Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This is my Christianity

I recently wrote of my displeasure with certain positions taken by my fellow Christians. I realized today that I had not stated what my core beliefs as a Christian and as a fellow human being in this journey we call life are. In looking at my oldest daughter's Facebook page realizing that she has a strong Christian faith that she freely expresses in both words and deeds. This made me extremely proud of the beautiful, thoughtful young woman she is becoming so I must be doing something correct as her dad. It also made me realize that even though my faith has brought me through some extremely difficult and trying times while overcoming some mountainous barriers placed in my life, I have not freely expressed this even to my children. This is my belief which also tells me that I MUST NOT judge anyone else nor to force my beliefs on anyone since I am by far not a perfect person.

This is only the beginning of my conversation of my beliefs as a Christian. I believe as a Christian I have one guiding principle "To love your neighbor as thy self" and further "To love each other" which is the greatest commandments above ANY other. Yes, I recognize what other Christians say that Jesus is my Lord and Savior and I believe this is the way to heaven but Jesus taught us as Christians that this is a choice we make as individuals not to be forced on others through government dictate or other type of pressure or force. He stated it better than I ever could with the following Biblical lesson:

"We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him." -1 John 3:14-19 (NRSV)

This is what I am driven to achieve with my life and thus leave a better world for my daughters. Be well and happy!

Jeff Lester

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Am I Making a Difference?

I often wonder, "Am I making a difference?" This is not a question of self worth but rather one I believe is missing in society today. Often it seems that as a society we are more worried about money, celebrity, appearance, being entertained, proclaiming our faith or lack of it etc. that we have forgotten to ask ourselves a fundamental question. I don't pretend that I haven't fallen prey to the aforementioned trappings so I am not casting aspersions on anyone who does but the recent economic hardships, political campaigns and some items I have seen and read makes me wonder about the priorities and mindsets we have as a society. We will drive our kids all across the country to participate in sports yet educationally our children as a whole are falling behind. We are ready to shell out money for the latest trends or a $5 cup of coffee yet become indignant at helping out our brothers and sisters who are in difficult circumstances. We allow mouthpieces on both sides of a political issues spew the most divisive, offensive trash without consequence yet we forget that on 99% of an issue we agree. People have actually become and exclaim fear because of these commentators who play to the lowest and most profane parts of our human nature. The most troubling recent development for me as a Christian is reading statements or characterizations of the Christian faith such as “Conservative Christians”, “put on your Christian armor” or the worst of all actually questioning someone else’s expression of Christian faith. I do not claim to be either a Bible scholar or have any more insight on Christianity than anyone else but for me being a Christian comes with no other label than that. Neither does the teachings of Jesus have anything to do with armor since he freely associated with the most undesirable of society. If our Christian FAITH is so weak that we must put on armor to protect us from any other viewpoints shouldn’t we question our own strength of faith? Finally, how any Christian can cast conclusions about another person’s life especially their Christianity is against everything I believe as a Christian. He who is without sin can cast the first stone.

I often feel like Don Quixote since I am unsure if I really make a difference with my life or am I just fighting an imaginary good fight. I guess this is a self doubt we all have and must battle everyday but I will continue to wake each day and try this fight the good fight, improve in the roles I have as a friend, son, brother, husband and father and most of all try even in the small ways make a difference to IMPROVE our world. There are three extremely important reasons why I have and will continue to do this despite the barriers in my life Kelsey, Emily and Jordan. I am determined to leave a better world, a better more peaceful existence for my daughters!

Jeff Lester

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Please Do not Forget Us!

Dear President-Elect Obama,

I am writing you as a supporter, both in promoting your candidacy with words and financially, and as a member of a small, silent minority in this country the severely disabled from disease or injury which has made us wheelchair bound, dependent on others, sometimes ventilator dependent and confined to our homes or facilities. I recognize during this time of transition you have many critical and defining issues to plan for and deal with but; please do not leave this long forgotten minority that knows no bounds of race, religion, creed, age, sexuality etc., out of the change we so much desire.

Those of us afflicted did not seek nor do we desire to be wards of the system. We merely pray for assistance to achieve as normal a life as possible, that the government not add to our burden and that those who choose to help care for our needs that they not be punished for making this choice of ultimate love but rather receive as much support as possible. Those of us who are disabled mainly have one wish to have meaningful lives in which we contribute to the greater good of society. You will find no group with a bigger desire to answer your call of service to country and with today’s technology, there’s no reason we can’t do it. We only need the chance which you have the power to provide!

I do not presume to fully represent all those coping with severe disability nor do I believe my circumstances are any where close to the most difficult stories of others with severe physical disabilities. However, I will use my now 15 year journey with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, to outline some of the essential needs or barriers we face that have been long ignored. The most fundamental of these is the fact that we are treated as living ghosts in our society. This primarily is a result of society’s singular focus on physical attributes. There can be no starker example of this than when I was diagnosed as a single man at age 27 and told to go home and plan my funeral because my life was over. As now a married, father of three daughters at age 42 I rejected this thinking which is why I am currently a graduate student in the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s online program. The problem here is the archaic rules of Social Security and Medicare which keep us dependent on and virtual prisoners of these systems. This is a near insurmountable mountain keeping us from working and a more normal life which we desire. A second and related point is we just want a CHANCE to prove what we’re capable of contributing to society. When I was seeking assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation (the agency setup to assist those who are disabled to get back to work) to further my educational goals and professional goals to become a professor, I was actually told “your goals are too lofty, but we will help you become a bookkeeper . . . We do not believe you can achieve your goals.” Really in America where anything is supposed to be possible, is the position of a governmental agency to squash aspirations, another barrier.

In your campaign, when speaking of health care issues you alluded to the reality that many bankruptcies are the result of medical issues. Within the disability community, we account for most of those bankruptcies due to a perfect storm of government rules whose programs we’re forced into and insurance companies who hurl as many barriers at us as possible until they can find any excuse to eliminate their obligations to us. I can write pages on this issue, but I will focus on a situation that occurred me just last year. My long-term disability benefits were suddenly halted after 13 years because they decided they had overpaid me because they had not subtracted my daughter’s Social Security benefits meant to assist with their care. Had I chosen to have no children my disability payments would have been unaffected. Their position is to dollar for dollar reduce their obligation essentially taking Social Security benefits meant to assist disabled parents care for their children. This unjust loophole secretly utilized by insurance companies to shirk their obligations must be closed immediately.

Finally, the most significant point is the lack of recognition and even punishment of loving caregivers everywhere Even though caregivers at the very least are keeping us at home and saving the government the excessively high cost of nursing home care, they receive little if any compensation or even physical relief. Even worse they are often financially punished for their amazing choice to stand by us. In my wife’s case, she has seen a student loan grow from around $20,000 to over $70,000 because she has been unable to work on account of caring for me. She can’t even get rid of or reduce this debt if she goes through bankruptcy. This albatross of debt around her neck is outrageous especially when you consider that she has conservatively saved the system over a million dollars in nursing home costs.

Those of us dealing with severe disabilities don’t want a hand out but just a hand shedding the barriers to as normal a life as possible. We hope to be a part of the movement of change that you are leading to do our part to make this a better country. Please don’t lose sight of our nearly silent minority and allow us change our destiny along with that of our country. Be well and happy!


Jeff Lester

Lebanon, Missouri

Monday, November 3, 2008

Family and Love

This is a poem that I originally wrote for my grandmother's 80th birthday.

Family and love, love and family are really two words that mean the same
More important than money, career, possessions or fame
Family and love are the most important things in our life
I have been lucky to quite a bit of both especially in finding my beautiful wife
Family and love mean several different things to me
Granny B's chicken n' dumplings and pies made with love and care
Working on scouting badges with Mom, without her help I wouldn't have made Eagle Scout
Deer hunting with Dad even though we were never a threat to the deer
Playing games with Greg even if we usually ended up in a fight
Having the opportunity to live with Laura as adults, which allowed us to become much closer
Going to Reelfoot Lake with Grandpa Elza, Dad and Greg and catching the limit
Sneaking out with Uncle Gayle for a early morning breakfast before everyone else woke up
Hearing Uncle Jack say "you want to wrastl'"
Hearing Aunt Barb giving out orders at family reunions
Playing dominoes with Granny B and Grandpa Fred
Getting to play with my nephews when I visited
But I really learned about love and family after I reached the low point in my life
I quickly reached one of the high points of my life when I met and married my beautiful wife
She then gave me the greatest gift of love you can receive my three daughters that I adore
I also had family and friends rally around me, giving me their love and prayers in my time of need
I have been truly blessed in my life with lots of love, friends and family that is really what life is about

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