Sunday, June 16, 2024

Five Years

Today is Father's Day in the US. Many dad's will be getting cards, grilling, and be doing various activities they enjoy. I'm very thankful for the dad, and mom, that God gave me. For all my life he has helped through my needs and continues to work full-time even beyond retirement age so that I can keep insurance. I am blessed to have him, but the day set aside for his appreciation is one we haven't given much attention.

This day also marks the first full day for CHAMP Camp. I started attending camp in 1993 as an eleven-year-old camper. After seven summers as a camper, I graduated from high school and moved up to counselor. I enjoyed many years helping with the kids and marked my 15th summer of volunteering in 2019. Unfortunately, that year was very hard on me physically and I knew it was time to retire. Little did I know at the time, but camp did not meet in person the next two years due to COVID. I volunteered as a virtual counselor in 2021, but that's the last time I volunteered for camp.

Even though it has been five years, I still miss it and getting to help the campers and reconnect with friends. Yesterday, I saw pictures from a few friends as counselors arrived at camp for orientation before campers arrive today. One photo showed a table completely covered with every kind of snack food you could want. I remember many times sitting around the table listening to stories, telling some, playing board games on down times, and getting a sugar high. By the end of the week, it looked like every package had been sampled, but we still had an abundance to share.

Sometimes, I wonder if I could try to volunteer again. I know that non-medical volunteers have been greatly decreased since 2020, but it doesn't hurt to try. However, then I remember how absolutely miserable I felt in 2019 and would have to find different helpers for the week.

Whatever happens, I'm thankful for the years I was able to enjoy camp and almost forget that living the quad life is abnormal. The campers and counselors that attend now get to experience much of the fun I had, but now my dad also gets to have a break and observe his day. I never know what another year, or day, will bring and I appreciate all that God has blessed me with in so many ways.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Three turns to Six

Throughout the decades of having a spinal cord injury, I have been blessed to have many caregivers. The last 20+ years have been increasingly difficult to find help, and now nearly impossible. In late 2021 to 2022, Sara, my main day nurse, was off for several months due to a medical need. Thankfully Brenda, a nursing student at my local college, was willing to help and God again brought us through another challenging situation. Now, two years later, we're facing the situation again.

About a month ago, Sara let us know that she would be having surgery and was told recovery would take three months. Brenda has remained with me since 2022, but just graduated from college. Thankfully, she plans to return in August to finish two remaining courses that will conclude in December. Therefore, Sara considered waiting to have surgery until August so my hours could be covered more easily.

As the weeks have progressed, it has become apparent she can't wait that long and moved her procedure up to late June. During a doctor's visit this week, Sara learned that her three-month recovery will actually be closer to six. Therefore, surgery at the end of June could mean she can't return to full-time with me until January 2025. Sara normally covers three days a week.

My other day nurse is well beyond retirement age and isn't able to cover more than two days a week. For the immediate future, that means July will only have two day shifts per week covered. It looks like some of my infrequent helpers and a few volunteers may be able to help cover some afternoons so Mom can get some work finished. That still means my parents will be missing some work and not able to get out by themselves. When Brenda returns to class in mid-August, Fridays will still be open as well as parts of two other days. My parents are also managing their own health concerns with all this going on.

Comparing to other quadriplegic friends, I still have a lot of hours covered. I'm very thankful for what my parents and I have been given and whatever challenges come in the the quad life, I will remember to look and to God and trust His timing.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Graduation Season

For most schools, the year is now complete and kids are free for the summer. Most students enjoy the break before moving up a year, but others have finished their school career.

I saw pictures, and video, of one of the campers from CHAMP Camp getting his high school diploma. I remember many summers of having being in his cabin and the multitude of pranks he helped initiate, and receive. It's great to see "Batman" move on to his next stage in life.

Yesterday, my parents and I went to a graduation party for my cousin's son. He is also a rail enthusiast and has many pictures, videos, and stories from watching trains in central Iowa. In many ways, he reminds me of myself in high school with trains on the brain. Unlike me, he plans to continue his rail interest as a career. Plans are to be a conductor with the Iowa Interstate railroad, at least for now.

Seeing graduates ignites my interest in learning again. I have been looking at a 12-week course on expository preaching. I hope to start it soon, but other factors, such as caregivers and required preaching assignments, need to be considered.

Unfortunately, many colleges and large universities have only become indoctrination centers for radical political agendas. Public high schools, and even grade schools, start the training well before students escape their walls.

Scripture reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Also, if we lack wisdom, we should ask God who gives generously (James 1:5). School in any form helps gain knowledge, but we need to always remember from where it comes.

I congratulate all recent graduates and pray they go on to serve God in whatever is next.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Memorial Day 2024

It somewhat come up without me noticing, but it is already Memorial Day weekend. For the past week or so, I have been preparing to preach this morning and the holiday just slipped my notice. The sales ads have been going to my inbox and trash can, but I kept thinking it was far off.

No matter if I pay attention to the world or not, time keeps moving on. Most schools have finished for the year and this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. Rather than just an extra day to grill and mow the lawn, we need to remember what this day was set apart to remember.

My maternal grandfather was drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean War. This conflict started only five years after World War II and was during the long Cold War era. Thankfully, my grandfather returned home safely and went on to continue farming and raising his family. However, that was not the case for everyone.

Five military logos
Whether they volunteered or were drafted, many soldiers went off to fight for their country and never returned home. Some families will never even know what happened to their loved one except that they went missing and never returned.

Since America became a country, we have been part of several conflicts. Some have helped free countries from cruel dictatorships and ensure the Western world is free to enjoy many liberties we take for granted. Unfortunately, tides change as politically forces shift and do what they think is best.

A few years ago, American forces abruptly left the Middle East and abandoned several billion dollar's worth of equipment. Some of the top military leaders have also foregone God's creation in gender and become more concerned how men can wear women's uniforms than keeping the country safe.

What will happen to the US in the future is totally under God's control. Whatever will come, I'm thankful for what I have been blessed with and will try to use it with the true cost in mind.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Two Decades of Awareness

In 2004, I gave a disability awareness talk to second-graders at my local Christian grade school. I had seen a few months earlier that their course on disabilities consisted of watching a 30-minute video. I hoped I could improve the course by being a live person the students could interact with and who was local. This year marks two decades since my first school, and I still enjoy it.

Like every endeavor, it takes time to learn and see what works and what doesn't. Sitting in-front of 20+ eight-year-olds requires practice in patience as well as staying active. My very first class was a learning curve, but I have hopefully improved over the years.

A boy writing with his foot
Trying to teach kids about paralysis and other disabilities is a challenge. Since my first class, I always have the class write with their mouth, just like me. After 2020, in anticipation of mask requirements, I added in foot writing as well. These two activities show how I write and how someone without arms may write. No matter the method, the same activity gets done. God uses all different abilities to serve Him.

Now that I have been to schools several years in a row, it's fun getting recognized by older students. Recently, I left a third-grade classroom after my presentation and rolled directly into the fourth-graders during library time. I was quickly the focal point and was pelted with questions about the visit I just had and heard several, "I remember..." It has now been long enough that I could start getting a second generation of kids, but I don't think it has happened, yet.

Joel watching as kids write by mouth
My regular presentation is well embedded in my memory, but I still feel a bit rusty with my first group every year. I also change a few things depending on time and how interactive the class is. This year, I focused more on how someone with visual impairments may read, and some years it's how hearing impaired may use a phone. Even with that, my speaking memory issues came up in my last class.

This school likes me to include a favorite Bible verse as part of my talk. I remembered halfway through, but couldn't recall the reference or half the verse. While going home, Jeremiah 29:11 came to me easily again, but long after I left the students.

I love working with kids and am thankful for this opportunity God has given me. I don't know how long I'll be able to continue, but I plan to while I'm able to get out and remember what God has allowed me to speak.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Mother Ascension

Sunday, as the first day of the week, is when Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave. In memory of this, the early church met on Sunday and the practice has continued for 2000 years. In some sense, it replaced the Jewish Sabbath day. It isn't quite the same, but not something I'll dive into for this post. Most Christians rest on Sunday and use it for a break before returning to work. However, some Sundays end up being busier than a work day.

Today is Mother's Day, the time set aside to recognize mothers and all they do. Mothers have the extreme privilege, and challenge, of helping to raise the next generation. One child can grow up to make major changes in the world, for good or bad, and the early years of a child's life are when they need to be taught correctly. I'm very thankful for my mom not only in how she raised me, but also everything she continues to do to support me so that I can remain active and live at home.

In the first chapter of Acts, we read that Jesus was on earth 40 days after His resurrection and then ascended to the Father. This year, ascension day was May 9, making today ascension Sunday as well. This is an event that has fallen off of many church calendars, but is something we can't forget. Jesus said He would return in the same way He left, but as a judge for all people. As that day continues to come closer, we need to be sure we are doing God's work and serving Him in every part of life.

Finally, I also preached this morning. It was at a local church, but it still requires extra work in the morning to get me ready and then setting up what I need at the church itself. Part of our afternoon also will consist of visiting my one grandmother who lives in a care facility.

With all this going on, it makes for a busy day in the quad life. By the time evening comes, my family will be ready to sit and relax. Even though it makes for a long day, I'm thankful I still have a mother and grandmother to recognize and the freedom to openly worship God and His gifts. Some day, none of this may be possible, and it is good to not neglect the gifts we've been given.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Outreach without Reaching Out

May has arrived, and with it my annual volunteer time with the Tulip Gospel Outreach. I had the same time constraints as last year, but with a few different twists.

As what seems to be the norm, weather during Tulip Time was quite cool for most of the festival. Thursday started out with thunderstorms that continued for most the day. Dad dropped Sara and I off at church so we could stay dry and picked us up again over five hours later. Due to weather, the first parade was canceled and some of the events were moved inside to where we were meeting.

Gospel outreach volunteers moved to the basement and had a demonstration of sidewalk painting that leads into a presentation. The group's leader was very nice in getting lunch for Sara and I so we didn't have to battle the rain, but it meant we never left the chilly church. It was a good day of learning and fellowship, but I went home well before any outreach activities happened.

Friday morning was the best weather of the week with clear skies and temps in the low 70's. After the morning lessons, Sara and I headed out to lunch. Afterward, we returned to the church parking lot for a demonstration of good street preaching, not street screeching as some ministries do. By the time it finished, we had about 15 minutes until it was time to leave. Therefore, instead of going to our designated location, Sara and I returned to the van and home. We handed out two gospel tracts at lunch and three while going to our vehicle, but that was all.

Saturday was the final day of the festival and another soggy morning with full cloud cover. After dad brought Brenda and I to town, we listened to a couple excellent messages given by Mark Spence of Living Waters. During his first presentation, I looked at my chair's computer screen and realized I forgot to have someone plug it in overnight, it was only 50% charged. That meant I only lost three levels of charge over the previous two days, so I figured it would be okay.

Once again, we headed out to find food after coordinating plans with my team. I drove a little over two blocks from church, found a nutritious meal of strawberry funnel cake, and parked beside a nearby picnic table. While eating in the frigid air, I noticed my power level now read empty and displayed a message "recharge batteries." I gave out one tract to picnic table neighbors, who I could barely see, before informing my team I would have to leave. Brenda then pushed me, all 500+ lbs, through the bumpy sidewalks to the van.

Over three days of the outreach, I gave out six gospel tracts and had zero conversations. I did help my team in practicing conversations and gave out eight of my books, but that was it. The question I answered the most was, "Aren't your feet cold?" It was definitely a quad life experience, but I pray the very little interaction I had will result in eternal benefit for someone.