Life, Love, and Cerebral Palsy By Sarah Calvert

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude." -Scott Hamilton

Hey, I'm Sarah!! I'm a pretty average teenager- I like hanging out with friends, watching movies, listening to music, and eating spoonfuls of Nutella. However, there is one thing that isn't so normal about me- I have cerebral palsy!

Many people know this about me, so I won't dive into further specifics. However, there are five different aspects of CP that I've encountered in my life that I'd like to address in this post: Trial and Error, Love, Sports, Life Lessons, and Spirituality.

TRIAL AND ERROR

Most people realize that it's pointless to tell me I "can't" do something, because that won't stop me from trying to do it. Instead, I've heard this phrase a lot: "I just think it would be really hard for you."

In the summer before sixth grade, I had an osteotomy on my both of my femurs: they were cut in half, rotated into the correct position, and screwed back into place with six screws and a metal plate. For the following four months, I had to use a wheelchair to get around, and then I spent an additional two walking with the aid of a walker. Not being able to get around or move in the way I wanted to was definitely frustrating at times.

The summer following my surgery, my ward went on trek. Being the stubborn person I am, I wanted to go. As our ward prepared for it, most of my leaders warned me that it would be really hard for me and that they had a wagon if I wanted to ride inside it. I was grateful for their help, but I told myself I was going to walk as far as I could- if the pioneers could do it, then so could I! Our trek was 31 miles, over the space of 3 days. I only rode in the wagon for about a mile and a half, somehow managing to walk 29 miles. (I'm pretty sure my pioneer ancestors were supporting me the entire way; I don't think I could've done it without some heavenly help!)

CP also makes it incredibly difficult for me to perform two separate tasks at the same time. I've always had a passion for music, and still wish I could play the piano. I can read the notes and play the top hand just fine- the problem comes only when I try to play the top and bottom hand at the same time.

One day, I told my doctor at Primary Children's that I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. She thought about it for a moment and finally said, "You can, but it will be really hard." Excited, I thought to myself, "It's okay! You can do it." My parents bought me a guitar and I started lessons- and it was sooooo frustrating!! For the first couple months, it was difficult to try and move my fingers to different chords while plucking the strings with my other hand. But I wanted to do it, so I practiced. I Googled finger exercises and practiced imaginary chords against my knee. It sounds silly, but that's what I did.

And it WORKED.

Now, I'm still not as good as any other normal musician- it's been almost five years since I started playing, and I can probably play as well as someone who has had two or three years of lessons. But I can now play chords and strum simultaneously- something that used to be impossible.

I don't share these experiences to brag. Trust me when I say there are several things I've tried that I will never be good at- rollerskating, basketball, ballet- just to name a few. But I know that there will be times in your life that someone might say: "This will be really hard for you."

Just because something is hard doesn't mean you can't do it.

The hardest parts of life teach us the biggest lessons and show us our biggest strengths. You can do hard things. If you practice and persevere, anything is possible.

LOVE

In recent years, the biggest internal challenge CP has caused is definitely a negative self-image.

Disabilities are not attractive, and I know that. I'm clumsy and I walk weird, and those aren't qualities on anyone's list for people they want to date.

However, I have learned that the boys who date me do so because of who I am, not because of what I look like, and that's an amazing thing. They don't date me because they think I'm hot or gorgeous, they date me because they like me as a person.

Once, my teacher told my class, "Remember to not judge a book by it's cover," and someone commented: "Only ugly people say that."

Personally, I am a firm believer at looking for the inner beauty in people. Having CP has taught me that you have to dig under the surface to find what's important about someone- it's truly what's on the inside that counts. There's a reason we love people with our hearts and not our eyes. And you should surround yourself with people who love you because they know what's on the inside.

SPORTS

I am blessed to be in a family that is pretty dang involved with sports. Football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball... you name it, my siblings have done it. And a lot of times, I get asked if it ever makes me feel sad that I can't play with them.

Yes, sometimes, it does get pretty frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines. However, being in "a sports family" it has taught me something really important: It's totally possible for people with different interests and abilities to love each other. My family always supports me in what I love to do, and I always support them. There are plenty of other things we love to do together.

For someone who's not actually an athlete, I've learned that athletes are actually pretty dang awesome. (plus, an extensive knowledge about football is really useful in conversations with cute boys ;) ). Sports have taught me that you're more successful when you work hard, rely on your teammates, and learn from your loses. Not every trial we go through is going to be a win, sometimes we fail and have to try again.

I think my entire family can agree that it's probably a good thing I can't play sports, since I'm arguably the most competitive person in the family. (Again, thank you stubbornness!)

SPIRITUALITY

I can't talk about CP without talking about my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, because I know there's no way I could face the daily battles it brings me without their help.

I've heard many of my church leaders say that we knew in the pre-mortal life what trials we would have in this life, and that we accepted them. (Even that we CHOSE some of them!) Man, I've got to have a talk with myself one of these days- what was I thinking? ;)

In all seriousness, having cerebral palsy is one of the things that I am grateful for every day. I don't think I would be this good of a person without it- it's taught me how to be kind, accepting, open-minded, and stubborn. It's taught me the value of hard work and determination. It's shown me what's really important in this life, and it's surrounded me with so many people who love me unconditionally.

Perhaps the most important lesson that it's taught me is that God gives us trials to refine us, not define us. At many points in my life, I have felt restricted and defined by my cerebral palsy- like there's a big orange sticker on my forehead that says, "Hey, I'm disabled." I feel at times out of place, awkward, and obvious. But what I've realized is that cerebral palsy has taken me to my weakest points and forced me to become better, stronger, and ready to take on the next challenge.

It has allowed me to rely on God for strength and comfort. I have spent many nights on my knees, asking Him to help me. Although I have not ever seen Him, I have seen His hand every single day of my life in each person that helps me. I am forever grateful for the infinite mercy and love of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

LIFE LESSONS

If you've stuck this long through the post, thank you! I know I like to talk a lot, but I promise it's almost over. Here are ten simple things that having CP has taught me over the years.

1. Sometimes, you have to fall down before you can overcome something. Being on the ground provides a new perspective.

2. People are good, and God is even better.

3. There are more important things to worry about besides what people think of you.

4. Hugs are like Band-aids for the soul.

5. It's impossible to be happy all the time, but you can always choose to be positive. There's a silver lining in every rain cloud!

6. No matter how many times you fall, there's always a way to get back up and keep going.

7. Compassion is the greatest weapon against hatred- it's important to love others unconditionally and to show them their strengths.

8. Tough battles create strong soldiers.

9. Everyone is important, and it's important to make every person you meet feel important.

10. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is simply smile and endure.

In conclusion, I'd like to include some words from other people besides myself. I asked a bunch of my friends and family this week what they think CP is. At first, I was merely expecting them to give me a definition- I definitely thought at least one person would say, "It means you're really clumsy!" But there were a lot of really heartwarming answers.. I've included a few of my favorites below.

Thank you so much for reading this ENTIRE, super long post- and thank you thank you thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for loving and supporting a clumsy, talkative girl with cerebral palsy. You make my heart happy.

WHAT IS CP TO YOU?

  • "It means that you smile all the time."
  • "It doesn't stop anyone from being amazing."
  • "Strength to work through hard things."
  • "A struggle that the strongest people embrace as part of themselves and inspire others with."
  • "For every problem a person with CP faces, a serious blessing is put into place tenfold. Yes, life with a disability can be hard, but some of the most angelic people I know have the hardest things to face, and CP is one of those."
  • "CP is strength and determination despite physical pain and obstacles. It is intelligence, a positive attitude, a unique perspective, and an unconditional love for others."
  • "Happiness and positivity."

xoxo

Sarah

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