Monday, June 18, 2012

Blast from the Past

All through middle school, high school and college, we had to keep journals.  Which at one level, I totally understand and respect.  But when you are required to turn in said thoughts for a grade?  Grated against me...made me mad...and caused me to break the ninth commandment...repeatedly.  I never, not once told the truth of my feelings....well, unless you count the rantings in said journal about the inappropriateness of grading thoughts and feelings...well, those were pretty honest.  :)

My mama found my journaling after my time volunteered at a school that met the needs of those disabled...the severe and profound kind...  I don't know what prompted me to pull this out and keep it...but I am thankful that my mother kept it.  This is perhaps my only voluntary and honest journaling.  This school was most of my experience with Down Syndrome.  When we had Elise, this was where my mind went first...

I thought you'd be interested hearing what 17 year old Tiffany said after this experience:

"We never did anything excessively important.  We made bigger teams for the games in PE.  And we provided diversionary tactics at the end of the day.  I played so many games of giant-sized Go Fish that I could have played it on auto drive. 

For PE, we played games of wiffle-ball, kick ball, volleyball, and a few games of bowling.  Several times we got out a big striped parachute and waved it up and down for 45 minutes or so, while the kids squealed with delight.  You may perchance ask how we played "ball" games with our kids in wheel chairs?  What happened was that the teachers, assistants, and volunteers were divided into teams and played the games exactly the way you play it normally, with the exception that we all had a child, wheel-chair and all, that we had to play "as".  The runners had to run around the bases, carefully, and never losing possession of their chair, et cetera.  It was a lot of fun.

A couple of weeks ago, Amy said, "Do the bulletin board."  So, I did, and the assistants and Amy loved it.  I felt really good!  The kids all thought it was amazing!

I also got to help with Crystal's learning of colors and Wendy's speech therapy.

The whole experience is melancholy mixed with delight.  (And Amazement!)  The kids have so much to overcome, physically and mentally.  Most cannot even talk, they can understand, but they cannot speak.  And the likelihood that they ever will is very small.

As painful as is is to see their handicaps and losses, they have risen above them to be able to give and sparkle and shine with you, and it is so moving and inspiring.  I'm sure that I got more out of this experience than they did.

The more time I spent with these kids, the more I feel God calling me to spend even more time with them.  If not for my life as a teacher of special ed, then at least a summer volunteer program.

I did more than put in my time with my kids, I was touched in my very soul.

I spent my time with Amy K~ (teacher) and assistants:  Kevin (AKA, "Other") and Barbara (AKA, "Baba").  And my kids were:  Bryan, Chris, Kelly, Mary Pat, Crystal, Wendy, Jennifer, and Renee.  I LOVED them!!"

Journal Summaries:
1.  How would you rate your placement? (You establish the scale)

"I think this was the place God wanted me.  If nothing else, but to understand my world better...In that perspective, I'd say this was a 10 placement, if from 1 to 10, 10 is best."

2.  To what aspects of our community were your eyes opened?

"My eyes were opened to the needs of special kids.  How they need help, but they need to be treated as Humans, because they know so much more than you'd think.  If you bend and communicate with then they sparkle and respond and make more of an effort at EVERYTHING.  They are more willing to open up and let you into their world if you honestly want to love them.  They reach out and communicate, if you reach out and communicate.  They love, if you love.  You get to see life "though the eyes of a child".  It's special -- They're more special.  I believe God gives an extra measure of grace to those he asks more of...They are a blessing even as they are blessed."

3.  In what ways did this assignment challenge or not challenge you?

"It challenged me to be more open and demonstrative of my heart.  They treasure and need touch more than we do.

It asked me to be more vulnerable so the kids feel more loved, special, and protected."

4.  Discuss (if any) the ways this assignment deepened your understanding of Christ's call to you for servanthood.

"Right now, I believe God is calling me to spend time with these kids, either as a career or just volunteer work.

I love them."

5.  Discuss how this assignment helped you understand yourself better.

"I learned that even though it's hard to open up, I am rewarded through God's reward system.  Communication in uncomfortable situations is not as hard as I thought."

6.  Record any ideas or suggestions for me as I place future students.

"Suggestion:  Don't place someone with these kids if they can't treat them as equals.  The worst thing for these children is being shuffled around and talked down to.  Delighting with them on their level does wonders, but a hard heart and harsh dealings can crush them and hinder they potential.  (which they have a lot of!)

Idea:  Don't require a rigid journal system.  Require a reaction/response, but don't be so ditto sheet approach-ish." 

As a parent now with a child with pretty profound special needs, I find myself cringing at some of my phrases and word choices.  I know what I meant, but it didn't make them any less harsh.  But my heart was yearning to do what was right...  Do you hear the awakening of passion in my voice?  For those who do not know, I went on to teach.  And to be involved with kids with special needs. With a couple of stops along the way, in Physical and Occupational therapy...adding LOTS of volunteer hours with more people with profound special needs. So, this was not an experience that I rushed through to not be touched by again.

The initial journaling was not my actual assignment, the answers to the questions was.  Do you like how I have to get in one good dig about the system there at the end?  The note from my teacher that was written on the page?  "Not your traditional journal response, but who says I was looking for all you guys to do things 'my way'!"

Little did I know that this was the first taste of the rest of my life...

Y-E-S to V-B-S

I have totally been MIA, and I know and I feel genuinely guilty....but such is's just been nuts...

Elise had a spectacular time at VBS, seriously, her best ever.  For 8 years running, we have been unable to last the entire week.  Due to either meltdowns or illness, Elise has missed 1-3 days of every VBS.  Not this year.  This year the "absent day" was due to her Twinkie, Charlotte...but Elise stayed and enjoyed every single day. 

She had a bumpy first day, but we dug out the new Special Buddies Curriculum and Bible Box that were gotten for her in Sunday School and she did them with her special Shadow...and she basked, learned, and thoroughly enjoyed her week.  She got Jesus at her level, and got to remain with her was really such a blessing!!

She worked so hard at her lessons and crafts that she hit sensory overload in a strange way this year.  She was unable and unwilling to participate in the daily music.  This was somewhat of a shock, as usually, music is the only part of VBS she is completely able to be involved in.  She decided to sing with the 5th graders, abruptly for the final program, so I guess she heard and saw enough to learn the songs after all.  When we headed for home that night, she was dancing and waving her hands and I asked if she was dancing...and she said, "No, talkin' wif God!"  And so, VBS made a special mark on her heart this year...I look forward to next year!  I cannot say enough about how I appreciate her Shadow and room teacher for providing that gift this year.