Monday, March 2, 2015

ReelAbilities

Shared from Facebook and Instagram



Last evening, I attended an event celebrating sameness. Each of us, with different abilities, proved we are far more alike than different. When we let go of what divides us and focus on what unites us, we struggle to see any separateness at all. Our job, as humans, is to find the spark inside of our own selves and, fervently, work to ignite the same flame in another. Because when we all shine from our insides, together, we light up the whole world. A room full of people with different abilities doesn't glow because of difference, it glows because the light that shines from the heart and the soul can't be extinguished. We all dream. We all hope. We all conquer hard stuff. We all hurt. We all break. We all heal. And most importantly, we are all whole. Our outsides might come in all shapes and sizes and colors and abilities, but our insides come in one package. That package is whole and brilliant and full of love and wonder. Celebrate your light and use your dance to fan the flames of your neighbor's spark. We need our collective light to illuminate this, sometimes, dark and separate world. We need this light right now, not tomorrow. We need it right now. ‪#‎reelabilities‬@elizabethkmurphy @kurtyaeger


Monday, January 5, 2015

Kate's Room

Fear. I try to rid my life of this word, but the pesky emotion continues to resurface. No matter how many pages of, A Course in Miracles, I read or how many hours of Marianne Williamson lectures I hear, I can’t eliminate fear. I hear and read fear is not real. I read only love is real. And, while my heart knows this fact to be a true statement, my brain, my anxiety, and my chills who rapidly permeate my body during any uncomfortable moment, they tell me differently. And for the record, I do not mean the kind of fear that protects me from the dark alley way, but the fear that prevents me from new experiences or confines me and forces me to play it safe. 

Last Sunday, I faced this playing it safe fear. I am not sure how gracefully I accepted the challenge, but I silenced the don’t do it monsters. And, although I felt the tirelessly fluttering butterflies inside my stomach, I forged ahead, choosing hope over fear, one more time. 

It’s football season. Apparently, this means there are more than enough football games to be watched on any given day of the week. I am totally on board with the cute jerseys and delicious football snacks, but the whole watching the game part is kind of my weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I understand enough of the game, as one friend told me, and I can get as emotionally involved as I allow, but, all in all, this game’s complexity escapes me. I try. And when we all had season tickets to our city’s NFL team’s games, I really, really tried. I like to watch football, occasionally, and I, always, like to prepare the dips and sliders and spreads. Anyway, last Sunday, I drove to Kyle and Ashlea’s to watch football and eat food. 

The night before, as I was wrapped up in the food prep, Kyle, very delicately, requested we watch the game upstairs in the bonus room. And this means, I must be lifted out of my safety zone and carried up the large staircase located in the foyer that leads to the bonus room. Which, by the way, is the cutest black and white painted staircase you ever did see. Kyle’s request was genuine. Ashlea’s insistence that I am absolutely comfortable, was also genuine. And because the scrapes I hear on my driveway in the dead of winter are from Kyle’s shovel hitting the driveway's pavement and scooping up the snow and ice, I genuinely wanted to honor his request. Regardless, I knew whatever I chose, we, they would have made the best of it and there would never, ever be any hard feelings. In a word, they make me feel safe. Even with the fear that began to rumble, I knew I was safe, no matter what option I chose. 

I stayed busy preparing more food that four people could possibly eat. Cooking is my meditation and when I am nervous or afraid or joyful or grateful, I cook. It’s my go-to good feeling and escape. As I stirred the pan-fried onion dip and waited on the butter and hot sauce to mingle and marry together, finally creating the Buffalo Sauce, for the chicken sliders, I felt my long lost friend, fear, begin to adhere its ugly claws and puncture my happy space. Fear tried to overcome the inner confidence I felt for the two strong men tasked with carrying my half-broken body and wheelchair. Fear desperately tried to disrupt the genuine trust I feel for the the loyal friend and spotter, who on a side note, will dress down and educate any car valet because I am too slow or drunk girl knocking on the bar bathroom door that tries to hurry me. She will not only do this, but later say it just makes her want to cry because she knows how I must feel. I knew I was safe, but fear kept a tiny grip, reminding me of its presence every time I tried to escape. 

I enable this fear of being carried for a few reasons. I, at the ready, can easily recall horrible staircase carrying experiences. I combine these recollections with the knowing what is at stake awareness and these worries, easily and quickly, feed the fear. There is the dropping of my body and damaging it more than it all ready is fear. There is the guilt of the person who trips and falls while trying to carry me and ending up hurt himself fear And there is the whole, I am stuck up on a floor and I can’t get down without assistance fear. It’s just risky to carry an adult person, not matter what the strength level. Anyone can slip or trip and then all chaos begins. After I ran through the usual list of fears, I contemplated different strategies and landed on one that felt the safest and most reliable. One friend would head up the stairs first, with my chair, so the chair was waiting for my arrival, one would carry me, and Ashlea would follow behind, as the spotter. I was calm and cool about this plan, all would be well. Or, at least, that is what I told the fear. I’m not quite sure I believed in my own plan, until I, suddenly, let go of the safety net and just believed all would be well.

We said goodnight to the kids, Kate and Jack and Will. Ashlea and Kyle headed upstairs for the bedtime routine and a few minutes later, Kate snuck down the backstairs, plopped in my lap, and despite brushing her teeth asked that we pass her some chips. She didn’t heed the grown-ups warning of the dangers of eating chips post-teeth brushing. In fact, she said she really didn’t care much at all.  We sat and ate chips with Kate until Kyle came down and said to Kate, “Why are you eating chips, you all ready brushed your teeth?”. She looked back at us and grinned. 

A few moments later Kyle came back down the stairs. He was followed by Ashlea who had Kate in tow. Ashlea entered the room and informed us that Kate would be staying up for a little bit longer because she was older. We all ate the hot pepper raspberry soaked salami, the onion dip, the queso dip, the guacamole, and the shredded chicken sliders with blue cheese or ranch dressing slaw. Ashlea shared her peppermint Oreo cake balls. And after all of the anticipation, here it was, time to make the trek up the long and winding stairs. As soon as this next event was announced and I felt my stomach tie in a knot, Kate jumped up and exclaimed, with as much enthusiasm as you can imagine, “I am going to go and get ready for Sarah!”.

Good God. I totally forgot. I can’t tell you how many times Kate asks me and whispers in my ear, her hope, that one day, I will see her bedroom. She wishes I walked, just so I could see her room. Her only sadness about my wheelchair is that I can’t see her room. I totally and absolutely forgot about her wish and her dream. I, too wrapped up in my own fear, completely neglected to realize that taking a break from my own comfort zone, stepping outside of this blasted fear, might make someone else’s dream, a six-year old girl’s, who is sweeter than sweet, dream come true. And as one friend carried me like Pollyanna, and another ran ahead with the chair, and another spotted us all from behind, and I saw Kate dash to her room, I knew venturing on, while still feeling the faint clutches of fear, was the right thing to do. I knew whatever vulnerability I felt in those few moments, having my life in another’s hands and the obvious what I can’t do illuminated for all to see, it was all okay. Because at the top, a little bit of hope and an ocean of joy waited with a smile that could heal the whole world. 

My friend gently placed my body in my chair and I said, as everyone headed into the bonus room, except Ashlea and me, I have to go see Kate’s room. Seeing her room was the only thing on my mind, fear took a back seat, took a ride on the caboose, and left the station. 

I entered her pink room and with her tiny Vanna White hands, she showed me her beautiful dollhouse, built by her Noni and Pop Pop; her brand new American Girl Doll bed; her bed, with the hot pink tufted headboard and the pink polka-dotted comforter and matching pillows; her pink and white Christmas tree, and even her doll that poops gems or something. Still not sure what that doll does, but whatever. Kate loves the doll. Kate shared her space, her room, her little piece of the world that was all hers. She shared it with me. A dream she carried for so long, to simply share a part of her little self I didn't have the ability to see. And then, the piece de resistance, she wrapped her tiny body, dressed in Christmas pajamas, in her hot-pink robe, tied the waste tie, and slid her feet into her hot pink slippers. Ashlea pointed at the robe to make sure I noticed and said, “Isn’t is great to be six?”. 

Yes, it’s pretty fantastic to be six. It’s pretty fantastic to be innocent enough to want your mom’s friend, the one who can’t walk, to simply visit your room for a night and have it make your whole world. And it’s even more fantastic to be that friend, who let go of her ridiculous fear, for five minutes, to make such a simple, but ever so important dream come true. Making this dream really didn’t take much from me. Just a tad bit of vulnerability, a smidgen of I am scared, but I am going to do it anyway, an arm around the strong neck of a trusted friend, the reassurance of another friend carrying my chair, and another friend, well sister, spotting the whole way up combined with a little bit of hope that we all make it to the top safely. 


This is it. This is the whole point to this life thing we all do, day in and day out. We aren’t here to be perfect or right or win every time. We are here to serve. We are here to let go of playing it safe and take the damn chance. Because, seriously, we may think we are overcoming a fear just for ourselves, but in the end, this simple act of looking fear in the face and saying, I raise you, you beast, and I am going to go ahead anyway, makes dreams come true. Not just our dreams, because, yes, each time I reach the top of a staircase or let go and allow others to see me for who I truly am, I make my own dreams of honesty and genuineness and love come true. But, making someone else’s dream come true, making a little girl’s dream come true, who never gives up or even thinks her dream won’t come true one day, well that’s more than I could, ever, ever hope for or imagine. Let go, despite the fear. Rely on others to carry you, rely on your best friend to spot you, whatever you need to do, do it to make it to the top because you never know what waits. I know now, from experience, trust me. Hope stands up there on top of the stairs of fear, love beckons in her pink robe, and smiles her biggest and warmest smile while welcoming you into her innocent, fearless world of dreams. And I promise you, the view is spectacular. 


Kate's room.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

For the Love of the Tears

A few weeks ago, I whizzed around Whole Foods, basket on my lap, sunglasses still on my eyes, unconcerned with anything other than the next item on my list, and stranger walked right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “How do you keep moving forward even though your life is so awful?”.

I sat stunned and speechless. My cheeks felt hot and red and my hand trembled when I reached to remove my sunglasses. I pulled off the glasses, looked this stranger right in the eyes, forced the corners of my mouth to form a huge, toothy grin, and replied, “Well, I just choose not to focus on the awful parts. I am so late, I need to run.” And with that ridiculous response, I found the closest check-out line and sped out of the store.

His question threw me. But, even more so, my answer infuriated me. I grasped the hand controls in my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and waited, in a daze, at the stop sign until another car honked at me to move forward. My skin crawled and my heart raced. Tears seeped through my large, protective eye wear. Not even my giant aviator glasses could protect the affect his question and my nonchalant answer had on me. 

As I continued to drive, I watched a memory play out so clearly in my mind it was like a movie on a gigantic screen. I watched as I sat in a hospital wheelchair, not the sleek, light as a feather version I have now, but the heavy, awkward, metal version hospitals use, and I wore pajamas and a hard, plastic, turtle shell brace over my t-shirt. My friend stood next to me and we waited for an elevator to arrive. The top of the brace encroached on my neck and I reached up to push it down. The small force of this adjustment caused me to wince in pain because of the pressure the shift put on my broken ribs. I clinched my fists, closed my eyes, and took a long, deep breath, my new method to overcome these new and sudden urges of excruciating pain. My friend leaned forward, placed his hands on my wheels, and, with great concern, asked, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to go outside?”. “Yes.”, I replied. He stood back and then said, “You know, I am really impressed with how you are taking all of this in stride.” I blankly smiled, and pretended to agree.

I knew I didn’t agree with his comment, but to be fair, it is what I allowed everyone around me to see. I acted like all of the pain and the heartache were just fine and I was fine. Fine, fine, fine. It became my favorite word. I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. The truth was and is though, it isn’t fine, it isn’t all okay, and I am not fine all of the time. Just as a I lied to my friend in that moment at the elevator, fourteen years later, I lied to the stranger in the grocery store. With my flashy smile and hurried attitude and brisk answer, I basically lied again and said, “Yes, I am okay, just fine.”

I cry a little bit each day. Still, after all of these years, there are parts of this life I can’t handle or take in stride. I know enough now, though, to know these moments of sadness aren’t shameful or scary, they are just part of the adventure. The definition of the word adventure when used as a noun is an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. And as a verb, adventure means to engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory. A word carrying this much weight and this much of the unknown and uncertainty, certainly doesn’t require a taking it all in stride attitude. This kind of life challenge requires tears and scrapes and bruises and falls. Adventure requires the tough stuff, the vulnerability of the tears and the awe. Adventure requires resilience and an intimate relationship with fear in order to venture forward on the long, hard walk through the woods of the unknown. When the night sky is black, the adventurer relies on the glowing light of the moon, and knows enough to continue on until the sun kisses the edges of the horizon and lights his way again. 

Each day is like this walk through the woods of the unknown. There are awful parts and really great parts. Fear grasps my spirit and instead of running from fear, I allow fear to pass through me and really feel fear. I can’t conquer fear until I know what it feels like. I can’t wipe the tears until I allow them to flow. Feeling my feelings, really feeling the sadness as much as I feel the joy, is what gives me true freedom. Taking it all in stride is just an avoidance of these feelings. I don’t need to be the girl who feels nothing to be brave. I am the girl who feels everything and is brave because of it. I face the tears with as much enthusiasm as I face the laughter. Both extremes feed my soul and propel my spirit. The exploration of the unknown, for me, is a bath in the pool of vulnerability and realness. I don’t want to live in a world anymore where I am afraid to feel. I want to be able to say to that stranger in the store, “Yep, my life can be awful at times, maybe even for a whole day or an entire week, but it can also be really, really great at times. And the best part is I am on board for all of it. I am okay with the awful. It’s my life, my adventure, and the awful comes along for the ride. Don’t feel sorry for me though. You have a little bit of awful in your life, too. You will discover your unknown. Your tears will wash your stride away and teach you dance along with all of the rhythms of life. You will fall. You will get up and you will keep going. You will know your awful and you will learn to love it because it is just a part of your adventure.”


Happy New Year. I resolve to see my tears as marks of beauty. I hope you will too.


This photo was taken the week before Christmas as we headed out to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of the awful and the great. Putting on boots or any shoe can take so much time out of my day. It really is awful to have something that used to take seconds take upwards of twenty minutes. But, it also really great to rely on my leftover dancer flexibility to help speed up the process. I might end up zipping the bootie in the car, on the way to dinner, but I rise to the challenge. One more bump in the road, one more tear, and one more smile. It’s just all part of the adventure. 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Arm in Arm






Negativity and cynicism pervade the world right now. There is a far greater focus on which side to choose, rather than how we can identify and walk with our brothers and sisters; even with those brothers and sisters with whom we disagree. 

Our bodies, skin color, abilities, cultures, religions, or politics all may differ, but what is common is our ability and desire to love and be loved. Our hearts are all the same.


Yesterday, I watched this father and son walk the entire path along the river, arm in arm. I noticed they kept one pace, regardless of the speed. I listened as they laughed, cried, discussed, and enjoyed moments of silence together while remaining in step and arm in arm with one another. They refused to allow their differences in speed and ability and age to invade their connection. Runners, bikers, and groups of other walkers all sped past them. They didn’t flinch or waiver. The father held on to his son. The son held on to his father. And together they continued to walk, arm in arm, sharing one stride, proving love really does exist. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I did it

As long as six months after my accident, I looked at the freezer, then the cupboards and panicked. I wanted a glass of ice water and lacked the necessary confidence and courage to perform such a straightforward task. My brain swirled with confusion as I attempted to concoct a plan. The mission seemed simple enough, but as with most previously simple undertakings, I froze. I questioned my skill to reach for a glass while sitting in a chair with wheels, transport the glass all the way over to the freezer, reach, again, this time for ice, carry the full glass of ice, and finally, fill it with water. I never fathomed the immense detail that lives in a glass of ice water. 

Eventually, after much repetition, I bravely defeated the ice water challenge and, now, as my mom teased the other day, I have glasses of water in every room. Occasionally, a full glass tumbles to the floor and ice and water spill in puddles all around me, but I pick up the glass, clean up the water, and try again. 

Over the years, I learned to attempt all of my new challenges with a similar approach. I assess the situation and formulate a plan. The tinge of fear still lingers and I learn to strive for my goal anyway. If the coffee beans are on the top shelf of the grocery store, I collect a hothouse cucumber and a roll of tinfoil to help slide the beans off of the shelf and catch them in the waiting basket that sits on my lap. Butterflies still flutter in my stomach each and every time and that is okay. And when I can’t, just can’t, reach or do something, I learn to gain the courage to ask. None of these things comes without practice and patience. 

Practice and patience. Practice and patience permeate my life now. Practice allows me to move ahead with fear because, after all, it’s just practice. And patience allows me to know I won’t always get it right the first time. Both of these build courage and confidence. I used to think courage and confidence were just born in people. Now I know, I must practice courage and confidence and exercise patience when I feel defeated. 

Last week, I joined Ashlea and her family for dinner at Ashlea’s house. Her mom came to town for a visit and invited me to join her family for dinner. The usual buzz of conversation and howling of laughter filled the air. Kate, Ashlea’s daughter, pulled out every school paper and drawing she ever created and Jack, Ashlea’s oldest son, gifted his grandma with a necklace that was really a dragon. Apparently, you can’t wear a necklace that is a dragon. We learned this very quickly when his grandma tried to wear the dragon, as a necklace, and Jack’s eyes welled up with tears, because it is a dragon, not a necklace. Amidst all of this beautiful chaos, I asked Ashlea what I could do to help. And she quickly responded, “Hold the baby.”

That I can do. Will, the baby, and I sat in my chair and played. He is teething and I made sure to keep his teething ring in his sore little mouth. After a few minutes, I heard a voice say, Will needs a diaper change. Without any hesitation, I said I will do it, and headed in the other room to change his diaper. Kyle brought in the basket of diaper supplies and I went to work.

I've changed many, many baby diapers. I have the routine down and never really think much about my rhythm. That is, until I had my accident. I was petrified the first time I changed a baby’s diaper after my accident. I religiously checked the brakes on my wheels just in case I slid backwards and pulled the baby to the ground. I held the baby with one hand and noticed my hand was shaking. I worried the entire time if my balance issues would cause me to slip and drag the baby to the ground and then roll over him. The horror film of everything that could go wrong ran on a constant reel in my mind. It was an utter disaster. I swore I would never try to change a baby’s diaper again, for about five minutes. And then I tried again, and again, and again. Each time progressively felt a bit easier, but I still felt the pangs of the what if everything goes wrong fear. 

Will and I were alone in the room next to the kitchen. I knew Kyle and Ashlea were just feet away from us, so I assume this is why I didn’t hesitate to change his diaper. I just started my routine. I talked to Will the whole way through and he tried to grab anything and everything with his cute little chubby baby hands and promptly put latest treasure grab into his aching mouth and chew on it. Consequently, I spent most of the time prying out ridiculous items from his mouth. The plastic from the wipes container and the edges of loose diapers were among his favorites. I tried to explain to him that babies don’t play with and chew on plastic, but my wisdom was lost on him. Finally, I snapped his tan, corduroy overalls back together again, put his little socks back on his tiny feet, and scooped him into my lap. And in the same moment I felt the perfect weight of his squishy Buddha baby body land in my lap, I also felt a jolt rise from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head. I did it. I sat with Will for a minute and whispered to him that I did it. I changed his diaper and I didn’t think about my wheels or my balance or his body position or his body crashing to the floor and my wheels running over him. Not even one time. I changed his diaper, just as I did a million times before. I made it. I hugged him and thanked him for his patience and distraction and we wheeled back into the kitchen together as a team. I did it.

After my accident I was so lost and so confused. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a glass of ice water. I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. Everyone around me was able bodied and seemed to think he or she had all of the answers. Suddenly, everyone knew how I should be doing things in a wheelchair. I felt like a big failure most of the time. And then one day I realized, all of these people handing out advice and you shoulds and don’t do this and don’t do thats were able bodied. They weren’t experts on living life in a wheelchair. I was. I was the only one who knew how to live in this chair. I was the only one who knew how it felt to rely on a chair with wheels. And even though it scared the light right out of me, I was going to have to figure out how to navigate through the dark, all on my own. And then I realized something else, I wasn’t a coward for trying and failing. I wasn’t a failure because I suddenly had to learn how to do things all over again. Yes, I was more vulnerable and exposed than I was comfortable with, but that also, somehow, made me brave. This feeling, of being so new to the world, gave me a sense of courage and confidence I never knew before. Life was a blank slate. I had the chance to start from scratch and learn my lessons my way. And the most wonderful thing about this new chance is that I get to experience new things every single day. Fourteen years later, I still get to plop a baby in my lap and feel the rush of, I did it.

I now live in a world where I just show up, even when it scares me. If I feel a bit of fear, I go ahead and exercise a little practice and patience anyway. I will figure it out someday. My life is now like that cup and that freezer. I may stare for a quite a long time trying to discover how I will navigate through the abyss, but I always, always try to forge may way out of its dark tunnel. And if I don’t make it out, well, I've learned the power of vulnerability. It’s absolutely okay to be all of me. Including the part that just can’t do some things and including the part that exceeds the goal of what she ever thought possible. I may fail, the ice may come crashing to the ground, and the babies may slide a little bit, but I try. I try in my own way, on my own time. I take the aching fear that says, I can’t, and I raise it a little learned courage and confidence and say I can. And every once in a while, I get to say, I did it. 




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I voted today


I voted today and while I wheeled up the long ramp leading into my polling location, the throngs of volunteers cheered and clapped for me. One man shared the reason behind the applause. Simply, the volunteers were happy to see me show up to vote. He said he knew it wasn’t easy for me to show up and they wanted me to know they were proud of me. Because the voting area lived in the basement of an old church and the church is under construction, another kind man escorted me through the construction area to the elevator. I noticed we entered through an emergency exit only door and, at the time, I didn’t really think much of it. After I voted, I made my way back through the construction zone and opened the emergency exit only door. A few seconds later, I saw a mom and her son walking down the flight of stairs. Nursery school ended for the day and they were on their way out, too. I was a few feet in front of them and heard the little boy begin to ask, “Hey mom why is she...”. And then his mom quieted him. I assumed he started to ask why was I in a wheelchair. Obviously, his mom and I shared the same assumption.  I know she reacted the way she did in case I was offended. I turned around to explain I didn’t mind the question and would be more than happy to answer his innocent question. But, before I was all the way around, the little boy, as three-year-olds often do, ignored his mom and shouted his question again. Only this time he finished it. He shouted, in his perfect three-year-old voice of authority, “Hey Mom, why is she allowed to use the emergency door, that’s a no, no, you know?” Not once did he ask about my wheelchair. I am not sure he even noticed my chair. I used a door that wasn’t allowed to be used. I am his equal and shouldn’t break the rules either. No special treatment for me, he and I are just the same. I wish we could all see through the eyes of this child and these adults. I think the world would be a much better place. Although, we might just all have to follow all of the rules. 


This quick adventure taught me a huge lesson. I saw both ends of the spectrum. I was honored by adults who know what hard is and I was honored by a child who sees me as his equal and I am honored to have witnessed both of them. 



Monday, October 13, 2014

She Dreams My Dreams


Life is not a competition. There is enough for everyone. We are here to live in service. We are here to lift up our sisters and our brothers. Our pain is her pain. Our loss is his loss. Our love is her love. Our dreams are his dreams. Most simply put, our only job is to see ourselves in another. We must see that innocent spirit that resides in all of us who longs for love and who begs for forgiveness. Because, in the end, in God's eyes or whatever you call it, we are all worthy, every single one of us. And our dreams, well they are all valid, each and every one of them.

First thing this morning, I received this text from Ashlea. I am lucky to call her friend. This is not a humble brag, this is an example of how to live. Ashlea is an example of how to live and the friend we should all be to each other. She dreams my dreams, literally. I will practice her example and dream for others as I sleep tonight. I hope this message encourages you do you the same. As the person on the receiving end of such a gift, I can only tell you, it lifts, it lights, and it only encourages the urge I have to dream and hope and extend love for others. 

Tonight, I dream your dreams. 

What you can't see, mostly because of space and auto correct is that Ashlea goes on to say this dream is the first thing she thought of when she awoke. Ashlea has a husband, three kids, a dog, and a plethora of other things to think about in the morning. But, what she thought about first, was the dream she had about her friend; the dream she had about another.