Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

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How 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.