It was around the spring of 2010. My oldest daughter was in early elementary school. She was a long way from entering high school and darkening the doors of any kind of prom. But as a local church community announced their launch of what would be a county-wide event, hosting kids with different abilities in a "special" prom designed just for them, I stirred.
I rose up against a prom of this kind, believing it communicated the complete opposite of everything I believed in for my child: inclusion––a movement I was plowing ground for in support of her civil rights. A differently-abled child, I believe, did not (and does not) need a separate-but-equal prom. Instead, what they need is to be seen as a full and equal participant at the prom of their current home school.
Perhaps the students who were nobly gaining community service hours by serving a student they likely did not know or hadn't met until this moment, taking them into a church auditorium staged as a dance, is actually insulting to some. I saw this idea as a hindrance to a progressive move toward inclusion. Instead, differently-abled kids like my daughter would be celebrated in an exclusive event, one night a year. A night that many folks that had never walked my path thought I should receive as an honor––as an "evening to remember." They didn't get it.
I was driven to advocacy. My faith drove me there. I wanted better for a community of 'special needs' kids. I believed for integration into the community of typically developing peers and participation in their own school events where bridges could be built for them to be equal members of that social society.
My advocacy set me altogether apart. It polarized me. The church community, and the ones who led the charge, silenced my voice. The irony is, they disabled me.
I loved those people. I believed in the greater work of faith being done there. I was simply standing for a point of view that they did not understand and were not willing to see. I was just being a mom––and a momma-bear advocate. That's what I supposed to be.
I had been faithful there and served wholeheartedly. And then my voice became a little too loud. I was quieted. I was disregarded. I was squashed.
That night to remember dished up a bitter pill for me to swallow. It taught me something that now, almost a decade later, I am growing to unlearn. It is something that our current cultural climate of racial tension is bringing up in me again. Then, as now, civil rights abuse, inequity, exclusion and deafness are common place among people in power. When we do not listen, we do not learn. It was tension then. And it's tension now––the state of being stretched. Some will. Some won't. I choose to.
Tension makes you grow. Anytime you are uncomfortable or challenged in what you think, it creates tension––a stretch. Stretching is a necessary condition of growth. No tension; no growth. And when you grow, something new is created in the becoming.
Anything that creates a tension in you––makes your skin crawl, punches you in the gut, or makes you pound the table is part of what makes you YOU. When you bump into it, you might want to pay attention. Your "hell-no" is unique to you. Because what God asks of me He may not have asked of you. That's part of what makes us unique and purposeful walking the planet. He has designed me for purposes that aren't exactly like yours. But both of us are called to stand for something.
Your work doesn't diminish mine. It doesn't HAVE to anyway. But it can very often create tension. How beautiful that our unique callings could cause each of us to grow. Growth creates change, and the Creator of us all is all about transformation.
My past experience with a special needs prom shamed me. It shamed my story. It squashed my voice. I watched the fist clench. I heard the accusation loud and clear: "Sit down, Jen. It's time for you to shut up!"
I've worn that shame and silence for far too long. It's held me back from the freedom to live fearfully and wonderfully made. But today, in the midst of familiar resurgence of civil right struggle, I feel God pouring a fresh cup of confidence in me. It feels good, and still a little uncomfortable. Just goes to show you that I am growing out of a hand-me-down shame I picked up along the way that said, "Be bold, Jen, but simmer down while you're at it." "Speak up for Jesus of course, but be sure to please everyone while you're at it." "Use your voice to coo at the audience that's currently listening. And when they stop approving (because they always do eventually)––THAT, young lady, is your fault."
The Enemy of my soul has lambasted that shame over my mind for far too long. But I have bad news for him. My faith drove my advocacy before. It will drive my advocacy now. And I'm praying moments like this awaken YOUR "hell-no."
I am God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for me to do.
What is it for you? I recently read, "You are your sister's keeper, but not her copy." So what's your passion? How were you designed? What are your preferences and your capacities? What makes you pound the table and raise your voice? Go fill that space and take your rightful place, my friend. You were made to stand.
Registration for Significant Conference on August 15 is open. Your story matters here. Your voice counts. Join me and other women as we connect with God and one another to make a difference.