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A Shattered Dream Isn’t the End

A fairy princess? A queen? Those may be some of the typical titles that little girls aspire to, but that wasn’t me.

Believe it or not, my dream was to become a “physical therapist missionary in Africa”. That childhood aspiration pointed to my early interest in the field of rehabilitation, but also, my belief that I needed an exciting or even unusual life in order to be useful to God.

I felt a little adrenaline rush from stories like Daniel in the lion’s den and accounts of modern, brave missionaries meeting jungle tribes. “Wow”, I’d think, “God can only work through super-Christians like them.” My life, on the other hand, often felt too pleasant and ordinary to be of use to God.

It’s true that being willing to risk losing your own comforts, reputation, and safety for the sake of Jesus can be a precious gift that yields extraordinary returns. But what about the more or less mundane lives that many of us have? Can a mostly-ordinary life be of use to God too?

My plan to become a physical therapist missionary changed slightly over the years, but even through graduate school, I remained committed to the hope of one day joining a team of rehabilitation therapists. I intentionally made sacrifices for my educational goals, fully expecting my chosen priorities to result in a life well-spent. Despite my goal-oriented and focused quest, an unforeseen event caused my life to go in a wildly different direction.

Up till about five years ago, I had subconsciously visualized what a self-sacrificial and well-spent life dedicated to helping whomever God set in front of me would be like. I expected my years of sacrificing sleep for exam-prep to open doors to an exciting and useful life.

Then I got into a near-fatal car accident.

Instead of becoming a licensed provider, I was the recipient. And instead of caring for those in need of therapeutic intervention, I had to humbly receive it.

Now, having completed years of focused rehabilitation, my life is back to normal, even mundane, and is far from what I had anticipated. But I am encouraged by the many stories in the Bible of those whose lives took dramatic turns away from their plans, and were eventually used by God in ways beyond their imagination. For example, we usually marvel at the disciples’ experiences and their years of intimate interactions with the Savior, but even their lives weren’t always so interesting!

Peter, a disciple of Jesus who later became a pillar of the church, spent his early career as a simple fisherman. Although we’re not told about these quieter years in Peter’s life, surely they were still purposeful in preparing him for his great calling. Even the young woman Mary, who became the mother of Jesus, may have felt somewhat insignificant going about her day-to-day schedule, unaware of the great honor about to be given her. And going further back in Biblical history, the story of Abraham is recorded. While he would become the “Father of many nations”, there was a time when Abraham and his elderly wife didn’t even think they could have a child.

As many other Biblical and historical accounts prove, our God loves to work magnificently through the weak and the most unlikely of circumstances.

I’m not making predictions about my future career, but I’m in awe of what God has already accomplished through the hardest time in my life. I am still amazed by all the chances I’ve been given to speak and write about the clinical and spiritual applications of what I’ve learned. I still aim to return to the world of clinical rehabilitation and believe I have a unique perspective to offer that community. But I have grown to recognize my current reality as valuable, too.

So let’s not minimize the miracles God can accomplish during a relaxed coffee date or a quiet hour of reading. While His work may certainly include adrenaline pumping, dramatic conversions, He is not limited to the stories we would label as thrilling. However quiet your life may seem right now, please don’t underestimate the eternity altering potential of your current journey.

What I’ve Gained From Memory Loss

The very poor memory of the fish, Dory, in the Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo, may make her character cute and loveable to most. On my bad days, however, she is my celebrity doppelganger.

About five years ago, I was a buckled passenger in a near fatal car accident. I’ve been blessed with a remarkable recovery, but my lasting injuries include a scar across my forehead, along with my somewhat rotten short-term memory. It’s been really difficult going from being a type-A, organized, over-achiever, to suddenly becoming forgetful and very easily confused!

Even though I can pat myself on the back for the number of compensatory strategies I‘ve learned to employ, I’ve had many instances of grieving the recently acquired need for such strategies. But, in my more mature moments, I can admit how my difficulty with short-term memory has taught me some valuable lessons.

 

1. Forgive as though as you have memory loss

For most of you, the forgetting part after forgiving someone is just not a possibility. Try as you might, you can’t always will yourself to completely forget something.

Do you still have a grudge against your friend for that incident two years ago? Do you often experience frustration with a family member over his or her choice in priorities? Pray that God would grant you the miracle of forgiveness and seek to replace any ungracious thoughts with uplifting ones.

 

2. Live in the Moment

Aiming to “live in the moment” may just sound like a catch phrase, but particularly in the early days of my recovery, my memory loss made it a necessity to do so. During that time, it was really challenging to identify what day of the week it was, the year, even my own age. I was 24 years old at that time, but, in different situations, confidently stated I was anywhere between 14 and 30.

Although I’m a planner by nature, I was experiencing an alternate reality, one that was devoid of time. So, a positive outcome of my memory loss was learning to appreciate the present. There is a time to plan and prepare for the future, but amid the busyness of normal life, try to stop for a minute. Instead of always thinking ahead, acknowledge who and what is currently surrounding you.

 

3. Be Grateful for Every Little Thing

Add to your awareness of the present, gratitude for each moment. In 1 Thess. 5:18, we’re instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances”, so I challenge you to give this a shot. Take a minute from your day to pause and really soak in what you are grateful for in that exact moment.

What are you gathering through your five senses that could otherwise slip by unnoticed? Try writing down at least one thing every day that you appreciate, without any repeats, forming a journal of gratitude that can be looked at and prayed over whenever. I am not advocating a perspective in which you discount life’s difficulties, rather, simply acknowledge the blessings. For example, I grieved not being able to run, but in its absence, I recognized more of the incredible skills that I used every day (like sight and hearing).

A significant loss I’ve experienced is my ability to play cello due to the weakness in my left arm and hand. Now, nearly five years later, I can acknowledge this life-changing loss, but I am also able to articulate gratitude for ever having had those musical abilities. If you need to ask God for a right and grateful perspective, know that you’re not alone! And, if you’re not at the point of being grateful for an outcome, you can still honor God by telling Him that you trust His sovereignty, despite the painful consequences of being on this side of heaven.

You can include in a daily journal of gratitude any of the mental and physical skills you may take for granted. Only when I couldn’t do many of the physical activities I loved (like run, rock climb, swim . . . ) did I realize how much I valued them. Likewise, suddenly experiencing difficulty with short-term memory opened my eyes to the importance of that ability in everyday life. If memory loss has taught me anything, it’s to not wait till I lose something before I start to value it.

 

As you take proactive steps toward fully appreciating the blessings in each moment, you may become increasingly aware that life is fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. Do not allow the brevity of life rob you of enjoying the present. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but relax! Know that through Jesus, our eternal home is secure and the best is yet to come!

The Fig Tree

Title: The Fig Tree
Materials: Watercolor
Artwork by: Laura Morgan
Description: I hardly ever have reason to fly without familiar companions, so before my flight home from Texas–where I was visiting friends–I prayed that God would bless the interactions with my seatmates. God answered that request in an unforgettable way.

During my flight from Texas, the young man seated next to me started up a conversation, introducing himself as Minh. We exchanged the typical get-to-know-you information, which quickly opened the door for me to tell him about the near fatal accident I was involved in years ago.

Because of the accident and the tough rehabilitation that followed, I shared that I was stripped raw by having so many of the things I loved and had worked so hard for taken away from me (my job in speech pathology, lifelong musical endeavors, sports of running and rock climbing, even many of my spiritual opportunities, like in leading small groups and being invited to become a deacon).

Although I experienced great sadness over all these losses, I consider it a great grace I was given in that I did not experience anger towards Him. I honestly didn’t have questions of why a good God allowed this horrible accident to happen.

Minh also encouraged me from Habakkuk 3:17-19. Habakkuk had every reason to despair; yet his security remained intact enough to even “rejoice in the Lord” (verse 18). I can only imagine the anguish Habakkuk was enduring and I can’t help but be encouraged by Habakkuk’s response and the way he has learned to rejoice in his immense suffering, finding strength and joy in God alone. Let us also find our source of joy to be completely outside of and beyond whatever that could impact our lives on earth.

 

 

There is No Shame in Getting Help

Due to injuries resulting from a major car accident which left me bed-bound, I have ample personal experience knowing that asking for help is not an easy thing to do.

I remember the time when my weekly Bible study was moved from its usual location. When I arrived, my heart sank upon discovering that the family had a “shoes off at the front door” policy. Unfortunately, I had chosen to wear lace-up shoes that evening. It was during the first year of my recovery process, and my left arm and leg were still weak. Hence, putting on and removing those shoes involved a painstaking, arduous process of lacing-and-tying single-handedly.

I definitely wasn’t comfortable letting people see that! As the Bible study neared completion, my focus shifted to mulling over the potentially embarrassing scene of a 20-something-year-old adult struggling to tie her shoelaces—or I could get over myself and ask one of the many new faces in the room to do it for me.

I ended up going with the latter and—as is often the case—it turned out to be no big deal. The incident reinforced a simple principle: if you want help, just tell others how they can assist you.

A few months later, I was out for dinner with some good friends and ordered a pizza for myself. Inwardly, I was rather satisfied with my choice of food: eating it would be a one-handed job, easily and inconspicuously handled by my stronger right hand.

But when the soft, thin pizza was set in front of me, it was obvious that slicing it was going to require some dual-hand maneuvering.

Sensing my conflicted mind, my very observant and kind friend took the initiative and offered to cut my pizza for me. Though I was touched by his thoughtful offer, I decided the situation was an important opportunity for me to do the best I could, on my own. At the time, I was just beginning to relearn basic activities of daily living, eager to complete everyday tasks independently. I’m not sure whether the pizza was much easier to cut than I had expected, or my left hand had simply performed brilliantly—but it was a success.

These two examples are different. In the first, I found it appropriate to ask for assistance, but in the second, I needed to give myself the opportunity to be independent; I needed to try, to know whether I could succeed.

Considering both situations, I believe that when it comes to asking for help, there is simply no one-size-fits-all approach. But having been a recipient of assistance so many times, here are some things I’ve learned when it comes to asking for help—or receiving it.

1. Ask if you need it

Like my first example showed, sometimes it’s just not easy.

But if you think about it, the Gospels show that Jesus affirms, helps, and praises the very people who cry out to God and show dependence on Him. There is nothing embarrassing about asking for and receiving help.

In fact, many of Jesus’ miracles stemmed from requests. In Luke 8, for example, Jairus pleaded with Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter. To cut a long story short, Jesus was delayed and Jairus’ daughter died, but ultimately, Jesus raised the girl from the dead.

 

2. Reframe your thinking

Sometimes, it simply means putting aside your pride. Other times, it means viewing such instances as providing a sanctifying opportunity to those around you. Perhaps it took them a great deal of courage to ask you if you needed help. Perhaps they’re learning to be more loving to their neighbors.

At the same time, you are being given the chance to ask for help humbly, and to show gratitude when you get it.

 

3. Offer grace to all

While the help offered or the way it is offered may not be perfect, do appreciate the intentions of the people who attempt to do so. As for those who do not give aid, give ample grace—I believe we have all faced the insecurity and dilemma of when and how to offer help.

The truth is, we won’t get things right all the time. Sometimes we might feel offended if someone offers help, sometimes it might be because they didn’t. However, as Christians, it is not possible to be wronged by others to the same degree that we have sinned against God. Remembering how deeply God has loved us and how far He has removed our transgressions makes all the difference to our response (Psalm 103:11-12).

 

The next time you have an opportunity to request for assistance, would you take it, and be grateful for the help?