Rejoice with Those who Rejoice

That verse I borrowed for my title last week reads in its entirety, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There’s often a stark juxtaposition of emotions when we face triumphs and trials. My city here is still reeling from the attacks last week, but just three days later, I was at the gym for a physio appointment. In my last meeting with Mike, we’d timed me walking across the gym and back at just under a minute. When he walked slowly himself, he could manage 26 seconds. My goal was to get myself down to something in the 40 second range.

I crushed it.

After a nice warm up, Mike timed me for the last time and let me sit expectantly to hear my new record. I was sure I’d beat 40 seconds.

“Twenty-nine seconds,” Mike told me.

I was stunned. Mike made me stand up to hug him, and I burst into tears. I was completely overwhelmed and took a minute to compose myself. If you don’t understand my emotional response, let me remind you I’m a diagnosed paraplegic complete who was told I’d never walk again, and I just managed to walk only holding my physio’s hand for a dozen meters at the pace of a normal person.

I’ll never settle, so Mike asked me what the next goal was going to be. “Walking the same distance without holding your hand,” I told him. He helped me stand up and get my balance before moving behind me to hold my waist so that I wouldn’t fall over and I began the long trek across the gym. We had practiced some balancing previously, and I really struggle to keep my body steady. I knew this task would be difficult, but I also knew the sensory input from having Mike’s hands on my hips also helps incredibly.

I wobbled for a couple steps then fought to pull his hand out to support me away from my body. He kept his hands secure while I regained my balance and tottered for a couple more steps. This went on for an agonizingly long time before I made it back to my wheelchair to sit down and catch my breath. Okay, so it only went on for four and a half minutes, but it seemed like ages to me in the moment. That’s my new goal to beat, and I plan to crush it in a couple weeks when I meet with Mike again.

I left the gym grinning at my new personal best and dreaming of what could come in a couple weeks time, and I one of the other youth leaders leaving the mall when I was crossing the parking lot on my way home. I shared my great news as we chatted for a minute, and she told me that she was on her way to the school nearby our church where she’s done lots of youth work to check in on hurting students. The joy and the grief were side by side.

This week had loads of wonderful, happy moments – including a virtual visit to Powell’s as one of my former students is visiting Portland this week and called me before I left for church this morning and a scenic drive with Liz and her parents through this breathtaking island paradise they call home. This week also had some heavy, somber moments as I visited the memorial at the nearby park at sunset on Thursday to see the ever growing rows of flowers and messages and I prayed with hurting students processing their confusion at youth group on Friday.

I don’t know what to make of the proximity of all the events to each other, but I know the emotions that come with each are all valid. I would still ask all of you to pray for Christchurch as the country comes to grips with the tragedy and the city continues to mourn the dramatic loss of life. Overall, I’ve been so touched to see the majority of Kiwis choose to respond with love over any option that gives room for hate. Many of these same Kiwis were also quick to celebrate with me the news of my personal success in my long, steady road to physical recovery. Please don’t give up on me either; I know there’s more to come.

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