Here is my sixteenth reflection. I skipped a week. I talked to the wonderful people in my church. When I began writing these articles we thought I would do it until the pandemic was over. That was seventeen weeks ago! So I am writing one every other week and alternating with devotionals from the book on SIta – Pawprints on my soul: Lessons from a service dog.
Here is an article on raising your voice. I hope you enjoy it and stay safe and well everyone!
Jane’s Sixteenth Reflection
(Please note that we will begin offering a series of devotionals by Jane as well, alternating with these wonderful articles.)
BE A VOICE – NOT AN ECHO – FOR OTHERS!
Recently, I was shopping with a friend and came across a decorated sign that stated, “Be a voice, not an echo.” We stared at each other and I said I had to buy it. She stated, “This is so you!” Later, I found out it was a quote from the great Albert Einstein.
I have been an advocate for people with disabilities my entire life, starting in my 20’s. I always became defensive if I perceive someone with a disability being made fun of, or taken advantage of. Part of this is because I was bullied as a child in school, as a result of being the only student wearing a large ugly body aid. I later obtained a master’s in rehabilitation counseling, a doctorate in counseling, and the first graduate class I taught was on the newly passed American with Disabilities Act in 1990. I constantly am coaching people on their rights, have written several articles, and conducted many workshops on assisting people with disabilities.
Along came my service hearing ear dog, Sita. I became an even stronger advocate when refused entry in public places, plus constantly being questioned why I have the dog since hearing is an invisible disability. I even had a woman yell at me in a grocery store that I did not need the dog as much as her mother because my hearing was not as bad – really!
Then along came cancer. I was stunned by tactless remarks made to me like, “I get tired too” or the professional going over my medical history stating, “Well, you have already lived longer than you are supposed to.” I could not believe how people blurt out these things without thinking.
After several years, I began my writing and started to be honest about my feelings. However, with all of my training, all of my life spent as an advocate, and all the years I worked as a rehabilitation counselor with people with disabilities, I never knew until I joined the Congregational UCC how much a church could be involved in social justice for everyone, not just those with disabilities.
This is a church that takes social justice very seriously. The sermons are centered on what we do to make the world a better place. Our discussion among ourselves includes topics about how to be anti-racist, and to listen to other people more carefully. We are always suggesting books to each other to read and enlighten us. Our church has sponsored prayer vigils in support of the LGBTQ community. We had an informative program and rally after ICE invaded two of our local factories and falsely arrested immigrants. The program involved inviting speakers working directly with the immigrants, who came and told us how we could assist the people who had lost their jobs and were in dire straits. Advocates from all over the community and other churches came to talk and donate money and time.
Anyone is welcome and accepted who enters our doors, and we know there is a huge difference between being just welcomed and being accepted. When we leave the parking lot there is a sign stating simply and eloquently, “You are now entering the mission field.” This is to remind us that we shouldn’t only think of generosity and love on Sunday, but apply what we learn on Sunday to our lives and communities all week. For example, our tiny church has a backpack program for our local school that offers nutritious pre-prepared food and school supplies, gives clothing, food and much-needed items to those in need, donates time and effort to help the food insufficient, and even gives supplies to local animal rescues and Circle Tail, where Sita came from. (For more information on the CUCC missions, please see our site at https://www.cucccanton.org/our-mission-work
I find myself using my voice more than ever. However, where my younger self would sometimes be sharp and loud, I have learned from this congregation to voice differently. I watch gentle people being advocates and marching in protests without raising their voices. Some of you remind me of the expression, “Walk carefully and carry a big stick.” I find myself quietly saying to people that I am uncomfortable with a prejudiced or misinformed comment.
The sign I bought is on a shelf over my computer where I write. I look at it daily and am thankful for my pastor and congregation, who have taught me so much. How to be cognizant of being a voice for everyone and not just shouting. To be conscious of my prejudices. To quietly intervene when needed and stand up for someone of another race or color or sexual orientation. To educate myself and learn from others.
We can all be a voice and not an echo in daily life. We can work on our own biases. The Bible teaches us this when Jesus says, “Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye??” [Matthew 7:3 (CEB)] We all need to examine our belief system and be a voice. And thank you my family at CUCC for teaching me this!