I never dreamed I'd spend my 30th birthday in a wheelchair, but I also never dreamed I'd spend it road tripping on an island paradise to Hobbiton, so my life is freaking awesome. My sister had two kids by 30, but I drafted two full length books, so there's that. To be clear, my nephews are way more significant, adorable, and valuable contributions to the world than my literary achievements. My point is only that our lives don't always turn out how we expect, but in my case, I've found some pretty fabulous sliver linings.
I have a friend visiting New Zealand currently, and we're leaving tomorrow, my 30th birthday, for an epic trip of a lifetime. Amanda and I have never lived in the same country, and we'd only met twice before she came on this vacation to the southern hemisphere. We got along great when I met her while she was visiting her sister Ahna in Germany, so when she told me she was planning a trip to New Zealand, I suggested she go exploring with me for my birthday.
Amanda flew in on Tuesday and met me at the mall after my prayer time at the church. Wednesday afternoon we headed into downtown Christchurch, and I got the chance to show Amanda a bit of my host city. We found some incredible street art in the city, and even discovered a really cool alley closer to my neighborhood that has a section called the "God Zone" that illustrates Genesis 1. I loved being able to show her some of what I'd already seen and to discover a couple new things together. Thursday we made our way out to the beach on the bus and spent the say enjoying lots of hot sunshine and sea breeze. I even remembered to snap a picture of where we sat for a bit while Amanda painted a mini watercolor of the view.
Friday morning we planned out our upcoming north island adventure while I packed a weekend bag during breaks. I'd spent some time the last few weeks preparing a workshop for the youth leader retreat, and I was excited for what Matt suggested be my first weekend wheelchair free. Full disclosure, Matt didn't so much suggest this as realize he'd planned the retreat in a fully non-wheelchair friendly location and then talk me through the logistics and apologize that the wheelchair wouldn't actually be that helpful due to all the stairs. My immediate response was that it would be an epic first weekend without my wheelchair.
When Matt showed up Friday to pick me up he was still a little cautious about leaving the chair behind, but there was no way it would fit in his car with all the gear he was bringing anyways. I happily climbed in with just my sticks and overnight stuff. The camp was only about twenty minutes outside of the city and over the hills. We parked at the base of the hill, and I looked up to see the place where we were staying for the weekend. There was no turning back at this point.
Actually, we'd passed the no turning back point a while ago - somewhere around twenty-six years ago when I decided to follow Jesus.
So if I haven't stressed it enough, my Kiwi friends are super nice to me. There were a few other cars that arrived around the same time as us, and someone quickly volunteered to grab my bag while James agreed to follow me up the stairs as a spotter. Haley checked the path ahead and helped determine which one had less steps (though it was still a treacherous steep incline with occasional steps that were quite difficult). She suggested that we needed someone to walk the path with a video camera after to prove what a boss I am, but I'm also kinda forgetful about pictures, so we didn't capture that. I did, however, steal my friend Hannah's picture of the greenery off Facebook so you can see the amazing view that was totally worth the crazy climb.
I need to emphasize again here how wonderful these Kiwis are because they got me up to the main room where we'd be having sessions and food, but they took all my stuff to the cabin a short flight of stairs away, and they secured me the bottom bunk in the room closest to the bathroom. There was also no hesitation on the part of anyone to help me down and back up the stairs whenever I needed the bathroom, nor was there any shortage of volunteers to fill me a plate of (allergy friendly) food.
It was a full weekend, and I loved being able to participate fully. The only point I had to take a break was when the group was doing some physically intensive team building activities, and I knew that I'd be sitting that one out. This afternoon when we packed everything up, I again had willing friends to get my stuff down to the car and to spot me on my treacherous journey down the long series of stairs.
Plus I had several positive comments from my new friends who have seen improvements in my walking over the past five months. I'm so excited about the trajectory as well, and I can't thank God enough for the chance to have this extra summer to spend more time on my feet outside. I'm still not finished in my recovery, and after this weekend, I'm more eager to ask God for big things.
People who've followed my story from the start know that my accident was only two weeks before my birthday, so each year since on my birthday, I've created a Facebook event with five prayer requests that I ask people to join me in praying for at some point on my birthday. One of the coolest things is that I can see the answers God has given when I look back over the requests. Last year's #3 request was that my sabbatical placement would be sorted out and the visa approved - here I am in the perfect place God had designed that was in process a year ago and so many of you prayed for.
You can search for this year's Facebook event and let me know you are praying for me by "attending" and even posting on the event page if you want. It's a public event, and you're welcome to share it with others who would be willing to lift me up in prayer this birthday. I'll be traveling with Amanda on my actual birthday, so I won't be on Facebook much in the next week, but the prayers don't need an online check in for God to respond.
Thanks for keeping me in your prayers!