Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sometimes, an issue sticks in your head, pierces your heart, and you know you have to do something. This happened to me ten years ago with the Terri Schiavo case.

Here is the article I shared with Terri's family:

Thoughts on Terri
Listening to the latest court ruling on the Terri Schiavo case, I shook my
head in disbelief while feeling compassion for the Schiavo family. So many
things were happening that stillness and content were becoming distant
strangers to me. Terri was the least of my thoughts… or so I thought. Over
the next few days, something stirred inside me whenever I would think
about Terri. The stirring became stronger and was harder to dismiss as God
was working His plan. Seeds which had been planted, sown, and germinated
through knowledge and experiences were coming into fruition. Still, I
brushed aside the source and tried focusing on “more pressing issues” that
demanded my attention. (By ‘more pressing issues,’ I am referring to,
ironically enough, serving people with disabilities.)

But the stirring continued. Where were all of the disability rights
advocates? Where were my colleagues and the ‘experts’ that I collaborate
with on grant projects and technical papers? In hindsight, I am amazed at
how I was so disappointed in my peers’ lack of involvement that I
completely missed my own. Instead, I placed priority on meeting my annual
stats at the office, completing courses to renew my counseling licenses,
publishing my next children’s book, planning my keynote presentation for a
upcoming statewide conference… the nonnegotiable responsibilities of my
job. I was neglecting the duties of my spiritual job by being so consumed
with my vocational job.
        
Morning after morning, I spend my quiet times in prayer, asking
God to show me how I can bring Him glory with my life. Having been born with
cerebral palsy, I have repeatedly related to the Apostle Paul’s
experiences of finding strength from the thorn in his flesh. Whenever I
fall down (both literally and spiritually), God reminds me that He only
gives me what I can handle and I am positively amazed that He has so much
confidence in me. He repeatedly proves His sovereignty, when, through His
power alone, I draw on His strength to achieve the impossible. Lately, I
have been sensing that God is leading me to a new direction for my life.

Much like the blind man referred to in John 9, I believe my disability
has happened so that the work of God might be displayed in my life and
want to do what I can for this to happen. Little did I know that a woman
who had been viewed as worthless would change my life so profoundly by
propelling the stirring inside.
 
When the news came that Terri had passed away, my coworkers and I huddled
around the television commenting on how horrific the situation had become.
Although not everyone shared the same values, we were all disturbed at
some level that a woman had been denied food and water for nearly two
weeks. After a while, we each returned to our offices. I placed my hands
on the keyboard to complete an assessment, hearing casual interactions
outside my office regarding lunch plans and fashion trends. My fingers
would not move, but the stirring in my soul began simmering. For some
reason, I could not return to the immediacy of life.

My mind kept going back to Terri’s situation… how her brother was turned
away when he tried to see her during her final hours. I remembered how my
own brother, Mark, had driven across the state in his unreliable car, even
losing his job, to spend the allotted five minutes to see me when I was in
the hospital facing my own death. You need to get this assessment to the
boss… focus, Shelly. I remembered the nurse covering the phone receiver to
tell me Mark was on the phone, asking if I was refusing to talk with him
like I had the previous callers…time is passing, Shelly. You’re under a
deadline here! I remembered my heart melting when I put the receiver to my
ear and heard Mark say he wanted to come see me even though his boss said
he would be fired if he didn’t show up for work the next day. The
assessment, Shelly, finish the assessment! Having my brother at my side
during my darkest time of life is a memory I will always cherish. Terri
was denied that right. The stirring inside me was becoming heated now.
I don’t know if Terri was aware of what was happening around her. No one
can say with definite certainty what a person thinks and feels. But I do
know how frightening it is to realize the mother who nurtured me from
birth is powerless over my care. I remembered how the mother who, as a
child who I wanted at my side whenever I hurt, had no voice in what
happened to me… just like Terri’s mother. The person who claimed to have
loved me more than anyone in the world was refused access to me and told
she didn’t know what was in my best interest by people who had only known
me for a minute portion of my life. I thought of Terri and her mother…the
stirring was bubbling.

I thought of how people were saying Terri’s life was not worth saving as
if she could no longer contribute to society… yet she was the topic of
conversations and debates around the world. She has made more of an impact
in this world than the combination of the judges, politicians, and other
decision–makers who denied her parent’s appeals could ever hope … yet her
life was seen as worthless.

I remembered being told I wasn’t smart enough to go to college, and
couldn’t speak clear enough to be a psychotherapist. I remembered the
darkest period in my life when I wanted to die (even attempting to
override God’s plan for me to live), believing life had no meaning and I
couldn’t fight anymore. I had believed that surviving was impossible and
the thought of finding true happiness was unrealistic.

Then I remembered how the impossible and unrealistic had happened
repeatedly in my life.  How wrong they had been, how God’s plan prevailed
despite the so–called “experts” who insisted that there was no hope. How
naïve I had been seeing no use for my life, feeling too damaged to be His
servant. The stirring exploded.

I began weeping but wasn’t sure why. Emotions and thoughts flooded me so
heavily that I could not speak as I went outside to sit in my car, dodging
concerned coworkers who were asking if I was okay. I didn’t know why I had
become so emotional over a woman I had never even met and was confused,
embarrassed, but most of all… stirring.

Suddenly, finishing the assessment was no longer a priority. I needed to
‘be still and know that He is God.’ While knowing that He is everywhere, I
felt Him calling me, and I needed to go to Him. My first inclination was
to go to the top of a mountain. No, the stirring was too strong to wait
that long, so I wanted to go where I most frequently feel His strong
presence… Northland’s sanctuary.  I emailed Dave, a friend on the church
staff, and asked if people would think I was crazy if I went to the altar
and prayed.  He not only encouraged me to come but also warmly offered to
intercede if I needed him. He didn’t question my reasoning (which is more
than I can say for myself).

I didn’t know what I needed and still wasn’t even sure why I wanted to go
to the church, but I had to go where God was leading me.  Maybe it is
because whenever I am at Northland, I have a sense of peace and belonging.

Most people there don’t even know my name, yet have influenced my life in
ways they will never know, including Vernon Rainwater. Whenever I picture
heaven, I imagine (among other things) a kingdom full of people like
Vernon who somehow illuminate the love of Jesus in the words they use,
music they play, and light they emit. I’ve never even met Vernon but I
frequently thank God for him and ask Him to bring more Vernon’s into my
life. Vernon and Dave are the kind of people who remind me what an honor
it is to be part of God’s family and how good He is.

My heart was racing as I drove toward the familiar yet unknown; I knew
where I was headed geographically, but not spiritually. When I got to the
parking lot, I made myself stop crying and wiped off my smeared mascara
before I walked into the lobby. When I asked for Dave, this sweet, gentle
lady asked, “Are you Shelly?” My eyes refilled with tears realizing that
he was expecting me. Somehow, it was more than Dave expecting me, it was
Jesus. I had arrived at where He was leading me… I began crying again so
the lady said I was welcomed to go into the sanctuary and wait for Dave.

With my vision blurred from tears and legs weak from emotions, I
symbolically walked the long aisle to the altar imagining Jesus welcoming
me there with open arms. Dave appeared close behind me, and without
speaking, put his arms around me just as Jesus did… and I wept. Despite
the enemy telling me I was making a fool of myself, I knew this was where
I needed to be.

After a few minutes, Dave prayed for me and reminded me I could go to the
prayer room if I didn’t want to be distracted. No, I needed to be at the
altar. After he left, I tried to listen to whatever God was saying to me.
I began to feel a tinge of doubt, wondering again why I was so emotional…
why was Terri’s death touching me so profoundly? Sure, others were upset
by her situation, yet they had not become consumed by it like I was. What
was God trying to tell me? Was I being ridiculous in believing He wanted
me to be at the altar when I could have just as easily prayed behind the
closed door of my office? After all, I would be more relaxed at my office
instead of in the huge sanctuary where I was likely to be interrupted at
any time. I began to doubt myself.

With uncertainty growing in my mind, I heard movement in the back of the
sanctuary and decided to go to the prayer room after all. When I stood up,
I looked to see what the noise was and felt chills when I realized it was
Vernon. He apologized for interrupting, said I was welcomed to stay (at
the altar), then quickly left.  I could almost see God smiling as He
brought one of the people I admire the most in at just the time I was
doubting His presence and knew that was God’s way of reassuring me that He
was right there with me. I smiled and told God how awesome He is and how
He has amazing ways of getting my attention. The verse about His thoughts
being higher than my thoughts came to mind, I turned to the scripture,
expecting the Holy Spirit to speak to me…, and He did.

Isaiah 55 begins with “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…”
I was comforted in knowing that Terri was no longer without water, and
quite possibly, she had been filled with the spring of water welling up to
eternal life. As I continued reading, God revealed to me that I needed to
continue searching and calling for Him, not trying to figure out answers
on my own. He reminded me that I am incapable of thinking as He thinks and
a major part of obedience is trusting where He leads instead of analyzing
the how’s and why’s of life.

I had wanted to be alone with God when I went to Northland, and I was for
a short time. But Dave introduced me around to others who, amazingly, gave
me peace, comfort, and security in addition to the unfathomable solace I
feel when I spend time alone with Him. Realizing the different people that
were used to make sense of my internal stirring reminded my why scripture
refers to the church as “the body of Christ.”

The following night, I was sharing my excitement with Sandie, a friend I
had recently met in Servanthood class. God had used her as a vessel to
speak to me several times and this night was no exception. I explained how
I was led to Isaiah 55 when I wanted to read the full context in which
verse 8 had been written. As I was describing the way God had been
undeniably telling me to come to Him (leading me to Northland to pray),
and how I was so spiritually thirsty in the way that Terri was physically
thirsty, Sandie silently read the rest of the chapter.

With uncertainty, I asked, “Do you think I am stretching it to believe
that Isaiah 55 is God confirming that He is calling me to do something
with my having cerebral palsy? I feel like He is revealing His plan for my
life, some kind of disability ministry for Northland or something, but I
don’t know what He’s saying.”  Sandie smiled confidently as she asked if I
had read the parts after verse 8. When I said no, she read me the rest of
the chapter adding emphasis at certain parts.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your
ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come
down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and
making it bud and flourish… so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it
will not return to me empty, but accomplish what I desire and achieve the
purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in
peace….This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which
will not be destroyed.

Wow! Just as I felt Jesus in Dave’s arms and saw Jesus in Vernon’s
presence in the sanctuary, I heard Jesus in Sandie’s voice as she read
those words to me! I was ready to go out in joy, be lead forth in peace
and accomplish what He desires by sowing the seeds that Terri Schiavo has
planted. Instead of finding the answers I wanted, once again, God
had given me the answers I needed:

•        Every human life, regardless of man’s perceived ‘handicaps,’ is
valuable beyond comprehension and able to influence the entire world by planting
and sowing seeds for the Kingdom of God.

•        When He stirs a relentless passion in you, even if no one else
seems moved by a circumstance or event, you must follow it, follow Him. He put
the stirring inside you and most likely, you will only find peaceful
resolve when you are where He wants you to be.

•        We do not need to know the specifics, including the how’s and
why’s of life. Our job is to be open, receptive, willing, and trusting in order to
hear, know, and follow His plan for us.
 
•        Although there are geographical places where we can meditatively be
closer to Him, He truly is everywhere including the embrace of a friend,
the appearance of a role model, and the readings of a confidant.

•        We need to ask Him to reveal what issues are “pressing” and
nonnegotiable instead of prioritizing tasks by our own narrow vision of
what needs to be done. He sees the whole picture, the impact that one
person’s life can have throughout the ages. Ultimately, His purpose and
desire will be accomplished whether we foolishly live according to our own
understanding or obediently follow Him like trusting children.

 

 

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