Posts Tagged ‘The FENX Project’

It was a cold and blustery Sunday morning in late January and I was in a suit, tie, and sweater headed for Capitol Hill.  The FENX provided as much shelter from the frigid wind as it could on the sidewalks of Washington, DC as man and machine prepared to go in front of TV cameras to tell the story of The FENX Project, it’s pilot, and it’s creator.  I was to meet with the production team of Facing Life Head On, an Emmy award winning show that tackles the abortion issue and along the way tells amazing stories of inspiration and perseverance for the sake of LIFE, endeavoring to show the world that life is sacred and that the practice of abortion does, in fact, deprive the word of wonderful individuals who would have been a joy and blessing to those they would have encountered.  The entire time-line of events leading up to this interview actually taking place was initiated by Olivia Braaten, a friend and fellow Fall 2005 intern with the Heritage Foundation Young Leaders Program, who is a field producer for the television show.

Arriving early, I parked the FENX outside the all-access entrance to the Longworth House Office Building, across from the United States Capitol building. Making my way through the labyrinthine underground tunnel system that connects the three House office buildings, I was headed into the halls of the Rayburn building to the office of my boss, Representative Thaddeus McCotter.  I was anticipating a phone call from Rachel Reeves, the producer of Facing Life Head On, as I plopped down into the chair in my little office known as “The Batcave”; a hovel filled with Star Wars novels, historical tomes, and a number of volumes from the Philosophy and Popular Culture series.  Soon, the call came and I retraced my steps back to the entrance in Longworth to meet the crew and escort them through security (there was quite a lot of gear for multiple cameras and monitors).  As we walked back to the office they asked questions about the FENX, how I came to be on Capitol Hill, and what it’s like for someone with a “disability” to be here doing the work I do on various policy issues – it is an interesting question to ask when you are the only individual you know of with a obvious physical condition like Cerebral Palsy working in Capitol Hill in a congressional office. (Ed: It is a unique spot to be in, often difficult, wherein you’re blazing a path in hopes that others will follow in your tread).

Upon arrival the production crew began set up all the equipment in the Representative’s personal office, as that was the prime location to conduct the interview.  Before long one of the camera operators told me they needed to shoot some “B-roll” footage of me in the office – footage to accompany voice-over sections of the interview – and I realized later upon watching the interview that some of my Philosophy and Popular Culture volumes actually made it on screen.   (Ed: It was odd to me, and certainly something new, to know that there was a crew across the office lobby setting up equipment to film me, to ask me about my life and my experiences, seeing it as something that is unique and special; I often forget this about my life, that my idea of “normal”/”conventional” is anything but that to the vast majority of people I meet.)

Soon enough, Rachel got a call from Brad Mattes, the host of Facing Life Head On, and he was waiting for us at the entrance of the Longworth building so I could get him through security.  As we walked back to the office in Rayburn, Brad asked me what it’s like to be part of the policy making process – so close to these powerful decision makers – and not be overwhelmed by it.  In what many would see as an unconventional answer to that question, I took a page from Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring and recounted the scene near the beginning of the film when Gandalf the Grey is explaining to the hobbit Frodo Baggins what the One Ring actually is and the power it possesses.  Upon hearing the tale of Isildor’s failure to destroy the One Ring and subsequent subjugation to it, Frodo begs Gandalf to take the One Ring from him and (wisely) Galndalf refuses and says “Understand Frodo, I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine”  I told Brad that I see Capitol Hill in much the same light, therefore I hold at an arm’s length a desire for power and influence, knowing there is no certainty I would not be overcome by it if drawn to it.  He was surprised, but I think impressed too, having been given such an answer.

Once we arrived at the office and made sure all of the equipment was prepped, Brad and I jumped right into the interview, as he started asking me a series of questions about my life, my work, my childhood, and The FENX Project, much of it detailed in the footage shown in the two episodes featured on the Facing Life Head On website and on television these last two weeks.  It was a very comfortable environment to be honest – considering I did not know the questions in advance – and even I was surprised with how at ease I seemed in telling my tale – the surprise goes back to seeing my life very differently than the majority of folks see it .  (Ed: I really see the opportunity to be part of this show as a chance to talk of what the Heavenly Father has done with me, a chance to honor my earthy parents for the lengths to which they have gone to ensure my quality of life, and a platform from which to undermine the insidious, and yet prevalent, stream of thought in society that those with longterm physical, mental, and medical challenges are incapable of a good quality of life and therefore are of less worth in our society because they will accomplish less.  This is something that doesn’t get as much attention in the Pro-Life/Conservative community and it needs to; it is unfortunate that in a society built on the idea of inalienable and God-bestowed rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (notice that is NOT “the Guarantee of Happiness”) many focus on what a person can do and not who they are; the focus is too much on what they can contribute (and what the definition of contribution is). As I stated in the interview “You matter because the Master and Creator of the Universe took the time, and that is enough”

After the interview itself was done, we headed back over to Longworth and on to the Capitol grounds to film the FENX and I in action and so Brad could film his closing thoughts for the episodes.  (Ed: Props to Brad, Rachel, and the rest of the crew for standing out in  the bitter cold for those final takes.)

It was a wonderful opportunity to work with great people to tell an inspiring story, and a continued affirmation that I have been given gift, abilities, and talents and that there is a Plan in motion for using them to speak Truth.  Not to mention another chance to see how television is made.  Many thanks to Brad, Rachel, the tech crew, and especially Olivia; no one would have guessed that connecting as Heritage Interns years ago would lead to a unique adventure such as this one. 


Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

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Life so far has been full of many crazy (some even fantastic – in the older sense of the word) adventures. As much as this shouldn’t surprise me considering I read things like Dune, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings – and thoroughly enjoy the TRON universe – many times it does. Worth is one of the greatest things humanity struggles with (both internally and externally; self worth and the worth of another) and I sometimes wonder if I am worthy of the adventure I find myself on. From a proper perspective of humility in relation to the Creator and Master of the universe, I’m not – but rather blessed to be on said journey.

Greatest amongst the recent adventures is obviously The FENX Project. I was reminded of this a few nights ago when I had dinner with Carl Sears and his wife Sheila. Carl is the producer behind the NBC News story on Dad, The FENX and I and his wife is the one who helped “discover” us on that late summer night in 2009 when I was driving home from the Capitol and her camera crew spied something coming toward them which they considered to possibly be a UFO, and in a sense the FENX was – in being an unidentifiable object flying past them. (To my friends to who secretly wonder if I’m really from somewhere else, here’s your shot but I am sorry to disappoint.) At dinner we shared memories of that night in July and the surrounding circumstances when it came to working on the NBC project together, such wonderful people. I shared with them a number of unlikely stories involving places like the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Capitol Hill, and reactions from Members of Congress. It occurred to me, as it has many times, that I don’t lead a regular life – even if it seems so normal to me. (I’ve the Creator and my family to thank for that.)

Carl and Sheila opened the door for me to something much bigger than I thought, helped me take my first step into a larger world – as a crazy old man once said. The few opportunities I’ve had to tell the saga of my own life and the FENX Project have been amazing. I’ve been fortunate to be able to tell it over radio waves and in front of the camera and I recently went in front of cameras again to tell the whole tale on an Emmy award winning TV show focusing on issues from a pro-life perspective. We talked about quality of life for individuals who from birth have had physical challenges and long term medical conditions and that quality of life is possible. My own story is proof, I am living breathing proof that pre-judgments made by medical professionals are not always accurate, for one cannot medically assess the human spirit and the drive to persevere which resides within. What’s more: when the Master of the Universe enters into such an equation to ignite the path of destiny within someone He took the time to knit together, all bets are off. It’s why every life matters, why those who are perceived to be “less” by society aren’t – because they have been crafted and gifted differently. I had fleeting moments growing up wishing I could play sports like my younger brother did because I wanted the experience, but also because I wanted to be like everyone else. Sometimes it’s hard to lay down the sword and admit a pursuit like that isn’t the best use of the time, talents, and energy you’d been given – in the end I ended up on Capitol Hill and that desire to be like others and not myself has long faded.

A friend of mine – and fellow fan of the Galaxy Far Far Away – recently told me he thinks that my time in front of a camera with Facing Life Head On is something I was destined to do. Don’t know if he’s right or not, but he probably is.

Some inspire others though their actions, others inspire people by their very existence – because the world thinks they shouldn’t, yet they do; shouldn’t be, yet they are.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

Two days from now I will be sitting at a table with (almost) my entire family eating turkey, enjoying their company, and reflecting on what I’ve been thankful for in 2010. It’s been a tough year in some respects, just like the previous year was. It’s sometimes easy for me to let the things that happen to me which are difficult or downright unjust crowd out everything else. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in 2010, lessons which the Master of the Universe sees fit to have me learn, lessons about identity; contentment; perseverance; trust; and owning who you are – embracing one’s destiny and calling no matter where it may lead, knowing it can alter and morph, even if it puts you in places you’d rather not be and you reside there longer than you want, often facing things which seek to damage the core of who you are, to diminish the person you are wired to be.

Passengers hate it when they are flying on a big commercial airplane and the captain comes over the speaker system to inform them the tower on the ground has put them in a holding pattern, forcing all those passengers on board to have to wait longer to reach their destination – and not one of the passengers on the plane has the power to change what is happening to them; the ultimate authority in air traffic gives a directive and it puts a wrench in things – I say this as someone who is flying home to celebrate thanksgiving and I’ll be at the airport a dozen hours from now. This is just on a plane; imagine such a scenario invading the rest of your life and not just your travel plans.

Sometimes I feel like screaming the same thing Anakin Skywalker did about Obi-Wan Kenobi (but in reference to God instead): “He’s holding ME back!” or “I can be a Jedi, Ben, tell him I can be a Jedi, I’m ready”. God just looks at me sometimes and, much like Yoda did to Luke Skywalker, lifts and eyebrow and queries ‘Ready?! Ready are you, what know YOU of ready?’ I’m pretty sure He does this because He’s Sovereign – He is the Master of the Universe after all – He spoke it all into being, neat when you consider the properties of sound and how it travels – there is no fate…but what He allows. Though I am eager, He knows I am not ready for what is next. Considering some of what I’ve been allowed to go through so far in twenty-eight short years and the trials I’ve overcome, this idea is still hard to grapple with and find peace in the midst of; enter The FENX Project.

The FENX Project is many things: an idea, a dream, a vehicle, advancement, an adventure, a shield, an extension of identity, and an incredible expression of love from father to son. Lately, it has become an alter; specifically, an Altar of Remembrance. In the Old Testament, Jehovah instructed the Children of Israel to often construct alters of remembrance so as to recall the provision and safety which He provided them at various times throughout their history. Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church (where I happened to attend in Washington, DC) often discusses this in the context of how humanity often remembers the things they should forget and forgets the things they should remember. Most of the time these alters are immobile while the FENX is quite the opposite.

The FENX Project has sovereignty written all over it. From the circumstances surrounding its inception (and yes my actions did firmly implant the idea in my father’s mind) to seeing it on National TV this year. Just the story of how it came to be on TV – which I’ve recounted on this blog in the past – is a total orchestration by the Master of the Universe, no question. Something like being featured on the blog for The ForceCast (the Star Wars podcast) is indeed beyond what I can ask or imagine – which is the realm the Master of the Universe often orchestrates from – although I can imagine quite a bit (to use Han Solo’s words).

Yet, in the midst of all of this, driving around in a living alter, I struggle. Control is such a difficult thing to relinquish, to be reliant upon Another when you were raised to be independent and to reach for the stars. Yet, this is what is asked of me at present to wait till the timing is right to see more of the FENX on TV and in print – to take the story of the FENX and my adventure to other places and talk of what the Master of the Universe has done; to move on in life to a place of sure footing, of solid ground; this is my hope for 2011, though I do not see it…yet. Presently, all I see is the past as I drive my mobile altar through the fog of uncertainty and into the future – focusing on the Undiscovered Country ahead of me.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

Last Friday I received an unexpected but welcome e-mail from Carl Sears, the NBC Nightly News producer who has worked tirelessly to create the NBC story on The FENX Project started in 2004 by my Dad and I. (I wish all folks in the news business were as great as Carl has been.) In the body of the e-mail Carl informed me that the story had gone live on the Internet that morning and that it had been sent to all the local affiliates around the nation. To say I was surprised was an understatement – it had been over a year since the process of creating this news piece started and no one was sure if it would ever air (the hope was always there but the reality of the news business and the need to maintain continuity within a broadcast can make it tough). Since then, the last few days have been a flurry of activity on Facebook and Twitter, responding to comments from people and tracking the different sites and outlets that have hosted the video. It’s a great thing that the world gets to see the FENX and how awesome it is, not to mention getting to “meet” the hero of the story – my Dad. One of the surprising things has been the reaction and support from family and friends around around the country who have shared it with others. At the very beginning of this journey I was keenly aware of the fact that I did not know how the story would end, and I still don’t but as always, the adventure continues to roll on. Back when I was interviewed by Cedarviile University about the FENX, I said that I knew God’s fingerprints had been all over this project from the beginning; it’s still true and we eagerly await what will happen next.

The FENX Project on NBC News

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron