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.

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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.

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/

Rainy Days Present Blossoms for The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse

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drive throughIt’s a slow day at the coffee shop today. Rain is trickling against the windows. Over the past few weeks I have come to the conclusion that this coffee shop is not my dream. But I tried.

It feels a little like failure. Like jumping into a race and fading out by mile two. Am I giving up too soon? If I pass it on, will it grow into something bigger? Is it a business that was meant to grow eventually, and was it out of my hands to make that happen? These are the questions that are constantly racing through my mind, as I on the outside, admit to failure.

But I didn’t fail. I tried.

My brother Levi, who has Down syndrome, decided to take a different route. Rather than work for me at the coffee shop, he decided to work at Frisches. He absolutely loved the job. He felt a pride in working in a normal place. All he really dreams of is being considered normal. But after one and a half months, the restaurant let him go. He was heartbroken. Not because he lost his paycheck, but because he didn’t measure up.

I can’t blame Frisches. Being a business owner, I understand the struggles of trying to run an efficient business while also surviving the ever-increasing minimum wage. It’s a battle to survive and when you try to develop your combat team, you want the fastest, the smartest, the most creative. Simply, businesses want a dynamically engineered labor force, and we’re stuck with, humans. We all fail. We make mistakes. There is not a perfect person out there, though some often seem to come close.

I opened the Spotted Cow Coffeehouse with people in mind. I didn’t create the business with the idea that I would have the World’s best cup of coffee. As a team we developed a great cup of coffee. The business was built to prove something—that individuals with disabilities do have the ability to offer creativity, knowledge, and efficiency. They know how to offer quality service and a great product.

My workers are successful. They have helped create a valuable product, and they offer great service. They prepare a product as fast and good as any normal business. I don’t hire people with disabilities out of pity. I look at their skills and what can be built from what they have. But because I don’t hire out of pity, I cannot help everyone. There are students in the area writing The Spotted Cow as their dream job, and the business cannot hire them. There are adults with disabilities constantly walking through my door with a sparkle in their eye, hoping to get a job, and I have to turn them away. They say the sky is the limit, but reaching that limit rings as low as the clouds are on this rainy day.

I’m not giving up on the coffee shop. Because I am not a quitter. I am looking for a way to live out my dream—to fulfill the dreams of individuals with developmental disabilities. I want to advocate for these individuals to employers so that they can help these individuals fulfill their dreams. But I cannot do that while running The Spotted Cow. My business will be under new management, but I will still be the owner.

Though today seems dreary, there is always sunshine and joy after rain. It brings new beginnings for both myself and individuals with disabilities. That is a joy in which I can find a glimpse of perfection.

Letters to Gabe

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Dear Gabe,

I can’t believe it’s been almost nine years now. Time sure flies. I know you can probably see me from where you are. I know you see that I have changed. Maybe for the better, but I will let God judge that one day. The day you left, I thought God died with you. How could He, the most powerful yet gracious entity take you from this world, from me? I needed you. I thought I could run any race until He took you. Was He just trying to show me how powerful He was and how weak we all are? I hated Him, Gabe.

I need to be truthful. I wanted to be like you. You were strong, faithful, selfless. When you left, those goals died. I sunk deep into the world. For a long time, I pitied myself because I lost you. My faith and trust in anyone or anything was gone. I thought if I shut out everything that I would become stronger. But it really only made me more weak.  For years a raced, running farther and farther away from the finish line, lost mid-course.

One night I found God again. I was alone, but He was there. You were gone, but He had always been there. I had lost everything. I was broken. He held me. And though you’re gone, He taught me something through your death. You kept the faith and you finished the race. I am so thankful that I had you as an example.

I wish you could see the world today; what Christians look like. They are self-centered, self-righteous, faithless. They are so consumed with how good they look. It’s so hard to run the race when your teammates don’t practice.

My heart goes out to those who don’t see who God is, and we Christians are to blame. We’ve made it look like Christianity is about being really good. Even worse, when we as Christians mess up, we lie, we cheat and try to mask that we are not perfect. To be honest all of my best friends don’t know who God is and they are better people than a lot of Christians that I know.

I’m so scared to tell others about God now. I’m afraid that they see me trying to make them another number of the hypocrites. How do I show them that it’s not about being good. It’s simply about believing. And how do you share faith? You can’t see it. You can’t prove it. It makes no sense unless you just look for it, and trust that it is real. Like one of our favorite songs, finding God is like trying to smell the color nine.

I love you Gabe and I hope all is well up there.

Your sister,

Bobbi Myrhee