Last Week I Went to a Mosque

Thursday morning I was invited to attend a gathering at a local mosque between 5-530 p.m. in Macomb, IL. The purpose of the gathering was to show our Muslim friends that we are here for them and love having them in our community. I was all in after receiving the invitation.

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I’m standing in the back row on the left. 

I headed there after Physical Therapy, and anticipated it being a quick in and out type deal. I  should have known better.  After all, Dr. Sodiq (my World Religion professor at TCU) and every single Muslim I’ve met since have been nothing but kind. Still, I was nervous…I was attending by myself and TBI survivors don’t really like social situations, and I am already introverted. I’m more the “sneak in and out without being noticed to leave a card” kind of person. Still, this mattered to me, so I went.

I thought my plan of leaving a card might not work out, after all how in the world would I sneak in quietly?  (Please picture in your mind 6′ tall me, with my backpack, cane, and foot drop trying to tip toe). Upon entering the mosque I learned that I was catching the tail end of the event. Here is when I began to feel ever grateful for my decision to go in.

If you are unaware, it is proper manners to remove your shoes when entering the worship area. So, there were shoes snuggly set aside in the entry way. As soon as I entered, I was greeted and welcomed to go on in. I did my best to mumble through my concerns about how I couldn’t take off my shoes (foot drop on soft carpet is not a recipe for being able to walk). Once I explained it, I was told that I could just go in and that it wasn’t a problem. So, I did my best to take some steps into the room.  I made it about 6 feet into the room, and stood looking around to take it all in. There were all sorts of people visiting and sharing food. It was beautiful.

I was then approached by a young man (young means younger than me) and asked if I wanted some tea. I replied that it would be wonderful, and was quickly poured a cup. Next, I was approached my another young man asking if I wanted to sit down. I replied that a chair would be great, and he proceeded to ask folks to move so that there was space. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have someone I don’t know do that for me. I was in sensory overload at that point, and am not sure that I would have tried to sit down without his help.

Then I was asked if I wanted a plate of food. Seriously, who says no to that! The plate of food I was brought was almost all sweets, which are my weakness…so, in other words perfect!.  Suddenly another person came and sat down to my right. If any of you follow my left neglect stories you know that I struggle looking left, so it felt like a relief when I could look right and be talking to someone. I then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening talking to him. I learned that: he is from Libya (“one of the seven” is how he phrased it…can you imagine becoming comfortable saying that about your home country?); he is in graduate school at WIU; he has not been home in three years; he misses home; and that he agrees with me that we are all here to do good and that the commonality amongst all religions is love. He also helped me to stand up twice (again, thick carpet after PT is not helpful), helped me to find a spot in the group photo taken, and asked me if I wanted an English copy of the Quaraan (Side note: I did.)

I am sharing all of this because the day leading up to my visit was not a great day, so spending time getting to know someone was exactly what I needed to do.  My heart was replenished.

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Signs the children made for the Islamic Center. 

Yes, yes, I encourage us all to learn from those that are different. Yes, you can read information about difference, but there is nothing quite like sitting down and having a conversation with a person. I was not scared.  It was not scary.  The room was full of love. I wish this kind of heart-filling love upon all of us.

Today is my Happy New Year!

Today is the two year anniversary of what I’ve dubbed “my life explosion“. Some might think it is odd that I acknowledge this date, and even sometimes refer to it as my new birthday.

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My life on  January 6, 2015

For me, however, I’d rather put it out there than keep my acknowledgement of it inside. So, here I am, two years later still working on recovery…a process that is measured in years and not months or days like some other illnesses.

 

“The actual length of the rehabilitation process varies according to the person and to the severity of their injury. Some people may only require a few weeks or months of rehabilitation, and others may require years or even lifelong rehabilitation.”

(http://www.brainline.org/landing_pages/categories/rehabilitation.html)

 

I can see my growth over the past year. I am much stronger, and can therefore walk a bit better and last longer before hitting complete exhaustion (and my goodness the exhaustion).  I am better able to complete higher order executive functioning skills. And, I continue to challenge myself so that my neurons build complex pathways.

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Me=Snoopy

I also recognize the accomplishments I’ve achieved. For example, several times over the past year my Physical Therapist has strapped me into a harness over a treadmill. Each time my goal was to get to 3.5 in my speed (the lowest speed that is considered running), and the past few times I’ve done it I have reach my goal….albeit, the longest I can last at that speed is 5 minutes, but still, I was running.

I have hit my goal of 4,000 steps a day for almost all of this current school year (I take one day a week off…see exhaustion note above). It has helped to have a furry friend to enjoy going on walks with, and he goes at whatever speed I go, so it works out well. I’ve fallen several times on my walks, but let’s be real…I’ve always been clumsy. The best part is that Optimus is right there looking at me when I do without judgement.

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My furry friend, Optimus Prime.

Somehow I’ve managed to travel and present at conferences, as well as attend and participate in a wedding, and I say somehow because there is a ridiculous amount of sensory input in airports and conference centers. Even hotel carpeting…seriously, what is up with hotel carpeting? Does it really need to be (often) bright geometric patterned?  These are important questions, people, so please pay attention…it is dizzying. Not one of these adventures would have been possible without my co-presenters and my a0aab073555e4c72cd69f8d1e00ec450bdventure partner.

I often spot others with walking challenges wherever I go. Yes, these folks were probably around me before my life explosion, but I truly see them.

I also recognize the hypocrisy of a call for social justice that continually stays silent about the issue of disability.  If 19% of the population reports having a disability perhaps we can find a way to talk about it more?

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I really hope that you saw this and were not okay with it no matter your vote.

I  wrote a book. I’m not sure if it is any good, and I’m still working on editing it. I often remind myself that it took Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor 10 years for her to share her story. Perhaps I am emulating her in some sort of way.  What I do know is that I needed to get my life explosion out of me as a method of grieving (also a reason I talk a lot about Optimus).

There has been a lot that I’ve lost, and I am sad about it. It is okay to be sad.

Still, I want to use my story to encourage/help others, and so I’ve shared bits of it at community wide events, a classroom of speech therapists in training, and a monthly support group for caregivers of stroke survivors. I hope that by sharing it I’ve helped others in some way as all of these groups of people have helped me.

Goal for 2017: Do much of the same as this past year, except add looking at my experiences with more gratitude.  I spent a lot of time over the past year thinking “I woke back up for this?! Why?”

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My Macomb Family (Me, Optimus, John, Anas, and Amjad)

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with two students from Syria, and couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that we were eating good food, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. Who would have thought I would be sitting around a table two years later enjoying time with two people from Syria in Macomb, Illinois?

 

This world we live in often looks like this:       scribbles

when we want it to look like this:       straight_line

Perhaps if it did we would miss out on discovering all of the:       main-thumb-t-1800-200-lon8kkfhqfctckdt2gwalfgnc0jejhmv

that exists where the lines cross.

Happy 2017 Everyone!

Another School Year Started

I took a break from personally blogging this summer, and need to get back into the swing of doing it at least once a month. For these reasons, I thought I would post about my summer and the beginning of the school year.

For starters, the first week of the new school year is over.  Woo hoo, 🙂 I did it!  I will say that I notice my energy went up over the summer, which is exciting.  Still, I am quite exhausted in the evenings and have spent a good bit of time sleeping this weekend.

I am still going to physical therapy at the local hospital to work on my continued recovery.  Yes, this means that I’m continuing to also improve physically too.  I do still have foot drop, but I have become much stronger, the spasticity has decreased, and I can walk faster.  One of my goals is to be able to run, and I am happy to say that I got to a speed of 3.5 on the treadmill (which is the lowest speed for running), and I can do that for just over 3 minutes.  Yes, to do this I wear a harness that is attached to the ceiling in case I fall, but I can still do it!

This summer I worked again on the book I’m writing about my January 2015 life explosion (as I now call it). I finished another draft of it in early August, and am having someone edit it for me now. I actually think it isn’t too bad, and might possibly be something folks want to read. I’ve kept it focused on the patient perspective of everything I’ve been through. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it is worthwhile.

Third, I did get to go to my favorite place, Lake Vermilion, MN, this summer for two weeks. This year I had a chance to spend time with family, and I swam in the lake. I tried out a pool later in the summer too. FYI, swimming is very hard, but also very enjoyable. A special moment was when my niece taught me to do all of the swimming moves she learned from her swim instructor when I told her that I was afraid to swim. Like a good student, I listened to her instructions.

I also taught a summer course, which was quite enjoyable, and I prepared for my fall semester courses.  Now that I have a better understanding of my disabilities, I was able to be more strategic in my planning.  All of this is to say that I feel as though I’m both improving and adjusting…hopefully the first year back was the hardest for this “new” body I inhabit.

It was great to see the students both in classes this week, as well as those in the Western 1st Generation Society (W1Gs) group.  I am very excited to say that all of the students in the group came back to WIU this fall, and are prepared for the Activities Fair next week.  I anticipate it will be a great year thanks to all of them too!

Finally, no great year would be complete without a new dog.  He is a 5 year old PomChi mix that we adopted from the McDonough County Animal Shelter.  I know that not everyone is a dog person, but it is pretty awesome to have something SO EXCITED to great me each time I come home.  Dogs are the best! 🙂

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Is Illinois’s Higher Education Funding the State’s Massive Resistance?

A few weeks back, I was listening to a radio show about the upcoming presidential election that will occur this November. Please know that I typically limit my intake of political advertising because it is overwhelming and designed purposefully to have you think a certain way.  However, the radio was on, and the show came on, so I listened.

The hosts on the radio show were going to go to various places around the country to explore if where you live impacts what you want from your government.  They call their show “The View from Here”.  Unsurprisingly, although perhaps it is a surprise for those that do not live in Illinois, the most representative place in the United States based on race, income, religion, etc. is Peoria, Illinois.  So, this is where the hosts decided to start their show.  And, it is for this same reason of representation that I believe those who work in higher education throughout the United States should pay attention to what is going on within the state of Illinois.  It is bound to come your way soon too.  After all, our world is interconnected.

What is the “it” that I am talking about?

It is not the high taxes.

It is not the dismantling of unions.

It is not the strategic movement of money from the public to the private sector.

I have two thoughts about what the “it” is:

First, it is the inability to compromise between two polarized points of view.  For example, not wanting to raise taxes, and keeping pension plans the same.  You might ask, what is being learned from this dichotomy?   To me, it is that if one has enough means one does not need to compromise, but rather should dig in their heels until they get what they want.  A point to consider is that in this battle, no matter who wins, the winner will be of a class that most of us do not have access too.

Second, higher education will become what public k-12 education was in Prince Edward County during the Civil Rights era.  If you are unfamiliar with Barbara Johns and the walk out that she led, you should become familiar.  A quick overview: In

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Photo credit: Joan Johns Crobbs

1956 the state of Virginia moved to block itself from having to desegregate their school in accordance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.  The move was coined the Massive Resistance. For five years, because Prince Edward County did not want to desegregate, they closed the public schools.  This, as one might imagine, led to only those who could afford private education to be able to attend school.  In other words, and at the time, the White students.  The hope was that other counties in Virginia and other states would view Prince Edward as an example and follow suit. A fairly long, but quite engaging series of events occurred, which prevented the Prince Edward County example taking root in other places. To this day, Prince Edward County is healing both economically and in terms of community relations.

So, how is it that I see this connected to the current issues within the state of Illinois?  If Illinois is not careful, it will rid itself of public education, which will leave private education to only those that can afford it. 

Yes, one might say, but they would never rid themselves of the University of Illinois, it is an elite institution.  Yes and at many elite public institutions the questions of going private has surfaced for many reasons.  Here is another article on the difference between public and private institutions.

Now, keeping this in mind, and switch out the idea of race from the Virginia Massive Resistance, and replace it with the idea of class (albeit there is overlap between the two identities), thus is born Illinois’s version of the Massive Resistance.  You might be thinking, what is it that is being resisted?  And that is a fair question. My response is connected to point number one above.

No compromise is being found because the two polarized points of view are actually connected.  Each side is resisting the other so that everything stays exactly the same, which is a Virginia a la 1954 kind of move Illinois-style.  No budget is passed in Illinois, Prince Edward County did not have to desegregate…no matter the method, the price is great for all of us when we abandon education and there will be ramifications for years to come.

Congratulations to the Class of 2015 New Student Affairs Professionals!

The following is the speech I gave at the graduation reception for Western Illinois University’s College Student Personnel program 2015 graduates.  I share it, slightly amended, because I think that it applies to all graduates entering the field of student affairs as new professionals.  Congratulations to everyone!

Hello, parents, family, and friends. My name is Sarah Schoper, and it is wonderful to stand before you here today. I want to start off by thanking you for being who you are because who you are has had a profound impact on the students. I have truly valued getting the opportunity to learn with each of them, and find them to be amazingly, beautiful individuals. I look forward to seeing how they contribute to the world around them, and cheering them on from afar.

(You should be forewarned that my mom told me to be funny so that I wouldn’t cry, and what I’m going to share is my attempt to do that.)

As you may have heard from your student, I decided to take a last minute sabbatical this semester (they probably referred to it as a trip to the hospital). Apparently, I felt the need to do a little more research on the biology of learning, and have indeed discovered that the experiential learning cycle is how learning occurs, that neurons need to connect to build pathways in the brain for learning to happen, and that we take in information through all of our sense that contributes to our learning, amongst other things. I am still in the midst of my research, also known as therapy, but so far, I can assure you and your student that I’m doing everything I can to teach only accurate and true information. It is this most recent research process that I’ve engaged in that has led me to five points, I want to share with the graduates to consider as they continue on in their life’s journey.

1.  Celebrate everything (and if you do so with nonalcoholic mimosas, various owl gifts, inspirational items, orange nails, and motivational quotes) all the better! In our world, it is far too easy to see the gl10968367_10204276114079969_5288278294979119983_nass half empty rather than half full. Don’t underestimate the small steps you take because they add u10562959_10206085533515956_3287090894491426514_np over time to big changes.

2. If you are doing your job well, you will be uncomfortable and feel quite challenged. (no, this doesn’t mean that you should go around instigating issues haphazardly). Going into the field of student affairs means that you get the opportunity to impact every day (no matter your position) the lives of the students you interact with in ways that are life altering. This enormous amount of responsibility and privilege should leave you feeling uncomfortable and challenged for many reasons, including that by doing so you are also continuing to grow and develop. (which, as we learned together in theory class, most of us don’t want to do.) So, breathe deeply, stand tall, and be persistent as you find yourself feeling uneasy, it might just signify that learning is about to happen, which is hard, but also might just provide an amazing opportunity to grow.

3. (and this relates to the point I just made about seeking out uncomfortable experiences and challenging yourself.) Do your best to step back so that you can get a different perspective on the situations you are experiencing. This can mean taking time to quietly reflect while going on a walk and/or it can mean discussing a situation with a trusted friend or mentor in order to help process out your experiences. We discussed once in class how we tend to focus on those who we interact with the most (which are also those who happen to be like us the most), but remember it is important to be aware of those we don’t spend time with and to consider why that might be. Especially since student affairs exists to serve all students.

4. It is okay to be protective of your environment, so that you can be yourself, and perhaps more importantly, so that you can have hope. In almost every class, we’ve discussed the interaction between environment and person, and we’ve established that it has a profound impact on how a person makes sense of the world, which in turn has a profound impact on what they contribute to the world. If you don’t create space for hope to exist within the educational environment, it is far too easy…especially these days, to become negative and cynical, which will then impact the work that you do and the learning that occurs for your students. If you don’t believe me about this, consider times when you’ve been around people who are pessimistic about their experience and how easily their negatively caught on and became the thing to do…almost without conscious realization of it. You will pass along such negativity to those coming to you for help if you do not create space for hope.

5. (and perhaps most important) Show love to everyone around you. I know that you are all capable of doing so, because you have shown it to me (especially this semester as I’ve been doing my research 🙂 ). Doing so, won’t always be easy either (again, sort of like this semester), but it has the ability to transform the world into a kindeunconditional_lover place, and I know this because it has transformed me.

During your program interview days, I remember sitting in the academic discussion, and one of you asking me to share what I’ve learned from the students since I had just finished talking about how learning goes both ways. At the time, I had a lot of thoughts in my head, and stumbled through my answer—the student came to WIU, so I must have done something right.  🙂  Now, that you all are about to graduate, the answer to that questions seems so clear. I’ve continually learned how to love more unconditionally, and for that, I am ever grateful. You’ve helped transform me into a stronger person, and I thank you for that because I’ve needed that strength this semester. One of my mentors, Marcia Baxter Magolda, once told me to never underestimate the students, and I sincerely believe that and encourage you all to hold onto it. All students have something to contribute, and it is amazing and beautiful to acknowledge and an honor to be a part of that.

So, in conclusion, I will leave you with two quotes. First, a Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh quote (seems sort of fitting at a graduate level graduation):

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The second quote is from a spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZfhpD42Z4Y  The specific quote I read starts on 4 minutes, 2 seconds.

“Shine in the dark places. Lend the world your light.”

From my heart to your heart, thank you for helping me to find my light this semester—I can only hope that I have returned the favor and helped you to find yours during your time in the program. Congratulations!

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Seven Lessons I’ve Learned From My Strokes

2015 has been quite the year to say the least.  Lately, I’ve been reflecting on various ways in which I’ve begun to establish a “new normal” for myself.  The following are 7 of those ways:

1. Thank goodness for long arms.  3417c9e4d91ec9173f180293fc781b59They’ve helped me be a state rated basketball player for blocked shots in high school, and make the all-conference team, and they’ve annoyed me when I’ve gone clothes shopping.  But mostly these days, I’m ever grateful for their ability to reach…especially when taking a shower.  I currently get the opportunity to take a shower in a shower chair, which means an extendable shower sprayer had to be installed too.  Ideally, before I take a shower either I or my husband remember to take down the sprayer and set it in the tub, but there has been occasions in which it has been forgotten.  During these situations, I used my arms to get it down without having to stand up, so that I don’t fall over (falling would pretty much be the worst thing that I could do).  My arms have also helped me greatly in putting on my afo, getting dressed, and in completing other tasks that require a long reach.

 

2. The quad cane has multiple uses.  This realization really should have been something that occurred to me after watching the Pixar movie Up for the first time.  29-1But, the many uses of it are coming into full effect now that I have one and use it.  I’ve used it to reach for puzzle pieces accidentally dropped on the floor.  I’ve turned it around to use the hook end to grab my MDH rehab bag.  I’ve used it to open and close various curtains in my house.  One day I will hopefully no longer need the quad cane for walking, but I might just keep it around for its other functions.

 

3. There are added benefits to living in the South.  I returned home at the end of February, and for the first few weeks there seemed to be a direct causation between my need to go to therapy and bad weather.  Unfortunately, this put a kink in my opportunity to take walks outside.  It has since turned to spring 🙂 , and I enjoy walking around the neighborhood.  But, I did notice how envious I was of my friends living in warmer climates during the end of February and most of the month of March.  Of course, I think I would feel different if it was July/August that I was talking about…I’d probably be complaining about the heat.  I fully support all of us getting the month of February off to move to a warmer climate to heal in various ways.

 

4. Fast does not exist.  M.C. Hammer declared Hammer time, and there now exists Sarah time.  It isn’t a matter of me waking up early enough, or not trying.  It is simply that I cannot move fast.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ridiculously slow, but I take a more relaxed pace these days. slow-300x185

 

5. It is sometimes better to not have answers.  When you don’t know why something occurred, you have more time to do things like notice each day how much the spring flowers have grown, the trees have bud, and you appreciate the birds chirping.  When you know the answers to things you often have a responsibility to use those answers to inform your experience in the world, and it can cause you to not notice many things.

 

6. Living takes courage.  courage-1Prior to all of my health concerns, I don’t think I was fully aware of how much courage it took for me to live my every day life.  I certainly realize it now, and more fully appreciate the people who are giving me opportunities to live.  Yes, I look different when I’m walking, but in order for me to get better, I need to be given chances to do what I used to be able to do.  Asking for those opportunities and then taking advantage of them takes all of the courage I have left.  I get that providing me such opportunities might make some people feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, but honestly I can’t help but feel so strongly that those folks need to work on getting over it.  Those issues aren’t mine, they are the other persons and to truly be accepting of others we need to be aware of what is our stuff and what is their stuff and what they are doing to our interactions/relationships.  After all, we are in this world together.

 

7. Learning is painful.  I had a student once who coined the phrase “if you aren’t crying, you aren’t learning”.  I don’t know that crying is necessary, but pain is most certainly necessary.  Both here in Macomb and when I was in Peoria, if I shared with any of my therapists that I was feeling physical pain of any sort, their response was often “Good! Pain is the first feeling to come back, so hopefully it means it is waking up.”  This, of course, was not the response I was aiming for, yet I did notice the pattern associated with pain and physical ability improvement.

Starting a Student Organization for First Generation Students

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A few students within the College Student Personnel program at Western Illinois University and I have been meeting over the past few weeks to discuss (and put in motion) the creation of a student organization for First Generation students. This next week, on September 25, we will host our first interest meeting (Sept. 25, 5-6 p.m., Fox Room, University Union). How am I feeling about all of it?

I’m nervous and excited at the same time.

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The idea for a student organization came to me when my student affairs background and research interest collided in my mind.

(I “grew up” in the student activities area…orientation, leadership, commuter affairs, fraternity and sorority life, etc.)
+
(transformative learning)
= First Generation Student Organization Idea

And the idea was affirmed the other night when I attended a speaker, President and CEO of the NIC, Pete Smithhisler, sponsored by the fraternity and sorority life community at WIU. As I sat there listening to Pete speak about courage, I could not help but consider the founders of my own organization, Pi Beta Phi. What it took for them to first decide to go to college, and then to start I.C. Sorosis. I can see how the structure the Pi Beta Phi founders modeled is the same structure the students and I are emulating as we work to get the first gen. group up and running. I also think the creation of both groups is somewhat similar…or at least comparable:

A group of students with similar identities coming together to form what in many ways is a family as they proceed through college together.

These similarities give me hope, as I reflect on Pete’s speech and how much good fraternities and sororities have made in the world. We want the student organization to do good. Yet, how it will is still to be determined. We want the students to contribute to the creation of the group around the following values:

Dedication
Grit
Curiosity
Community
Integrity

Still though, even with the identification of values, how they are enacted is left to be determined. We know we don’t want it to be like a class, and aren’t trying to become a bridge program. Such initiatives are worthwhile, but different than the aim of a student organization. We do hope to have first generation faculty and staff involved in some way, but that way is still to be figured out. So much is still left to be decided, but that’s a part of what makes me nervous and excited. Here’s hoping for a nice turn out next Thursday night…all are invited. 🙂

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First Gen Flier