By now you may be asking yourself, well, what did you actually DO while you were in England. For real, what was the purpose of it??? Well, we went so that Chris could speak in the local schools. And speak he did. He spoke every day at least once Tuesday through Friday, then at a church youth night on Saturday and again Sunday morning to the church. WHEW!! I'm glad I wasn't speaking!!! Talk about being wiped out!!! But I'll tell you something. For any of you who don't know my husband, he tends to be a bit passionate about speaking and sharing his life with others.....and his passion intensifies as he sees the lives changing before his eyes. I was nervous for him for his first speech because he had 20 minutes to share the story that he normally has 50 minutes for in schools in the States AND American humor is different than British......we had been there 2 days but didn't quite 'get' the slang and jokes of the kids, or adults for that matter. So Chris had quite a feat set before him! But he took it and ran with it. Everyday he got better and better. He spoke at the same school Tuesday through Thursday. This school is the one that King's Church wants to target the most. By Thursday Chris had been doing such an amazing job that they asked him if he'd be willing to share his story with the students in The Learning Center. At that beginning of the week the church had tried to get him in there, but the school said no. The Learning Center is for students who behaviorally could no longer be in the regular classroom. They stayed in a locked down section of the school and were definitely ostracized from other students. If I can compare, I'd say his presentation to these students and teachers was the most amazing one I'd seen him do in a long time. Those kids were just staring at him and would have listened to him talk for 5 hours if he wanted to. He talked about how no one can label you and tell you that you can't have a dream and have a dream come true. He told them that every person has certain virtues inside of them - ambition, desire, determination - the key is to learn how to reach inside of yourself and pull them out and apply them to your life. He pumped them full of the message that they DO matter, they DO have a future, they CAN have hope. It was so wonderful to watch their faces. I wish you all could have seen Chris speak. He obviously shares his story a lot, but his favorite audiences have always been the ones where the administration says, "they too difficult", "they're not able to be controlled," "they will end up like their family members, in jail or on drugs, doing nothing with their lives." Those are Chris' favorites......and you can see his spirit rise up within him to meet the challenge. I love him so much and am so thankful that God gave me a man who loves Him so much and is willing to fight through sickness, pain, fatigue, and paralysis to do what is in his heart to do. I know this is getting long, but let me tell you a few of the obstacles we faced on the way to England......
1. Chris got a pressure sore 5 days before our flight (Sunday). It was on his bottom from sitting upright in his new wheelchair. It was pretty large, so he spent 2 days in bed. Then 3 days before our flight to England he had to fly back and forth to Charlottesville, VA by himself to speak at a school (with no one to reposition him throughout the flight to get pressure off of his sore). He went because he had committed to it a long time ago. On Wednesday we had decided that we probably would not be going to England because of the length of the flight and the time he would be on his wound. You have to take those so seriously because they get so big so fast. So I sent an email to King's Church and told them we'd likely not be coming, but that we'd come if a miracle happened, so we didn't cancel the trip with the airlines.
(side note - when Chris has a pressure sore he gets a headache and sweaty every few minutes throughout the day. This is not a normal thing. It comes from his blood pressure getting too high from the sore. His body isn't able to regulate his blood pressure and heart rate when something is "wrong" below his neck. It can get very serious to the point of stroke or death, but when he has a sore it's not at that scary intensity. Nonetheless, it's painful. The other thing that happens is he gets visible muscle spasms throughout his entire body off and on throughout the day and night. You'd think it doesn't hurt, but he said it feels like someone punches him in the stomach and like his whole body is in a vice grip - not because he can feel it normally, but because that's how his brain interprets it. So he was also experiencing all of this the entire week.)
But God was with him. While he was there he was able to get an appointment with a friend of ours who works at UVA hospital as the wound specialist (how perfect!). David looked at the wound (which had gotten much smaller by this time) and said he could go. He needed to be "smart about it", but he could go. So I sent an email Thursday night telling King's Church we WERE coming!!!
When we arrived at the airport Chris spoke to the airline and they upgraded our seats to Club Seating which is like first class. The seats completely recline into a flat bed, so he COULD get pressure off of his wound the entire 9 hour flight. We had whatever food or drink we needed the whole time and the staff was incredible. What an amazing experience!!! We got the same upgrade on the way home. I believe it was an $8000 upgrade - Chris Skinner charm and God's favor working together!!! (Well, I guess in reality, as charming as Chris is, we have to admit it was ALL God's favor)
The wound has now healed without complication, thank you Lord.
2. The first few days in England were cold and rainy. Chris can't regulate his body temperature because of his paralysis (it's like he's cold-blooded), so he was really cold the entire time. So, our hosts got him a space heater to keep near the couch where he slept. It was a tall space heater and none of us noticed that Chris had rested his arm on it while we were talking one night. He can't feel his wrist, so, you guessed it, he burned it. Neither of us knew it until the following morning. One long blister across his entire wrist. That was another thing to cause the sweating and headaches and muscle spasms. But he kept going.....kept speaking.....
(once we got home he had to have the doctor cut away a lot of dead tissue that had formed over the burn which took over an hour, but it's healing quickly now and we're hoping it will be entirely healed in a week or two - Thank you Jesus).
3. We weren't able to stay in the flat we were going to originally because Chris' allergies were bad there. So we stayed with Audrey and Gareth in there living room, which was great except that Chris didn't have access to an accessible shower. So the entire week he had been unable to take a shower. By Thursday we called a hotel to reserve a room for a few hours to use their accessible shower. But when we got there they didn't have a roll-in shower, they had a tub. We have a bench that works with the tub, but the bench was too wide for the tub, so it didn't fit. Ugh!!! We checked with management but all of their tubs were the same width. So we made up a way to do it and he got his shower. It was uncomfortable for him, challenging for me, and we had to have our friend Gareth there to help physically, but we got it done!!! Unfortunately afterwards Chris talked to the management to see if we could have a discount since it was so difficult. The answer - no discount. But what really hurt was the way the manager spoke to Chris and "about" Chris. She spoke about him while he sat there and really had a way of making him feel very disabled. It was like a slap in the face to him after all of his hard work and all of his efforts in being patient and polite while he was in pain day after day. But he kept his cool and moved on. Sometimes things like that happen and really bring the disability right to the forefront of his mind, as if he could forget anyway. But like I said, he moved forward and kept speaking and kept his fire going......
So needless to say, part of MY experience in England was being moved to tears listening to my husband share his life story and pour his heart out to students that he's never met before. You know something, I cry every single time that I hear him share his story. I really do. It's real, you know. Even though he was paralyzed nearly 9 years ago (his anniversary is June 10th), it still hurts. It's still hard to remember the choices that put him there, to see the picture taken 2 hours before the accident, to see him in ICU with 12 tubes in his body, a halo screwed into his skull to keep him in traction, a ventilator but into his throat to breathe for him. You really would think that the emotion of that would go away, but it doesn't. Even for me it doesn't. And I wasn't even part of his life at that time. I only entered 3 months later. But I can say this, I love him today more than I ever have. I respect him and admire his fight, his determination, his self-control, his sacrifice of personal comfort to give to me and to others. I think truly the only people who can really know how hard it is to be in his shoes are those who are, those who are paralyzed. Can you even imagine? I mean really, can you imagine? Do this for me. The next time you see a person in a wheelchair, rather than thinking, 'poor guy' or thinking that they're less than you and probably not on your level of intelligence or awareness of the world, look directly into their eyes, smile, and say hi. Maybe even start a conversation with them. Chances are they could teach you a few things about life after being forced to spend their days in the inferior position of sitting in a wheelchair......the world goes on around them, and somedays all they can do is watch. So I bet they've got some wisdom that you could truly benefit from if you took the time to invest in them. And in the meantime, consider it pure joy that you have whatever physical ability that you do. I often forget how blessed I am and I even live with a man who is paralyzed!