Finding Happily Ever After

Standard

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

Standard
93550088

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

Letter To My Love

Standard

2015-04-26 10.10.43One aspect of my life that I never seem to talk about is the fact that I am bipolar. It can be very difficult at times, especially when it comes to things that everyone wants, like love. If you have ever loved someone with bipolar, it is important to understand that they do love you back, they just have a funny way of showing it.

To my Love:

All the words I want to say to you can be difficult to rhyme.
And what I feel about you now is sure to heighten over time.
One thing I know to be true is that I love you more than air;
A simple life satisfaction that we often forget is there.

There are many times I laugh and many times I cry.
It is often hard to read my pages but I’m so thankful that you try.
I don’t know why you love me, because I know I make it hard.
You constantly give into me even when I put up my guard.

Sometimes I cry because I want to scare you away.
I think it’ll be easier if I had an excuse for you not to stay.
The things that go through my mind are not easy to understand;
I can be so prideful, and I refuse your helping hand.

Thank you for being who you are and for doing all you do.
I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone but you.
I know that there things in which you and I disagree,
But I’m so thankful that you always come back for me.

Through thick and thin we always thrive
When I’m with you I feel alive
Though it’s hard to understand why I can act how I do.
There is one thing that will remain constant, I love you.

Letters to Gabe

Standard

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

The Can/Will Matrix

Standard

IMG_0954-0.JPGIn my previous blog, “Why Hire Individuals with Disabilities?”, I tried to clear up some of the fears behind hiring individuals with disabilities (Hence the blog title.) Many of these individuals have a unique skill set that can be very valuable for virtually any business.

As a community opportunity employer, (Which basically means that I hire individuals with disabilities), I have a strong passion in highlighting the skills of my workers, both typical and not. I have learned that many of my workers have factors that make them good workers. However, I want to clear one issue up. For centuries, people with disabilities have been declared unable to work, mindless, worthless. In fact, before Jews, Hitler’s first genocide target was individuals with disabilities. If they couldn’t work than they had no real benefit to his invincible society.

Years of segregation and harsh stereotypes may be a lot for these individuals to carry on their shoulders, but many have realized that if they work for the prize they too can be successful. But to say every individual with a disability has this persistent mindset would be just as stereotypical as past societal assumptions.

I have a very analytical mind, and I constantly assess the performance of my workers. I wanted to be able to assess the abilities of my workers based on both performance and character. I made an assessment that I use every three months to analyze each individual, both disabled and typical. The assessment grades on:

–Task Ability: Scales ability to do tangible tasks such as washing dishes or making drinks.
–Application Ability: How long does it take the individual to learn tasks independently?
–Initiative: Does the individual need constant guidance, or are they proactive in finding work?
–Relations With Others: Does the individual get along with co-workers and management?

(If you would like a copy of a performance assessment, feel free to email me at bobbi.custer@spottedcowcoffeehouse.com)

Considering the areas above, I have found that there are two major factors that affect my assessment categories. Ability or Can, and Desire or Will. Individuals both disabled and typical can be categorized in one of the four areas: Can/Will, Can/Won’t, Can’t/Will, Can’t/Won’t. Deciding what category an individual falls under has helped me determine whether or not an individual has the ability to excel, and provide overall benefit for my business.

I want to go over each section in detail, but I want you to keep in mind the phrase, Where there’s a Will, There’s a Way. In other words, individuals that are willing will lower your turnover rate, and provide the overall potential that you would like to achieve. It’s also important to pair the skill with the job being applied for. For example, an individual may accell at factory work, but if your business is in food service, the individual’s skills and desire may not necessarily transfer over.

Can/Will: This individual should be an automatic hire. I have an individual with a disability that shines brightly in this category. This category means that they have both desire and ability to do a job.

The reason that I hired her was of her excellent interview. I could tell by her responses that she was a hard worker. She also indicated that she loved the idea of working in the food industry. Though our coffee shop does not currently serve food, the preparation, skills, and challenges are similar. Considering these aspects, the individual continues to improve, and she provides a lot of worth to my business. For example, When she first started, she would just hand cups to a worker who knew how to make drinks. Now, this individual can make all the drinks while reading a recipe book, and she can run the cash register independently. Her progress assessment score was rather high, and we decided that her next focus would be speed. (Stay tuned for my next blog that talks about training individuals with disabilities, particularly in regards to speed)

Can/Won’t: I have also hired an individual that falls within this category, and I have decided that I will never hire an individual again if they have these aspects, whether typical, or disabled, and no matter how skilled they are. This category means that the individual has the ability to do the work, but they are not willing.

What is difficult about individuals that fall under this category is that at surface level, this individual can appear to be a Can/Will candidate. They may be backed with experience, and they know how to be viewed as a hard worker. Overall, they appear to have potential. I am still working on some sort of analytical way to decipher this person from the first category at first glance. But after a few months, all four areas of the performance assessment will drop–Initiative will start low, application and task ability will follow, and finally relations with others will deplete.

The individual that I hired that fell under this category appeared to have the qualities needed. She has a disability, but she has an attractive character, which is important in the service business. She also has the ability to do many jobs, and it was clear that her learning ability was strong enough to aid her in success in our workplace. But as time went on, her “won’t” factor began to glisten. I would give her jobs to do, and she would do the work, but she didn’t own the job; she had no passion for the work. As the weeks went on her lacadaisical character continued to glisten. Soon she started skipping work, and she wouldn’t call to confirm her absense. We talked, she cried, and she promised she would do better. Even after our talk, nothing really improved, and do to her consistent absense, I had to let her go.

Anyone that falls within this category creates a justification in their mind as to why they are not willing to put in the effort. For many people with disabilities, this justification is often the same: “I have a disability. I am different. Therefore I don’t need to try, and I don’t need to grow.” Think about your typical workers that are often late. They may often blame their tardiness on weather or the traffic. Like individuals with disabilities that fall in this category, the tardy worker has justified that they are entitled to be late.

Letting the individual go was hard, because my goal is always to provide a workplace that creates opportunity and a quality of life for the individual. But the sad truth is that once the individual has let the justification set in, whatever it may be, then they are no longer willing, and therefore they are no longer teachable. Realistically, they have decided that you cannot provide worth to them and therefore they cannot provide use to your business.

Can’t/Will: On the surface, this individual may appear to be someone that you do not want to hire. They are willing to try whatever you ask, but they often fall short of your expectations. But this employee can still provide worth to your business at an intangible level.

I hired a young lady that falls within this category. Her performance assessment score was low in task ability and application ability. However her relationship with others and her initiative were high. Over time task ability and application ability start to follow the suit of relations with others and initiative. Many individuals with disabilities will fall under this category. Their drive can help them actually develop into a Can/Will individual. As an employer, this worker will be desireable at a long term glance, but efforts toward success will begin as limited.

The individual that falls within this category is still just handing cups to other workers that can make drinks. She is learning what pastries to grab for guests, and how to prepare them depending on whether the order is here or to-go. This individual has learned to do a lot of our custodial work (e.g. sweeping and wiping tables) independently. She also does these independent jobs without being told to start them.

Because this individual has a strong desire to work, her passion is strong in what she can do. Recently I had all of my workers create a list of ten coupons or ideas to present that we could possibly implement. One idea that this individual created was a princess mother daughter tea party. At our coffee shop, we would throw a mother/daughter event and provide a discount on tea and a pastry for them to enjoy. This idea is something that I as the employer would never have thought of, but it’s ingenious! It allows us to offer an event that targets young mothers, one of our target markets. This individual had not known anything about our marketing ideas, but she took her own passion and imagination to create something our business may not have implemented otherwise. Therefore because of her initiative, relations with others, and her dynamic ideas, this individual has proved that she is a contributor to our business. More so, she is teachable, and I am confident that she will become an even more desireable employee over time.

Realistically, you can’t hire an employee based on what ideas they may or may not contribute. In the instance of Can’t/Will, you may have to consider the idea of job carving. I will write more on this in an upcoming blog.

Can’t/Won’t: An individual that falls under this category is of no worth to your business, and your business is of no worth to them. You will be able to tell without doubt that this is not someone you want to hire. I have hired many people with disabilities, and considering that, I as an employer can be considered more gracious than most. But there is still a point where I draw the line. I look at my sister. She has Cri Du Chat syndrome, she struggles to walk on uneven ground, she can only say one to two words at a time, she has many behavior issues. I will never hire my sister Randi to work at my shop, and she has no desire to work there. Though it may come across that I have no heart for her, I love my sister, and though she may never hold a job, she still has a quality of life. She improves in other ways and she doesn’t need a job to define success. For example, three years after Randi came to live with our family, her psychiatrist told my parents, “I don’t know what you did with this girl, but I never thought she would be able to go out in public.”

As a sibling of three individuals with disabilities, it is my job to advocate for their quality of life. But, as a realistic businesswoman, I also realize that no matter what the Employment First mandate states, not every individual whether disabled or typical, has the desire or ability to work. As an example, I have no desire to be a surgeon and if someone handed me a scaple and told me to go to town, I promise more harm than good would be done. The Employment First mandate says that if the person has the capability then they should own a job. In other words, if the individual has an ability to flip burgers, they should get a job at McDonald’s. I think it’s important that the state, employers, and the individual all consider the individual’s willingness as well. I know for a fact that if I were working at McDonald’s that my mindset would resemble that of a Can/Won’t individual. It’s setting up a failed relationship between the employer and employee. It’s not to discredit the worth of McDonald’s. My point is that saying someone that has the ability to work but they are mandated to do something they are not willing to do is Hitleristic. Saying someone has no benefit to society without holding a job is degrading them. Frankly, as an employer I am not concerned with how many widgets an individual made in a hour. I want to know that they can smile at a guest, and work toward providing quality service. Quality of life should never be considered quantity of life.

Why Hire Individuals with Disabilities?

Standard

The idea of hiring an individual with a disability can be a scary thought. Questions often arise like, Can they put in the effort I need? Will I have to make special accommodations? Or, What is the worth for my business? In this blog, I would like to encourage you to consider the idea. Not just because it gives quality of life to the individual, but because they have a lot more to offer than what may be visible on the surface.

To scratch the surface of some of the questions above, many individuals with disabilities are more than willing to put in the effort you are looking for. They know they are different. For some, their limitations are an easy justification to be lazy. But for many, they know how hard they must work to achieve a goal, and their perseverance builds a strong work ethic for them. All of my workers with developmental disabilities show up on time, and put full efforts toward their job within the work day. Some of them are even upset if they are told to take a break! Overall, when you find the right individual, they will display character and effort that surpasses many typically functioning workers.

Many workers with disabilities are a breath of fresh air when it comes to work ethic, but it is true that some accommodations may need to be made. Many individuals that are actively searching for a job are paired with a job coach. This coach will analyze the worker’s performance to be certain that he or she is at the level that you want them to be at. Some coaches stay on the job with the worker. Others just visit on occasion to access progress. Job coaches are at no cost to the employer, and it is up to you to decide how involved you would like the job coach to be.

Hiring a person with a disability broadens the diversity of you workplace, and they can provide a unique perspective. For example, I had all of my workers develop coupon ideas for my coffee shop. Some of the ideas were outrageous, like, buy a shirt for a dollar and get a hat for free. Others were very unique. Mother/Daughter princess tea party. Even if some factors seem way out of the box, these individuals can spark new ideas that can turn into something extraordinary. In addition, there are some tax incentives to hiring a person with a disability that can be financially attractive.

Many individuals with disabilities can bring a great dynamic to your business, but to be realistic, not all individuals can bring to the table what you are looking for. Please read my next blog, The Can/Will Matrix, to get an idea of which individuals are worth hiring.