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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To Eric and Levi: I Give You My Dream

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To my zany, quirky, sassy, spitfire, loving, caring little brothers, Eric and Levi,

First I want to say that, from the moment I met both of you, I knew you were special. Not in the way that the world saw you, but in your character, your smile, and your ability to light up a room. You are my best friends and my inspiration. And from the moment that Gabe went to be with Jesus, you were my protection. You gave the best hugs, and you always listened. You knew the same hurt, and we took the road together.

I remember when we were young (I was around eight and you were both five), I asked our older brother Gabe to build me a bus. I remember getting chuckles from mom, dad, and Gabe, but I was serious. They all asked me, “For what?”. It was for you. I wanted to have a bus to start a school that was designed for you.

As I grew older, I stuck with this dream. In seventh grade, I wrote a paper expressing what I wanted to be when I was older—a special needs teacher, I wrote. I saw your passions, your struggles, your happiness, and I knew that being smothered in your presence was my biggest dream.

I kept this dream into my college years and I studied to become a special needs teacher. But about two years in, I got tired. The concepts I learned, the classrooms I saw, that was not where you were. I stopped pursuing that dream. In the third year, God put me on a new road—business. I could see how God had helped mom and dad start Downsize Farm. Under His hand, they made a place for you. A place where you would have opportunity, friendships, challenges, and adventures.

I remember reading your IEPs once. Eric, yours said that you wanted to be a trash-man. Levi, yours was to work at Walmart. Is that what you want to be? If that is your dream then I want you to go for it! But if not, I am making something for you—a coffee shop. (I know you don’t like coffee, but we will have hot chocolate too!) I am designing a place where you can not only work, but be the strongest, and coolest employees a business has ever seen. I want to teach you what I have learned. I want you to be able to use all of your abilities to the fullest, and be able to show them off to every person that walks into our building. Most importantly, it is my eternal dream to create and fulfill the dreams that you have.

On May 21st I will open a coffeehouse. I know you think coffee is gross, but if you join this road with me I will show you something. Every bean in that coffee has a purpose. Some beans are big, some beans are small. Some are dark, some are light—but they all create a beautiful mixture to jumpstart the day. On this Earth you could say we are all like little beans. We run around, doing daily tasks, and fulfilling our flavored lives. But God put every one of us here to do something special. I hope that by fulfilling this dream, I am following God’s vision by helping you create your own dreams.

Will you, my red and blue power rangers, take on this mission with me?

Love,

Your crazy, quirky, hopeful, inspired, pink power ranger big 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