"Miracles are never wrought without prayer, felt need, and faith...they are the natural result of the Messiah's presence among men."
Bible Dictionary

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why I'd make a terrible cat burglar

For my internship this summer, I have to obtain a government security clearance. As such, I've filled out several different forms and input piles of personal information into government websites. So in the unlikely event you're contacted about me, please say something nice!

Most recently, and memorably, was the fingerprinting "adventure" I suffered through. Fingerprinting is (crossing my... fingers) the last step in obtaining the security clearance. To have them taken, I went with my Mom up to Salt Lake to the Northrop Grumman office, an appointment having been made previously. It turns out the ink method is now archaic, and prints are all digital these days. Which I'm sure is great in terms of ease and efficiently for 99% of the population, but it also turns out the print machine is rather picky and requires a perfect image to validate the fingerprints.
Well, what if you can't actually move your fingers into the required positions? Or what if your joints are really tight and like to involuntarily clench up? That makes those perfect images pretty difficult to capture. And by "pretty difficult" I mean four pairs of hands, a full hour of effort, and a handful of swears (not from me, I promise!) It was a little bit of a spectacle I'm sure, but hey the prints finally got taken and are presumably acceptable.

Ironically, if you think about it the whole thing was a colossal waste of time. Why would I need to be fingerprinted? My hands and fingers would be useless in committing any kind of crime. If anything I should have had tire marks put on file - that's what will really identify me at the crime scene.

No deep message on this one. I just thought I'd share and encourage you to laugh at these kind experiences rather than be frustrated and annoyed! It makes life much brighter.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hard Work!

I keep a running "to-do" list on my phone. It's a pretty simple organizational strategy - when I hear or think of something I need to do, I'll make a note of it. The list will include emails to send, calls to make, medications to refill and pickup, etc. I don't even consider schoolwork here - that's separate.
Currently, there are 20 items on my list. 13, for 65%, are directly disability related. And honestly that's a little low for me, I'd say on average that list runs 75% disability tasks. The point is, there is a lot a lot more to my disability than sitting in a wheelchair. There are doctors, home health aides and nurses, medical supplies, and medications. Insurance, Medicaid, vocational rehab, and other disability programs. BYU's disability center, notetakers, professors, and testing centers. These are problems to be solved that before my injury I never would have expected. These are headaches, endless back and forth trying to obtain disability accommodations, or retain Medicaid. It's a lot of hard work! But I've learned a lot these past couple years as I've taken more and more responsibility for these things on my own (my parents are great and still help a ton).
Hmmm...this isn't really going anywhere interesting. Instead, let me tell you about how I'm preparing for my internship this summer. It's with Northrop Grumman, a government contracted aerospace security company. They're at the Hill Air Force base in Clearfield (45 mins north of my parents) and I'll be doing some analysis on missle reliability data. I'm excited to really see some interesting statistical problems and get into a potential career environment. However, like most things for me, it's not quite that easy.
There are two major obstacles to work out for me to be succesful at my internship. First, transportation. I'm really close to bringing my van home, but it's going to take me awhile before I'm driving independently, wherever I want to go. The goal is to have that down, 100%, by the beginning of next semester. In the mean time, I'll have to figure out an alternative to get to and from work.
Second, being able to work and getting through the day. Obviously, I can't just sit down at the typical intern workstation and be productive. I'll need a special setup for a desk, computer, and phone. Additionally, I'll need help with lunch and bathroom stuff in the middle of the day.
Plenty of obstacles. There's been a lot to figure out. But it's nothing that a lot of hard work, many many prayers, and a dedicated support system can't work out. I'll have family to help me commute, and I may move up north with my little brother once his school is out. The great country we live in provides for workplace accommodations and non-discrimination due to disability, and after a meeting with 7 or 8 different people at the office on Wednesday, I feel confident I'll have what I need to be a productive intern.
That's generally how things go for me. I can still do almost anything I want to, but it ends up taking lots of planning to get the pieces I need in place. It can be frustrating not being able to immediately see how things are going to work out, but if there's one thing I've learned (and continue to learn) it's how to walk by faith, trusting in my Heavenly Father to consecrate my best efforts and help me tackle the challenges as they come. He's been there through all of difficulties of the past four years, and I have complete faith that he'll be around for the next four and beyond.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Miracles (3 of 3)

A while back, I decided it was important to find an internship in my career field this summer. This was really an easy choice because I'm out of relevant undergrad courses before I start my Master's program in September, I didn't want to watch Netflix all summer, and internships look great on resumes. Unfortunately, a good statistical position is hard to find. Over the course of my search, I probably filled out 50-60 online applications and did at least 10 phone interviews. (Aside: Why is there no quick application website/program? It's the same information every time! Those applications took me forever to fill out...seems like I shouldn't have had to waste that much time.) Eventually, I did find a great position that I'll be starting at in May (!), but that's another story. This is the story of an interview that yielded no results and was really pretty standard and unimportant, except for one small miracle that made it remarkable.

To fully understand the story, you have to know about my constant struggle with muscle spasms. I wrote an entire post about spasticity awhile ago, but I'll brief the subject here. Because of the nature of spinal cord injuries, it's really common for muscles to uncontrollably contract and shake, in unexpected and unpleasant ways. Unfortunately, my muscle spasticity has gotten worse recently, and while there are ways to manage it, total prevention is impossible. For me, this means throughout the day I'll have to stop what I'm doing and try to stretch and loosen up to prevent my muscles from freaking out too badly. If I don't, I run the risk of having my legs and core tighten up and throw me off balance in my chair, potentially into a position I can't sit back up straight from. When that happens, there's really nothing to do except call for help from someone nearby to give me a push back up. It's just another frustrating reality of my injury that, for four years next Tuesday, I've had to learn to manage.

The interview in question was a phone interview, set up through BYU's disability center. It must have been part of a program that tries to place students with disabilities into the workplace (pretty disappointed with the programs of this nature that I've become a part of. None of them have turned up much for me). Anyway, as a result the interview was to happen on campus, in a private conference room upstairs in the Wilk. I showed up at my scheduled time and got set up, no big deal. There was a student there assisting, but once the call started he'd be waiting outside the door to let me out when I gave the secret all-clear signal (knock). (I'm loving the parentheses this time around). He let me know he'd check back in 45 minutes and then rang the number and stepped out.

After only a couple minutes of introductory small talk, disaster struck. My body only gave me a couple seconds of warning before unleashing a devastating spastic attack.

Disclaimer : this happens to me really, really rarely. Don't be too concerned. Also, I am writing in hyperbole for maximum dramatic effect. 

Unable to fight it, I grit my teeth to avoid making any strange noises over the phone and prayed I'd be able to ride this one out and remain upright. Alas, it wasn't to be, and I ended up completely leaning over the side of my chair, without the core strength to correct myself. Now, the call was still going on, and the woman I was interviewing with, oblivious to the situation, continued to ask me questions. Although I was strained I continued to give responses while I considered my options.

There weren't many. Almost every time I'm thrown off balance, it's towards my right side, and this time was no exception. I'd automatically started searching with my left hand and arm for some kind of grip or leverage to correct myself, but I wasn't finding it, and I knew there wasn't much hope of that working unless I got something right away. I quickly sifted through my remaining options. Try to knock on the door? Too far away, and I couldn't reach my driving controls in this position. Tell the lady I'd need to end the call and wait for rescue in silence? Humiliating. Call out for help, and try to salvage the interview afterwards? Even more humiliating. Continue the interview, despite the fact that I'd undoubtedly do poorly? Undesirable, but this would have won my game of pick-your-poison if not for a sudden and unexpected deliverance. Just as I'd accepted the imminent but unavoidable difficultly the next 40 minutes would bring, my body had another moment of unexpected feedback. This time, my muscles contracted in the opposite of their usual pattern, and I flipped back up into midline in my chair. Crisis suddenly averted, I offered a quick prayer of thanks and continued the interview. 

I haven't forgotten this experience, and I hope I never do. To me, this was a manifestation as clear as day that my Father in heaven is watching over me and loves me. Now, like my story in the snow, there are alternative explanations for how I was able to get back up. My body is pretty crazy and messed up, perhaps this time it spasmed the right way? Or maybe all the effort I was putting in triggered a spasm response? Possible. Maybe even probable. But I believe a lot of times miracles aren't miraculous in the traditional sense, they can just be chance working out in our favor. And doesn't the God that created us have the power to tip the scales? Also, I mentioned that nothing ever came of this interview. I would have been fine if I had to play out the rest of the time slumped over. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, but fine. However, the point is that this was a miracle. Although life continues to be a roller coaster with an unclear destination for me, I take this experience to be my Father helping me have just a little less uncomfortable embarrassment in my life. Helping me keep on going, day by day, just a little farther. And that gives me faith that although bumpy and full of hardships, there will be plenty of joyous times in my roller coaster ride through life to throw up my hands and smile for the camera.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Miracles (2 of 3)

Note : Knowledge of Utah geography will enhance your reading experience.

About a month ago, Utah got hit with a nice winter blizzard. Being from Arizona, and seeing that it was March, I was woefully unprepared. It happened to be one of the two days a week that I take the Frontrunner from Provo about 40 minutes north to South Jordan to go to Neuroworx...but actually this had been an interesting day already. It was Fat Tuesday, and iHop gives out free pancakes and raises money for the children's hospital. Not wanting to miss out on such an opportunity, my friends and I made a heroic effort to wake up early and try to partake before our schedules sent us scrambling back every which way to our normal routines. Alas, we neglected to factor our location in a college (these people love free food) town full of Mormons (these people love free food) into our schedule. So we were sent scrambling back. With a McDonald's breakfast instead. Pitiful.
That story has absolutely nothing to do with the point of the post except to highlight that in all that time running around Provo and Orem before I hopped on the Frontrunner to head up North to NeuroWorx the weather was great, just a little chilly! However, as I crept closer and closer to my destination, the snow started and became heavier and heavier. In my (limited) opinion, it was a full on blizzard, and when the train doors opened I was going to have no choice but to do battle with it.


I hate the cold and the winter elements. It's not that I'm a Scrooge and hate the whole season, it's just winter is hard for me for a few really legitimate reasons. First, as you might have guessed, it's hard to navigate a wheelchair around through snow and ice! You slip and slide and sometimes can't go around drifts or "step over" trouble spots.
Second, as you might not have guessed, because of my injury, I have a hard time regulating my body temperature. I'm almost cold blooded sometimes. So when it gets cold and I have to stay out in it, my muscles will tighten up like crazy and hurt. Which is bad if I need my hands to drive my chair out of the train, down the platform, across the tracks, down the ramp, along the road, across the road, down the sidewalk, through the parking lot, and into Neuroworx.

Back to March 3rd

So I get off the train and start the aforementioned route. I'm feeling it already because I didn't do a sufficient weather check to realize it'd be a blizzard just 40 minutes north of Provo, and I'm only wearing my "cold" outfit, not my "cold cold" gear. Anyway I'm going along, cold, but I'm making it okay! All the way until I get to the transition between the "across the road" and the "down the sidewalk" parts. Turns out, this transition features a little 45 degree wedge-like ramp. It's the only way off the road I'm crossing (which is moderately busy) and it's covered in snow and ice. I don't have any options except to go through it, so I do. Well, I try to. I make it halfway up before my wheels start spinning and I stop moving. I've been in these positions before, and usually I can pull back and try again, or turn slightly and power through. But, none of that is working, and I start panicking. I'm feeling worse and worse because of the cold, and less and less certain of how I'm going to get unstuck. Finally, I offer a quick prayer for help and jam my driving controls forward as hard as I can. And it works! My chair rocks back precariously and I zoom over the whole snow pile, almost running off the sidewalk on the other side. Crisis averted, I make my way into Neuroworx where I melt them a giant puddle of water from all the snow I caught on my chair and go on with my day.

This story really isn't that dramatic. It's totally possible that I just needed one more push to make it over the hump. That the friction of the wheels had melted away the trouble spot. Or I pushed the controls at just the right power to navigate through. Plus, even if I was stuck, I wasn't, because I could have called Neuroworx and had some of the therapists push me out of there. It would have taken longer and been embarrassing, but I've been through worse.

While those alternatives to how I got up the ramp are possible, I can't dismiss the whole experience with one of those explanations. It's very likely that one of those things happened though, because in my experience that's often how God works. Miracles aren't always dramatic alterations of what we think are possible. Oftentimes they're just chance being directed in our favor. And yes, I could have been fine calling over and being rescued. But isn't it nice sometimes, rather than having to take the effort and strain of solving a problem, to have your Father step in and fix it? This was one of those moments for me, and they happen in all of our lives...we just have to look and recognize them.