October 23rd, 2018

As I write this, I’m sitting with two young women — my daughter Kristie and her good friend Cyndi — fellow travelers on this journey called life, and two of my closest friends. We’ve been discussing the challenges we encountered, and we have so many things in common but come at life from such different perspectives.

Overcoming Individual Struggles

These two young women experience life having faced this world with pretty weighty disabilities. Both were told they would either never walk or would struggle to see if they could. In defiance of these predictions, Cyndi’s mom went out and bought her a bicycle and I walked the mall with Kristie, encouraging her to keep trying. People would start at Kristie and kids would say, “what’s wrong with her, Mom?”

During their school years, Cyndi and Kristie worked harder than others and were placed in separate classes. Cyndi was placed in a class where the group as a whole learned differently than typical kids. They helped each other as long as they were together, but when she moved to Oregon things changed. She struggled under a different system and seemed to fall through the cracks. It took Kristie’s teachers a long time to recognize her real abilities. But with the help of computers, Kristy has accomplished so much more. Kristie and Cyndi continued to face many challenges as they moved into their own apartments and began to create a life living on their own. Today, both women are working part time and enjoying living independently.

As I face the challenges of aging and trying to make sense out of the future, I find my struggles continue to align with my daughter’s. As a single mom, I was continually juggling the numerous obligations of maintaining a household, helping Kristie grow up, and finding some sense of balance for a personal life. At this point, many of those responsibilities have gone away and my challenge now is help Kristie and people like Cyndi develop and maintain stability as their family support system ages. But I’m also now struggling to find things that help connect me with life and other people. Keep me tethered as Cyndi says.

The three of us have all become advocates for one thing or another, attempting to bring attention to the plight faced by people with disabilities. We’ve changed rulings, written letters, and met with congressional representatives, all with the goal of bringing awareness to barriers people face. We’re now taking on the challenge of documenting our journey of what it takes to live independent, productive lives. We want to be examples of what the real possibilities are, given the supports available and the determination we bring.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

If we compare our lives to other people, it may seem like we’re missing out on life. Other people seem to be freer to move about, earn more money, deal with fewer struggles, or never have to deal with the government systems designed to provide resources for people with limited earning potential. This is made more difficult for me because I have a strong German work ethic, which says we’re happier when we’re earning our own way and not needing anything or anyone else to help. Knowing that these women can’t do it on their own and will always need some outside resources makes my struggle even harder. I would be far more comfortable seeing them work full time, earn their own way, and leave benefits. But that will never happen for our folks.

I was struck last night when we were talking about a friend who seemingly had it far easier than either of them. She still lives at home, works part time, volunteers for a great organization and is a good lady. What struck me was the response of these two who have struggled most of their lives. They both felt better prepared to face life. They understand that everyone will encounter really hard life situations and people who haven’t dealt with them early on will struggle even more when these difficulties arise. There was no animosity, but they did have a bit of trouble managing the differences.

In reality, there is no difference with them and what each of us deals with. If we make the mistake of comparing what we have or who we are to others, we will always find those that have more and some who have less. But once we find the place that makes our heart sing, those differences become less bothersome, and in some cases, meaningless. That seems to be part of the journey and defines who we are. We grow into our life’s purpose and become the people God intended us to become.