Wait a minute M. Post(wo)man

“Imagine you are a letter traveling through time. What message do you wish to convey to your readers?”

This is the theme of the Universal Postal Unions Letter writing contest for 2018.  Winners will be announced today. All week is International Letter Writing Week, which was started by the UPU as a way to foster mutual understanding among people all around the world. Today is World Post Day.

20181009_081000(1)I am participating in International Letter Writing Week as a way to promote connection; however, it can also be an opportunity to advocate on your own causes. Below is the powerfully elegant letter that last year’s winner, 14-year-old Eva of Togo wrote  on behalf of girls who are forced into marriages against their consent. it was in response to this theme:

“Imagine you are an advisor to the new UN Secretary-General which world issue would you help him tackle first and how would you advise him to solve it?”

Her identity is concealed in the letter but Kudos to her for understanding the power of a single letter. Perhaps it will inspire you and I look forward to the announcement of this year’s winner.

UN Secretary General

Dear Secretary General,

My name is [E], I am [age] years old and I live in [City], [Country]. Just like any other young girl, I dream of the perfect wedding, with a dazzling white dress and the perfect gentleman by my side, of an unending buffet and throwing my bouquet, and of two wedding rings that are more beautiful than diamonds. I dream of the perfect wedding, but it’s only a dream as I have all the time in the world before I get married, and for that I am happy! It is just a dream for me, but for others it is a horrific reality. Every day it becomes a reality for poor young girls who cannot defend themselves. Each year, more than 15 million girls aged 15 and under are forced to marry men three times their age.

No doubt you have understood, Mr Secretary General, that today I would like to talk to you about child marriage.

Child marriage is the act of marrying a child who has neither legally nor emotionally reached marriageable age. Child marriage is the result of deep-rooted traditions, poverty, ignorance, early pregnancy or a lack of law. Underdeveloped and poor countries are often the most affected, and the victims are usually girls aged 15 and under. They are married to build strategic alliances and partnerships with other families. They are married because of tradition, which leaves their parents with no choice in the matter.  They are married because they are seen as a burden and another mouth for their parents to feed. They are married because…because…because…

The solution, the only solution to child marriage, is education. Education allows the children of today, who will be the adults of tomorrow, to understand that age-old traditions which instruct them to marry off their daughters are unfair, and that poverty is no excuse, especially when the men are far too old for them. But education is not possible without means, without money. Underdeveloped countries are often poor, lacking the means to build good education facilities and recruit qualified teachers. They settle for low-performing schools. Aid to underdeveloped countries must, therefore, be increased, so these countries can make up lost ground in terms of both their educators and their infrastructure. But for now, these countries must be encouraged to strengthen their laws against child marriage. When families end up in court for having married their child too young, they are often released without charge as they can bribe the judge or police officer. Not to mention how the legal system can often be much too lenient in these types of cases. And ironically, although it was a lack of money that drove them to marry off their daughter in the first place, parents then have to find the money to bribe the legal authorities. They are trapped in a vicious circle and only you,
Mr Secretary General, have the power to help them break free today.

Mr Secretary General, I hope that my small contribution will help you as you plan your work for the years to come, and that you manage to end once and for all the inhumane and outdated practice that is child marriage.

Kind regards,

[E]

Who will you send a letter to this week?

 

 

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Letting go of the past creates a future for others

I’ve packed up  Howard Jones, Steve Winwood, Nanci Griffith, and Clint Black in the coffin of a cardboard box. And when the box arrives in Washington state, it will be opened and then their guts will be yanked out.

Their insides will be respectfully and consciously disposed of but their version of external skin will be recycled into new products, which if the owner is fortunate, will symbolize a period of their life like the original packaging of the cassette tapes did for me.

Just so there’s no mistake, I’m not Mother Earth’s best friend. I’m a pretty typical fair weather American friend as far as my lifestyle and consumption use. If you’re an avid recycler and saw what I threw in the trash, you would unfriend me on Facebook.

This cardboard box is filled with cassette tapes of a Beatles anthology, the Best of ZZ Top and a dive into international music represented by Bollywood and Rueben Blades. It is  ready to be shipped to GreenDisk, which partners with other companies who hire people with disabilities to transform obsolete technology.

I have moved this box of music personalities for about 20 years. I stopped listening to them about 10 years ago. If I could have economically replaced my music library to the current technical formats, I would have. But as it is, I have different familial interests today and my personal economy is spent more on others than myself. My reluctance to donate them to the landfill or the Salvation Army has to do with my bittersweet attachment to a more youthful period of my life then it does with any guilt associated with packing the local landfill with “unnecessary plastic objects” (Nanci Griffith on her One Fair Summer Evening tape).

If I were crafty, I would transform my symbolic life into ties, purses or lampshades.  But if I had attempted the dissection, it would have ended up as a box full of pieces of magnetic tape and plastic cases. So, this is the compromise I can make and an acknowledgement that it is time to give generous room to what is in my life now.

So, with GreenDisk this is the most respectful burial I can find for Patsy Cline, Almighty Bach, and Abba. They will go to Sammamish, Wash., where this company will outsource my symbols of dear friends to other organizations which provides  innovative work for people with disabilities. For a day, or two, someone else will benefit from the days of my youth and if all goes well during the autopsy, enough will be salvaged to be transformed into a product that will give carefree enjoyment to another life.

Finding a life worth living

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are or you believe someone is at risk of dying by suicide, please dial 911 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Special note: This is a story I wrote several years ago before I entered the field of mental health and didn’t know the symptoms of depression or that suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.

While I was on the periphery of the story told below, the experience had a profound impact and changed how I view people who behave in troubled ways. Behavior is communication and sometimes people who are in emotional or physical pain behave in ways that provoke irritation, frustration or anger from us. Do your best to be calm in the face of another person’s internal crisis and offer what compassion you can.

be kind

Paul and Rick fought on the Tuesday before winter break and again on the Wednesday that classes resumed. The first argument was over the cigarette butts. Paul flicked the last of his cigarette on the ground even though a black metal canister was right beside him. Rick, the building’s maintenance man, walked by just as the butt landed on the ground. In a polite way for Rick, but a rude way to Paul, Rick barked that Paul should use the ashtray. Paul shouted where Rick could put the ash tray.

The second argument continued the first over the disposal method of cigarettes but was also fueled by Paul’s inattentiveness to clean spaces. Rick had just mopped the floor and Paul walked through it, rather than around.

As the full-time maintenance man, Rick walks a tight rope of self-restraint in word and action. His job is menial enough–unplugging toilets, changing lights, cleaning up vomit–without people deliberately and immediately wrecking what he just finished wiping up. On this second day of blatant defiance of common courtesy, Rick ignored self-restraint and came to our office. He complained loudly and expletively to us about Paul. He demanded we do something to stop Paul or he would.

image-from-rawpixel-id-401529-jpegI agreed with Rick and understood his frustration at our students. My coworkers and I wished Paul would quit being rude. But we didn’t know how to stop him or any of the other inconsiderate students in the Adult Learning Center. Many students ignore the rules and procedures. But for these two incidents, Paul was the student caught at it.

We told Rick we would talk to Paul. The Adult Learning Center’s director took Paul aside and said we would have to call the police if he acted this way again and, especially, if he threatened Rick. She advised Paul to avoid Rick and save himself from further trouble.

Paul is one of an endless stream of students in Adult Basic Education Centers who hope to make up in basic education skills what they didn’t learn when they were kids. So many of them, though, are missing more than just the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Dozens arrive without homes, teeth, cars, jobs, food, and hope. We try to give them encouragement, but we know the center is here because society doesn’t know what else to do with them nor does it want to do anything–meaningful at least–with them. It’s a daytime holding place. We don’t know where or to whom some students go to at night.

I understand some of the societal causes of their problems, but my critical, judgmental voice tells me that life shouldn’t be that hard for them. I don’t vocalize it as Rick does, but I’m thinking the same thing: “Use the ashtray. Walk around where he’s mopped. Learn your multiplication tables. Why do you go out of your way to make life more difficult for the rest of us? Can’t you act like you remember even one thing you learned in kindergarten?”

All these thoughts bulleted through my head as Paul walked past my desk. And after he walked by I didn’t give Paul another thought. For emotional protection, I don’t think very deeply about our students. I don’t ask them personal questions nor do I tell them about my life. And they don’t ask me either. They know what they don’t have and they don’t need me to remind them.

After I finished working I went home and didn’t think any more about Paul and Rick until I came back after the weekend. Sadly, that Friday, Paul didn’t think any more deeply about himself than what I had. He hung himself in his basement bedroom where his mother found him.

My boss and Paul’s teacher went to the funeral. Rick and I stayed behind. My boss said the minister didn’t know many personal details of Paul and didn’t have a lot to say about him in the eulogy. She shook her head.

I tried to learn more about Paul by reading the newspaper’s obituary. A professional portrait was used in it. It showed a smiling, dark haired young man wearing a suit and tie. Pictures probably do speak a thousand words. But these were words of happiness and good health that were from sometime in Paul’s past. In the weeks we knew Paul, he wore only faded blue jeans and worn t-shirts. He rarely combed his hair. My mental picture of Paul was one of anger, defiance, and loneliness.

Rick came into our office after the funeral. He consoled us, or maybe himself, with the comment, “he’s in a better place now.” He didn’t express any remorse about his feelings toward Paul. But I wondered if he regretted his harsh judgment like I regretted mine. We talked a few more minutes and then we all got back to work.

The next day I came to work and Rick, the maintenance man, was mopping the floor. This day the floor would stay clean.

 

How to enjoy parenting challenges

untitled_cupid_2_sketch_2015Who can tell ahead of time what the experience of parenting will be like? Technology can let you know the gender of a baby, and sometimes it can diagnose a health issue in the womb. But technology can’t tell you this individual’s personality or forecast her or his future.

So parents and children are then thrown together into a relationship that unfolds day by day and is influenced by a number of factors. Some factors are in the home environment, and some factors are randomly and possibly senselessly thrust upon a family. It is my hope that every child’s home environment is a secure place for them, but this is not always the case.  If you suspect a child is being abused, I hope you will do the right thing and report it to the proper authorities in your area.

Barring any major abusive dysfunction of you as the parent, the life in a family is uniquely yours and your children’s. Suffice it to say, that regardless of whether or not your child or you have an identifiable health disability, you will encounter obstacles along the way in the form of

  • school,
  • work,
  • finances and
  • outside relationships.

Part of the human experience common to us all is to overcome challenges in whatever form they take. It depends on how you define things that will determine how you view it. The nervous system releases the same chemicals whether you are anxious or excited. But your perception of an event will determine whether you are excited or anxious.

So, it is the same with parenting and relationships. Something that might seem like a problem could actually be the solution to other things you have encountered both with your relationship with yourself and with other people.

The poem “Welcome to Holland” was written by Emily Perl Kingsley, a writer for Sesame Street. Her son, Jason Kingsley, was born with Down’s Syndrome. He is now a grown man  and has appeared in several movies. Kingsley’s experience as a parent with a child with a known disability inspired her to advocate for families whose children had disabilities. She influenced Sesame Street to have the Muppets represent the range of human experiences people have. In March of last year, Sesame Street introduced us to Julia, the first Muppet with autism.

Kingsley also took her writing gift and used it to educate and inspire thousands of people. Her poem “Welcome to Holland” has been adapted for many different experiences, parenting and otherwise. Regardless of whether you are a parent or you are someone who doesn’t have children, you have likely experienced an unexpected change in your plans you’ve needed to work through.

So, welcome to Holland or Iowa or Texas or Montana or wherever you find yourself that you didn’t plan on being. Here’s to “blooming where you’re planted.”

Welcome to Holland

BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

***

©1987 BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Have you forgiven or forgotten it?

willie nelson

You had a disagreement with another person and in your mind you forgave. You were able to forgive them because you ended your relationship with them. But did you really forgive them or did you just forget them?

The answer to that question will be revealed next time you unexpectedly run into them in a location you weren’t prepared for, such as your local grocery store. If your heart jumps and your stomach feels anxious, then the injury of the conflict hasn’t subsided and, frankly, you focused on the forgetting but not the forgiving.

So what do you do when you come across that person?

Here are some options, not all of them recommended.

1. Turn around and pretend you didn’t see them.

2. Take your shopping cart and bang into the back of their legs pretending you didn’t see them.

3. Walk by them as if they were invisible and pretend you didn’t see them, or

4. See them.

As uncomfortable as it could be, facing a person who injured you is a response coming from a stance of self-empowerment. Avoiding them or lashing out at them will reinforce for you that you were on the losing end of the conflict. Instead, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and see the person in front of you. What you discover might surprise you about them and yourself.

Now, for the awkward moment. Does seeing them include speaking? Maybe. But on your terms and not theirs. You can say hello, or nod your head and give a small smile (but not the smirk smile) and keep walking. If they initiate a conversation, such as, “how are you?” say, “I’m great!”  (You are great, so be honest about it!)

So. the moment has passed and you SAW them, what do you do next to FORGIVE them?

Here are some steps that may help you with the process of forgiveness.
buddha forgiveness prayer
1. Write the person a letter stating exactly what they did that hurt you.

Journaling is a therapeutic process which can help you “read your own mind.” Journaling does not have to be limited to words. Incorporating art or other visual modes are just as effective in processing your feelings. (Do not send that person the letter, but it might help to read it to another supportive person who can keep a confidence.)

2. Pray and meditate on the concept of forgiveness.

Sometimes, we can’t pray for that person, but we can start the process by quieting the thoughts that racket around like they are on a handball court by focusing on the theme of forgiveness.

3. When you are ready to move to the next stage, pray for good things for yourself and that person. Some people will leave out the part about praying for good things for themselves, but you deserve good things, too.

This action is empowering because it gives you control. When you start, you don’t have to be sincere (and you probably won’t be sincere), but over time you may find yourself hoping each of you receive the gift of a great life. After all, hurting people hurt others.

4. Understand, the role of forgiveness isn’t to change that person as change may never happen, but it is there to heal you and give you a better quality of life.

Even if the other person tried to steal your quality life in a long ago incident, they don’t have to keep stealing it.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Special Needs Child

mom kissing daughter

Coming soon! An E-Book for Caregivers with Special Needs Children

Learn to ADVOCATE, PARENT, AND BUILD STRENGTH in raising your child with special needs

Find your peace of mind as you learn what supports you need in place to guarantee a life of emotional, financial, and physical security for  you and your child

Do you worry about:

·      What will happen to my child and will he or she be happy?

·      Who will help me with my child and how do I get my friends to understand the stress I’m under?

·      How do I get over the loss of the dreams I had for a family?

·      How can I tell if my child is acting out because of his disability or because he’s being a kid?

·      How will I support myself when I have to support my child?

·      What if my spouse leaves me because of the pressure?

·      What school should my child attend and do I have any recourse if my child’s school treats him or her inappropriately?

·      What will happen to my child after I die?

 

You’re not alone. Nearly one-fifth of American families have a member with a disability, either physical, sensory, or intellectual (according to the National Organization on Disability). And many people with disabilities or special needs are outliving their primary caregivers (their parents) because of advancements in medical technology and treatment.

My Training and Credentials

At this juncture, you may be wondering who I am. Beyond having been a journalist, a researcher and a licensed professional counselor, I am also a mother to two children who have had special concerns at various times in their lives.

My youngest son was born with a disability. My older son developed a temporary disability later in his life, which he has overcome. Each of the experiences came with its unique set of challenges and opportunities.

When I first heard the diagnosis for my youngest son, I sat on my bed, called a friend and sobbed to her “I just want my son to be okay.” My friend tried to comfort me as best as she could, but she couldn’t truthfully tell me if my son would be okay. No one could. As his diagnosis began to unfold, I found myself struggling to find help. We lived in a remote New Mexico community and autism resources were only beginning to be offered there.

Consequently, I had many sleepless nights of constant worry, fear, and grief of what the future could hold for my beloved son.  Also, I had to completely reorder my life emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially, and professionally because of his special needs and the lack of resources available.

One of my biggest fears, initially, was the fear of the unknown. I had never had an experience as a mother of a child with a disability so I had no idea of what to expect. So, what did I do? I did like any mother who wants what’s best for her child:

  • I scoured the Internet,
  • Made hundreds of phone calls,
  • Took countless trips to professionals, and
  • At the end of the day collapsed exhausted and still scared.

No doubt about it, it can be a lonely and stressful experience as a caregiver and our ability to access an in-person support group can be challenging, and in some regions of the United States, nearly impossible.

But you’re not alone. My E-Book, “My Special Needs Child: The Complete Guide to Advocating, Parenting, and Building Strength” will help you address your worries and connect you with the vital resources you need for you to have peace of mind as a parent.

  • You’ll learn the subtle shift in thinking that will empower you and your child. It took me nearly a decade to understand and articulate this idea, and I’ll share this with you in my E-Book.
  • You will gain insight into how to be a parent and not only a caregiver.
  • You will read stories from people who have been where you are now and the successes they have achieved and that you can achieve, too.
  • You will learn how to overcome your reticence in speaking up for your child and yourself. This book will help you trust your intuition when opinions differ with professionals.
  • You will learn effective advocacy skills to help you and your child meet your needs to ensure the best outcome. You will learn the critical skills to advocate at the local level all the way to the federal level.
  • If you are worried about having enough money or how your career will be affected by your caregiving role, this E-Book will share about financial tools you can leverage for economic peace of mind.

Life can have many sudden twists and turns. Whether through an accident or the aging process, at some point every human being will experience either a temporary disability or a disability that becomes permanent. You will gain understanding how disability affects a person in different ways across the lifespan.

It’s not always easy to raise a child with disabilities. There is even a time of grieving as a diagnosis comes to light. But it can be a fulfilling and a profoundly positive life-changing experience in a way you never would have planned for yourself. In this E-Book you will learn how to transform what looks like a loss into a positive experience which will ripple throughout all your relationships.

If you are worried or struggling with knowing what to do or who to turn to for help for your child with a disability, then this e-book is for you. You will save countless hours of worry and research. You will find your way through the maze of programs, professionals’ opinions, and life’s challenges. You will find new meaning and purpose in life and release your fear and anxiety.

Please fill out my contact form below to let me know of your interest in this e-book. I am here to help.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

Fear corrodes you; here’s how to stop it

image-from-rawpixel-id-421916-jpegIn the oil industry, rust build-up destroys pipes. The speed at which rust spreads depends on how reactive the pipe is to its environment. Corrosion specialists counteract rust and a pipeline’s natural environmental influences by depositing coating chemicals and shooting electric currents through the main pipe and re-directing the destruction to a secondary sacrificial metal.

Fear can be as corroding to your body as is rust is to metal piping. It feels like a million jumping Mexican beans in your stomach and your shoulders sag from the buildup of it. The environment of your mind influences the spread of panic, depending on many factors. Today, you can choose to detach yourself from highly charged emotional environments, which can mitigate some of the flow of anxiety. You may be in the environment, but you can choose to not take anything personally, even it it’s meant personally.

Should you realize your thoughts floating, shooting and wandering and untethered to places and people flung far from your body, you can bring your body back to now.  You can use your breath to coat yourself and prevent the build up of more fear.  In and out, in and out, you can consciously redirect your ionic attention and thoughts to the energy held in your shoulders and stomach.

image-from-rawpixel-id-418597-jpegThe life force of your breath can  redirect and expel the corroding fear from your  lungs and nose and into the Universe. The Universe, though, sacrifices nothing with its absorption of your breath. Instead it can take your highly charged energy and expands itself by creating more galaxies.

© 2018 Brenda Henning

 

 

 

Remember to Breathe

Breathe Deeply
In the photo a beach in Zanzibar at sunset where there is an inscription on the sand “Breathe Deeply”.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NIV)

Remember to breathe.

In the Creation Story, the first burst of energy Human Kind experienced from God was the breath.
Focus on your breath today and know it is the essence of the original Breath of God. As you walk on your path today, every breath in and every breath out can be a connection to God’s infinite, soothing peace.
Remember to breathe.
© 2018 Brenda Henning