Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Monday, August 7, 2017

Danielle Taylor

My dear friend Danielle and I only see each other once in a blue moon these days and we laugh about how old we are getting. We live several hours apart and while I wish I could bring her with me to train and equip leaders and staff to understand and work with our friends who are nonverbal, Danielle still helps me in spirit through this beautiful piece we worked on many years ago. This past month I shared it with our entire assigned team as we prepared to welcome friends with many different abilities to camp, and Danielle became a voice for others. I am so proud to call her my friend and to have her ‘join me’ in ministry from afar!

Danielle Taylor

Who am I? My name is Danielle Taylor and I have Cerebral Palsy. I am a person that has what lots of people like to call “special needs.” I am not able to speak with you using my own voice or words. I am not able to walk, run, skip, or jump. I am not able to do any of my own personal care- including bathing, dressing, feeding, or toileting. I cannot run away from unpleasant circumstances, because, in a lot of ways, I am a prisoner in a body that doesn’t function “normally.”

I am a person, and I do the best I can with the abilities that God has given to me. I do have feelings. I do have opinions. I get angry, feel happy, giddy, selfish, hurt, frustrated, and even at times ignored and forgotten. I hate to sit and wait with nothing to do and no one to respond; it may look like sitting and waiting is all I can do, but my mind doesn’t just “sit and wait,” its ready for action and challenge! I answer “YES” with a smile and my head up, and I answer “NO” with a nod of my head and putting it down (when my body cooperates). Sometimes people perceive my movements to be stubbornness, when most of the time, they are just something that my body does without permission from my mind. I can also let you know by my facial expressions if I am happy or uncomfortable, or by using this really fancy machine called the Dynavox. My Dynavox is really the first voice I have ever gotten. Just like you had to learn to use your voice as a baby, I am slowly but surely learning how to use my new voice, so please be patient with me and try to allow me enough time to express what I am trying to say.

I enjoy lots of the same things that you do. I love to swim. I love to read and listen to good books. I love to eat pizza and chocolate any time of the day! I love good movies! I love to get all dressed up for proms and dances- you ought to see me in this chair when I get going! I love to go to Young Life and church to see all my friends and learn more about God! I love to have my hair look pretty, and I love it even more when people notice and tell me how great it looks. I have a great sense of humor, and I love sarcasm and any kind of joking around or pranks; when you have a disability like me, you have to laugh to make it through life!

I am not “retarded.” I know my addition and subtraction, and I even know my multiplication and division tables. I have known my ABCs for many, many years, and I am tired of having to prove it to people. I can write a sentence using my Dynavox, but it may take me an hour. I can read, but the physical aspects like holding a book, turning a page, or even vision make it very impractical, so I just listen and let you read.

I am a person with hopes and dreams. I want to be challenged. I want to show you who I am and what my abilities are! I want to be treated with respect. I need love and understanding, kindness and caring, maybe even sympathy, but I do not need pity. I am not a child, but a young adult, and oh how wonderful it would be if people would believe me when I say that, and treat me like a young adult. Please try to get to know me, and please, look past this wheelchair and these flailing arms to see the person inside. Do not talk about me when I am there, talk to me. My disability doesn’t affect my hearing or my ability to understand what you are saying to me. Listen to my Grandparents, friends, and assistants who truly know me and know my needs- they are my voice. Put yourself in my mind and get to know me, let me get to know you. Believe in me. I can do many things that may surprise you if you just allow me to. Have faith in me, I deserve that. I have no hidden agendas and I will not lie to you. Treat me as you would want to be treated- I am someone just like you- someone with weaknesses and strengths, abilities and disabilities, hopes, and dreams, but most of all- a person with HOPE. My hope lies in knowing that someday, I will leave this “handicapped” body behind, and my spirit will be free for eternity with God in heaven- and then you will see!!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Xuan's Story: Not Defined By Limitations

Guest post by Xuan Truong
I was sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck at Young Life camp. My head barely reached the bottom of the truck door window. I looked up and stared fearfully at my friend who had spiritually mentored me during my last semester as an undergrad. “What am I doing?” I yelled through the crack of the window. All I got for a response was a smile and a chuckle. I could tell she had been excitedly anticipating this moment for days. She was going to have a blast watching me from below. Fear began to take a stronger grip as we made our way up the mountain. I listened as the driver made small conversation with my zip-line partner, trying not to think about what I just agreed to.

Zip-lining itself was not my main concern. It was the impact of the stopping brakes at the end that I
feared would crush my bones. In this case, the camp staff decided not to use the brake, but instead have someone catch me. I thought that was the worst idea ever. Having my body crash into some guy I barely met. What am I even doing up here in the mountains, at the hands of strangers? I am just a little person, not even 3 feet tall. What am I doing going on a zip-line? My parents would kill me.

I have a condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or brittle bone disease. Growing up, I was constantly reminded of my limitations. Statements like you can’t do this, you aren’t strong enough. You are too small. You are too weak. Your voice isn’t loud enough. You will always need help. Those phrases tore at my self-esteem, my core. They were repeated over and over again by not just my parents, but by most of my relatives and people who would barely know me. My world was a preset box of my inability.

But here I was on top of this cliff, watching as the crewmember attaches the hooks to the line. These hooks would be the security between the trench below and me. For the past five years I have been breaking the limitations my family has imposed on me one by one. It surprised them but more importantly, I surprised myself. From moving out on my own, attending multiple higher-level institutions and travelling abroad without my parents, I soon became known as the “adventurous” one in my family. Adventurous indeed. I was about to do something that many people in normal physical conditions would never choose to do. The lift that the camp employee was standing on began to lower. I was now fully strapped on to the zip-line. He let go and I slowly descended down.

The actual experience on that zip-line was a bit anti-climatic. Because of my weight, the speed at which I was carried down was much slower than expected. Nonetheless, when asked I told people
that this was my favorite part about camp. It taught me a lot about fears. Not just my own, but overcoming fears that others have placed on me. From then on, I realized most of the limitations I thought were my own were actually from others. Society has conditioned us to see the disability before the ability. In the country that my parents originate from, a person such as I going off to college was unheard of. Those restrictions they placed on my life were motivated by fear. In turn, I inherited their fears and subconsciously turned them into my own truths. When someone tells you it can’t be done, it’s more of a reflection of their limitations not yours.

As humans we all have our own individual limitations. That is what makes us unique. I have accepted long ago that I will never be able to walk. That alone closes a lot of doors both personal and career opportunities. However, recently I have started to notice how my own so-called “limitations” have been opening conversations about having a disability.

I now define my own limits. I know what I am capable of, when I need assistance, and when a task is not suitable for me to complete. My family, my friends, or society no longer defines these limitations. More importantly than that, I want others with disabilities to have opportunities to do something so daring that it transcends their own barriers. I want them to have my zip line experience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Connection and Belonging by Brad Mowry

I stood in the doorway to the living room – I was frozen. It was a typical Sunday evening for us. We had several pizza boxes spread out on the dining room table and about 30 college students packed in our house. All of these Young Life leaders-in-training had come over to eat and hang out as usual.

But tonight was different. There was something added to the scene that I had never seen before. 

I grabbed my pizza and headed into the living room. My sons wrestled with and chased college guys around the house, the din of conversations and the ambience of the football game could be heard, and
Hannah lay on her therapy mat in the middle of the room.

What made this evening different from every other pizza night, was that there in front of me, Kristen was on the mat next to Hannah. She was combing Hannah’s hair with her fingers and talking to her. 

Hannah was cooing and laughing and looking in Kristen’s eyes – hearing her and being heard.

Why did I freeze? What was so different about this scene? In the 11 years since Hannah was born, this was the first time that someone other than a family member had taken this kind of notice of her. And, more than that, had really connected with her.

The Young Life podcast “On the Frontier” recently referenced the following quote by Brene Brown from her book, Daring Greatly:

“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.”

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…"

Kristen took the time to truly connect with Hannah in a way that was meaningful to Hannah. Hannah was seen, heard, and valued by this young college-age woman who would eventually become her first Young Life leader.  

So Hannah and Kristen made a connection, but Hannah needs more than that. Hannah yearns to belong. She has a right to belong, and I want that for her and all of my friends with disabilities. 

How does one find belonging?  Brene Brown says, “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” What I have come to know from parenting a child with significant disabilities and befriending others with disabilities, is that no one presents their “authentic, imperfect selves to the world” better than people with disabilities.

This is a gift that people with disabilities have to offer the body of Christ. Because people with intellectual disabilities are often vulnerable and very accepting of others - presenting their authentic,
imperfect selves in relationships - they help us to do the same.

Able-bodied and able-minded people can, and often do, hide our authentic, imperfect selves. I hold back from letting you see the real me: I might not tell you my internal struggles, I can wear loose clothing if I put on a few pounds, or utilize the “comb-over” if my hair thins any more. I will smile when I’m really sad, and tell you I’m fine when I’m not doing well at all.

But Hannah cannot hide her “authentic, imperfect” self (and I don’t believe she wants to). Hannah’s perceived “weaknesses” are not hidden when you spend time with her. Being with Hannah encourages me to abandon my attempts to fit in and to forsake my need for approval. 

We need to discard these false attempts not simply because we are being inauthentic, but because we will not find true belonging while we continue to attempt to deceive others or ourselves.

Disability ministries like YL Capernaum offer the church the opportunity to enter into relationship with a group of people who are much better at creating a community of belonging, when we invite them in. 

If belonging is based in presenting our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, and people with disabilities do this better than most of the world, we ought to be falling all over ourselves to invite people of all abilities, in the midst of our imperfections, into our churches. We are robbing ourselves of true connection and belonging by not seeking out friendships with those with disabilities. 

Brad Mowry works for Young Life – an international ministry reaching out to adolescents. Brad is the Coordinator for Young Life’s ministry with adolescents with disabilities in the Eastern and Greater NY Divisions (an area that covers everything from Ohio to Virginia to Maine). The Mowrys have 7 children and reside in Western Pennsylvania.