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Giving and Thanks

Matthew 25: 21 “Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.” The Message Bible

Our family has so much to be thankful for this year. Tommy has been on the receiving end of people willing to share their God given energy, intellect, talent or treasure for the benefit of his physical care. At the beginning of October, the community of Fayetteville and beyond, came together for Tommy’s Nite Out to raise money for his care giving. His injury requires that he has 24-hour care; if he is not able to stay at home with caregivers, he would need to live in a health facility. Needless to say, our family is beyond grateful that he is able to live at home. He gets up every day, and during the week goes to his office in Rogers. He may be severely disabled, but his attitude is abundantly able. Just ask anyone who spends time with him. He does not feel sorry for himself and is always asking how he can help.

In October we were invited to speak at Cross Church’s Summit Luncheon about Flipped! Triumph over Tragedy, Mark Saviers’ book recounting the aftermath of Tommy’s accident. Opportunities like this encourage us to continue pressing on. Our family is able to triumph over this tragedy because we have a sense of belonging to a greater purpose. These opportunities allow us to connect and communicate to others how God has walked with us through the past ten years.

We have observed that people who encourage and support others come from a place of abundance. An attitude of abundance results from believing that giving one’s time, talent, and resources in service to others has its own rewards. These actions as mentioned in the scripture above create a sense of belonging to a greater cause, a quiet satisfaction of a job well done, a partnership and a trust in the Creator of the world, that is a reward in and of itself. These actions create a heart filled with gratitude which is the fuel for an abundant mindset.

What in your life brings to you a sense of gratitude? Here are some things that come to mind: a beautiful autumn day in the Ozarks, observing a teenager helping his wobbly grandmother, a beloved pet lovingly looking at her “human,” a choir singing, the quiet and trust between loved ones, cuddling a baby.

Any time you feel like life is unfair, or challenges seem overwhelming and a sense of despair is clouding your vision, take a few moments to consider what you still have versus what you have lost. Gratitude can start with breathing: breathing is a gift, life is a gift, memories are a gift. You are a gift.

Happy Thanksgiving, we pray for an abundance in your mind, your heart, your life.

The Van Zandt/Saviers Family

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The Gift of Surrender

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…”

Isaiah 61:3

The phrase “a new normal” has never worked for me. Nothing is normal when it comes to suffering. It doesn’t feel very “normal,” to have your life abruptly upended, to have unexpressed tears stuck in your throat and to see your future plans vanish. However, what I can accept is that with time and grace suffering can be a gift and a path to a life with purpose. It has been 9 and a half years since Tommy’s accident, and I am at the beginning of understanding what surrendering my will to God’s will really means.

Surrendering takes discipline, it takes prayer, it takes head and heart understanding of what surrender looks and feels like. Let’s start with the opposite of surrender, which is control. What does control look like?  Something like: it is my responsibility to make sure Tommy stays healthy. I need to have everything in order legally and financially so that I am not taken by surprise, or maybe I find myself preoccupied with the family’s health whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical. Surrender looks like…OK all of these things are important and need to be considered. I will do my part to be wise and disciplined, praying for God’s guidance with the realization that I am not in charge of the outcome. It takes time and discipline to practice this mindset. What helps me and strengthens my faith is to look back and see how we have been cared for in every one of these areas in unexpected ways and most of the time without my help!

Another area I have had to practice surrendering is accepting how much my life has changed. This is so hard, but God’s grace is sufficient even for this. What has helped me is to look at the lives of people in scripture that God used to bring Him glory. You can also find inspiring stories in the media of people who have turned pain into purpose.  A scripture story that resonates with me is Moses, an outsider in his own family, born an Israelite and raised in Pharoah’s household. His anger at the way the Israelite slaves were being treated got so out of control that he murdered an Egyptian. Talk about a life being Flipped! But God had compassion and a plan for Moses. Moses went from walking the halls of a palace to tending sheep for forty years! Moses had to learn the gift of surrendering his will and his life over to God. The result of this forty-year surrendering was a humble man who reluctantly agreed to lead the Israelites from slavery to freedom. During this trek through the wilderness God gave the Israelites daily manna or bread to sustain them. This daily reliance upon God’s provision is also found in the new testament when Jesus taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”  The message here is that we can trust God to take care of our needs, but we need to turn to him daily with faith and thanksgiving.

What if suffering and wilderness experiences are a path to relying on God? What if relying on God builds our faith, transforming anxiety and fear into strength? What if, once strengthened through God’s grace we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and participate in the relieving of the suffering of others? What if we stop thinking that hard times, disappointments, or flipped lives are a punishment? What if we accept all of life as a gift and appreciate even the hard times as an opportunity to become a vessel for God’s glory and not our own? I have found in my own life that the pretense of self-sufficiency tends to lead to pride, judgement and fear. I am beginning to see that through surrender and God’s grace there is a depth to life through meaningful connection, healing, purpose and peace. I would not have chosen this path for our family. However, I am eternally grateful for what I have learned so far, and I have hope that ashes will be transformed into an internal and eternal beauty for the glory of God, who DID choose to suffer and surrender for my sake and for yours.

From my heart to yours,

Robyn

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Influence in the Workplace

“I remember that day very well. The event was early in the morning and it was very cold outside. I had been back from rehabilitation about six months. I was still very weak and had been battling medical issues. However, I felt the adrenaline of being asked to speak and all of the great people in the room. The only thing I know is to speak from my heart. Hopefully, you will enjoy this video of the event. Blessings to all,” Tommy.

On April 9th, 2010, exactly 14 months after Tommy was injured, he was asked to share his testimony to a gathering of people at Workmatters in Fayetteville, AR. We thought you might enjoy hearing his talk. It is a powerful statement of faith.

Deep Dive

“Who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble” Isaiah 63:13

Like many of you I was overcome with joy when I heard the news that the young Thai soccer players and their coach were rescued from being trapped in a cave. Their environment was becoming more and more hazardous for their health, and their chances for being rescued were getting smaller by the hour. The situation was so dangerous for the boys and the divers that one expert diver died when he ran out of oxygen on his way out of the cave. Their rescue was meticulously planned and executed. Expert divers prepared the players for the harrowing journey out, they were surrounded by the divers as they swam out of the cave, they were given medicine to calm them and a rope to guide them.

I can relate to aspects of this scenario, can you? Maybe we find our lives “flipped” from following our own curiosity that has led us deep into a dark cave where we become trapped. Maybe our circumstances are so scary that we are required to dive deep into the unknown and trust when we can’t see ahead; finding that we neither have the strength nor the ability to solve our own problems. Even writing this blog is one of those scenarios for me, not life- threatening mind you, but scary nonetheless. Putting my thoughts out to the public knowing I am neither a writer by training nor an expert on scripture creates apprehension in me. However, I choose to act because my faith experience has shown me that I am not alone, I have an expert rescuer guiding me. This expert is available to all of us. This expert is God, Jesus the son, was willing to give His own life to save ours. God, the Holy Spirit, who builds our trust by encouraging us, teaching and preparing us, and calming us. God, the father, nourishes us with food and oxygen, hems us in so that we feel secure, gives us a rope (scripture, family, community) to hang onto; and then leads the way out or through our circumstances. Furthermore, we have access to God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, at all times and in all places. He will never leave and go home. God will not make us follow Him, He knows that it is crucial that it is our choice to believe in Him. It is our choice to surrender to Him, and to trust and to follow Him.

All humans struggle with this choice to surrender, trust and follow. We are by nature “strong willed” because we want to be in control. It is scary to literally put our lives into another person’s hands, because we know human experts are limited, as we saw with the expert diver who was overcome by his natural limitations. Perhaps we have experienced authority figures who were not gentle, patient, or forgiving. But what if we put our trust in a God who knows us intimately, who, if we choose Him, will forgive our weaknesses and strengthen us? An all knowing eternal expert, triune God, who desires for us to accept Him so we can live with Him forever once our natural limits are reached on this earth.

Faith takes practice and discipline, and many times my “strong will” gets in the way of experiencing His influence in my life. However, when I do choose to surrender to Him, trust Him and follow His direction the result is that I am less likely to feel anxious or sad. His faithful provision gives me hope that He will continue to do so in the future, encouraging friends help me to see that what I am going through, with His help, benefits others and strengthens me. Furthermore, His comfort through scripture and prayer provides relief from the false notion that I have to rely totally on myself or other limited human beings.

It does not take a crisis in our lives to bring us to the point of choosing to lay down our will to follow God’s will for us. He wants us to know Him so we can begin to see that He is loving and trustworthy, no matter our circumstances past, present and future. He does not promise that following Him will be easy, but He does promise that we will never be alone. Even if our vision is limited and we can’t feel him; He will give us a rope and He is on the other end, leading us to eternal life with Him.

Q&A with Tommy: What makes you happy?

“You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” 

John 16:24 (New Living Translation)

The question I am asked most often is, how can I be happy with my paralysis which caused a total change in my life after being healthy and active for 50 years? Let’s face it, all of us want to be happy and have joy in our lives.

To truly find happiness, you may need to pray about it and search your heart for the right answer. A documentary titled “Happy” states that 10% of happiness comes from circumstances, 50% from genetics and 40% intentional activity.

Flipped touches on this subject with regard to my sense of positive outlook and joy on a daily basis. I will try to convey the intentional activities I choose that brings happiness and joy to my life. Continue reading

Wheelchair Accessibility

If you clicked on this title to read about the environmental aspects of wheelchair accessibility, sorry to disappoint, but the title is actually a play on words. This is an observation about how some people learn to create an atmosphere that invites people to connect with them.

Tommy is confident but self-effacing, as well as quick-witted, warm, and, at his core, kind-hearted. I find this is true of Mark, his brother-in-law, and Vicki, his sister, too. These traits have worked in their favor as they have made many friends over their lifetime.

Nine plus years ago Tommy was “gifted” with a wheelchair. I use the word gift because I have noticed that when people he meets get beyond the visual of his physical difference, they enjoy conversing with him. One of Tommy’s behaviors I have noticed that helps to ease other’s apprehension are that when he enters a space, he is usually the first to speak and smile. This intentional act informs those who don’t know him that he can speak and that he is approachable. Continue reading

When you’re a member of the ‘Flipped Club’

Jamie and her dogs a few years ago

I have been a member of many clubs in my life from Toastmasters to summer Bible clubs when I was a kid. One club I am now a part of is the “flipped club.” That’s right, those of us who have had our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, thrown in a turmoil because of an illness, injury, or some other major, life-changing event.

My membership application

What is ironic, or maybe just a little weird is, I would not consider myself a member of this club until the last few years. I was born with the disability Spina Bifida and am a full-time wheelchair user. Three years ago, however, I developed an auto-immune form of arthritis that often feels like it has the ultimate say-so in my life.

You see, the Spina Bifida may have been a “flipped” moment for my parents, but for me, it is the only reality I know. Truth be told, I would consider my life flipped if, somehow, I was miraculously healed. It would be a major change to everything I have ever known, including how I see the world. The arthritis, though, has often felt like a cruel joke that has robbed me of my who I once was.

I have always worked to stay positive, as it was what my parents taught me from an early age. In those moments of positive also came turmoil that I am learning to share with others in a way that lets them into my story and, I hope, helps them in some way.

Kindred spirits

I first met Tommy and Robyn when I started helping write this website and later signed on to help them with their blogs and social media. I have “met” the Saviers via phone and feel blessed to know the whole family.

When Tommy and I met, there seemed to be an instant connection. One might, and probably naturally so, that it is our disabilities what bond us. I respectfully disagree. Tommy and I live very different lives as our physical issues manifest themselves in very different ways.

Where we instantly bonded was how we handle our disabilities.

Anyone who spends five minutes around the two of us will quickly learn that we handle life with humor. Often morbid humor. But humor nonetheless. We crack jokes, often at our own expense. I have found that approach not only helps me keep a better attitude, but it makes people from the able-bodied world feel more at ease.

A few thoughts

I personally am not a fan of people telling me what to do, think or feel so I try to respect that in how I treat others. I do want to take a few moments and offer a few thoughts to those who might just now be finding yourself a member of the flipped club.

It is OK to grieve-God gave us emotions. We are allowed to grieve losing the life we once knew. I have found that as new situations arise, I must grieve all over again but in a new way each time. And that is OK. I am not reliving the grief God already helped heal. It is new grief as this illness exposes new hurts. Grief is also not doubting God. In fact, I would say grief is the time when God can be given the opportunity to show his glory more than any other moment.

It is OK to share-You are not a burden. I want you to repeat that out loud. I recognize the need for boundaries and know that you need to find those you feel safe sharing your deepest struggles with, but I also know the power of sharing your story. The power of letting people in. God will bring the right people to bless you and, in turn, you will bless them. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me they felt brave enough to go through their struggles because I shared mine. God brought that into place, I can assure you.

There is hope and even joy to come-No, I am not saying you will find miraculous healing. God can for sure do that, but he often finds other, more powerful ways to work in our lives. In some faith circles, having a disability that remains is seen as a lack of faith in God’s healing power. That is a false, abusive theology. I often tell people that when my family prayed for me to be healed from the Spina Bifida, God chose to not heal my body. Instead, he healed my spirit. I still struggle, I still grieve. But I hold onto the hope and joy we find in Jesus.

Life is hard, but God is good. So good.

Abundant Living

Mark 2: 2-4 “Some men came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on…”

Kim Butler and her steering committee put together a wonderful evening for Dallas friends to raise money for Tommy’s in-home care.

The generosity, the effort, the determination of the friends of a paralyzed man. I am not only talking about the Bible story, I am also relating present-day experiences. Our family has been blown away by friends and family who have “carried” us over the last 9+ years. Their determination to provide the means for Tommy to be cared for at home humbles us to the core.

Caring and connection are tremendously powerful tools of abundant living. What is truly miraculous to see is The Spirit working amongst friends who are motivated to act for the benefit of another.

Over the years, we have witnessed a strong feeling of connection among people who organize and who attend the “Tommy’s Nite Out” events. We know that at the core it is not about one person or one family; but it is about community, connection and caring.   Continue reading

With God, nothing is impossible (reflections from a caregiver)

By April, one of Tommy’s caregivers

I hate running. But there will come a day that I will run.

Why will I be running? Because I will be chasing Tommy Van Zandt. Why is Tommy running?

Because he can.

He will be praising God and running throughout heaven on streets of gold. Tommy will stride to the beat of Amazing Grace. There is no telling how many pairs of Cosmic Converse shoes he will go through.

Eternity is a long time. I can only imagine Tommy’s Joy! Continue reading

Does Tommy have a social life? (another common question)

This is another question that I often get asked about life after my accident. The question is, do I have a social life?

The answer is, absolutely! I love being around people very much. Other than work interaction with employees and partners during the day, I enjoy gathering with friends and family in our home. Robyn and I love to be out on our back deck with friends, food and beverages.  We also go to friends’ homes and to restaurants. After being out, It takes about two hours getting me in bed, respiratory done and lights off. Sometimes that can make for a long night.

I attend one or two Razorback football games a year due to the gracious invitation of friends allowing me to use a few seats in their box. Hog basketball games are much more difficult. Handicap seating is very limited and cumbersome as well as parking. All of this may sound fun but finding available handicap parking within a reasonable distance to a stadium is hard on the caregiver. Continue reading