My Life’s Ever-Changing Path

Kevin is the most romantic man I know.

Kevin is the most romantic man I know.

Life took me down a different path from the one I started over twenty years ago. Back in 1993, I moved from an area I’d lived my entire life and moved to a Bible college with my husband (now ex-husband). While he was in Bible college, I worked as a special education teacher. (I started teaching at a public school when I was 20.) At that point in my life, I thought I was going to be a preacher’s wife. The idea of ministry sounded appealing, because I’d even entertained thoughts of being a missionary when I was younger.

The road of life became bumpy when I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. Doctors weren’t always sure what the diagnosis was, and one doctor even told me I had something that was usually fatal! Even when I was finally diagnosed correctly, they were not able to cure me. Pain and fatigue became my constant companions.

Life became chaotic and heartbreaking when my son was born 10 weeks premature.  Instead of the joyous trip home from the hospital, I wasn’t even promised that he would survive. When he did come home, I cherished every moment with him, rocking him and kissing him. I had never experienced such bliss before, and I decided to have one more child. From threats of miscarriage to premature labor, the second pregnancy was anything but blissful. I wondered whether I would ever rock my baby in my arms or not. At last, I finally held her in my arms. About a month later, my husband told me that he wanted a divorce, but I convinced him (I thought) that we should make it work.

However, life took its many twists and turns. After almost two decades of marriage, it was over—totally and completely. There was absolutely nothing left to salvage. I had always thought that anyone who prayed hard enough or was spiritual enough could probably save a marriage. After all, wasn’t it God’s will for marriages to be saved? Yet, there was no way to change the situation. I decided to file for divorce.

Even though my first marriage failed, I was still a romantic at heart, and I desired a wonderful, loving relationship. I met a handsome Christian man, Kevin Main, and we became a blended family, melding my two children and his four. I never imagined being a stepmom to four children, with visitation on the weekends and one night during the week.  In my naïve state I believed that love would be enough to blend two families and help them feel secure.  I was wrong again, but this time I sought advice, read books, and tried to learn how to handle the situation.

As I look back over my life, I have found that change is a constant in life. I never imagined that instead of caring for students with handicaps that I would open a home for adults with handicaps. In my 20’s I never would have imagined filing for divorce, marrying again, and nurturing stepchildren. Everything I had planned turned out differently. Yet today is a wonderful day. I have an incredible husband who is the most romantic man I know. He writes me poetry and sometimes he even sings me a love song in his deep, bass voice. My two children love God, and they are bright, articulate, and well adjusted. They have a maturity beyond their years due to the pain they’ve suffered, but they have beautiful and kind spirits. My stepchildren are doing well and are growing older. All six are precious children on their way to becoming adults.

Twenty years ago, if I would have known all the dips and valleys that were ahead of me, I would have been terrified. Yet, God walked with me every step of the way. Sometimes I am still filled with fear when my life starts to unravel, but then I remind myself that God has led me through difficult places, and He has restored my joy countless times. Since He has been faithful in the past, He will be faithful in the future. He is a rock, a constant, guiding me down an ever-changing path.

Rascal Flatt’s song “God Bless the Broken Road” (This song was played at my wedding.)

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: This Book Provided the Key to Escape from my Fury and Hurt

Image

Public Domain picture of Emily Bronte painted by her brother.

Bitter and seething from someone constantly hurting me without cause, I was ready to explode. I had talked with a counselor and even a pastor or two, but I was still angry. I wanted to forgive, but the pain inside me demanded justice. Temptation for revenge also plagued me. Although I prayed and asked God for help, little help seemed to come. However, one day God did send me help, and it came through a strange avenue, Wuthering Heights. This classic book by Emily Bronte is a timeless, but tragic, love story that has captured the hearts of millions, and it captured mine as well because it provided the key to my escape from fury and hurt.

Inside the book I became acquainted with Heathcliff, a bitter, unforgiving man who ruined the lives of others because he chose not to forgive. His actions, bizarre and barbaric, shone a light down the path that I was headed, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to become the monster that he became, and for the first time forgiveness became appealing.

After reading this book, the desire to write novels burned in my heart more fervently than ever before. I wanted God to use me to help people overcome tragic situations and to give them the desire to make good choices. I remembered that in the Bible God used parables to teach the people, and the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with stories. It’s as if God knows that stories change the hearts of people, and I want to be part of that change. I want God to give me stories that will bless the lives of other people the way that Wuthering Heights blessed me. I hope that through novels I will be able to offer people the key to freedom from vices that are trapping them and holding them captive.

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Flirting and Fun: Beautiful Supports for Bad Times

Fun in Marriage

Kevin and Melissa Main laughing and having fun

Laughing, kissing, flirting, and talking provide endless delight to a marriage, and these things are just as important to building a solid family as paying the bills. It’s those moments of fun and excitement that build camaraderie and help develop that sense of addiction to spending time together, and this is vital. Building the relationship, whispering jokes to each other, and making love all serve as highly addictive ingredients that keep each partner coming back to the other for more.

But sometimes taking the time to have fun seems childish when there are mounds of dirty laundry or scores of tasks needed to be completed. However, a solid marriage (a fun and delightful marriage) can withstand the pressure from outside sources easier than one that has been neglected. Date nights for spouses are the equivalent to fixing leaky roofs or repairing broken locks. They strengthen the marriage like repairs strengthen a house. Then when the rains come or bad times flood the marriage, the couple stays dry and protected, safe in the arms of each other. When the thief or the flirtatious man or woman tries to invade, the locks on the marriage are secure. The husband and wife know that the marriage is a safe place to be, a place to be loved and to experience joy and delight.

If your marriage is crumbling and you’re shaking your head and wondering if it’s too late to start romancing your spouse, give it a try. When times are tough in a marriage, it isn’t always necessary to discuss your problems all the time. (There should be a time to address them, but constantly focusing on troublesome issues isn’t helpful.) Sometimes it’s best to make time for fun when problems won’t be discussed. Set aside a time to just enjoy each other, whether it’s going out to eat, taking a walk beside a lake, or going hunting or shopping. Do something fun you both enjoy. Laugh. Talk. Flirt. Make love. Create the excitement in a marriage that makes you want to work out the issues.

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Shootings in Union County, My Hometown: Why Do People Do Such Things?

Map of Florida highlighting Union County

Map of Florida highlighting Union County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In your anger do not sin. Ephesians 4:26

“Marvin Pritchett has been shot. He’s dead.” My sister gave me this tragic news, and I struggled to comprehend it. Marvin was 80 years old, a friend of my dad’s and a friend of the community. I thought back to my high school graduation. Mr. Pritchett had given me a generous cash gift, but he was known for his philanthropic endeavors. Our school system and sports teams benefited from his support, because he never forgot his roots. He went to Union County High School the same year as my Aunt Gene, and his son went there years later with Bryan, my brother.  He helped people in the community, and he employed over 400 people through his company, Pritchett Trucking.

How do we comprehend that the man who shot Marvin Pritchett worked for him for 40 years? How do we make sense of the fact that the Marvin and the man who shot him, Hubert Allen Jr., spent time together on a regular basis? Why did Hubert shoot five people, including himself, making the town of Lake Butler infamous for a mass shooting?

Life doesn’t always make sense. We know that Marvin and Hubert had an altercation, but they had decades of history joining them together.

Sometimes in our passionate moments after a fight we lose our sense of reasoning. We become so angry that we commit horrible crimes. At that moment when winning an argument or fight seems like life’s most important conquest, reason leaves us.

There are times when winning an argument or getting even only makes us becomes losers in life. We do things that we regret.

I hope that when I am tempted to seek revenge or to make someone pay after we’ve had an argument that I will remember this event and the tragedies that followed. I don’t want to allow myself to start down the road of trying to win all the arguments in life. I don’t want to slay someone with my words just to win the verbal altercation. I want to learn discipline and self-control, because it can be tempting to act inappropriately when I feel wronged.

I’ve never hurt someone physically when I’ve been angry, but I have made a few remarks in life that were meant to sting my opponent. However, when I look back over life, those statements are the ones that I regret the most.

This event, this mass shooting, cements a life lesson into my mind: deal with anger in a positive manner. For me, this sometimes means a trip to a lake or pond, some picturesque place where I can pray and reflect on God’s goodness and his promise to help me in difficult situations.  Sometimes dealing with my anger means planning how to handle the situation in a logical and compassionate manner. Sometimes it means asking advice from someone wise, maybe even a counselor or pastor.

I can’t allow disagreements with other people to make me act foolishly. I must choose to deal with anger in a positive manner, because I want to be remembered for being a peacemaker and a solver of problems. I want to become a better person because of the tragic shootings that struck my hometown.

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Caring for Her Husband’s Love Child

By Rusty Wright

Copyright Gary Fuller/Solana Cortez

Copyright Gary Fuller/Solana Cortez

Would you volunteer to care for your spouse’s love child?

When I visited Debbie and Gary Fuller in late April, they were sharing a studio apartment with – and caring for – Solana Cortez, whose recent double-lung transplant aimed to save her life from Cystic Fibrosis.

Solana seemed bright and friendly, excited to see her lifelong millstone becoming a milestone.  We discussed their unusual journey.

One quiet evening in 2009, Debbie answered their home phone.  A woman’s voice asked for Gary, who took the call.  Afterward, he told his wife of 26 years, “That was my girlfriend from college.  Apparently, I have a 27-year-old daughter and she’d like to know if it’s okay to contact me.”

Gulp

How would you have reacted, if you were Debbie?

“That night,” Debbie recalls, “We were faced with a huge decision that we wanted to make together.  Amazingly, it took only moments.  We decided that, ‘of course, we wanted to take the next step’.”

When they dated, Gary had told Debbie of his collapsed summer romance that involved a pregnancy.  His girlfriend’s parents had proposed he sign away his paternal rights; he complied.

“For nearly three decades, we heard nothing about the child’s birth or gender,” Debbie explains today.  “We just never talked about it.  We were happily married and busy raising our own family.”

Reality and Convoluted Emotions

Now, though, reality came calling.  Debbie’s emotions that first evening were not always in line with her thinking.

“What did Solana want?” Debbie wondered.  “What was she like?  How was this going to affect our family?”  Debbie was committed to doing the right thing, even amidst convoluted emotions.

In an earlier article, my wife and I told Gary’s story.  He and Solana met and had a moving reconciliation regarding his youthful decisions.  He determined to be the father she had never had.

As the Fullers included Solana in their lives, bumps came.  “I didn’t feel threatened,” recalls Debbie, “but at times found myself resenting the emotional energy that Gary put into this new relationship with another woman.  Our teenage daughter didn’t accept the new family dynamics well.  For several years it profoundly impacted her relationship with Gary.”

Emotional Workout

“While I was busy sorting out my own feelings,” she continues, “I found myself acting as mediator and coach for my husband and daughter.  Their situation is much improved now.”

“My emotions have gotten a workout!” Debbie reflects.  “But throughout this journey, I’ve had opportunities to make many decisions based on doing the right thing, rather than following emotions alone.”

As a person of faith, she draws encouragement from the words of an ancient Jewish prophet:  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Good News and Beyond

Cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease affecting the lungs and digestive tract, has no known cure.  To qualify for a lung transplant, patients must be so ill they can’t survive without it.  As Solana expressed it, “All my life, I’ve been waiting to be sick enough for a chance to live….”

When a lung transplant door opened suddenly, Solana and Gary shared a short, tearful farewell, the outcome uncertain.  Eight hours of surgery later, Solana was breathing with new lungs.

A charity covered transplant cost.  Family mobilized to care for her during recovery and beyond.  Friends launched a website, www.Solana-Story.com, to encourage others in similar relational and medical circumstances.  They also hope through the site to raise funds for Solana’s substantial longer-term care needs not covered by health insurance.

Gary told me recently, “I do have a remarkable wife and I’m still amazed at her response to Solana.  They had many hours for meaningful conversation and became friends during our post-transplant stay.  Debbie’s currently preparing a birthday package for her.  Faith in God does make for some unique bonding!”

So…if faced with Debbie’s decisions, what would you decide?

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

Note that all images are Copyright © Gary Fuller/Solana Cortez 2013. 

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When Life Careens: Love Child Locates Bio-Dad

By Rusty Wright and Meg Korpi

Gary meets Solana for the first time.

Copyright 2013 Gary Fuller and Solana Cortez

“The voice on the phone was one I hadn’t heard in decades,” recalled Gary.  “It was a girlfriend from college saying, ‘You have a 27-year-old daughter…She’d like to know if it’s okay to contact you.’”

Gulp.

Gary Fuller was happily married with three children.  For 26 steady years he’d worked with an internationally-known Christian organization.  He carried national responsibilities helping professionals integrate leadership, relationships and faith.

Now, after an unexceptional telephone ring, his life was careening.

Summer Romance

In 1980, Gary had been a 20-year-old student exploring his young faith and young manhood.  A summer romance led to a pregnancy.  They briefly considered marriage, but the relationship collapsed.  She became engaged to another man.  Her parents proposed that Gary sign away his paternal rights.  At 20, he did so with quiet relief.

Solana was raised by her mother and grandparents.  She sought her father for years, but couldn’t differentiate him among many Internet namesakes—until, inside a Bible Gary gave her mother while they were dating, she discovered a letter containing his middle initial.

Now What?

For 28 years Gary heard nothing about the child’s birth or gender.  Now, mixed emotions overwhelmed him: shock, fear, astounding paternal love.  Within seconds, he gained clarity: of course he wanted to know his daughter!

And his wife?  Gary had told Debbie about his past while they dated.  Now, after 26 years of marriage, he knew this remarkable woman would encourage this father-daughter relationship.

“Did you think about me?”  

For two days, Gary anticipated his new-found daughter’s initial phone call “like a kid on Christmas morning times 100.”  But her first simple query slammed him head-on.  “Did you think about me?”

More mixed emotions: heartened that she wanted to know him; ashamed that he’d bowed out so willingly; remorseful that she’d grown up without a father to love and care for her.

Those pangs intensified when Gary learned that Solana has cystic fibrosis (CF), a hereditary disease affecting the lungs and digestive tract.  There is no known cure.  The average lifespan for adults is about 35 years.

Emotional Healing

Poignant get-togethers followed.  As Gary learned more about Solana’s life and emotional hurts by previous “fathers,” his heart ached.  “I yearned to make it right.”  But focus on Solana’s experience helped Gary recognize the severe pain he’d contributed.  His stomach twisted.  Tears flowed.  He realized that he needed to “come clean” with God and with Solana.

The next day, driving Solana home through a pelting rain, Gary pulled to the side of the road, looked into her eyes, and tearfully confessed, “I wish I’d done things differently.  I was selfish.”

“You were young,” replied a gracious Solana.

“You paid the price for my selfishness,” countered a repentant Gary.

“That was healing to my heart,” Gary attests, affirming the biblical counsel: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  While his presence in Solana’s life has renewed her, Gary was surprised by how much he needed her.  “I’ve become a different person,” he explains, “more emotionally connected… I understand brokenness better, understand family, and fathers and children.”

Redemption and Beyond

Now, two years after this “wild, emotional ride” began, Gary and Debbie report, “We marvel at how God has redeemed a profoundly broken situation, and feel tremendously blessed to be part of Solana’s life.”

When I (Rusty) met Solana recently, she, her mother and Gary were in Palo Alto seeking a lung transplant at Stanford Medical Center.  They face many challenges: medical, financial, and otherwise.  This story is still being written, but so far it has shown that when life careens, it can be a wonderful opportunity to set things right.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com 

Meg Korpi is a senior research scientist who studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California.  She holds a PhD from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.

Copyright © 2011 Rusty Wright and Meg Korpi

Images are copyright 2013 Gary Fuller/Solana Cortez

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God, I’m Waiting

Seconds tick, minutes pass, and days drag on, but still no answer.

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered why you have to continue waiting? I have. I’d like to make the right choices. I’d like to know what to do, but I sit and wait. I walk by the pond and pray. I pray before going to bed. I pray during the day, always seeking an answer.

When I think about it, I’m becoming more grown up and mature. I’m learning to wait patiently for God to show me a direction for my life. I’m learning not to cry like a baby when answers don’t come immediately. Instead, I’m learning to calm and quiet myself by remembering to put my hope in God (Psalm 131:2-3).

This is a difficult process for me. I want to know the right answer so that I don’t make mistakes, but the Bible does not give clear answers for each specific circumstance. It gives guiding principles and many absolutes such as don’t kill and don’t commit adultery. However, there are areas of uncertainty. Sometimes I wonder, “Which job should I pursue? What would be best for my family?”

I can’t open my Bible and find a specific verse for those answers. Some things are obvious. I need to work in an honest, ethical environment. I need to have a job that allows me to take care of my family.

These questions jab at me, but God knows I want to follow his path. I have to trust that he will show me what to do when I must give an answer. I must choose to trust God during times of change and transitions.

Whatever question you are facing today, keep praying and reading your Bible. Keep trusting God and praying for his direction. During this period of seeking God’s wisdom, we grow closer to God.

 

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Man of Steel movie: got hope?

Henry Cavill as Superman

 By Rusty Wright

“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?” Lois Lane asks Superman in the new movie.  “It’s not an ‘S’,” responds the Man of Steel.  “On my world, it means ‘hope’.”

A symbol of hope for humanity: That’s how Man of Steel portrays the legendary hero.

There’s plenty of action and drama: General Zod, a villain from Krypton, warns Superman, “Surrender within 24 hours, or watch this world suffer the consequences” and appeals to earthlings to turn him in.  The explosive action and special effects were so fast-paced in places that I found myself wishing it would slow down so I could take a breath.

There’s also light romance: Journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) kindle some sparks as she seeks to unlock his past.

Higher Purpose

But beyond the escapism, at its core the classic Superman story is about good vs. evil.  This movie highlights sense of purpose: Young Clark’s adoptive earth father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) encourages his quest for identity: “You were sent here for a reason.”

There’s nobility and inspiration: Jor-El (Russell Crowe), predicts of his biological son Kal-El (Superman), whom he sends to earth from Krypton, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards.  They’ll race behind you.  They will stumble.  They will fall.  But in time, they will join you….  In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

There’s no Jimmy Olsen, no Kryptonite, but there is Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White (Laurence Fishburne).  And there’s a motif that might surprise you.

Misinterpreting the Story?

When I first heard talk of biblical parallels in the Superman story, I thought that overzealous Christians were reading their biases into the popular tales.  Then I looked deeper; they were right.  Superman Returns (2006) clearly displayed biblical themes.  Man of Steel is full of them.

CNN asked composer Hans Zimmer if there were any similarities between his two recent projects – Man of Steel and History Channel miniseries The Bible – “since both involve a savior figure (Jesus, Kal-el) sent by his father to Earth.”

“Yes,” Zimmer laughed.  “Once you see Superman, you’ll see how close you are….  Both stories are passions…about a struggle to do the right thing.”

Multiple Parallels

Jor-El views Superman as Earth’s savior: “You can save her [Lois]…you can save all of them.”

Public-rejection concerns accompany both figures.  Kal-El’s biological mother worries, “He’ll be an outcast. They’ll kill him.”  “How?” replies Jor-El.  “He’ll be a god to them.”

The adult Clark recalls, “My [adoptive] father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me.  He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready.”

Jesus, of course, got a mixed reception.  His close friend recalled, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”

Life Insights

As for Superman’s public reception…well, I don’t want to spoil this movie for you.  One could make a game of seeing how many biblical parallels you can find.  (I’ve only mentioned a few here.)  And you might want to consider some life insights from what you’ll find there, too.

Man of Steel is a fun film, simple in plot but deep in theme as it taps profound human desires for self-identity, purpose and hope.  “Hope” is especially timely in our world filled with nuclear rogues, homeland terrorists, devastating disease, and financial uncertainty.

But in real life, absent some trustworthy basis for lasting hope, are we all just whistling in the dark?

Paul, a first-Century General Zod (of sorts) who became Jesus’ follower, wrote: “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope….”

Got hope?

 *     *     *

 Film is “rated PG-13 [USA] for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language.”

www.manofsteel.com    Opens June 14 in USA, Canada and UKWorldwide Release Dates throughout June.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

Copyright © 2013 Rusty Wright

Henry Cavill as Superman

Henry Cavill as Superman (Clay Enos, photo)

Kevin Costner in Man of Steel

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent (Clay Enos, photo)

Jor-El-web-size-254x300

Russell Crowe as Jor-El (Clay Enos, photo)

Perry-White-Lois-Lane-web-size-300x152

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White; Amy Adams as Lois Lane (Clay Enos, photo)

Clark-Kent-age-9-web-size-220x300

Cooper Timberline as Clark Kent, age 9 (Clay Enos, photo)

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Enjoying Differences in People

melissatwitterSome strange man just hugged me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I saw him approaching me in the grocery store with his short arms held open wide. An innocent smile radiated from his face.

As I squeezed him back, I looked down into the face of a complete stranger, but he was marked with a familiar feature, Down syndrome.

“I’ve missed you,” he told me.

“I’ve missed you too,” I replied with a warm smile covering my face from ear to ear. I knew from past experience that the fun was just beginning. Soon I would star in the lead role of “his friend.”

“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” he said.

I squeezed his arm and said, “Happy birthday.” The next sentence out of his mouth told me that his birthday was more than a month away. However, I continued to play along. “What are you doing for your birthday tomorrow?”

“I’m going to Disney World!” His smile was contagious.

His warmth and friendliness made me want to reach out and hug him again. Instead, I said, “You have fun, okay.”

As we parted ways, I smiled. This stranger, this man with Down syndrome, had just brightened my day. He was fun, innocent, and totally sincere. He enjoyed my company, and I enjoyed his.

Later that night, I told my husband about seeing this man at the grocery store. He said, “I’m glad that he met you there and not someone else. Not everyone would have treated him as kindly as you did.”

Although this statement is true, it is disturbing. People are often deprived of great joy by their failure to connect with people who have disabilities, and parents often miss the chance to set an example for their children by establishing relationships with people who have special needs.

However, I reach for these opportunities because hanging out with people who are mentally ill, mentally handicapped, or physically handicapped is like a vacation day for me, and it allows me to be a good role model for my children. It’s also a chance for testing my intellect as I engage in impromptu games of “make their day” or “enjoy their company.” Whether I join a grown man in pretending that he has chipmunks in his belly or become the immediate best friend of someone with Down syndrome, I’m having a good time.

I accept people with disabilities for who they are and make it a point to enjoy their attitudes towards life. I wasn’t always this open to accepting their attitudes and meeting their needs for companionship. Sometimes I’ve had trouble throwing political correctness out the window. For instance, when I became the president of a group home for men with mental handicaps, I had a kind, middle-aged gentleman come up and introduce himself to me. The first question out of his mouth was, “Can I call you ‘momma’? I’ve never had a mother.”

All my training with the state of Florida had told me that people living in a group home should not call the group home’s administrators mom and dad. It was strictly taboo. Yet his eyes were big and pleading. His hand reached out for mine. I stammered, “The state doesn’t want you to call me ‘momma’. My name’s Melissa.”

“My parents died when I was just a little boy.”

Being a softie, I just couldn’t take it anymore. “Of course, you can call me ‘momma’.”

He grinned and hugged me tight. As I squeezed my ‘son,’ who was 10 years older than me, I wondered if I had done the right thing. In the days that followed, my concerns disappeared. He enjoyed being a part of my family and having a sense of belonging.

Through that experience I learned that opening up my family to people with disabilities was a wonderful experience for everyone involved. As I interacted with this man and others who were handicapped, my children learned a valuable skill—caring for other people.

The guys under my care also cared for me and my family. They smiled when we walked into the room, and always enjoyed the outings that we took together. It was a wonderful way to make a living—hanging out with guys who loved to have fun and go shopping.

Yet when I took my guys out to eat and to the local stores, I noticed that people didn’t share my high opinion about ‘my guys’. I noticed rolled eyes and people either turning their backs or pointing at us. Racial prejudice has lessened since the Civil Rights movement, but prejudice against people with disabilities is still prevalent. In today’s society it is common to have friends of all different races and ethnic groups, but how many people are friends with someone who has a disability? How many people are willing to accept someone whose intelligence falls below 70 on the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale?

State and federal laws, such as The Education for Handicapped Children Act of 1975, have mandated free education for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 mandated accommodations, such as handicapped parking, to make it easier for people with disabilities to participate in everyday activities.  As a society, we’ve complied with the laws regarding education and training, assistance with employment, and special parking and bathrooms for the handicapped. However, we have refused to allow people with disabilities into our personal lives. We open our businesses to them, but we shut them out of our circle of friends. We give them a special stall in the bathroom, yet we won’t consider giving them a special place in our hearts.

As a society, and especially as families and parents, we should learn to accept people who cannot put on a mask of perfection. Their imperfections are open for display, while the rest of the population masquerades as specimens of perfection. We are all filled with flaws; some of us are just better equipped to hide them. Don’t we want to be accepted by others? Then why do we withhold our acceptance from those who need it most?

Maybe it’s because people do not understand the fun and camaraderie that they can experience with those who are handicapped—either mentally or physically. Maybe it’s because families do not understand that their children could benefit from these interactions (with the proper parental supervision). Perhaps if our families had more contact with those who had disabilities, our families, and society as a whole, would experience more joy. Just as the cultural heritage of the United States has been enriched by embracing all races and ethnic groups, our nation can also be enriched by embracing people with disabilities. Perhaps the most disabling force in our society today is not the people with disabilities, but our failure to appreciate the people with disabilities and to draw rich rewards from relationships with them.

 

 

 

 

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Learning to Live at Age Forty

Instead of losing the sweet joy of youth, I’m learning to love life more at age forty than I

At Casa de Paz

I’m visiting with the people at Casa de Paz.

did at age twenty. Part of the passion and zest in my life comes from embracing who God made me to be and accepting myself with my flaws and imperfections. I have been made by God for a specific purpose, and I can enjoy that feeling of contentment that comes from making a difference in this world.

When I was younger, I admired people with skills that I didn’t have. I always tried to improve in the areas that I was lacking, and there is some merit to this. However, I’ll never be the perfect housekeeper or the woman who gives great directions. If you’re lost, I’m not your go-to gal. Instead, I’m the compassionate friend who will listen to your problems while your kid makes a mess in my living room. I’m the friend who doesn’t care that you’re an emotional wreck. I’ll love you anyway.

God gave me compassion for other people, and I will see your strengths while others only see your weaknesses. I’ll help you improve and be one of your greatest fans. I’ll encourage you and help you to achieve your potential. That is me.

I’m not the woman who looks like a manicured masterpiece every day. Sometimes I’m a disheveled mess, but that’s okay. I’m not perfect, no matter how hard I may try. I’m just someone who wants to embrace her God-given strengths and be thankful for who she is and the life that God has given her rather than worrying about who everyone else wants her to be.

I don’t want to use other people’s measuring sticks that list their standards of perfection any longer. I only want to use the Bible as a guide-book for who I am supposed to be. I want to grow closer to God, embracing his love for me and being thankful for the life he has given me. After all, he is the one who gave me the unique set of skills that I have. He must like the combination.

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