Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's your story?

At a highway exit, he stands with his sign, nowhere near a shelter, on Christmas Eve.

What is his story?

Yesterday I headed downtown. All along the way, I saw men holding signs.

They did not give up. Each time the light turned, there was a new group of cars offering them hope.

As the light cycle ended, they would drop their sign, seemingly in defeat.

One had a limp. Is it real? What is his story?

I am told that many have disabilities, that in the line for food, they talk about how their disability landed them in the food line. What are those stories?

Yesterday they seemed to only have one extra coat and their sign. Where were the rest of their belongings? Do they have anything? Where are their families? What are their stories?

If I gave them a dollar, what would they do with it? What if I gave them $100? What would they do with it?

What are their stories?

Some people say that we need to hold these people accountable.

Do people who say that know the stories of people on the corners?

If people are on the corner, do they have any resources? If they have no resources then how can they begin to be accountable?

Where could we start? How did they get there? What are their stories? Is anyone willing to listen?

If they messed up and landed on the corner with nothing, how can we hold them accountable for messing up when they now have nothing? And what is their story?

If they are there out of plain bad luck, then what accountability do we demand? What's the story?

If they are there because of addiction, is it our place to judge that they should be held accountable? What's the story?

Do people on corners know much different, or has this been their way of life, and the way of life for those before them (ie generational poverty)? What is their story?

Have people who want accountability ever been out there? Have they heard stories? Then in some way, these people who want accountability from those who have nothing... don't they have accountability to listen to the stories and to know why people are on the corners? Are the people demanding accountability, accountable?

And in this whole circle of accountability and stories, does anyone have


Friday, January 20, 2012

Songs that change

Every year a man named James Hersch comes to our church to do a concert and then sings at and between services on Sunday mornings. If you live in the Denver area, it's at Holy Love Lutheran Church, 2410 S. Chambers Rd. in Aurora... Sat, Jan 28th at 7:30pm and Sunday, Jan 29th at 8:30am, 11am, and between the two services. Advertisement: check.

I found some old CDs in my huge van recently and one has some of his songs. I was listening to them this week - they're the type of songs that may have a different meaning for each person. What I realized this week is that the meaning of the songs can also change for each person, depending on what is happening in life.

On one CD, the song "The River Flows" hit me in a different way. I love to watch streams and how they flow... the song says "It's the hand of God that pulls that river; it's the hand of God that makes that change... but no one knows where the river flows." The river is always changing - I used to think of adapting to the changes in MS, where the rocks are the obstacles imposed by MS. But no one knows where the river flows, so right now it's flowing smoothly.

Then I ran across another CD entitled "Worship Songs" (note: not all of his songs are religious). I had forgotten these songs. It has a song about "the water runs through you," which tells me to follow my heart. In the middle, a song called "Be Still" came on. It's a song about somewhat making deals with God - not bad deals - "I said give me strength, and I will do your will..." but ends each section with "Be Still," says the Lord. That really hit me. To be still can change so much based on life's cirsumstances, but I've made a decision and I'm ready to go! I'm ready! But as I ask God in more subtle ways than "give me this," God says "all good things come to those who wait, but here I am, trying to make a deal. Waiting on the good things is not an easy task, won't you teach me to be still." And while being still at one point might have been waiting for a new MS medication, now the meaning has changed. I'm ready to go, but... be still.

In so many areas of life we rush, here and there, chasing dreams. But taking those moments to be still allows reflection, before we launch out into whatever awaits us. And what awaits us is always changing. Be still.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Hello and Goodbye

People at our church have been talking about how we welcome visitors, or people who are new to our church. At the same time, people ask why some people have left. And so I've been thinking about these things on so many different levels - how we are welcomed wherever we go (the hello), why we choose to stay, and why we may decide to leave, or decide not to return. This broadens past church and may include a coffee store, a school, any organization, work - really anywhere. Why do we choose to go, to stay, and sometimes to leave?

For church I chose to go because it was near where I lived at the time. I was going to a lot of churches. I kept going back because something resonated with me - it honestly wasn't the members mainly because I thought you went to church just to go, listen, and leave. I liked the services and the sermons left me with a message that stayed with me. But a major part of why I chose to go was because the church was accessible for what I needed (everyone with a disability is different in what they need), even though I could walk using a walking stick. The church wasn't HUGE - at a time when all new churches seem HUGE. The sanctuary was more broad than lengthy and it didn't have stairs. The bathroom was not a mile away from the santurary, and the parking was close to the doors of the church. And the parking lot wasn't jammed full. Yup - that stuff was important. I'm still there because there's something about it that makes me feel like it's a kind of family. Something still resonates with me; my daughter loves it there; it's the place where I've found peace and help when I've been at very low points. The services are still good and the sermons still stick. Perhaps I can imagine why people might leave, but I feel like instead of saying what bothers them and discussing it, they just leave. That's up to them, but it's not what I would do. Regardless, I suppose the point is that something makes some people say goodbye - well, they leave.

The hello/goodbye thoughts started at church but now almost wherever I go, I think about hello and goodbye. For example, my daughter and I were at an outdoor mall (where the stores are indoor). We parked at the bookstore and I planned to go to the eyeglass store and then back to the bookstore, so parking was convenient. Wrong. Everytime I found a curbcut, the sidewalk seemed to lead to a curb with no curbcut. It was cold. I was frustrated and angry. This would be so easy for anyone else. Rather than an easy, shorter path between stores, this was the longest possible route. Employees at the eyeglass store, when we eventually got there, were nice. But then getting to the bookstore - the ramp was off to the side; inside the store the Starbucks was elevated and the ramp was to the side. I could understand if the stores were old, but this was a pretty new mall and a pretty new bookstore. And it may seem no big deal to those without mobility issues that those with mobility issues have to go around and up different entrances, but it's annoying... think of it as separate but equal - does that ever work? It's the opposite of welcoming - we'll go back to pick up glasses, but that's it for this mall. Hello, and goodbye. I want to go in the same entrances as others. I don't want to have to go further. So goodbye. There are other places.

Wherever one goes, subconsciously there is a hello/stay/goodbye sequence. For work, a person searches for a job and part of this involves whether they feel welcomed, unless they are desperate. They then stay for at least a little while. Then there are crossroads where employees decide to stay or go. Part of this involves whether the place they work is still welcoming. Wherever I go, I also contemplate whether employees seem happy, and if so, why. People may choose to leave where they work for many reasons, but it's still about continuing to feel welcomed, or valued. or appreciated. If they lose these, they may say goodbye.

So looking at these things and thinking of other places, what is it that makes people say hello and then stay, but also say goodbye? What I do know is this. I think to welcome people, there has to be an environment where people are happy and want to stay. So people at any church have to be happy and then that will show and new people will feel welcomed. Other places have to be set up to be welcoming before people arrive, not after people get frustrated and have left. Employees have to be happy - then new employees feel welcomed and stay - this welcoming can then be felt by customers who feel welcomed and want to stay. It's not just one thing anywhere - it's a series of related things that create welcoming and staying. I think, in this economy, it's rare that it all works. When it has worked more commonly in the past, it has been beautiful. But I also don't think we need a good economy for "welcoming" and "staying" to work. And it is there, I suppose, where I get stuck on how we do that in more places than just a few.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The impossible

Today the Broncos won a playoff game. They weren't supposed to win 8 games this season. They weren't supposed to make the playoffs. They weren't supposed to win their division.

Hang on. This blog isn't about the Broncos. It's supposed to be about MS and faith.

There are so many "weren't supposed to" things out there and the commentators being amazed at the Broncos, in a strange way, reminds me about the "weren't supposed to" things in my own life.

When I ran cross country in high school, our team was not supposed to win State when I was a junior. We weren't even on the radar. But we won. The next year, we weren't supposed to lose. There was no way anyone could beat us. But we "lost" - we got third in State. To many teams, third would be a great accomplishment. But to our team, we felt we were horrible. It was a horrible defeat and we responded to so many "WHAT HAPPENED?" questions. When I look back, I was struggling with the beginnings of MS and no one, including me, had any idea. Others on our team were injured.

Hang on. This blog isn't about my former running days. It's supposed to be about MS and faith. I'm getting closer!

I wasn't supposed to get my Masters. I had already quit one program. But after 4.5 years, I finished. I wasn't supposed to finish because I was a mom, married, kid, .........., MS. I finished.

This is about MS. Faith is coming...

I wasn't supposed to walk across the stage to receive my degree. Of all the impossible, that probably trumps everything. Just that week, I received a new brace for my left leg, which allows me to lift my left foot. If you stub your left toe with each step, you can't walk up a ramp to get to the stage, to walk across the stage. So, new brace and Ampyra - up the ramp and across the stage I went... with faith!

It was comical. The school that went before my school was smaller than I expected. They were at the ramp, and then they were going, going, and I was sitting, sitting, suddenly realizing they were disappearing. I took off, wheeling to the start of the ramp, where my walker was. And the other school was... gone! And I panicked, and the guy who works with people with disabilities told me not to worry, but that didn't matter. I got up, and I moved it!

The problem was that my already bent over somewhat ridiculous walking was replaced by me trying to get up that ramp and onto the stage. Any thoughts of trying to stand straight were gone. There was a card with my name that kept falling off my walker. Finally I made it; the lady who read my name grabbed the card on my queue, and announced "Beth Newsom."

I was all smiles. Totally bent over - think of those puppets from the Nutcracker. My picture was taken - I received it and I was all smiles.

My husband taped the big screen version. As he said, I got the most screen time. There's the camera focused on the ramp, with seemingly no one coming. Then it pans to the President talking to the Chancellor, and they're wondering what is happening and somewhat smiling. And then this woman begins to appear. There's a woman who looks really happy, bent over a walker and swinging her legs. "Beth Newsom."

That's the impossible. That wasn't supposed to happen. But it did.

The Broncos weren't supposed to do a lot.

But they did.

Faith did not give the Broncos unexpected victory.

Faith did not give me the ability to walk up the ramp and across the stage.

But faith means God is there always, through the good and the bad. Perhaps faith is shown outwardly more when there is success. But faith, like God, is always there, for many.


Sunday, January 1, 2012


It's that time of year to make resolutions. Some years I make them; other years I don't. Last year I made "concept" resolutions. If a person is really bored, they could look them up as a blog on Dec 30 last year, but let me say, they are not that exciting. Even though they weren't exciting, I lived by them.

This year, resolutions seem strange - I'm at a point in my life at which I don't know what will happen, so I want to be open to everything.

Last year I made some kind of resolution about trying to do as much physically as I could, and I went throughout the year going to physical therapy (PT) each week, doing exercises, and continuing to walk more and get stronger. "Motivation is what gets you started; habit is what keeps you going." That's what happened. And though someone told me that improvements when on Ampyra stop at about 5 months, I'm about a year and a half out and still getting stronger. I wish I could make a resolution that I will stand without holding onto something, or that I will take a few steps without my walker. But I can't do that - it's beyond my control. I can continue to work at things and hope - before Ampyra, I was told I had no hip flexor muscles; then I was told I had "very weak" hip flexor muscles, and now I'm told I have "weak" hip flexor muscles. I think those muscles are the biggest broken link, so rather than a resolution, I see possibilities of strengthening them. I know I'm getting stronger still because other people notice things, or in moments of frustration, I do things like grab the whole main part of my wheelchair with one hand and fling it, hard, from the car to the ground, and then think "Um, wow, ok, I had no idea I had the strength to do that. I was pretty sure I needed both hands and slow motion." Grin.

Last year I made a resolution to finish my masters degree in public administration (think MBA but in the public sector which translates to government and non-profit). I also told a bunch of people I would finish it. In a sense, I needed to do that as an extra push to finish. I couldn't say "I didn't finish" after I told so many people I would finish. Sometimes it takes proclaiming something for me to get it done. Maybe I should proclaim I will clean our office this year. No, no, no - I'm not sure that will get done. But getting my masters - that opens possibilities. I've learned so much - the possibilities are seeing things a bit differently than before I started; the possibilities mean that things that were under the surface as important to me (that I didn't recognize) surfaced through the seemingly endless number of papers I wrote; the possibilities mean realizing I finished and that I can accomplish what I thought was impossible, and I suppose this ties back to the physical stuff - one just never knows what is out there, and how far one can go. Last week someone told me I have the passion for something, the ability to network and then utilize that networking to make good things happen, and something else... wow - so someone actually noticed these things about me? That's possibility.

Lastly, I made some resolution about God. Since it was a concept I don't remember exactly how it went. While I wish I had more silent times last year, it was a tough year where I seemed to work, study, and sleep in a continuous cycle. But in this cycle, and in difficult (and good!) parts of last year, I talked to God. James Hersch wrote a song about just laying it all out there for God and I did that, many times. God, you must be kidding me - seriously, now? this? Oh wait, thanks, this is amazing, can it continue? But this and that - together - does everything good and bad have to come my way at the same time? Yes, I let God know what I thought, and I did plenty of asking for help through a bunch, good and bad. This will continue - I suppose it's somewhat of a "habit," so no resolution. But the possibilities - I made it through last year - all the ups and downs and in-betweens. God is always there, through it all.

So no resolutions - just possibilities... and if I take the possibilities and flow with them as they are part of a wide open field, there has to be happiness and