Several months ago, Donka contacted me and asked if they could share my story. For those who don't know Donka, they're a non-profit organization that provides computer training and job readiness services to persons with physical, visual and limited learning disabilities. Through the use of computers and assistive technology, our clients become more self-sufficient and independent members of the community. I was once a student of theirs:
Dates for 2017
Dates for 2016
Today, my interview on Opening Bell aired. I only hope that Steve got to ask all his questions. Those who know me know I like to talk, but I must have been nervous because every time he asked me a question I ran away with it. Anyway, as I share on my home page, I still feel strongly that I am supposed to use my experiences to educate others, to be an encouragement and a beacon of hope for other people with disabilities and their families. It is my heart’s desire to help individuals become all they can be, no matter their challenges. It is my hope that being an author, motivational speaker, and consultant will help me to fulfill my desire while I wait for the perfect employment opportunity within my field. So if you know of any places or populations that could benefit from hearing my story, the whole story- not just Yazzen's, buy my book and/or invite me to speak!
So, I just finished this book today...Finally! It took me a long time to read it, not because it was boring and wasn't holding my interest (it was actually quite an engaging read), but because it was such a sad story. In my opinion, 264 of the 321-page story was sad and really unfair. As a result, I found myself wondering how much more the main character Denny could take before he surrendered to his circumstances and gave up? As sad as this story was, I'm glad I kept reading because Enzo, his faithful dog, had important reminders to share and in the end, there was a silver lining.
Sometimes in my own life, I wonder how many more challenges I have to overcome before something good happens, or how much more disappointment and heartbreak in regards unemployment can I endure. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the answer is "it's limitless." As I read this book, I was reminded of Linda Ellis's The Dash. Life isn't just about our beginning or our end, but it's more about how we respond to the stuff that happens in the middle.
Through the reading of this book, God reminded me that life's a race and I need to run it with patience and endurance ( Heb. 12). As Mr. Stein writes, "There is no dishonor in losing the race." There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose." There's no guarantee I won't experience disappointment in life, but with God by my side, the only way I can lose is if I give up and stop believing in myself. Therefore, I must keep going and keep trying. My race isn't over, He's not done with me yet, I have yet to accomplish His purpose for my life. Thanks for the reminders Enzo! Despite the sadness, this book is a good read and I give it 4 stars
On this, the one-year anniversary of my book being published, Portland and I spent a few hours hanging out with fellow author Wayne Turmel and 39 others at Gail Borden library’s second annual authors fair. It was fun and as always, I learned a lot. I am learning that marketing a book is even harder than writing one. I really feel that for now writing and sharing my story is what God wants me to do, but in order for me to do it well, I need to have “groupies!” In order for me to have a decent following, I need help getting my name out there. If you read my book, you can help:
March is Cerebral Palsy (CP) Awareness Month and the butterfly is the chosen symbol. I’ve always loved butterflies. They’re a symbol of resurrection, endurance, change, hope, and life. CP is so limited. It can't cripple love, it can't shatter hope or corrode faith. It can't destroy peace, or limit friendship. It can't damage memories, silence courage, conquer the spirit or delay joy. But people can.
I’ve gone through a lot, I've overcome a lot and as a result, I have a love/hate relationship with the limitations I have due to my CP. I love my limitations because they have made me strong, courageous, stubborn, compassionate, and determined to make a difference. I hate my limitations because they can cause self-doubt and because of them, I have always had to work extra hard to prove myself - I get very tired of that. Yes, I have limitations but they are only a small part of me and although I wouldn't be me without them, they DON'T define me. I am so much more than my limitations or my circumstances.
Like some people with disabilities, I also struggle with being an inspiration, ironic since I’ve written a book described as heartwarming and inspirational. I think I struggle with it because I don’t see myself as different or disabled. I am uniquely able and I want to be accepted and seen as an equal (i.e. I’m your coworker, not your inspiration). I still want to be accepted and seen as an equal, but when I read Joni Eareckson Tada’s devotional “Audiovisual Aids”, I gained a new perspective on being an inspiration. Joni talks about how God uses those who struggle, but continue to persevere as a way to strengthen others (Philippians 1:25). I smiled – thankful for this perspective. I never thought of it that way!
I’m still struggling to find a job in social work and I’m also having difficulty marketing my book and booking paid speaking engagements. It’s very hard to see myself taking steps to move forward, only to keep spinning my wheels, like a hamster. Because I keep getting stuck, it’s hard to find the strength to keep going. Yet somehow I do, and I know that the testing of faith produces perseverance/endurance (James 1:2-4; see also Romans 5:3-4, Romans 12:12, Romans 8:28 and Psalm 119:50). Now, can you see why I love butterflies?
Everyone has trials they must choose to overcome if they want to have happiness and joy in life and I’m no different. If I inspire or encourage you, great! However, I hope it's because of the person I am, not because of what I have had to overcome.
A nice memory popped up on my Facebook feed when I logged in this morning: "Excited to start a new venture, which I hope will lead to a second career in Motivational Speaking. Wednesday night, I will be sharing my story with parents and students. I'll be speaking about how I have chosen to defy disability and delight in diversity. I will talk about the importance of self-acceptance, perseverance, independence and advocacy...Teachers, social workers, parents, organizations etc., if you are interested in having me come speak at your events PM me your contact information and I'll be in touch."
What a year it has been! I don't know that I'll ever be able to charge the $1,000.00 fee the internet suggests for Motivational Speaking. Since I started, I have done seven speaking engagements, five for free. Although I'd like to get paid, getting my message of acceptance understanding differences and positivity to those who could benefit from hearing my life's story is important. Most recently, I spoke to two fourth grade classes at a local school. They're currently reading Sharon Draper's Out Of My Mind.
The (fictional) main character Melody's 11 years old and she has Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy. She uses a wheelchair and is unable to walk, talk, or feed herself, but Melody is very bright and has the gift of the photographic memory. Sadly, no one but those closest to her, know what she is capable of. To the other people in her life, she is the girl in the pink wheelchair who can't do anything for herself. Doctors told her mom that she won't potty train, can't learn, and should be institutionalized. Thankfully, her mom doesn't listen, and she enrolls her in school. As a result, Melody's subjected to peers who pick on her, calling her a "liar" and an "idiot." Melody also must deal with teachers who assume she's incapable of learning. Through it all, Melody perseveres and eventually receives the gift of speech, but will the people in her life be ready to listen to what she has to say?
Melody's story is a "must read" for anyone and so is mine. I too have Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy, and I use a power chair and a service dog for mobility and independence in my everyday life. Although I can walk, talk, and feed myself, I can relate to Melody. Doctors also told my mom that I would never potty-train, and when I was five years old, school administrators told my parents that my school was "not equipped to handle a child like me." As a result, I was bused an hour away to a "special" school in Joliet. I didn't think I'd ever get out of there. When I did, some administrator’s teachers and peers tried to make my life miserable. Administrators tried to make me stand out from my peers even more than I already did, some teachers couldn't understand that I needed accommodations to be successful in school, and some peers bullied me. They were repeatedly mean and excluded me from activities that most kids my age would've loved to be a part of like going to the movies or on trips to Great America. Some of them even accused me of not doing my own homework/class work, especially if I got better grades than they did. I wondered would I ever be accepted by them. Would the people around me ever see beyond my wheelchair and my limitations?
If you want to know the answer to these questions, read my book or have me come and speak to your school, your community group or service organization, your church, or even your place of employment. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. Not convinced yet? Well, maybe the words of satisfied customers can convince you.
I'm discovering that attending book events can be fun! They're a good way to meet new people and find out what they like to read and also write. Today I met fellow first-time author Alexandra Georgas, author of Mom & Me: My Journey with Mom's Schizophrenia She and I both have a strong desire to make a difference in people's lives through the sharing of our stories. I also met Lou Holly, author of Southside Hustle.
Yesterday, I spoke to students and staff at Yorkville High School as part of the International Day of Acceptance. All my life I've had to work hard to show people what I am capable of, that I'm more than my limitations, but sometimes I still feel like that's all society sees. True acceptance is something that I want to see in this world and it's something that's needed. When I talked to the students about acceptance I shared some of what I share in my book on the topic:
"If you have ever felt different like you do not fit in or belong, you are not alone. I, too, have felt this way, and sometimes I still do. However, if you’re dealing with feeling different, you need to know that being different is what makes you unique. Don’t worry about trying to fit in or be normal. You are perfect just the way you are. As Maya Angelou said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be” (Angelou 2015). Realize that no one is normal. Everyone has challenges or differences that should be embraced, not seen as a mistake or something that needs to change. I believe we are all exactly who we’re meant to be. There are no mistakes. I shared how I try to never let fear or a perceived lack of inability keep me from trying something new, like cheerleading, waterskiing or writing my book. I talked about how I wouldn't change anything about my life except maybe my inability to drive. I also showed them how my service dog helps me be more independent.
Acceptance from Others
When I talked about acceptance from others, I shared how having meaningful friendships was difficult and how at times I didn’t want to go to school. I shared how it seemed like sometimes peers were too concerned with what others might think. But in college that all changed, especially when my service dog (Yazzen) came into my life.
I hope I made an impact yesterday, and I hope the students learned that people who are dealing with differences are not much different from them. I hope that when they see others who are different from them, they won't be mean, they won't ignore them or exclude them. Instead, I hope they'll say hi to them, include them in activities, talk to them, and get to know them. I hope that they won't be afraid to ask questions, even if their questions are about what makes the person different. Being friends with someone who's different, could be the best thing they do, not only for them but for the person they're befriending too.
Excerpts from my book "Making Independence Happen, © Amy Chally, 2016
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