Finding Happily Ever After

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gabe

A person can be defined by many aspects; a job, a family, a hobby, even physical appearance. All of these attributes can generally be found on the cover of our individual life books. If not, they are easily redeemable within our foreword or introduction. Many readers choose a novel by its appearance, introduction, or recommendations of others. These descriptions help us decide whether that book is desirable and we allow these attributes to captivate, entertain, and inspire.

Within the core of every good story is something deeper than that surface level description. We come to loathe the antagonist and praise the protagonist. Suspense grows within our own gut only to find a beautiful conflict resolution at the conclusion. We find striking satisfaction in happily ever after.

Like many readers, it is crucial for me to read a book from cover to cover. Each page should be read left to right, and oscillating sections or omitting stanzas is not permissible. Often times we encourage ourselves to do the same with people. We look at the cover and grab all of the commendable pieces in our initial introduction. Sadly, as soon as that person expresses their emotions, experiences, or grief before we have been well endowed with a decent plot, we quickly shut the book in fear. Suddenly, we cannot visualize this story with the happily ever after conclusion.

As a child my story was unique yet charming. I was the middle child of five, and the only girl. My older brothers were sixteen and nineteen years older than me, and my little brothers were three years younger. Our father was a pastor of a small country church, and our mother was best known for her wonderful home-cooked meals. Our family was slightly poor, yet humble, and I never felt as though I needed anything more. Through my childhood there were many times that my parents grieved but they never pressed the burden on me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to get a true sense of some of their pains. They had an unwavering ability to keep moving forward to the next plot twist.

When my younger brother Levi was born, the doctor explained to my parents that he would never live a normal life due to his Down syndrome diagnosis. I was too young to remember my parents’ pain in the loss of opportunity for Levi. But after his birth they moved forward and adopted another boy with the same disability, Eric. Eric was a bit of a handful. In addition to Down syndrome, he was additionally filled with ADHD, RAD, and a sad history. My parents tried to make lemonade out of the disability diagnoses, but they had little knowledge on the amount of zing that Eric packed.

Other grief moments made the glue to our family frame. My dad lost his job as a pastor and my grandfather passed away shortly after. At age seven I still had little understanding these losses, but my dad always lived by the motto of keep on keeping on. His persistent hope always allowed me to trust that everything was going to be ok.

As I grew older my family continued to play an important role in my life. I loved spending time with my younger brothers, teaching them and teasing them. But my older brother Gabe was who I adored. With the sixteen years between us, he was just diving into the prime parts of life. He started dating, he went to college, and he got married. Through all of these life decisions, he included me, his annoying baby sister. He gave the same advice any parent would give, but it always sounded better coming from him.

On October 21st, 2006, Gabe was killed in a car accident. The dual emotions of disbelief and anger fueled my body. I looked at my dad. My dad was the problem solver, the fear snatcher. This time, my dad’s ability to keep on keeping on was gone. My brother lost his life, my dad lost his hope, and I lost my faith.

While reading a textbook for one of my MSW classes, I found an important passage, “Perhaps we must speak of death in order to understand fully what it means to be in the presence of grief. And to speak of death is to enter the realm of the supreme mystery, that of the unanswerable questions.” (Hooyman and Kramer, 2008, pg. 5) But humanity strives to comprehend every answer to whatever extent possible, and to seek understanding is equally substantial in our grieving process. I dove deep into my brother’s past longing to find for a reason why divine intervention, fate, or karma might have ended my brother’s story as it did. Through family stories, pictures, and memories I could only discover that Gabe was either genuinely good, or he had an extreme ability to mask that he was not.

As the daughter of a pastor, my life was surrounded by the notion that there was a God, and he was loving and just. As I continued to search for a reason for my brother’s death the idea of a God was plausible to me but not in a way that I wanted. When searching for a rational reason for the demise of a good person, it’s easy to place a seemingly irrational variable in the picture to solve the question. The idea of a God, though not proven nor disproven, suddenly places a divine control over everything. But why would I want to believe in something that not only did not intervene in the death of my brother, but actually could have caused his death purposely? That picture is not loving nor just, but rather shows an analogy of a victim constantly running back to her controlling abuser.

For the years following my brother’s death, I ran from the idea of a God. The grief of Gabe’s death followed me but I was able to mask that pain in self-harm, counseling, and prescription drugs. Over time, I began to see more clearly, and I even welcomed the idea of a God back into my life. Though angry, I started to open my mind and read Gabe’s story more intently. I thought back to Gabe’s funeral. It was in the chapel at Cedarville University where he was a computer science technician. That chapel was filled with more people that day than my dad’s little country church would see in a month. Gabe had made an impact on so many people in thirty years. He died a good man, and he left with no conflict of his own to solve. He was young, but he discovered happily ever after. I realized then that it was never Gabe’s story that upset me; it was the end of his book that simply opened a new chapter in mine.

There are no facts or statistics that I can sho
w that prove the existence of a God. Whether God is real or not, the idea of Him gave me hope. It is a simple way for me to cling to an idea that I will see Gabe again. I may be the author of my own story, but God is my publisher, my agent, and my mentor.

Just as Gabe’s death began a new chapter in the middle of my book, many individuals come to us within the core of their story. Conflict roars and their agony overcomes us. I also think about Gabe and his unwavering ability to guide me through life. Even in his death I would try to do everything to help others as he did; because Gabe strived to help others as Jesus did. But it is important to think back to our own story so we can be inspired by the hope we once found. We cannot predict the future and we do not know what anyone’s book truly holds within the next chapters. We cannot write the novel of each person we meet, but we can work as a helpful traveler along their road. We can inspire each author to keep going, constantly building the hopeful road to happily ever after.

Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

How We Learned Happiness

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IMG_0994While growing up in a household with two brothers with Down syndrome there has always been one comment that digs under my skin. There are some comments I can let go, like, Wow. Your life must be so difficult. Or, Bless you for your patience. Yes, these too get to me. Because I don’t feel like my brothers have made my life difficult, and patience is not my duty. When these comments arise I grin a little and brush it off like hair on my sleeve.

Above all of these statements is this: People with disabilities are always so happy. Why does this get under my skin? Because there isn’t an always for everyone and everything. See, the statements above, I can see where people might get those impressions. There are times that life is difficult. There are times that I have had to learn patience. Those times felt like happiness felt as far as the East is from the West.

2016-02-21 21.41.37When our brother died in 2006 Eric sobbed. He felt the grief of losing someone close like a normal person. But at the viewing Levi didn’t shed a tear. At the funeral, Levi didn’t clear his throat or sniffle. Neither of my brothers had joy, but they expressed the pain in far different ways.

When our brother died, I thought I had to be the strong one. When I saw our dad cry for the first time in my life, I knew that I had to step up and fight for joy again. I tried so hard to stay strong that I eventually developed depression and I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

So what is my point? Everyone handles grief differently. Levi ignored the pain. Eric accepted the pain. I fought the pain. You might say it defines whether or not we fight, flight, or freeze in adversity. Whatever any psychological study might entail, all three of us have struggled with disabilities. All three of us have experienced less than joy. And, all three of us have conquered agony.

You see, when you say people with disabilities are always so happy, you infer that we are not able to comprehend pain. We must be happy because we don’t understand stress, adversity, or grief. Honestly, I speak for all of us that carry a disability and say that we understand those things better than those that don’t have a disability. For centuries we have been alienated, mocked, and condemned for simply living.

Maybe there is some truth to people with disabilities being happy. It’s not because we don’t understand, but because we know what it is like to feel both pain and joy. We have faced the worst, so we can conquer the best.

A New Year’s Offer

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eric and leviChristmas is a beautiful time of year. For many is brings joy. For others it can be very difficult. But nothing in life is flawless. Even grievances add to the pristine and raw splendor that Christmas brings.

For many
of us, it’s a celebration of religion or collaboration with family and friends. While these are all the most important aspects of the holiday, one of my favorite parts is the giving of gifts. Now, before you stop reading because I sound materialistic, I want you to consider this: when you are given a gift, you are expected to accept it. For a homeless man it may be a meal. For a young lady it might be an engagement ring. Maybe it’s a silly white elephant gift. Maybe it’s homemade and packed deeply with nostalgia. Whether we cherish it or re-gift it, we have a chance to say thank you to someone for showing physically that they care.

Thanksgiving gives us a chance to say that we are grateful. Christmas gives us to chance to show that we are thankful. New Years can be equally beautiful because it brings hope. On Thanksgiving we muster up something that keeps life worth living. On Christmas we might not be able to give
or receive a gift. But the New Year helps us remember to say that maybe this new year will be better.

For the New Year, we don’t give gifts. But this coming year I would like you to consider taking an offer. An offering doesn’t have to be accepted as a gift does. It gives you the chance to say no. Why? Because gifts are meant for your enjoyment. Offers on the other hand lend the idea of a duty of you.

For this New Year I want to make an offer to you to accept. Not to just accept
the offer, but accept the offer of acceptance.

I told you that Holidays are beautiful because they aren’t flawless. People are the same way. As a sister to three siblings with disabilities, as an aunt to two nephews with autism, as a woman that struggles daily with Bipolar disorder, I am an advocate that imperfection is beautiful. I can say that more times than not it’s easier to admit that with humility than with pride.

For some our differences are inevitable, for others they are controversial. But without enduring hardships, without conflict, we cannot find resolution.

For this New Year, my wish is that you will accept the offer to accept others. My resolution is to enable you to find freedom in this acceptance. This offer may not be easy to endure, but the hope that will be gained is the gift of a lifetime.

5 Tips for the Social Benefit Entrepreneur

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1Running a business can be both exciting and challenging. Let’s say we throw in the idea of not just growing a business, but benefitting humanity on top of it all. We feel a sense of pride in making a little impact on the world, but in order to leave the biggest impression, success is crucial. While growing my own socially beneficial business, I have learned a few tips (some the hard way) for running a successful socially beneficial entrepreneurship.

  1. Sell the Opportunity

What are you creating your business for? What is its purpose? In my business, my social benefit is to create jobs within the food industry for adults with developmental disabilities. All of the sudden I have created a business that few people dare to do. I have created my niche.

So who cares? Actually, a lot of people. According to Forbes, more than 88% of consumers think companies should try to achieve their business goals while improving society and the environment, and, 83% of consumers think companies should support charities and nonprofits with financial donations.

In the back of your mind, you and maybe a few stakeholders are the people that want your enterprise to do well, but a large number of people want your business to do good. It is important to market that doing good is exactly the business you are in. Whether it’s local newspapers, news clips, or social media, share your story. Otherwise you will be grouped in with the other side stands selling the same product.

  1. Quality Equals Loyalty

As people start to hear your story, they will be ready to see your product for themselves. This is your one shot. Think to yourself, how many times have you felt that you needed to support someone in something? You build an empathy towards them. Maybe it’s supporting someone financially for a medical bill or a mission trip. Maybe it’s just that little favor you promised someone last week and you know it should be fulfilled. Once the money or favor is given, you cross it off your mental list and continue on your day. It makes you feel accomplished.

What is my point? People will have that same urgency to try your socially responsible business. People will also have the same ease at crossing it off their list.

You have to give people a reason to come back through your product. At my business, we have built some very loyal clientele with one item—the cinnamon roll. People love them! Of course you want people to love all you have to offer, but if you can have at least one item that gives you competitive advantage over your competitor, or gets people marketing your business for you, then you have begun to build loyalty.

  1. G.U.E.S.T. Services

When you’re running a socially responsible business, it does not matter how elaborate your product inventory list is, you are in the service business. We’ve all had the waitress who is having a bad day, or the sales clerk who is everything but cordial. Often times we just tip a little less and move on with our lives. But especially when running a socially beneficial business, careless composure is bad for business.

Here’s my point: when people start to hear word of your social benefit, it gives them a good enough feeling to try you out. Don’t let them leave with a bad feeling. Many businesses have different ways of working with their employees to achieve a great service. One of my favorite acronyms is G.U.E.S.T.—Greet the customer, Use their name, Eye contact, Smile, and Thank the customer.

When you’re running a socially beneficial business, the customer might not be your primary beneficiary. That is, they may not be the one you started your business to benefit. It is important to remember that their contribution is what allows you to fuel your primary beneficiary, which makes them equally as important.

  1. Use Your Internal Hard Drive

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The Customer is always Right”. While waitressing my way through college, I’ve learned that that phrase is simply not true. I remember waiting on one lady. She sent back her steak that was clearly cooked how she had ordered it, cheekily looking to claim a free meal. I returned with a steak that looked extraordinarily similar to the first, but slightly more pleasing to the woman’s appeal. I candidly asked her if she would like her water refilled. She replied, “My water glass should always be full!”

As I shed a couple tears in the back room, my boss looked at me and said, “The customer is not always right, but don’t ever let them think anything else.”

As an employer it is important to show adoration to the external portion of your business—the customer. But more importantly, you should always put a large sense of pride toward your internal forces, or employees. They are often times more of the face of your business than you are. If you can help them build a sense of pride for your business creation, their self-esteem and overall quality of life will shine outwardly. This will help them to deliver quality and service to external prospects with ease.

  1. Aim for Profit

Of all of the tips above for a social benefit entrepreneur, this is the most important. First, your business won’t operate in Black Friday mode right away. Your ribbon cutting and other special events might draw in some people, but your mission won’t appeal to everyone from day one. You have to fight competitors for attention as if your social benefit is just as much of a competitive edge and Bob’s Chili Dogs’ secret recipe.

Second, you are running a for-profit business. In your eyes you might be making a difference to your social beneficiaries, but you are not making a difference in the eyes of the business realm until you profit. So what? You might say. Do you want to not work a day in your life doing what you love? Do you want your business to expand and make an even bigger difference? To fulfill these questions, you need money.

Third, build on soul and mind. As social benefiters, we are built on the heart aspect. We want to leave people feeling satisfied; it fuels us. When finances aren’t going as planned, we rely on our immeasurable feelings. Don’t. The numbers are a variable that is defined. Be an entrepreneur; take what you can control like marketing, quality products, and excellent service to build your business. This doesn’t mean give up on your primary mission. A socially beneficial business is a paradox in itself. To be successful, you must be both creative and regimented; Follow your heart, but don’t forget to use your brain.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/csr/2010/12/15/new-study-consumers-demand-companies-implement-csr-programs/

Run With Me

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tats and music 001Today marks nine years. Nine years ago today, I crossed the finish line at the District Cross country meet in third place. I qualified for Regionals. I crossed that line with one thing in mind—to keep running. I wanted to run from the truth—that my best friend and brother died today.

I tried to train for regionals which would take place the following Saturday. But through casserole delivery, hugs from friends and family, the viewing, the funeral, and the numbness, my training lacked. I showed up to that race. I started. I made it a passed mile one. Then I stopped.

Life is like that race. We find out something that keeps us from the fight. Maybe we fall and just cry. Maybe we run the other direction, hoping that sharp cringe in the backs of our necks will just disappear. When faced with adversity no one blames you. It was circumstantial. You had no control over your lack of fight.

Nine years have passed since you left. But there is still a part of you that pushes me through life’s race. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times I wanted to give up this race. But for me to put others through the pain you did, on purpose, is selfish.

I know I’m not running this race alone. Maybe you’re not here, but there is a part of me that pretends you are; that you are watching, keeping me constantly in training. I often think, how would Gabe feel about that? You are there, capturing my splits along this race. And because you’re here I know that I can keep running, fighting, and aiming for victory.

Nearly a decade is gone. Life has passing by. But there is one thing I ask: Run with Me until I Fly with You.