Before I had MS, and even before I was a writer, I worked as a mentor for sick children and their parents. I met so many wonderful families and I made so many wonderful memories with mothers who are now some of my very best friends in the whole wide world.
You know it’s really odd, the “pay it forward” thing. It is a real misnomer to say the least. But you never know that until you are behind the scenes. You go into things like this thinking you will be this huge source of strength (cue giant-head.) But then you quickly realize that you are the weak one and quite small in strength-stature.
Without even knowing it, these parents teach you what it is to be broken and whole all at once. What it means to allow yourself to grow weak without losing your down-to-the-roots-strength. They inspire you. They make your life BETTER. They thank you for your love and support all without ever stopping to think that they have given you something you could never in a million years provide with such effortless grace and selfless acts of friendship even in the midst of their own stuff.
They pray for you. They care. They want to know about your cold, your cat and your car trouble. They treat you like your problems are just as important when all along you know deep down your problems seem so small in comparison. You marvel at their ability to live a life of normalcy, even if it is a new sense of normal. You fall in love with their spirit, their attitude, their character.
One of the best lessons I think I ever learned from one of our kids was actually a team effort between her and her mother. Sierra, now a big girl, used to be a small one. Having Muscular Atrophy meant taking things easy, protecting delicate muscles, rolling along instead of walking.
But I don’t think I ever saw a picture of her wheelchair as it was.
I remember how her mother would decorate her wheel chair with ballerina-esque tulle, lovely fabric flowers, shimmering bursts of pink fabric and most of all – love. The wheelchair no longer represented disability – it represented freedom. That chair meant that Sierra had the freedom to go wherever she wanted. She was not stagnant. She was catch-me-if-you-can. Now if only everybody else could keep up with her!
I remember the first time I heard the words “You have MS.” I think the wheelchair has become the unspoken symbol for my disease even though most people do not need one all the time. I remember having my pity party over the first IV treatment in the hospital. I recall thinking poor-little-me when I thought of a chair that might someday have my name on it. But then I heard the voice of many brave little kids – inside my head – but even still.
The kids I worked with were always compassionate yet braver-than-you’ll-ever-be. IV’s? Come on. They’d seen worse and not batted a lash! And they will be the first to tell you that. Not because they don’t care but because they know that you can do it. Because they want you to flip your thinking. They were born into keep-moving-forward thinking – and this is the magical place where a grownup like me, if you can call me that, learns what it means to have the faith of a child. Ministry faith vs. kid faith – the kid faith always wins.
With that thought, it wasn’t long before I stopped thinking so much about that chair and those needles and instead started thinking about the new things they could represent. Sierra’s chair stopped being a “chair” because she didn’t push it away – she owned it. Her mother knew people were going to stare at the chair – it was human nature. But if it was transformed then people wouldn’t be staring at the chair, they would be staring at the new thing. It wasn’t an aide. It wasn’t a pity party. It was an accessory and a fabulous one at that!
God tells us this “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He also tells us about doing a “new thing.” It’s amazing how much the image of that tricked out wheelchair changed my way of thinking. It was the pumpkin turned into the carriage at midnight. It was the fairy godmother rendition of everyday life meeting innovative grace.
Sometimes it’s not really the changes in our lives that cause us to stumble – it’s our perception of them. God tells us how to handle change. He says “Be ye transformed”. He says “Behold I will do a new thing!” So how do we look at life in a new way? We do it possum-style. Upside down, baby!
What is there in your life that might look different if you looked at it upside down?
Renew your mind.
The view from here is a lot more fabulous.