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.

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.

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

Jimmy: The Trouble Maker

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 While working for my parents’ business I have learned a lot of things. I have learned about finance and the importance of managing funds. I have learned the concept of confidentiality. I have learned how to write ISP’s, goals, daily paperwork, yada yada. Every day I refresh my knowledge in business and the DODD field.  But the biggest thing I have learned cannot be measured. Sometimes it’s a concept that can’t even be grasped until you have gone through the experience. The people that come to our farm, our clients, they offer me something new every single day.

I guess the whole point of our business (a vocational/day habilitation program) is to teach others. We are supposed to teach people with disabilities how to learn basic living skills and job concepts so that they can learn to thrive in the real world. One particular guy, Jimmy, came to the farm for that purpose.

Jimmy came with a lot of baggage. He had originally worked in a workshop, holding a commendable 9 to 5 job, making widgets. While sitting at a table for hours on end, Jimmy was making a puny paycheck, and he was also developing behaviors. These behaviors lead him to be violent, and eventually led to requiring him to have a behavior plan. (A behavior plan tracks the client’s monthly episodes. It also explains how to handle the behavior.) When Jimmy’s application came to us, we were all a bit hesitant. Was it smart to put other clients in jeopardy with Jimmy’s intense behaviors? Would we be able to handle the episodes effectively? Lucky for us, my dad has a five star heart for giving people 72 second chances. Seriously, lucky for us!

If you read a few of my other blogs, you will recall the 5 L’s: Live, Love, Laugh, Learn, and Leave a Legacy. While we had mandated goals for each of our clients, we also had our own set of goals for our clients, the 5 L’s. When Jimmy first came, of course we had a few issues. Some screams, some anger, and of course stubbornness. But over time, Jimmy transformed.

Jimmy learned to live: he eventually gave in and participated in our different farm activities like crafts and scrapbooking. (He gave me half of his crafts as a gift, and I still have most of them to this day.) He also loved parties. Every month we would have a birthday party for the clients that were born during that particular month. Right after singing happy birthday, Jimmy would shout “PARTY ONNNNN” at the top of his lungs!

Jimmy learned to love: In fact he mastered this goal. He loves the ladies! Every morning when I walked into the barn, Jimmy would give me a kiss on the hand and give me a little note that said love kiss love kiss love kiss Jimmy. He was the biggest flirt ever! Every year we also have a Christmas ball. All of the clients dress up in dresses and suits that were donated to the farm. We decorate the barn, set up a picture area and party on! Jimmy would always go straight to my best friend Heather and I and ask us to dance. He also loved his client advocate, Sharon. Though she sometimes gave him tough love, he would eventually submit to her requests.

Jimmy learned to laugh: Aside from his crazy PARTY ONN outbursts, Jimmy also made a lot of friends. His flirting with the ladies was just the beginning. He also got along pretty well with a lot of the people in his group. And he loved my dad’s quirky and excited morning meetings. Jimmy would also get excited about a lot of things like going to PAWS or our weekly bowling trips. He has the biggest smile when he is energized about something!

Jimmy definitely learned a lot: Obviously he learned to live, laugh, and love. But he also learned how to overcome his behavior. He wasn’t a burden, he was a joy to have around. And honestly if I was allowed to pick a favorite client…shh…it would be Jimmy. Jimmy was the guy sitting in the workshop, who had the uncontrollable outbursts, sending staff running to control him. When he was at the farm, you would never think he was the same person. Here, he was the loveable flirt who would kiss any pretty girl’s hand and who always had a smile on his face.

Jimmy learned to leave a legacy: Last summer Jimmy went to the hospital for some major complications. His stomach completely flipped, and this wasn’t the first time. The last time it happened they had to take out half of his small intestine. But this time it was worse. They had to go in and remove all of it this time. I went to visit Jimmy in the hospital. There he laid. His face was as white as his hospital sheets. He was hooked up to hundreds of wires and cords. But Jimmy still had a smile on his face. He held my hand and kissed it again. My dad talked with him about Jesus and though he was only partially verbal, he affirmed to us that he believed in Jesus and he knew for a fact that he was going to Heaven.

A few days later we got a call that Jimmy was still deteriorating. He was in so much pain, and doctors couldn’t give him anymore medication to keep up with it. He was giving up on this life and ready to move to the next. I went back to the hospital to say goodbye. I saw Jimmy again, engulfed in cords with a snow painted face. But this time was different. He couldn’t talk, or smile. He just laid there and moaned in pain. I put my hand on his and tried with all my might to fight back the tears, and without success. We prayed and sang hymns to remind him that he was standing at the door to paradise.

That night, I kissed Jimmy’s hand this time, and I said goodbye. The next day Jimmy entered eternity.

When my parents and I were riding to the funeral I said to my dad, “You know, Jimmy passed every one of the 5L goals.” It made sense to me at that point that it didn’t matter what specific, measurable, and time oriented goal we gave to our clients. We are here to be part of their lives, not to show them the real world. We are here to show them that we care about them as an individual, a being, and not just another worker. And along the way, they teach us too. Jimmy taught me no matter what we experience in this life, no matter how angry and frustrated we get, it can be overcome; we can have joy.

Though it was so hard to watch Jimmy go, I knew it was best for him. He no longer feels the pain that he felt that last few weeks of his life. He will never again experience the anger and frustration of not being able to communicate. He has a new body, and he is free of every difficulty he has ever experienced in this life. Seeing his face within those last few days revealed his pain, but they also revealed peace. Others may say that he was feeble minded; that there are concepts he cannot understand. But Jimmy understood where he was going. For that reason he had peace, and when looking into his eyes I knew I could have peace through his death as well.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have troubles. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33