Making Life Matter

Esther was diagnosed with Metastasized Papillary Thyroid Cancer at the age of 12 while we were living in France.  She had been coughing and complaining that her side hurt and that she was getting short of breath.  She was always so healthy and energetic.  She loved doing flips, climbing, and keeping up with her two little brothers and two older sisters.  When the coughing didn’t get better, we went to the doctor expecting bronchitis or pneumonia.  We did NOT expect cancer.
As a mom, her diagnosis was devastating, of course.  Esther’s reaction was amazingly calm, overall.  She took her diagnosis in stride, which was so like her already positive and bubbly personality.  But, of course, it changed her forever.  It caused her to spend so much more time at home, and I think she became quieter and more reflective.
Esther loved coloring, drawing, the internet, her friends, Harry Potter, John Green (her favorite YA author), and getting involved in causes like the Harry Potter Alliance.  She really got into the internet at age 14, joining a collaborative in which the members took turns making and posting videos and chatting with friends that she had made through their common interests, such as Harry Potter, John Green, online games like Farmville, Pictionary, and more.  Eventually, Esther established her own YouTube channel.  She also discovered the network called Nerdfighteria, which was started by fans of John and Hank Green and followers of their YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.  And, she had a presence on Twitter as well.
Esther was central to the creation of an online group of friends who called themselves Catitude.  My husband and I are still in contact with members of Catitude.  They often call us Mama and Papa Earl.  Many of them we see throughout the year, usually through conventions like NerdCon, VidCon, or LeakyCon.  I just saw Arielle, Avonell, and Katie Wurtzel in New York this week at the first night of John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down tour.  I’m going to Sara’s wedding this month in Connecticut!  It’s been exciting to watch them grow up and blossom.  Several members of Catitude now work for John or Hank Green in their various enterprises, which feels like a direct connection to Esther.
Esther TSWGO & HP from Ning
Since the founding of TSWGO.org in 2011, we have given away over $450,000 in grants to families who are facing childhood cancer.  The money is not so much for medical care as it is for those living expenses that begin to mount and cause stress.  In that situation, you’re caring for your child with cancer, and then you end up with all of this financial stress as you lose income, miss work, and sometimes even lose or give up jobs.  TSWGO gifts are meant to be big enough to pay a month’s mortgage or for other living expenses like travel, utilities, etc., so that the families can have a space from their worry to concentrate on their child.
Most of the families that TSWGO helps are referred to us from social workers or other healthcare professionals, although we do accept direct applications from families and friends as well.  While we initially gave out grants nationwide, as our reputation grew faster than our funding increase, we had to pull back to concentrate on Boston and the nearby New England states.  Our short term goal is to give away half a million dollars to help kids with cancer!  Then of course, we’ll move that goal out to a million.  And, while we won’t stop helping families in this practical way, we have really expanded our mission to include a strong commitment to inspiring and empowering young people to make a positive impact in the world–helping them find ways to create and increase awesome through service, action, and love.
Donations to TSWGO can be made directly through our website or by mail.  Many donations come in to us through fundraising events created and hosted by young people in high school and college across the United States and even in other countries like Australia and England.  We host an annual Gala fundraiser in the Boston area, which raises money through local donations and sponsorships.  And of course, others donate by purchasing our merchandise sold through DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome) Records, the online merchandise shop created by Hank Green.
John and Hank Green established August 3rd as Esther Day, which is widely celebrated as a day to say “I love you” to family and friends.  This past Esther Day, we announced ProjectLOVEly.org, a grant-giving program that gives out $5000 grants to help young people create a project that increases awesome in this world.  We just announced our first two winning grant applicants this October 15th!  This is part of our recent dream of doing more that really reflects Esther’s message of making life matter.  She wanted nothing more than to make a difference in the world.
All of our kids have been involved with TSWGO in various volunteer ways at conventions, Esther Day events, or by attending a presentation/talk that Wayne or I have done.  The girls have spoken a few times at various events.  Evangeline has given the most time through her involvement as our Fundraising Events Coordinator.
Esther Day table Quincy

 

For more information on any of the organizations mentioned in this interview, please click on the following links:

TSWGO.org

ProjectLOVEly.org

TSWGO store at DFTBA Records

Esther’s Wikipedia page

 

This Star Won’t Go Out

118 Billings St

Quincy MA  02171

 

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I made mistakes, and my family suffered greatly because of this.

I had a normal childhood.  I was brought up in church.  I was singing church solos at age four with my mother accompanying me on the piano off stage.  I would sing Me and Jesus by Tom T Hall.  Mom taught me to say, “one more time!” at the end of my performances and to repeat the chorus, which would have the audience laughing.   I also eventually began to play the electric lead guitar.  My parents would also sing duets together periodically.  Christmas specials were the hardest on me.  Mom would have me practicing them sometimes three months ahead of time.  A happy, normal life…….

When I was eleven, I was carrying laundry to the utility room when my mom told me to have a seat.  So, I plopped down on the dryer.  She got right to the point.  “I think it’s time I told you that you were adopted.  Your biological father left us the day you were born.”  If you had of hit me on the head with a hammer, I wouldn’t have been any more stunned.  No details, just that.  It rocked my world big time.

At age twelve, she left us to go to another state with her pilot friend to finish getting her pilot’s license.  She was gone 9 years.  We found out what our dad was made of.  He raised us, working overtime and during storms as a senior lineman for an electric company.  How he did it, I’ll never know.  But, he did it so well.  It never felt like it was a broken home.  He simply took up the slack and not only raised my little sister and me, but also made us feel normal.  When she came back, my sister and I lived with my mom for awhile.  Only years later would I know just how much that affected my daddy.  My sister moved back to my dad’s first, but I was introduced to something I came to love:  marijuana.  So, I stayed with her until the bitter end when she moved back after Christmas of my senior year.  Daddy was so happy.  For nine years, he went through pure hell, yet he never missed a beat.  I would eventually come back and soon enter the very dark world of an alcoholic.

My first taste of beer was probably 1981 or so.  I hated it.  But, once I made it past the taste and got a beer buzz, it was on.  Alcohol became my main priority, even after moving back to Texas, getting married, and having my first child.  He was born New Year’s Eve, and I sobered up off Black Velvet.  We hired a midwife, and he was delivered in our bedroom.  My wife instantly grew up.  Me?  I was a functioning alcoholic.  I worked seven days a week with my full time job and side jobs on weekends, but the money mainly went towards alcohol.  I was very selfish.  But, I had finally found something that made me come out of the shell that my past had put me in and helped me not be afraid. I made mistakes and my family suffered greatly because of this.

Two ruined marriages, six kids, and mostly destroyed relationships. I spent nine years in state prison because of alcohol. I have been off of parole for three years now.  I have had no more problems with the law.  I stand by the grace of God only.  I have three steady jobs!  I have been blessed.  I never found out a lot about my biological father.  He passed away before we could meet.  Everyone who has the answers is gone now.  I may never know the real truth.  I do know he was a dog trainer in the Army.  Maybe that’s why I love dogs so much.  Maybe there’s a divine connection there.  I have worked with rescue dogs before and continue to do so when I can, and I love it!  I love all dogs, but rescue dogs especially.

I will never give up.  I wanted to so many times.  I now live in a larger city and pay my bills like any other citizen.  But, I could never have done it on my own.  I’m suppose to be dead.  Hope and faith are powerful things.  Don’t ever give up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Nothing Like What You See on TV

Thirty years ago, a small west Texas town called Saragosa was almost destroyed by an F4 tornado.  It was the first time I ever went to help volunteer.  Being on the ground and seeing the chaos shook me.  I had never seen that kind of destruction before.  There were thirty people killed and over one hundred more injured.  It was much different than what you see on TV.  The devastation was too much for me to bare.  I told myself that if I ever volunteered again I couldn’t do ground work.  I couldn’t handle seeing the children who had been killed and a town wiped off the map.

I have volunteered since then with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and a few years later when our home town faced its first flood.  Nothing prepares you for this.  It’s nothing like what you see on TV.

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coastline as a category 4 hurricane.  The record flooding it brought with it was catastrophic.  I decided I would go help with the relief with an organization within our church domination called Mormon Helping Hands.  Twenty-one members from our ward in Palestine, along with about eleven thousand from all over the Texas area, went to help.  I went because I was keeping a promise to God that if he blessed me with my health, I would be of service to others when in need.

We took everything that we needed:  water, tools, gloves, bleach, shovels, camping equipment, our own food, gloves, masks, etc.  We left Palestine at 6:00 am Saturday morning.  We were all ready to get there and start helping those that needed our help.  We were assigned to the Beaumont, Port Arthur area.  We volunteered in the communities between Woodville and Beaumont.  It was heartwarming to see so many of our LDS members with their yellow shirts on lending a helping hand while on our way  to help others.

We were asked to clean out homes that had been flooded–taking out furniture, insulation, dry wall, flooring and trash.  We piled it up to be hauled away.  The experience was eye opening to me as this was my first time on the ground there.  Going and helping these people removed me  from my comfort zone, but in a good way.  It was wonderful being a part of helping others in need.

The worst part about it is knowing that it will be a very long time before these people in those towns recover.  I was truly moved by their unbroken spirit.  They were bent but not broken; down but not out.  I heard it from nearly everyone that we helped.  They all said the same thing, “we are down, but we will be back, because God hasn’t forsaken us yet!”

We will be back to help this weekend.  And we will probably return in about a month because it is going to take time to recover.  When we left, there were still a lot of agencies that had gotten there within the hour after the hurricane had hit:  FEMA, The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, The Mennonite Men.  There are people from all across Texas, Louisiana, and other states that are helping with the rebuilding.  The Muslim community center was giving away cleaning supplies. Everybody was putting there fellow man first!

Everyone was so gracious.  Even the people that weren’t affected welcomed us to sit under their trees so we could eat.  There was a homeless man at Walmart who saw us and said to another homeless man, “See?  I told you the Mormons were coming to help people in town,” and gave us the thumbs up.  Even the people in our home town would come and shake my hand and thank me for going.

You can’t believe it until you are standing in it.  I knew that they had some flooding, but when you see the water line up about four and a half feet and higher, you know it was scary.  There was a ninety-year-old lady who said she was giving up.  She said that she has no fight left. Another woman who had been living in a home that had been in her family for four generations who plans to rebuild.  Another man had written “washed out, but I’m still standing” on his house.  We had two volunteers that were from Palestine that were already down there trying to get to their own business that was under twenty inches of water.  They came and volunteered with us both days, and Sunday evening went back to work on their own business.

My advice to others who want to help is to contact the American Red Cross and sign up for their disaster training classes.  Be willing to drop what you are doing and go help others in need.  Be prepared mentally and physically because it is very hard work.  Don’t think you are going to a social.  You are going into an area where there is mold, mildew, rotting food, and diseases.  You will need a strong spirit, strong stomach, and a caring heart.  And maybe you can’t go.  God may not have placed it on every heart to go, but you can help by donating money to a service agency or just by saying thank you to the people that are going.  Or, ask the ones that are going down there “do you need any extra money for food or gas?” because we all went at our own expense to help others.

This Place is Great!

When I was eighteen, I had plans on joining the army, but stuff happened, and I ended up not joining until I was twenty.  I’m so not sure why I chose the Army over any other military branch. My family and friends were kind of hesitant at first, but they saw that this was something I really wanted to do, and they stood behind me. I’ve been in the Army for nine months now.

My family was going to drive me to the airport to catch my flight the next morning, but in the middle of the night they received a call saying our home was on fire!  The fire had consumed nearly everything.  Our cars, clothes, personal belongings, my entire bedroom…..   They allowed me a few days to go back home and help my family before returning back and catching my flight to basic training.  Leaving my family behind to deal with the aftermath of the fire was tough, but I did it.  I knew that with the help of the community, family, and friends they would be okay.

I went to OSUT (One Station Unit Training) at Fort Benning in Georgia.  It’s about a twelve-hour drive from home.  It was hard at first because you’re away from your family and friends, but in time you start making new friends, and it gets easier.  It was kind of hard waking up before the sun came up and getting smoked all the time.  “Getting smoked” means having to do a bunch of different exercises.  The worst part of training camp for me was being in the chow line and having two sergeants yelling in my face for about five minutes.

I graduated on April 21st as an infantryman and received my blue chord, which is my infantry’s trademark.  We are the only ones who get to wear one.  That was my proudest moment of boot camp.  A lot of my family came for my graduation.  On family weekend we had a ceremony for becoming a soldier, and your family gets to take you out all day and bring you back later.  Then they get to come back to get you the next morning before graduation.  On graduation day there’s a lot of rehearsal and standing around before the ceremony.  On the last day of family weekend, I found out I would be stationed in the Schoffield barracks in Hawaii in one week.

My first impression of Hawaii was, “this place is great!”  A lot of my graduating class went there.  The first thing I did when I got there was eat all the food I could get my hands on.

My work day is always different depending on what needs to be done that day, but my days off are spent at the beach and hanging out with friends.  I will be leaving for Indonesia to train with their army soon. I’m excited to go. It’s just training. I think it will be fun. It sucks being so far away from home because you miss birthdays and being with friends and family.  That’s the part I miss the most about home–not being able to be there for them when they need me.

The army has definitely changed me for the better. I wouldn’t change anything about my decision to join the military. My advice to anyone considering joining is to get into shape before basic training!

Thank you so much for your service!~ The InnerView Staff

WANTED: STORY CONTRIBUTORS

Dear Readers,

First off, let us say THANK YOU for following our blog and for taking the time to read our stories.  We truly hope that you find them touching and inspiring and that they are helping people someway, somehow.

The purpose of our blog is to collect human stories and to share them with the world so that a reader may find hope, may find the inspiration to do that thing that they’ve been wanting to do but haven’t yet taken the steps, to see that they are not alone in the world, to find that there are others out there who understand what they are going through, to find the courage within themselves to better their lives, etc etc etc.

We truly believe that everyone has a story to tell.  Everyone has been through some adversity or has accomplished something amazing or has been touched by an act of kindness that shaped them or … well, the list could go on and on.

If you are willing to share your story with us and our readers, we are happy to listen!  Please feel free to contact us.  You may remain anonymous, if you wish, or not.  It is up to you.  Also, if you have been impacted by any of our past stories, we would love to hear about it!

Again.  Thank you for your continued support!

The InnerView Staff

Eyes Wide Shut

I met him when I was fifteen. It was my first serious relationship, and I fell very quickly for him.  He was sweet, nice, caring, funny.  Everything I wanted.  But, it wouldn’t take long to see his ugly side.

After almost a year of dating, I was completely smitten.  I wanted to grow up and marry him and have kids together–the all-American dream.  But, my dream turned into a nightmare.  He changed when his parents got a divorce.  He was angry, aggressive, hurt, and confused.  I tried everything to reaffirm that I was there for him.  Eventually that wasn’t enough.

He began pushing me around when he would get angry.  I was his “release”.  He’d take any frustrations he had out on me and then feel bad about it and apologize. I would always forgive him.  He figured this out eventually, so his temper and outbursts would be more violent.  It went from pushing to slamming me into walls.  He’d squeeze my arms and grab my hair to hold me in place.  I kept waiting for the guy I fell for to return.  I made excuses for his behavior.  He was in a bad place.  This wasn’t his fault.  He was lost and confused, and it was up to me to find and save him.  I kept telling myself that he would get past his pain and come back.  But, it only got worse.  I was so young and didn’t realize at the time that change was a one-way street.  He would never again be the person he was before.  But I couldn’t give up on him.  I loved him.  Or, I thought I did.

About a year after high school, we found out I was pregnant and got married, but it didn’t last.  The violence got worse and happened more often.  I was slapped in the face while driving, ridiculed for being ignorant, and told that I was unworthy of anyone else’s love.  I was told repeatedly that no one would ever want me.  I felt disgusting, unworthy, and completely manipulated.  He chose his friendships over his family.  He was seldom home, and when he was, I lived  in constant fear, waiting to see what was going to set him off next.  And, one night I had had enough.  I decided I couldn’t trust this person with my child.  If he were to ever lay hands on my baby, I would protect my child no matter what.  Jail would be worth it.

Our last night together ended with a fatality.  He came home in a rage, and things happened that I still can’t talk about openly.  In his force of rage, he had choked me until I passed out while my baby was sleeping in his toddler bed beside me.  I didn’t scream or fight back.  I knew if I did, his grip would get tighter, and I didn’t want to risk waking my child so that he would witness his mother’s death at the hands of his father.  While I was unconscious I dreamed that I was lying by the road in wet dewy grass.  I could see feet and legs around me in a circle.  I heard someone ask if I was dead and another person say no, not yet.  I believe those were my guardian angels.  And then I woke up to an angry mad man in my face screaming at me to get up.  At the time, we were staying with my parents.  That may be the only reason I’m alive to tell this story.  My mother had heard the commotion and entered the room as the fight was about to start back up.  She called the police, and he was taken to the police department.  I miscarried because of the incident.  And while it hurt me to lose another baby, I knew that God knew what he was doing.

I vowed from that moment on that I would never let another person abuse me–mentally or physically.  I had to retrain my brain into thinking I was worthy, that I could be loved.  Someone out there could love me for me and be someone I could trust.  I had to learn that not every man was mean.  I had to find a way to teach my son the wrongs and rights of human nature.  I had to make sure he knew to never raise a hand to a woman and that mental abuse in some cases could be far worse than physical abuse.

A few years later I met a man who had a daughter.  We began dating, and I learned how to trust again.  He understood my situation and was patient with me.  He told me over and over how beautiful I was and how much he loved me.  He saved me, my knight in shining armor.  We have been married for eighteen years.  Together, we have three children.  My story could have ended years ago.  My son’s life could be completely different.  He would have grown up without either parent had my mother not walked in those doors.  My life, somehow and for some reason, was spared.  That night I stopped living eyes wide shut.  I have never let anyone walk on me since.  I haven’t let anyone’s opinion of me control me again.  I found strength.  I found a voice.  I found real love.  I found happiness.  I no longer walk on egg shells.  I had only thought I knew what love was.  I was so wrong.  As that sun set, another day began, and I am a new person.

If you are in a violent relationship, it’s not too late to get out.  You can do it.  There are places that can help you.  Don’t be a mental prisoner thinking there’s no way out, that no one can love you, or that you are unworthy of love.  You ARE worthy!  You CAN find happiness.  You were not created to be someone’s punching bag.  Find your voice.  Find your strength to walk away.  Give yourself the chance at a happy, normal life because whether you believe it or not, you deserve it.  Don’t let your children grow up thinking this behavior is acceptable.  It is NOT.

I am a child of God.  If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

http://www.thehotline.org

 

Mine is a Story God is Still Writing

I am a wife of eighteen years, a mother to four awesome (but not perfect) kids (their horns hold up their halos), a grandma, and so much more.  I try really hard to always stay positive and find a reason to smile.  The story I have to tell is one not quite finished.
I grew up in a terrible environment.  Not many of my friends were even aware of that.  There was a lot of alcohol and abusiveness in my home as a child.  I don’t mean a spanking (I’m a firm believer in those).  I mean fist flying, choking, lip busting, crazy kind of abuse.  The law was called to my house so much as a child that they knew all of our names.  I tried several times to go to adults I trusted (including church members), but they just didn’t want to get involved.  I was so angry–angry at my mom, at myself for not being able to protect me and my siblings better, and at God!  How could a god who loved and cared for me, this All-Mighty, All-Knowing being allow us to be put through this?
I moved out at the age of fifteen, worked two jobs, and continued to go to school. At seventeen, I joined the military.  I went to basic the summer before my junior year and came home a little more sure of myself.  I was never the popular girl at school or even that well liked to be honest.  But, school was an escape for me-the one place I could be young.  I went most of senior year and had great grades but was informed shortly before graduation that I wouldn’t graduate because I was half of a credit shy.  Half of a credit!  All the anger and resentment boiled a little higher.  I said some very ugly things, made a vulgar hand gesture, and walked away.
The next weekend I took off for AIT and didn’t even hang around to see my friends graduate.  I went to AIT, scored one of the highest in my class while there, and then in a freak accident ended up with a jacked up knee.  Again the anger.  “Can I have nothing I want?  Can nothing go like I plan?  Really, God??”  So, back to the good ol’ one-horse town I went.  I made lots of dumb choices for the next six months, and if I’m honest, for most of my teenage years (smoking, drinking, promiscuity, and partying).  At this point, I was working in a bar as well as at two other jobs.
I met a wonderful guy, who I proceeded to cuss out.  After a little while, we were reintroduced without all the language.  We spent some time together and a few weeks went by before he told me he loved me.  NOPE!!!  That was an ugly four letter word, and I wasn’t having anything to do with it.  So, I left town again.  I wouldn’t return his call or texts.  About two weeks later, I was back in town and back at work.  You would think that he would have gotten the hint, but he hadn’t.  He called (no caller ID at work) , and I answered.  He put his then nine-year-old daughter on the phone, and let’s just say that without her, we wouldn’t have had the last eighteen years of marriage.
Life was pretty much a rollercoaster for the next couple of years.  We had a near-divorce that included a separation and a miscarriage during that time.  I decided that birth control was a good idea because my life and, well, me were not a stable foundation for a kid.  Then more of to-heck-with-my-plans, we work things out, and discovered that we were pregnant.  It was overwhelming.  The pregnancy went mostly good until three months before I was due.  I ended up on bed rest only to still have him two and a half months early.  It was so scary.  My water broke, and I was rushed to hospital.  The doctor was very honest.  He told me that if we delivered there, we might lose him, but if he made it, we would be there three days, and the baby would be care-flighted immediately.  We opted for shipping me to Dallas and taking the chance of an in-transit birth.  My husband couldn’t ride with me because we had nothing ready, and he was filthy from work, so he was followed us.  They sent him to the wrong hospital!  I was having my first child two and a half months premature, and I was alone!  Scared doesn’t even begin to cover it.
That is the first time I honestly turned back to God.  I asked Him to help me.  I didn’t have the words, and I didn’t feel I deserved His help after all I had done.  But seconds later, I saw a pair of ugly, dirty work boots appear under the curtain, and I began to cry.  Our son was born with several issues and spent two months in Dallas NICU.  The doctors told us that he would never catch up to other kids his age academically or physically.  Today he is fourteen and starting college classes.  It’s all kind of crazy.  I have gotten angry at God since then and have carried some heavy burdens.  There are other times we have been through that have made me turn and want to doubt, but I have always found my way back.  This is the first of many stories I hope to tell because, as I said, mine is a story God is still writing.  I may feel like Job from the Bible sometimes, but I’m here above ground putting one foot in front of the other and living my life the best way I know how.  I hope someone will take something positive from this, because life isn’t easy, but it’s worth it!

We Didn’t Know Our Son Was Autistic Until He Was Ten Years Old

Autism is a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, unique strengths and differences. Every person with Autism is different than any other person with Autism. Some people may have certain challenges or behaviors that someone else does not have. Some are nonverbal and do not speak. Some are extremely gifted (like Rain Man).

Some appear “normal” but struggle internally, socially, mentally. These people are referred to as “High Functioning Autistics”. My son, Trey, falls under this category, which is part of the reason that it took us ten years realize that he needed help. Yes, that’s right. We didn’t know that our son was autistic until he was ten years old. Looking back, there were more than enough signs from the age of one to two that could have, should have made us wonder if his quirks/behaviors were “normal”. But, he was functioning, and his behaviors were not so disruptive or abnormal that we were concerned. Trey is my middle child, so with most of his behaviors I thought “every child is different. He is not like his brother”. And, there are ten years between the two, so my memory was not as fresh on how fast a child should be progressing at certain stages.

It took me longer to wean him from the bottle. He was four, almost five before he was fully potty trained, and had a pacifier until age three or four. And not just one. He had multiple pacifiers at all times–one in his mouth, one in his hand, and one in his pocket. He has always had someone lay down with him until he goes to sleep, even now at eleven years old. He woke up multiple times every night. He never wanted to sleep.  Naps were very rare. He walked on his toes and still does sometimes when he is excited or anxious. He cried every single time I vacuumed the floor and hated fireworks. He did not like change at all: changing babysitters, changing Sunday school teachers at church (he was in the classes at least one or two years past what he should have been). His first year of preschool, I was called A LOT because he was crying and nobody could calm him down. He even ran out of the classroom and into the parking lot once! There weren’t many specific instances that I was called to school between kindergarten and second grade, but now that I think back on it, I  believe the teachers didn’t make a big deal out of his behavior because it’s fairly common for kids that age.

When he went into third grade, my oldest son was a student teacher, and it happened to be for Trey’s PE class. His PE coach stayed in communication with us both and would tell my older son things that happened, such as him crying or being picked on, and she would email me about it. One day I was in the car line to pick him up, and she came and told me that Trey was inside crying and no one could get him to move. I left my car in the line (there was no moving it out of line) and hurriedly ran inside to see what his problem was and to get back in my car before the line started moving. When I got inside, he was hysterically crying. I asked what was going on and was told he was upset because his car rider tag that he needed every day got ripped in half. No big deal, right? In his mind, it was a huge deal, although I did not know it at the time. I had so much going on in my life, this incident did not raise any red flags to me. My husband had been commuting to Arkansas for work for two years at this point, and was only home on weekends. I had a senior in high school and a toddler at home with me. We were also preparing to move to Arkansas as soon as my oldest graduated. So we were selling our house, looking for a new one, and to top it all off my youngest developed a very severe infection that required multiple trips to Dallas Children’s Hospital.

We moved to Arkansas a month after graduation. Trey, age nine, would be starting fourth grade in a new town, a new state, a new school (that is massive by the way compared to his previous school). We had always lived in the country, with few neighbors and nobody his age close to him to play with. We moved into a neighborhood with tons of kids to play with. Perfect, right?? Nope! This is when I started to get concerned. Neighbors would call me and tell me that he was in their yard or driveway crying and would not stop or move, and they didn’t know what to do. It was usually a reason that I felt was silly to be crying over, but he thought it was a major deal. It was not long after school started that I was getting phone calls from the teacher, the counselor, and the principal about his crying in class or refusal to participate.

They pretty much told me that it was absolutely not normal behavior for a fourth grader to be having and felt we should have him evaluated by a psychiatrist. We knew something was definitely not “right” about his behaviors. Being brand new to the area, they directed us to the program that the school used for evaluation. The testing process took months and months. He took two or three types of tests, I took a test, and his teacher took a test. In the meantime, we still didn’t have a diagnosis, but he was seeing a therapist once a week that came to his school, and he was slowly improving. Finally in the spring, we got a diagnosis from the psychiatrist and were referred to the psychologist for explanation. The doctor asked if we know what Autism Spectrum Disorder was. We didn’t. I always associated Autism with the movie Rain Man. He took out a book and flipped to a page and said, “Here. Read this.” We read the symptoms and signs of ASD, and our jaws dropped. This was Trey. Although not every symptom fit, there were more than enough that did. He was also diagnosed with Anxiety.

Autism is a complex thing to diagnose because the symptoms and signs vary so much between each individual. And with Trey being high functioning, it was easy to miss the signs. If we had been educated on Autism, we could have had him in therapy ten years sooner. I felt so much guilt for not catching it, all of the times he got in trouble for crying for no good reason, getting yelled at for walking on his toes, trying to force him to eat SOMETHING different. Haircuts were the absolute worst when he was little. We had to bear hug him every single time, so we let his hair grow out until we couldn’t stand it anymore. Doctors visits, shots, taking medicine, dentists–we dreaded every single one of those. He has gotten much better with the doctor visits, dentist, and shots, but still can’t swallow a pill, which makes giving medicine to an eleven-year-old difficult. Everything has to be liquid. But, he is a pro at haircuts now and has even experimented with different hair colors!

He has a Sensory Processing Disorder as well. Bright lights hurt his eyes, sounds that are normal to us are magnified to him, smells are extra strong. He is sensitive to tastes and textures. He does not like wearing clothes. They can not have any tags and must be super soft. He does not like to be touched or look you directly in the eyes, and he has dark circles under his eyes. He does not like to leave anything unfinished, such as a game or activity. He is kind of childlike. He plays better with younger kids. Most kids his age are on another level of maturity. For instance, he collects “plushies” (stuffed animals or characters). He sleeps with them and likes to take one or more with him when we go somewhere. His little brother loves it. He is five years younger. His older brother does not seem to understand why he behaves the way he does, even though we have told him why.

We definitely had to make adjustments in the way we parent him. Normal parenting techniques go right out the window when you are dealing with Autism. We had to realize that his brain does not work the way ours does. He does not know how to tell you how he feels about something, which is why he cries. It is the way his brain tells his body to express emotion. He rarely smiles, but he is a very happy kid. I love to capture those rare times when he finds something so funny that he laughs and laughs and laughs. Most of the time what he thinks is funny, is not as funny to us as HE thinks it is. A really good comparison to Trey would be Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. He does not understand sarcasm or joking. Everything is very literal to him. He is clumsy and uncoordinated and has been known to fall down while standing still. He is very subject focused, is interested in one thing or topic for a period of time, collects every toy, game, or book on that one subject. He does not like to get rid of ANYTHING. He has to be reminded or told to do things constantly, even things he does every single day. That’s a daily struggle for me. He does not like to go outside very often. He likes video games, legos, reading, board games, card games, and playing chess. He’s in the chess club at school. His favorite thing to do is go to the arcade and play games.

It can be challenging to do family activities that everyone can enjoy, but we seem to make it work. He has been on anxiety medicine for a year and a half now, and in therapy for almost two years. He has things that he has overcome, things he still struggles with, and he has learned to handle social situations that make him anxious or upset in a way other than shutting down and crying. He still has meltdowns, but we work through them, and he overcomes them much faster. He does great in school and gets mostly As. He has learned to seek out the kids that have the same interests as he does, and to stay away from the kids that are not so nice to him and pick on him. All of the kids in our neighborhood and their parents know about his Autism, so they are understanding and accepting.

We have an amazing church family, and he is part of the Junior Youth group. He loves to take classes during school breaks at the Community Center, such as Lego Camps. This past summer he took one on how to design video games. He absolutely loved that camp and designed four original video games that he got to bring home. His dream in life is to become a video game designer. I have no doubts that he can make it happen.

I would say that some of the most difficult things about being an Autism parent the questions and reactions from people that do not understand it. Like, when people suggest that we should really make him eat healthier foods. Believe me, I know this and if I could make him, I would.  They suggest that wejust take away all of the foods he will eat and only give him new foods, and that if he’s hungry enough, he will eat. No, he will not eat. The amount of anxiety and fear that he feels when he’s asked to try something new is beyond comprehension for the non-autistic mind. An autistic person will literally starve. They suggest that we should discipline him more and then he wouldn’t act the way he does. I heard this a lot when he was younger, and he had his share of discipline, to no avail. Different approaches and tactics must be used on the autistic child. I am no softy with disciplining my kids. Just ask the other two! People say that we can’t just let him have everything he wants every time he cries. I pick my battles with him. If I know he is legitimately upset about something, we work it out together and compromise. He does not always get what he wants. People have asked me, “Are you sure he has Autism? He looks normal to me.” Well, I’m pretty positive that he has it! Kids with Autism might have slight physical characteristics that are noticeable, like repetitive motions, lack of eye contact, walking on toes, dark circles under the eyes, but most are not noticeable in a high functioning Autistic.

All of that, plus the everyday frustration, constant fear, and worry that something will upset him and he will have a meltdown. Meltdowns are not fun for anyone within earshot or eyesight of him.

My advice to anyone that is just finding out their child is Autistic would be to educate yourself and everyone around you about all aspects of Autism, read everything you can, and do research. Get your child into whatever type of therapy they might need ASAP, because it helps. If you are in a small town with no resources and not so good medical options (as I once was), go to where the help is, even if you have to drive two hours to get it. Having a child with special needs is a blessing, in my opinion. Trey is the most unique, friendly, caring, loving, smart, honest, sweet kid you will ever meet, and I am proud to be his mom.

My goal in telling our story is to bring awareness and education to everyone, so that no parent has to struggle for ten years before realizing their child can not control their behaviors, by no fault of their own. Autism is not a bad thing, it is simply an adjustment in our lives. I am thankful for the opportunity to tell our story, and I hope it helps at least one person.

A great website about Autism is www.autismspeaks.org.

Another great resource is www.autisminvolvesme.org. This one can connect you with local groups in your area.

 

 

I’m More Proud of Him Than Any Other Man I Know

I was 19 when we met. He was training to become a police officer, and I had just started working as a jailer. I worked as a jailer for three years, but I’ve just started a new job recently as a dental assistant. We will have been together three years this November. When I became an RDA, he planned a graduation party for me and proposed to me that night in front of our family and friends while I was opening my gifts. We have picked November 17, 2018 to be our wedding date.

We live in a small community.  All the love and support he receives from the community is so rewarding. And, seeing his face light up and knowing he’s genuinely happy with what he does is equally rewarding. I’m more proud of him than any other man I know. (I may possibly be just a tad bit biased.)

Sometimes the police department participates in charity basketball games, and donations can be made. The proceeds are given to a local charity. I’ve never been able to volunteer with my work schedule. I would like to see more community events involving the officers that lets the public get to know them as actual people.

Since we’ve been together, the police department hasn’t had any galas or balls, but I think it’s a great idea and could be very beneficial! I think it’d definitely give the community and officers a chance to get closer. I feel having a good relationship between officers and the community helps those in the community to trust the officers more. It would just take bringing the idea forward, planning it out, and  picking a charity to hold the event for. Work out all the details, and I think it could be done.

Occasionally, we attend shift parties with other officers and spouses, but here lately both of our schedules have been nonstop. So we haven’t had a lot of time for it.

The growing negativity towards police officers in the media and other communities honestly breaks my heart. I had a grandfather who was in law enforcement and a brother in law and soon to be husband who are in it now. Every group of people you come across will have a bad apple, but that doesn’t make the entire group bad. That’s the same for police officers. I can’t say that I’ve been directly harassed as a spouse of an officer, but I know people who attack and put down officers on Facebook. I’ve never been singled out. I do worry about his safety. Who wouldn’t be worried about their significant other putting his life on the line day in and out? My sister understands this. She’s an officer’s wife too. But I just keep him covered in prayer when he walks out the door, and I trust that the Lord will keep His shield of protection around him.

To me, every day when he walks out the front door is scary. I never know if he’ll walk back through it. Since I worked at the jail, I saw his work more up close than most law enforcement wives do. It is a blessing and a curse. One of the scariest feelings I’ve ever felt is knowing he may not come home. He’s my very best friend, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. Mostly when he works night shift, I find myself lying awake, unable to sleep because I worry about his safety. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll get a call saying he’s been hurt or worse. That’s where my faith has to come into play. It’s helped me to be able to rest when he’s gone. I know God has a plan and that He holds him in his hands at all times.

We are both very active in the church. He’s preached once at the church we just started attending a few months ago and plans to again. We’re actually looking at getting involved with the youth sometime in the near future. We don’t have any children yet–just fur babies. But as far as our future goes, I hope that we’ll get married and keep growing in our faith together. Then once the time is right, we can start our family and keep our roots planted here in Palestine where we’ve both grown up. I want my future children to do whatever they feel they are called to do. If that means being a police officer, then I’d completely back them.

Like I said earlier, not all officers are bad. That’s my message to the world. In every group of people, no matter the label, you’ll always have some that are “bad,” but that doesn’t make the group as a whole bad. Don’t label all officers as bad or crooked. Some really do just want to serve and help the public. These men and women are average, everyday people. They’re husbands and wives. They’re sons and daughters. They’re fathers and mothers. They’re brothers and sisters. They’re human.

If you’re marrying into the force, my advice would be never lose faith and always keep them covered in prayers. You can never pray too much, too big, or too small.

To read her husband’s story please follow this link.

 

 

 

 

I am Man Made

Know yourself and seek self-improvement. I didn’t know it then, but this Marine Corps leadership principle would be the basis from which I live my life. This is the story of me, a life lived, and a promise to myself to leave my mark. A telling of how I went from sitting on the floor of my room as a teenager wondering why I should continue on to how I ended up living a life based in positivity and service to others.

As a child I was your regular run of the mill heathen. My brother and I ran the
neighborhood with our friends doing what little boys do. Riding bikes or skateboards, building clubhouses, fighting, and or just going to a store to buy a drink and a candy bar was how our days went normally. But as I grew older, things would change. Friendships
would dissolve, the curse of puberty would create distance, and I was falling behind. As my body and mind began to change, I became more and more uncomfortable in my own skin. The only sign of me going through the same changes as my peers was my height. I
literally only got taller. My little brother, two years my junior, suddenly was becoming a man, and I was stuck as a tall child. High school years were social hell. I put on a public face when around peers just so that I could have some kind of normalcy. There I was, 6’5” 170 lbs., long straight hair, pierced ears, and lacking in every quality that would
indicate that I was a male. Though I participated in athletics, it just gave me more reasons to feel insecure. I just did not look the part. Then the comments started. “Stan-the-Man” became the moniker. I’d laugh it off and go along with it when the phrase would be used in addressing me, but it was just solidifying the obvious. I was different.
It came from all sides, and it was relentless. The few friends I did have had already began choosing to escape the harsh realities of high school by turning to drugs. This further isolated me and shrunk my inner circle to just a couple people. Then there was the suicide of a very close friend. He too was subjected to ridicule because he was different than the social norms. The difference between he and I was that his troubles didn’t end when he got home. For him, there was no escape or sanctuary. Our silence regarding his troubles, I feel, ultimately led him to his point of no return. For me this was the beginning of my own personal downward spiral into contemplating joining him. It wasn’t too long after his memorial service that I too found myself on the brink of pulling the trigger. I sat crying and repeating all the reasons to myself as to why I needed to just end it. Then, as if it was divine intervention, my need for music to be played constantly to keep my mind occupied became my rescuer. A song titled “It Can’t Rain All the Time” began to play. Suddenly, every word was clear and meaningful. I had heard the song a hundred times yet never listened to it until that day. That spark of light was all I needed.

Fast forward a couple years. I’m now out of high school, working, and lacking any sense of direction. The few remaining friends I had were off living life, and the visits with them became less and less. My relationships weren’t healthy, and I foresaw a life based
in regret and addiction slowly becoming a reality if I chose to stay in Palestine any longer. So, I decided that I needed to leave. I needed to be kept from home as much as possible until I grew stronger mentally. The military had all the answers. It would take me away, provide me with a job, and maybe even give a skill set that I could use once I
finished my contract. But which branch? Well, I was already doing something completely out of character so why not go big. So I raised my right hand and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. All I knew about the Marines was that they were bad asses and that they were superior to all fighting forces around the world. When I told my family that I had enlisted in the Corps, I was immediately asked “why? Why the Corps? You should have gone to the Air Force. You aren’t built for the Marines.” “Now your brother on the other hand, he could be a Marine.” So there I was, Stan-the-Man again, lacking in any quality that would allow me to be successful in the Marine Corps.

Now fast forward four months. I’m graduating boot camp, my mother is present, and I was a changed man. Out of the 525 recruits that graduated in my company, 12 were meritoriously promoted. I was one of them. Stan-the-Man stood apart from other recruits and was moved up in rank. Could this be true? Was there more to me than I had thought? Or was it a fluke? Shortly after boot camp I was meritoriously promoted again. I had found something in me that I never imagined: confidence. In regards to the Marine Corps, you could not out-shoot me, your uniform would not be superior to mine, and you would not beat me in PT. I was a new man. I now had faith in myself. Then I came to the end of my contract. What now? Get out and go home? Stay in California? What would I do back in Texs? Well I did the one thing I swore I would never do. I went home. How do I face everything that sent me away? Am I failure because I came back? Great, Stan-the-Man was back. What to do? What job do I pursue that would allow my training and USMC skillset be relevant?

Palestine Police Department was the answer.  Again I was succeeding. I was thought highly of within the department and was around like-minded people, for the most part. I was sent to various schools for training in crisis situations as well as a sniper school in Oklahoma. Stan-the Man was now on a Crisis Response Team. Cool. Over the next couple of years, the realization that being a Police Officer in your hometown became more and more of an issue for me. Every call I responded to became complicated because I knew the offender. Calls to vehicle accidents scared the hell out of me because the chances were high that I knew the victim. This town I thought I knew so well began to show me a side of it that I didn’t know existed. I was becoming a cynic. There is a saying that truly defines what it means to be a police officer. “You deal with 5% of the population 90% of the time.” That fact began making me question everyone–their motives as well their intentions.

Time for a change. Now what? The men in my family at some point had chosen to make a living in the oilfield. My father and brother were already working in the industry. They made great money. I told myself “I don’t mind hard work and the influx of cash would be awesome. Hell yeah, I’m gonna do it.” The years flew by. I was no closer to happiness and self-fulfillment than when I left to join the Service. I began searching for answers. I had proven to myself that I could succeed and excel in stressful situations. I was making good money. I gotten into working out in the gym and was in good shape. But something was missing.

Then it hit me. It was there all along, yet I overlooked it every time it was present:  service to others. During my time in the Corps, it was when I helped junior Marines achieve their goals that I was happiest. While I was a Police Officer, it was the times I was able to rescue someone from a vehicle or help someone out in a time of need that I was happiest. While in the Oilfield, it was when I was training new employees in work practices, teaching them a “trick” to make their job easier, which made me the happiest.  While working out in a gym and guiding someone to achieving their goals in weight loss or getting stronger it was then I was the happiest. Boom, it hit me. Hard. The last time I turned a blind eye to someone and left them to their own devices was when my best friend shot himself. That was it. I swore that I would never let that happen to someone again and there I was fulfilling that promise to him as well as myself.

Realizing this and deciding to incorporate it into my life has made all the difference. I am going to help as many people as I can as often as I can. Be it as a personal trainer to someone, being seen doing positive acts to help others, or just talking and saying something that someone needs to hear. Since I’ve decided to live this way, so many doors have been opened. A friend that I had been training for some time introduced me to an author. The author then in turn asked that I be photographed and to have the pictured featured on her books. I was asked to play the lead in a music video for a nationally known rock band. The list continues to grow.  So here I am, Stan-the-Man, doing things that I never would have imagined and ultimately gave me all the confidence I needed in launching ManMade.

ManMade is an idea I had toyed with for some time but never had the guts to put it out there. ManMade is a brand I guess you could say, as well as an idea. It’s the ideology that anything you do, any accomplishment of yours, was done by YOU. YOU did it. YOU made it. There are certain aspects that you can accredit for your success: God, Family, Friends, etc… But in the end, it was YOU that did it. Your accomplishment therefore is ManMade. ManMade is based in positivity, motivation, and empathy. It encourages you to step forth and be the difference in someone’s life. Be the example. Set the standard.

When I finally realized and embraced the idea of positivity, I saw the world
differently. I saw the power it held. In 2016, I set out to earn my Trifecta in the Spartan Race series. It was beyond eye opening. With thousands of participants there, the mood in the air was almost tangible. Strangers helping strangers, old and young, men and women all just helping each other accomplish the common goal of just finishing the race.

So here I am present day, Stan-the-Man, trying to figure out a way to draw out as
many people as possible and raise the most money possible for the Paint Palestine Pink event as well as teaching myself the screen printing process for an apparel line to further spread my message. It’s as I sit here typing this that I can’t help but smile. The one time butt of jokes, awkward, shy, strange young man is alive and doing well. I did it. I survived to tell the tale. And so can you. Nothing is so bad that you can’t give it a go. Try one day. Because I promise you this, it gets better. It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but it gets better. Your calling will find you, and when it does, everything will make sense. Those around you may not understand why or what is it you are doing, but in due time they will see, as will you. Just do you. After all as quoted by Jean Paul Sartre “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”

So I leave you with these little sayings I tell myself to get through my days:
It’s all a matter of perspective.

Everything is relative.

It can’t rain all the time.

Light and Love,
Stan-the-Man

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