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.

A New Year’s Offer

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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.

Called

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IMG_1268In the last couple of weeks, an unusual number of people have congratulated me on my success of running a business. They tell me how much they admire my heart, my mission, my ambition.

Whenever presented with this, the inside of me cringes. My stomach flips. I cross my legs like I have to pee. I swallow the giant knot relentlessly wallowing up in my throat, and I quickly try to murmur a humble, thank you. I honestly hope I appear very professional when answering, but inside I feel like a one legged chicken trying to get to the other side of the statement.

I’m sure there’s a great many articles in Forbes on how to be a great business professional. How to overcome the anxiety and be the greatest leader in my industry. Build a strong sense of pride and you will always be respected, or, never let anyone know you’re scared to death to run a business.

First I want to say, if you ever have congratulated me on my success, I don’t want you to feel badly. You did absolutely nothing wrong. If anything, you were just trying to help. The fact of the matter is, I don’t feel like I deserve the credit.

Yes this is the point where I have to say, I would not be where I am without God. I realize this is the point where many of you will stop reading this. She’s just another oh-so-holy Christian that flaunts Jesus. I know that mindset, because I’ve been there.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that I lost a brother about seven years ago. The day he died, I decided God died too. I walked away because He let me down. The truth is, even though I left God, He never left me. My business exists because I almost didn’t, and God always has. I went back.

Many times people ask, why a coffee shop? My business response is: It was a good fit; Coffee is the number two import to the United States and I had good connections for production. My true motivation: Eric and Levi; Coffee is a simple yet creative opportunity for my brothers to create a quality of life for themselves.

It’s all about which type of leader you want to be. A leader that makes a point, or a leader that makes a difference. My analytical mind has me constantly wandering through the numbers—we should do this because it will effect this in an optimal way. But what about risky decisions? There can be so many outlying variables that even the most flamboyant person would get a little weary in the outcome.

That’s when God steps in. He said, “So you want to open a coffee shop?” Magically, a building was presented to our family. Mystically, someone was selling every item we needed in a bundle for a very accommodating price. Paranormally, all the funds aligned for me to open the doors of my business directly out of college. Some call me lucky, others say blessed. I say, called.

So why do I get so uncomfortable? Because I wear a title of Founder and CEO, but I’m really just a catalyst. It is a constant battle inside me. My worldly mind is filled with pride, and my heart is filled with humility. I have a vision to make this business as successful as possible. My mind tells me the idea of being rich and famous is intriguing. My heart tells me that I need to provide as many jobs to people that might not otherwise gain the opportunity. Both sides make sense. Maybe both methods are possible. But I know that I have been called to make a difference, not a point.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.—Galatians 6:9

The Vow

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ohio sibs

This weekend I got the opportunity to speak at the Ohio Sibs Convention—an organization that supports both individuals with disabilities and their siblings. I came to an odd conclusion. I will without doubt, be the sole care provider for my brothers and possibly my sister one day. I had thought about it before. It would just be like old times, spending every moment with my best friends. But this time it really hit me.

I’m guessing it’s a similar feeling to that of a forced marriage, only with the opposite perks. A prince marries his princess, and they spend their lives in continued luxury, forcing themselves to build a relationship in order to maintain the esteemed family bloodline. They have everything they need but do they truly love each other?

Then I look from my side. I automatically have more mouths to feed, I might be giving up future expeditions with my potential spouse, or, what if I don’t even find a spouse because I’m seen as the intimidating packaged deal? After considering that there is one thing I know I will always have: unconditional love from my biggest companions. We lose societal advantages but we know how to survive together.

Both sides come across as selfish. If the prince or princess does not love the other then they are not pitied. Why should they be? Everything is handed to them from birth. Even a luxurious wedding. Or me, expressing the hard truths of raising my adult siblings. It is societally wrong to consider my own future solely, and complain about a family obligation.

The prince and princess are born to fill very expensive, uncomfortable shoes. I was born to fill the middle class supportive shoes while aiding in the tying, strapping, and zipping of the shoes of my siblings. Some may dream to toe-in the shoes of a princess, others may dare to lace my shoes onto their feet. But the ultimate Orthopedist made those shoes for us only. They will never fit anyone quite like they fit us.

Which has more worth, Luxury or Love?

To be frank, this is the point when I could narrate a multitude of parables and proverbs of why choosing love over wealth is what is right and what is just. On the other hand, the Holocaust, the murder of Jesus, and slavery of African Americans were all built on the foundation of it’s the right thing to do.

I am making a vow that I will be the future provider for my brothers. I will not do it because it’s the right thing to do. I will do it because I want to. I don’t need to taste wealth or fame to know that the relationship with my brothers is worth so much more. And I need my siblings as much as they need me.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them how can the love of God be that person? 1 John 3:16-17

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

The Rat Race Matrix

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Every day is a contribution to our life matrix—we have numbers representing our daily assignments as we race through our perpetual patterns over and over and over. From the chime of our morning alarm we jump out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, head to work, come home to watch the news while eating our TV dinners, and take a breather before we drift off to repeat it all the next day. But every day we have numbers that make our pattern special. We can have one number that can make a slight change or a drastic change in our environment, and sometimes we can add one number that leaves our matrix without a solution.

At work this past week we all started our daily Friday routine. Our farm always takes a morning trip to McDonald’s on Fridays and we then break off into two groups. From here each group takes a community trip to either do community service, or take part in a public activity that many of our clients may not otherwise get the opportunity to experience.

This past Friday our group took a community service trip to a local nursing home, where we socialized and handed out cookies to the elderly. As I walked with my sister, Randi, she did her usual ‘Randi mannerisms’. Every person that wore an Ohio State shirt, she had to touch the O and make it known that she was a fan, and every time she saw a man with a beard, she would try to caress it to soothe her obsession.

One person added a new emphasis to our day. As we walked past one room where a man was standing outside his humble abode, Randi energetically yet politely said Hi! I looked back to see the man intently staring down my sister as if he seen a blue flamingo with one leg. (In fact his expression was so comical I literally thought he had forged the pose for our amusement!) As we kept walking, I heard the man yelp– You retards! They’re all the same! and then slam his door. I looked at Randi and giggled so she would continue to think it was a joke. But inside I was thinking about how much I wanted to run back there, take the scalpel he had just thrown into my back, and poke out his eyeballs with it.

 I was disgusted by the comment, but I did not let it affect my daily matrix; in my mind I knew he was wrong. In the societal rat race, she is just like every other person with special needs. But Randi cannot be replicated. Come on, how many people do you know that have the courage to walk up to a complete stranger and snatch their beard!

Before we left, Randi saw the side profile of a man with a beard who was in a wheel chair. Just as she went up to grab the luxuriant whiskers she got a ping to the sequence. The man had no legs. You could tell by her expression, she was thinking, Whoa! And I thought I had it bad! She too, had met her blue flamingo. But my sister, one that society would put at the back of the starting line, showed that she was wiser than anticipated. She continued her fuzz fondling sequence (well until I told her it was rude). Then she blossomed up a little smile and waved goodbye to the man.

The bible says– since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1) We had witnessed a man engulf the hindrance of observing someone who was different, and it slammed the door on an optimistic sequence. But when Randi hit the same pattern, she took the zap to her matrix and fueled up for the race.

Making Memories

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Today my little brothers celebrated their graduation from high school. Just to test my theory on how big of an impact these dynamos have on the people around them, I asked everyone to explain any memory they had of Eric and Levi. These are the results!

1. 1st let me say congrats to Eric and Levi! I have a memory of Eric… I walked into the men’s room at church and there was Eric holding a DVD of Veggie-Tales. I told Eric that I liked Veggies (which I totally do!) And his reply was “Oh really? You can have them then!” He then threw the DVD in the urinal and flushed it. Only later did I find out it was Levi’s DVD!

2.  I just enjoy being around your brothers…from having them in kids church for a few years, to having them help at Day Camp…watching them around the farm…they’ve made me smile, laugh, and hunt for them, lol!

3.  My sweetest memory is the way they loved on each other during church service. It was precious.

4.  Eric came to me at church said I need to pray for you..that was so very touching to me…God always knows what we need when we need it…what a blessing he is…

5. Congrats guys!!!!! The memory I have of them is when I was at your house and they were making fun of my lack of control when trying to touch a chicken! 

6. Congrats Eric and Levi!!!! They were two of my funniest students ever. Eric was supposed to do mouth exercises for speech but oh man did he hate it. Most of the time he would look at me with a grumpy face and just not really do them! It was so hard to not laugh and just let him get away with it. LOL!

7.  Levi always ratted me out when I was late for church…LOL. Try as I might to sneak in unnoticed, there was always a cheerful, “Hi Chelle!” I also remember how he liked to jam out in my car to “Jesus Freak.” And oh my, Eric. I remember babysitting you 3 for the first time after getting Eric. It’s a good thing that you were helpful with Levi, because Eric gave me a run for my money, that’s for sure.

8. How about Levi putting all the animals in the trunk of my car and then deciding I needed a baby goat too. The said baby goat climbed on top of my car and as you and I are trying to get all the animals out of my car your mom walks by with someone and says to them “oh that’s normal around here!” … Eric and Levi locking me out of the upstairs bathroom while taking a bath during your parent’s Bible study and Eric yelling “no worries Meggie. Eric under control.”…Levi calling Ed and I “Egg and Bacon” for almost two years… Eric calling Gabe repeatedly after locking me out of the house yelling “Help Gabe! Meggie mean!”

9. Congrats guys! U made it! I loved seeing u guys at church, you were always happy and you enjoyed seeing people!

10.  I remember them as tiny little people in our church! My, how they have grown!!! 

11. Congrats to both of them! Miss their hugs…will always remember Power Rangers, singing on the swing and Eric riding up and down the driveway on the scooter with Jess!<3

12.  I think it’s awesome how unique the guys’ senses of humor are! Eric once spent a good chunk of time just ‘sneaking up’ on me to tickle me, just so he could laugh about it. 

13. Congratulations to Eric and Levi! We are proud of both of you! I have a memory of Eric wanting to give me lots of hugs and following me around to make sure he got one more!

14. Congrats to Eric and Levi!!!! One of the many memories I have of them is taking Levi and Eric to Jr. Prom with Ken. During dinner, Eric kept flirting and I asked him “Are you trying to steal Ken’s date?” He replies “Yes,” looks at Ken and then says to him daringly “What are you going to do about it?!?!” lol

15A.  I do remember Eric coming to percussion class at [my college] and being one very cool dude!

15B. He did! I was there! I’m pretty sure his paradiddle was better than mine. I was jealous.

16. Eric and Levi were the best thing in our classroom. It was a great day when greeted by both boys. I will miss them dearly and never forget them. Good Luck! 

17. This story was not written down, but I was reminded of it by someone at their gathering. Eric, Levi and I went to the zoo with some family friends. Eric and one of the friends went to use the bathroom. While in the stall, Eric reached under and grabbed the leg of the man in the stall next to him. He had never met the man in his life!

It was amazing to see how many people came to support these two boys. Some of them I had talked to maybe once or twice, but my brothers had left a legacy for their lifetime!

When meeting someone who has special needs, it is easy to think, “what can I teach them?” But the more and more I spend time with my brothers, God has shown me to look at how much they have taught me! It’s obvious by the responses above that I’m not the only one Eric and Levi have impacted. They live, laugh, love, learn, and leave a legacy– without effort, without complication, just to take each person they meet on a journey through our special world.