Sunday, March 13, 2011

Abilities Reside Within DISABILITIES

Today I shall begin blogging. What better way than to talk about one of my favorite people? She is a young lady who has touched and changed my life. Her name is Denise.
Denise entered my life when I was about fourteen years old. She is my cousin and is adopted. I have one biological aunt, (Denise's mother) who happens to be the most amazing lady God ever created. She is everything I could ever want to be and has been a true mentor about all that matters in life. She lives by example and teaches what is important to all who are willing to see and learn; yet, she is the epitome of humbleness. She is a complex woman on the inside, yet a simple woman by appearance on the outside. There is no question in my mind about where my aunt will spend eternity. Those are the kind of people I desire to be around. She and my uncle have been loving parents to numerous kids by fostering and adopting many children with special needs over the past twenty-four years, in addition to their two biological children.
They had an unexpected, late-in-life pregnancy about twenty-five years ago. We were all thrilled, but saddened when it tragically ended in miscarriage. However, a rainbow soon appeared after the storm. Not long after their loss, they received an invitation from an agency to foster a child. God led them to accept, and the first arrival was Denise.
           This child was the most beautiful baby by anyone’s description. She looked like a perfectly sculpted, flawless China doll, always smiling. She seemed to be a healthy baby and would have no problems in the adoption process. Our family bonded with Denise immediately, and losing her began to be a painful reality.
Fortunately, (for us) there was a holdup in the adoption process. During that time, my aunt and uncle noticed a few physical delays around the time Denise was six months old. After testing, it was discovered that she had Cerebral Palsy. (CP) Only time would tell to what degree the disability would affect her life. The families who were in place to adopt her decided that the disability would be more than they could handle, thank God. It was not more than my aunt and uncle could handle. When she was nine months old, I was allowed to attend the formal adoption ceremony as she became an official part of our family. We all fit together just as salt and pepper, literally. Our family is Caucasian, she is African American. Now we do not see skin color; only love and family. As Nicole C. Mullen says in her song, “Black, White, Tan:”

All the colors of the rainbow are in her family tree
Woven all together in a paisley tapestry
She holds real tightly to her parents' hands
Baby loves that woman, baby loves that man
And her soul gives a smile 'cause she understands
Our love is black, white, tan

Everyone is precious in the Father's sight
It don't matter red or yellow, black or white
He just loves ya 'cause He loves ya
I tell you this is true
You are not the color and the color is not you
So hold real tightly to your Daddy's hands
'Cause he loves that woman, He loves that man
And let your soul give a smile 'cause you understand
That love is black, white, tan”
Nicole C. Mullen

Today, Denise is twenty-four. She has no mental disabilities, but many physical ones. Here is an insight of my perception regarding her, her life and our day . . .

I received two missed calls from her phone last week, and then a text, “need to talk.”
Needless to say, I was distraught and concerned, not knowing what was happening. I immediately prepared to make the forty-minute drive to her house if needed, but it luckily ended up not being a big problem. Denise has very limited use of her hands, so texting is a slow, difficult task for her. She eventually let me know that she was in need of a ride to church this Sunday.
Denise does have her own vehicle, but cannot personally drive it. She is dependant on someone for that, along with every other thing she does each day. She has several aides provided by the state that stay with her around the clock to meet these needs. As with any employee, some do a more thorough job than others. The attitude and work ethic of her aide is the determining factor which guides the smoothness of Denise’s day. We are thankful for all of them, but most thankful when she feels a sense of independence and total comfort.
Today, her assistant was wonderful, but for some reason, this aide could not drive Denise’s van. Due to the fact that Denise’s entire family is away on vacation and she wanted to go to church, she was in a bind. I am flattered and blessed to say, she called me to help her. That is how this wonderful day came about.

Now, let me tell you a little about my background. I have always regularly attended church . . . until about four years ago. A painful divorce caused attending church to be more than I could handle. Though I am not proud of my inability to overcome this, it sadly still remains a truth. Besides that, I have a difficult time getting up and going in the mornings. However, when my precious cousin asks me for ANYTHING, I will NEVER say no. Even though it meant getting up earlier than I would to go to my own church AND the time change last night caused losing one hour of sleep, I did not hesitate to assure her I would be there. Somehow, I had no problem doing it, arriving on time, and even made an extra stop to get gas. God works in mysterious ways . . .
Today, I attended church with Denise and her sweet aide. My eyes were opened and my heart and soul were blessed.

Here is what I saw:
Upon arriving and walking in her house, I saw a young lady, (who I still can see as an innocent baby,) in her wheelchair . . . with a huge, elated smile adorning her beautiful face. She screamed in delight as I entered the house. I love how happy she is each time she sees me. It reminds me of something I overheard her tell her little dog when we arrived back home.
As her dog was bouncing off of the furniture in excitement and standing on her hind legs to greet her owner, Denise said, “Hi baby! How are you? I love how happy you always are to see me! Thank you for loving me so much! You are so sweet and I love you too . . .”
After we said our greetings, I helped Denise finish getting ready. Though I can style hair with no problem, I have no experience with ethnic hair and it intimidates me on many levels. Denise had already informed me that I needed to arrive early so I could style her hair, and of course, I did. I successfully flat ironed her hair from a troll-like look into a sleek, smooth bob. She was delighted; I was pleasantly impressed with myself.
We arrived at church on time and each person happily greeted Denise as though she was a celebrity. She is known as, “The pen lady.” Her job each Sunday is to hold a basket of ink pens and distribute them to each member of the congregation as needed; all with a smile and a cheerful greeting of, “GOOD MORNING!” She takes the utmost pride in her job and no other person could do it better. I am certain.
Denise can speak, but understanding her can be difficult at times. I can usually understand what she is saying, but do occasionally have to request a, “slow down and say that one more time.” In spite of her verbal challenges, there is one sound coming from her mouth, which brings an angelic resonance to my ears and a smile to my face. Denise always sings the hymns with all of her voice. I love to hear her sing. I love to know that the Ultimate Translator hears and understands each and every word within all songs of praise that perfect voice lifts to Him. It is delightful.
After church, she wanted to make a few stops, the first one being lunch. She chose the restaurant and we devoured a delicious lunch together. I sat and assumed by observation, the frustration she endures every day as strangers speak to her in a way which must be so degrading, belittling and annoying. Granted, they mean no offense or harm, but I cannot imagine having someone speak to me in a slow, loud way . . . as though I am deaf or mentally challenged. She is neither, but assumed as both. She takes it in stride as though it is not happening.
After lunch, we filled her van up with gas, ran by the store and then, per her request, STARBUCKS! Possibly, it was due to drinking our Starbucks drinks as we drove which brought me to writing this blog.
I sat in the driver’s seat, driving her van and she happily sat beside me in her motorized wheelchair, which must be carefully locked in place to the floor. She was singing along with the music on the radio and taking great pleasure in changing the station when she wanted to hear another song. That is one of the things she can independently do. As I drove and simultaneously drank my Caramel Macchiato, I realized how I take the small things in life for granted.
There sat my ecstatic cousin, simply thrilled with her predicament and content with the moment. I was humbled to comprehend how we were driving along on a beautiful Sunday, and though she never said anything, I recognized a simple fact. Her White Chocolate Frappuccino sat less than a foot in front of her in the cup holder, and she could not grab it at anytime and take a sip as I could, WHILE I was also driving a car. She must patiently wait for me to pick up her drink and raise the straw to her mouth, at MY convenience.
Today, I am ashamed to think of the things I feel sorry for myself about or fret over. I can casually, effortlessly go to the restroom in privacy, take a sip of my drink at any time, get in and out of my bed and even roll over in the bed if I am uncomfortable; yet, I am burdened and ungrateful. Denise, on the other hand, is happy to get out and about, have the privilege and opportunity to go to church, and HAVE a Starbucks drink beside her. She is thankful to have an aide who is also her friend and an older cousin who thinks she is pretty darn close to perfect. I find myself wondering, “Who REALLY has the disability here?!”
It is me.
Denise and her parents are thankful to me for taking her out today. But truthfully, it is ME who is most thankful. Denise gave me far more than I gave her or her parents. Because of her, who she is, what she represents and her existence . . . I attended church today for the first time in a VERY long time and saw what contentment really means by her example. I needed both.
The message in church today:
“Don’t be willing to be ‘average.’ God made us for far more than average. Do not be ashamed to succeed. God desires your success, in harmony with His call.
·        Believe in your ability to succeed. Make a difference.
·        Rid yourself of pride.
·        Cultivate constructive discontent. BE discontent with where you are. Let that motivate you to a better place.
·        Escape from habit. What you do mindlessly is habit. Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Live better and bigger, for God and HIS purpose.
·        Balance creativity with character. Be creative enough to think of what needs to be done AND have the character within you to expedite the action.”

Today was a blessed day. “Disabilities bring about abilities.” Denise is fortunate, I am fortunate. We are both thankful for what we DO have. Today, I told her and her mom what a great day it was and how special she is to me. I forgot to tell her aide my message to her, but I did call back just to say, “Thank you. Thank you for being so great to my cousin and doing such a wonderful job.”
She is young, but possesses wisdom about special needs far beyond many older people. She needed to know she is appreciated and her efforts do matter.

Say what you need and want to say TODAY. Say what needs to be heard. Do what needs to be done. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. It matters now and later may be too late. AND, don't forget . . . be grateful for all you have, and even what you do not have. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and enjoy the life you are living. It is the one God intended for you and He wants you to see and appreciate the lovely rose, not the thorns. 
Love to my baby cousin . . . God’s kiss and blessing to our family.

Love to all,

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