Discovering My Limits
As many of you know, Debbie & I recently returned from a 2-week short-term mission trip to Italy. My pulmonologist had given me the green light to go, so I took my portable oxygen concentrator, pre-arranged wheelchair assistance at all of our airport stops, and away we went.
We typically have gone to Africa (5 times now), but due to my health condition (lung disease), it is too risky for me to be where access to clean water and protection from many forms of illness would be compromised. We still have a deep-rooted love for Uganda, but we’ll have to wait until after I get a lung transplant to even consider going back.
In Italy, we were part of a small team (7 from the US) that helped several local Italian worship leaders and missionaries. We conducted a worship conference in Milan, helped install a new sound system in a church in Verona, played worship concerts in a few churches, and met several new friends and ministry partners. We were able to encourage and pray for many who are faithfully serving God. And as a bonus, we were able to experience amazing food, incredible coffee, and see some of the fantastic sights Italy has to offer (Lago Maggiore, Verona, Rome, Tuscany region, etc.)
Two dear Italian friends, Davide & Lara, were our hosts & tour guides. Davide is a talented young man who we have known for a few years now. Lara is a good friend of Davide’s and has been a part of his father’s church for several years (Davide’s dad is a pastor). We consider Lara and Davide our surrogate children!
It is typical that when we go to other places around the world to help and bless others, we get doubly blessed in the process…and this trip was no exception!
There were at least two occasions when the congregation where we were serving spent time praying for me – surrounding me and laying hands on me. I was humbled and honored. To be surrounded by several people praying in Italian and touching/hugging me is simply incredible. I will never forget it!
As awesome and amazing this trip was, I was hit with the hard reality of my deteriorating health. Not only did I discover my physical limits, a couple of times I went beyond them – and suffered for it. The suffering was temporary, but it did make things even more real for me. In Verona (our favorite place on this trip!), we did quite a bit of walking. Even though I had my oxygen and walked slowly, I found a couple of times that I just couldn’t keep up. It was very frustrating for me – and the distances weren’t that far! Another factor was the cold. Milan and Verona are essentially the same latitude as Maine, and the temperatures were quite cold (the you-can-see-your-breath cold). Even though I wore a scarf or a ski mask, it was still too cold for my lungs.
So, when we got to Rome for our second week, our dear “children” Davide & Lara decided to rent a wheelchair for our tourist day in Rome. It was actually a very good idea, but it was difficult for me to accept the fact that I needed it. I was gracious, and tried to make light of the situation, but it still felt very weird. I am not the kind of person who accepts help very well – I am a “Steve do it” kinda guy. But this time I had to swallow my pride and accept the help. It was most frustrating in the subway/train station (see photo). Several stations have elevators, but this particular station did not. It had one of those slow-moving wheelchair lifts that follow the handrail of the stairway. And to make matters worse, this particular lift had some electrical difficulties, so it took several minutes for the attendant to get the required “fix” to make it work. Meanwhile our team was waiting patiently (while I was deeply embarrassed on the inside). I tried to make light of it when it finally worked – doing my best “parade wave” with a smile…even though the lift was traveling at about 1 foot per minute. Once we finally got to the street level, Davide and Michael took turns pushing me through the cobblestone streets around the Coliseum and other sites in that area. They were happy to do it, but I still felt less human somehow.
The attention on me shifted to my wife that afternoon when Debbie tripped on the uneven cobblestones and took a big fall right on the street. Fortunately, there “just happened” to be an ER nurse from England that came right over and tended to Debbie’s injuries – making sure her vitals were OK before she got up. We then put Debbie in the wheelchair for the rest of the day. Her knees and wrist are still bruised and sore, but she’s recovering OK!
All in all the trip was incredible, and we can’t wait to return – Lord willing! We’ll have to assess my health situation before we can consider taking a similar trip. Hopefully, I will be able to be considered for a transplant this summer. Day at a time for now!
Our family motto is, “…always an adventure…” – and this trip was truly an adventure!