Character and Determination

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When Marie graduated from high school, the state rehabilitation agency sent her to a day long series of evaluations to assess whether my plan to take her to college was an appropriate use of state funds.

The report was devastating. 20+ pages long. I read it tearfully. However, I had read many similar reports about Marie throughout her education.

Some of her teachers in middle school and high school had honestly looked at her weaknesses, but they also looked at her strengths. She started reading at 15 through intensive instruction. The first novel she read was THE LORD OF THE RINGS at 16.

And she had an affinity for numbers. Her teachers encouraged this. In high school, she finished a 2-year course in computerized accounting in one year at the KCTC. She worked hard.

The Michigan Rehab neuropsych testing concluded that she could take beginning college classes like remedial English and beginning accounting classes, but she wouldn’t be able to pass advanced accounting classes. Even if she passed advanced accounting classes, she likely wouldn’t graduate. Even if she graduated, because of her autism, she wouldn’t be able to interact with clients.

Her sister, Patty, said to me at the time, that test does not measure hard work or determination. It doesn’t measure character.

So the fall of 2005, Marie started taking classes at GRCC. We signed her up for disability services at the college. She did well in all of her accounting classes and needed tutoring in language based courses. She graduated from community college in 2008 with an associate degree in accounting. We encouraged her to go to Davenport for her bachelor’s degree. She graduated from Davenport in 2010.

The neuropsych testing was correct in forecasting her difficulty in finding full-time work. She got interviews. But never the job. I surmise that the interviewers knew something was off. She didn’t make eye contact, her voice was very soft, she still had residual speech issues.

After a year of this, she looked up volunteer organizations, and found a volunteer position at Mel Trotter in accounts receivable. She volunteered without fail for a year. Her boss told her that if she volunteered for a year they would hire her part time. They hired her that fall. She worked full time during the giving season October through December and one or two afternoons a week for the rest of the year, for three years. And she continued to look for work and got interviews, but never a job.

In the spring of 2014 she told me that she was going to go in a different direction. Goodwill in collaboration with Peckham Industries was offering a course leading to IT certification. She was going to an interview for the program next week. Would I take her? Of course, I said. The job opportunity was at a call center at Peckham Industries.

So she started the course in August 2014. In October 2014, Ralph was hospitalized for bowel obstruction and emergency bowel resection surgery due to a tumor. Our Sunday school class stepped in and provided transportation so that Marie could finish her course. They also took Patty to her TA job at Cornerstone University. This was what we desperately needed. God provided this through his people. Ephesians 2:10 in action.

Marie passed the certification course on the first try. She went through the interview process, including an interview with the FBI for security clearance, and was hired with the first group of hires for Peckham Industries’ call center to provide tech support for the USDA forest service. They also have contracts for Visa tech support.

She has been working for Peckham for 3 1/2 years. Two years ago, she bought the condo we live in with her. She is now taking courses at the community college for a computer programming associates while working full time. She is getting straight A’s.

Marie’s life is testimony to the goodness of God. And the accumulation of all the good works performed by hundreds of people on her behalf and our behalf. This didn’t happen by accident.

*****

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1013906724_10153813157811381_3887460422324417653_n

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Don’t Get Me Started – A Rant About Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling

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The rules of grammar are a scientific description of how language works, a product of observation.

At my last dental appointment, my dental hygienist invited me to poke fun at people who make spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. “Doesn’t it bug you when…” I refused the invitation by talking about Marie’s severe learning disabilities.

Marie and my husband, Ralph, struggle with writing and spelling, but are very good at diagramming sentences and understanding the “rules” (scientific description) of grammar. They are both math minded. My mother couldn’t spell to save her life, but she did make the best white bread I have ever tasted. My sister struggled in school. She had an undiagnosed learning disability, and suffered for it all the way through school. So I get defensive for my people, when those who are language gifted throw stones at those who struggle.

I love to write and have been doing so since elementary school. However, even though my major in college was English literature with a minor in linguistics, I wasn’t very interested in grammar. I took an English grammar class in college, and struggled to get a B. It was BORING. I was good at writing, punctuation, and spelling due to all the reading I did as a young person, along with practice; but I wasn’t very interested in the scientific description of language. It wasn’t until I took a business English class when I was studying for my associate in legal office administration that I gained a firm grasp on the grammatical rules of the English language.

I do not judge anyone on their use of language, spelling, and punctuation. I am not a grammar Nazi, though I sometimes joke about it. I’ve known too many people for whom this is a life long struggle; and no matter how much they try, improvement is a very slow process. Language is so complicated.

For some of us, competency in writing comes easy. It’s a gift. But for others, it’s a struggle. It is possible to improve over the long haul. I’ve witnessed this with Marie. She never stops learning and she doesn’t give up easily. She told me this morning that she understands the rules of grammar very well, even though she struggles with writing and spelling.

One of the reasons Marie doesn’t use Facebook is due to her spelling deficit. That’s probably true of a lot of people who don’t use Facebook. Here’s the thing, though; it’s easy to throw shade toward those who struggle with language on Facebook because it’s all so very visible, and make the assumption that they’re stupid. But here’s another thing; Marie is kind and rarely complains about anything. Academically, her strengths are in math and logic related subjects like accounting, grammar, and programming. Her major in college was accounting. In high school she completed a two year computerized accounting class in one year. She is now working on a two year degree in programming at the community college, and she is getting straight A’s.

So don’t ask me to judge people based on their skill in using English. You’ll get a failing grade from me and an earful. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have something to contribute. And I complain too much and am not always kind.

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Exceptionally Forward

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There are times in my life when my boldness has been completely out of character for the personality I was born into.

I am currently in the process of writing a grant application for my church. Our church building is over 50 years old. First, the sanctuary was built with classrooms in the basement. Then the family center with additional classrooms and a gym was added later, at the bottom of a hill,  with a connection through the basement of the sanctuary. There was an intention to build an elevator at a later date. However, that congregation dissolved before it could be done.

We have an emotional connection to this church building. We met and were married in this church building. Our kids were all in the nursery. That church dissolved a year after we moved to a different area of the city. It was very upsetting and sad. Several small congregations occupied the building without much success after that. When we moved back to the area, we discovered that there was a new congregation there and the church parking lot was full on Sundays. So we decided to check it out. We have been attending since June and have noticed some very wonderful things about this congregation.

This church has had a strong ministry to orphans – particularly those who are medically fragile.  Many of their families have adopted.  And several others are consistently providing foster care for children in need.  This is an under-served and often neglected population.  This project would allow those with disabilities to access classrooms for Bible study and fully enter into the life of the church.  They have also partnered with Olivia’s Gift – a local home for developmentally disabled adults.  Our congregation serves there on Thursday evenings by playing music, reading to the residents, etc.  They have tried to bring the residents to our facility for Sunday services but accessibility has been a challenge.

Our church also has an African Refugee Church that meets at around 1:00 pm. There are many Chinese students who come. There is an English as a second language ministry. And several members work with New Creation Ministries doing Bible correspondence courses with prisoners.

Before we came, our church had been planning to build an elevator to the classroom areas and family center, along with a broader foyer and wider stairs. As it stands now, a person in a wheelchair or using a cane would have to go back to their car and be driven down the hill to get to the classroom area of the church. Or be carried down the stairs. These options are cumbersome and embarrassing. Many newcomers would just give up. The gospel is for everyone, not just those who can navigate the stairs.

I have witnessed church members carrying the wheelchair of a young man down the stairs.

So the pastor of the church ask if I would be willing to explore grant possibilities. I said yes. That is exceptionally forward of me.

It is not like me to go to strangers and try to convince them to hand over money even for a good cause. I was never much good at selling girl scout cookies, even though they practically sell themselves. I am not a sales person; I take after my dad in that regard. He has had many side careers over the years, none of which were successful, and some of which cost him quite a bit of money with lackluster return at best.

I was extremely shy when I went away to college. When a boy came to sit at my table with my friends, I would shake; I was so nervous. I wish I had been braver when I was in college. Maybe I would have been able to raise money from organizations to attend a semester in England. Nah. I would have been shaking in my boots.

However, there have been moments in my life that defy my natural tendencies.

After I graduated from college, I decided to attend this church which was halfway between my job and my parents’ house because the services were earlier. The first Sunday, my husband’s friend introduced himself to me, and then introduced me to my future husband. After church, the crowd was so thick that we were stuck at the back, and had to talk to each other until the crowd dispersed. He was shy. So was I. But here is the exceptionally forward part. That Wednesday night, this shy person went to prayer meeting and noticed that he was sitting alone. By himself. I inexplicably walked up to him and asked if the seat next to him was empty. He said yes. I sat down. He didn’t look at me the entire meeting. But afterward we went out for cokes at the local baptist college. (There wasn’t much available at that time near the church). And the rest, as they say, is history.

After our kids were placed in special education, I also did some things I probably wouldn’t have done if not for autism. If not for my kids.

I went to a board meeting to speak up for the kindergarten teacher who was going to be reduced to part-time. I was shaking, but I said, looking at one of the board members who also had a son in kindergarten, “My son has special needs and is very disruptive in his classrooms. Do you think it’s a good idea to put a child like him in a class of 30 kindergartners? Or would it be less expensive to put him in a specialized class in another district.” That was exceptionally forward of me. The teacher kept her full time job…and was an excellent teacher to my son.

I spoke at public comment sessions for special education, I went to conferences. I spoke to rooms full of day care providers on taking care of children with special needs. I spoke to college students in child development classes regarding what it was like to raise a child with autism.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I did it anyway. For the kids. And by the grace and power of God, who helped me speak to groups of people.

So I am feeling like this venture of writing for grants is also exceptionally forward of me. But it is for others.   And I am having a bit of writer’s block about it. But I have been collecting the attachments. And writing out my thoughts. Hoping to come up with a theme to make our request more powerful. Would you pray for me in this.

Ann

 

 

Getting Used to It…

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“I’m going out with work friends after work. They will bring me back to work so you can pick me up.” Marie’s text message on Friday afternoon to Ralph and I.

I paused before replying.  Not asking us. Just informing us.

Marie is the oldest and last of our children to move toward independence. Both Will and Patty are living together in another city. In the first part of 2016, we strongly urged Marie to move out of our house and find an apartment or a condo. We looked up apartment complexes and visited several. Ralph met a real estate agent/nurse at his cardiac rehab program and Marie and I looked at condos with her. Twice we were at the stage of signing papers; one to buy a one bedroom condo, one to rent an apartment. Only to back away at the last moment.

We went to Ohio for a weekend to pick up Patty from  grad school, leaving Marie at home alone. Marie cannot drive and had no friends that we knew of to hang around with. She was lonely and bored. After we got back, she informed us that she did not want to live alone. She then went up to her room and used half of the money she had saved for the down payment on a condo to pay off some of her student loans.

So much for our efforts to push her toward independence.

Then Ralph was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in June. Our doctor made an appointment for him to be evaluated by a bone marrow transplant team in July.

I realized that we had to move out of our 100 year old house due to his immune deficiency, especially if he was going to get a bone marrow transplant.

To be honest, I had long talked about moving. I felt overwhelmed by all the stuff in our house, by the maintenance work that we could not keep up with, by the outside chores. Ralph had been ill since the fall of 2014. When I talked about moving, he said, “We can’t move until I have fixed it up.” But he wasn’t strong enough to do the work. And I didn’t have the time or the skill.

So I suggested helping Marie with a down payment on a condo, and having her get a mortgage with her job and her stellar credit. She had savings and no debt except her remaining student loan payments. And I believe God prepared this condo for this situation in our lives. This was the only property we looked at. We took a tour on July 3, 2016. Marie signed the mortgage on August 11, 2016. We moved in on August 20.

Instead of Marie living with us in our house, we are now living with Marie in her condo.

So yesterday, she let us know she was going out after work with Friends. With people we don’t know. Friends she had made at the job that God supplied. The first time she has ever done this alone. We have always supervised her outings or made sure she was with people that we knew and trusted. For me, it was almost as hard as the day that Will got on a plane by himself and flew to California for a week. I was nervous. But I couldn’t say no.

At eight, I texted her to see how it was going.

“We are walking around Rockford. We are having a good time,” she replied.

As the evening wore on, I said to Ralph, “You can start texting her at 10 to see when she is coming home.”

At 10, Ralph didn’t get any response. Texting or calling.

I messaged my younger daughter, Patty – Well, Marie is out with friends. I have never met these friends.

Patty – So? You don’t get to be protective like that forever. Let it go.

I texted Marie, and asked her to please call me. She called me at 11:00 and said she was on her way. I could hear the voice of the young man who was bringing her back home in the car. I asked if he was going to bring her home.

When she came home, we didn’t say anything about our concerns. We asked her what she did and did she have a good time. She had a wonderful time. They laughed a lot. Went to a restaurant that several different kinds of locally brewed root beers. They ate fried mushrooms, fried pickles, and chili dogs. We did mention that we would like it in the future if when she went out with her friends to have them drop her off at the condo. That way we wouldn’t have to go out in our car to get her late at night.

Patty is right. We can’t protect her forever. She will have a life of her own even while we live together. 80% of the employees at her job are required to have some sort of disability or health condition that is a barrier to employment. The young man who organized this outing is about 28 and just got his license last year. Four of them went out. Two young women and two young men. It’s normal for some of them to never be able to drive. And they took care of each other.

I’m not sure, but this might have been a date.

I guess I’ll have to get used to it…

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