Monday, June 11, 2012

Intelligence Designed

Recently, one of my friends had surgery and was placed on bed rest.  Her postings on Facebook showed her increasing negativity as she was stuck at home watching cable news--the stories of corrupt politicians, people abusing or neglecting children, and celebrity nonsense.  Another friend aptly responded to one of her posts by saying, “Stop watching the news.  It’s hazardous to your healing.”
This resonated with me then, and I have continued to come back to this thought over and over as each day brings with it more bad news.  Clearly, it’s important to stay informed about what is happening in the world around us, but I get angry, bitter, and exhausted by the stories I hear.  We can all benefit from turning off the noise.  I have to find the things in my world that bring me peace and joy and wonder.
So, let me introduce you to my friend, Wes:
I like to call this picture "Mount Wesmore."
I met Wes when he was born (over 17 years ago).  His parents, Wade and Jules, were friends with my parents.  I watched Wes grow as I volunteered in the church nursery--watched him toddle around, his curly, blond hair flying wispily beneath the brim of his cowboy hat.  One of the stories that gets retold in our neck of the woods frequently is one in which after Wes’ little sister, Alex, was born, his mom found him standing near her with his invisible cowboy lasso.  When asked what he was doing, he replied, “I wanna rope her!”
Jules, Wade, Wes, and Alex
When Wes went to preschool, his parents noticed that he wasn’t reaching some of his developmental milestones as they expected.  Wes was a happy child, engaged in his environment, a natural comedian, but when he started working on coloring pages, his parents noticed something was wrong.
After taking Wes to a pediatric ophthamologist, they learned that Wes had a degenerative disorder that affected his depth perception.  Over the years, Wade and Jules worked around Wes’ “disability” by providing him with nonconventional learning environments.  They molded their lifestyle to make sure Wes’ needs were at the center--exploring options with homeschooling and tutors and private schools that catered to Wes’ individual needs.  They sought the best medical treatment possible, and eventually, Wes underwent surgery to correct the problem.
In recalling that time, Wes’ mom, Jules, told me, “We went to the doctor whom everyone said was the best.  The doctor prayed before the surgery, and the word he used to describe the result was ‘miracle.’”  The surgery restored 90% of Wes’ perception issues, which had degenerated over ten years.
Because of his condition, Wes never learned conventionally, something that his parents embraced wholeheartedly.  As an educator, I am aware of the multiple intelligences that humans possess, but our society does not always encourage different learning styles.  We teach to the test and focus on measuring “intelligence” quantitatively, but there is no test that can measure our ability to adapt to change or overcome obstacles.  There is no test for how well we relate to others or how our intelligence is displayed through writing, acting, or painting.  So, these kids--kids like Wes whose strengths are in their art and interpersonal skills--are not lauded in the way they deserve.
As a parent (and someone who DOES learn in a very academic, conventional way), I am inspired by Wade and Jules and their commitment to their kids.  I hope and pray that I can be as patient and diligent about fostering an environment where my boys’ strengths are applauded, encouraged, and reinforced by me as their parent.
Now, let me introduce you to Wes’ intelligence:

All of the above pictures with the exception of the ones with Wes in them were taken by Wes (please don't use them without my and his permission).  His family just got back from a trip to the “North US of A” as he titled the album on his Facebook wall.  When I scrolled through his pictures yesterday, I found myself weeping alone in my living room.  And you know what else I did?  I prayed--a prayer of thankfulness for this not-so-little boy’s spirit and my ability to witness the miracle that is his life.

All of this from a kid with perception issues.
I called and asked Wes if I could blog about him (and then asked his mom for permission because despite his very mature talent, he’s still a minor!). I asked Wes to email the originals, so I could post some of them on my blog, and he emailed me the ones I asked for and a few extras, saying he felt like God told him to send them.  The first is a picture of a car, and as soon as I showed it to my boys, they said in unison, “MATER!”  The others confirmed what I already knew about him--two of them are pictures of his cutie-patootie sister, Alex, and one is a picture of his parents kissing.  To me, this speaks volumes about the kind of human Wade and Jules have been growing.

Wes is one of the smartest miracles I know.  I asked him if he has ever taken photography classes, and he told me his parents asked a local photographer from his hometown to show him how his camera works a couple of months ago.  Just recently, a local coffee shop/mini-gallery in Wes’ hometown asked him if they could feature some of his prints.  Someone else saw some of his drawings (once he learned to color, he became a pretty spectacular artist, too) and asked if they could use them for t-shirt designs.
I believe in the redemptive power of our stories and their ability to inspire hope and bind us together.  Wes’ life is just one example of the beauty in my world that far outweighs the ugly.  And it’s fitting that one of Wes’ pictures sums up my thoughts so well: