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

Letters to Lee: How to be an Entrepreneur

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2014-09-26 11.50.05These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letters may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

Business is amazing and fun, and I know that where I am right now is right where I am supposed to be. I have learned some parts are natural, like working with my staff. I love to watch them grow. Finances are intriguing too. Even though we aren’t breaking even, I love seeing the progress and the way costs can be altered. But I have also learned some parts are not as easy. Win-win is sometimes the hardest compromise to reach, and letting the contender win while you pick up the pieces sometimes seems a lot more inviting.

It’s like going to another country. People can tell you what it’s going to be like, and you have all of these ideas in your mind that comprise what it is like. But until you’re there, living it out, you can never imagine in depth what it really is like. Struggles like the drive through, the music license, and letting an employee go were very hard. They put a flicker in my mind for a second that I should give up. But I remembered back to college where I ran cross-country and track. There were races where I lost or came up short, and injuries that set me back, but I persevered.

In school, I worked three jobs, did sports, and double majored. The stress was comparable, making it manageable in business aspects. One of the biggest differences though, is that everything falls back on you. In school, deadlines are set for you, and mile splits are written for you to target. In business, it’s up to you to design the curriculum, the bench marks, and the deadlines. When you have to set all of those for yourself, it’s scary. I struggle to get motivation at times because the business seems so much bigger than me, and I’m just a 20 something female trying to fulfill a crazy dream that might work. There have been a few nights I would stay up, thinking I could get up, drive three states away, and start a new life with a desk job and leave absolutely everything behind. It would be simple, and normal. It’s especially inviting because I’m not currently taking a paycheck. My only money comes from working for my parents business. I make less than $1000 a month and I have no free time. It’s a very uninviting role to the outside eye.

But I have never been normal, and when I look at workers like Lauren, or my brother, I know that they need this place. I also remember I’m not doing it alone. I have my parents, Heidelberg, you, and God all helping me and rooting for me. With those simple reminders, my business shrinks down to a tangible size that can be tinkered with. Maybe all of my wants aren’t met, but I am blessed in so many other ways. With those friendly reminders, I know I can survive, thrive, and one day make a difference that’s bigger than me or my business. A difference that’s as unfathomable as going to different country.

Letters to Lee: Human Resources

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1These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letter may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.

I currently have six employees: four with special needs and two without. I have to say that I have the most amazing staff.

I have decided that hiring is like shoe shopping. (This may be a bit feminine of an analogy.) There’s the cute ones, the supportive ones, and the expensive ones. You want to find a happy medium in all of these aspects. For cute: It doesn’t really mean that they are physically attractive but that their character is attractive. This is very important in the service business. They have to have a pleasant demeanor, or guests won’t be satisfied. For supportive: they have to be able to provide worth for the business. Even with my individuals with special needs, I look at what they can bring to the business. This is also the concept of attitude. Teamwork is a huge piece. As a team, can they support each other, and get the job done? Finally, expensive. Right now labor is my biggest expense. Mostly because many of my individuals with disabilities cannot work alone. I have not put any employee above minimum wage, but I know how many hours to give each individual. So in aspects of shoe shopping, are they worth the price? This analogy fits perfect into my mission of quality, service, and opportunity too! Cute=Quality Character, Supportive=Service Oriented, Expensive=Are they worth the opportunity.

I’ve had my challenges in human resources too. I’ve made two workers cry! (I am the offensive militant, after all) Both were special needs workers: one was skipping work and the other I pushed too hard.

For the first one, I had a talk with her a couple times. She was not showing up for work and not giving any notice that she wouldn’t be coming in. I told her she had to call. She had a phone so I thought she would be able to do that. Her mom called me that night and told me she wasn’t capable of doing that on her own. Her mom started texting me when she wasn’t coming but I wasn’t satisfied. This young woman, though she had a disability had so much potential. For some individuals with special needs, they get comfortable with never being pushed. The Spotted Cow was the first place where she could really be challenged and not pitied, but she enjoyed her comfort zone too much. I had to let her go. It was really challenging because I want to fulfill this mission to show the worth of individuals with disabilities but I can’t help everyone, and I refuse to just give individuals a job for the sake of letting them say they achieved something.

For the second young lady, Ada, I was helping her practice making change. She struggles a little bit but I was helping her practice. She just hit her breaking point. She said there’s just some things I can’t do. I told her you can do this, you just showed me you can. I’m not going to make you do it without being by your side.

So many of the individuals with disabilities find out one way or another that they can’t do everything like everyone else. Some of them, like the first young lady, have been convinced for so long that they just get too comfortable, and they are no longer teachable. They have learned that they can use their disability as an excuse. If they fail they have that justification to fall back on. Other individuals, like Ada, have the same mindset that they are different, but there is still that spark, that they don’t have to let their disability own them. It’s all about finding the spark and not pushing too far.

Another young lady, Lauren, is the epitome of my mission. She came in very timid, but she has had a wonderful work ethic from the start. She started back in May and she has flourished. She listens and does what she is told. She is dynamic and tries to come up with new ideas for the business. She is so teachable. When she started, she would just grab cups and aid in making drinks. Now she can make all of the drinks with almost no help, and she can run the cash register. There were a couple of times at school where a teacher gave her grief for being different. She came into work crying (I gave her the day off though). For her the Spotted Cow is her safe place where she knows that she isn’t just a consumer, as many individuals with disabilities are labeled. She is a genuine contributor, and I am so thankful to have her.

Becoming Somebody

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“Not long ago and not far away, a Nobody named Ordinary lived in the Land of Familiar.”—Bruce Wilkinson, The Dream Giver

How many times have you felt like Ordinary? You wake up every morning to the nagging chirp of your alarm, you throw on your average clothes. You go to work, file the same papers, eat the same lunch, and drink the same coffee out of the familiar mug with an ordinary logo imprinted on it. Sometimes we don’t even realize our lifestyle because it’s just a habit; it’s comfortable. But what if you step out of that box?

For me, I grew up outside of the box. I’m the left handed girl that always bumps your elbow at the dinner table. I’m part of the quirky family that walks around with all the special needs kids. I’m the girl that majored in two completely different subjects (music and business). I’m not saying these things to be negative. They are part of what makes me not a nobody—but I still had to piece together how to become a somebody.

When I was born, The Dream Giver gave me The Big Plan. It was what He wants me to do with my life. He knew who I would be, that I would need my younger brothers, and a right brained mind that likes logic and creativity. (Not to sound cliché, but everything does happen for a reason.) After twenty-two years, I found my dream. Ok, yes I’m young. (But don’t think it was easy for me! Three college major switches, a fifth year of tuition and a pretty penny to match in school loans—that just tips the surface.) But I want to be like the Dream Giver. I want to help others recognize their dreams. My dream—to help anyone, but particularly people with disabilities find their dreams.

On the other side of familiar, it’s scary. There are giants that get in your way, coaxing you to give up on your irrational life plan. There are times the road seems bare, with no resources to help you to your dream. Worst, you step farther and farther from familiar, each step deeper into the unknown leaving you stripped of all confidence that you will ever make your dream a reality. Is your dream really worth it.

While reading about ordinary I have discovered that by the power of the Dream Giver, everyone is implanted with a vision. It wasn’t just Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Sam Walton, or Vince Lombardi. We are all born with a passion, but we don’t all take the road to fulfill it.

Think for a minute. If someone handed you a million dollars, what would you do? What have you always been good at? What needs do you care about most? Who do you admire most? What makes you feel fulfilled? Even if you haven’t discovered it yet, there is something in you that matches these questions. You have to ask yourself, “What legacy do I want to leave?”

In just a couple weeks I open the doors to my dream, literally. The doors to The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse, a workplace opportunity for adults with disabilities, will be open for everyone to see. Throughout the process I’ve had giants standing in my way, road blocks, everything. There was a point where I questioned, is this really worth it? I could just use my business major and get a normal desk job, and for once be a normal person! But I can stand in the shop, make a latte, and look into the eyes of my little brothers, and I know, this is what I was born to do. This is the big plan!

I’m the left-handed music and business graduate with the quirky family. But I’m also the girl who has a big plan to fulfill. I’m a somebody. You are too.

And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” –Daniel 8:16

Wilkinson, Bruce, David Kopp, and Heather Harpham Kopp. The Dream Giver. Sisters, Or.: Multnomah, 2003. Print.

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