Thursday, October 31, 2013

Starting a New Journey

The journey to acceptance of difference starts with simple presence, it starts with familiarity, it starts with understanding.  Marty and I started that process with young people who matter to us.

I taught Sunday school for several years.  From the time our son Matt was in high school until daughter Erin graduated I taught their Sunday school classes.  It was the best way to ensure that the three of us got up and went to church, it seemed right.

In those years of teaching I rarely went long without being taught, without learning more about my own faith than I could ever impart to 15 year olds who mostly came for the donuts.

It’s still the same, the more I think I know, the more I want to educate, the more I find out from those around me.  

After Marty and I had met with the youth of our church I walked out of the church refreshed, optimistic and feeling renewed.  Marty had risen above her natural self consciousness and apprehension and had listened and talked.  She was involved, funny and, well, Marty, confined yet not defined by her circumstance.  
Those kids listened, they turned their young minds to us, they paid attention, and more importantly they moved beyond the tendency of focusing on self.  They focused on Marty and her life and I think they got to know her just a little; they got to know Marty as I know her.

I don’t know if they heard everything I was saying, it doesn’t matter if they heard everything, they clearly heard some things and they were attentive to Marty and maybe, just a little, tried to get into her head and her life.

We talked about Marty; we talked about our life, our old normal, our new normal, our faith, and our lack thereof, or more precisely, my lack thereof.   Marty has never wavered in her faith in a higher power, in fact, her faith has only gotten stronger.  She was always stronger than me.

I pointed out to these young minds how they are connected to Marty and how Marty is forever connected to our church, the people in the church and in particular the young people in our church.  I told them about Marty’s work with the youth program and how the program was stronger and how Marty was stronger for her efforts.  

I talked about Marty and how serious she took her commitments and that one of those commitments was to our children and the children our church.  I talked about how important the baptismal promise was to Marty, that when she committed to helping them with their faith at their baptism, she meant it and that was part of why she was committed to the youth that came before them and why, even interrupted, she was committed to the young people who were in the room with her that night. 

They listened politely with very few yawns and no cell phones, they listened.  They asked questions, they asked good questions, they asked questions about feelings and faith, they asked questions about doubt and anger, they asked questions about simple living and dealing with fear and dying.  They were good questions that they directed not just at me but at Marty…..and of course Marty rose to the occasion and answered.

At the end they all wrote affirmations, small notes on small cards for Marty, for me, small words of encouragement and wisdom from those so young.  It’s a ritual of our youth program and other youth programs that you leave these meetings with words of faith, love and encouragement.  I’ve felt the love of young people before, it’s still there, it’s still powerful, it still means a lot.
The affirmations expressed kindness, empathy and a very simple wisdom, an understanding of what makes a whole person.  One was a drawing, a simple drawing that very neatly captured what we all want to believe about ourselves.  

We started our journey with these young fertile minds that Sunday evening.  Any journey starts with steps, this one started with being in each other’s presence and listening and talking and learning. 
I am moved by the openness, I am a captive of the compassion of those so young.  It is encouraging for our life.

Friday, October 18, 2013

More Than Meets the Eye

The perspective changed when she sat in the wheelchair.  It changed the way people saw her, the way people knew her.  For some, even those that had known Marty forever, they couldn’t see past the chair, they couldn’t accept Marty in her brokenness.  

I hope we change some of that.

This Sunday Marty and I are going to visit with our church’s youth group.  We are going to talk about our life, we are going to talk about our life before the chair, and we are going to talk about our life after the chair.  

Marty’s fingerprints are all over the youth suite where we will meet.  She was intimately involved with Christian education in our church and with growing and fostering the youth group.  She loved the kids.

I hope before we leave they will see Marty as the person she was and the person she still is, I hope they understand her connection to them and I hope they move from defining her by her disability.    I hope these young minds can see Marty as more than a strange empty vessel in a wheelchair.

Somehow, some way, I want to humanize Marty for these kids, and I want them to know her for her courage and her love.  Somehow, some way, I want them to lose their fear of her, to forget for a few minutes their discomfort, to listen to her, to touch her to understand that they are part of her legacy.

They need to understand that they are connected to this woman in ways they don’t know because she got sick before most of them were old enough to know her contributions to their lives.  They need to know that Marty worked hard to make the youth program at First Presbyterian count, that she worked hours and gave of herself so that the young people of our church would have a place to be, a place to be young, a place to be free to say and feel their doubts and express their fear and their joy.  

I think it’s important they know Marty sat in the sanctuary when some of them were baptized.  I want to remind them that she promised, as we all do at that sacramental moment in our church, to help them in their faith journey and that she promised to be a part of their lives as children of God.  

I want them to understand that the strokes have made Marty self-conscious and it is really hard for her to be in front of people, she’s afraid of the staring; she’s uncomfortable with the judgment. 
I want them to know that she pushed past those fears because she believes in living her own baptism and fulfilling the promise she made years ago to God, to them and to the others who she saw baptized.  I want them to understand that part of her life today is to foster love for those who are hard to love.  I want them to know that even though they were too young to see Marty’s work, her dedication, her past has affected their present.

I don’t want them to look at Marty or any others in her situation and simply focus on the disability, to see nothing but the chair or the broken body.  I want them to understand her current abilities and see that she is much more than what she can’t do and that when you take the time to know her you discover her personality and her essence and that those things remain amazing.  

I want them to see and know just a little of the Marty that I know.  I also want them to know that part of their obligation, part of their journey is to try and reach out to the least among us and that part of the way they live out their own faith and baptism is to look past a wheelchair and start to see the person, the real person sitting in the chair.

And from there it’s simple, just reach out and touch them.