Monday, March 24, 2014

It's time to PARTY!

Well, it's Monday. Again. Here we go, starting another week...but this isn't "just another week" - this week something really special is happening. It's happening on Wednesday, March 26th actually. That's the day that my friend Jenny turns 30 - yay! But the something special is even better than that...Jenny's book that she's been working on for several years {her whole life, really} is being launched {book launch party is private/invite-only} and we're gathering to celebrate, not only her birthday, but her incredible book that's going to touch the hearts and lives of so many people. I am SO excited to see how God is going to use this book to inspire and encourage people – people struggling with disability themselves, as well as parents, siblings and friends of individuals with disabilities!


Some of you may remember the post I wrote back before Christmas about our fun surprise we pulled off for Jenny when a local TV news station honored her with an award for the impact she's making as an "Excellent Educator". I shared a bit about what Jenny has meant to our family then, and I'd love to take some time now to share a bit more about our connection.

About a year ago, I found myself standing in the office at our kid's elementary school signing Peyton out for Horse Therapy one Wednesday morning. There sat Jenny, the school's Media Specialist, doing some work on a computer. We exchanged pleasantries and I quickly asked her how it was going. She told me she was working on her book and was getting so close to being done with it. I told her how excited I was for her, and then I remember saying as I ran out the door, "Well if you need any help laying it out or designing a cover for it, let me know!".

A couple months later, I got an email from Jenny asking, "Were you serious when you said you'd be interested in helping me design and layout my book?". We exchanged a few emails and set a time to meet for coffee to talk through things. As we sat chatting in a Caribou Coffee and Jenny explained more in-depth what her book Walking With Tension was about, I became even more intrigued. When I asked her what she had in mind for a cover design, she didn't have anything too specific in mind other than she wanted to convey something about the journey through life {and her faith} that she'd been walking – something that tied in to the title. Jenny threw out a tentative deadline she had hoped we could meet...her 30th birthday. And I told her, "We'll make it happen!", then we went our separate ways.

After a busy summer and fall adjusting to the school routine again, I finally found time to sit down and work on some cover design ideas. I emailed off a proof of what I thought was "the one", and Jenny agreed wholeheartedly. Then a couple weeks later, I found myself starting to look through the manuscript Jenny had sent over. As I began typesetting the manuscript, I couldn't help but read as I carefully went through line-by-line making sure the formatting, grammar and spelling was correct. The more I read, the more I was drawn in and felt as though I could relate {to a certain degree} on a very personal level. I can't tell you how many times I found myself typesetting through tears as my heart ached reading the difficult times Jenny endured growing up with Cerebral Palsy and the lack of acceptance as a result of her disability. It broke my heart. 

Several times as I was working on this book project, I remember pausing and thinking about Jenny. I remember thinking, "How on earth could someone just dismiss someone because they walk differently?" Through more tears, I had a flashback to kindergarten at the tiny Christian school I attended that year in northwest Wisconsin. I remembered a girl named Tina who had a {repaired} cleft lip/palette. And shamefully, I remembered the day I stood in front of our whole class during our lunch break and made fun of how Tina talked while the teacher briefly left the room. It was a Friday, and Friday's meant we received special Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream treats. We rotated each week which student got to hand them out. It was supposed to be MY day to hand out treats...but Tina stood up and declared it was HER turn. Angrily, I responded back to her, imitating her voice, "No, it's my turn, not yours! You're not the boss!" Oh how vividly I remember that, as if it were yesterday, and not just because I was sent to the principal's office. I remember the sad, hurt look on Tina's face as I mimicked her and talked with slurred speech. I had done the same thing to Tina that kids did to Jenny. And I've been reminded over and over again of this incident as we've experienced similar situations with Peyton and her speech issues. I do remember in that moment instantly being mortified that I'd acted the way I had as I watched Tina sit down, shrink in her chair and begin to cry, but it was too late. The damage had been done. And my heart ached to take back what I'd said. But I couldn't. Ever since that day, I've tried so hard to always THINK before I speak, because never again do I want to spew something out that is hurtful to others. Looking back on this experience, though, I know God was setting me up for where I am today – with a heart for those with disabilities/special needs.

This past January, as Jenny and I sat at my dining room table uploading the final files to the publisher for printing, we were both giddy with excitement! It was finally almost done and ready to be distributed out into the hands of others. For me, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment in this moment, but I also couldn't help but sit and reflect how being a part of this project had changed and impacted me. My perspective on how I view others with disabilities as well as how I talk about and view my own daughter's disability has been altered - in a good way. Walking With Tension has opened my eyes even more to see that everyone has a story...and our stories shape who we are but they don't necessarily define us.

Jenny's book gives such an amazing inside, personal, and honest view into what it's like to grow up with a disability or "being different". My heart ached for her as a peer, and it ached even more as a mom. On several occasions I found myself wishing I'd known Jenny during those years. It absolutely blew my mind that this sweet, funny, spunky, smiley friend who has sat {uncomfortably} on the floor of my daughter's bedroom floor playing cards, and who so energetically embraces everything about Peyton, including dancing the night away for HOURS with Peyton at our last Special Olympics dance, could have been in such a dark, lonely place for all of those years. How could this be?! I look at Jenny today and often think, "Man, I wish I could be like her when I grow up!". Having read Walking With Tension and knowing the very personal background story behind Peyton's hero "Miss Hill" makes me love her even more. And that may sound strange for me to say, but yes, I do love her. I love her boldness, her determination, her quirky sense of humor, her transparency & honesty, and most of all, her ability to smile and show Jesus to others through all of the difficult times. He brought her through those dark times, and I'm confident God is going to do remarkable things as a result of this book. I feel honored and blessed to have been involved in a very minor behind-the-scenes part of this project.

So, on Wednesday, we're going to celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean P-A-R-T-Y! We're going to praise God for the work He has done and continues to do in and through Jenny. We're going to praise God for the fantastic daughter, sister, friend, colleague, teacher/media specialist, author Jenny is. We're going to praise God for the impact her story has had and is going to have on others impacted by disability. And most importantly, we're going to praise God for his faithfulness to carry us through. No matter what. Congratulations, Jenny, on your new book – and thank you for being such a special part of our family. We love you dearly and are blessed to have you in our lives!

P.S. If you'd like to read more about Jenny's book, here are a few articles:
Monticello Times
St. Cloud Times
North Wright County Today

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