Monday, July 9, 2018

My Birthday Babe

You, who have been following our family for the past seven years, have shared in the ups and downs of the road we have travelled with Elena.  I realized, however, that many or even most of you know what we have been through, but you don’t really know our Elena.  As any kid with a disability, she is so much MORE than what her challenges are!  On her seventh birthday, I want to share my girl with you.  I want to introduce you to the heartbeat of our family, our Elena. 

When I look at my seven year old Elena, I see a beautiful little girl with steel blue eyes and long black enviable eyelashes.  She has golden hair, curled just around her face, ruby-red lips that one could swear are lined with lipstick (but aren’t!) and the tiniest bit of freckles that run the bridge of her nose to just above her cheeks.  She has a big girl smile, still waiting on two teeth in front to come in.  When she is able to look me in the eye, it makes a little piece of my Mom heart soar.  She loves getting kisses, the more at once the better and is the most ridiculous snuggler.  Burps, coughs, sneezes, yawns and toots still make her roll with laughter.  Her neck and ribs are the most ticklish  and when she sleeps she looks like an angel.  When her hands are relaxed, fingers open, outstretched, they’re still chubby with dimpled knuckles and are as soft as can be.  She is perfect from the ringlets on her head to her curled under toes. 

She loves all the Disney Princesses, Moana especially, and never tires of the Disney Hits playlist on Spotify.  We have heard them all thousands of times but the ones with prominent harmonies and “big finishes” or crescendos in music speak, really get her grooving.  Her taste is eclectic, dancing along to Taylor Swift to Queen to Mary Poppins.  She’s happiest in the pool where she can float, swim and squeal with each splash.  As any big sis, she often gets annoyed by her loud brothers but just as often, they keep her smiling and laughing.  She laughs when they get in trouble and loves their nightly hugs and kisses.  At school, she loves when her friends talk to her about nail polish, unicorns and their weekends.  Each day this year she would come home with a backpack stuffed with hand drawn pictures and notes.  She loves to swing because the wind blows in her face and that’s always made her smile.  The same with the sun, throwing her head back, grinning and blinking as it shines on her face.  Books have always been a favorite, but only ones that have a good cadence and rhyme to them.  When an airplane flies overhead, she stops every time to listen and then breaks into a huge smile.    She has a strong preference for loud people and if you’re silly and loud, you’re even better.  She likes to be read to, sung to, talked to, cuddled with and told she smart and pretty. When she can get it out, she loves being loud and vocalizing.  Lately, in public restrooms she screams with delight when you flush the toilets, the louder the better, then uncontrollably giggles when you tear paper towel off the automatic dispenser.  When I have to get the ‘honkies’ out of her nose, she always laughs and snorts.  We read the same book to her every night before bed and she’ll fuss if you try to sneak in a different one.  She goes with the flow, is happy 95% of the time and never protests a therapy or doctors appointment.  Elena is funny, sweet as can be, resilient, brave, strong-willed, determined and loving. 

There are many things physically that are difficult for her, but it doesn’t change her spirit.  It’s hard for her to hold her head up sometimes, but she’s not asleep!  So beware, she is always present, listening and taking in her surroundings.  She can’t see very well or very far, but that just means she can hear the tiniest squeak of a floorboard or the sound of an unrecognizable voice.  Swallowing is tough so there may be some drool but she still likes to taste the applesauce her brothers love or the sweetness of strawberries.  She can’t communicate words yet, but she will definitely let you know what she wants, what she likes and what she doesn’t!  It’s hard for her to walk, but when you see her do it, it will leave you in awe.  The things that are hard for her, aren’t for me, but it has taught me to love and appreciate the differences in everyone, and especially to empathize with others who face a variety of challenges every day. 

Elena was not born with the disabilities she must live with every day, but I know in my heart that inside she is exactly who God designed her to be.  If she was a walking, talking, typical seven year old, I know she would be the same.  Those blue eyes would light up just as brightly and a burp would be just as funny.  As her Mom, I have the unique privilege of knowing her the way I do, seeing her overcome impossible obstacles and continue to achieve what science says she shouldn’t.  Elena, our brought-back-to-life miracle, our shining light, teaches us every day to keep our eyes on what is important, what matters, to keep perspective, to be courageous and to fill our lives with love.  Elena has taught me more about life, myself and my faith than anything.  She is truly a gift. 

It hasn't been seven years of storybook bliss, but they’ve been the most beautiful and love filled of my life.  We love you, Laney girl.  You are our light.  Happy 7th Birthday.


Newborn Laney

1 Year old

 2 Year Old

3 Year Old

4 Year Old

5 Year Old

 6 Year Old


7 Year Old

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Jumblings & Ramblings

For the last nearly seven (SEVEN, ahh!) years my life has been a constant roller coaster of grief then joy, darkness then hope, struggle then freedom.  I've cataloged it all here nicely sharing with you all both the tragedy and beauty in life.  I'm proud of my honesty and proud that I've, in a way, shared this journey with all of you.  The writing has helped my brain and my heart in the healing and you all, wow, have been more than remarkable.  You've been receptive, loving, understanding, prayerful, encouraging, supportive and simply wonderful (at least to my face or screen anyway!).  It's been lovely to see how you all, who somehow found your way into our story, have been woven into the fabric of our journey.  No doubt, God has used you to encourage us, as much as we have been a light for you.  

Although the first paragraph sounds an awful lot like a goodbye, it's not.  Don't panic!  It's just that I've been struggling to understand lately why I haven't felt compelled to write like I used to.  In the past, I would always have a 'jumbling' inside.  I would sit at the computer and the words would fly off the tips of my fingertips, spilling all my thoughts and 'jumblings' out onto the screen in front of me.  

It occurred to me the other day that I simply don't have all the 'jumblings' inside anymore.  I guess I would define 'jumblings' as an inner angst or emotional unrest.  It would be a feeling or a thought based upon something I was dealing with that I could only wrap up or conclude by writing it out on paper.  And simply put guys, I'm pretty darn peaceful these days.  Hallelujah.

I had an epiphany a couple months ago.  Fun Fact:  I happen to be the queen of epiphanies BTW, crowned to me by a dear friend who hears all my crazy and loves me anyway.  But, essentially I was sort of becoming my own worst enemy.  Too much in my own head, too wrapped up in all my own feelings, I had been blinded to the insurmountable blessings that surrounded me.  Folks, that's really easy to let happen.  For me, the more consumed I become with myself, my needs, my wants, my frustrations, me, me, me, the more grumpy, frustrated and anxiety bound I become.  I became much less aware of the good, only the things that weren't happening for me.  I was bound by my own self.  Once I realized that, ahhhhhh freedom!  

At this very moment in my life, I can say I'm living in the moment.  I've worked through so much of the trauma of the past, coming to terms with it, and actually being thankful for it.  As for the future, there's far to much fear and uncertainty to dwell there.  I learned that a long time ago.  The only future thinking I do, is planning my next vacation, ha!  The present for me, equals peace.  Don't confuse that with perfection or happiness.  Perfection doesn't exist and happiness is too fleeting to claim.  I prefer peace, deep joy, gratitude and recognition of all that surrounds me each moment.  

I hope this is making sense.  To keep things real, you all should know my kids all drive me crazy at some point every day.  I always have 99 problems...and a million more.  Life is nuts right now.  Elena still has 138 issues going on at all times, whether it be therapy, school, medically or just the challenges we deal with on a daily basis.  Calvin, though such a dear, talks one thousand hours a day and cannot deal when his younger brother pushes his buttons.  And Turner, is hard to put into words (ha!).  He loves big and can make you cry with laughter...and 3 seconds later cry while pulling your hair out.  My nine year old dog discovered he can eat food off my counter tops.  Any my husband can eat a gigantic bowl of ice cream every night and not gain a pound.  My life is just a crazy as the next person, so don't think that even though I am settled, I don't have my own share of afflictions.  

To wrap up my ramblings, ya'll I'm good.  I'm so so good.  Just writing those words is emotional for me because for, like, forever I haven't been good, settled, at peace with the way my life has twisted and turned.  Almost seven years later, the mountaintop is within reach.  Go ahead and remember what it's taken to get here, there's six years of writing, laying brick by brick the path to here.  

This certainly isn't goodbye.  I'm still writing.  There's still more story to tell.  Our girl continues to inspire me and her story continues be an example of God's goodness and faithfulness.   And I love sharing it with you all.  

All three of my littles.  Turner is probably growling.  Elena is sweeter than sweet.  And Calvin is doing exactly what I asked him to do.  All three personalities summed up in one picture.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Elena's Big Pitch

We had THE BEST weekend!  It just so happened to be Mother's Day, too.  A what a good reminder it was for me as a Mom, to live in the present, love the simplest of things and celebrate my precious little family.  

First, a little housekeeping.  I know I've been slacking lately with my updates.  And I'm half sorry.  I'm sorry because I know for many of you, this is the only update you get on my girl.  For that, I do feel badly when I go several weeks without a post.  It isn't for lack of material.  The Hinton Fam sure is busy these days.  But that's also why I only feel half bad.  Ya'll it's exhausting to have three little ones, a life to keep together and try and share the inner workings of my brain along with all things Elena with you.  Most days, by the time I have a moment to sit, my brain goes mush and any inspiration is fleeting.  So as always, just bear with me.  I am trying!

Ok, whew..guilty conscience gone!  Now onto the good stuff!

About a month ago, a friendly staff member from the Ronald McDonald House shot me an email asking if we would be interested in attending an upcoming Indianapolis Indians (our hometown AAA baseball team) game.  It happened to be Superhero Night and a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Indiana (a cause near and dear to us).  Then, she casually asked if we would agree to have Elena throw out the first pitch!  Ummm, yeah!  All week, I teared up every time I thought of the idea of Elena being cheered on to throw a ball, something she loves to do at home with her brothers.  I was fairly certain I'd been a sobbing mess out there on the field.  Somehow I mostly managed to keep it together.  

The whole experience was magic.  Elena was SO excited.  I was a little unsure of how she would react with all the loud noises (announcer, cheering, etc.) and unfamiliar voices, but she totally loved being a VIP.  She kept her cool the whole time, smiling for everyone that came to say hello and was totally unfazed by the sights and sounds.  As it was Superhero night, we were introduced to Superman and Wonder Woman, whom she casually shook hands with like they were old friends, hilarious!  The boys were mesmerized by the field and the "baseball guys" as Calvin called them.  They wore their capes that the Indians gave them and were excited to cheer on their Sissy.  

As we headed out to the field for the big pitch, they began playing the RMH video we filmed several years ago.  Chad and I pretty much did everything we could to not watch or listen to it as it played on the Jumbotron.  I kept my eyes on Superman (and his muscles), ha!  I knew I would be an emotional wreck if I caught glimpse of any teary eyes in the stands or focused on anything other than making sure Elena threw out her best pitch.  After it ended, they announced us to a roar of applause (a little exaggeration here, ha!).  I helped her wind up the pitch as she threw a fastball (ha, jk) to the catcher.  My cousin was able to catch the perfect picture (see below) of her smile, which reflected the pure joy on her face.  Elena loved every second of it.  I was so proud of her.  It was a memory that I will cherish forever.

We were able to share that moment, not only with the thousands of people who were at the game that night, but with Elena's own cheering section of over 70 people who came just to watch her.  I'm not sure which part she liked more, throwing out the pitch or the 70 of you who came up to talk to her about it and tell her awesome she did afterwards.  I'm so happy to know that we were able to share that moment with each of you who were there, but also so touched by how proud YOU were to see my girl do this.  It was incredible meaningful to have all her biggest fans there.  

You guys, our family is so stinking blessed.  We are constantly surrounded by people who wholeheartedly love our girl, root her on, lift her up all the time.  Our church, our community, our school, our family, our friends, all of you play an integral part of her story.  There is so much goodness in that.  I have been reminded over and over lately that yes, our story is one of heartache and grief and tragedy, but also one of redemption, beauty, mercy and love.  To me, the heartache continues to shrink as I'm able to step back, look around and see all that God has done in our lives over the last six and a half years.  I get to grieve every memory and yet, leap for joy with the slightest of victories, all the while my most precious girl grins her little heart out, shining that light, a reflection of God's love and goodness out for everyone to see.  And so with a pitch, my Elena grows my heart a thousand times and continues to shine her light and her big-toothed grin for the world to marvel.  

The biggest of thanks to the Indianapolis Indians staff and players who couldn't have been kinder or more accommodating to us and our 70 person fan cheering section.  We seriously had the best time and can't wait to head back for another game this season.  Cute side-story here:  Chad was taking Calvin to the bathroom before we headed out on the field.  The bathroom where we were happened to be next to the opposing team's locker room and Calvin's head about exploded when he saw the real "baseball guys" hanging around.  Chad said as they were walking back out to meet us, there was a group of players praying before the game and Calvin said, "Dad, look!  They're saying their prayers!"  Yesterday, we heard Cal in the other room playing, doing his usual starting line-ups (we watched a lot of basketball games this winter and he likes to go to his 'locker room' and do pretend starting line-ups) but we heard him saying his school lunch prayer prior to his announcer voice and about died of cuteness!  Clearly, he soaked up the entire experience!

And of course, our friends at the Ronald McDonald House who work so hard every day for families like ours, who find themselves unexpectedly at its doors.  We love them all and we love this cause.  THANK YOU!

This is the best video and pictures I've received so far, but hopefully will get some official ones here soon.  Enjoy!  






 Elena's big smile post-pitch


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Walking For Dreams 2018

If you know our family, you know we have a deep love for the Jackson Center for Conductive Education.  In fact, I just wrote about it in my last post!  I shared how much of an impact it has had on me, not to mention the therapy is actually for Elena! 

I'm not one to repeat myself so you can read my love letter's to this special place HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.  But, man, the Jackson Center fulfills so many needs for so many kids and their families, ours included.

Elena has been a student at the JC since she was two years old.  We could never express how much what it has given to her or to us, but we LOVE being able to give back.  We are so fortunate in that we are constantly surrounded by a community who supports us, helps us, prays for us and loves us in every way possible.  You all are so generous in giving not just monetarily, but in your hearts for us.  We are incredibly grateful for this, never taking it for granted, and are always amazed by you. 

We give back to the JC any chance we get, both through their fundraisers and through Elena's monthly tuition.  We know first hand that our donations and tuition go directly into helping Elena and her buddies receive the therapy, motivation and community that the JC provides. They are a small, family-centered organization but they give BIG, with their whole hearts and love, love, love our kiddos.  I can't say enough about these people and this place.

If you would like to contribute to their annual Walking for Dreams fundraiser via (our favorite student ELENA!!) you can do so in a couple ways.

1.  The Walking for Dreams Website....click HERE
              a.  Fill out the form
              b.  Select Individual Walker, then under "Walker" :  HINTON, ELENA

2.  Mail a check to:
          The Jackson Center for Conductive Education
           802 N. Samuel Moore Parkway
          Mooresville, IN 46158

Regardless whether you contribute or not, know we love you and appreciate you loving our family!  I'll leave you with a picture of our sweetie, soaking up the sunshine on spring break a few weeks ago. 


Monday, March 19, 2018

Changing Seasons

Looking at my girl, I'm coming to terms with the fact that she is growing up.  I've had several moments of late where I stop, look around me, and think - where has time gone?  Elena is closing in on seven years of life - SEVEN!  She looks every bit of it too.  This realization has had me in a perpetual state of wonder and reflection.  How did we get here?  What happened to TIME?

Following Elena's injury, it was like someone had take our life, crumbled it into a million pieces, shook it up in a bag and handed it back to us with assembly instructions in Mandarin.  There was so much time spent sorting through the grief, piecing our life back together again and in fear of what our future, what Elena's future would look like.  It breaks my heart to think of our naivete at leaving the hospital with hope that Elena would "wake" up from the medication she had been given, and settle back into the "old Elena".  I knew in my heart she would never be the same, but as a Mother how do you come to terms with that?  You may remember that we clung to Ephesians 3:20 "Now to him who able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us."  I was certain this meant recovery, healing, restoration for my broken baby girl.  

Those early days I worked with Elena around the clock.  We were constantly going to doctor appointments, therapy and if we weren't doing those, I was doing therapy with her.  It was overwhelming and a rollercoaster ride of emotions.  But, I began to really understand her.  I was learning my daughter, soaking up information about her vision impairment, GI issues, muscular struggles and bone development.  Though this role gave me purpose and hope, I often found myself in tears, feeling much more like therapist and manager than Mom.  

Then came the Jackson Center, it became my sanctuary.  It was a place where kids were like Elena and the other Moms understood me.  I could ask a hundred questions and listen to the wisdom and compassion from the other Moms who had been in my shoes, comforting me and quelling my fears.  That was such a critical time for me, it was a time where I began to accept that Elena's life would not look like the one I had dreamed.  I was learning to both grieve that and be ok with that.  While Elena performed hours of grueling therapy, I would have a little bit of therapy myself.  

Somewhere over the course of this time, I found (one of many) a miracle.  Peace.  I'm not sure that I ever once prayed for peace over this situation.  But, then again - Ephesians 3:20 ".....more than we could ever ask or imagine".  Granted, I would give anything, ANYTHING for my miracle to have been for Elena to be healed.  And it will be my forever prayer to see her continue to achieve.  But, this recent time of reflection has given me perspective, which if you've read anything I write, I am a firm believer in the incredible gift of perspective.  And this bout of perspective flows from the peace that is within me.  

I will forever grieve the expectations I had for Elena's life.  I will forever grieve her struggles, our struggles as a family over her injury.  I will forever have good days, hopeful days, joyful days and angry, fearful, cripplingly sad days.  But the resounding beat of my heart lately has been peace.  I am at peace with my beautiful girl, just the way she is.  This doesn't mean I'm not constantly searching for ways to help her, make her life easier or pushing her to achieve.  It means that this life, her life is meaningful and rich and fulfilling and lovely even in it's broken form.  

It feels as though a new season of life is ushering it's way in.  Oh, I'm still in the trenches with her wild and crazy brothers, schedules, and such, however I'm settling into a better rhythm.  A more stable one, a more hopeful one, one with loads of perspective.  Being a sharer by nature, I feel like it's positioning me to be able to be more generous in supporting others and paying forward the experience that all those Moms helped me (and still do!) with along the way.  And there is just so much darn hurt in this world to help. 

My days are long, my to-do lists longer, and there always seems to be a kid who either needs something or needs to be cleaned up after.  But as I crawl into my bed each night, there's an inner satisfaction with this wild, difficult, fulfilling, joyful life of mine.  I never could have imagined it this way, or honestly, nor would I have wanted to, but that's the how the beauty of my faith works.  I put my trust and hope in something bigger than me, my circumstances, my control and my failures, and somehow, inexplicably (but actually very explicable) in the end, it gets redeemed.  My heart gets changed over and over and over again.  Fear and anxiety get replaced with peace.  Despair and heartache with joy and gratitude.  And the promise He made to me in Ephesians 3:20 will continue to reign true again and again with more blessings than I could ever ask or imagine.  The best of which, to spend each day with my living, breathing miracle, who is and always will be my greatest inspiration, my Elena.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Coming Out of Hibernation

This may be the longest hiatus to date I've taken from sharing with you.  I wish I had some terrific announcement or news to update you with, but really it's just been life.  You guys, I'm having trouble lately catching my breath.  I don't like it.  Everything is whizzing by and I feel like I have hardly a second to interpret it, before it's like three weeks later.  I hate talking about how busy I am, because newsflash, everyone is busy!  But my busyness feels hollow and lackluster.  I'm desperate for inspiration, for insight, for anything other than going all day and hardly being able to keep my eyes open at 8:02pm.  Who am I?  Where am I?

Since January, my last post (eeeeeek!), I can hardly come up with one legitimate thing to share with you.  The boys and I took off for Arizona for a week in mid-February to spend some time with my parents and the sunshine.  But that's it.  Isn't that terrible?  It's like I have no idea how I've arrived on March 8th.  Part of it, I know, is just this season of life.  I'm needed A LOT.  Sometimes that's endearing and affirming and other times it's suffocating and straight-up annoying.  Finding balance between those sets of emotions can be tough.  In the midst of that, I'm constantly looking for inspiration and perspective.  It's not always to be found or better yet, I'm too tired to articulate it! 

I know you guys get it, many of you are in it with me, some of you have been through it, but I appreciate the grace nonetheless. 

For now, I'll leave you with a quick Elena update.  In the next few weeks, Chad and I will be meeting at school to revise her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for FIRST GRADE.  I'm dying a little when I say that.  With two years of Kindy under her belt, she's pretty much a pro!  Ha!  This year has been much better for her, not without it's own set of challenges and struggles, but we've been much more confident in her time there.  You guys, she's huge.  Her legs are like a mile long and her sweet, chubby baby face is growing into a bright-eyed, beautiful girl one.  All eight of her front teeth have been replaced with adult sized teeth, which is still insanely adorable, but gone are the days of her gap-toothed baby teeth.  She's still as happy as can be, laughing when her brother's get in trouble or start to cry, and squealing in delight when it's loud and chaotic.  She still loves music, school, her therapists and being told she's pretty.  We remain encouraged about all the possibilities for her future and all her achievements.  But, she still has her struggles.  Her little body can be so frustrating for her and for us, as we watch her light up with intent, then struggle to act.  We are still praying and believing in a solution for her to easily communicate with us.  Patience is a virtue in life and especially on this road we walk with her.  But, we continue to trust God and her team that we will be led to just the PERFECT device/routine/adaptation for her.

You guys, the best part is seeing every day how ridiculously, utterly, totally loved and adored this girl is.  Not just by us but by friends, family, classmates, teachers, therapists and anyone who sees her big hair bow, glittering blue eyes and toothy smile.  Just this week, two of her little friends at school painted her a picture and hand-made her a coloring book.  I emailed her teacher to ask if they were specifically for Elena and her reply was YES!  The girls in class simply adore her!  This confirms to me, that even though my precious girl is without words, everyone is drawn to the light that shines from her.  This makes me beam with pride and comforts my heart to know how loved and appreciated she is.  What a gift! 

Happy girl.

Being silly with one of Calvin's Valentine surprises!

Standing tall with Miss Polly (her PT)



Friday, January 12, 2018

Being Brave

One of my resolutions for 2018 is to get back to daily quiet time, even if it's just 5-10 minutes. Using that time to be still, read a devotional, pray, just be present, journal, whatever it may be, it's such a good practice.  I find myself so much more engaged in my faith and those around me, when I have that time each day.  I recently began a devotion called "100 Days to Brave" by Annie Downs.  It's all about being courageous in our daily lives. 

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly courageous person, but I would admit to being brave or oblivious (ha!) during certain times of my life, whether I knew it at the time or not.  I'm only on day five of one hundred but I've already been convicted of a few recent times when I SHOULD have been courageous in my truth, and I wasn't.  It's left me with a little nagging feeling in my spirit that has totally humbled me. 

Yesterday, I was with two women whom I had just met.  They saw all the adapted equipment we had in the house and asked about Elena.  We got to talking about what happened to her, what we went through and the conversation became more than I usually share when I just meet someone.  But the conversation came easily and I wasn't overly emotional about it, which doesn't happen very often.  Then came my moment, she blatantly asked me, "How did you overcome all the anger?"  Softball lofted up for the homer, Emmalee.  Moment to share! (see Dear Melissa).  Moment to share my truth.  Moment to say a zillion things.  That my peace consumed me one day sitting in church.  It was a "God thing".  I forgave her.  I was given the strength to overcome the impossible because of my faith.  I forgive, because He forgave me.  It was just one of the miracles that we've experienced along the way.  I'm freed from the anger, resentment, bitterness.  Ephesians 3:20.  Anything.  Instead, I said something vague about anger eating you up and not affecting the other person.  Ugh.  So cliche. (eye roll). 

Immediately, I was embarrassed with myself.  I had the opportunity to share with someone my truth, the heart of our story, and I didn't.  I was tested and I feel like I got a big, fat F.  I'm such an open book, why was I not able to be honest about how I overcame that, how I overcome anything that comes my way? 

Sharing my faith, outside of my writing, isn't always easy for me.  It's clear to me now, that this is an area of opportunity for me, an area that clearly needs improving.  My faith is the center of who I am and if I can't share that with someone WHO LITERALLY ASKS ME THE PERFECT QUESTION, I stink.  Honestly, there have been several opportunities I can think of, when I could've shared and I didn't.  Maybe I took the credit.  Maybe I didn't say anything.  All of it the same. 

God gifted me with the ability to express myself and an openness that makes me a 'sharer' or perhaps, an 'over-sharer' at times.  Mixed with what we've been through, it's obvious to me that THIS is my opportunity.  THIS is what I need to share.  Because once you've heard our story, (at least in my opinion), it's pretty dang tough to not be able to see that there is something deeper, greater, purposeful behind everything that has happened and our resiliency through it all.  That doesn't come from me or Chad or any super human strength that we have.  My hope is rooted in something bigger.  It's not my 'religion' (blech, I hate that word), it's my relationship.  I am who I am.  I've survived what I've survived.  I have hope always because of what I believe.  Nothing could give me the peace, resolve, strength, joy, or hope that I have, other than God.  It's so good that I can't believe I don't tell people all the time. 

Having lived a major life trauma has given me a great empathy for anyone who is enduring something really difficult in their life.  Whether it be a friend, acquaintance or story I hear on the news, it always hurts my heart because I've been there.  Dark times, valleys, are all painful and scary and sometimes hopeless.  I've been there.  I probably carry other people's burdens and hurts more so than I should.  It's like if I can make it, I want to encourage you to know that you, too, can make it.  Know that I pray for you, I think about you, and I hope to be courageous enough with you to tell you why I made it through and I know how you can too.   

For the next 95 days (well, and forever after that), my goal is to be brave.  Be brave in my truth.  Be brave in my story.  Be brave in my faith.  I can't promise no more missed opportunities, but God knows I'm not perfect.  It has certainly been made clear to me that this is an area I need to work on.  I'm listening.  I want to be your cheerleader.  And I want you to be courageous in whatever you're facing, too.