An Oasis in Paradise

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Way back when (It seems like a lifetime ago) I lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, a small but vibrant college town. Some know Northampton as “Paradise City.” I loved living there because everything was so easy to get to, by walking or by bus. One of my favorite hangouts was the Bruegger’s Bagel Shop. I used to go there all the time and order my usual 50-cent (at the time) large-mug-refill of coffee with cream and a garlic bagel with bacon/scallion cream cheese. My mouth is watering by just thinking about it. The bagels were made fresh downstairs and were carried up to the shop in large wire bins. The smell was phenomenal and biting into the toasty crust and soft inside of the bagel made me realize why NoHo is also known as “Paradise City.” If I lived in “Paradise City,” then Bruegger’s must be “an Oasis in Paradise City!”

I would go there in the mornings, sit and enjoy my “usual” and read my Bible or FOOD & WINE magazine and people-watch. Many different kinds of people came to Bruegger’s to enjoy their “usual” bagel and coffee before going to their jobs, school, or whatever else they had to go do that day. There were people in three-piece suits, moms and dads with babies in strollers, college students with backpacks, working men in dungarees, people walking in with the aid of walkers or canes or wheeling in  wheelchairs. All these different types of people had one common goal, and that was to enjoy their coffee and bagel with cream cheese before attacking the ol’ grind of the day. They all had something else in common as well: No matter what they were wearing, how they got to Breugger’s, or where they were going after their “Oasis Stop,” sometime during the course of the morning, they would have to use a paper napkin to wipe the cream cheese off their lips. You see, at Bruegger’s, all people are creamed equally! More importantly to me, all people were treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings.

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During my time living in Northampton, I was still able to walk, but with my cerebral palsy and herky-jerky uncontrollable movements I still need some help in getting my coffee and bagel to my “usual” table near the window. When I would enter Bruegger’s, I was always greeted with a smile and would be asked if I wanted the  “usual.” As I paid the cashier, another worker would ask me if I needed help and noticed that my favorite table was empty and waiting for me. She would then graciously bring my coffee and bagel and NAPKINS to my table. When I didn’t make it to Bruegger’s for a while, someone would always ask me where I’ve been and say they missed me. On my way out the door, someone would always say something like, “Heading out? Have a good one.”

To be treated in such a warm and welcoming way is very refreshing and validating for anyone and especially for a person with a disability. Sadly, these times of refreshment and validation are very few and far between for those who have a visible disability, even now in my present lifetime. Sadder still, these times of refreshment, acceptance and validation are not seen by people with disabilities in some churches even still. Somehow, Jesus’ message of inclusion for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13) in Christian fellowships and what Jesus means when He says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40) does not translate into action in some Christian churches and they just don’t do what Jesus said they should do. To treat everyone who comes through the door with courtesy and respect, with dignity and honor, with a helping hand when needed and always with the hand of Christian fellowship is not always that difficult. It may take a little of your time to understand slurred speech, it may take some effort and finances to make a building accessible, it may take a little patience in dealing with “different” behaviors that may lack “social graces,”  but Jesus says, “…and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). You will be blessed because you are doing what Jesus would do and what He calls you to continue to do until He comes again. To treat everyone with respect and dignity may take a little re-learning, a little time, a little effort, but it will also make someone’s day and may lead them to an eternity with Jesus, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And there will no longer be any ridicule or shame, walkers or wheelchairs, braces or splints, hearing aids or braille, blood sugar machines or old age, or anything that will imprison them. Jesus will say to all who believe in Him,”I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). O for more churches to be like Breugger’s Bagel Shop!

Calvin Miller writes in his book, “THE SINGER” (an allegory about Jesus), two statements which are very meaningful to me: “Blessed is the mighty king who sits beside the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities” and “…no man may burn a label into flesh and make it stay when heaven disagrees.” AMEN to that!

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A Whole Lifetime in One Long Weekend

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On Monday, April 15, 2013 at 10:32 a.m., I wrote this quickie email to my church family:

——————————————————————————————————————–Hi Everyone,

I went to see “42”, a movie about Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the “color barrier” in Baseball. THIS MOVIE IS A MUST-SEE! Whether you are a baseball fan, history fan, Jesus fan, or no fan at all [just a human being with a pulse], this is an extraordinary movie [for everyone to see]. It has a lot of good “God Stuff” in it [Biblical references to how God sees all of us who belong to the human race]. It would be  great to go [see this movie] with a friend who is not [yet] a Believer and [then go] talk about it over a bight to eat and a beverage of choice. I always say that “Baseball is Life is Baseball” and baseball is a “God Thing” and the movie “42” agrees with me.

Today is Patriots’ Day, in Massachusetts, celebrated by the running of the Boston Marathon and “game time” is 11 a.m. at Fenway Park [Rays vs. Red Sox], so I have one more thing to say before I finish this email and get ready for “Breakfast with the Sox!” Today is also Jackie Robinson Day, and every Major League Baseball player, manager and coach will be wearing 42 on the back of their jerseys, in honor of Jackie Robinson. He was a great man and God used him to change baseball and to change the whole country. We still have a ways to go [in terms of equality for all people, no matter the color of their skin, where they come from, their abilities and disabilities]. Please pray that all Christians will eliminate racism [and all kinds of barriers] from our churches and our hearts. GO SEE THE MOVIE! SEE IT!

GO SOX!

Lydia

——————————————————————————————————————–I sent out this email because I told several people, at church, that I was going to see “42” and would tell them what I thought about the movie. The movie did not disappoint and ran the whole gamut of emotions for me. It made me so angry I could “spit nails.” I had feelings of excitement as when I  watch a real baseball game and I’m rooting for the new rookie to do good. There were times when I laughed out loud and times when I could not hold back the tears. The tears came when I could relate to what Jackie Robinson was going through. I have never been physically threatened, but as a physically disabled person, I know what it’s like to be made fun of and ridiculed, to go to a restaurant and have the waitress not want to deal with me and only talk with the person I am with, to have store workers literally hide and not want to help me find what I am looking for, to have others not want to play with me [as a child], to be treated as someone who in “unclean” or “inferior“ or “unworthy“. I could easily relate to the scene where Jackie went down to the runway between the dugout and clubhouse and screamed at the top of his lungs and cried and smashed his bat to smithereens against the cement walls, on each side of the runway. There have been many times in my life when I have been so enraged at life’s injustices that I have screamed and cried at the top of my lungs. Providentially, there was not ever a bat nearby.

I saw “42” on Sunday and on Patriots’ Day Monday I anticipated having a fun time, watching the early Sox game with a few friends and eating ballpark-type food, with the excitement of a REAL sports fan being the only strong emotion I felt. It was a fun time and we enjoyed watching  the Sox win in “walk-off” fashion. It was only after my friends had left and I was watching the MLB Network, when I caught one of the baseball commentator’s say, “Our hearts and prayers go out to the people at the Boston Marathon.” Memories of 9/11 flooded my mind and I immediately turned to a news channel and learned of the horrific events that took place at the finish line. “How could this happen again?” “How could this happen in Boston?” Boston, in a way, is everybody’s “hometown,” no matter where a person lives in Massachusetts. For sports fans like me, Boston is “the Hub of the Universe.”  As I watched in disbelief, I felt the full gamut of emotions run through my mind and heart once again. All I could do was to pray, to pray for those who have lost so much; for the parents and sister of the eight-year-old boy who died and others who lost loved ones, for those who lost limbs and were critically injured, for all the first responders and for those reporting the news, for the hospitals and their staffs, for the F.B.I. and Boston police and firefighters and for the “Good Samaritans,” for Boston’s Mayor and Governor and for President Obama.

It is so hard to fathom the cruelty of the human race and the lengths people go through to hate on other people of the same human race, simply because they do not like how the others look or what others believe or what others own, or just because hating is what they learned to do all of their lives. When will it stop?

The answer lies in believing in Someone greater than ourselves, and that His love is infinitely more powerful than all the evil that is in the world. The answer lies in the people who believe in the Source of all Goodness and Grace, in men like Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and in you and me. As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we can make a difference as we pray to Him to empower us with His Love and to spread His Love and His Grace to everyone we meet by our simple and “intentional acts of kindness.” God does not use everyone to do great things, like break baseball’s “color barrier,” but God can use all who believe in Him to “love one another as I [Jesus] loved you” (John 13:34) and by not letting bitterness take root in our souls (Hebrews 12:15). While watching the interfaith service for the healing of Boston on TV today, I was reminded of the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi (13th Century Monk) and I echo his words as I pray for myself and for all believers in Christ, especially in this present time of need:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in the giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

AMEN.”

As we pray for Boston and for ourselves, let us remember that the goal in life is the same as in baseball: Keep running until we reach Home!

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Circle of Friends

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 [N.I.V.]).

Last week I did something I haven’t done since the last Century. Spring was in the air, birds were singing, the snow was melting, crocuses were popping up out of the dead brown leaves of winter. The world around me shouted praises to their Creator for a new beginning. Every Spring brings a new beginning. I too was shouting praises to my Creator for the new life happening all around me and the new life God had given me after recovering from a deep depression and restoring the joy of my salvation. I decided to join in on the newness of the earth by doing an old new thing. Snip, snip! Clip, clip! “Oh, what a relief it is!” I went with my friend Pam to get a professional haircut. After years of having my sister Jane cut my hair, I decided that it was time to cough off the bucks and get a “stylin’” haircut. There is just something about getting a haircut that lifts a woman’s spirits and makes her feel “brand new,” foot-loose and carefree. Besides, my bangs were bugging my eyes and I was growing wings on both sides of my head.

Being a true New Englander, I wanted to get my money’s worth,  so I wanted the stylist to cut my hair very short; the way I had my hair during my college days. I found a photo online, of the haircut I wanted, and brought it with me. Before leaving home, I showed the photo to my friend Pam and she asked me, “Are you sure you want it that short?” I told her “Yes, I do.” When I showed the photo to the stylist, she too asked, “Are you sure you want it that short?” I repeated, “Yes, I do.” Then, she asked me if I ever had it “that short.” I answered, “Yes, I did in college.” The stylist then turned to Pam and asked her if I ever had it “that short.” At this point, I was getting a little annoyed and was reminded why I stayed away from beauty salons for so long. “I said I did!” I repeated, “I wore it short during my college days.” I don’t know whether she thought I was not able to make decisions for myself because I was physically disabled or what, but one would think the fact I went to college would mean I was capable of making decisions about how I wanted my hair cut. I just don’t know how people think sometimes. I did not understand what the problem was. The hair will grow back. BUT GOD did not let this short exchange of words ruin my day and I did get the “Lyd Cut” I wanted and it did make me feel “FREE TO BE ME!” Below is the photo I showed Pam and the stylist.

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My latest experience at the beauty salon reminded me of another time I went to get a haircut, way back in the Twentieth Century. I got the $10.00 Special, complete with a washing and blow drying. I got the haircut I wanted with no questions asked. I also got a priceless lesson from the Lord that will last a lifetime. As the hairdresser cut the hair in front of my eyes, I spotted a young woman who sat in the chair next to me. She removed the kerchief from her nearly bald head, except for a few growing patches of hair. She came in for her head to be shaved.  She explained to her hairdresser that she would be able to grow back her hair when the chemo was over, but until then the patches just “looked weird.” I will never forget this young woman, with her positive attitude and her wanting to do something that would make her look and feel better about herself, no matter what others might have thought. My lesson from the Lord did not stop there.

As her hairdresser began shaving her head, she said, “You have the most beautifully shaped head I’ve ever seen.” My hairdresser also commented, “I was just admiring your head and thinking the same thing. The symmetry is perfect! It’s so round.” The young woman was just beaming! It didn’t take long before everyone in the salon joined in on appreciating the beauty of the woman’s head. This was a “Philippians 4:8 moment” and it didn’t happen in a church full of Christians. I don’t know if I was the only Christian in the room, but I do know that this Christian learned a lot from the rest of the women in the beauty salon that day.

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” The words spoken by the hairdressers and others were the perfect words to say to a young woman whose outer beauty (what the world sees as beautiful) was being compromised. They did not try to convince her that the patches of hair did not look weird or that the chemo would be over before she knew it. Instead, they all validated and honored her feelings and said something that was true and noble and right, about what they saw that was lovely and admirable and praiseworthy. The results of those words of praise must have been like a breath of fresh air for the young woman, as well as for everyone else. While getting the  hair cut and out of my eyes, the Lord also made me see that the world needs more “Philippians 4:8 moments” and they need to begin with me seeing how much there is to be thankful for. Sometimes, it takes the Lord’s help to just look a little harder.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, graciousthe best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 [The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson]).

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One would think that the people living in the Twenty-first Century would be better able to accept and relate to people who are “different” and would not over-generalize and put people into “boxes.” For example, intelligent and socially astute people would understand that a person with a physical disability does not mean he/she has an cognitive disability as well or a person with cancer still cares what he/she looks like. But, that is just not the case. Even when it is known that the person with a physical disability went to college and has a Master’s Degree, people hesitate to have him/her make decisions for themselves; what  style of haircut he/she would like, what he/she wants on a pizza, what kind of wheelchair he/she wants, etc. Why is that? That is the question I have asked all my life and I think I have at least a partial answer. The answer lies in one’s circle of friends; one’s experiences with the people they know and associate with. If your friends are all like you, how can you get to know someone like me – a person with cerebral palsy.

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The hair salon where I got a haircut, way back in the 1990s, is in a college town filled with different types of people, from college student to the homeless, from professors to farmers, from Straight to Gay, from any kind of social/cultural group one can imagine. People living in that town and owning businesses are used to dealing with all types of people. I loved living there because I was just one of the crowd of humanity in that town. Perhaps, the hair salon where I got my recent haircut does not have many physically disabled people coming for haircuts there. I don’t know. But the Lord is teaching me to cut people some slack and to be gracious. If this is someone’s first experience with a disabled person, I want it to be a good experience and honoring to God. Trust me, I cannot do this on my own. I need God’s help to make it a “Philippians 4:8 moment” and not let myself boil inside in anger and make it ruin my whole day.

Recently, I have thought about my circle of friends. They are a fairly diverse group, but we have a lot in common. We go to the same church, we are RED SOX and  Bruins and Celtics and Patriots fans, we enjoy food and wine, and we enjoy each other’s company. As I thought more about it, I realized, except for “email friends,” I really don’t have friends that are disabled. God knew all about this “missing” aspect of my friendships and has given me an opportunity to have and be a friend to a woman with a disability who does not go to my church. This has turned out to be a real blessing for both of us.

In order to understand what true friendship is all about, I need to look at the “Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24b), Jesus, and look at His circle of friends and His teachings on friendship. When Jesus was invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s house, He noticed that the guests were other Pharisee-types. This is what He said to the host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-13).

Jesus tells His disciples about what kind of friend He is to them (and us): “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. You are My friends if you do what I command” (John 15:13). Jesus calls us His friends and demonstrated His love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. We are Jesus’ friends and we demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His command: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

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In Luke 7:34, the Pharisees said of Jesus that He “is a glutton and a drunkard, friend of tax collectors and  ‘sinners.‘” They were half right. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.  Later on in the same chapter of Luke, while eating at a Pharisee’s house, a “sinful” woman came in and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with perfume. Jesus looked into her eyes and saw her desperate need for forgiveness and grace. “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Jesus also looks into our eyes and says to us “Your sins are forgiven.” We can be true friends to one another when we are “…kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

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In Luke 19, we find short little Zacchaeus the tax collector up in a tree, because “He wanted to see who Jesus was” (v.3a). “When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to Zachhaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down and welcomed Him gladly. All the people muttered, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’” (v. 7). Jesus knew Zachhaeus’ heart. Just like the “sinful” woman, Zacchaeus too was desperate to find the way out of his life of sin. He confessed to Jesus that he would give back all the money he had swindled: “I will pay back four times that amount” (v. 8b). Jesus responded by saying to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (vv. 9-10). Jesus brought out the best in people. In the same way, we can bring out the best in our friends and lead them to Jesus along the way.

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Last, but not least, we can’t forget who Jesus called to be His first disciples – smelly, dirty, lowly fishermen. Instead of staying far far away from these germy, slimy, stinky men, Jesus went fishing with them. When Jesus told them where to drop their nets and they caught so much fish that their boat was sinking, the fisherman Peter realized who Jesus was. Luke 5:8 says, “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” But Jesus looked passed Peter’s sinfulness and saw what he would become. Luke 5:10b says, “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’ So they pulled their boats on shore, left everything and followed Him.” Like Jesus, we need to look past a friend’s faults and see the person God is making them to be. And, hopefully, they will do the same for us.

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Who are your circle of friends? The other day, I heard a sports radio guy say that he has no more room for new friends. If someone leaves his circle of friends, then he might consider letting someone fill that spot. How sad!
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Your sister and friend in Christ,

Lydia

 

The Magic Word

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Did you ever feel the urge to look around the room to see if maybe you left the room without knowing it? If you are a person with a physically noticeable disability, you are able to relate to this totally. For example, you’re in a restaurant and a waitress comes over and asks the friend you are with, “What would she like to have?”.  In another instance,  you’re in a room with one other person and another person walks in and says, “Hello,” and starts a conversation with that other person without even acknowledging your presence. Even at a party with a large group of people, you can feel all alone when you suddenly realize that you’re watching everyone else talking with each other. Even when you initiate a conversation, the person sees a friend and cuts the conversation short.

These may be isolated instances for some, but going unnoticed or ignored by others happens far too frequently to a person with a disability. Anonymity is desirable when one wishes to remain anonymous.  However, everyone, at least everyone I know, needs to be validated and to be cared for and to be known by significant others and shown the same courtesy and respect that all human beings are to receive. Without having this very human desire met, this crowded world would be a very lonely place in which to live.

I remember a time when I was still able to walk and I was out and about speed-walking and doing errands. I was in a very crowded place, called Thornes Market, where no one knew who I was.  I almost felt invisible, because people kept bumping into me as they scurried to where they wanted to go.  I too just wanted to get through the crowd, do what errands I needed to do, and go home.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a familiar voice called out, “Lydia.” Out of the hustle and bustle of the noisy crowd, I heard the magic word: “Lydia.”  Isn’t it interesting how our attention can be turned whenever we hear our own name, no matter how hard we are concentrating on other things.  The sound of our own name is very special to us.  It’s much better than, “Hey you” or hearing someone talk about you in the third person, even when you’re in the room.

When I turned my attention away from the bumper-car-like crowd and looked up (I’m only five feet tall), I saw my mail carrier, who smiled and repeated, “Hi Lydia.”  Hearing my name caused my mood to do a complete one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn.  I no longer felt like a nameless face, struggling to stay on my feet in the midst of a crowd of unknown faces, in which I also was an unknown face.  Instead, I was “Lydia,” a person who was valued enough to be known by name, by someone who knew hundreds of names. My mail carrier actually knew my name, without having to see me in my yard and with my mail in his hands.  How cool is that!

To be known by name gives a person a feeling of significance, and to hear the magic word during times of loneliness and even despair can make all the difference in the world.  How awesome it is to try to imagine what it was like for Mary to hear her name on that first Resurrection Morning!  She must have felt very lonely and afraid; despairing thoughts crowding her mind and tears flooding her eyes.  It must have been hard to see anything clearly, until “Jesus said to her, ’Mary’” (John 20:16a).  The Resurrected Christ called her by name, and she was no longer a grief-stricken woman all alone in her anguish, but a joyful, hopeful follower of her Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; the Good Shepherd who would always care for her as one of His sheep. It must have been the knock-your-socks-off and jump-out-of-your skin kind of joy. I had some good news recently and it made me shout for joy and practically jump out of my wheelchair. Mary’s joy in seeing her GOOD NEWS was so much more than my good news! However, I too will experience Mary’s joy one day!

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Like Mary, Jesus knows us by name.  John 10:2 &14 says, “The watchman opens the gate for Him (Jesus) and the sheep listen to His voice.  He calls His sheep by name and leads them out…I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”  As followers of our Lord Jesus, we know that someday we will see His Face, just as Mary did.  Then, we will fully understand the significance of being known by Christ.  When that day comes and I hear Jesus call my name, it will be magic!

“[Lydia] who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never erase [Lydia’s] name from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge [Lydia’s] name before My Father and His angels…” (Rev.3:5)

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You  also, as one of the sheep of the Good Shepherd, can insert your name into this verse. It will make all the difference in the world!