Thursday, September 29, 2011

Falling Into Inspiration

September 29, 2011

Sometimes a writer doesn't have inspiration until it hits her in the face, quite literally. This week I fell. I was walking down a hallway with waxed floors while wearing rubber soled shoes. This is a very bad combination. To make matters worse, both hands were full and my mind was preoccupied with a catchy tune. Just as I got to one of my favorite parts of the song, I fell down, muttered an expletive under my breath, and got up....only to fall again two steps later!

I've fallen enough to know that bruises hurt, so even though it is time consuming, you must ice yourself immediately! Reluctantly, I followed my own advice and took time out of my day to ice my aching parts. While I sat there and sulked (there's not much else to do when you have ice packs pressed against your elbow and hip), I thought about how the biggest bruises happen not on the knee or on the shin, but on the soul.

Falling consistently can wound a person, taking a little bit of their dignity and sense of control away with each blunder. “This shouldn't be happening to me!” I silently screamed. “This is not how I wanted to start my day!” To make matters worse, I felt a little alone in this situation. Everyone was very transparent when expressing their care and concern, but were reserved in their desire to talk about my morning episode. No one wants to say the wrong thing. I'm not really sure how to talk about it either. Often, I feel a mixture of sadness and anger all at once blistering beneath the surface along with the need to keep these emotions in check so I can go about my day normally.

So, as my ice began to warm, I realized that my next blog entry had to be about falling. Writing is a healer, right? I also think the old adage is true, “Laughter is the best medicine,” so to heal my bruised soul and crushed spirit, to buoy my self-esteem, I offer you my top ten all time best falls that I've ever had! Each one is named with a fitting superlative! Enjoy!

Jenny's Top Ten Falls of All Time

  1. Hardest Hit Last year I thought I would be helpful and carry a box of items out to the car of a friend who was in the process of moving. As I was exiting her house with the box in tow, I lost my balance, fell off the stoop, and hit my head on a landscaping rock. That hurt. It was also one of my most scariest because it was the first time I've ever had to consider the possibility of a concussion. Luckily, I ended up being fine.
  2. Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride I fell while waiting to catch the bouquet at my best friend's wedding. We had a do-over, but I still didn't catch the bouquet. Rats!
  3. Incidental Improv I got up to exit the auditorium during the intermission of a play. As I was walking forward, I lost my balance when I ran into a tray table that was not properly stowed. I then proceeded to fall sideways, butt first into the auditorium chair immediately to my left of the row in front of me. Before I even understood what happened, I found myself stuck backwards in a chair with my legs sticking straight up. People didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It took two people to help me out of my perplexing position and a week before I was pain free.
  4. Teenage Rebellion Once while stepping out of my parent's car in junior high, I slipped and fell on the curb. My mom reached out to help me and I snapped my arm away and sneered, “Don't help me up unless I ask.” That was very ungracious of me. I address the proper protocol to help someone up when you witness a fall at the end of this posting.
  5. Saved By the Bell I was late for 1st hour class one morning as a freshman in high school. The bell began to ring, and I began to hurry. I fell through the threshold of the door as I entered the classroom. The teacher was so consumed with helping me up that she totally forgot about me being tardy.

  6. Repeat Offender That's the name I've affectionately given to the incident that happened this week.

  7. Shower of Shame One morning while in the shower, I lost my balance after stepping on my plastic drain cover. Reaching for something to hang on to, the only thing I could find was the door handle of my shower. Grabbing on, I fell out the door and landed naked and wet on the ground: half inside the shower, half out. I may be exaggerating a little bit, but half of my body was purple for the better part of the week. I was concerned about getting to work on time, so I neglected to ice my affected areas. This is not a mistake I am likely to repeat. This event also prompted the purchase and installation of grab bars on my shower and tub along with adhesive stickers for the floor surface of these areas. I've never had a problem since!

  8. Inspired Irony One Sunday afternoon, I tripped and fell in the church parking lot. This was awkward because I often like to collect myself in private but there's always this mixture of needing help after falling at the same time as wanting complete confidentiality. In this situation, I was bleeding, so I was going to need attention whether it was invited or not. People around me saw what happened and offered to help. I wanted to say to them, “I know it's church and you're supposed to be nice, but just go away!” That's not even the ironic part of the story. I was carrying a book in my hands while this happened. Guess what the title was: “Walking and Stumbling.Not kidding!

  9. If only the cameras were rolling they would have caught a hilarious moment! I attempted to throw a frisbee, and while doing so, the disc went one way and I went the other. We both hit the ground quickly. Maybe you had to be there for that one, but I'm sure that if Bob Saget would have seen the footage, I would have been awarded money!

  10. I need some Ice-Ice-Baby. Coming out of the cafeteria at college, I slipped and fell down several concrete steps that were coated with ice. The recovery from that injury was long and I think it left me with some permanent damage. Railings are a must when going down any stairway and after falling, I am extremely cautious as I traverse outside during the winter months.

There you have it. My top ten falls of all time! Every time I fall, people try to tell me that falling is normal. This is then followed by, “I fell once..” To which I silently think, “You fell once. That must be nice. Try falling once a month and then we should talk.” My reaction is a little cruel, so I invite you to prove me wrong. Send me your best falling story, or even attempt to draft your own top 10. You would be surprised how fun it is!

Finally, I promised to share some thoughts about how to react when you see someone falling. Here is my perspective: When you see someone fall, I think the situation demands that you offer to help that person up. However, be open to that offer being refused. As much as you want to help, realize the best thing you can do is respect the person's response whether it is a yes or no. When I fall, sometimes I would like assistance getting on my feet because I am stuck (as in Incidental Improv) or injured/bleeding (as in Ice-Ice-Baby, and Inspired Irony). However, after my brush with the Repeat Offender this week, I realized that helping myself up is one of the most powerful things I can do. If falling takes away my sense of control, helping myself up gives it back.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Need for Role Models

September 18, 2011

When I was young, one of the careers I considered was becoming a medical doctor. I spent much time around doctors in my younger years and was inspired by their knowledge, compassion, and expertise. Indeed, my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Koop, was one of my childhood heros! As I grew up, I discovered that I really didn't like spending time in clinics, hospitals scare me, and I don't like to be around sick people if I can help it. In the end, I concluded that my involvement in the medical field is best limited to watching medical dramas on TV. Besides, could I really keep up with the physical demands that are required to become a doctor? I have never met or heard of a member of the medical community with cerebral palsy: doctor or nurse.

Until two weeks ago.

After posting my last blog entry I heard from an old HS friend who is now a doctor. She shared with me that one of her fellow residents that she currently works with has cerebral palsy. This idea encouraged and inspired me! Wow! There really are people out there with CP who make it through medical school with all of its requirements of spending long hours on your feet tending to patients.

What a role model this person must be to his peers, patients, and their parents. What hope he must be able to offer families that he meets, especially when they have a child with CP or other disability. I think I would have been very inspired as a child to meet someone who shared my struggle and had found a place within one of the most prestigious professions in the working world.

I may not have ever met such a physician, but I was blessed in my developing years to have strong role models in my family, many who are teachers like I eventually became. Education is a bit of a “family business” in the Hill household. I am a third generation educator and one of over 10 extended family members who teach. Three more are currently pursuing their license. Growing up, I watched my parents enjoy a balanced and family-friendly lifestyle. I saw how they loved kids and the opportunity to help students learn. Watching them in their career helped me make my ultimate career decision to become a school library media specialist.

Which brings me to my point: We all need role models, people who are willing to be an example for the next generation. I think having a role model helps others to see past their limitations and areas of weakness to envision how they might someday fit seamlessly into the working world of adults. It helps them to see that they have a future. What a difference adults can make when they speak a word of encouragement to someone younger. It could be as simple as, “I believe in you.” You never know how one word of encouragement can change the course of a person's life.

In addition to speaking words of encouragement, I think role models live a life that is an example for others to follow. This can be done in quiet ways like:

  • Showing up for work on time,
  • Following up with people in a timely manner
  • Completing tasks to the best of your ability
  • Eating right/exercise/stretching (this is where I fail miserably)
  • Being available to the needs of others
  • Fully listening/being present with others

Or, more formal ways like:
  • Becoming a mentor
  • Coaching
  • Teaching
  • Volunteering
  • Job-Shadowing/Participating in career day

You never know who is watching and you never know when you may inspire a life. Be a role model! The next generation is looking for someone to look up to!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dear Cicily...

If you could have a conversation with your 13-year-old self, what message, advice, or encouragement would you want to share?” To help answer this question, I posed it on Facebook. Here were the responses:

“Keep going and don't worry- you're going to love it!”

“Well, pretty much all of "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss would be in that conversation. I would tell myself that things happen for a reason (most of the time) and to stay true myself, but not let people take advantage of my kind heart.”

“Go the extra mile even though you might not need to at the time.”

“You're normal, don't freak out!”

“Stop being so boy-crazy!”

“Everyone's not looking at you and judging you... just relax and enjoy life!”

I was soliciting responses to this question because I was recently asked to compose a birthday blessing for my friend Cicily Steinle who is turning 13 on September 23rd. Cicily and I have many things in common: we both love going to church, we both love reading books, and we both have cerebral palsy. While I was honored to write to Cicily, it also gave me pause to remember my teenage years. True, there were many moments of happiness: working at a local coffee shop with my friends, getting my driver's license, attending prom, and attempting to attack certain boy's cars and yards with plastic wrap and toilet paper. (I have to use the word attempting here because they sabotaged us that night with water balloons before we got a chance.)

Hanging out with my HS friends, waiting to pounce on the boys!

But, there were also moments of loneliness, times that were filled with pain and sadness, seasons of my life that I simply endured, waiting eagerly for them to pass so that I could someday become an adult. Watching my friends going out for sports would be one example. I am extremely happy that they had the opportunities and experiences they did through athletics, but it was painful growing up knowing that this was one social and physical experience that we would never share.

It was also in my teenage years that I began to develop a very unhealthy image of my body and suffered from poor self-esteem. I didn't like the fact that my feet don't match. I was tired all the time and envious of my peers who seemed to have limitless amounts of energy. I was actually asked once by another teenager if I felt awkward because I had braces on my teeth AND wore glasses. I'm 27 now, but I doubt I'll ever forget that moment. Even worse, I hate, hate, HATED when people who rarely socialized with me would approach and inquire, “Can I ask you a personal question....” Inevitably, they would want me to spill my guts about my disability, but often neglected to reciprocate by sharing information as deeply personal or offering friendship.

However, I did make a few friends in my teenage years, deep, genuine relationships that are still in tact today. And if my teenage years were sometimes filled with angst, they were also filled with glimmers of hope. Life would someday get better, I would not be a teenager forever.

I still remember seeing one of these glimmers of hope while reading Frank Peretti's book The Wounded Spirit when I was in High School. In his book Peretti candidly speaks of his experiences growing up with a condition called cystic hygroma. The condition caused his tongue to swell, oozing a black secretion from his mouth. His body was so busy coping, that his physical growth was delayed. School was an unpleasant experience most times, but I appreciated Peretti's retelling of his educational journey because I felt that I had found someone who understood my struggle. I felt this way until I got to the end of the book. I learned that Peretti didn't just understand my struggle, he had also come out successful on the other adult. He writes:

When I was a kid, I felt terrible about myself. My self-image was in the toilet because I couldn't throw or catch a football, I couldn't run very fast, and I was considered small and frail for my age. Today, I'm and adult; I'm an author and public speaker, I play in a talented acoustic band, I fly my own plane, I have a lovely wife, and a comfortable home tucked in the woods on the side of a mountain, and frankly, I don't cry too much about the fact that I can't throw or catch a football...God has a way of evening things out” (2000, p. 144). 

Meeting Frank Peretti at a book signing as a teenager.  His book The Visitation had just come out.

I hung on to Peretti's words throughout adolescence, daring to believe that Peretti was right. Now that I too have made it to adulthood, I believe he is! Things do get better. Phy. Ed class does end, permanently! Your range of interests expands as you discover activities that lie beyond the school setting. You and your peer group mature, enabling you all to appreciate each other with deeper clarity. Growing and maturing as a person is hard work. Work that doesn't finish when the pimples disappear from your face. Ultimately, if I could have a conversation with my 13-year old self, one thing I would say is this, the past may be filled with sorrow, but hold onto the hope that your future will be filled with joy!


Peretti, F. (2000). The wounded spirit. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing.

Cicily Steinle's name was used with permission.