Friday, July 31, 2015

Modeling Christ’s Unconditional Love and Acceptance

The 2015 Carolina Point Session 2 Summer Staff 
Recently, my 28-year-old son Drew spent a month working alongside 30 other young adults at a Christian camp in Brevard, NC, called Carolina Point. That doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Lots of young adults do this every summer. What makes Drew’s month special is that he was the only staff member with Down syndrome.

When a child is born, it's natural for his mom to worry that her child won’t be included or accepted by his peers, but the worry is so much greater when the child has special needs. Throughout Drew’s life, I have tried to get him involved with all different kinds of people, both with and without disabilities. He knows tons of people and everyone is kind to him, but he really never has been included among non-disabled peers for any extended time. I can’t remember his ever being invited to a non-disabled person’s birthday party or being asked to stay overnight at someone’s house.

Drew and his coach/buddy Daniel
When Drew was asked to serve at camp for a month, I thought it would be great for him but worried that the other young people might lose patience with him after a week or two. I did have faith in Daniel, the young man who was to be his coach, because Daniel had spent a good deal of time with Drew at week-long camps, club meetings, football games, etc. Daniel was committed to this experience being a success. Also, I was only 2.5 hours away and could easily get Drew if things didn’t go well.

I thought I was prepared for all/any things to happen, but what did happen was something so much greater than I could have ever imagined. Drew was with some of the kindest, most genuine, God-loving people I have ever been in contact with. They are one happy group!

These young people worked alongside Drew, encouraging him to do his best and keeping him from even thinking about being homesick. He shared in their devotional time, underlining important passages in his copy of their required reading even though he couldn’t read all of the words. He prayed with them, sang with them, cried with them, and most of all, laughed with them. He became their friend.

Drew roomed with five other males in a room designed for four people, but they didn’t seem to mind. I think it made for a closer connection. He learned some typical "man" things like how to apply strong-smelling body spray from Gabe and how to use the term dump instead of poop from Taylor – both very useful life-skills. They also decided not to shave and had various lengths of facial hair at different times during the month.
Drew proudly showed us his bunk which was one of six in this room.
The 'Stache Crew
Two weeks into his month, we visited Drew to see how things were going. He was so excited to show us around the camp and introduce us to everyone, and he did know everyone. Many of his new friends wanted to tell us how great Drew was doing, but I really wasn’t convinced until my daughter asked him if he wanted to go home with us. He replied, “No. I’m staying here with my friends.”


A tragic accident resulting in the death of a young girl happened during Drew’s time at Carolina Point, but the staff and campers all supported one another and learned so much about faith through this tragedy. When Drew returned home, I asked him if he wanted to talk about this accident. He told me that Olivia fell, the helicopter came and took her away and that she’s fine now. I’m not sure Drew really understands what happened or if he just put his own spin on the event because death makes him so sad, but I didn’t elaborate or try to explain what really happened. In our minds, Olivia is fine now because she is in Heaven.

Drew has changed so much from the person he was before his month-long time of service. He is more independent, for sure. I’m not sure who taught him how to take his plate to the kitchen and wash it when he’s finished eating, but thank you! He also volunteers to help with various jobs, is more respectful of others and is also more tolerant of his niece.

Drew’s new friends include him in their pictures posted on social media and even change their cover photos to one that includes him. He has been home a week now, and every day I find a new picture or video that Drew is tagged in. They have allowed me to be part of their group text so that Drew can keep up with them. The group is also planning a reunion in early January, and Drew’s name is on the list. Finally, he’s been asked to spend the night with his non-disabled friends!

If you ever need your faith restored in today's young people, please ask me about these young adults who spent a month with my son. They have had a tremendous impact on Drew and on my whole family.They are the ones who bring God’s light into the world. 

Thank you Carolina Point  Summer Staff Session 2 as well as all the Work Crew and Young Life staff for letting Drew be a part of your lives. You truly took to heart Young Life’s mission of modeling Christ’s unconditional love and acceptance as you got to know my son. He is a more independent and patient young man and a person who knows he is loved by Jesus and you!

Mark Wilson, one of the Summer Staff bosses, said, "My good buddy Drew rocking out with the one and only @samheilig at Carolina Point. I'm a better man because of my new friendship with Drew."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Is Air Conditioning to Blame?

My husband has this theory: air conditioning is to blame for some of our problems, namely obesity, isolation and depression. 

I agree with him. I know that air conditioning can’t be blamed for all of the extra weight people carry, but it makes sense that, given the choice of staying in a cool place or sweating in 110° heat index, I’d choose the AC. You would find me shut up inside the house enjoying the cool air and not outside talking to the people who live next door or down the street. I “kind of” know my neighbors at home, but not well enough to ask them over for dinner or impose on them to take care of my dog for the weekend. Being overweight and alone can certainly lead to depression. 

I remember getting our first window AC unit when I was a kid. Oh, it was great, but since it was only in the den, the rest of the house was hot as hell. All kids were thrown outdoors to play. Our family and neighbors often gathered on my grandmother's porch to visit and enjoy whatever breeze might blow by. 

For the past two months, I have lived with no air conditioning; however, I have been in the cool mountains near Newland, North Carolina, where AC isn’t a necessity. The hottest day here was 82°. Most nights it dips into the low 60s. No one stays inside when such agreeable weather, lush foliage and beautiful mountains beckon you to come outdoors. I have met many of my neighbors because we are easily accessible outside. It’s a snap to strike up a conversation with someone while walking the dog or riding around in the golf cart. Granted, most of the neighbors are retired and have more time to get outside, but the weather makes it easier for everyone.

I’ve also found it easy to get to know the small community and the people in it. We have an RV lot and cabin in a resort, so there’s always something to do. We go to bingo games, the dog park and on hikes around the lake. I have also become involved with a local Presbyterian church. Attendance on Sunday during the summer probably averages 125 people, so it’s easy to learn names. I have helped at VBS this week which is normally something I dread doing; however, this time there were only 9 children attending. The pastor taught the lesson and several adults helped with crafts and dinner. It was the best VBS ever.

Another great activity that I found is through the local home extension office. My granddaughter, Cloee, is 10 and was becoming bored, so I enrolled her in a summer camp offered by the local 4-H club which is part of the home extension program. Twice a week she goes on trips to various museums, plays, and water parks. She’s made friends with some local children so next summer she won’t feel so alone.

Cloee and I have also gotten library cards at the county library. It’s about the size of the library at the high schools where I taught, and everyone is extremely helpful searching for reading material.

One of the reading areas in the Avery County Public Library in Newland, North Carolina

Unfortunately, I even got to know the local hospital when my husband was admitted for two short stays. The almost-new hospital itself is really nice as are the employees. What impressed me also is the actual building. This 25-bed hospital is set to capture the view of the local mountains. In the surgical waiting room, there is a piano that various people volunteer to play for a few hours each day. The sound of the piano echoes though much of the hospital for everyone to enjoy. This hospital is very different from the gigantic one at home.

The view of Grandfather Mountain from a first floor room  at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Newland, North Carolina

The piano located in the surgical waiting room of Cannon Memorial Hospital in Newland, North Carolina

Honestly, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to spend an entire summer somewhere other than home, so I’m really grateful to have this place. I love being in this small community and getting to know the places and more importantly, the people.

Being without air conditioning in the mountains of North Carolina isn’t a hardship when you can get outside and enjoy the land and the people. This summer has been fun because I have been able to make new friends and have new experiences.

Oh, and just because I spent all that time without AC and outdoors, don’t think I have lost any weight. I took advantage of my short time of residence and did a lot of sitting, reading and visiting. I can say that I’m not isolated or depressed, so I guess I’ve proved that part of my husband’s theory about air conditioning is right!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I'm Gnashing My Teeth!

Sometimes, I get really mad. I mean I get so mad that I throw things, yell and/or curse.

For years, I have said that if I am sent to hell, it’ll be from hanging window blinds, curtains or drapes. I have bent curtain rods over my knee when they didn’t go up right after the fifth try, and I have said some awful words directed at mini-blinds. This week, I had a somewhat different experience with repairing a pleated blind in our RV, which is a whole new beast. The cord on the right raises the left side of the blind and vice versa, the entire cornice has to be removed to get to the blind, and the clamps that hold the blind in place are “spring-steel” which had already sprung and weren’t springing back to their original shape.

I spent the better part of a day working with that blind and it’s now hanging precariously from its sprung spring-steel clamp. I have dared anyone to touch it.

Reliving this anger made me consider what other things make me really mad. There’s not a person who makes me angry. I have tried to remove myself from toxic people who can have that control over me. I guess I’ve mellowed in my old age.

Several events in the world make me angry – the killing of innocent people in the name of religion, the abuse that women in some Middle Eastern countries endure, the senseless waste of brain and life of an addict.

What makes me angry right now is the cost of health care in this country. To me, it is unforgivable that, in the greatest country in the world, people have to pay so much in order to receive medical care. When a person is truly sick, he/she shouldn’t have to worry about how much the medicine costs or how he/she is going to pay for it. What if it’s your child who needs the medicine or specialized care?

I have always been fortunate to have health insurance, but when my son with Down syndrome was born, our family insurance wasn’t great. He had to have many doctor visits for casting his clubbed feet and eventually surgery to correct the problem. He was hospitalized several times with respiratory problems. We had to make monthly payments to the hospital which I paid off after a few years. Fortunately, he grew out of most of the health problems. However, he needed speech therapy which our insurance wouldn’t cover. I paid out-of-pocket for these sessions, and they were quite costly, but I felt I had no choice. My son needed the best shot possible in order to have intelligible speech.

Finally, a case manager for a state agency told me that if we agreed not to place Drew in state care, he could get Medicaid which would pay for all of his therapies and health care. Placing Drew in state care was never an option to us, but we thought about this a long time because his dad and I always thought Medicaid was for low-income people. We both had jobs and could support Drew; however, we examined the whole picture. What about when Drew became an adult? How would he be covered then? So we went with Medicaid, and I haven’t had to worry about his medical bills since.

Recently, my husband had to start taking numerous medications such as blood thinners, diuretics, blood pressure pills, etc. He is a retired Army veteran so he has Tricare. He is also over 65 and has Medicare. He never has to make a co-payment for a doctor or hospital visit but has a small ($8.00) co-payment for prescriptions.

When he started all of these new meds, we asked the pharmacist about the true cost of some of them. One is a pre-loaded syringe of blood thinner medication, Lovenox. The pharmacist said that one box of ten syringes costs $800. My husband’s dose calls for two shots per day which adds up to 60 syringes per month. A month of this medicine would cost $4,800, but he pays only $16.00. What happens to the person who has to come up with $4,800 each month in order to live? Does he simply not take the meds and hope that he doesn’t have a blood clot or stroke? Does he take half the dose? Does he sell his house and everything he owns in order to afford this necessary medicine?

Insane, isn’t it?

Some people think that Medicaid is only for the low-down, lazy bums, the people who won’t work but instead allow the government to take care of them. That’s not true in all situations. It covers healthcare for many people with a disability.

People either love or hate Obamacare. Honestly, I don’t know enough about it to say if it’s the best way out of this mess or not. However, it's a choice we didn't have before.

There's always the option of writing to your Congressman, to pharmaceutical companies, to someone who might listen and will work toward a solution. If you know a person or agency who can help make a difference, please let me know. 

Something needs to be done about the excessive cost of health care and medication in this country. It’s an abomination that is much greater than hanging window coverings, I know, but both make me gnash my teeth, say bad words and just get really pissed off. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Child-rearing: A Crapshoot

A few years ago, I was sitting in the teacher lounge with a young, relatively new teacher who was pregnant with her first child. The conversation at the lunch table that day was about mischievous acts our students had done in class. The new teacher was still in that phase when she said to herself, "My child will never do that." I looked over at her and said, "Don't think that your child will be any different from any of these kids." 

Seven years and two additional children later, that teacher sees what I meant by my declaration, and we have often laughed about the truth in my statement. We parents can do everything all child-rearing manuals tell us to do, but these little people will turn into adults who will make right or wrong choices. At that point, it won't matter what we did, said, or taught them.

Raising kids to be good people is such a crapshoot.

Sometimes you get everything right and your kid grows up to be a good, caring, productive person -- a Mother Teresa or Gandhi.

Sometimes you get everything right and your kid grows up to be a real selfish ass or sociopath -- a Jeffery Dahmer or Adolf Hitler.

So what happens? Why is it that some kids who are raised by the same parents in basically the same way turn out great or not-so-great? As a parent and former teacher, I have often wondered what the secret is to raising those kids with dynamic qualities and what happens in a child’s life to cause him/her to be a really bad person. I’ve taught students who became doctors, lawyers, a US Congressman, preachers, etc. I’ve also taught some who became addicts, felons, bums, etc.

Yesterday, I was reminded how unpredictable people are when I heard some terrible news about a young man who was my student eight years ago when he was a 9th grader. He was such a handsome young man, the type that made girls swoon. However, this young man was not the type of person you would want your daughter to be around. He's the only student I remember throwing out of my class because he was obviously stoned. He begged me not to send him to the office because he had been in trouble often and he knew he was close to getting thrown out of school. 

He was suspended for ten days, the normal punishment for this offense, but he never came back to school. I hate to see any kid quit school, but my attention was soon on other students.

Yesterday, I read about my former student in the local newspaper. At age 21, he was arrested for two counts of premeditated murder, burglary, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He had already served two years in prison for fraudulent use of a credit card and theft and had been released from prison just three months ago. He is accused of brutally killing two young men during a robbery. He tied them up, put them in the bathtub, shot them in the head, killed their dog, and set the apartment on fire. 

What happened to this handsome young man I knew eight years ago? How did he become such a monster? Is he just a bad seed who people knew would turn out to do horrible acts or was he led into this lifestyle by others and addiction? What did his parents do wrong? Could they have stopped him or changed the direction of his life?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions. I might be better at child-rearing than I am.

This young man is included in a very small number of students I have had in class who turned out to be truly bad adults. Most of them “get it together” by the time they reach age 30, and I’m happy for them, their families and society. However, the few who turn out to be dangers to society make me sad and curious as to why they turned out like they did. 

We humans continue having children and most of us attempt to raise them in the best way we know how. It's just that sometimes everything goes to hell.

Raising kids, and life in general, is just a crapshoot.