At 2am, I picked up the newly published book Shaped for a Purpose by Sherena Loh, planning to read one or two chapters before going to bed. Before I knew it, I had reached the final chapter and it was past 4am! I was drawn to the story because through her sharing, it gives one hope that anyone can rise to triumph above adversity, drawing strength by finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose.
Sherena has Muscular Dystrophy, a debilitating disease in which the muscles progressively weaken. Doctors told her that she would only live until 25 years old. But many years later, she is still alive – and living a full life. She was one of the founding members of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore) (MDAS) and now serves as its Executive Director. In her book, she mentioned her late sister Shook Fund, whom many fondly remember as Mrs Tan, ex-principal of Fairfield Methodist. I’m extremely proud yet humbled to call them my cousins.
Despite her own limitations and challenges, Sherena gives of herself so generously as she journeys with the families of children and youths who come through MDAS. That is how Sherena is, and at our family gatherings, she is always cheerful and positive, radiating joy to both young and old.
|Shaped for a purpose
This book is not meant for people with disabilities alone, and it is just as inspiring for us able bodied, as all the more, we should be asking ourselves if we are living life to the fullest. At times, we may feel that life is tough and the challenges around us are insurmountable. However, after reading her story, it puts things in perspective and I feel ready to face my own uncertainties and obstacles without hesitation.
Here’s an exerpt from the chapter Fell down? Then get up.
I fall so often that I can say I have a Masters degree in falling! I have accidents in many novel ways, and I have learnt just as many ways to recover from falls.
My most frightening accident happened when I was about 20 years old. At that time, I was still walking. However, my legs had a mind of their own. At unexpected and inappropriate times, they would go ‘soft’ and I would simply crumble to the ground. On this occassion, I was cutting through a private housing estate to get to a bus stop. As I reached the bottom of a slope, I saw a pack of huge dogs. There were about four to five dogs in this pack. I was shocked and suddenly my legs gave way. Oh no! Unlike other people, I cannot scramble to my feet after a fall. I would need somebody to help me up, or hold onto nearby furniture to pull myself back on my feet. “Help!” I called out. The dogs had, by this time, quietly come down the slope and gotten closer to me. In fact, we were at eye level because I was seated on the road. They looked into my eyes; I could see their tongues lolling from their open mouths.
I saw a pedestrian. “Help!” I called out to her. Incredibly, she asked “Why?” and gave me a wide berth. I felt that even the dogs scorned me, because they eyed me a little longer and went on their way. I was alone again. There was no help to be had. I had to do something to get myself out of my pathetic situation. I crawled on the ground until I came to a stone kerb. Using the low support, I used all my strength and might to pull myself up. I was frightened, exhausted and humilated. I still had to walk to the main road to hail a taxi before I could get back to the safety of my home. Struggling physically and emotionally in the taxi, I had to remind myself not to give in to self-pity and lose focus, because I could not afford to fall again!
Later, at home, I tearfully recounted my harrowing experience to my mother. As I untangled my thoughts, I realised that I was not upset by the fall or the dogs, I was most affected by the callous attitude of people who turned away from a person in need.
But not every passerby responded to me with indifference. I remember another occassion when I fell in public. Again, I could not get up without help. A lady hurried up from behind. Both of us struggled as she tried to heave me to my feet. When I finally regained my balance, I turned to thank her and only then did I realise that she was pregnant! I was touched by her incredible kindness in risking her unborn child to help a stranger.
Sherena ends each chapter with words for us to ponder:
Are you going through a season in which you feel like you are falling and failing? What would make you a failure is if you quit. But as long as you don’t quit, you have not failed yet. Everyone knows Thomas Edison as the inventor of the lightbulb, but few of us know that he was branded a failure before that. Nevertheless, he was not daunted by his setbacks or criticisms from others. He said, I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I have found 10,000 ways of recovering from a fall. And I hope you would too.
Another takeaway I got from her story was the pivotal role of her mother, my aunt. Besides the agony of seeing her own child suffer an incurable illness, their family faced many tragedies, yet my aunt and cousins remained courageous and united in the face of despair. We mothers are the anchors of the family, and it is not so much the circumstances life deals us, but our responses and how we guide our children to make sense of them that is important.
Sherena was blessed to have the unconditional love of her family, and she writes:
Is there one thing in your life that helped to make things bearable? Something that built a core of resilience in you, although you did not know it at that time? For me, it was my family. They were my harbour in the storm of life. They nurtured my self-esteem even as it was taking a bashing in the open sea. I am grateful for the advantage that my family gave me.
My family showed me love. They accepted who I was, including my limitations. My younger siblings could have sidelined me as I got physically weaker while they got taller and stronger, but they continued to show me respect and henced bolstered my self-esteem. My parents could have chosen to see my disability as a burden on the family, instead all I felt was their love and concern as they searched tirelessly for a cure for me.
Being a voice for the disabled, Sherena sheds light on how we can help them in practical ways.
1. Empower, not overpower
People generally are kind and wish to help when they see a person with disabilities. However, some people may not know how to help appropriately. There is a temptation to overpower rather than empower a disabled person. Instead, it might be more helpful to ask, “What would you like to do?” rather than make decisions for the MD person.
2. Give space for wheelchair users
When I was exiting the train, I had to reverse my chair. I checked around me and said “Excuse me,” before I set my chair on reverse. Suddenly, I felt a smack on my shoulder. A lady snapped that I had hit her foot, although I hadn’t felt my wheels going over an obstacle. I was shocked by her slap. Through this incident, I have grown to be more sensitive to others in public areas. Sometimes, it is not any party’s fault; so if we can be tolerant and forgiving, it will make it much easier for people to live harmoniously in the same environment. From then on, whenever I have to reverse out of a train, I would say, “Excuse me, I need to reverse” in a loud voice, so that people around me are forewarned. I would also add, “I don’t want to roll over anybody’s foot.” The last sentence really gets people’s attention, because nobody wants a smashed foot!
3. Volunteer for MDAS Flag Day
Their annual flag day is on the 1st of April 2017 and it would be a meaningful way to spend a Saturday morning with the children and expose them to volunteerism. The young ones will get to hold their own tins and people usually do not reject a cute, enthusiastic tin bearer! (details at the end of this post).
|Book launch, with Sherena & co-author Pauline Loh
Above all, Shaped for a purpose challenges us to reflect if we have indeed found our purpose, and it gives those of us who feel we might be “different” or “special” in any way optimism that our uniqueness may indeed be a blessing.
Although it was written with adults in mind, one of our nieces who is 9 brought the book to school for silent reading. Her classmate became interested in it as well, and our niece was saying how she can’t wait for her friend to return the book so that she can continue reading!
I have asked my kids to read it too, especially the teenagers as this is the age of questioning and searching for their purpose in life.
I recommend everyone to go out and pick up this book, not just to support my cousin, but to be inspired to live life meaningfully, with a renewed sense of purpose. And no matter what physical limitations or brokeness we may have, may we be able to embrace it.
Personally, I hope that one day, we can call ourselves an inclusive society, as I believe that in God’s masterplan, both the weak and the strong have a part to play. And in this march together down the path of LIFE, if we can walk side by side, supporting one another, how beautiful life will be.
For the disabled may indeed be the ones to pull us up, maybe not physically, but in ways we were blind to.
We were all made for a purpose. Let’s find our purpose and let our light shine, as Sherena has.
MDAS Flag Day
Date: 1 April 2017 (Saturday)
Venues: Bishan, Tampines, Woodlands, Jurong Point
Shaped for a Purpose is available at all major bookshops including Kinokuniya, MPH, Times and Popular Bookstore, retailing at $18 (before GST). Publisher: Armour Publishing, ISBN No.: 978-981-47-6559-6.
~ www.mummyweeblog.com – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~