Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are you the ready for some football?

“Jenny, do you know who Adrian Peterson is?”  My colleague asks me while sitting in the teacher’s lounge.  “Hmm…” I ponder, “He plays for the Vikings right?” 

These types of exchanges are common in my daily life because in my world there are no sports.  I doubt I could identify a picture of Brett Favre if you showed one to me.  Perhaps it is because I could never participate in athletics that I have never learned or paid attention to the rules of football.  When people start to discuss the game I feel completely shut out of the conversation; they may as well be speaking in another language about something I have never seen before.  I have no idea what people are taking about or why they are so enthusiastically fixated on this game of brutal attack. 

All of this makes me wonder: why do people like watching football?  In the hours of broadcast footage that leads up to, includes the Super Bowl, and its post game analysis, there is only an estimated 11 minutes of action taking place on the field.  For the uneducated viewer, this can seem like a waste of time.  Sure, there has to be skill involved.  Moving a football stealthily down a field reminds me a bit of playing chess, each player carefully executing his role, but when players tackle each other and dance in the end zone, I wonder if the fascination with the sport is vicarious in nature.  Perhaps the people watching wish they were out on the field, demonstrating their own strength and brutality? 

Aware of my ignorance, and in search of answers to my burning questions, I made it a goal this year to learn about the game of football by the Super Bowl…except so far I have “fumbled” in my efforts.  Let me give you a quick “run down” of my “game plan.”

1.      I asked a friend who coaches to send me a YouTube video explaining football.  He kindly sent a video entitled, “Helping Women Understand Football”. Perhaps my lack of understanding is gender-related, but I found this video to be confusing.  I got lost at the coin toss—I’m not kidding!  What in the world does deferment mean?

2.     So, somewhere between turkey and pumpkin pie, my uncle Mike, a high school football coach, explained deferment to me during the course of Thanksgiving dinner.  He also used his knife and fork to explain the process of scoring.  I somewhat understand how this works, but…
3.     The following weekend I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch and an afternoon of watching the Vikings.  I realized then and there that not only don’t I understand football; I don’t have the motivation or drive to grasp the rules of the game.  I simply have no prior knowledge to which I can attach new information, because there are only three things I know about football, all of which I have learned from reading books; perhaps I can teach you a thing or two:

a.     The term “blitz” is named after the German style of “lightening war” called Blitzkrieg used in WWII.
b.     The huddle was first used at Gallaudet University so the students who were deaf and hard of hearing could conceal their signs they made to each other while planning their next play.
c.     Eli and Peyton Manning have authored a children’s book called Family Huddle.

So will I be in front of a TV on February 5, 2012?  Absolutely!  I may not understand or appreciate the game, but the food is always delectable, (the first time I had ever had homemade pizza cooked on a stone was at a Super Bowl party; I now own two of them), the half-time shows are epic (I was first introduced to Michael Jackson in 1993 when he performed at half-time.  I asked my brother if it was Sandi Patty singing because I had no idea who it was and I was a third-grader.  LOL!  I am now a hard-core fan and even dressed like him for Halloween), and it’s the commercials that everyone really seems to love (My favorite one from last year is below).  In the end, with the season I hear the Vikings are having, perhaps ignorance is truly bliss. 

Me as Michael Jackson:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are Stairs Really the Enemy?

I am fortunate to be able to say that the experience of climbing stairs has been pretty easy for me. I was raised in a four-level home and traversed stairs all the time. I zipped around campus as a college student and rarely used an elevator. Just give me a railing to hang onto and a back pack to carry my items and I am good to go!

However, the scenario quickly changes when I am faced with the need to ascend and descend stairs where there are no railings. Suddenly, this convenient form of elevation becomes instantly inaccessible. Scaling bleachers at a sporting event are a prime example of this conundrum. No longer can I independently climb in an upright position like the rest of the spectators. I either have to crawl on all fours so I can use the seats themselves as a form of stabilization or I have to ask for help. Either way, it’s frustrating, mentally taxing, and at times, makes me feel childish. Little kids take their parent’s hand when they climb stairs. Little kids crawl on all fours. Adults do not. Young adults especially do not.

The experience of having to climb stairs can also be confrontational to my pride and sense of reality. Most days, I forget that I have cerebral palsy, forget that I have certain limitations, but when I am faced with stairs that I cannot climb I am reminded of my condition. Stairs become the enemy.

Except last weekend.

Last weekend stairs become my friend. Last weekend I was asked to read an Advent scripture as part of the service at Church of the Open Door. I gladly accepted the invitation! I love my church and welcome the opportunity to speak publicly. I also knew that accepting this invitation would involve climbing the stairs up a very large platform in order to read. Thankfully, the invitation also included the opportunity to have a friend join me in this endeavor.

I turned to my friend Camry for this role. With some reservation, I told Camry, “I need you to help me on and off the stage.” While I love and trust Camry, part of me wished I didn’t have to ask her for help. I wished I could climb the stairs flawlessly without assistance. I wished I didn’t see climbing stairs as a challenge, as the enemy, as a reminder of my limitations.

But if Camry wasn’t with me last weekend, I would have missed out on some major blessings! Prior to going on stage, I was nervous. I usually read in front of 20+ students on a daily basis, not the 2,500-3,000 people that come to Open Door on a weekend! Camry calmed me down; made sure my microphone was situated, and prompted me when it was time to go on stage.

As she took my hand up and down the stairs, I didn’t feel that familiar sense of shame. Instead, I felt like a child again, calmed, comforted, and embraced. I welcomed her participation in my state of vulnerable dependence. Her presence and needed touch enriched the experience. Stairs, I realized, didn’t need to be seen as an enemy to be conquered. Instead, they could serve as a loving friend holding me in her embrace.

Thoughts to Consider:
When have you encountered a situation where asking for help put you in a place of vulnerable dependence? Did you welcome this opportunity?

Photo By: C. Crist
Want to read more? Mitch Albom touches on the topic of enjoying dependency in his great book, Tuesdays with Morrie.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.  Lamentations 3: 22-23

Greetings!  As I sat down to ponder the events of this past year, I realized that it has been a season of hope!  Many things have happened that I have desired for a long time! 

After seven years in the Navy, my brother resigned and moved with his wife and family home to MN!  He bought a house in the same neighborhood as our parents!  I have been enjoying the little benefits of having family close: attending birthday parties, family movie nights, sharing meals together, and hugging my nieces.
Tizi is 4 and Lily is 2.

This July, I began pursing my doctorate in Education Administration through Bethel University.  I have hopes of becoming a school principal or making the leap into higher ed!  Courses are on campus during the summer and online during the school year.  It has felt great to be a student again.  At the end of our summer residency, they let us try on the academic regalia—I did not want to take it off!  I seized the opportunity to snap a picture with my camera!

Ever since reading The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane as a child, I have wanted to visit the birthplace of flight.  This summer, our family rented a beach house on the Outer Banks of NC and we took a day trip to Kitty Hawk.  It was inspiring!

I have loved Chris Van Allsburg for a very long time.  I can still remember Two Bad Ants being read aloud to me while I sat on my dad’s lap after a trip to the public library.  In grad school, I did a project on CVA and studied all of his books.  I make sure students know who he is before they leave elementary school!  So, it was with great pleasure that I finally got to meet him last month where he appeared at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

Enjoy a little Christmas music from Chris Tomilin:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
With Love From,
Jenny Hill

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It is Blessed to Give AND Receive

What would it take for you to commit to paper, voice aloud to another human being, or send an e-mail to another person asking for help, hoping he or she will respond?  How do feel about admitting that you have a need: awkward, dependent, inadequate?

I have a friend, Aaron, who also has cerebral palsy.  He has a customer service job which requires him to greet guests from behind a front desk, where he was asked to stand for the duration of his shifts.  Herein lays the problem:  I’m sure it’s tiring for anyone to stand for long periods of time, but it is especially taxing if you have CP.  Your muscles stiffen from staying in one position too long and you quickly become fatigued.  If someone brushes past you in your highly stiffened state, you might fall over.  You spend mental energy looking for something to hang on to in order to maintain balance which takes away from your ability to be present with others.  In order to give your full attention, and be in the safest environment possible, you must be seated.  

After conveying this situation to his supervisor, Aaron was accommodated and given a seat.  When I asked Aaron how that exchange felt, he said, “It was awkward.  I found myself in a place where I had to speak aloud about my needs.  But, I learned you have to care about yourself before you can tell somebody else what you need.”

Maybe admitting you have needs is healthy.

I found myself in a similar situation last winter.  As the evening grew later and later, I began to wonder if the plow was going to arrive in order to clear my driveway in time for work the next morning, or if I needed to shovel it myself.  This concerned me.  If ice lay under the snow, I could fall and hurt myself.  My back would inevitably be sore the next morning from lifting and tossing snow.  Since I live alone, there would be no one to help me—this would be very time consuming!

Reluctantly, I grabbed my cell phone, and called my neighbor.  Not wanting to really admit that I had a need, I asked, “Do you think the plow is going to come in time?”  After a slight pause, my neighbor read into my question and responded, “Jenny, do you need help shoveling your driveway?”  With a sigh of relief, I answered yes!  Armed with shovels, my neighbors arrived at my doorstep.  Another neighbor saw us working and came across the street to help.  In a matter of minutes my driveway was clear.  Reflecting on that incident, I learned a valuable lesson:  

“I cannot assume people will understand my needs unless I have the courage, vulnerability, and humility to communicate them.  If I would have hidden my need for my driveway to be cleared from my neighbors, not only would I have been gone with an unmet need, but they would have been robbed of the blessing of helping another person.  I learned that night that a symbiotic relationship exists between admitting you have a need and letting another person fulfill that need: you both come away blessed!

What need do you have this holiday season: someone to pick the kids up from daycare, money for Christmas presents, your car fixed?  What would it take for you to pick up the phone, send an e-mail, or knock on a door?  If someone comes to you with a need, how will you respond?  Will you be open and aware to the needs of others, excited to receive the invitation to help?  Let’s be out loud about our needs this Christmas and engaged in the process of meeting them. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

To Walk My Own Path

Our society is geared to growth, development, and progress. Life, for most of us, is a race to be won. Families are about evolution: at a certain age, children are encouraged to leave home, get married, have children of their own, move on in their lives. But people with disabilities have no such future. Once they have reached a certain level of development, they are no longer expected or encouraged to progress. There is no “promotion” for the disabled and what forward movement there is seems to be either erratic or cruelly sped up: many people move quickly through childhood to adulthood without passing through a period of adolescence; others age quickly. Our society is not set up to cope very well with people who are weaker or slower. More important, we are not skilled at listening to the wisdom of those whose life patterns are outside of the social norm. There is a lack of synchronicity between our society and people with disabilities.” Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, (p. 45-46).

Jean Vanier founded a community in 1964 called L'Arche for people with intellectual disabilities. Not having a disability himself, I was shocked with the accuracy by which he could describe the developmental process that people with disabilities experience. The phrase “cruelly sped up” jumps off the page at me. So often, I feel like I experience life as an “old lady” in a young woman's body. I plan my outfits around supportive footwear, park in accessible spaces, and am conscientious of falling in public. I know what it is to wake up every morning with stiff muscles, live with consistent low-level back pain, and find relief in slow-paced activities like stretching. I wear reading glasses, have grab bars installed in my bathroom, and would prefer not to drive, especially at night.

When I think about these personal characteristics, it would seem as if the timeline of my entire life has been thrown off track—both through the experience of delay and rapid expedition. I was born prematurely at 29 weeks, but didn't walk until I was two. Due to challenges and disappointments I endured during childhood, I spent many of my developing years simply waiting to become an adult. My brother remarked to me once in passing, “You skipped childhood.” Others said to me in my teen years, “You think like a adult.” This feeling of being out of sync has been a struggle. Certainly the hardest people for me to relate with have been my own peers—fellow 20-Somethings.

In a decade so often characterized by marriage and family, I often watch the progression of my peers with observant curiosity. Will I get married some day? Maybe. Dating presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for those with physical disabilities. It takes a special person to see deeply into the heart and soul of another human being, past an imperfect exterior. I believe we all long for this rare type of insight—and for this I am willing to wait.

Will I have children? My two little nieces bring me more joy than I can express. But, I already struggle with fatigue. I cannot imagine expending the amount of energy necessary to sustain my life while nurturing the life of another. If I were to ever lose my balance and fall while carrying a infant, I would never forgive myself. Children move with such speed and agility. My reaction time is slow and my gross motor skills are compromised. What if a toddler were to run out into a busy street or jump into deep water where I couldn't rescue them from harm in time? I'm just not certain, for very practical reasons, that parenting should be in my future.

So, what do I do with the knowledge that my life's trajectory may not be following the “normal” curve?  What if my “promotion” looks different than my 20-Something peers? In a world obsessed with conformity, I believe people are crying out for others to notice and value their unique individual and creative identity. I think the invitation here is to have the courage to be myself—to walk my own path, validating other's experiences, but not comparing it to my own in order to assign value. One person's story is not greater than an other's. Let's celebrate the unique role will all have to play!

Have you ever felt like your life was off-track? Do you find yourself comparing your story to an other's story and assigning value? How can you intentionally engage with other people whose life may not be on the “normal” curve in order to broaden your perspective?


Vanier, J. (1998). Becoming Human. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.