On The ADA Anniversary

This week is the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

I’ve often wondered if the ADA creates more problems than it solves for some, if not all, people with disabilities. It helps A LOT, but it also causes a lot of headaches.

I’ve come to realize however, that the ADA isn’t really for people with disabilities. It’s for the people who can’t even imagine what life is like to live with a disability.

Kind of like how birthday parties really aren’t for the people they’re throne for but for the people that go to them.

Kinda.

Without knowing it I managed to grow up just as the ADA was finding its “sea legs,” which probably explains why so many aspects of my life have become, in a sense, easier even though my mobility had had an endless ebb and flow.

I once heard it said that, “those who don’t need the law are truly freed from the law,” or at least that’s the best my brain remembers it as.

The idea being (I think) that we wouldn’t need as many laws (or any) if everyone operated with the same level of moral decency.

As great of an idea as this is I doubt it will ever happen, ever. Sorry all of you who dream of world peace.

It would be nearly impossible for someone to be able to imagine what it’s like to live with a disability, unless they do in fact live with a disability themselves; besides the fact that imagining it and living it are two different things.

That’s why the ADA is so important.

It gives people a clue into what’s needed in order for people with disabilities. Although it should be pointed out that what’s deemed ADA compliant doesn’t mean it’s accessible for those who need it to be, but it’s better than nothing.

(So if you don’t know anything about the ADA or just want to test yourself feel free to read up)

As much as I (and countless others) benefit from the ADA there always seems to be something new to learn.

Such as how many loopholes there are.

Like the loopholes for already existing buildings and/or religious institutions.

As a Catholic who works in a building that’s been “grandfathered in” (multiple flights of stairs and no elevator) I curse such loopholes often.

It would be nice if there were less (or no) loopholes in the ADA but that’s only a short-term dream. Someday I’d like it if the ADA was an afterthought, making it in a sense unnecessary because access for all is a natural thing.

It seems so wildly unrealistic, but I can hope right?

*A similar version of this post was written on July 22, 2014

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When Calls The Vocation

I’m not a big fan of cheesy TV shows, unless I want something to make fun of or watch mindlessly. I’ve rarely watched “The Waltons” and “Little House On The Prairie” has never been my cup of tea but if it’s from Jenette Oke than I’m all over it, at least until the 5th season finale of “When Calls The Heart.”

The main character Mountie Jack Thornton, played by actor Daniel Lissing, was killed in a mudslide leaving his young widow, and longtime love interest, Elizabeth.

The death of “Mountie Jack” came at the end of a season packed with major life events, so it wasn’t in an effort to “liven up” the series. Daniel Lissing chose to not renew his contract with the series, from what I understand.

While I was upset that a character I loved would no longer be part of the show, I can understand an actor’s desire to move on to other things. It happens. It’s one of the best parts of being an actor for many who choose the profession.

What I have trouble making peace with was the choice to kill off the character of Jack Thornton.

From what I understand the production team felt they had a few options:
1) Recast the character with a different actor.
2) Have Jack go to Elizabeth and tell her that his call to duty was so strong that he thought it best to break off their engagement.
3) Have Jack die.
4) End the show.

I agree that recasting would have been a bad choice and if I’m being honest I’m torn over the other options, even though the decision has already been made, because of the reasons given for choosing one over the other.

Their reason for having Jack die was because Elizabeth and Jack loved each other so much that they only way he could ever leave her was through death.

This does not sit well with me, not because it doesn’t happen and not because I wish they would have found another solution.

Because it doesn’t sound like they gave enough thought into what saying “yes” to a vocation over love. Saying “yes” to something bigger than yourself when society says, “you have a great love, you can’t mess that up.”

I would have preferred that the show ended after five seasons, in all honesty.

I may sound like I’m speaking from my “Catholic high horse” on this one but people do break off engagements to enter a religious order, enter the seminary, embark on a career, or anything else that they feel is more than a job (usually meaning that romantic relationships have to end).

What upsets me most about how production decided to handle this particular situation, the show is called “When Calls The Heart,” but it didn’t give enough credit, in my opinion, to a heart’s call to a vocation. The heart can receive more than one type of “call”, and sometimes more than one call at the same time, every situation is different.

I get that everyone tends to fall on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum in terms of storylines, wanting them to end “happily ever after” or “in complete destruction & unhappiness” but more stories should be portrayed in the media, like someone choosing a vocation of service over their own feelings for one person.

Someone once said that once you know someone who became a priest it becomes easier for more people you know to be or become a priest. I think that’s true no matter what the “job” or in this case vocation. Once you know it’s possible for one person you realize it could be a possibility for you too.

Why couldn’t Jack go to Elizabeth and tell her that his call to serve as a Mountie was so strong that he felt it best to break off their engagement? It could have been possible, because it is a reality that should be imitated more often in art.

The Matter Of Discernment

The matter of discernment puzzles me.

I was 20 before I even heard the word discernment, and then I heard quite regularly at that. It didn’t take long before “discernment” sound like the magic word for some secret society. It annoyed me to no end for a long time.

I’m not much closer to discovering what discernment really means ten years later. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s not a “get out of jail free card,” so I should really stop treating it like one.

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

It’s one of those necessary evils of life, especially if you’re Catholic, if you ask me.

There seems to be an implication that one cannot possibly find their vocation without some sort of discernment.

While this is more or less true I don’t think it can be expressed in such a cut and dry fashion if people are really going to understand discernment.

I understand that there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” way to discern.

However I’m not sure I’ve ever done it “right,” or at least the best way for me.

I have, however, done what everyone else has done.

I’ve gotten up for the sunrise masses and before class rosaries (mostly).

Gone to prayer groups and Bible studies.

Rarely ever, and I mean ever, missed fellowship or adoration.

Made every retreat possible, even a yearlong SEEL retreat that included spiritual direction.

I even joined a discernment group (albeit for other reasons, at least initially).

And they’ve had great success, although a different definition of success than the secular.

I have the dubious distinction of being a religious sister’s prayer partner for a few months during our junior year (during her final pre-nun years). Just to give you an example. I like to tell people that I helped facilitate her discernment process, because that’s how things happened in my head.

It took me a while to really get that discernment has no timetable. Although it eats on my nerves when people say they’re discerning something and you know for a fact that they’ve been doing it for years. Talk about using discernment as a “get out of jail free” card.

Let’s not even talk about the people who are so certain of their plan because they’ve discerned it within an inch of their lives and then after a day (or what feels like a day) they do a complete change of direction.

Because the mysteries of discernment go both ways, and every which way.

Discernment’s never been my thing, at least not in the same way swimming or encountering unpleasant people seem to be my things.

It would be awesome if God would just speak very loudly and very clearly after a period of prayer and self-reflection.

Unfortunately, discernment doesn’t work like that either, at least not for most people.

Discernment is important. It’s also becoming a lost art in some aspects. Just don’t ask me for advice on it, because I have no idea what I’m doing.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 6, 2014

People, Not A Project

Although I did my capstone project on persons with disabilities it was to prove that people with disabilities aren’t a project for the Church to do but rather people who could contribute to projects within the Church’s purview. While I was concentrating on the Catholic Church in particular it isn’t a uniquely “Catholic problem.”

 

It seems like a simple problem with a simple fix. However, it’s more layered than that.

Buildings aren’t accessible, the most obvious reason, but not the only reason.

Sometimes people are led to believe that they don’t have anyone who has a disability that attends their church, that is not true. There’s at least one person, and there are many more who wish to belong to your church but don’t for obvious (and not so obvious) reasons.

Decades of inspiration porn is another reason, it’s so engrained in the culture of so many churches that people can’t help themselves for wanting to put someone with a disability on a pedestal. “People with disabilities are more united with the sufferings of Christ,” “God chose them to be different to show us the beauty of life,” and such.

One might think it’s nice to be thought of in such high regard but at its core it separates those with disabilities from the able bodied.

If the goal is equality than the “special projects” and the pedestals within our churches need to be put away and everyone needs to look for ways to start the path to inclusion, because it won’t happen overnight.

I wish more people would recognize this problem within all churches. We’re people who want to work alongside people to complete a project, not the project itself.

Arming For The Future

One morning I woke up and got dressed, it’s what I do most days, but this morning in particular was different.

I was planning this outfit for at least a week.

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It wasn’t fancy by any means but, for me, it was more important than any fancy dress (or anything else). It was part of the most important presentation of my life (at least so far).

One of the last pieces of my master’s degree was completing a capstone of some sort. Originally, I was going to write a paper. I had been planning it since the beginning, and I wanted to be able to pull something I had written off a shelf in the library at a later date. I pictured future students finding my work and incorporating it into their own, just as I had done, but one sentence changed my mind.

“If you did a project it will have the potential to reach a greater audience.”

I thought back to the final projects I’d done in other courses. What could I use from any of those, if any.

I decided to do a project, but that would mean enrolling in the seminar rather than working by myself (a method I prefer, or at least I thought I would).

Before my project would be finished I would have to workshop it with a small group and then present it during the seminar.

I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only student in my class born with a physical disability. So, I didn’t just have to present my project. I also had to give everyone a crash course in living with a disability.

I put thought into every detail, over and over again. Knowing everyone would go back to their everyday lives I wanted them to come away with more than what they came with, other than how good my project was.

Mainly I wanted them to know that people with childhood disabilities grow up and become adults, that we’re probably not what they thought, that the disabled aren’t looking for pity or continually bitter. I wanted them to see disability from a different point of view.

The outfit was only the last piece of my part of arming my peers for the future.

Why I: Don’t Suggest Giving Up Social Media For Lent

There are certain things I can count on as Lent approaches. Without a doubt, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is the most popular question to ask and/or be asked.

Now that social media has become such an important part of our lives it’s natural to consider whether or not to give it up for 40 days. I have several friends who engage in this practice, problem is most of them don’t use social media that much anyway. So is it really that sacrificial or are they really getting any benefit from it?

A point worth considering, but not the one I wanted to make right now.

As I write this there’s a snowstorm outside (I’m a write ahead & schedule blogging type). In fact at one point it was snowing so hard that it was snowing sideways. Thus my plans for the day have been canceled and I’m attempting to stay occupied indoors. In a way it’s going to make the point of this post much more poignant, at least I hope so.

The internet, and social media, has opened up everyone’s world. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is just how much it’s opened up the world for those with disabilities.

I wouldn’t be friends with many people if it weren’t for the internet, or at least I wouldn’t be as good of friends with people if things didn’t start on the internet. Let’s just say as an introvert with a disability it’s nice to get the “getting to know you” stuff out of the way when you only get to see people in person a few times in your entire life.

I can’t forget to mention Sara. If there’s anyone who taught me that just because you have physical limits doesn’t mean you can’t create solid friendships and an intentional community. Our friendship may have been short but it left me forever changed.

I don’t suggest giving up social media for Lent for one quasi-simple reason:

You may be part of someone’s community, and it may be the only community they have access to (especially in the winter months).

Giving up your social media routine for 40 days may seem like a good idea and in some ways it can be beneficial but if you do consider who you’ll be leaving behind for 40 days.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

How much can happen in 40 days?

Also consider your group of friends, do they also give something(s) up for Lent?

Do you all give up the same thing for Lent? If so, do you still have that same sense of community because you have other ways of keeping in contact or are you able to see each other in person?

Do you have one friend (or maybe more) that seems uncomfortable with your plan for a 40 day social media fast?

Have you ever stopped and really considered why someone is resistant to give up social media (especially if you “only” know them virtually)?

Lenten sacrifices are meant to make you a better person, but not at the expense of other people. If your sacrifice is harmful to someone else than are you really working towards a greater communion with the Body of Christ?

Alternatives to consider:

Cut back on your social media practices. Check in once a day or once a week.

Post the same thing on all of your social media accounts (idea borrowed from Pat Padley FYI).

Keep community connected through email or text, or an old fashioned phone call.

Make your intentions known early on, as in before today, so if any of your friends have reservations or objections you can engage in thoughtful conversation.

Have a way to contact you on your social media profiles and make it easy to find. Have you ever received an “out of office reply” with a contact email or number included? Like that.

I’m not saying that you absolutely shouldn’t give up social media for Lent.

I’m not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit so I can’t say such things with absolute conviction. But I wish people wouldn’t make the decision as easily as they seem to. Virtual community isn’t the same as in person community but it’s still a community that needs nurturing, attention, and people to take part in it.

*A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on February 10, 2016

When Liturgical & Secular Collide

Last year (in particular) I had to juggle multiple schedules. The concept isn’t a foreign one, everyone does it every day, at least in the majority.

Although I doubt a liturgical calendar is one people rarely consult, unless they’re Catholic.

However, it’s one I had to basically live by, not counting the fact that the Church also lives by it.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with not having to worry about commitments tied to a calendar (and then having them be graded) and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was enjoying it, especially when the following post started appearing on social media:

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For those of you not familiar with Lent things can get complicated when the liturgical period overlaps with secular holidays, and even birthdays.

My birthday fell during Lent during college, my 21st birthday no less, my roommates planned a party for me (due in part because I was the only 1 of the 4 of us who had a birthday during the school year). It seemed like it was going to be a huge party, at least in terms of what I can handle for a big event, but it was during Lent.

Lent is a time when people tend to give something up (or do something enriching) for 40 days. My friends gave up drinking or sugar and/or took up a stricter practice of personal prayer, so the party ended up being more like an open house for all our friends. Whoever wanted to stop by did, and I took calls from friends apologizing for not coming by, but it was Lent, and they made a commitment.

I understood, some of them I envied in fact.

Why envy? Because some were making and keeping commitments I knew (and know) I wouldn’t be able to keep (even all these years later).

There’s often talk, and concern of what Catholics should consider a higher priority, the Catholic world or the secular world. I understand it and don’t at the same time. It’s an issue of balance, and that looks different for each person, not to mention personal values and priorities.

I, personally, like to see what happens when Liturgical and Secular collide. I like to see what others do, or not. It’s fun for me, albeit in a weird way, and it helps me figure out my own feelings, priorities, and whatnot.

Grad School: The Final Semester

I’m pretty sure a lot of people never thought I’d reach this point, honestly, I had my own doubts at times.

As far as semesters go this one was fairly lonely, like my first one, except this time I was able to recognize the loneliness. I knew a few people in class but not well, and I really didn’t want to make any new friends (yes, I am that kind of person). I wouldn’t go back to last year if given the choice, but I missed comradery, much like last fall.

You’d think I’d have the whole studying routine down by now, but no, there were plenty of nights when I was clicking submit at the last minute. But there were times when I completed assignments a week ahead of time. So yeah, that time management thing went to both extremes.

Although there were times when I wanted to quit, no matter what semester it was, and return to life as a normal person now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve caught up on Netfl!x, which didn’t take nearly as long as I would’ve thought. So much so that I’ve started and finished watching other things.

I’ve even read a book or two, which I swore I wasn’t going to do for 6 months, at least. And by book or two I mean I’ve read a pile or two of books.

I took a short break from swimming, but it was more of necessity than want. And I regretted it within 2 minutes of getting back in the water, the break from swimming, not the swimming itself.

People keep asking me “what’s next?”

Honestly, I have no idea.

Am I cut out to be a normal person anymore?

My face has been buried in books and writing papers for years. I’ve had to turn down more social engagements than I can count, I don’t care to, really.

School has been my excuse to not do things I don’t want to do, but didn’t want to just say no either, so it worked on a few fronts.

I’m sending out my resume again and seeing what’s out there. I’ve been doing it some in the last year but nowhere near seriously.

But that’s not the part that freaks me out the most, although it is daunting.

What will I do with my free time?

I’ve had projects on the backburner for years, but is it time to give them more attention?

That would require some shifting, for sure.

Should I pursue a career based on filling someone else’s shoes or should I continue to forge my own path?

12 Days Of Christmas, Kinda

There are so many reasons why I hate the start of the Christmas season, at least the commercial version of it. I’m not sure when it started but I was ecstatic in college when I was given an Advent calendar that included the Christmas Octave.

My cousin says it’s because I know too much, that may be the case now, but back then I think it was just an annoyance.

I hate having to buy Halloween decorations in early September, that Christmas movies run 24/7 on some TV stations from October 1st through New Year’s, and the supposed “war on Christmas, among other things.

I look for anything for an escape, at least until Gaudete Sunday, so imagine how I felt when my coach told the group about the “12 sets of Christmas” challenge.

I’ve heard stories about swim practices during holiday breaks, “Grinch week” or “hell week” are common terms, although mostly in younger groups. Usually time around the holidays is devoted to fun games that happen to double as technique work or some sort of cross training, so I thought the sets would be like that.

No.

It was going to be unpleasant, to the point where I would probably hate it.

I tried making the argument that it was Advent and not Christmas, at least at the time. I threw out the “Catholic card,” knowing it wouldn’t get very far but it was worth a try. It wasn’t totally bailing on the challenge, just putting it off. Anything that would buy me a few more days without time trials makes for a better practice.

However, the “12 Sets of Christmas” was to be completed in December. Thus, covering both the Advent and Christmas seasons, more or less. So even if my argument had held up it wouldn’t have been for long.

It did get me to focus less on Christmas and more on what I was actually doing, which is a good thing, and an essential for a 400-yard Individual Medley, for time, among other things associated with swimming well, or at least well-ish.

I survived Advent and Christmas, and the associated swim sets, actually, I think the swim sets helped take the edge off the intensity of the holiday season.

Although I think it’s weird that the Valentines paraphernalia made an appearance during Advent.

Remembering Jack

From a school in Copper Valley, to a legacy of thousands.

As the story goes a group of Jesuits and some of their Sister friends went to Copper Valley to open a school for Native Alaskan children.

60 years later the legacy continues to make a world of difference.

One of the Jesuits from that Copper Valley School decided to walk to Bethlehem in the name of peace.

He and his fellow pilgrims arrived in Jesus’ birthplace on Christmas Eve, or so the legend goes.

(Did you think I meant the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania? So do most people when they hear this story)

That same Jesuit joined me in a buffet line one spring in Seattle and invited me (and my community) to a meal at the local Jesuit residence.

Just like people do every day, except this was only the 2nd time I’ve crossed paths with this Jesuit. Typically, this kind of gesture, although nice, would seem odd to me.

Except for the fact that this Jesuit seemed to possess a level of generosity and kindness of spirit that I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. I knew he meant it.

This kind Jesuit with a boundless spirit and unforgettable sense of humor has touched many, a goal many reach for but very few achieve.

People thought he was nuts. I’m sure there were times he though his own ideas were nuts too. But he went for them anyway.

I laugh to myself whenever I wonder if I’m about to embark on something people think is nuts. Jack would probably be one of those people too, the only difference is, He’d tell you you’re nuts with a smile on his face, then tell you to go for it.

What the Lord can do with a restless spirit is truly amazing, and only something the Lord can do.

I have been truly blessed by his example.

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Father Jack Morris S.J.
1927-2012

“Our human task, if you like, is to not flee from the ill-being but to transform it.”
–Jack Morris, June 2012

*A similar version of this post was written on September 28, 2016