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kristan seaford

No Barriers - Recap

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No Barriers - Recap

Hmmm...As I sit here a week after returning from my trip to the No Barriers Summit (it has taken me this long to recover from jet lag and the chaos that is called the last week of school in a house with five kids), I have so much to recount and so many conclusions I've drawn. But I have no idea where to start...

 So, the beginning seems like a good place, right?

The flights out to CA were as uneventful as things get for a family with a disabled mom and five kids on their first airplane rides. Meaning that our day of travel was hilarious, to an outsider. We must have looked like a gaggle of geese, each with our own rolling suitcase. 

At the Charlotte airport, the kids delightedly turned circles, in awe of all the unfamiliar people, sites and sounds. (Except for 14-year-old Ben who was already a travel expert and practically bored after his one-way flight to Ohio a few summers back.) Even our firecracker of a four-year-old, Jeannie, glued herself to my side for most of the time.

Yes, there was excitement (and questions flying) in the air among the Seafords. As we walked down the aisle of the cabin in the plane, Brook and I just kept making eye contact with our fellow passengers, smiling and apologizing, smiling and apologizing. We imagined that the other passengers must be gritting their teeth and wishing they'd taken an earlier or a later flight. To them, the bus system must have been looking better and better. Or at least quieter! 

But truthfully, everyone was incredibly gracious and understanding of our chaotic crowd, even when there were more than seven spats over who was sitting next to Jeannie. (I was not innocent in this department - I just wanted to see her reaction when we actually left the ground, OK?) Even the flight attendants offered us mercy - in the way of continually feeding my husband Brook free biscotti and bloody mary's.

Jeannie was wide-eyed and mesmerized at take-off, yet I was dismayed at how quickly she was “done with that show;” she wanted to shut her window shade and play on my iPad. I kept trying to divert her attention to all she could see out the window, but she kept returning to the topics of her next snack, lollipop, or dollar-store prize. Unbelievable.

We had a few blips with connecting flights not leaving enough time for meals; but luckily I had stocked my back pack with granola bars and gummy bears, so we made it to Lake Tahoe without a child fainting from pangs of hunger and thirst.

Yay! We made it Tahoe! And we began to meet some folks who didn't look like the majority of the population. Walking sticks for visual impairments, ASL interpreters for hearing loss, prosthetics, and wheelchairs all became commonplace. But my kids were much more impressed by all the service dogs, who they all knew by name within minutes. Our favorite dog of the weekend, Potter, was a yellow lab who could carry groceries, open doors, and (best of all) take his owner's socks and shoes on and off!

Almost as soon as we got to the resort, I met Sophia, my new seven-year-old hero with several prosthetics that fit on to her shorter arm. She chooses a different one each day, depending on her level of activity. Sophia even has a "sports arm" that she wears to play baseball, basketball, soccer, or to "cirque" practice. Yes, you read that correctly -  this little girl who was born without a hand participates in "Cirque De Soleil," specifically aerial dancing and acrobatics. I love her! She has no barriers to sports and no problem making quick friends with my girls. Her mom and I had an instant connection as well. I was going to LOVE this weekend!

And I did. Oh how I did. I think my eyes were opened wider to my surroundings than Jeannie's were when our airplane left the ground! And, a week later, I am still flying.

As I had hoped, I was able to participate in several adaptive adventure sports. I tried an adaptive bike (recumbent-style with hand brakes customized for my prosthetics) on a 15-mile trail that sidled along the Truckee River. I climbed on a rock wall, an activity I'd tried before. But this time I summited the wall, and I gloriously rang the bell at the top!

I kayaked and canoed; and then I surprised even myself by standing on a paddleboard and paddling on Lake Donner. (Praise be to God that I didn't spill into that ice-cold water like my older kids did!)

After three years of obstacle after obstacle, words can't describe what it was like to cycle, paddle, and climb without barriers again. Exhilaration! Laughter! Fear! Gratitude! Reward! Joy! Yes, I experienced all of those! I was amazed that after all this time my muscles remembered what it felt like to have two hands and two feet again! Not only was I able to do the sports I used to do, but I also found myself trying things that I never had before. I was taking more risks, not less; and I felt more confidence in my abilities than ever before. On several different occasions I actually forgot that I was disabled. 

I've had the opportunity now to see a few pictures and videos of myself from last weekend. Interestingly, I was almost surprised to see the adaptations, equipment, and people that were assisting and allowing me to cycle, paddle, climb, and move. Because, in the moment, all I'd felt was able! Those adaptations were merely part of me.

Even though I noticed all the help I required, I didn't consider myself "less than," "dis-abled" or "unwhole." Instead, I felt stronger! I knew that, with my team, I could do anything. And I am eager to discover what adventure awaits!

My experience at the No Barriers Summit left me forever changed. But, even more than the adventure sports, it was the personal connections I made that proved to be the most defining of moments. My family and I, we met the coolest, most inspiring people! Paralympic athletes, singers and songwriters, artists and innovators. 

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We met people like Sarah Herron, the first contestant with a disability to compete on The Bachelor, who now spearheads a nonprofit that builds self-confidence in young girls with disabilities.

We heard amazing speakers like Marlee Matlin, the beautiful actress who stars in the show "Switched at Birth" and won an Oscar for her work on the movie Children of a Lesser God.

Then there was Liz Murray, the author of Homeless to Harvard, her memoir about spending her high school years living on the street but breaking barriers to achieve great things despite the economic, educational, and cultural differences she faced.

And, of course, I need to mention the founder of No Barriers, Eric Weihenmayer(I got to have breakfast with this amazing man!) Several years ago, this born adventurer wrote a book about his experience as being the first blind man to summit Mount Everest.

His latest book, No Barriers, chronicles his days as the first to solo kayak through the Grand Canyon. He is a quick-witted gentleman who makes everyone in the room feel like their own "barriers" are mere mirage - when Eric is in the room, obstacles disappear.

The Seaford Seven also heard performers like Mandy Harvey. You may know her as the winner of last week's America's Got Talent! She's a deaf singer who takes her shoes off to feel the vibrations and "hears" the tones that help her sing on pitch and in time. The band X Ambassadors played as well; Ben had (of course) heard their music before; and, for about an “instant,” being with his family was cool enough to post on social media. We had arrived!!!

We met people who recognize "No Barriers" standing in the way of their dreams. Because, like the motto claims, "what's within you is stronger than what's standing in your way." Not everyone at the conference was "disabled." Some people and corporations attended for the sheer inspiration the weekend provided. Most were there to financially, physically, or emotionally support some person or group who is disabled. But all attendees were there to live a life without barriers.

Cabinets to Go was the corporate sponsor who donated the funds to bring my whole family to the Summit. A national company, they sponsored one person (or one family, as in our case), to travel to the conference. We had breakfast with the attendees representing Cabinets-to-go, and they thanked us for coming jusr as greatly and just as often as we thanked them. Their generosity and compassion was truly humbling.

An entirely unexpected result of our trip was what No Barriers did for our family unit. Yes, it helped my children learn to accept and interact with all sorts of people from all walks of life. Yes, it celebrated my kids' adventurous spirits and their courage in untried and unproven activities like archery, kayaking, and paddleboarding - even trying new foods! And yes, it increased my kids' self-confidence as they talked to new people of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities.

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But the No Barriers Summit weekend also changed the culture in my family to that of a team! We worked together to find gate C6 in Phoenix, to keep each other's attitudes in check when we hungrily awaited the extremely late shuttle bus to the hotel, and to plan our days so that everyone got to do an activity they enjoyed. Before I knew it, I was commenting to Brook that the kids were all playing well, together!, in the pool. They didn't fight over who sat together on the flight home. And don't tell anyone this; but Caroline's head exhaustedly fell onto Ben's shoulder on the car ride home from the airport. (Don't worry: they are back to fighting like cats and dogs.)

Even before our weekend in California, I knew that my family could survive all kinds of trauma. But, for three years now, (ever since I got sepsis), we've been operating with an underlying tension in our family, always looking over our shoulders for the next trauma to hit. There was grief and healing that had yet to occur.

The No Barriers Summit taught us that, together, we can not only survive after a trauma, but thrive. Collectively, we've learned to let go, relax, take risks, trust, help others, and have fun together. We're looking forward to the next adventure that life will offer.

The point is (and perhaps this is the point) that our family unit is stronger than anything that may come in our way.  With organizations like No Barriers, and with inspiring heroes like Sophia, Marlee Matlin, Mandy Harvey, and Eric Weihenmayer to inspire me and show me the way, I am stronger than my amputations. With innovators like Ottobock Prosthetics, Adventure Sports, Cycledifferent and more, we come away stronger than whatever’s in our way! And with nonprofits and foundations like No Barriers, people with disabilities like mine are encouraged and underwritten to have amazing experiences like this one as well as my ski trip with Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colorado, as well as my First Cycle, First Swim, First Dance, and First Climb experiences through OPAF (Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation). See my blog posts, "Independence" and "I Am A Skier".

What a weekend, what a trip.

Thank you, Cabinets-To-Go. And thank you, No Barriers.

** If you would like to donate or to co-sponsor a participant for the 2018 No Barriers Summit (in New York City!), click here.

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Stockings, Blessings, and a Christmas Kiss

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Stockings, Blessings, and a Christmas Kiss

This morning I visited the dollar store to gather all the candy, small toys (my husband Brook so generously calls these items,"landfill"), school/craft supplies (more landfill) toiletries, and other treats that I love to buy to stuff the stockings for five kids, one husband, and (this year) one cat. What fun!

The items flew easily off the shelves and into my cart with superhero speed! Time passed all too quickly, and a glance at my watch told me that it had been over an hour since I'd arrived. I knew I had to hurry if I was going to accomplish all my planned tasks on this last school day before winter break! My cart and my heart were FULL as I imagined the looks of surprise, joy, and glee on the faces of my family next week.

Time to head to the checkout! Unfortunately, my euphoria came to a halt as I attempted to transfer my purchases from the cart to the rolling checkout counter. Physically, logistically, and financially, my purchases had suddenly become more difficult to handle. There was a fairly long line of customers behind me, and I was all too aware of how long the process took when using robotic, prosthetic hands.

Consider my task at "hand":
1) Open hand.
2) Place hand over the bag of candy or trinkets.
3) Close hand lightly around it, careful not to smoosh the M&M's or cheaply made toy.
4) Pick up hand, hoping that the stocking stuffer was attached.
5) Hold hand over the scanner and open it. Exhale with relief that I hadn't inadvertently dropped said item back into the cart or onto the floor.
6) Celebrate that I'd successfully transferred an item.
7) Repeat above process with the other >100 stocking stuffers.

I smiled lightly at the sweet lady who was the next customer in line, tacitly apologizing for how long this process was taking and how much of her Christmas shopping time I was eating. But, instead of being annoyed with me, she kindly and graciously offered to help! And I knew she was doing this from a genuine place of goodwill to men (or women, as the case may be).

Thankfully, I often receive such offers when I am grocery shopping, etc. But I am not naive. I know that some of the people who help me at the time of checkout are merely expediting the checkout process for themselves.

Every single time I shop, I am aware of how other shoppers notice my struggling with the checkout process, not only of putting my items on the countertop but also of retrieving my debit card from my purse, sliding it through the card reader (or more recently pushing it into the chip reader - yet another new thing I've learned), and finally entering my debit code or signing my name. Sometimes my prosthetic fingers are recognized by the touch screens; but more often they are not. In these cases, I am forced to use my elbow or the stylus pen provided, another lengthy process all its own.

I usually try to reassure people that it is harder for them to watch me struggle than it is for me to struggle. Many kind people must suppress an enormous urge to reach out with their own hand and do this whole process for me - to take away my struggles, if only for that one moment. My heart goes out to them; it truly does. The whole debacle just makes it awkward for everyone involved...

But I digress...Back to my story.

The sweet lady behind me, let's call her "Beatrice," was actively and authentically helping me. But the rest of the people in line were not quite so patient - they were using their hands and feet to tap their watches or their toes. At this point, I felt the need to explain that I was filling stockings for five kids, not just spoiling one or two. I thought this might somehow make it less annoying that I was also "deciding against" items here and there, trying to remember that we are on a "pastor budget" these days, and attempting to keep things "fair and even" between each child and their bounty. 

But you'll never believe what happened next:

Beatrice gracefully swept the things that I had set aside back into the pile of items to be purchased. She looked into my eyes and told me I was a blessing to her. She quietly told me not to worry about the items I'd set aside because she'd be paying for my whole order!!! And she softly said, "You just go home and take care of those babies. I'll take care of this."

I tried to argue, but she'd have nothing of that. With tears in my eyes, I thanked her and hugged her. I told her what an incredible blessing she was to me and my family this Christmas!

What an incredibly generous gift Beatrice gave my family. I can only imagine the expressions of surprise and delight that will appear on my kids' faces this Christmas morning! Oh, what a blessing!

When I returned home, the first thing my husband did was ask me who I'd been kissing! "What?" I asked. I thought maybe he was referring to the way I was glowing with joy. But, as it turned out, when Beatrice and I hugged, she had left a little reminder of her gift that morning. A simple kiss.

Who has kissed you this Christmas season? How will you kiss, or bless, someone else's life? I challenge you to take away someone's worries, be it through a warm smile given to the cashier in Walmart, a financial gift, or just taking something from their plate of burdens. Be that blessing in someone else's life, just like Beatrice was in mine.

I hope you have a merry Christmas, and blessed New Year.

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I Am A Cyclist

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I Am A Cyclist

amputee cyclist

"It's just like riding a bike!" According to the old saying, riding a bike is supposed to come back easily, even when it's been years since your last ride.

However, these little maxims aren't necessarily true: babies generally don't sleep well; and cats don't always land on their feet. So I was cautiously optimistic that cycling could become my new sport of choice, even as an amputee...

Last weekend I had the opportunity to give it a whirl! I attended a "First Cycling Clinic" in Greenville, South Carolina that was hosted by OPAF (Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation).

In a recent blog post, I mentioned this fantastic organization that provides amputees with opportunities to try athletic activities for the "first" time. It was with OPAF that I had my first experience in the water; now, they put me (and about 30 other amputees) on wheels!

There was a time when I thought that I would never ride a bike again – I assumed that it would be too difficult (and scary) to balance on wheels. And how could I grip a hand brake without hands? Obviously, fall could mean a serious injury.

But, with the adaptations provided by The Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital, I wasn't required to balance, and falls were far less likely. So biking wasn't nearly as scary as the other activities I've tried since losing my hands and feet – not as frightening as walking, running, teaching step aerobics and weight training, or coming down a staircase. And not life-threatening like swimming or skiing!

The folks with OPAF had several different kinds of bikes that I could try – tricycles, hand cycles, and recumbent bikes. You should have seen some of their contraptions, all invented to allow people to experience the exhilarating freedom of riding a bike.

After talking and brainstorming about my unique challenges, we decided that I should try a recumbent bicycle. This arrangement allowed me to pedal without forcing my right knee to   bend more than 90 degrees.

Wearing all my prosthetics, I held the handlebars that were twisted 180 degrees so that I could push down on the hand brakes, instead of having to squeeze them.

I sat in the hammock-like seat, strapped my feet in the pedals, and off I went! Before I knew it, I was riding my bike around the block. It was so comfortable and even relaxing. Honestly, it felt more like lounging in a LazyBoy than exercising.

Cycling was easy! Easy as pie! Maybe that will be my next athletic endeavor!

To be continued...


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I Am A Swimmer.

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I Am A Swimmer.

The verdict is in, and I will likely never run again. 

Yes, this ruling feels like a life sentence - I am a runner at heart, and I mourn the loss of that identity. Running has been my life-blood, my therapy, and my stress relief for my whole adult life. After a few hours (ok, months) of pity partying; I am getting up, brushing myself off, and hitting the gym again.

Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I crave an activity that gets my heart rate up, makes me sweat, releases endorphins, clears my head, builds muscle, and glorifies God. 

According to the authorities (doctors), I am "allowed" to ride the stationary bike or the elliptical. Those machines are fine, and I'm grateful that I'm physically able to use them. As long as I have an iPad and a good TEDtalk to occupy me, I can tolerate them as ways to sweat. I've even taken a few cycle classes.  But frankly, I just need to MOVE more than those machines allow me to do. 

Another obvious option is swimming...

I grew up swimming at the neighborhood pool, even joining the swim team by the time I was six years old. As a teenager, I was a lifeguard, swim instructor, and swim team coach. And as an abled adult runner, I occasionally swam laps for cross training. I even competed in a triathlon or two.

About a year ago, I participated in an event called "First Swim," offered by OPAF,  an organization that travels around the country providing swimming (and other active) experiences for amputees. 

This particular event that I attended was led by a two-time World Champion TriAthlete, Mabio Costa, a below the knee amputee, and assisted by the NCAA Champion Queens University Royals; and I was excited to try it. 

As I headed to Queens University, I was envisioning a sweet college girl holding me like a baby in waist-deep water, helping me float on my back. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, my "first swim" was nothing like that at all. 

Instead, the leader had me remove all of my prosthetics and sit at the edge of the deep end. Then, he simply told me to "hop in!" As if it were that easy...

Mr. Costa predicted that I would sink; and he said that when I got to the bottom, I should push off and swim to the top as fast as I could. Did I mention that this pool was 12 feet deep?

I gasped, as two college girls treaded water and encouraged me, "Come on! We've got you. On the count of three, just jump in!" 

I don't think I've ever been so scared, before or since. I had a whole new respect for the preschoolers that I taught to swim all those years ago. I truly understood the fear they'd expressed when I'd asked them to "just" jump into my arms! 

"Ok," I thought. "I can do this." Mr. Costa seemed to know what he was talking about. I doubted that he'd go through all of this, just to watch me drown. Plus, I'd been resuscitated more than once already. I didn't see much risk wrapped up in one more time...

"Ok," I whispered to myself. "One, two, three..."

Only I didn't go. 

The coach whispered back, "You can do this."

"One, two, three," I tried again.

And, with a burst, this time I hit the water! 

It happened JUST like he said it would. I sank to the bottom. I pushed off, and I swam as fast as I could to the surface. I lifted my head, and I heard a boisterous cheer.

"You did it!"

There was my husband, and there were my kids. In the bleachers clapping, big smiles on their faces. 

Yes, I did.  I did do it.

"I'm swimming," I thought. Or maybe I shouted; it's hard to say. 

Either way, the answer was clear: I can swim again!

I floated like a cork! Still, I was unbalanced and uneven. Treading water felt very strange, and I teeter-tottered back and forth like one of those old-school toys. I think they were called weeble-wobbles?

But I was doing it! I put my head back and easily floated on my back. Then I flipped over and tried some freestyle. 

It was odd. Oddly easy to stay afloat. But oddly impossible to go anywhere.

Swimming, for me, works like a treadmill! I stroke and kick as fast as my little sticks can go, but I don't go anywhere! 

Without hands, I don't have "oars." So my arms can crawl forward, but it's a bit like rowing a boat with sticks. 

Kicking is even more fruitless. My legs feel like dead weight - it is easier to use a pull buoy so I don't have to kick at all. I'm not sure if that is due to my uneven lower body or to my toe-less foot lacking any resemblance to a webbed one. Are there any swimming experts or physicists out there who want to weigh in? Why is it that amputee swimming is so difficult and slow-going?

Regardless of my speed though, I'm finally swimming again! And I can say with confidence that I am getting a good cardiovascular workout each time. I get breathless, and I tire easily in the pool. My upper body and my entire core work especially hard. 

Swimming is also fulfilling some of my emotional and spiritual needs. The breathing is meditative, and it is incredibly quiet under water. I get into a rhythm that is very similar to that of running.

 I use that rhythm to repeat prayers like a rosary. I swim in honor of people on my prayer list, and there is plenty of time for reflection. At the same time, I can scream in frustration, and no one hears my curses.

These days I'm hitting the pool several times a week. With each workout, swimming gets easier; and I'm swimming faster, longer, and stronger. 

Today I swam a MILE! 72 LENGTHS!

And all without prosthetics! Yup, just me and my little, broken body. 

Yes. I am an amputee. 

But I am also an athlete. 

I am a swimmer.

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See Kristan Ski!

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See Kristan Ski!

A few months ago, my virtual friend Ian Warshak told me about a program in Colorado that helps people with disabilities learn to ski. He said they were accepting applications, and he sent me the website for the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango. This remarkable organization uses athletic pursuits to enrich the lives of those with disabilities while spreading a message of hope and showing the world all that we are ABLE to do. Their mission is right up my alley, huh? 

ASA Durango offers out-of-state scholarships to athletes with disabilities that include an all-expenses paid trip - airfare, lodging, meals, and four days of skiing with a private instructor. Um, yes please!

On a whim, I applied. I had no idea what my chances were, but I figured there were a lot of people in the whole country that would love to go. So I filled out the college-like application, forgot about it, and went about my too-busy life. 

Then, on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving home from running some errands, and I got a phone call that popped up as a Colorado phone number.  I thought, "Who do I know from Colora..." Before I could finish my thought, I remembered my pending application! The super-duper nice woman who was calling said she had a few questions for me! She asked, I answered; and, by the end of our conversation, it was fairly clear that I would be going to Colorado!  

That was two weeks ago, and I am leaving for my big trip tomorrow, Monday January 11th.The quick turnaround really threw me, but it is probably for the best that I not have more time to anticipate and become apprehensive. 

Going somewhere alone, without my husband who takes cares of me, is an adventure all its own! Brook puts my leg on every morning, he buttons my clothes, and he makes my heaven-blessed coffee. What will I do without him? I think I am more scared of the independence than the actual skiing! 

My itinerary is that I will fly straight into Durango, Colorado, and I'll get in right after lunch. I'll use the afternoon and evening to adjust to the time zone and altitude as well as get to know my host family. This husband, wife, and 12 year-old son open their home every year to the program participants, and I can't wait to get to know them. I'll stay with them for five nights. On Tuesday through Friday I will, along with a few other people with disabilities like paralysis and MS, ski from 9 until 4; then I will relax with my new family each night. Then I'll travel home on Saturday to share my experience!

"Excited" doesn't begin to describe my feelings toward my week in the Colorado mountains. This is an adventure that I would never get to explore before my disabilities. And it will be all the more rich, empowering, and memorable because of them.

Check back here for updates and pictures. To be continued...

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The Beauty of a Shower

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The Beauty of a Shower

This is a blog post that I wrote a few months ago. I was just recovering from a surgery on my right foot, which attempted to close up a wound created by my original amputation surgery 18 months ago.

Relatively speaking, the surgery was not a big deal. What was a big deal was the aftermath. My whole leg was in a cast, and I was labeled "zero weight-bearing," which means I couldn't put any weight on my right foot. This put me in a pickle because my right foot is my only foot. I was stuck in my bed; if I wanted to get up, I had to crawl. Or  hop on my left (prosthetic) leg with the help of a walker. I also couldn't get that right foot wet, so showers were not in the cards for me.  

Which led me to this post:

The Beauty of a Shower

Everyone (except my 12-year-old son) loves a shower. But today I had the most beautiful shower imaginable. It has been 6 weeks since my last one. 6 weeks since I have felt truly clean. 6 weeks since the hot, cleansing streams powered over my hair, down my arms and back and rolled down to my legs and feet. Sponge baths just. Don't. Do it.  

But today (about six weeks since my most recent foot surgery), the surgeon sawed off my cast and announced that I could finally get my foot wet! It is hard to run in a walking boot. But, like a kid "walks" on the pool deck when the lifeguard is watching, I raced-walked home to my brand new, beautiful shower. The one that my dad designed and his friends at Classica Homes donated and built for me.  It has a handicapped shower chair, but the rest of the space seems made for a movie star. Gorgeous earth-toned tiling surrounds this giant walk-in shower that could fit my whole family of 7. And since that family has not had time to vandalize it yet, it is wonderfully sparkling clean!

But the looks of the shower don't even come close to the FEEL of the shower. There are (count them) SIX powerful shower heads that shoot water at you from every direction. So many, in fact, that we can't use all of them all of the time because our water bill would amount to more than our mortgage payment! 

So my dear husband helped me get into this wondrous spa, turned on the shower head and all the jets (making up for all the water I saved by NOT showering for 6 weeks), and left me alone with my favorite, delicious-smelling, luxurious  guilty pleasure - Aveda Shampoo (thank you Megie for the perfect birthday gift).

We take our showers for granted. Most of us shower at least once a day. We stumble in with eyes barely open to have the streams wake us up. We jump in after a tough workout. Or we cleanse the dirt of the day away right before bed. Some of us do all three.

Being denied a shower because the hot water heater is broken or because the campsite has no running water is one thing. I have many times now had hospital filth on my skin that I wanted washed away, or my sweet husband has not had time between washing all of our kids to help me shower at home. So showers have recently taken on new meaning for me. But sometimes I do think of our homeless brothers and sisters who are truly denied the beauty of a shower. I am convicted by the truth- we are privileged and downright spoiled in the ease with which we shower.

All this thinking brings me back to a day in January 2014. At the time, I was staying at a rehab hospital/nursing home, awaiting the surgery that would save my life but change it too. My hands and feet were necrotic and gangrene, black and dead. My fingers were twisted, wrinkled, and shriveled like those of the wicked witch of the west. I had not showered since November 22nd, and, believe me, my body had been through a lot.

The ICU nurses had taken great care of me; they had gently bathed me during my coma and thereafter with warm, soapy water and a washcloth. While I was not trying to impress the male nurses and doctors with my hair and make-up, I never feel truly clean without a bath or shower. I have to admit, I was longing for the squeaky-clean feel of a 20-minute-long, scalding-hot, hard-hitting water-pressured, indulgent shower. The kind that leaves your skin red and inflamed.

On this particular morning, my occupational therapist came into my room for my daily session. She announced, "It's my birthday!" "Oh, Happy Birthday, Leena," I replied. She went on to tell me that, as HER birthday gift, she was going to give ME a shower. Now, this was not her job (and yes, many of the nurses and their assistants repeated that this or that was NOT in their job descriptions when I asked for things).

Leena did not have to help me shower; she could have just worked with me on holding a cup or sitting in a chair safely. She could have stayed out of it and let the nursing assistants worry about my required every other day sponge bath that did not include washing my hair.

Let me describe for you what a shower required at this point. Every limb had to be bandaged, wrapped in twenty layers of gauze (we called these my mitts), then covered in plastic garbage bags and closed with a ton of masking tape to keep the mitts completely dry. If any of my wounds (aka my hands and feet) got wet, they could get infected, which is what got me here in the first place. An infection could mean death. Or it could mean my amputations would need to be higher on my arms and legs. In other words, putting me under running water was not only a pain in the neck, it carried risk. Yet, Leena's overly kind heart led her to mark her birthday with helping me.

"Really?" I gasped. Leena nodded in reply, a huge smile on her face. I was anxiously excited, a bit scared of slipping and falling. But I wanted to do it nevertheless. I trusted Leena implicitly. But, for a fiercely independent, control freak like myself, allowing someone to carry my naked, fragile body and soul was a scary step into vulnerability and helplessness. The first of many. 

Once she stripped off my gown and safely wrapped all four nightmarish appendages, Leena lifted me out of my wheelchair (I was roughly 80 pounds at the time, so that part was easy) and placed me onto the shower chair. I was so weak from the trauma of the last two months that sitting up in a chair was difficult and tiring. Nursing homes are not known for their water pressure, but a sprinkle could easily knock me over now. So Leena slowly let the water flow down. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and thanked God for the blessing I was about to receive.

Then it hit me. More like patted me. Oh, the glory of water. Now I know why it is sacramental. Purifying. Baptismal. It warmly soaked my hair, rolled down my shoulders and back. I shivered in delight; then I blew out the deep breath I'd been holding. I opened my eyes and looked up at my Leena with a grin the size of Texas. I whispered, "Thank you, Leena." Then louder, "and Happy Birthday."

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