The People Who Shape You – Indomitable Spirits

 

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I have a sister 5 years my senior who is and always has been GORGEOUS. After a bajillion people tell you that you should model, you start to give it serious thought. It took some pleading with my Mom to enroll her in a modeling agency and get head shots, but she was soon on her way to gracing local department store ads and covers of record albums with her beautiful self.

Here’s where this worked to an unbelievable advantage for me…my Mom has always been a staunch believer of treating her kids equally. If she spent x amount of dollars on one kid, she felt the need to do the same for the other. Lucky for me, modeling isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. Growing up in Western New York provides you with incredible skiing close by. Our town’s recreation department offered Ski School at Kissing Bridge Ski Resort on Tuesdays for kids in 4th-12th grade. Skiing was something the rich kids did. We were not rich (Side note: To give you some perspective, when I was a kid I thought people who had dishwashers, refrigerators with built in ice makers, or pools were rich.) So when my Mom asked me if I would be interested in learning how to ski, I jumped at the chance.

Now where my sister only modeled for a few years, I ended up falling in love with skiing and attended the full 9 years of ski school, so I definitely made out better on the deal. However, skiing at Kissing Bridge would have a life long impact on me because of one man whom I’ve never even met. I don’t know his name. We never spoke. To be honest I have never even seen his face, but this stranger’s influence on me was so profound it has helped shape who I am today.

Somewhere around the Junior High school years, my friends and I were riding the chairlift up for another run. Our lessons were over and we were in our “free skiing time” enjoying goofing off, trying new things and being loud and obnoxious as Junior High Schools girls often are. Anyone who skies knows that you only ski the runs under the chair lift if you are decently good. Otherwise your colossal wipe outs are entertainment for all those above you to see, who have nothing else better to do but to watch the skiers below while trying to stay warm and look for cute boys. Ok that last part may have only been my friends and me but whatever.

I will never forget the first time that I saw him. He caught my attention from a good distance away due to his gracefulness. His turns were clean and his cadence steady. His run looked effortless. He was so good that at first I thought he was part of the resort’s Ski Patrol, but he wasn’t wearing the right colors. I intently studied his movements trying to glean tips so I could improve on my own technique. And then I saw it. My eyes widened in amazement as he got closer and my brain deciphered if what I saw was actually true.

This man only had one leg. ONE LEG! He put the rest of the skiers on the hill to shame with his skill and he only had one ski!!! All four of us strained to turn around in our lift chair so we could continue watching him as he passed us down the slope, out skiing everyone I knew. How was he doing that?!

For the remainder of the ride up we excitedly rambled on with an impressed array about what a marvel this man was and statements like “Oh my gosh can you imagine how HARD that is?” and “I can’t ski like that and I have 2 skis!”. We all decided we were going to try it.

This is the stuff America’s Funniest Home Videos are made of. We started off our new challenge by simply bending at the knee on one leg, and attempting to hold the ski off the ground. We quickly learned that balancing that way was near impossible. It would only take a few feet before we would crash and burn. Over and over. Or, it was too easy to cheat and you would instinctively put your ski back down in order to regain balance.

We theorized that by holding up one ski, it was weighting us down on that side and throwing off our center of balance. Therefore, logically, we had to get rid of the ski altogether to solve our problem. So how were we going to do that? In a moment of junior high brilliance, we each proceeded to take off one ski and THREW IT DOWN THE HILL. (Disclaimer: Mom if you are reading this I swear this was back when we rented skis and not after you bought me my own beautiful set of skis for Christmas that one year that I loved and cherished and rubbed with a polishing cloth weekly and never ever for one second would dream of abusing.)

Dear Lord was that a disaster! It was wipe out after wipe out. Mass casualties were strewn across the hill as far as the eye could see. We were a bruised, snow covered bunch by the time we pummeled ourselves to the bottom and it was a miracle one of us didn’t break a leg. Our epic failure made us admire the gifted skier even more.

This man made such an impression on me. I thought about him. A lot. I wondered if he only had one leg when he first learned how to ski. Or did he lose a leg and have to relearn how to ski all over again? Either way I knew it couldn’t have been easy and must have required a lot of drive and determination riddled with frustration along the way. I can’t even imagine how many times he fell trying to learn. This gentleman not only learned it, he mastered it! I recognized that his success was a choice on his part. I didn’t view him as an amputee to feel sorry for, I saw him as larger than life. He was an inspiration! I decided right then and there, if anything ever happened to me I wanted to BE. LIKE. THAT. I wanted to be like this man with an indomitable spirit and not let anything stop me.

I continued to spot him sporadically throughout the years and always smiled as I admired his impeccable technique and rhythm as he artfully made his way down the slope. I thought about him many times with great admiration and fondness. He became like an unaware mentor to me.

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A long time had passed since I last thought about my unknown skier friend. I was now dealing with my own health challenges. As my Lupus symptoms increased in severity, my activities decreased proportionally. I had already learned that one of my favorite pastimes, mountain biking, was too jagged and hard on my joints. All the weight on my hands gripping the handlebars would cause me to stop and shake them out frequently during the ride due to the pain or just plain going numb. I could still bike, but I was going to pay for it dearly for days following. One day of fun = five days of knock me on my butt pain and fatigue. Same thing went for jet skiing, I could go for an easy pleasure cruise, but no hard riding and wave jumping like I loved.

I had taken up yoga to ease joint pain and maintain flexibility which helped, but I knew I had lost a lot of muscle. I had big dreams, how could I climb a mountain in my current state? How could I rebuild muscle when every activity made the pain worse? In one moment of frustration, for some reason that indomitable spirit came to mind. Here this guy was missing an entire limb and he didn’t let that stop him. Why did I assume all these years that he skied without pain or sacrifice? On the contrary, he probably skied despite the pain. How much harder did he have to work and how much stronger did he have to be to do what he wanted compared to the rest of us? It was a choice.

I had a choice. I could wall myself off from the world and any new experience which may exacerbate my symptoms or I could say “Screw you Lupus, I’m not going to let you stop me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish.” I was going to experience pain either way right? That was part of my new everyday normal. If I was going to be sore and achy, I might as well be as healthy as I could be, fully experience life and be sore and achy.

I actually laughed out loud and echoed my 13 year old self and said “I want to BE. LIKE. THAT.” I had a lot of work to do, I had made my choice.

You never know who is watching you. You have the ability to influence and inspire without even saying a word.  How POWERFUL is that?

*With eternal gratitude to an unnamed, ski-masked inspiration and indomitable spirit. I wish I could properly thank you for shaping me.*

Your Gifts Aren’t Good Enough

 

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If you looked around our house 8 years ago we were basically one big hand me down/garage sale find. Our couch and chair were hand me downs from my mom that were of drinking age. An uncle passed down our bed frame that used to house a waterbed, which should give you an indication of the era it was from. Our garage sale kitchen table (which was the only table we owned) sported a mere three chairs around it. When my Mom was joining us for dinner we would pull out an old, metal, school house chair that was about 6″ shorter than the others. It made you feel like you were 5 years old again attempting to eat at a table that was chest height. We lovingly referred to it as our “guest of honor” chair. Needless to say House Beautiful magazine wasn’t knocking on our door for a photo shoot.

About that time our church was starting up new life groups and were looking for people to host. Of course we couldn’t host. I’d been to other people’s houses, they were gorgeous! They were beautifully furnished with items that matched. Their furniture was comfortable and plush. They had the ability to host dinner parties for 20 people or more in their spacious, artfully decorated homes. They were so much better equipped than we were.

So we waited. Time passed and they still needed more people to offer up their homes.

The book of Acts talks about the early church and how it grew because of excited, new believers meeting to learn about Jesus. They met in people’s homes, they met near the market, they gathered anywhere and everywhere for the chance to learn more about Jesus, the man who changed history for all of mankind. Somehow I doubt they were thinking “No we can’t meet here to learn about the MOST IMPORTANT thing we’ll ever learn. My couch doesn’t have any support left to it.”

Christians believe that all good things come from God. Our homes, our jobs, and our belongings are all blessings. It quickly dawned on me that my line of thinking was basically telling God that the gifts He has given me, weren’t good enough.

Can you imagine speaking to Jesus face to face and saying that?!

Jesus: My dearest daughter, beloved child whom I suffered and died for, will you use the home I have gifted to you so others may learn about me and grow in their faith?

Me: Welllllll, you see Jesus, I was thinking about it. I know that I have all that I’ll ever need and am richer than 95% of the people in the entire world, living here in the United States with a home and 2 cars and all…but the stuff you gave me…it’s not good enough.

Jesus: Not good enough?

Me: Yeah, maybe once you bless me with newer, better stuff I can use it for you.

Blink. Blink.

I sent the email that day that the Reinhardts could host a life group.

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Since then a lot has changed. We finally purchased a couch and chair that we ourselves chose from a store. A table with 6 chairs now lives in our dining room and we’ve had the privilege of having friends over for dinner without using our “Guest of Honor” chair. A good friend remodeled our fireplace and our floors and kitchen received a facelift compliments of a water main break last year. And we still host life group.

After the remodel work was done I was looking around admiring how far our little home has come. I chuckled as I remembered the epiphany that brought us to host life group in the first place.

And then I realized I had done it again.

This time it had nothing to do with my worldly possessions, but with my health, time and energy. I had inadvertently told God that His gifts were not good enough.

Before my Lupus diagnosis I was working at our church heading up local missions projects. Some were small, easily orchestrated collection projects for local charities and some were large, church wide serve days that involved months of preparation and long hours the day of. And I LOVED it. To me, watching people come together to be the hands and feet of God to serve others is Christianity at it’s finest. Nothing brought me more joy and satisfaction. But as my Lupus symptoms progressed in intensity, it increasingly robbed me of energy. I was barely able to run my household. Now if I had the choice between cooking and cleaning my house or mission work project planning, I would choose the project planning every. single. time. Problem was there wasn’t anyone cooking or cleaning my house for me. I had reached the point where I needed to step down. Lupus, like many other diseases is cruel and doesn’t discriminate what it robs you of, no matter it’s importance or your affinity for it.

I tried to make peace with yet another “new normal.” I still volunteered in the Children’s Ministry on Sundays and at the food pantry but I felt restless.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; when you experience restlessness, that’s usually an indication that some God-given talent and drive within you is not being utilized or expressed to its full potential.

God created me to serve and I needed to find a new outlet to do it. I couldn’t sit idle and tell Jesus that the gift of my health, no matter what state I was in wasn’t “good enough” to be used by Him for Him. Though I might not be able to do what I used to, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do something different or in a different way.

What could I do, right now, where I was, with what I had?

As humans we naturally resist change. Even if the change turns out to be for the better, we have a tendency to initially buck it. We get caught in familiar routines that we repeat over and over believing we’ve perfected the most efficient way, or the only way to do them.  We start to loose our ingenuity and creativity for tackling tasks differently or reevaluating our methods and strategies for improvement from time to time.  I initially get discouraged when my abilities are hindered or halted due to my illness, but if there is one thing life has taught me, it is to be FLEXIBLE. Flexible with my plans, flexible with my thinking, flexible to let God work through me even when it doesn’t look like I had imagined or planned.

It was time for some creative brainstorming on new ways to serve.  It was time to be flexible with what that could look like.

Sometimes, it looks like dirty water and a 19,000 ft. Mountain.

What are you restless about?  Get creative…and be flexible!