Life with Cerebral Palsy: My Answers to Common Questions

The only disability

A couple weeks ago, as I was walking to class, I noticed a passerby eyeing me. It was not a concerning look, but a curious one. Then, he said: “If you don’t mind me asking, why do you walk that way?” I could tell he was quite careful in his word choice and behavior, rightfully so. I had no problem answering the question, but I fully understood his hesitation.

Most disabled people I know typically don’t have a problem answering those type of questions. In fact, they are welcomed and encouraged. I, for one, would rather have someone point blank ask about my disability, instead of staring at me with a glazed look of curiosity and with no answers to obvious questions they have. Today, I will answer some of the most common questions.

First and foremost, I was born with cerebral palsy. It is not a disease or an illness. It is most common among premature babies and twins. I was six weeks premature. At birth, I weighed two pounds and fit into the palm of my doctor’s hand. Truly, it is only with God’s strength that I am still alive today. Praise Him! No medical technology can detect a child will have CP. It happens within moments of birth, caused by a loss of oxygen and blood in the brain. Therefore, my brain has trouble fully connecting with my muscles, in order to operate efficiently.

As a result, my muscles are always tense and in pain. My disability will progressively get worse as I age. I have lived much of my life knowing that I will eventually be in a wheelchair, which somewhat excites me. I know God will use it for His glory. There are three types of CP. I have the most common—spastic. I am a hemiplegic spastic CP patient, which means only one side of body—the left—is fully affected. Only my left knee kicks in and only my left foot drags when I walk. It is different for everyone as to which side and how much is affected.

The spastic part also causes me to get scared quite easily at little things. However, that does not stop me from watching crime shows. I love the logic and suspense that comes with each episode, though I am sure my body would prefer otherwise. Sometimes, the spastic part of me is so strong that I will jump and freak out, even when someone warns me ahead of time.

Also, my muscles are tighter when the barometric pressure changes, thus why I know it is going to rain days before it is in the forecast. Nevertheless, the pain does not stop once the storm comes. The pain lasts throughout the storm as well, which can lead to some sleepless nights.

My disability is the main reason why I hate heights. There are many times I have trouble walking on flat ground; elevation does not need to be thrown into the mix. Growing up, I used to fall all the time. It embarrassed me and upset me.

Quite literally, I had to learn to walk twice. The first time I learned was the general, every day way any child learns how to walk. But, for me, I had to then learn again how to walk with my disability. There is a science behind walking with my disability, understanding my body and its signals. I had to read the signs and ways my body told me to slow down or to be more careful.

Many times, simply walking is a balancing act between my body and my mind. Thankfully, with time and practice through the years, I have not fallen as much. Using staircases is one of the scariest and most stressful moments for me. In those moments, I have little control of what my body may do. Therefore, I almost always have to use a railing or my husband for support.

As I have gotten older, I have grown to love my disability and God’s unique design for all creatures. Nevertheless, I have not always looked at my CP through Christ’s eyes. Stay tuned, next week, I will discuss the spiritual, emotional, and mental aspects of accepting who I am in Christ one step at a time. Literally.

Blessings,

Renata

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Accurately Defining the Root of Evil: Sin

John 16,33

One has cancer. One is preparing for a surgery. One is dealing with the loss of his wife. Others are dealing with the loss of a whole community. These four stories, though completely unrelated, all have something in common. Each are experiencing pain, hurt, and suffering. Each are aware of the broken world we live in. Each are in desperate need of prayer, as is the entire world.

As I read about the Beirut and Paris attacks, my heart continues to break. I continue to think, “Just when I think the pain and suffering will end, evil strikes again. Just when I think someone could not be crueler, someone is more malicious than the last.”

The past, the current, and the future malicious attacks that will take place will always shake me to my core. However, in the midst of all of the messiness, I praise God. I praise Him for who He says He is. I know He is present in all the trouble of this world, as shown in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What a sweet reassurance this is to know that God is ever present and ever faithful. I, too, cling to the hope that this is not home, that one day Jesus will come again and take His people to their heavenly dwelling. This truth brings me peace in trouble. Nevertheless, it also brings me pain for those who do not know Christ.

Often times, I used to ask myself why bad occurrences happen. Then, one day, the truth hit me. Bad occurrences happen because of sin. In my walk with the Lord, sin can be easy to understand. Other times, it can be extremely difficult. But, the point is, without sin, there would be no hurt, no evil, and no pain in this world. Sin happens when we turn away from God. Sin happens when we choose our way over God’s way. Sin happens when our heart is not focused on the Lord, but on ourselves and the dirty rags of this world.

Although it is in human nature to be sinful, choosing to sin is our own doing. It is no one else’s fault but our own when we sin. Something or someone else cannot make us sin. The desires, motives, and treasures of our own HEARTS make us sin, as shown in Luke 6:45, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

Ultimately, sinners who do have a relationship with Christ face God’s wrath and judgment after death. Nothing but themselves and the heart that beats in them will stand before Him. No human of this earth or Jesus will act as a comfort and guide. Thankfully, for sinners who do have a relationship with Christ, Jesus intercedes for them. God does not see their evil hearts, but instead sees His Son.

I am sure some of you are asking why and when did this become a post about sin? It did the moment Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Ultimately, the events in Beirut and Paris are not a battle between men. The events in Beirut and Paris are a battle between man, Satan, and their crooked, non-upright hearts. God does not cause the evil in this world. He allows it, but He does not cause it. He uses difficult situations to bring believers closer to Him. He is the Healer from the evil. Satan causes the evil and corruption.

That, too, brings me peace and comfort in the tragedies that occurred in Beirut and Paris. God will heal. He will provide. He will comfort. He will guide. He will save us. Most importantly, He will judge those who have maliciously and intentionally caused pain and suffering, as shown in Isaiah 33:22—“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is He who will save us.”

I may never see God bring justice to the evildoers of this world, but I cling to the truth in Hebrews 10:30, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’” Not only can I cling to the truth, I can also help others and myself be more aware of the corruption. As a society, we cannot be blind to the daily acts of sin and terror that occur. The death toll that took place in Paris is a common reality that so many other nations face on a daily basis.

I know that many people may not believe and understand the power of God’s word and His truth. Regardless of who you are and what you believe, I truly hope you can begin to understand the loftiness and power that sin has in this world and in our hearts. Sin is not a small matter, nor should we view it lightly. Nor is one sin of lesser significance than another. Every act of sin whether it occurs in Lebanon, in France, in America, in Asia, or in our own hearts or thoughts matters. ALL sin is a huge, life-changing, eternally-defining behavior.

The moment we began to grasp this is the instant we reach a closeness to Christ that cannot be put into words. The same God that hates sin is the same God who sent His own perfect, sinless Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins on the cross, so that we would not have to spend eternity in Hell, shunned from Him forever. God so deeply desires a relationship with us that Jesus endured the wrath we deserved for our sins on the cross. As believers, all we have to do is accept Christ into our hearts, constantly repent of our sins, and dedicate our lives to following the Lord’s commands.

Continuously, time and time again, I am brought to tears at the magnitude of God’s love. I am humbled and at adoration towards the Father. No matter where you are in life, whether you are hurting or God is showering you with blessings, know that Jesus has overcome the troubles of this world. Christ will bring us home. He will repay the evil of this world. He will serve justice. I hope and pray that you know the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope you cling to Him in all seasons of life. It is only He who will ever make sense in this dark, broken world.

Blessings,

Renata

Shattering the Idols of My Heart: Identity

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Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. The list of my identities seemed longer than any other list of experiences. Nearly anything and everything became a part of my identity in society, expect for the only identity I should proclaim—the Daughter of the King, Christ’s beloved, one of HIS chosen people.

Prior to getting married, I did not consider having to face the current struggle that I do. Yet, lo and behold, God shined a light on my pride in the most unexpected way. Currently, I struggle to let go of my title of being a wife. It was only until recently that I realized I looked for any opportunity that I could to say, “My husband and I this,” or “My husband and I that,” or worst of all, “Before my husband and I got married, he went with me get this laptop.” The mere act of saying such phrases became an idol of my heart. I cared more about the title than the wonderful fruit that came from the gift of marriage.

Sadly, this is not the first time a similar event has occurred. Prior to being a wife, I clung onto the title of perfectionist. I sought out moments for people to validate my idol that was perfectionism. I cared more about coming off as perfect rather than the negative repercussions that came of the sad, miserable, and unhealthy pursuit.

However, it took the new title of wife for me to realize just how jaded and egotistical the idols of my identity became. I realized that time after time I yearned to be the pursued instead of following the Pursuer—Christ. I wanted to be the one that people looked at and thought, “Wow, I am jealous of her. She is married. She has what I want.” I wanted to validate and solidify I was who I proclaimed to be. Little did I realize the only person I solidified to be was self-absorbed and self-righteous. I brought people to myself and my name, instead of that of sweet Jesus.

I failed to understand that every time I brought someone, especially myself, closer to my idols and my self-proclaimed identities, I brought him or her further away from Christ. My words and actions did not paint the beautiful picture that is God’s intent for marriage or any precious gift He graciously gives His people for that matter. I praise God that I realized this three months into my marriage instead of 30 years or more.

The only identity that I should proclaim is that of Christ and His kingdom. I should not hesitate to say, “Yes, I am the Daughter of the one true King. Praise God!” Ultimately, without my identity in Christ, I am nothing. As illustrated in Job, Satan took everything away from him. He had nothing left but Christ. Even in all of his loss and suffering, Job still trusted and proclaimed in the Lord’s name. God never fails or leaves. Job knew that. At the end of our lifetime, when we have nothing left, the only thing that will remain is God and our relationship with Him.

Whatever we place our identity, ultimately our hope lies. Therefore, as much as I would love to proclaim from the rooftops that I am a wife experiencing the wonderful gift of marriage, nothing and no one is sweeter than Jesus.

Lastly, I tell you this: Realizing this idol was not a quick process, nor was it fun to truly unmask it for what it was. However, I knew that if I did not do so sooner, this idol of the TITLE of being a wife would turn into an idol towards my husband. The thought of that alone rocked me to my core and caused me to truly evaluate who and what my heart rested in.

Brothers and sisters, I plead with you to look at your heart and capture its true treasures. Do not let the ideas and people of this world consume you like I have for years. Do not rob yourself of the beautiful gift of placing your identity in the Lord. He is the ultimate rock, shield, and defender.  He is the giver of all peace and comfort.

Blessings,

Renata

Graduation or Bust? The Challenging Pursuit to be Challenged

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Let me preface this post by saying, I have had some amazing teachers who have helped shape and mold me into who I am today. However, I have also had teachers who could not care less about me as a student. The words that follow address a problem I have noticed within the educational system, mainly within my time at my current university.

I am disappointed in myself and in my expectations of my university. I came into this academic year energized, driven, and passionate. Now, I am a sad, underinflated, and under impressed balloon of potential.

Walking into this new semester, I thought, “Yes, a new school means new challenges and new lessons to learn.” Sadly, nearly 12 weeks in, I could not be more incorrect. Looking back at these past 12 weeks, I realize I have not learned much, nor have my professors truly, deeply academically challenged me. Yes, I have learned a little here and there. But, overall, this past semester has seemed pointless so far.  Unfortunately, I am not alone in this.

The question is, who or what is to blame for this? That is, if anything or anyone even deserves the blame. Or is this a collaborative, subconscious effort by all students, professors, and society alike? We are all to blame for the bystander effect in education today. Not one person, group, or institution is to blame for this. We are all victims to the challenging pursuit to be challenged.

Enrollment dropped by nearly 5,000 students at my school in the past year. Nowadays, fewer students attend a university, let alone a junior college. Most people accept the growing idea that the money and time is not worth it. Real life experience tends to outweigh the potential benefits of a piece of paper.

For those who do decide to take the plunge towards a college degree, receiving an education becomes the ultimate memorization and testing field. Rarely ever do students say, “Wow, I am really glad I took all those exams to get my degree. I learned so much about my field of study. I could not have learned any of that elsewhere. It was worth the money and time.”

Professors [and institutions] seem to be more concerned about test scores than the students who take them. For those professors that proclaim to care about their students, their ability to actually teach and challenge students suffers. When did the educational system become an either or fallacy, and why? When did having a heart for students mean not growing their knowledge base? When did growing a student’s knowledge base mean not caring?

Undeniably, I am a student who seeks and pursues challenging courses. I love the process of learning and growing my brain. I love the search for new ideas and possibilities. I love growing my knowledge base about topics I am passionate about.

Nevertheless, the search for a truly challenging course and caring professor is harder than the academic challenges in courses themselves. It is discouraging and unsatisfying. However, we can all do a little something to change this.

Despite what I may hope, every university I attend will have its problems. Every university I attend will have professors that care more about a student’s head rather than their heart and vice versa. Neither of these is wrong. They become a problem when it is one extreme or the other.

Students can help change this by speaking up, by asking tough questions. I cannot count how many times I have heard a professor say they learn more from students compared to what they teach them. This is not bad! We should all be vessels of knowledge. Teachers are there to learn and stretch themselves just as much as we are. Students also need to use courses as opportunities to further learn on their own. Most of the time, just the coursework is not enough to know all one can in their field. Students should strive to be lifelong learners in and outside of the classroom. In a world that is constantly changing, this is more than necessary.

Professors can help by observing students and understanding each class. I would prefer a professor knows everyone on a personal level, rather than perceive themselves as being the cool and hip one everyone loves. I can assure you understanding students on a heart level will be much cooler than being up in the times of today just to fit in with your audience. Many students like myself put their heart and soul into learning because they enjoy it and desire to advance in their field. Professors can help make this possible by acting as guides for their students, instead of stifling their love for learning and growth. They should offer words of wisdom besides a job well done.

Universities should give students the proper resources to understand what each course will entail on a deeper level. Several times in my college career, I enrolled into a course thinking it would be a certain way and it was far from what the description stated. I understand that every teacher runs his or her classroom a little bit differently than the next. But, it should not be so bad that students dread going to school.

Again, I am certain I am not the only one that feels this way. However, I also know this is probably the outspoken minority group of students as well. Most do not mind the hurdles of school for the social aspect more than anything else. Do not get me wrong, that is nice. But, for some, who are working nearly full-time and are married, there needs to be more in education. Otherwise, enrollment will only continue to dwindle. Campuses will continue to renovate and build on for an attending population of none.

I challenge you all to take a look at why did or do you go to school. Ask yourself what you learned. Become a part of the conversation about the challenging pursuit to be challenged.

Blessings,

Renata