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Monday, March 12, 2012

Disability vs. Capability

Here is the keynote speech I wrote for the Ms Wheelchair Kansas Crowning Ceremony 2012.

We all have a moment in time when disability became a part of our life.  For some it was at birth. For others, there was an accident or illness.    For many of us here today, it is a wheelchair that entered our lives.  But, our disability does not define who we are.

My life began wheelchair free.  I grew up in a small town in Kansas and led what many would call a “normal” life.  After high school, I left for college, got married, and had my daughter and was expecting my son.  Then, my life changed dramatically.  June 7, 2004, my husband and I were in a car accident on our way to Lamaze class. Instead of heading to Lamaze, we ended up in the ER with the emergency cesarean of my son 10 ½ weeks early, and myself with several injuries and in a medicated coma for about 6 weeks.   I came home 3 months later with a traumatic brain injury, nerve damage on my right side, and with a wheelchair.

To say my life changed is an understatement.  I had to relearn to do everything--even sit up.  My premature baby and I were learning milestones together, but he passed me by.  J  I was suddenly thrown into the disability world and searching to find what was out there to help me find my way.  I am so thankful I was led to the Ms. Wheelchair program and the wonderful girls I have met here.  They helped me to see that my goals were all still attainable--maybe only needing a few adjustments.

I was fortunate to find myself surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends who were willing to help me reach my goals.  I know not everyone has that support.  The most help I got during my transition, was my faith in God.  And, everyone does have that support available to them.  I cried, yelled, and asked a million “why” questions, but God is compassionate and was there with me through my grief.  He not only saw me through the transition, He has enriched my life in ways I could not even imagine.  Without this chair, I would not have met all of you and whether you know it or not, you have enriched my life.

Do not stay stuck in your grief.  Don’t get stuck focusing on what you cannot do.  Focus on what you can accomplish!!!   Don’t focus on yourself and what is missing from your life.   Do what you can to focus on others and what you can do to help them get through their difficult times.  Everyone we meet will go through difficult times in life.  Some disabilities are just more visible than others.   Their disabilities may not have wheels.

There will be well meaning people in your life that will focus on what they perceive is “broken” about you and will try to fix it.  They are not necessarily bad people.  They are just  looking at the world the only way they know how and trying to prevent pain in your life.  I have been reading The Giver Trilogy  by Lois Lowry and there is a quote in one of the books that perfectly sums up my feelings on this.  “Take pride in your pain, you are stronger than those who have none.” There is also a quote in Thriving Family magazine by Ty Sexton that says. “I have learned to view what others may see as obstacles as my opportunities.  This mindset, instilled in me by my parents, is the foundation for my confidence.  Through their support and God’s grace, what were once stumbling blocks have become stepping stones.”    These well meaning people just need to spend time with us and see what fabulous people we are in spite of (or because of) our disabilities.

We need to focus on  our  capabilities, not our disabilities.  We need to find ways to make our goals happen, not spend time moping and whining about what we can no longer do or how much harder things are for us.   I want all of you to hold me accountable.  I have decided to rejoice in all circumstances, not whine.  So, if you hear me whining, I want you to let me know.   We have even set up “no whining zones” in our home.

We need to spend our lives finding true joy for ourselves and helping those around us find that joy too.  Happiness is temporary and dependent on circumstances.  It can also be selfish and self-serving.  True joy is not dependent on circumstances   Lisa Sexton says in Thriving Family magazine: “Our circumstances don’t define our attitude.“  Joy is trusting in the future and holding onto the promises of the One who holds the future and sees the possibilities in all circumstances.  No matter how bad things may look, joy knows this does not define you or your future.

 Find your passion and purpose in life. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do--find a way to make it happen.  Technology today is mind-boggling and more and more is being created daily.   I find myself frequently looking for an adaptation to help me accomplish my goal and more often than not there is one out there or one can be made for you.  A front loading washing machine is one example of an adaptation.  I never thought I would get so excited about being able to do laundry for myself, but I am.  Now, if I could only pass that excitement onto my children.   I find myself constantly calling things my arm, my legs, my brain because that is their function in my daily life.

Surround yourself with positive people who will help you reach your goal.  The friends you have met this weekend can be that positive influence in your life.  They are one of the reasons I keep coming back.  This weekend fills me with power and positive energy to take home and work toward my own personal goals.  For one weekend, I feel like people see me and not necessarily my wheelchair.  I am thankful for this chair and how it helps me get around and accomplish my goals, but it does not define who I am.  I hope the positive energy from this weekend will go with you into life (whether you leave here with a crown or not) and help you change your world and reach your goals.  I often say walking is overrated.  J  There is a way to do any dream you have--get out there and find it.

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