Tag Archives: Dr. Phil

The Most Important Lesson, by Rosemary Heddens

yest to GodRecently, I shared Amber Snyder’s writing assignment. Since I also learned an important lesson, I decided to write my own essay.

I had been struggling with something for a while. It was something I couldn’t quite figure out. My confusion started when I was watching Dr. Phil. His guest was a woman who had been brutally assaulted when she was seven months pregnant. The woman who assaulted her had actually cut the baby from her womb, killing the baby and almost killing the mother.  I couldn’t begin to imagine what horror this woman had been through. But what surprised me the most was her attitude. She had totally forgiven the woman who did this. She talked about how she had let go of any animosity she might have felt.  She had such peace about it, I wondered how that was even possible. Surely, it was her faith in God that had brought her through this, but she never once mentioned God or any spiritual beliefs. It was a challenge for me to reconcile this with my own journey and my dependence on my savior to guide me through difficult situations.

I was still struggling with that dilemma when I saw a quote from Pope Francis. He said, “You don’t have to believe in God to be a good person.” How was I supposed to make sense of his words? I kept saying to myself, “My Bible says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.'”  That seemed perfectly clear. There is only one way.

Later, I was working on my homework assignment for the Prayer and Life Workshop I am participating in. I read the scripture reading for that lesson, Acts 16: 29-34. The jailer assigned to guard Paul and Silas asked, “What must I do to be saved.” They told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” As I began the prayer part of my assignment, I softly whispered the jailer’s question. “What must I do to be saved.” The answer came almost immediately. “You already know the answer.” That was true, I have known the answer to that question since I was a young girl. That wasn’t really the question I was asking. The rest of the answer threw me for a loop. “Open your mind. Your ways are not my ways. I call whom I like in the way I choose. The answer to your question is, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ Do my will and it doesn’t matter.”

Being scolded by God is never pleasant, but being told to mind my own business was a new experience for me. Just in case I didn’t get the message, the following Sunday, the gospel reading was Luke 9:46. The disciples were arguing over which one of them was the greatest. Jesus took a small child and placed him by his side. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”

I am reminded of the Addison Road song, What do I know of holy? There is a line in the song that says, “I thought I had you figured out.” What I learned is that when it comes to my heavenly father, I really don’t know anything. Another line in the song says, “I think I made you too small.” God is so much more than I could ever hope to comprehend. So I guess I’ll do as he says. I will work at becoming the person he called me to be and leave everything else to him.

Living the life she chose

kirstin's new home“”Looking back on our lives, it seems we have come so far. Those limited expectations I had when Kirstin was born are long gone. Now I see a world not with limitations but only with possibilities and challenges for the future.”

“Throughout most of her life, Kirstin has walked a thin line between the world of those with developmental challenges and the world the rest of us live in. Over the years, that line has become blurred, and  more often, Kirstin has chosen our world over the simpler, safer world that could be hers.”

From This Little Light of Mine, A woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world.

“If I knew then what I know now, would I do things differently?” I’m sure we have all asked ourselves that question. Considering Kirstin’s childhood, I see that we raised her in a certain way. As much as possible, we encouraged her to participate with her non-disabled peers. She went to ballet classes and gymnastics. She was in Camp Fire Boys and Girls. She sold candy door to door and went to Camp Fire camp. At the same time, she participated in Special Olympics and special education classes. I guess you could say that we showed her both worlds and let her chose for herself.

Now that Kirstin is an adult, she sees choosing as her God-given right. She does listen to advice, but ultimately, she is the one who choses where her life will go. That’s why Kirstin works at Costco and lives in her own apartment. It is also why I’m sure that in her near future, she will get married. While Kirstin is making her own choices, she still needs our help. And so, we are there for her, but sometimes it’s not easy.

I see many of Kirstin’s friends who have chosen to live in group homes. They have an equally fulfilling life. They spend more of their time with their peers and less time with their families. In that way, they are more like others their age. They work at jobs they enjoy, volunteer in the community and have a variety of social experiences.

I sometimes consider that my life would be less complicated if Kirstin had made the other choice.  What if we had steered her in that direction instead of helping her become more independent? Without getting into the nature vs. nurture discussion, I can’t help but think it wouldn’t have made any difference. Kirstin has always had her own ideas about things. That’s true for most of the adults I know with Down syndrome.  They have made different choices, but the point is, they have been allowed to make choices.

When Kirstin was born, children with Down syndrome were being placed in institutions. Sadly, they were not allowed to chose for themselves. Today, there are so many opportunities for people with developmental challenges, and I see those opportunities broaden every day. But with so many opportunities, parents with small children who have developmental disabilities have an awesome job to do preparing their children for their future. Theirs is a challenging and sometimes frustrating road, but one that is blessed with lots of encouraging experiences.

I am a fan of Doctor Phil. I watch his show as often as I can. I have seen many dysfunctional families verbally duking it out on public television. Their problems vary from teens who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex, to out-of-control children who have been overindulged. I am yet to see a family on his show who are there because they have a child with Down syndrome. I’m sure most of those families have pleasant, enjoyable lives.

To answer my question, would I have done things differently, I’m pretty sure I would not. Watching Kirstin mature and take on adult responsibilities has been one of my great joys in life.


An “aha moment”


Scan_20141006I’ve heard Dr. Phil talk about an “aha moment,” one of those times in a person’s life that will always be remembered, because it was at that very moment something life-altering occurred. I had one of those moments in 1979. Kirstin was attending the regular preschool, and her teacher and I were having trouble communicating about her progress.  Flo suggested that we keep a notebook at the preschool. She would write in it each day, and so would I.

Everyday, I wrote about Kirstin’s accomplishments. “Today Kirstin asked a question. Kirstin helped make her bed. Now Kirstin can put on her shoes.”

As I have said, Kirstin’s attendance in the regular preschool pointed out many areas where she fell behind. Every day Flo would write about something Kirstin had trouble with. “Today, Kirstin wouldn’t participate with the other children. Kirstin had trouble using scissors. It is hard for Kirstin to color inside the lines.”

Every day, I read Flo’s comments and felt more and more frustrated. One day after reading all the things that Kirstin couldn’t do that day, I wrote, “Isn’t there anything Kirstin can do?” That was my aha moment. It was at the moment I decided to become a special education teacher. I would focus on what students were able to do and use that to build upon. That way we would focus on the positive not the negative. If you can do one thing, I surmised, you can learn more, and there’s no way to tell how far that can take us. That has stayed my teaching philosophy for twenty-nine years.

It was during my course work in special education I had another experience that contributed to what would later become my teaching philosophy. One of my professors had worked at the Coolidge facility and related this story to us. He was looking in on some of the residents, and while he was there he told a joke to the nurses. They didn’t get the joke, but a woman with cerebral palsy laughed. Her cerebral palsy was so severe that she could not move her arms or legs, nor could she speak. Confined to a bed or wheelchair, she required constant care as if she were a baby.

The fact that she laughed intrigued my professor, so he decided to try a little experiment. Arranging the room so she could not see him, he told another joke. Again she laughed. This was repeated, and in every instance, she laughed at the appropriate time. Certain that her brain activity was much more than anyone knew (people with cerebral palsy can have average intelligence and above), he decided to develop a program so that she would be able to communicate and learn.

Before he could put his plan into effect, the family of the woman took her home for Christmas. While she was there, she developed pneumonia and died. It struck me as so tragic that, for her entire life, she had been unable to express to others the extent of her understanding of what was going on around her. And now that someone had discovered the truth about her, it was too late. That story has stayed with me, and it is the reason why I never give up on a single student. How do I know if the next thing I try will be the answer?

From This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world. Available at amazon