Why Does a Toyota Ad about the Paralympics Make Me Cry?

Once a week I compile the reflections I’ve offered on Facebook into one blogpost. Here are the thoughts from the past five days:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Housekeeping update: If you want to be sure you know when White Picket Fences (my new memoir about privilege) comes out, I have a new set of options for hearing from me via email. You can sign up to receive an email notification when the book comes out, which is to say, you’ll get an email from me about once every three years. Or you can get that plus a monthly newsletter. Or you can get those plus a weekly blogpost. So please take a few seconds to tell me whether you want to hear from me annually (or less), monthly, or weekly right here.

 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

So why is it that I get all choked up when I watch this Toyota commercial? It features Paralympic gold medalist Lauren Woolstencroft, a young woman who was born with significant physical disabilities and went on to win a gold medal in Paralympic skiing. Here’s the one-minute ad that tells her story.

I think I would find this story moving no matter what, but I know I’m also drawn to it because we too have a daughter with a disability. On the surface, it’s a strange parallel. Penny is not an exceptional athlete or student. She has overcome obstacles and defied expectations, but she’s just a kid who likes weddings and ballet and cheeseburgers. She’s just a kid who has Down syndrome. There’s no part of me that sees her going on to win a gold medal. There’s no part of me that aspires for her to be in the spotlight or on a national stage. So what’s the connection between her story and Lauren Woolstencroft?

I think the reason this story moves me to tears is not the gold medal, and it’s not the incredible athletic ability of this young woman. If anything, those aspects of who she is could prove to be a distraction from what really matters about her life. What really matters is that this young woman was valued and loved. Her body looked different from other kids’ bodies. She faced serious physical challenges that other kids never had to face. But what strikes me as significant about her is not her awards and accolades but the way her life testifies to the possibility for joy, for connection, for satisfaction that comes from knowing you are loved and knowing you have purpose. We don’t see the love behind the scenes in this ad, but it seems impossible that she would be who she is without a tremendous amount of love behind her.

When Penny was born, the odds were against her. In many ways, they still are. She has had multiple minor surgeries. People sometimes struggle to understand her speech. Schoolwork is challenging. Social life is challenging. But her life is also a testimony to the possibilities that open up when we know we are created in love and loved by others.

We often only hear stories about disability that end in triumph (a gold medal!). And those stories often seem like the exception. But those stories should instead be a reminder that every human life is imbued with quiet possibility, that every human life holds opportunities for connection and purpose, that every human life is worthy of faith and hope and love.

 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I have recently wondered whether much of modern life is an attempt to avoid or ignore living in reality. That can take…

Posted by Amy Julia Becker on Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I have recently wondered whether much of modern life is an attempt to avoid or ignore living in reality. That can take the form of self-medication for pain or distracting ourselves through screens and devices or using multiple credit cards to ignore the state of our bank accounts.

During the years when I was drinking one or more glasses of wine every night and wondering why my waistline was expanding, for instance, I was not living in the reality of a body governed by caloric intake and output. When I was getting sick for one week of every month, I wasn’t living in the reality of too-much-stress.

Right now, time is the area where I am most tempted to not live in reality. When I get to the end of another day and can’t understand why I haven’t finished my to-do list, I am not living in the reality of time, but I’m trying to look at time honestly and live according to the natural limits and rhythms given to me through the hours and days and weeks I am given.

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World has been one resource for me as I struggle to live in the reality of time, as has Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner. In some ways, both of these books are designed to help me work harder and become more productive. They are supposed to help me identify the fluff and the distractions in my life. And while I’ve appreciated the goal-setting of the planner and focusing on chunks of “deep work time” that Newport advocates, what I’ve realized most of all is that in this season of life I don’t have very much time to work.

These books are supposed to ramp up my professional hours. Ironically, they’ve convinced me that my slow pace of work–I average one book every three years, most weeks get interrupted by snow days and doctor’s appointments and kids who forget their homework or canceled activities–is living in reality.

I want to live a life with self-care (regular exercise, meal-planning and cooking, time for prayer and reading the Bible and reading novels), a life with deep relationships (date night with my husband, one-on-one time with each child once a week, walks and lunches and phone calls with friends), a life where I give back to my community (church, school, other writers). I also want to write books and cultivate an audience for those books so that I’m not just sharing my words with my mother’s friends.

I could choose a more ambitious pace for work, but if I did that I would have to give up self-care or family engagement or volunteering in our community. In the past, I’ve tried to cram it all in, and I’ve wondered why the wheels seem to be falling off the vehicle. But naming the constraints on “my” time has resulted in a greater sense of contentment with this reality, a greater sense of freedom to make choices that aren’t just about my own well being but about my family and the town and even the world we live in.