Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: My Buddy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fictional Friday: Timothy

Timothy is a 30 year-old fellow with thinning brown hair. He wears round, wire-framed glasses that reflects obvious age and wear. Today he is wearing a light jacket over a blue generic Polo shirt and jeans, and black dress shoes that have been well-taken care of in-spite of their age. Timothy is a nervous young man, and his anxiety becomes even more apparent around those he does not know well or when discussing issues uncomfortable to him. He has a mild learning disability and a mental illness.  

Timothy's parents are deceased, and has one relative who has static involvement. Timothy has been turned down for disability benefits, and has virtually no resources. He has been approved for Vocational Rehabilitation and is getting help with seeking employment, but so far has had no luck in getting hired. He is in the process of being evicted from his home, and together we are trying to figure out how soon he might be able to move into municipal subsidized housing. I've also assisted Timothy in applying for other benefits for which he might be eligible, and helped him apply for the Medicaid waiver program (for which he will most likely be found ineligible because his IQ is a handful of points above the typical cut-off). He is another one of those individuals who is in that "gray area."  Test scores put him a category that is above qualifying for Waiver assistance, but in reality, his skill deficits are a real barrier for him. Finding real independence will be difficult for him without some help. Timothy's financial struggles are extremely stressful for him, and he has legitimate worries about his future, which exacerbates his anxiety and mental health.

In the last few weeks I have been able to develop some rapport with Timothy, and he is slowly becoming a little more comfortable. Timothy is a pleasant guy once you get to know him, and has a very likable personality. He desperately wants to support himself through employment, and needs to have the peace of mind of knowing he has someplace to come home to. Timothy just needs a helping hand and some guidance until he can get on his feet, and some minimal support and coaching to help him maintain a measure of self-sufficiency once he gets there.  With the very few resources that he has access to, Timothy has few avenues to follow. Hopefully, one of these roads eventually leads to success and real independence for him.


Note: Timothy is a fictional character, based on a composite of real individuals. Composite characters who appear in my "Fictional Friday" posts are based on people with real stories, with particular details, names, and certain specific circumstances changed so as to protect privacy.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Global War on Christianity

While the media here in America concentrates on the foibles of our presidential candidate's views on contraception, whether Mitt Romney and President Obama are really Christians, and pointing out the hypocrisy of a candidate who breaks the 7th Commandment, there are real life & death issues facing Christians who dare to practice their faith. Americans tend to easily forget that the rest of our world really isn't that tolerant, nor is it safe to openly believe in a God contrary to the majority in many countries. So while certain American cable news channel commentators poke fun of people of faith with impunity, we shouldn't forget that faith really isn't a punch-line but is taken seriously by millions. And attacks on Christianity takes on a more ominous tone when we take a closer look at how Christians are treated in the rest of the world.

For example, take a moment and read about Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's situation in Iran.

Ayaan Hirisi Ali recently wrote in Newsweek about the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. While many convincingly and correctly argue for tolerance for Muslims here in America, most of the stories about the brutal treatment and murder of Christians in Muslim countries are rarely covered or discussed, perhaps for fear of being accused of fanning the flames of rage and intolerance. I argue that tolerance and awareness is a two-way street, and as a pluralistic and democratic society we must not turn our heads from the evil and ugliness that we don't want to admit exist.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Surprised by a Hawk

A hawk very similar to the one I encountered this morning

This morning as I began walking out the front door of my home, I was suddenly accosted by two squawking sparrows who flew close to my head just as I pulled the screen door behind me. I had been lost in thought about where I was going and things I had to do. The sparrows surprised me and rendered me nonplussed. A split second later, as the sparrows flew into the bushes next to my steps, a large hawk flew right in front of my face with its talons stretched out in front of its body. It was a large, beautiful bird, brown and white, with a sharp looking beak. I didn't quite understand at that precise moment what was happening. I literally felt the air whipping around my face as the hawk's wings flapped together. The hawk was maybe four to five inches from my face. The sparrows were now deep within the bushes, and my appearance on the the front steps of my home had apparently interrupted the trajectory of the hawk's flight path. He didn't expect me, nor had I expected him. It was not on my morning agenda to have an 'almost-collision' with a hawk. The hawk then suddenly swooped up and landed on a tree branch above the roof of my house. The hawk and I made eye contact, and he was obviously disappointed that his breakfast was now delayed. He waited a moment, then flew away.

I've never had an experience quite like this. Although I have always enjoyed seeing hawks, I've never been this close to one. I usually see them along the highway sitting on a telephone pole, and occasionally at reservoirs and forests. Last autumn my wife and I even got to see American Bald Eagles at the Mississinewa reservoir, one of which skimmed the surface of the water and caught a fish in its' talons. It is amazing to see such beautiful creatures of God.

This morning's event gave me a startle, and made me think about how things can happen, unexpectedly and often so quickly. Almost everyone can think of examples of the curves that life sometimes throws. Here you are, going along in your usual, normal routine, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, something unexpected materializes. I've been blindsided by events and things that I never seen coming. What about those times you take a phone call that you wished you'd never received? What about an accident that seemingly happens in a millisecond that couldn't be avoided. Once some things are set into motion, the conclusion becomes inevitable. The news is full of stories of unforeseen and untimely tragedies.

I am a big proponent of self-efficacy. Very few things in life are guaranteed and even fewer things are going to be given to you, so it's up to you to make things happen. Paths in life are not always easy, but they must be pursued if you want to get somewhere. I believe you've gotta make your way in this world, anticipating the worst and hoping for the best, and praying for guidance as you go.

There's lots of debate these days on why some people are successful while others seem to miss out entirely on "life's lottery." Many argue that success is just plain old luck, having been in the right place at the right time. Things such as: having been born into the right family, having the right upbringing and environment, getting into the right schools, and making the right connections...things that seem more of an element of fate than by anything we can control.

Meanwhile, others argue that if one is taught the essentials of success (things like discipline, strong self-direction skills, personal responsibility and a robust belief in self-efficacy) then the odds of prosperity and success are exponentially higher. I am reminded of a famous line in William Ernest Henley's poem, Invictus:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Although the tone of Henley's poem is more about a rebellious rebuttal to living a life of Godly submission, I think many people identify with being the master of their fate and captain of their soul---essentially living their lives as they see fit. They control the things that happen, as well as when and where.

However, there are many things beyond our control. We can't control every event, and anticipate all the possibilities. Some things are simply unforeseeable, or at a minimum, unpreventable. As Forrest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get." Or, if I may paraphrase...sometimes life is like being surprised by a hawk.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fictional Friday: Samuel

Concerned neighbors occasionally call my office to inquire about what help might be available for someone who lives in their neighborhood. On this particular day an elderly couple come into the agency for which I work and asked about finding services for a young man they had recently befriended. He lives in a small farming community a few miles away. Samuel is in his early 20's, and according to the older couple, has no means to support himself. The elderly couple own a farm in the country with several animals, including horses. They occasionally pay Samuel to clean out their horse stables and to occasionally mend minor things around their property. The elderly couple are very concerned for Samuel, and say that he is a hard worker, but is seriously impoverished and has limited skills. They are not sure of his disability, but state he has difficulty learning and has limited reading and writing skills.

Later, after a series of phone calls with the elderly couple, I finally meet with Samuel. He lives in a trailer with some acquaintances, but has no ability to pay them rent and will soon be homeless. He has no telephone, and relies on the generosity of others for meeting his bare necessities. Samuel is a thin fellow, has bright blue eyes and black hair in desperate need of a hair cut, although his ball-cap covers up most of it. Today he is wearing a red flannel shirt, boots, and very worn blue jeans. His hands are rough looking, dirty and calloused. Samuel is a quiet young man, but friendly and very polite. He is nervous around new people, and has difficulty providing basic information about his youth and background. He apparently is good with his hands and says that he is willing to do any kind of job to make to some money. Samuel's parents recently moved to a city on the other end of the state to be with an ailing grandparent. Samuel is not able to live with them for a variety of reasons. His parents live on disability checks, and essentially, do not have the resources to take him into their small apartment.

After getting some information from Samuel, I talk with him about the Medicaid waiver program and Vocational Rehabilitation. Samuel reluctantly admits to having learning difficulties. I explain to Samuel that it's natural to for people to not want to acknowledge barriers to employment and independence, but if he truly has a disability we must be able to explain why getting some help with employment and assistance with his daily living needs would make a difference in his life. I also explain the huge wait list for the Waiver program and told him that if he were to be found eligible, he would probably be on the wait list for 10 to 12 years before he would receive any services.

I learn that Samuel had been in Special Education and had quit school in middle school. He doesn't remember the last time he seen a doctor or a dentist, although he remembers seeing an ER doctor a few years back for the flu. Samuel seems to fall in the mild to very moderate range of intellectual disability. He has limited social skills, deficits in basic daily living skills and significant barriers to economic self-sufficiency. Fortunately, Samuel will probably be able to receive some vocational assistance. However, it is highly likely that the State of Indiana will not find Samuel eligible for any of the Medicaid waiver programs. He is just high enough functioning that he probably will not meet the all the necessary criteria in the various categories of basic daily living.

It's these kinds of situations that are extremely frustrating. What happens to people like Samuel? They fall through the cracks. They live in the margins of our communities. They are often exploited and fall victim to the unscrupulous and criminal elements of our society. They find themselves in vulnerable and scary situations. They sometimes become homeless (and homelessness is NOT considered an emergency situation, according to state bureaucrats). Samuel has true needs, but it's not considered severe enough---he is verbal, ambulatory, and has some skills. He happens to fall in that gray area of not being disabled enough to be found eligible for services, but yet doesn't possess the needed skills to be successful on his own. With the right supports he would undoubtedly flourish and excel. Samuel is motivated. He wants to work, and he wants to succeed. Samuel wants to gain the skills that will help him to become self-sufficient. All he needs is the opportunity, and a little bit of help to guide him in the right direction. But, like with many of the "Samuels" I meet, it just isn't going to happen.


Note: Samuel is a fictional character, based on a composite of real individuals. Composite characters who appear in my "Fictional Friday" posts are based on people with real stories, with particular details, names, and certain specific circumstances changed so as to protect privacy.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oratory Skills

Ok, so I've been watching tons of presidential wannabes debating each other. A couple of weeks ago  I watched  President Obama deliver the State of the Union speech. Afterwards, my state's governor delivered the Republican response. I have heard a lot of analysis of the various candidate's debating skills, as well as the president's SOTU speech & Mitch Daniel's response. I readily admit to being an avid listener of President's and presidential candidate's speeches....good and bad.

President Obama delivering the 2012 State of the Union Address

Here are my observations.

Mitch Daniels seems to be a traditional Mid-Westerner in so many ways. Right down to his plain-spoken way of speaking. Political observers have made much of his average and almost unenthusiastic manner of speech. However, it is obvious to anyone who has listened to him carefully over the last few years that his speeches and public speaking skills have steadily improved. Mitch Daniels has grown noticeably more comfortable in his public speaking and demeanor. Jon Stewart even poked fun at Daniel's response, remarking that it was a reversal of Reagan's "It's morning again in America", a message of despair. (Guess Mr. Stewart's impression of Hoosiers is not a happy one....maybe the only folks from Indiana he knows are a depressed and pessimistic bunch?)

President Obama is a gifted speaker. He definitely knows how to deliver a good speech. He's got the cadence and natural speaking style we like our presidents to have. He uses lots of good counterpoints as he talks, and has a pretty good sense of timing. And he even knows when he delivers a bad joke (e.g. "crying over spilled milk" line). President Obama speaking style resonates with many, especially the "Average Joe," who is probably among the most important undecided types. However, I tend to agree with one commentator who said that Obama tends to lack the one ability that President Clinton has. President Clinton has the unique gift of making one feel as if he were talking directly to you. Say what you want about the former president from Arkansas, he was the master of oratory. I've ready many accounts in which those who had personal conversations with President Clinton stated he made them feel as if they were the only person in the room. That is, indeed, a true gift.

As a young man, President Clinton had wanted to be a minister. His oratory gift would have been just as much at home behind a pulpit as it was behind a podium affixed with the Seal of the President of the United States. Unfortunately, it seemed that he could deliver falsehoods so convincingly that many people would believe him without question. And like other presidents dealing within shades of dishonesty, maybe it was a simple matter of semantics and how select words and sentences are phrased that perhaps he himself believed in the technical/legal truth of what he was saying.  

To many, (and I include myself in this group), Ronald Reagan was the quintessential presidential speech maker. Perhaps among the more poignant moments of Reagan's years in office was his speech from the Oval Office the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. I also vividly remember President Reagan's Berlin Wall speech. Few public speakers today can match the timing and what many refer to as his "stage presence." I think that his farewell speech is among his best. He challenged us to remember the fragility of freedom and to be mindful our history, and warned us to protect ourselves from "an erosion of the American Spirit." He spoke eloquently of the "Shining City Upon a Hill" and explained what it meant to him. I am persuaded that he truly believed in and communicated the goodness and greatness of the American people, and all the freedoms our country offers.

President Reagan talking to the nation after the Challenger explosion

And of course, no discussion on presidential speeches would be complete without mentioning JFK. Parts of his inauguration speech are among his most popular and quoted words. His youthfulness and Massachusetts' accent dazzled a country and an entire generation. Kennedy inspired the American people to believe things can and should be better. He was charismatic, charming, and well-spoken. His wealthy upbringing probably had much to do with that (especially when you compare him to his successor). President Kennedy's oratory skills were unquestionably among the best.

The current GOP presidential candidates are not exactly cut from the same clothe as Reagan. Romney is well-spoken and polished, but lacks charisma. Gingrich is probably the best debater of the bunch, and has the ability to masterfully craft a rebuttal into a history professor's lesson. And occasionally he is able to deliver an unexpected punch such as the response he gave CNN's John King at the S. Carolina debate. Although Gingrich's response played well to the crowd, he often comes across as disingenuous and hypocritical. Gingrich is a strong debater, which brings up an interesting question: Does being the best debater make the best candidate? (Of course the answer is no, but in our sound-bite obsessed digital age it does make a tremendous difference between being a front-runner and being perceived as a mediocre, milquetoast candidate who inevitability loses the election). At the end of the day, Gingrich and Romney both have difficulty projecting the natural oratory abilities and charisma of a Reagan or Clinton.

I did recently watch someone who has the persona and attitude many of us like to see in our leaders. Clint Eastwood did a car commercial during half-time of the Super Bowl. Although it was not necessarily a political advertisement (although some have said it was portrayed as Obama-friendly), Eastwood's message resonated with many viewers, and gave this viewer pause. The commercial really did tap deeply into that reservoir of American exceptionalism. It's this kind of thing that stirs and rouses people, calling forth the best in us. It is exactly the message we need at a time of incredible challenges and bleak days. The message conveys the idea that, yes, we've had some bad moments, but the game is not over. It's only half-time. We WILL get right back up and give it our best. We are a tenacious and tough bunch. We believe in excellence. Besides being among my favorite actors (excuse my bias), to me, Clint Eastwood has always represented the kind of guy that cuts through the nonsense and rights the wrongs. His commercial was reminiscent of Reagan's "It's Morning Again in America" ad. It pulled at the 'can-do' heart strings that Americans believe in so strongly. It was a powerful, motivational, appealing, and optimistic message. The kind of message that, should the right candidate be able to grasp onto and properly articulate, could help them win (re-win?) the office of the presidency. A persuasive message, given by the right candidate with persuasive oratory there one out there?

Note: All photos of US Presidents and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are from WikiMedia Commons and are specifically stated to be the work of the United States Government and are in the public domain. Photo of Gov. Mitch Daniels is the work of Ray Taylor and is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain , and is not meant to be considered as an endorsement. 

Wordless Wednesday: Quiet Hoosier Winter

About Me

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I work for a Community-Based, Not-for-Profit agency. I have worked in the disability field for over twenty-five years. I am the father of two boys, and have been married to my teenage sweet-heart for 23 years. I live and work in the same town where I was born & raised.
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