Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I am not replaced.

One year ago today I could have died. The odds were against me. I was feeding my 3 month-old baby girl and when I stood up to join my 2 and 3 year-old and my husband for diner, I started to faint. It felt like someone took a pen and drew a line down the middle of my tongue and woosh, just like that, I was paralyzed on the right side of my body. A blood clot traveled to my brain and in that instant, my life was forever changed. I had a stroke.

Last year someone else replaced me in life. Someone else bought Valentines cards for my sons’ preschool classes. Someone else washed my hair. Someone else cared for my babies when they were sick. Someone else cooked dinner every night. Someone else had to drive me. Someone else tucked my children in at night. Someone else did the job I loved. I couldn’t stand on my own. Someone had to hold me. I couldn’t be left alone. I had a bed alarm. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t walk into a grocery store. I couldn’t talk to my husband about anything remotely complex. My soulmate went from my husband to my caretaker. I felt like I was floating all the time.  I wasn’t part of important conversations anymore. I was like a child, yet I knew how it felt to be an adult. I couldn’t find my words, my solid ground. I couldn’t find me. And I didn't know how much of me would come back. Someone else was always replacing me.

I spent the past year focusing on what I couldn’t do and trying to get those things back, rehabbing for months trying to get back to me. My one goal every day, with every task: Replace someone else with me. 

Today, I drove to the store, in a car, by myself, and successfully bought the things my family needs. I took my kids to the doctor. I communicated with the doctor and made decisions about my kids’ health. By myself. I made them dinner tonight. I sat at a table and ate with my family. I could get a fork from the plate to my mouth. I could hold a glass and drink my milk. I got to hold my babies as long as I wanted - every cry, every laugh, every chance I got. I now jump and run to them when they need me. I get to be the one who gives them love. I breathe in the smell of their hair, touch their skin, hold their tiny hands, sing to them, rock them, nap with them, chase them silly, bathe them at night. We are making kick-ass Valentine Day boxes for preschool tomorrow. I look at them and say, I get to be your mama. I get to be your mama. I get to be your mama. Nobody else does. I can have conversations about real things with my soul mate again. I can hold him. I can give him love in return. I can look at his eyes and find us again. I am the person he fell in love with. I get to be his wife, not just the person he cares for. I get to be his wife. Nobody else does. 

I am not replaced.

I am here, I scream from the rooftops to the world, I AM HERE. 

Yes, there are things that will be forever changed about me, but fierce, defiant optimism is not one of them. I will no longer focus on what I can’t do, but what I can. I embrace and celebrate me today, just as I am. 

When all the loud goes away, I can hear the beating of my babies’ hearts. I can hear the beating of mine. And oh, am I grateful. God, I am grateful for this unlikely second chance to be me in this beautiful world. For some reason, beyond my tiny imagination, but part of your giant plan, I am still here. And I swear to never take it for granted, not for one moment, not for one second. I am here, I scream from the rooftops to the world, I am here. I am not replaced. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Finding Purpose Among the Rubble

Standing in a trash dump in Honduras, hundreds of flies swarmed everywhere around me. I didn’t dare open my mouth. The smell of decay was beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. Sweat dripped off my chin. Vultures circled overhead. I wished I hadn't cut my pants into shorts because I didn't want my legs touching anything.

To be honest, I got through moments like this by pretending I would be going home that night to a cold shower with a lot of soap and fluffy white towels waiting for my squeaky clean hair.

I looked down at the shoes on my feet that protected them from glass, syringes, pieces of metal, and contaminated everything else. My eyes were drawn right in front of me to a scurrying pair of tiny bare feet moving along with no hesitation. I followed the little girl as she bent over a pile of trash, digging with her bare hands, picking out sharp pieces of metal and putting them in a trash bag she slung over her shoulder. This is how she made her money. She sold pieces of metal for pennies so she could have something to eat. 

I was invited into a one-room shack that day. It was crowded with people who lived in the dump. There was a 3-foot plastic, pink casket on a table with a little body with a swollen head inside. I could see his face through a small plastic window on the casket, an image that was seared in my memory. A few days previous, he had been hit by a garbage truck he was chasing in hopes of finding a treasure that would fill his belly. His family was asking for money to bury him. 

I ran outside behind the shack and bawled so hard I couldn't breathe. I started throwing up uncontrollably. I had never cried like that before. 

Something in me changed at that moment. My emotional spectrum was stretched. My saddest sad just became so much sadder. I was filled with shock. Sorrow. Guilt. My heart beats just as that little boy's did. I just happened to be born into, comparably speaking, paradise. I was shocked that this was happening in the world while I have been worrying about what type of car to buy, a car that costs as much as it would to feed this boy and rescue him from this life for years.

More importantly, in time, my happiest happy became happier as I did get to experience kids like these be rescued from situations like these. Kids who were hopeless were given what they deserve - a life. This is what made me feel ALIVE. This is when I knew I found my purpose. And it was something I could not ignore.

It doesn't take a trip across the world to find purpose. It takes putting yourself in a situation after situation that is outside your comfort zone and NOT IGNORING what it does to you. When you are truly doing what you are here for, your emotional spectrum stretches. Failures and successes mean more to you. They mean the most anything ever has. Your saddest sad becomes sadder, your happiest happy becomes happier. You feel more ALIVE.

Purpose isn’t easy to come by. It is not something you can be lazy about. You cannot expect it to hit you in the face. It is up to you to courageously step out and do the things that don’t come easy, motivate yourself to think outside the box you grew up in, breathe it all in, and feel more alive by the minute.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

5 Things to Know About Homeless Youth

1) The next time you empty the trash, remember that those big black bags are a suitcase for a lot of kids. It holds all their belongings - their clothing, their shoes, their life. When moving into housing, one girl carried in her trash bag and dumped it out saying, "I know, I have a lot of stuffed animals. But they are all I have from my childhood, and I just can't throw them away." Another girl defied the odds and received a scholarship to a major university. When we helped her move in to her dorm room, she had 2 black trash bags with everything she owned. She will rise above. 

2) Getting sick is the WORST for homeless kids. They don't get mom's chicken soup. Nobody is taking their temperature or making them tea. Katy was incredibly sick last week with some sort of ugly infection. She visited multiple doctors' offices and free clinics but they wouldn't treat her because as a 16 year-old, she needs her mother to be present. Her drug-addicted mother goes missing for weeks at a time. Not only does Katy have to deal with abandonment, she can't find anyone to help her physically feel better. It is the worst. These kids get really, really sick for long periods of time, end up in the emergency room, and miss multiple days of school. Something they don't need when getting caught up is hard enough as it is.  

3) They can't get a job because they can't get a drivers' license because they don't have anyone to help them learn to drive a car. If they take Drivers Ed class in school, they still need an adult with a car to drive them to the DMV and allow them to borrow their car to take the driving test, which means they need a stable adult in their life. Not happening. They also need some sort of identification, which is hard to come by when no one has cared enough to hold on to their social security card or birth certificate. Good luck with that. 

4) They don't like to ask for help. Imagine asking ALL OF THE TIME for basic needs like a couch to sleep on, a half of sandwich, a ride to school, an aspirin, a tampon, a shower, a towel, a bar of soap, or an opportunity to wash your clothes. Imagine feeling like a burden to every person in your life, indefinitely. It makes the act of asking for help the dreaded enemy. We must tell them time and time again that we are here for them, not going anywhere, and we truly enjoy helping them because they are our family. 

5) They are resilient. All these things and the many other cards stacked against them make them tough as nails. They are used to being told no, being judged because of the way they look or smell, and having to fight an incredibly uphill battle every single day. Barriers are nothing to them. When somebody finally believes in them, and they finally believe its true, they are able to accomplish anything. The barriers the average person faces are nothing in comparison. So, as a society, what can we do? To reach out. To embrace them. To believe in them. To treat them like they are family. Because we are the only one they have. 

Join the movement.  We are letting at-risk and homeless youth know we believe in them by wearing  shirts that tell them so. HALO plans on selling thousands of these everywhere so we can spread the word. Click here to purchase your BELIEF t-shirt today. They are SUPER soft & comfy by the way. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You are loved

His day starts with a ray of sunshine that pokes through the gaps between the slabs of wood that make up a small house. He hears his brothers shift under their wool blankets in bunk beds as he gets up to greet the day with the rooster's crow. He gathers his dirty laundry, which consists of his one set of tattered play clothes and grabs a bucket and bar of soap. He walks to a nearby stream to gather water and his hands scrub every inch of his clothing, rinse it out, and lay it on a wooden fence to dry.

He looks up to meet eyes with one of his brothers and offers a tiny smile. He puts on his school uniform ties his little shoes, and goes to the dining room for breakfast. His caretaker greets him with a warm smile and hug. She gives him an orange, bread, and a hot tea. He lives with 23 other boys who don't have a mother or father in the morning. During the day. Or at night. 

When that ray of sunshine hits his face, I want him to feel the warmth from all of the people I know who fight for him. When he leaves for school, I want him to feel the support from all of the people I know who believe in him. When he goes to sleep, I want him to know that he is loved by so many. When I go to sleep, my prayer is the same for each of them. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

She was beaten so severely by her mother that she was taken away by the state. There was no shelter for her in Jefferson City so authorities had her sleep in a juevenille jail cell. You are loved.

She was abandoned at the age of 4. Completely abandoned. No food. No shelter. No family. You are loved.

This is happening everywhere. In our own backyards.

Get involved with HALO. Give or volunteer. Please share our stories. Thank you for your support. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

She Deserves

She wakes up every day in a panic, not knowing where her next meal will come from, not knowing why she got to this point. She has been sharing a small bedroom with another teenage girl in a trailer with a 52 year old man to whom she has no relation. Because she has nowhere else to go. Her mother lost custody of her when she was young. She doesn't know her father. When she was 14, she moved in with her grandparents and eventually dropped out of school as one was diagnosed and then the other with Cancer. She took care of them until they took their last breaths. A year later she found her boyfriend when he committed suicide. At 17 she has dealt with more than anyone should in 5 lifetimes. Each week she moves all of her few belongings to another home that is willing to take her. She has 20 stuffed animals that she takes with her from place to place. They bring her comfort. They are all she has from her childhood.

She deserves to wake up in the same room every morning and to go to the fridge for a glass of milk. She deserves to take a shower. She deserves to use soap and a towel.  She deserves to have clean clothing and shoes that fit. She deserves to not feel unwanted, to not ask for basic needs as favors, to not sleep on couches. She deserves to not be yelled at. She deserves the life she longs for. She longs to care for herself. She has goals. She wants to graduate high school. She wants to support herself. She wants to break the cycle she knows is wrong. We have all the faith in the world in her.

There are over 30 stories like this in Jefferson City and no homeless shelter for teens. We have interviewed youth for the past three years who sleep in doorways, cars, and couches. Our mission is to reach youth in the greatest need. They are staring us in the face right now. We have started a pilot program to take in 2 girls to start who will live in apartments next to a Residential Supervisor who will serve as a house mom and support system. Our long term goal is to open a boys, girls, and parenting teen shelter where teens like this can flourish.

We are once more in great need of help from the communities we serve. If this speaks to you, please contact us at 573-418-9912. We need funding, apartment items, food, diapers, clothing, school supplies, volunteers, opportunities to speak, and more.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hunger Games, Real Life

Hunger Games, real life. That's all I could think of. We drove through the industrial district of Tijuana, Mexico this weekend while visiting our first-ever HALO supported home. The workers make $4 - $7 per day and live in shacks lined up on the mountainsides. As a little girl played on a disgusting rusted mattress atop the one room shack where she lived, I remembered that I live in the Capital on Hunger Games. I do. People live like this all over the world as they make t-shirts that I buy for $10. These shacks are the types of places our youth lived in before they were part of HALO. They were also  severely neglected. Every HALO trip comes with a realization like this. It overwhelms me.

The other realization I had was at the orphanage we have supported for 9 years. The kids are growing up. The 12 year olds are now 21. HALO has invested in the education of the youth in this home, hoping to change the course of their futures. Over 80% of the children in this home have been abused. The children used to attend schools in the area but because of their backgrounds, the kids needed more attention.

At HALO, we take every dollar very seriously with the goal of making the most impact with every single gift. Nine years ago, we made the decision to invest donations in the future of these youth and we have gotten an incredible return. Walking through the halls of their school this weekend brought tears to my eyes. The success stories go on and on. Kathy grew up there and now has a law degree, working at the border. 3 more students are studying law. Another girl is on her way to becoming a chef and cooks the meals at the orphanage during her time off at school. A few others have gone on to be cosmetologists. They live in an apartment together. Nine years later we get to see that IT IS WORKING.

Without these success stories to balance out the sadness of the situation in the poorest areas of the world (including the US), I wouldn't last long in this line of work. But with just one of these stories, I am idealistic and ready to fight. The fact that the HALO Family has been able to take even just one child from the absolute worst circumstance and give her permission and tools to dream has given you and I the permission and tools to dream as well.

Mexico Home immediate needs:

35 mattresses at $38 each
35 sheets at $5 each
35 blankets (fleece quilts - need these to be made)
2 additional staff members

Please leave a comment if you are interested in helping with one of these needs or other needs of HALO youth. Thank you!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The M&M Integrity Lesson

HALO's monthly life skill is Integrity. We have been discussing what this word truly means with our board, staff, volunteers, and the youth we serve. Our definition has come down to an actionable item: do what you say you are going to do. The story below is not for the easily grossed-out. Its about potty training. Proceed with caution.

My 2 year-old son Klaebel is going through the lovely process of potty training. The potty part he has gotten down with flying colors. The #2 part is taking a little longer. He had it down for a few weeks but for some reason he got what I call "poo anxiety". He all of a sudden started freaking out when it was poo time and would hide under tables or blankets when he had to go. Not exactly fun when I am in line at Target with him and his one year old brother. I tried everything - comforting him, bribing with M&M's, long discussions about everyone else in his life (including super heroes) who successfully go #2 on the toilet, and I still got a scared little guy who thought there was a monster in the toilet.

One night, I was home alone with the boys and I sat Klaebel on the toilet. He was scared but we both knew he really had to go. I sat down on a little stool in front of him him and he hugged my neck, crying, saying "Klaebel do it." I kept telling him it was ok to go on the toilet, reassuring that it wouldn't hurt. After a bit, he finally trusted me. We heard a "plop" in the toilet which caused his cry to turn into a laugh I will never forget. (At this point I was crying too). He screamed, "PLOP!!" We both sat there for what seemed like eternity, laughing hysterically with tears streaming down our faces. It was one of those times when I felt like I was hanging out with an adult as he totally got the humor of the situation.

After his bath, books, PJ, and prayers, I was rocking him to sleep singing his songs. He closed his eyes and drifted off. I was exhausted and started to fall asleep when all of a sudden in a loud little voice I hear, "M&M&M&M!" He remembered. I promised him earlier in the week that he could have an M&M if he went #2 on the toilet. At this point, going all the way down stairs to get him an M&M at a time of night when he shouldn't have one sounded like a bad idea. I was actually being lazy. I looked down at him and thought, how could I say no to this? He just had a major life success. Who am I to take away my promise? Following through builds trust. That's what integrity is all about. Would he ever trust me again when I said I would do something if I didn't follow through? I sat him in the rocking chair, went downstairs and got 2 M&M's with a sippy-cup of milk. I held him in my arms and we had an M&M toast. Klaebel giggled himself to sleep. I didn't stop smiling the rest of the night. And honestly, it was the best toast of my life.

The next time I even think of not following through, I will remember The M&M Integrity Lesson, taught by the one and only Klaebel James Welsh.