Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jake on the Football Team

I know, that sounds kinda crazy, right? How on earth does a kid with Cerebral Palsy get on a football team? And how is it that a football game could make me want to tear up from time to time?

Those that know me know just how non-athletic I am. I enjoy watching a game here or there, if I'm with good friends. I know enough of the rules of most games to understand what's happening on the field (or the ice). I don't know about teams or strategies, or what players are doing well or badly this season.

About two months ago, we were approached by with an offer to have Jake be a part of a program that places special-needs kids with little league football teams of the same age. The idea is to give the special-needs kid some social interaction in a setting (like athletics) where he/she might not ordinarily have the opportunity, and to give the other kids the chance to get to know the special-needs world, too,

They call the special-needs kid the "twelfth man", and even though he doesn't go on-field during the game, he's treated like a team member. He has a helmet and jersey, a number, he gets in all the team time-outs and huddles, and even gets to call the pre-game toss. He cheers the team along.

Jake actually loves watching sports, so we instantly thought it would be a great match-up. I admit, I was a bit nervous. My own experience with being bullied by the Jr High school jocks left me feeling more than a little fearful.

I didn't need to fear. The whole team took to jake like he was their brother. At every game and event they're always excited to see him, and always trying to include him.

Today's game was no different in that respect. But today, the team won, and won big, after a 4-5 game losing streak. The coaches are great, too. They shout to the kids, but never yell at them, and they talk about determination and intensity of focus in the after game huddles. This is stuff I want Jake to learn, too.

One day, after a game, Jake said to me, with a huge smile, "Dad, I'm a jock,now!"

I said, "Dude, you play minecraft. You're still a geek, too!"

...but it's ok to be both, now.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Elder Holland's Talk in LDS General Conference

There may be some readers out there who might not know much about my religious culture. Today is a very significant day in the annual life of a Mormon. Known as General Conference weekend, it's two days of meetings where the leaders of the overall church (not local leaders) speak to the whole body of the Church. It happens every October, and every April. It's a big deal because we believe that these leaders are called by revelation and lead the Church under inspiration. As such, what they say during each General Conference is something that all Mormons treat with a certain amout of respect, even if they occasionally disagree with the authorities.

Today, one of the talks was given by an Apostle named Jeffery R Holland. He spoke passionately and directly about mental illness in all its forms, but depression in particular. He spoke about the need for those that suffer from it to not lose hope, but to pray and to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit. In a slight departure from our common culture, he also spoke about the need for those that suffer to seek out competent and compassionate professional treatment.

Elder Holland also talked about how important it was for those of us that see and interact with sufferers to treat all with kindness and compassion and to not be judgemental.

He spoke of the need for caregivers to be aware that they must also care for themselves as the so selflessly give to the sufferers. He spoke of the need to be patient and to maintain hope for eventual recovery.

This may seem like old hat to many, but to hear those words spoken with such force and power from the pulpit of the Conference Center, by one in the highest ranks of the Church was liberating.

At one point, Elder Holland reminded us all of the core Mormon belief in a unversal and complete resurrection, where all will rise, restored with a full and glorified body, free of troubles and disabilities. And, yes, he actually used the word "Disabilities".

As he talked about that moment, a huge weight was lifted from me, not just for Jacob, but for myself as well. I had known this for my whole life, but it just didn't sink in like it did today.

His words brought me so much comfort. How many years I've struggled to maintain my own sanity in the chaos of my own life and my own caregiving for Jacob. How often I wondered if I were actually clinically mentally ill. I've been in counseling many times and I've been on medicine before. How wonderful it was to hear it from an Apostle that the struggle didn't mean I was weak or unrighteous (at least, not any moreso than usual). I could hope to carry on and find Joy!

Be sure to visit Mark's other blogs: Mark's Black Pot, and Mo' Boy