There are moments in our lives that can change everything. For Chris Orwig, it happened in a tent, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. A bachelor party; and he was camping with a group of friends. When first invited, Chris said no. He relented when told that the first night would be “car camping.” “I can do that,” Chris told himself.
You see, through his entire his body, Chris experienced consistent pain. Walking was never easy. Climbing a mountain, impossible.
When his physical limitations (the debilitating pain) began in his early 20s, various medical experts had no answers. “I couldn’t do most of the things I enjoyed doing.” With that realization, Chris hit bottom. “I was completely broken. I was cracked. I was undone. Because I defined myself by what I could and couldn’t do.” His first reaction when invited to climb a mountain? “Here’s another thing I can’t do.”
And life to Chris was impassable. Have you ever felt that way? I can tell you that I have.
Here’s the good news; you never know where you will find or receive or take hold of hope.
“My Father gave me a camera,” Chris tells the story. (Okay–his father was saying–so you can’t surf anymore, but you can still take pictures of something you love.)
And the camera becomes Chris’ passport to explore. “It did something to me.” Meaning that instead of more pain focusing on the pain, the camera transports him into the larger world.
He recalls a day when he saw a palm tree, an ordinary California palm tree. Except that this palm tree was growing from a street gutter, against all odds, stretching for the light. That, he tells himself, is what I want to be… in a world no longer defined by the label of what I can’t or shouldn’t be.
With camera in hand, Chris says, “my healing began.” Because there is beauty to behold, and all art requires a fight. Especially the art of living with our whole heart.
Back in the tent on that first morning, Chris wakes in the dark and alone. He thinks, “They will climb the mountain today, I will be left behind.” There is a gap in the tent. He can see the stars, and watches as the dawn delivers daylight, and soon, the vista of mountains.
What he hears from his friends he does not expect, “Let’s go Chris. You’re coming with us.” They have fashioned a contraption with a lawn chair on poles using duct tape. On the way up the mountain, they would pass by other hikers, and he would wave, referring to himself as the Pharaoh of the John Muir Trail. It takes courage to pray for a miracle. It takes more courage to receive that miracle in the form of a lawn chair.
Life can be too big sometimes. And we all have felt Undone. At wit’s end. (Or the theme this past week in SM, broken.)
And here’s what makes it debilitating; the label—of what we can’t do or be—feels bigger than life.
I’ll be honest, with any limitation—or disease or affliction—I’m hoping there is a lesson to be learned to ease the pain. And who knows, if I’m lucky, a miracle to right the wrong.
But what if having the answer is not the point?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus encounters a man who has been lying on a mat for 38 years–with a physical disability–waiting to be healed. Jesus asks him a simple question, “Do you want to get well?”
There is a big difference between what we call disease and what we call illness. A disease is a pathological entity; an illness is the effect of the disease on the patients’ entire way of life. (Dr. Sherwin Nuland)
A disease may tell us about our limitations.
But the illness tells us what we can or cannot do.
In Chris’ case, “Will you choose to see life through the lens of a camera?”
I do know this: when our internal conversation begins, “I sure wish my life were different,” our headaches have only just begun. This is not an internal quarrel that will end well.
You see, when I kick into my compulsion to fix, or figure out, or correct, I see and feel mostly shame in my broken places. “Whoever I am now, is not enough”, becomes my mantra.
And when we see only what we want to see, we suffer from scotoma (selective blindness).
So. Let’s rephrase Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be fully present to This Life?” Do you want to live a life focusing on “I can’t?” or on “I can”?
In the words of Gerard May, “the courage and fundamental human competence to taste the full flower of every particle of life, and to respond with absolutely fierce risking-trust to what is needed to every moment.”
Jesus’ question is not a quiz or test, but an invitation; the permission to be bigger than the label that confines (or buries or derails) us.
We heal when we are given the permission to embrace the sacred in each moment.
Because healing is deeper than changing the limitations, physical or emotional. Here’s the deal: Hope sees the sacred in the ordinary moments of every day… even in those moments that may break our hearts. The ordinary, the hiding place for the holy.
Awareness: the permission to embrace life as it is, with all of its challenges and risks, to see beauty and wonder regardless of the vessel.
And when the blinders are lifted. We see, and can embrace, Hafiz of Shiraz’s affirmation, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
Now, instead of shutting down (“I can’t”), I open (“I can”).
I can spill that astonishing light.
I can be a place of sanctuary, kindness, inclusion, acceptance and forgiveness.
A blessed Thanksgiving to all. And to the cook in the family, the permission to let go of any anxiety about whether we chose the best way to cook a turkey. (Okay, note to self.)And this feel-good story from the WA Post, “Grandma mistakenly invited a stranger to Thanksgiving. Six years later, they still celebrate the holiday together. What started as a misdirected text message (Wanda Dench went viral for her accidental Thanksgiving text to Jamal Hinton), has blossomed into a friendship that continues to charm the world. Hinton shared their 2016 exchange on social media, and hearts swiftly melted. Every year since then, the duo and their families have convened for a Thanksgiving meal, and this year will be no exception.”
Makes me smile big. Everyone is welcome at the table.
Quote for your week…
Be a LAMP, be a LIFEBOAT, be a LADDER.
Help someone’s soul heal today.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd. Rumi
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Hi Terry, I’ve attached a picture taken last year after a Priest Lake storm that ended just before sunset. Thank you for all you do. You soothe, you uplift, you inspire, you spark amazing conversations. Keep ringing that bell of yours. The world needs to hear it.” Dee Dee Latendresse Neck deep in Priest Lake Idaho… Thank you Dee Dee.. Keep sending your photos… send to email@example.com
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–Oh, Terry, I am sitting here in a little puddle of tears after reading this. Mister Rogers is and always will be a shining beacon in my life and this message from you, sent on an ordinary day, in an ordinary way, is such a reminder that grace is everywhere, always and that it is my choice to be mindful and joyful and to spill my light as Mr Rogers did so seemingly effortlessly. Thank you for this. Thank you for this precious little gift of Mr. Rogers. Linda
–I Love Love Love the reworking of Psalm 23 – I have placed a copy on the cork board next to my work desk (I’m a continuation high school principal) to remind me to slow down… for myself…. for my staff BUT most importantly for my students. Thank you Terry as always for your wonderful perspectives that grace my inbox for it truly reminds me of the sanctuary we can all create for ourselves so as to better serve others. Deanna Young
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love and
The fruit of love is silence.
May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
That is what the things can teach us;
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.