Push Off the Wall

True story time again.

When I used to drive a taxi, I primarily spent my time transporting wheelchair-bound passengers using a special van. Most wheelchair-bound passengers were on government assistance of some sort and merely used the taxi to get to and from medical appointments. However there were a few that were financially independent enough to pay for the exorbitant price of a taxi ride to go out for leisure activities. Something as simple as going to a shopping center was quite a logistical ordeal for most of them.

So this one time I pick up a lady who is not only wheelchair-bound, but is also quadriplegic. That means all four of her limbs, her arms and her legs, are paralyzed. She only was able to move the parts of her body from her neck up.

It’s one thing to think about this theoretically, but to interact with these quadriplegic people in person just blew my mind. I can’t think of very many things in this life that are more difficult than living with quadriplegia. You are literally a prisoner of your own body. Technology has made amazing advances in helping quadriplegics. For instance, they have little mouthpieces they can use to drive their electric wheelchairs. Yet for almost everything, they are 100% completely dependent on the mercy of others to get through even the simplest of tasks. They cannot feed themselves, they cannot go to the bathroom by themselves, they cannot clothe themselves. I mean there are a lot of doubts about many people who are on government assistance, but quadriplegics do not fall into that category. They literally are unable to help themselves 99% of the time.

But you know what they do have control over? Their attitude and their mind. And believe me – I’ve seen both sides. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but just for contrast, I’ll say that I’ve seen the dark side of what quadriplegia can do to a person. They are struggling for control of whatever they can control and sometimes that can look like holding people hostage in various ways in order to get their needs met. Or it can look like self-destructive behavior. One of the few times I almost called the cops on someone was when I picked up an older paralyzed man from a strip club and he urinated all over the back of my taxi and then didn’t want to pay the extra clean up fee. Or the times I had a younger paralyzed man who would take the taxi frequently to go out drinking at the club and then be cursing at his caregivers and demanding they pay for the taxi when he arrived back home. I’ve seen paralyzed women torture their caregivers by being viciously emotionally manipulative. I mean, try putting up boundaries with a quadriplegic. Not the easiest task, let me assure you from experience.

And I’m really not here to judge. Even the briefest consideration of their experience, of what it would be like in their shoes, just leaves me so scared and thankful I’m not in that position. I’m not saying their hurtful behaviors are ok. I’m just saying I can understand how easy it would be to go there in that situation.

But that being said, there were those few quadriplegics that I encountered that broke the mold. That rose above. That blew me away with their strength of character, mind, and heart. Some had full-time jobs that they went to. Others travelled. But my favorite was this woman who owned her own business! I picked her up from the shopping center one day and took her to her home in the more expensive part of town.

Now you might think she started her business before she became paralyzed? But no, she started her business after she was a full-blown quadriplegic! She used her mind and organized a service around what she knew best – caregiving! She created an employment agency for caregivers. She would recruit caregivers, interview them, and then find and send them out on caregiving jobs. How perfect, eh? She of all people knew what to look for in a caregiver.

Not only did she inspire me tremendously, but she also challenged me! I transported her at least twice and it was the last time that I spoke with her that she challenged me. I guess in her line of work, she was used to checking people out and evaluating their strengths and abilities. I don’t know how we got on the subject, but she called me out. She questioned why I was doing the taxi-driving when I had potential to do other jobs that paid much more and were safer.

I was at a loss for words when she challenged me. I mean she had true authority, no posturing. I didn’t feel shamed, but any excuse I had paled with the obstacles she had to overcome in her position. And she knew it. She kept pushing me as our time was coming to a close. It was an encouraging rebuke. She had full faith in me. I remember her parting words: “Push off the wall, Sarah! Push off the wall!”

I knew exactly what she meant. I was a swimmer for many years. The people who are scared in the pool cling to the wall, the side of the pool, the whole time. She was speaking my language. That’s what I was doing with my life.

She was challenging me to let go of the security of keeping myself in the relatively safe position of under-performing. Of not enduring the pain of failure to reach my full potential. Yes, any honest work is 100% honorable. But I was letting fear get the best of me. Whereas she had physical paralysis, I had mental analysis paralysis.

Not only was she a stranger speaking life to me, but her success in the face of so many challenges was so inspiring! Amazing to think that we could let fear imprison us more than a paraplegic would let their body imprison them.

“Push off the wall, Sarah! Push off the wall!”

It was shortly after that and at least two other angels in my taxi that also gave me the same challenge and spoke life to me, that I gathered the courage to start to not define myself by my failures. I gathered what little self-confidence I had left and started applying for jobs where my life wasn’t threatened on a daily basis. And what was the first job I was offered? Working as a technical support agent at The Scooter Store! Helping paralyzed people when their electric wheelchairs malfunctioned. Wow, eh?! Full circle! I’d like to think there was some Divine Intervention at work there.

What limits am I putting on myself today? I am Loved. It’s ok to try and fail. This isn’t about performing for the sake of performing. This is more about considering regrets. Will I respect myself tomorrow for the decisions I make today? Push off the wall. 😁

And this is also about speaking life to one another. You never know who needs you to see them today. When they’ve lost sight of the accurate picture of themselves. You never know where your seed of encouragement might land on someone who needs it today. Don’t underestimate whatever impact you can make. My paralyzed customer is proof of putting whatever gifts we have been given to work. Working with whatever we have. You are important, needed, and have a lot to offer!

Push off the wall. 😁

Already Included #15: A Spiritual Evolution – Justice

Whew! I’ve been meaning to write on John MacMurray’s new book “A Spiritual Evolution” as I am reading it. However, life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to do more than read it. However, I had to take time out tonight to comment on Chapter 7. The theme of the chapter is justice. Without spoiling how John masterfully articulates the old view with the new-to-us view, I’ll share a few thoughts.

There is so much to take away from Chapter 7, however the biggest practical application for me was considering whether I truly want restoration or vengeance towards those who have harmed me? I think back and I realize more often than not I want others to hurt as badly as they’ve hurt me.

Understandable some might say. But I have dressed up my desire for them to hurt by cloaking it in the illusion of religious piety. I’ve made God out to be their punisher instead of me.

That’s helped me move on in the face of such great pain and suffering. That has helped me put one foot in front of the other. And should we tell the victim fresh out of tragedy that they should desire the offender’s restoration? I wouldn’t dare! Even God says be angry. And do not sin.

This is the messy, messy business of real life and relationship versus religion.

Maybe this is the reason the theme of forgiveness keeps coming up in my life. I’ve run the gamut from repeatedly exposing myself to people who have hurt me because I incorrectly thought God wanted me to do that. All the way through to allowing myself to be angry, then learning how to protect myself, and now this. Now this. Like a ton of bricks.

Maybe forgiveness doesn’t just mean we only choose not to punish them. Maybe forgiveness also means at some point, organically through the Love of the Trinity being poured into us and the power of Holy Spirit, eventually we can actually want the offender to be restored in the sense of regaining their health. Not in the sense of necessarily letting them back into our lives.

I hope John continues to explore this in his book. This is not a book to rush through if you can relate to John’s journey. The implications of what he is saying are many and warrant time spent in contemplation. And action.

How many relationships has this desire for vengeance impacted in my life?! Moving on requires substantial efforts in letting go of ego. But then also dealing with past hurts. These modern day frustrations do not often warrant the responses I give them. There is still that sting of being wronged years ago that is so easily hit upon as I am still waiting for my version of justice to be served all this time later. I am still waiting for the news that they feel some level of pain that makes them understand what they have done and feel sorry enough to humble themselves and make amends.

And probably the latter part of that is necessary to restore relationship. But do I actually want to see them recover from their fall and be happy and successful? How “fair” do I feel it is for me to be imprisoned by this pain for so many years and then see them successful and doing well without going through at least the same amount of pain? I do not want this on my own. And yet I do not want to face my own version of justice for my own failures. Aye, the quandary!

Thank God that He is faithful to complete the work He starts in us. Easier said on paper than put into practice. But He doesn’t leave us for one second. We are not abandoned. We are not punching bags. We are not doormats. Somehow all this works out on a supernatural level.

For now we ask Holy Spirit for comfort, direction, understanding, and strength. One step at a time. Trinity has always been and always will be for us more than we are for ourselves. And to that we can rest and say “amen”.

Lexus Lights

Another memorable true story from my adventurous life:

It was almost ten years ago. Between 2am and 5am in the morning. I received a notification for an out of town taxi trip. I was a little disappointed when I scrolled through the trip details. On out of town trips, the dispatcher is supposed to provide you with the destination and the estimated fare that was quoted to the passenger. In this case, they did not provide me with any of that information. They only said that the passenger agreed to a minimum $50 trip charge. Less than I was hoping for but better than nothing. So I headed out to the pickup location.

The passenger was being picked up out in the middle of the country on the far south side of San Antonio. Much farther away than any of the regular business of the night.

I drove out to the location wondering who the passenger could be, where they could be going, and what their story might be. Why would they need a taxi at 3am in the morning? I was cautious because a trip like this was out of the norm, but I settled myself by deciding that maybe they could be an international traveler preparing to leave for the airport super early in the morning.

I left the main part of town and started driving in the country towards the passenger’s pickup location. I noticed a vehicle had pulled out of a gas station and seemed to be keeping pace with my speed. They were behind me and weren’t passing me. When you drive twelve hours a day, you notice little odd things like that. Usually in the country there are two types of drivers: people who know the area and ignore all the speed limits and just drive to get where they are going. Or there are people who know the area and drive really slow because they don’t have much else to do.

There was something about the person behind me that was different. I didn’t know where I was going so I was driving slower than normal so I could try to read the street signs in the dark. And this driver wasn’t passing me but they weren’t riding my bumper either. They seemed to stay the correct amount of distance away the whole time. But they were close enough that I noticed that their headlights were different than most vehicles on the road. I’m not knowledgeable about vehicles so I referred to their headlights as “Lexus lights” because those were the only vehicles that I knew of that had those lights. Again, not a huge deal but kind of out of place for a Lexus to be driving around at 3am on the country roads.

I was worried at this point. I was wondering if someone had placed a call for a taxi, was following me, and was going to trap and assault me at the destination location. My mind was devising all kinds of ways to escape. You never know who is going to be in your taxi. You don’t have the luxury of waiting for the police to arrive if someone is attacking you.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I was distracted by trying to find the street I needed in the dark. I found it and made the turn. I looked behind me and noticed that the Lexus hadn’t followed. I dismissed a little of my worry and proceeded to concentrate on the situation I would be encountering in a few short seconds.

When I located the passenger’s house, immediately I noticed that there were at least three vans in the driveway and a lot of people. That was odd to me. Sometimes people call for taxis because they don’t have a working vehicle. This was obviously not the case in this situation.

Other times people call for taxis because they don’t have anyone else who can give them a ride. This again was obviously not the case.

I thought to myself, why would someone call a taxi if they had a vehicle and someone else to drive them? My guard was up at this point. Something was wrong. My gut knew it.

As I watched the scene of people on the front porch, I noticed nobody was hugging. Usually when loved ones are separating, there is at least the appearance of affection as they hug each other goodbye. Again, my mind was telling me something was wrong.

Also, no one from the group of people immediately came to the taxi to acknowledge me. Usually there is someone in a group who will greet the driver and will ask the driver to wait while the others come to the vehicle. Nobody acted like I was even there.

Then a man brings a suitcase to the vehicle. He doesn’t say anything to me. I just get out and open the back door of the van and he puts the suitcase into the trunk. He walks back to the house. Only one suitcase. I was thinking maybe a whole group of people were going to the airport so maybe that is why they called for a taxi. But no, only one suitcase.

Then a lady comes out and asks me to wait. Since this was a $50 trip and I had driven so far already, I decided to wait. I notice people are talking and walking back and forth on the porch. Something is wrong but I can’t figure it out.

Then an older bigger man walks towards the taxi and angrily says to me, “Where are you taking her?!” I say, “I don’t know sir. She hasn’t told me.” “You don’t know where you are taking her?” “No sir, “ I say with enough force to match his. He realizes I’m not going to be bullied and he walks away back towards the house. Being somewhat of a champion for women, I was not going to let him push me around. This was my taxi. I thought of it as my house. I had to protect myself. I was proud of sticking up for myself but now I was concerned for the woman who had asked me to wait.

When she finally came back to the van, she was alone. This was odd. Usually when especially a female leaves in a taxi, the group of people will go with her to the taxi and check out the taxi driver to make sure she is safe. Nobody was coming to the van to see this woman off. I knew something was wrong.

Immediately after she closes the van door, she tells me, “Drive. Please. Quickly.” Now, I might be a champion for women, but I also know just because you are a woman, that doesn’t mean I can trust you. I was worried about being setup by a woman for an ambush. I was worried about her taking advantage of me and not paying. I was already on guard from the whole situation.

Also, in the taxi business, it’s a bad sign if people don’t tell you where they are going. Sometimes people just want you to drive so that they can assault you on the way. I knew I had to take control of the situation. I told her, “Hey, wait a minute. I need to receive the payment first and I need to know where you are going.”

“I’ll pay you. I promise. Just drive. I need to get away from here.”

I tell her, “Fine, I’ll drive a few blocks and pull over and then you can pay me first. And then tell me where you are going.” She agrees and I start confirming the price of the trip with her. I relax a little because she doesn’t seem concerned at all about how much the trip is going to cost and she is working on getting her cash out to give to me. Usually if someone is up to no good, they will try to bluff you into believing they didn’t know how much the trip was going to cost, or that the dispatcher quoted them a difference price, etc.

I drove a few blocks and then pulled over in the dark on the side of the road. She gave me the money and then asked me again to drive. I asked her again where she was going and she just said, “I’ll let you know. Just turn to the right.” We turned onto the main road and headed back towards the city so I was not as scared. I figured if she was leading me to an ambush, it would have been deeper into the country versus off a main road headed to the city.

I was starting to relax but I was not going to let her just drive me around aimlessly. She seemed sincere but I needed more information. I started asking her, “What is going on?”

She started telling me that she had been studying in medical school in Chicago. She was only a semester or two away from graduating when her mother called her from India and advised her that she was being married off to a man in Texas in an arranged marriage. She had never met the man before. She was expected to leave medical school in Chicago and move to Texas and get married. So that’s what she did.

After she was married and arrived in Texas, the new husband and his family put her to work in the gas station that they owned. This was no corporate gas station. This was one of those little gas station dumps out in the middle of the country. She said they violated all the labor laws and she was stuck at the gas station working all kinds of hours. Then when she came back to the family compound, the family treated her like a slave and she was expected to spend her time at home doing housework. Here she was about to graduate from medical school and now reduced to a slave working for strangers.

As she is telling me this story, all of a sudden, what do I see in the rear-view mirror? “Lexus lights!” I’m sure it was the same white car that had followed me so many miles on the way to her house. Before I even had time to think about what was happening, the Lexus races up next to the side of the van and starts honking and driving erratically. I felt like I was in an action movie!

I was scared but somehow incredibly calm. She wasn’t reacting at all. In a very surreal moment, I turned and asked her, “Do you know these people!?!?”

In my mind, I’m thinking her in-laws have tracked us down and are going to run me off the road and kill us both in some kind of twisted honor killing.

She calmly responds, “Yes, follow them.” I have no idea how to explain it, but I trusted her. The Lexus speeds up and I switch lanes and follow it. Almost immediately, the Lexus pulls off the main road and onto a dirt road.

I’m thinking, “Great, a dirt road. Of course it’s a dirt road. This is like a bad B movie. Is this how my life is going to end?”

I ask the passenger, “What’s going on?” She tells me that these people in the Lexus are friends she met at church and they are helping her escape. For some reason I believed her. I assume that she didn’t want this couple to drive to her former residence for fear that her in-laws would find out who was helping her.

The Lexus drives over a cattle guard and stops in the middle of the pitch black night in a literal field in the middle of the country. The only lights are the headlights of our vehicles.

A man and a woman step out of the Lexus. The man wastes no time in approaching the taxi and opening the van door and helping the woman out of the back seat. I somehow decide that I feel safe enough to exit the vehicle and open the trunk so they can retrieve her luggage. The woman from the Lexus comforts my passenger as the man takes her luggage back to his vehicle. He tells me thank you and they all get into the Lexus and drive away quickly.

I’m left by myself in the middle of some random cow pasture in the pitch black night. I catch my senses and drive away as quickly as possible to get back to the city.

I call my dispatcher and I tell him to please not give out my name or number to anyone who might call it for that trip. I was worried her in-laws were going to track me down once they realized that their free labor had escaped.

In the end, I felt honored. That I would be provided that opportunity to help a woman escape from bondage.

On this Valentine’s Day, remember that you are still loved, still important, and still matter even if you don’t have a romantic significant other.

Already Included #14 – Written Testaments

I feel blasphemous saying this. But I think God is big enough to handle me. To handle my questions and my searching for understanding.

And so I’ll say: I wonder if maybe the point isn’t to go back and try to fit Jesus into the testimonies written in our Bible. Maybe the point is to have our own encounters, our own experiences, and our own relationship with God. Maybe He is still that real for us. Maybe Jesus in the flesh, Jesus accepting the little children, is proof that His heart is for us to come out of hiding and walk with Him again. All over. Maybe even for the first time.

Maybe instead of looking to the Bible for direction, maybe we should look to God for direction? Did Jesus in the flesh not show us that God is that personal? Did He not say Holy Spirit would be with us?

How do we then know that we have experienced God? Versus our own thoughts and feelings? People can get a little crazy with this stuff. That’s probably what many of us are afraid of. Especially the more intellectual types.

Lean not on my own understanding, sure. Easier said than done. How does that play out practically?

It all boils down to trust. I need a God who is that big. A God who is bigger than me.

As a person who writes every day, this is not such a far stretch for me. I write most often for myself. I am not writing theological legal briefs with every stroke of the pen. I have no intention that people six thousand years from now will read my writing. But if they do, I hope it will encourage them to seek their own relationship with the God I know that I know. When so much else is unknown.

Just food for thought. I’m not saying throw out the Bible. I’m just saying, as a writer, maybe the highest goal isn’t making sense of every little line of the Bible and using it as the mirror to make sense of our experiences. Maybe the highest goal is taking the main points and living our own stories out.

Already Included #13 – Black & White

I laugh to myself now when people say that the “already included” news that I like to share means I am saying God doesn’t “punish” people. I am coming to the conclusion that punishment is an easier somewhat-lazy way of addressing interpersonal conflict. It is a much taller order to hold a person in such high value as to come alongside them and restore them without losing yourself in the process. To sacrificially, generously, sincerely give what you have to give in the healthiest sense.

No longer can I barge into every relationship resting on the supposed safety of whatever illusion of control I think I have in the situation. “Off with their heads” if I am feeling like I have enough or paralyzed by fear if I feel outnumbered.

Now the world is no longer cut and dry, black or white, in or out, etc. The letter of the law is significant, but I now see more the importance of the spirit and the heart of instruction. Didn’t Jesus say basically the same when He summed up all in loving God, ourselves, and each other?

Law only asks, “What is legal?” Love asks other questions such as, “What is best for all involved?”

Law says, “What can I get away with?” Love says, “How have I been uniquely empowered and emboldened by The Trinity to express God’s heart in this situation?” This can look as simple as making room for someone to safely merge in front of me in traffic. Or it can look like choosing not to allow my ego to be offended by another’s ignorance. Or it can reach so far as to open our hearts to orphans, fight for those who are unable, use our energy and individual talents to solve worldwide problems that initially appear as economic opportunities, and endless other shades of love.

Law cuts off the nose to spite the face. Love says not one little lamb, even the injured smelly rebellious lamb, is an acceptable casualty.

Law keeps score. Love says I don’t win if it’s at your expense. Yet, love sometimes means telling you no and not giving you what you want.

This “already included” news has changed everything for me. My political views, my financial goals, my relationship approaches, etc. In fact, I am reeling. So many decades in and I feel like I am starting completely over again. Ashamed because those I preached AT in the past, those that wouldn’t go near a church, are light years ahead of me in living out what I was so sure I had been studying all this time.

My world is shaken. I do not have a formula anymore. This new life, this real life, resists every attempt at being cordoned off to an intellectual exercise. And didn’t our beloved Jesus show us this from the beginning? By His example, He prepared us for the beautifully messy experience of risking to dive deep and embrace this existence from our hearts. As it was always intended.

Whew! God help me.

Already Included #12 – Value

For the first time, I get it. My value doesn’t come from anything or anyone other than whose I AM. They say the value of something is what someone is willing to pay for it. Jesus proved that God, the complete Trinity, loves us through hell and back. No reservations. No expectations. Only the constant reminders of how safe we are. Rest. As little children that know only love, protection, and being comforted.

I don’t have to do anything. In the sense of performance or what passes for success. Now I know Life. Now I enjoy what is good. Now I play and am free to relish. Free to fully love. And live out loud. Perfect love casts out fear. And the compulsion to prove myself.

I don’t have to study, but I want to. I don’t have to be in business, but I want to. I don’t have to travel, or own a home, or get a degree, or etc etc etc. But I might want to.

The grades I make don’t tell me anything about my value. The weight I carry doesn’t define my worth. The age I am or all my colors and scars. Where I live or who knows me. All that stuff is extra.

At the core, all the way to the bedrock of my soul, I am completely loved by my Creator. And so are you.