does it hurt. It feels like lightning in my brain. I swoon a little, but then breathe normally. Obviously my lungs had been restricted for some time.

A couple more pumps and the tension is gone from my body, the headache has subsided considerably, and my mind is clear.

As I sit, enjoying the air, I see the embroidered wall hanging beside my bed. Bis hierher hat uns der Herr geholfen!

When I was young, it seemed all the women in my family had some sort of embroidered German saying hanging on their walls. Often they were scripture. Our move into this house last year coincided with my parents downsizing and my mom offered me this embroidery, made by my Oma years ago. When I received it I felt like I had finally graduated to full and proper adulthood.

But in this moment that’s not what struck me about the embroidery.

Bis hierher hat uns der Herr geholfen!

Thus far the Lord has helped us!

It’s from 1 Samuel 7:12 and it’s true. He has brought me this far.

In my pain addled, oxygen deprived brain I called out to God and told him my problem. “I’m stressed and restless!” And in my prayer, was the answer I needed. I needed someone to help me recognize my symptoms. I needed someone with me.

He is with me and he has brought me this far. Together we’ll move through whatever else is coming.

The view from my bed: the wall hanging, my pineapple lamp, and my mini-me doll. All things that make me happy.

Let it be

A close-up if my hands holding knitting while sitting on the couch. Beside me on the couch is a ukulele and an iPad
There’s a lot of knitting and singing going in my life right now.

This is the hardest part of the pandemic for me. It feels like a personal hour of darkness.

At the beginning, everyone slowed to the speed of the most vulnerable. The whole world stepped into my shoes for a moment and it was comfortable.

Now though they’re stepping out into the world and moving on. To them it feels like small steps but for me those steps are insurmountable.

I’m feeling left behind. As the world opens up, my world closes in. As other people have more contact points in their social circles I feel the need to withdraw from the few points of contact I had. The risk is just too high that contracting COVID-19 would seriously damage me, or worse.

I know other disabled and immunocompromised people are feeling it too.

As I withdraw I have been finding comfort in music. I’ve been playing ukulele and singing pretty much every day and I’ve been turning to some old favourites. Worship choruses that I used to sing at youth group, songs by Delirious? and the Newsboys, and hymns from my childhood.

One song, more than the rest, comforts me in this time – Let It Be by the Beatles.

As I sing it (over and over because I’m working on my finger picking) I think about the words and what they mean. 

It speaks of broken-hearted people being parted, which resonates deeply. 

Times of trouble are evident in the world at large when I check the news each night. 

My social media feed is filled with stories of hope, like a light shining through a cloudy night. 

I don’t know exactly what Paul McCartney meant when he wrote all these words; I once read he was inspired by a dream about his mother, Mary. But the lyrics make me think about the other, more famous mother Mary. 

Jesus’ mother.

When Gabriel came to her with the news that she would give birth to God’s son she gave a simple response to such a complicated task. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it bewith me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV, emphasis added)

Compared to mothering the Saviour of the world, navigating the lifting of pandemic restrictions right now seems downright simple. However, it impacts work life, home life, and relationships and there are no instructions on how to figure it out well. It certainly doesn’t feel simple and there is no end in sight. 

I pray that I would approach this complicated task with a similar heart posture to Mary’s. If I keep her words of wisdom in mind, perhaps I can just trust God and let it be.

(Crossposted to the Disability & Faith Forum.)

Spiritual practices in times of crisis and solitude

This pandemic means living a small, quiet life at home which gives me more time to think. It also means everyone else is also home so my ideas are half-baked and rarely get out of my head, into words. So although I have many thoughts I haven’t been writing here much.

I have been writing a bit for work though which has been new for me.

For the first few weeks of the pandemic I stayed home and used vacation time. We didn’t know how long this would last, all my work evaporated (I was helping to run two conferences in April which were both cancelled), and I knew I didn’t want to be exposed to the virus so I started self-isolating right away.

As time went on though and we all started settling into new routines, people were redeployed to different departments and I was assigned to help the spiritual care team at work.

It has been a pleasure and a challenge to dig deep and share some of what I’ve learned over the past few years. (The technology side of it has also been a challenge at times but I’ve learned a few tricks which is nice.)

So far I’ve had two stories/articles published and I am particularly proud of the most recent so I’m going to copy and paste it here so that I’ll always have it.

The inside of Notre dame cathedral in Montreal. It’s backlit in purple and blue and is beautiful.

Raised in a Pentecostal Christian faith tradition, growing up my faith habits were both communal and personal. We met together for corporate worship on Sundays and at mid-week small group meetings but most of the rest of the time my worship was individual and internal. I read my Bible, formulated my prayers in my own words in my mind, and reflected on what I had learned at church.

When I hit a time of crisis and solitude several years ago I found that these learned patterns were not enough to sustain my faith. My mind was too full of anger and fear to formulate prayers made of words. My heart was full of doubts that I wasn’t ready to expose to others yet. My body failed me in ways that meant I couldn’t participate in church as usual.

It felt as though my belief system was crumbling. I no longer had a polished faith, easily articulated and defendable.

I realized what I needed were spiritual practices that could bear the weight of my burden. I needed practices that I could practise as I struggled through my time of crisis.

Slowly I collected and built a repertoire of practices that allowed me to connect with God using my body as well as my mind and soul. During the time of COVID-19, many of us are experiencing solitude or the loss of communal, in-person worship in new ways. For some, this might bring on existential questions and struggles with doubt. I hope that these spiritual practices will help others in the ways that they have helped me.

  • Find anchors in your daily life. They can be traditional prayer anchors such as saying grace before meals, or praying before bed, but they can also be personalized to your life. Filling your favourite mug with hot coffee every morning can be a moment to thank God for warmth and small comforts in your life.
  • Read the scriptures in a way you haven’t before. Try a new translation, or paraphrase like The Message. Listen to the Bible as an audiobook. Read or listen to The Story, an abridged version of the Bible that weaves all the pieces into one cohesive narrative. Go for something really creative like The Word on The Street or The Action Bible.
  • Light a candle as an invitation to the Holy Spirit to enter your home and your life. The presence of the flame throughout the day can be a constant reminder of the Spirit’s presence with you.
  • Intentionally follow people on social media who you find uplifting and encouraging in your faith. Pope Francis tweets regularly. Scott Erickson posts wonderful art using the tag #spiritualformation on both Instagram and Facebook. Dion Oxford shares some beautiful insights and prayers on his blog. Little Way Chapel offers liturgies to do as a family in your home.
  • Use a tangible tool, like a rosary or prayer beads to keep your mind grounded as you pray. Alternatively, use your fingers. Pray for different people in your life, one person per finger.
  • Practise praying without words. If we can communicate with each other without using words (and we know we do) how much more so with our Creator? Prayer can be an image, a feeling, a memory, a song, or a scream. Let your heart call out to God.
  • Use breath prayers to practise the presence of God and reduce your anxiety. Ember Collective shares great examples, such as (inhale) The Lord is my refuge…, (exhale) I will trust in him… Breath is reminiscent of the creation of man, of God breathing life into dry bones, of the mighty rushing wind on the day of Pentecost. Breath is evidence of God within us.
  • Find podcasts that nourish your soul. If you’re grappling with doubts and are afraid to speak them aloud, hearing others have those difficult conversations can reassure you that you are not alone. If you struggle to put words to prayer, listening to someone else pray can give your heart something to resonate with.

I still don’t have faith perfected, and I never expect to, but I have found that leaning on spiritual practices that embody my whole self, and not just my intellect, has deepened my faith immensely. Given that incarnation is such a central concept of Christianity it makes sense that God would invite us to show up wholly present to commune with him. Let’s accept that invitation.

You can find the post here and another on Seeking Out the Prophetic Voices of People with Disabilities.

I’ve also updated my About page with links to any other writing of mine on the internet.

I’m going to try to sit down and actually get my thoughts out onto the page(/screen?) because when I do it, it feels good.