I’ve been called a lot of things by a lot of people. For the sake of this exercise, I am going to stick with the positive, however. 🙂 A long time ago, when I was struggling with a particularly bad bout of depression, I was talking to a friend and I must have mentioned something about not giving up on God – that I would keep praying even though I felt completely abandoned, because I knew that my feelings didn’t necessarily convey the truth. She looked at me and said “Wow, you’re really tenacious.” That surprised me, because I had never thought of myself that way. Another friend told me that when I want something, I go get it. Again, that completely didn’t sound like me. At all. I thought about all the unfinished knitting projects, boxes of beads and findings, and scrap-booking supplies sitting in my basement and had to laugh.
But all of those unfinished craft projects were because I was running around the house eating everything except the one thing I was craving. I was seeking to express myself artistically when I should have been writing. So finally…FINALLY…I started writing again. I started a blog (ironically – about knitting). And then I started another blog. And then I started ANOTHER blog. And then, I started Brick House. And Brick House would be IT. THE BLOG. THE MINISTRY. I was going to write about helping people and about making a difference and about spiritual growth and about motivating others to make positive changes in their own lives. I prayed about this and it truly felt like God was pointing me in this direction. (I was also going to buy the old De Pere library and build a coffee-house and my old school friend Caroline was going to come up and be my barista…I haven’t written this off yet – God could still make it happen). I knew it would be a long process but in the meantime….I was supposed to write.
A funny thing happened on the way to my blog. I met my ego, and my ego was pretty upset about my lack of followers, the slow traffic to my site and that the main people who signed up to follow me were only trying to get traffic to their own sites or to get me to buy into their ponzi scheme. My ego hated that. My ego hated that I wasn’t famous, that nobody left glowing comments about my writing ability and that I wasn’t making any headlines. My ego was Ron Burgundy (I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal), and I can tell you he can be pretty damn depressing to have around when he realizes he isn’t a big deal after all.
I began to write less. What was the point? Nobody read what I wrote anyway. So this past summer, I almost quit. I rode my bike more, ate more junk food, read trashy novels, and did pretty much everything but write. Weirdly, even though I was doing whatever I felt like (when I wasn’t at my day job, of course), I was getting depressed. And then, I remembered Joe. Joe – who couldn’t bike or run or drive or work a 9-5. Joe who almost died when he was born and then a few more times after that for good measure. Joe who had 8 surgeries just to be able to walk across a room. Joe who always had a smile on his face. Who never complained. Who looked opposition in the eye and kicked it’s candy ass.
And most importantly, Joe who followed his dreams and didn’t quit. If you know Joe, you know about his grassroots organization called Handicapped From The Heart. If you don’t know Joe, this is probably the first time you heard about it. And you know what? Joe isn’t going to quit just because most people have never heard of him or what he does. He knows that even if he only changes one heart, then he has made a difference. And he will keep trying until he changes another. And another. And another.
Handicapped From The Heart started as a tiny idea in the back of Joe’s mind. He wanted to reach out to others and let them know what it was like to have a disability, while also encouraging them to stop thinking of the disabled as “disabled” and instead think of them as people with different abilities (“differently abled”). However, he had no idea how to go about launching it or even who to talk to. He kept searching, eventually speaking to Mark Heck, the director of Pulaski Area Community Education (P.A.C.E), who was willing to listen. A few million meetings later, Handicapped From The Heart was founded. Since that day in 2010, Joe has spoken to many schools, churches, and organizations, and some schools also use his message in their anti-bullying campaigns. Joe’s thought provoking message about hope and tolerance has softened many hearts while helping to change the way people think about the disabled. Joe is making a difference.
Last summer I had the privilege of running the Bellin with Joe as one of his angels via the Wisconsin chapter of the My Team Triumph organization. Joe was our Captain, and two of his other friends and myself were his angels. Before signing up, Joe was nervous. He wasn’t sure what to expect and he didn’t know any of the folks at mTT, and he really didn’t know me very well either. But he reached outside his comfort zone and contacted Christian Jensen, the director at mTT, and talked to him. Then he recruited his two other friends. And he talked to Christian some more. And we had training runs and Meet and Greets. And Joe talked some more (to just about everyone, because Joe likes to talk and people like to talk to Joe -he just makes your heart lighter!). By the time we crossed the finish line a few months later, Joe was one of mTT’s biggest fans. Christian met with Joe afterwards and asked Joe to be an mTT Captain Ambassador. Joe now helps to recruit new captains, angels, and volunteers for future events. Joe is making a difference.
On October 7th, 1988, the small community of Pulaski lost 5 young girls in a tragic accident. One of those girls, Jessica McKeefry, would have known Joe as her step-brother had she lived. This year marks the 25th anniversary of their deaths and Joe’s response has been to start the footwork in establishing a scholarship fund in his step-sister’s name. Joe never knew Jessica, but feels compelled to honor her and her friends by giving others a chance at higher education. It’s been a slow process because he has never done anything like this before, and he is once again in uncharted territory. But it’s not stopping him. Joe is making a difference.
I suppose by now you see where I am going with this. Joe is making a difference, and I am one of the people whose hearts he has touched. In remembering that Joe didn’t quit, even when many people would have said he was perfectly justified to do so, I realized that I couldn’t quit either. I remembered my tenacity and dug in my heels. I kicked Ron Burgundy out of my head, and made a commitment to write and to publish my blog once a week until the new year. And then I would go to twice a week. Even if nobody ever reads it again.
Joe reminded me of my first love -to write and to be a writer – not just for my own mental health but for the purpose of reaching others with the same grace and acceptance that God has for me. To be uplifting and kind and sometimes (hopefully) funny. To help others take that first step towards health. And to tell my audience about more people like Joe – to make a difference by writing about and becoming involved with other people who are making a difference. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to have accolades. I don’t need to be a big deal. I just need to change one heart. And then another. And then another. And then another.
And that is how Joe changed my life. He reminded me to believe, to have hope, to push forward. And that’s his gift – his very life is a reminder not to quit, and his message is that all people have worth – even me.
Next year begins a new chapter in my blog. I upped the ante to TWO blogs a week for 2014, and of those, there will be at least one health or fitness, one human interest and one “making a difference” post. I will still have my usual weirdness (trust me, that just doesn’t go away) on other days. Maybe even a few surprises!!
To close, I want to thank each of you who read my blog for your loyalty and encouragement. I know you could easily spend your time playing Candy Crush or pinning funny e-cards on Pinterest (ahem), and I am grateful you choose to read my blog instead. You are blessings in my life that I do not take lightly nor for granted.
Much love and friendship,