Thoughts and Beliefs

Recognition: The Friendly Skies

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I am beginning a new series today entitled “Recognition.”  When bad things happen and I am wronged in some way, I am very quick to take to social media or an email to customer service to complain.  While there are legitimate times to voice a complaint, it is usually not in the heat of the moment.  To help combat my “quick to gripe” attitude, I am on the lookout for amazing service and plan to write about each occurrence here.  Not only will this help me focus on the positive, but maybe, some folks will get the recognition they so truly deserve.

We begin last Friday night.  After a week-long business trip to California, it was time to head home.  We had a later flight out of John Wayne Airport and so we didn’t land until after 10PM.  As is our custom, my wife and I remained in our seats while almost every passenger deplaned.  My wheelchair weighs 350 pounds and is very difficult to maneuver without me at the helm, and so we are used to the process taking extra time.  Once the plane had unloaded, though, we walked to the jet bridge and found…nothing.  My wheelchair wasn’t there.  No crew members were there.  No one from the airport was there.

Now, to their credit (and before you think this is a gripe), it was very late, and the one service person at our gate was helping an elderly woman who needed an aisle chair.  It felt good to stand up after a three hour flight, so we didn’t mind.  However, the minutes ticked by and still no wheelchair or personnel.  Finally, one of the flight attendants came out to see why we were still waiting.  She went to the top of the jet bridge to check and when she came back down, she told us that my wheelchair was waiting at the top of the jet bridge.

Great, except one problem.  I can’t walk that far and no one was there to push me in a manual wheelchair.  Joni was with me, but she was carrying three bags, and it was quite a steep hill.  So, the flight attendant called for another service helper to come to our gate.  She also notified the pilot.  After another five minutes, no one had showed up.  To our surprise, the captain of our flight (Capt. John) came out and told us that we had waited long enough and that he would push me up the jet bridge.  Not only is such a task not a part of Capt. John’s job description, but many people in positions of command would see the job of pushing someone in a wheelchair as beneath them.  Not Capt. John, though.  He pushed my wheelchair up, waited until I got in my powered wheelchair and then he went back down to finish his piloting duties.

After Joni and I got situated, we parted ways.  She headed to the baggage claim and I ventured off to the Sky Link to head to the terminal where we had parked before our departing flight that past Monday.  As I got on the Sky Link, Capt. John happened to board with me.  We made small talk and he asked where I was headed.  After I told him, he questioned as to whether my path would be impeded from the Sky Link to my van.  He was asking if he needed to come with me to my van.  Yet again, I was blown away.  He had been working all day and yet was willing to follow me to my van to make sure I could get there.

He didn’t have to…it wasn’t a part of his job…but he did it anyway…and for that,  I give Recognition to Capt. John of American Airlines flight 2389 (on Nov. 20).

Tweet to American Airlines about Capt. John

You Get What You Need

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Prior to our arrival at Disney’s Polynesian Resort last week, I had requested a certain area of the resort to be close to some certain amenities I thought were desirable. Upon check-in, I learned we had been assigned the direct opposite of what I had requested. Now, it was simply a request, but a little part of me was disappointed. Isn’t that the natural response to not getting what you want?

We proceeded to the building where our room was located and I discovered two things:

1. Due to changes in refurbishment schedule that I had seen while planning the trip, the area I had originally requested was under heavy construction. Even if they could have put us in that area, we most certainly would have been disturbed by the noise.

2. The room that we were assigned had a perfect view of the monorails as they whizzed by. This proved to be the very thing that my kiddos wanted. I can’t tell you how many times Olivia (our two year old) simply sat and watched the monorails with a huge smile on her face.

I thought I wanted something else, but what I was given could not have been more perfect. So many times, we ask God for what we think we need only to be disappointed when something else comes our way. We may think it important to get a better job, or have an easier path in life. For many years when I was younger, I wanted arms. I thought they would make life easier, and that’s what I prayed for.

But God knew that arms are not what I need.

I need patience.
I need grace.
I need love.

And, to put it bluntly, I need to glorify God. If arms were needed to accomplish that goal, I would have received them in the first place.

So, I no longer pray for arms. Rather, I pray for opportunities to use my lack of arms in His name. And…that’s what I need.

Please Remain Calm

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Who would have ever thought changing health insurance companies would cause such a stressful day?  Apparently, my naiveté was responsible for yesterday’s tiring experience. Upon attempting to get a prescription refilled for the first time on our new insurance, I was told I had no prescription benefits. Well, since we have a fairly nice, shiny new policy, I did the only thing I could.  I got mad.  I didn’t take out my anger on the pharmacy tech (who apologized profusely over what was going on).  No, I prepared myself to let the health insurance customer service agent truly have it.  I dialed the number, and many frustrating automated prompts later, I was warmly treated to

…A BUSY SIGNAL!

Here I was in line at the pharmacy window and this new company, who had so gladly accepted my first premium payment, did not even have the decency to put me on hold? My anger level had increased from a simmer to a boil.  I came home and sat at my desk, dialed again, and finally was placed in the queue.  The next escalation of my frustration came when the robotic voice said my hold time was likely to be “in excess of 60 minutes.” Now, I had left simmering and boiling, and had moved straight to explosive!  Especially since the hold music I was forced to listen to only had two songs, both of which could only be described as terrible elevator music.

I tried to get some work done in the meantime.  I tried to settle down.  But, the longer they made me wait, the greater my headache grew.  It was around the three hour mark in my hold-time journey that something snapped in me.  All of the sudden, my thoughts were not on how rudely I was being treated, but on how rough of a day the customer service reps were having.  The job of these representatives is to listen to people complain all day long, and here they were with a hold time that they had no control over.  Imagine the screaming and yelling that had been directed at them all day long.

My attitude changed.

And, when, at the three hour and twenty-three minute mark, Trevor answered the phone, I was no longer angry.  I even tried to empathize with him by asking him if he was surviving this tough day.  His answer, “You’re the first person to ask.  I’m hanging in there, but thanks for asking.”  He fixed my problem, and the pharmacy was able to process the refill (for free due to my new benefits, I might add).  Just before I hung up, he wished me a good day, and I know I heard a smile on the other end of the line.  Maybe it was a smile that helped Trevor survive the rest of the day.  I pulled my emotions back in line, and instead of ruining someone else’s day, I made his day better.

What would the world look like if making someone else’s day brighter was our daily goal?

Meeting the Amazing

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This past Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to speak at the Legacy Church in Princeton, TX, for a youth event that tied into the worldwide “See You at the Pole” gathering.  The kids sang passionately, and listened intently as I attempted to inspire and encourage.  But, the surprise that awaited me that evening was amazing.  Before service started, the pastor leaned in to whisper, “There is a family here with a baby who was born without arms or legs.  Would be willing to stay afterwards to meet with them?”  In that type of situation, my response is always, “Try and stop me!”

IMG_0319It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Stetson. Stetson is eight months old, and is a happy, bright-eyed boy who happens to have no arms or legs.  His parents were told of his diagnosis early on in the pregnancy, and as is the norm in the medical community, they were strongly counseled to abort this precious life.  His parents, however, knew that Stetson was a blessing no matter the shape of his body, and after having to change medical providers, Stetson has been given every opportunity available for his success. His parents say that he can hold his own bottle, put his pacifier in his mouth, and that daily, he continues to surprise them with what he can do.

The question we must deal with as a society is this: is Stetson’s life worth living?  We live in a world that terminates life at the first sign of trouble.  The treatment for an adverse diagnosis in a pregnancy is abortion.  At least, it is the first treatment suggested.  My parents did not know of my lack of limbs before I was born.  They have said before and continue to profess that had they known, I still would have been born.  Abortion was not an option for them, nor is it for my family.  However, in today’s world, a baby like me…like Stetson…has a very small chance of making it past the first sonogram.  Parents-to-be are listening to the advice of supposed experts both in and out of the medical community saying that they would be better off (and so would the baby) if they would abort.  I’m living proof that the advice provided in those situations is DEAD WRONG.

Simply put, we cannot know the life that will be led based on a sonogram screen or any other test conducted.  Life is an adventure, and while my adventure may not look like yours, it is no less valuable.

I praise God for Stetson and his parents.
I praise God for my own parents.
I praise God for my life.

And I cannot wait to see the amazing man Stetson becomes all due to a choice for life.

You’re Next

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Seeing as how it was my second trip to the DMV in one day, you can understand how my patience was already quite thin.  I had spent the day running errands, and my first trip to the DMV ended in failure as I was told I needed my wife’s signature on the form that had to be submitted.  Upon entering the room where you are reduced to a number and are forced to wait your long awaited turn, I was faced with another dilemma.   The number I was supposed to take to determine my place in line was in a machine a foot or two above my highest reach.  I was forced to ask for help.

What’s your weakest ability?  For some it is math.  I know tons of people who hate working with numbers.  Maybe it is writing or public speaking.  Pick something you hate or are terrible at doing.  Got it?  Now, for the rest of your life you have to wear a t-shirt that tells the world how incapable you are at the thing you just picked.  Got a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach?  Good…cause now you have an inkling of what it is like for me to ask for help.

I live in a body with no arms and deformed legs.  The ways in which I struggle – reaching high objects, opening doors, carrying things, etc – are shown to all those around me the moment I enter their presence.  I have no ability to hide my disability.  I’m always on stage.  So, you may comprehend why I generally choose to ignore my problems.  After all, if I focused on my lack of abilities, I would be down in the dumps all the time.  Sometimes, though, life forces me to acknowledge my lack of arms.  You’d think that having to ask for help as often as I do, that I’d be used to it by now.  It doesn’t seem to ever get easier, though.

A man standing near the take-a-number device made eye contact with me, I swallowed my pride, and asked if he would get a number for me.  After all, they were already serving number 61, and I didn’t want to this to take any longer than it was already destined to as the next number in the machine was 89.   The man smiled, grabbed a number, and then did something unexpected.  Instead of giving me the next number in the machine, he gave me the ticket he had been holding, and took the new number for himself.  I looked at the number he gave me…62.  “You’re next.” he said as smiled and walked away.

In asking for help, I admit my imperfection, my inadequacy, and ultimately, my handicap.  And, sometimes, I not only get the assistance need, but receive a blessing for being just the way I am.

The World Doesn’t Owe Me

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You may already know that my wife and I own our own travel agency that specializes in Disney Destinations called Off to Neverland Travel.  Disney released a new special today, and inevitably, some clients’ reservations are excluded from the new rates due to the terms and conditions.  This happens every time a special is released, and yet every time this occurs we get phone calls demanding that we call Disney and make them fix the blackout dates to match a particular client’s reservation.

First of all, you don’t demand anything from the Mouse.  Disney sets their specials up to fill rooms that wouldn’t otherwise be filled.  They aren’t being generous to the general population…they are trying to make more money.  That’s what a good business does.

Second, and much more importantly, when did our sense of entitlement grow so out of control that we blow our tops at every little issue in life?  Maybe it is the spirit of individualism in America that is somewhat to blame.  Maybe it is our upbringing.  One thing is for sure, though…we have decided that our interests outweigh everyone else’s no matter the situation.

Let’s be honest here.  If the world “owed” anyone, it would be me.  After all, I have to live life in a body without arms and with shortened legs.  Most people reading this post do not have near the reason to feel shortchanged like I do.  If I chose to, I could adopt an attitude of entitlement, and no one could really blame me, right?

No one owes me anything! I have a fantastic live with an amazing wife, two beautiful daughters, and a God who loves me unconditionally.  I am not entitled to anything other than the grace of God that he offers freely to me.  I have no need for anything else.  My joy comes from Him, and being free of that demanding spirit allows me to live a truly happy life.

So, next time you feel like you deserve more than life has given you, take time to realize you can be spared from what you truly deserve through the grace and mercy of God.  And that is the only way to truly be free.

Just Above the Clouds

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Storms of LifeAs the plane descended, I looked out the window to see a beautiful blue sky above and a thick layer of puffy white clouds, below.  Above us, the sun was shining, and the sky could have been described as a beautiful day.  The clouds below didn’t look particularly ominous as their fluffy surface bounced up and down as far as the eye could see.  Up here, things were calm.  Up here, life was perfect.

Our descension continued bringing the serenity to an end as we bounced around while passing through the ever so innocent looking layers of clouds.  Once on the other side, things looked different.  A storm was afoot and by the looks of it, this storm was anything but weak.  Lightening flashed, thunder rolled, and the rain pounded the window thus blurring my view.  Down here, things were violent.  Down here, life was rough.

At any given time, my life can be easily be viewed based solely on the circumstances surrounding me.  Life throws constant changes or lifelong curveballs, and rarely could I say that life is perfect based on what is happening in the here and now.  The good news is that life CAN always be viewed as perfect based on the view of my life from above the clouds.  From God’s perspective, my life is lived in his presence and guidance, and thus is a perfect existence.   Sure, bad things will come, but God is always there to pierce his beaming rays of joy and hope through the clouds that have formed in my life.

Down here it is hard to see through the clouds to the glorious sun and sky that always remain whether our eyes can see them or not.  The clouds block our view of God, but not God’s view of us.  Weathering a storm can take its toll, but when the storm passes, and the clouds clear, we are reminded that the sun was shining all along even when sunshine was the furthest thought from our mind.

I thank God for his ever present help throughout the storms of life.

The Sun Can’t Shine Every Day

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The forecast for our area calls for two to three inches of rain over today and tomorrow. This has been the forecast for a week, now, and the rain has already started to fall. Even with the advanced warning, I still saw this post on my Facebook feed this morning:

“It’s so gloomy. I want sunshine.”

I wonder how much we focus on wanting more sunshine instead of making the world a brighter place with our own light. We require that our happiness comes from the environment around us, and when that environment turns gloomy, we lose our joy. Of course, the problem with that as a way of life? It WILL get gloomy.

One thing I do know is that the sun cannot shine every day. Even in the beauty of the garden, the rain is seen as just as necessary as sunshine. In fact, without rain and the cloudy skies that come with it, we would all be living in a desert. Nature finds the clouds and the rain as refreshing. Maybe the gloom in our lives sometimes comes with refreshing rain as well.

This past summer, our family made a trip to Walt Disney World before a weekend speaking engagement in Orlando. The beginning of our trip was marred by a tropical storm that refused to move beyond central Florida. It rained. A ton. So much rain and gloom that we found ourselves longing for the sunshine. Once the rain cleared, however, we learned the true meaning of the word “sauna.” It was so hot and so miserable that we found ourselves longing for the rain again. Our happiness was being derived from the weather, which was way out of our control. That kind of external reliance is a way of life for so many, and it does not work.

Life will send problems. It is only a foundation of happiness and positive living that allows us to retain our joy when the dark times come. Maybe it sounds too trite to say that simply choosing to be happy will make you happy, but have you tried it? Maybe dismissing the idea as too simple is simply an excuse for those not willing to give it a try.

Give it a shot. Choose to be happy…to live happy, and see where that choice gets you the next time the gloomy problems of life show up! I cannot promise it will be easy, but I can promise that if you truly commit to happiness, nothing will ever steal your joy.

Wounds That Define Who We Are

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For the past week, I have dreaded going on Facebook.  Not because it is a black hole that sucks away my time (though it is), and not because I didn’t want to hear anything about the Olympics (since I’m DVR’ing it and watching later).  Rather, my dread came from the general anger and outrage over the statements made by the owner of Chick-fil-a.

I’m not going to further beat that dead horse by bringing up more arguments regarding the statements made, but rather focus on something else that I believe is a much deeper problem.  So many of the comments on Facebook this week were not about discussing the statements that Mr. Cathy made, nor were they even about the issue(s) brought up by what he said.  The vast majority of threads on the subject seemed to quickly devolve into shouting matches filled with hateful speech and pointless rhetoric from both sides.

And…it’s gotten us nowhere.

Never mind the fact that Facebook has to be the worst place for convincing someone else that your opinion is the only correct opinion (maybe Twitter would even be better because it would force people to be succinct in stating their cases).  The social media platform, instead, simply served to worsen the already deep wounds that are so prevalent in our society.  I believe those wounds have to heal before we can have any conversations in our country that aren’t reduced to neanderthalic, mud-slinging events.  So, why are these wounds unable to heal?

Because we let our wounds define who we are.

I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that I have been discriminated against in every way possible.  I have seen and heard it all.  Don’t think for a second that hateful comments towards me haven’t left wounds.  That would make me a robot.  The difference in my life is that I have CHOSEN to not let those wounds define who I am.

If the scars of past statements and actions of others could alter my personality and beliefs, I would have become bitter and angry long ago.  I believe that our society holds on to these scars either because being pitied can be addicting, or because they have not found anything to fill those holes in their lives.  Either way, it is no way to truly live.  You can become enslaved to these wounds to the point where you can’t live a positive life, and instead you simply become a fight waiting to happen.  It is a broken existence.

Instead, the deep cuts that I have endured in life have made me stronger, and allowed me to serve others because I know what it feels like to be hurt.  I am in a somewhat unique situation, and can help when other people are knocked down in life simply due to what I’ve experienced.  How is that possible?

Jesus.

The ability to take an imperfect body like mine, and make it a life that is perfect in the eyes of God is solely credited to Jesus.  My wounds can’t define who I am because HE defines who I am.  And, while the scars may still be visible, the deep cuts have long ago healed through His love for me.  That healing allows me to be free.  It allows me not only to live, but to live happily.

I have no doubt that each and every person who chooses to read this has been hurt by someone else.  I believe you when you say those pains run deep, and that it is hard to let go.  What I refuse to believe is that you can’t let go.  What happens to you is often out of your control, but your reaction to those events is 100% within your power.  Your default reaction to pain can be re-learned to the point where you let your hurt go the moment after you have been wronged.

I don’t believe for a second that the vile nature that came out all over Facebook this week is simply because of the issue at hand.  More likely, the spiteful things typed out on the social media giant’s site this week were born out of hurt.  Hurt that has been building up for years, and explodes at every turn.

I challenge you to take that hurt…that pain…and give to God.  He is big enough to manage your hurt while you take the time to heal.  And, once you are on the path to healing, find others along the way who also need healing and care for them.  Caring for each other is the only path towards a discrimination-free society…because it is hard to hate while you are loving.

Life Today with James and Betty Robison Episode

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I have the pleasure of inviting you to view our Life Today episode that is airing today!  Watch it online via the Life Today link below, and be blessed:

Life Today with James Robison – Special Guests: Chet and Jim McDoniel