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.

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How To Leave A Legacy: Part 2

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Ok for this to make sense you will have to go back and read part one of this blog. Seriously! It will spoil the whole thing…and that’s not to tempt you to read further, just trust me read that one first!

In the fall of 2006, our new family business was standing at the door of the business realm, days from entering. And then we tripped on the welcome mat, all the way down the stairs behind us, and earned a giant bruise on the butt.

On a Saturday morning in mid October, we got a phone call. My older brother, the one planning all the financial aspects of our business, was killed in a car accident. And freeze. Whoah?! What God?! All the sudden everything became as hazy as the sky was on that October day. And it stayed that way for a while. I remember watching my parents try and function to make the business move forward, otherwise we were gonna starve to death. And I remember holding my brother Eric while he cried. Levi on the other hand pretended it didn’t happen. He just tried to go on admitting it wasn’t true. I did too.

There is a verse in the bible that says, for I know the plans I have for you; Plans to make you prosper and not to harm you; Plans to give you hope and a future. At this point in life this verse seemed like an entire package of really moldy Oscar Meyer Bologna. Our plans were in crash mode; we weren’t prospering emotionally or financially; we had no hope; my brother had no future. God said, your business, your circumstances, your life– those are my plans, not yours.

Recall to the business mission statement: Live, laugh, love, learn, leave a legacy. These were the goals for our future clients, and now they showed us God’s goal for us. My brother had completed all of these goals.(You can skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to hear all of my emoting) Live: he had lived a fruitful life– he had a beautiful wife, two adorable sons, and he was an admirable man of God. Love: First off, he didn’t kiss his wife until their wedding day. That may sound kinda awkward, but if you think about it the fact that he was willing to show his future wife that he loved her with every bone in his body and he didn’t have to prove it physically is a beautiful thing. He also showed his love for me. Every year for my birthday he took me out. Applebee’s, King’s Island, anywhere I wanted to go. And anything I needed advice on he was there for me. Laugh: For our business, laugh meant you could build friendships with someone that you could laugh with. He had some amazing friends that we still keep in touch with today. One of them even made him one of his groomsmen, and this was after he was gone. They just printed his name in the program and the bridesmaid walked solo. Learn: I can’t tell you any life lessons he learned because in my eyes he was perfect. I can tell you he was a genius though! He was salutatorian of his class, he got his undergrad degree in computer science, and his grad degree in business. Pretty smart ehh?

But the most important step was to leave a legacy. And he did that, perfectly. Have you ever been to a funeral where there were only like three people there? That wasn’t this one. There was about one hundred times that, no joke. He had touched that many people with his life and he was only thirty! That folks, is how you leave a legacy.

So back to the bible verse, Life plans. I can’t tell you why the little foster child was killed, I can’t tell you why a business devoted to helping children find loving homes was destroyed, and I can’t tell you why my brother’s life plans ended when they did. But that’s why it says, For I know the plans I have for you, I as in God. And in God’s eyes these lives had finished their plans and left their legacy. Now it was time for us to press forward and do the same.

How To Leave A Legacy: Part 1

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I know that I’m probably not supposed to write a million blogs on my past and this blog should be more about my present life experiences. But A, I don’t see that rule anywhere in the declassified blog survival guide, and B, if I wrote my entire life up to this point in one giant blog it would be way too long and your eyeballs would be burning from staring at your computer screen all day. So hopefully I’m breaking this up into sections that make sense.

Here is a quick overview of my last few blogs. I am the sister to two awesome little brothers, both of which have Down’s syndrome. I also have a sister that is a year older than me who has Cri Du Chat syndrome. Our family lives in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere and my dad had just left his job as a pastor in a small country church to join in the wonderful world of social work. Phew, now we are up to speed!

Five years after my dad began his job at the foster care agency, the company ran into some problems. There was a young boy that was placed in a home that didn’t get the care that he deserved, and his parents’ neglect cost him his life. When a child loses his life, the news spreads like wildfire (as it probably should).

For the next few days, the company’s door was lined with state auditors in clean cut suits and press snobs waiting to film the latest gossip. After digging deep into the mountains of paperwork, the auditors uncovered some minor flaws. These flaws as well as the demeaning news posts soon led to the demise of the agency.

Living off of the savings account, God devised a plan for our survival. My dad had exceptional experience in three areas. Farming: he had been a dairy farmer for about 20 years; long before I was born. Ministry: he spent 12 years as a pastor at a small country church. And Grace: he had a heart for giving people 72 second chances, particularly to people with special needs. One of my older brothers (this was in the last couple blogs…we have two older brothers that are in their mid-thirties at this point in the story) had just finished his masters degree in business. So my dad and my brother put their heads together to make something unique.

For the next year, my dad and my brother met every Saturday morning for a cup of coffee and planned the new family business. First they looked at demand. There was only one other company in the area that offered job opportunities for people with special needs. Check one. Next, resources. We had a farm house, a few animals, and about three acres of land. Check two.  Put one and two together and you get check three: differentiation. It would be a farm, it would be at our house, and it would provide job opportunities for special needs adults, flawless.

All the pieces were coming together. My brother designed the business aspects, my dad wrote the mission statement, my mom programmed the future activities, oh we also had Pearl. Pearl worked with my dad at the foster care agency. There she designed all the forms for the company (applications, emergency contacts, etc.) and researched changing regulations in the world of developmental disabilities. My dad contracted her to do the same for us. We had a business plan, we had our paperwork, and we had our mission statement: Live, laugh, love, and leave a legacy, all of which were our goals for the special needs adults, or our clients, would learn while in the program.

In the fall of 2006, our new family business was standing at the door of the business realm, days from entering. And then we tripped on the welcome mat…

A New Job For Dad; Cat’s Out Of The Bag

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Here’s a recap from my two previous blogs. I’m caught in the middle of four brothers. There are two older. Much older. 16 and 19 years older to be exact. Then there are the two younger, both of which have Down’s syndrome, and my entire focal point so far. We are all children to the country church pastor and his wife, and we probably have the most amazing parents in the world.

In 2001, our family stepped into another new realm of the special needs world. Now I don’t exactly know all the pieces here, but I was ten, how much could I know! I can still lay out the ground work though, no worries.

We were moving; leaving the parsonage home that my younger brothers and I had known all our lives, and that meant my dad was leaving his job.  So we packed up and traveled a whopping two roads down to a creaky old farm house with cornfields for neighbors. (It wasn’t too bad though. We all got bigger bedrooms and my brothers and I got to run around and pretend ghosts were chasing us.) The biggest change was my dad’s job though. We were used to him sitting in his in home office, studying God’s word day in and day out. Then Bam!  Say hello to the normal family lifestyle where your dad has an actual 9-5 job in the wonderful world of!…social work.

My dad’s social work was through a foster care agency that helped to place many special needs children in loving families. In addition to foster care, there was respite care. (This is so the foster parents can have a break and the foster kids get a mini vacation with other families) Respite care…Hmm…God said. I provided you with a big house and big rooms. Share it! So we did. And just about every week I got a new brother or sister. Some were awesome! Some not so much.

I can particularly remember one little tyrant. In the middle of the night, he poured an entire bottle of earing solution on my face and he threw my guitar out the two story window. Oh and he also dismantled his entire bed and threw that out too. Yep. And he was only seven years old!

Then there was Randi. She was twelve, pretty tall, non verbal, and she talked in screams and shreaks for whatever she wanted; She had what was called Cri Du Chat syndrome. (This is French for cry of the cat) Randi’s respite situation was like any normal one really. She was special needs, she had her little behavioral quirks, yada yada. This is where the cat jumps out of the bag. While her foster parents were on their little retreat, they decided they wanted to extend it, forever.

After some prayer (and paperwork of course), Randi became more than just my weekly sister, and not without struggle. Like I said, every weekly sibling had their special needs, and their behaviors. When your siblings come and go you just have to put up with their past and hope not to get anything less sterile than earring solution on your face. But now I had a new sister with an extended family membership: exclusively including– a lifetime warranty of discipline, love, and trust.

Somehow in the mix I missed the fine print. I got a sister, I got a roommate, and…I got a target on my back. Here’s a clue. When your new sister isn’t used to having her own siblings, the stakes of capturing attention get a little higher. And so begin the cat fights. Almost daily I lost a few hairs from the grip of her hand and about twice a week I gave up a chunk of skin from her feisty fingernails.

Today Randi still lives with us through adult foster care and I am proud to call her my sister. When it comes to sibling rivalries our family is pretty standard. We fight over the tv or who gets to ride in the front seat, but we still love each other. Whatever God has next in store, well, that cat is still in His bag.