I am missing my brother so bad right now. An older woman who has brought abuse and trauma towards me and my brother since we were kids recently told me he didn’t love me while attacking me for sharing my story publicly. In reality she is probably scared I will expose her ugly, bitter spirit. Part of me wants to but I won’t. She needs prayer and perspective. She probably has her own inner war.
One thing I do know, my brother and I were bonded and we loved one another fiercely and not one abuser will be allowed to rewrite that.
Childhood trauma affected us and we were left to try to piece our lives together into adulthood. People often lose compassion and empathy for anyone suffering as you continue to grow and cross the threshold from child to adult at 18. It is easy to feel you have to put on your adult pants and move out of the way and navigate the aftermath of the storms alone! 18 isn’t a magical number where you automatically have it all figured out. We all need support, encouragement, and love.
🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 Today I encourage you to find a young adult to encourage. Ask them what they need. Connect them to resources that may be helpful! Look around and spread love and kindness like confetti. Goodness we all need it! ❤️
Broken together. We were bonded forever. I miss you everyday. Go rest high on that mountain.
Working with children in crisis is something I am honored to do! This group of paintings is so special to me! Find out why here! This book is an amazing Valentines’ book for your special little loves! There is a heart search and a place for you to write a special love letter from you to them! Get your copy from:
Meet my brothers Shawn and Daniel. They both died tragically, one in 2006 and the other in 2020. Like many people in our country they both battled mental health. I included them in my book because their lives mattered and they will never be forgotten.
My siblings and I survived a traumatic childhood but both of my brothers died trying to overcome the grief of generational torment. Suicide took them but I will never let them go or be forgotten.
One way to connect to our babies is by spending time with them. Taking them to the zoo is always a fun way to connect and bond! I placed the elephant behind my brothers because it symbolizes “the elephant never forgets”. I too will never forget them or all that they fought to overcome. As you connect to your babies my prayer is that you find ways to help them heal from any pain that comes their way big or small. Help them see that they matter just as my brothers lives matter.
Gratitude can be expressed in remembering. Remembering often causes grief. Revisit, Rework, Release
This example is so very real. The arrow on the right is a very accurate representation of grief, at least it has been for me. I ran across it a while ago and decided to share. Many are grieving. May we all be mindful.
Grief is a process that may lead to a final destination of acceptance but I would argue that you may never truly reach the tip of the arrows head. Acceptance rarely, if ever, completely finds its way to you. It is possible for you can find meaning and champion a cause in honor of those you have lost but to truly be accepting that someone you deeply love has so very tragically and permanently departed from your life is hard to comprehend.
The voyage of working your way through grief at its genesis starts with denial and your grasping for straws often tangles your innermost being into knots and with every twist and turn it gets messier. Many days, months, and even years are spent attempting to make sense of it all. As you begin to feel like you are making progress, a stage that you carefully unpacked last year revisits and squeezes your heart causing it to feel as though the organ, responsible for keeping the blood flowing through your body, is going to explode again. You will be forced many times over to accept the reality of the loss even while you are begging God for just one more moment or dream with them. Revisit, rework, release.
Grief interrupts your life and a smell as sweet as chocolate pie with mountains of whip cream, decorated with little chocolate chips, has the potential to flood your eyes with burning tears causing a blurry fog to remind you what your new reality looks like. That sweet smell encapsulates a memory that makes you want to talk to someone who is unable to talk back so the burning tears begin to fall. Revisit, rework, release.
As you move past each stage of grief something happens to the hopes and dreams that died with your loved ones, in my case my beloved brothers. Often times as you move past a layer of hurt you will be met with an unraveling of sorts and those knots seem even more tangled. Detangling hurts. Searching for new hopes and dreams can feel like a nightmare. Revisit, rework, release.
The darkness of child abuse and trauma is that it is ingrained into the body, mind, and spirit and although you want it to just leave, it is always there, interrogating your life, causing you to question your purpose. The grief of not only death but the loss of a “normal” life here on earth is constantly tripping you as you attempt to move forward. It’s as if every few steps you take are met with a pit that you trip and fall into and you constantly attempt to get back up and work your way out of the pit. You know the only way out is up so you keep trying and as you slip and fall you continue to try and get a good grip on reality. Sometimes you want to give up, but you stay and climb anyway. Revisit, rework, release.
As the journey unfolds and as you are moving the best that you can through this grief, have grace with yourself. It is easy for others to say “be grateful” it is much harder to see through the messy line between the memories and loss of those you cherish and loved so deeply. Before you walk from threshold to threshold revisit the good memories and the good that you experienced with your loved ones, rework the reason you will choose to celebrate, release all that is holding you back from the joy of the present moments you are living in.
If you know someone walking through a season of grief, I would like to ask that you not be afraid to sit with them as they eat their chocolate pie and cry. Grab a piece of that pie and ask them to slam it into your face or you can let them wipe a little smidge of whip cream on your nose. Caution, this may cause laughter as food fights always do. Go ahead and make a mess outwardly and laugh together as you clean up the mess you have made. I promise the outward mess met with laughter will be worth it. Create new, fun memories during this time. Hearts may be burdened but your love and joy makes all the difference. Be patient as they/we continue to revisit, rework, and release. Who knows, maybe you can help rekindle a brighter future with new hopes and dreams.
Dear Daniel and Shawn (bubbas), I love you both so very much. You were amazing brothers and given the childhood that we had I would dare to call you superheroes. I know I am not responsible for the abuse that we endured but I truly am so sorry for the pain we have suffered. Your lives were cut incredibly short and I will always feel the pain of that fact.
I know this would not surprise you but I have decided to continue being your stubborn little sister. I refuse to give up on making memories here on earth. A piece of me died with you the day that each of you died but there is still something burning within me. I can hear you now saying it’s heartburn, no it’s not heartburn lol. It’s a WILL to live and live life to the fullest. I want you here but I cannot continue to feel stuck without you. I will revisit but refuse to stay. I will rework but I refuse to stay, I will release you and remember all of the joy you brought to my life and the lives of others. I will keep your spirit alive with chocolate pie, gratitude, and love. I miss you. I miss you both so damn much that often times it hurts to breathe. I will breath though. I will continue to try and live the remainder of my life with no regrets. Revisit, rework, release with no regrets!
In March of 2020. Everything in our city, state, country, and world was shifting into a place of uncharted territory as a pandemic seeped its way into every part of the globe! People were unsure of what was happening and uncertainty coupled with job loss, business shutting down, and insecurities started to plague many. Sickness began to creep into our community and spread fast. We were not only losing a grip on everything as we had always known it to be, we were also losing people to this invisible enemy. All of this loss was happening during isolations and lockdowns. Doors began to lock and security began to be tighten its grip in our hospitals and even our nursing homes. Our schools were shutting down with no real promise of when they would open. The chaos was just beginning to set in.
Shock and Fear
One day during lockdown my little family and I were hanging out at a beautiful outdoor work of art at a local University here in Abilene, ACU’s Jacobs Dream. We were enjoying the beautiful weather outside and talking to one of our precious daughters about what she means to us❤️. We were wrapping up a tough week and quite honestly had already been placed in a spot of humility at the realization that life is so valuable and connection to all of our daughters is priceless and worth being patient for!
I ignored my phone as two calls came through by the same number, because we were having a family moment. We had our feet in the water and we were hanging out. Those moments are rare with teens! A voice message was left on my phone and for some reason I felt that I needed to check it. I stood up and walked to the car and called her back as the lady on the message said she was a nurse and had a patient that she believed was my relative and she needed to talk to me.
I wasn’t prepared.
The moment that I heard “we can’t tell you much but you need to come quick your brother Shawn is with us and we need family here”, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach and I felt instant fear. I knew deep in my spirit the heart wrenching truth was that the prognosis was not good.
I fell to my knees. I cried. I wept. I prayed.
We made it home quickly and worked out plans for the girls because the hospitals weren’t letting people in and the hospital waiting areas were shut down. Our daughter Willow is one of the most empathetic children in the world. She was 4 at the time and had no idea why mommy was crying. She noticed I was trying to pack a bag. She thought I didn’t like packing a bag so she came over to me, asked me to sit down and gave me a big hug. She said “mommy I love packing, I will help you, don’t cry momma.” She hugged me, wiped my tears and brought me her little stuffed lion to hug while she packed my bag with my husband.
I needed her empathy.
We drove and my mind raced with things like, “this isn’t real, they got it wrong, he will be fine, there is no way that God would allow both of my brothers to die so very young”.
When I walked into his room I grabbed his hand and begged God to save him. I promised to never do a bad thing again in my entire life (I know perfection may be impossible but I was desperate). I promised that I would do anything if he could just please perform a miracle and WAKE Shawn UP! Please, I would cry out! I opened his eyes with my own hands and they wouldn’t move. His hazel brown eyes were no longer alive. I touched his feet, squeezed his knee (he hated that when we were kids) and grabbed his hand again and sobbed!
He was gone. I asked to see evidence and they showed me all of the scans and carefully explained all that they could. I made them show me all of the tests that they ran regarding reflexes and responses. I asked if we could keep him on life support just to see if God would bring him back. I looked for any silver lining. I was desperate for him to wake up. I couldn’t say goodbye. I just couldn’t. His heart was beating but only because of life support. His brain stem had no activity.
Forced goodbyes are no fun.
After three days of staying by his side, talking to him, praying for him, singing to him, brushing his hair and begging him to wake up, it was time for me to say goodbye. I just wasn’t ready. I knew that I would never be ready. Oh how it hurt. I cried the hardest that I had ever cried. It was a cry that arose from the deepest part of my soul as if part of me had decided in that moment to escape from this shell of a sister to unite with her Irish twin brother. I begged them to make sure someone held his hand and asked them to please never leave him alone.
Because of COVID my husband couldn’t be there with me. They wouldn’t allow more than one person with him. No children were allowed to come say goodbye. My heart sank. I wondered if I had done enough. I could not think of anything more that I could have done but I was still beating myself up because my prayers, my pleas with the medical staff and my love could not save him here on earth. He was on his way to the Father in heaven and perhaps he was already there watching as I was trying to keep him here.
Life after Death
He was an organ donor. His brain was dead but most of his organs were still vital due to the medical staff getting him on life support quickly enough. I am so thankful they didn’t just let him die. This is a miracle to me. They were able to find three recipients, one for his heart and lungs, one for his kidney and liver, and one for his other kidney.
After returning home, I called the Southwest Transplant Alliance team and emailed often to see if the families who received my brothers organs were recovering well. I was nervous for them. I began to pray for them the moment they took Shawn into the operating room . Wondering how they were consumed me through my grief and it also allowed me to feel hope. Devestation turned to hope. I kept praying for weeks and months for these families. Finally on September 10, 2020 I received a letter from two recipients. 😭😭🙌🏻🙌🏻❤️❤️. They didn’t give their last name but Scott and Gabriel were the two that I was able to now put a name to! They both were both healing. Praise God!
I received another letter from the transplant team that included phone numbers and addresses for the recipients. It took a while due to having to get permission from the recipient families. I waited a few days and finally mustered up the courage to call. It was special to hear stories about their lives. My brothers gift provided an opportunity for a second chance to live life to the fullest. Their story is not mine to tell but I can tell you that I am so grateful that they have allowed me to be a part of it in some way. I cannot imagine not knowing who they are and how they are doing!
A special gift for me.
Something sweet and simple that truly makes a difference in my life at this time is that my brothers heart and lungs recipient heard me say the nickname that my brother called me and he now calls me by the same name. Eppie. I feel my brother every time I get a call or message with that name in it.
Yesterday I participated in my first of many 5K’s for Southwest Transplant Alliance. I had only heard about it a few days prior so I quickly put together a team. #HisLifeMattered. I ran. I set a goal to try and do the entire run in 35 minutes. I ran. At 35 minutes I had a tenth of a mile left and I began to struggle hard. I felt like I couldn’t go further. As I was trying to convince myself not to quit, I looked up and tears filled my eyes as a girl name Kari McQueen was running in my direction. I hesitated for a second but then decided to be brave and ask her if I could run with her for that last tenth of a mile. She said yes! I felt like a blubbering idiot because I was run crying 😂😭😳. I couldn’t stop. Through broken, shallow breathing, I said “I am running in memory of my brother Shawn who tragically died in 2020. I just found out about the 5K a couple of days ago and since it’s virtual I am running alone and I didn’t train. People all over the world are doing it just not in the same place.” She let me join her and I finished!!! 🙌🏻🥳🎉💪🏼
The reason I am celebrating.
Right when I was almost finished with my run when I realized that I was running at ACU. I had intended to run at redbud park but made a last minute change because a friend wanted to meet there afterwards. I seriously hadn’t thought about the fact that I was in the same spot that I had previously been the moment I got the call from the nurse about my brother. I had somehow blocked that out until the last tenth of a mile when I was running towards that outdoor work of art called Jacob’s Dream 😳. I felt the pain. I felt that I could not go on and just then God sent an angel runner to run with me!
When I finished, she kept running but she looped back around as I was heading to my car. She asked if she could pray with me. What a sacred moment as she grabbed my sweaty hands and connected with me. I fell to my knees and wept. She prayed and cried with me. Her compassion and love was piercing my tender heart. I felt the love of her humanity as it connected to the spirit of Jesus. It was a powerful moment. One I never want to forget.
Be brave. Ask. Be kind. Give.
When you cannot go further look up and ask for help! When you can, look around and give! We all need connection! We all need compassion. We all are going through different seasons and need one another now more than ever.
Be Confident and Kind as you carry on. Register to be a donor. It’s not only life saving but it is also life giving to those left behind to grieve.
GritFit Abilene has challenged me for three months now to be the best version of myself! Two days ago I did a workout in memory of my brother Shawn and it HURT! As I pushed through the pain tears began to fall from my eyes, thankfully they blended with the sweat dripping from my forehead. Francisco Carlos Garrigas, one of our many encouraging coaches, came over to help me just as I began to feel like I couldn’t go any further to complete my final set. I had 7 thrusters left to finish it, but I felt that I couldn’t make it 🏋🏾♀️! He started counting and encouraging me to keep pushing through the blazing fire in my arms and legs! I also heard several incredible people all around the gym saying, come on Stephanie you have got this! I could have stopped and everything in me wanted to but my end goal was, no matter how many modifications I may need, I will not quit! Somedays life is so hard and quitting would most certainly be the easier option! “Do Not Quit” were the loud words channeling through both hemispheres of my brain! I managed to complete it and I am thankful that I did not try to complete it alone!
Sweet Friends. I cannot help but think of how many are suffering right now due to loss of many sorts. Loss of family, loss of jobs, loss of the normalcy of life as we once knew it. What pain are you managing in your life right now? How are you working the chaos out? Drugs? Alcohol? Food? Power & Control? How? Is the pain that you are trying to manage bad enough to take steps towards REAL CHANGE, HEALING? The kind of change that leaves you refreshed, alive, and thriving not just coping, getting by, and surviving?
My observation from my memorial workout is that that It really makes a difference if we have people around who have our backs and count to seven with us just when we feel like we can’t go any further. It is important to set goals and work towards achieving them. It is equally important to have a support system.
My brothers struggled to reach out and get support. Both tragically died young. Both often struggled with self medication for depression, anxiety, ADHD, parental alienation, feelings of never being enough, and many other tormenting issues. Both of my brother are gone FOREVER😭😢. What a sobering and almost unbearable thought. As their baby sister, they undoubtedly annoyed me, overprotected me, and drove me insane as most brothers do. I drove them crazy too 😁! They also loved big, felt deep, and are my why for many driving forces of advocacy and focus towards being my best and helping others.
Often times music helps me find words to emotions that overwhelm my mind and attempt to steal my peace. There is a song by The Band Perry called “If I Die Young”. These words depict how it feels to lose a loved one so very young. “Who would have thought forever could be severed by, the sharp knife of a short life.” That knife cut through layers of my existence and has formed an eternal scar on my soul.
Well, as painful as it is that they are gone, I am thankful that I get to imagine both of my brothers united in heaven, whole and free. Although it is hard, I MUST accept that they’ve had just enough time on earth. They are no longer suffering and if I choose to suffer here, the painful truth is that it will be my choice! Instead of suffering, I will find ways to press on and LIVE my life.
One thing they have taught me is that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. We only have memories and the present moment to truly be. Be present. Be a blessing. Be a person of kindness. Be a person of charity. Be a hard working human! BE Ourselves! No one can replace my brothers, or me, or you. We were created for such a time as this. The weighted question is, HOW WILL WE CHOOSE TO PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN AND TRULY PROSPER WITH THE UNCERTAIN TIME WE HAVE LEFT?
☠️drugs ☠️excessive alcohol ☠️looking for love in all the wrong places ☠️stealing ☠️overeating ☠️hatred and anger ☠️laying in bed or on the couch depressed ☠️making excuses ☠️fearful ☠️anxious ☠️reckless behavior
❤️prayer and meditation ❤️gratitude ❤️photography ❤️time with my family “quality time” ❤️time with friends ❤️writing ❤️humor, counseling, camping ❤️public speaking and advocacy ❤️music (listening, writing, & performing) ❤️healthy eating with some (chocolate)😂 ❤️Drinking water ❤️intimacy with your person😉 ❤️bike riding ❤️resting ❤️yoga ❤️smiling at strangers ❤️raising money for charity ❤️painfully ugly and still profoundly healing workouts!
I choose the ❤️ not the ☠️!
Self medicating with toxins are not an option for me but this ❤️ list is my go to! What is yours? Please reach out if you need a friend. I don’t claim to know all of the answers. I am not perfect. I am messy sometimes. I am empathetic and may cry but love does that sometimes. I do love to brainstorm and listen! I love this painfully broken yet beautifully whole life I am fortunate enough to live!
We joke together about how crazy we are for this adventurous life we have lived together. We met over a decade ago and jumped into love unashamedly. (Okay maybe there was some shame but that wasn’t from us, it was from everyone thinking I must be pregnant because we met and married so quick 😂🤣). Shame on them, actually maybe it’s, jokes on them 🤣! There are many things that I have learned from being married to and living life with you my love. Here are a few.
❤️Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. I have learned that managing all of these takes work and even when we fail we learn something and press on towards being better humans. (I know, Gushy🤷🏻♀️)
❤️Questions. Some people are afraid to question life and all that it entails. You have given room for it. You have welcomed some of life’s most daring questions. I have even learned to question the integrity of my faith and personally believe it is stronger now than ever. May we always seek!
❤️ I have learned patience. Not because I am patient but because you are and have been painfully patient with me. Let’s throw humility to the mix too because you wear that word like a champion (a humble one of course).
❤️I know I am a pain but you have taught me what unconditional truly looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes like. It looks like you, feels like you. Sounds like you. Smells like you and tastes like a marshmallow (let’s not get weird with taste…don’t want anyone thinking I lick you 🤣🙈🤷🏻♀️shh).
❤️You taught me how to appreciate storms, stars, guns, bikes, tools, family, instruments, bitter coffee and humor. You have taught me how to laugh at life and I am so grateful for this (often times I am waaayyyy too serious)!
❤️we build. Together we continue to build the layers of our lives as we blend each color together! By the way, if you are blue and I am yellow then together our love color is green. (Read The Gift post for an explanation if this doesn’t make sense. https://simplyencourageblog.com/2021/01/04/the-gift/).
❤️You have supported my crazy dreams and you still do! You have seen me succeed and you have held me through failure. I have found that there is beauty in both.
❤️Together we built a house and made a family and I am thankful that we have four beautiful daughters (all four are very strong, amazing, bright, fun, and hard working). Hopefully we continue to teach them a few things along this journey. I truly pray that we teach them what love looks like above all things… (oh and we need to get them in that class where they teach you how to damage the testicles and eyeballs 🤷🏻♀️🤣should anyone mess with them!)
❤️Thank you for letting me be a mom first even if it cost a few years of fully jumping into our careers! although it was hard, our youngest made it to Kindergarten successfully (well successful is subjective)! She is alive! They all are! We may kill houseplants but the kids made it! Hooray for success! I feel like now is the time to thank you for cheerleading me through breastfeeding…that may have been worse than three and teething and potty training all together! Hooray again!!!
Danny, you are truly the best life partner a woman could ask for. I love you so very much. Thank you for loving me back even though I annoy you, I snore, laugh loud and fight loud, have yet to do a pull-up, think 24-7 about how to help others all the while neglecting myself (changing this as we speak), scare you with crazy ideas, can’t haul a trailer, fall off stationary bikes, have to stop and rest under the cemetery shade tree, don’t understand Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, made you explain the point of The Hobbit 100 times okay 101…what is it again?, steal your chair and your hat and your side of the bed and and and your heart (maybe I didn’t steal that but it makes me feel like a rebel to think I did). I love you and am looking forward to many more Love Days with you. I am so glad you love me more than one day a year! ❤️
Today I am grateful. As I woke up to the conditions of the roadway being icy and school being cancelled I am filled with gratitude. Not because we don’t have school today (I LOVE MY JOB) or because we are iced in but because we have what we need.
This morning as the phone rang to notify us that school was closed I felt a small sting in my chest for some of my students as I prayed for their resilient minds. I remember a time in my life when days like today would cause extreme anxiety and fear for me. I relied heavily on those two meals, the restrooms, the smiling faces of my teachers and friends and the warm, fun classrooms.
There was a time that we lived in an old brown car at one point in my life and the sleep wasn’t that great in that little back seat. Food was scarce and the car heater didn’t work so we did the best we could to stay warm with the blankets that we had.
My biological dad was in prison, my sister had been adopted by a loving family when we were much younger and my older brother was with his biological dad somewhere in Texas. My mom and her boyfriend had struggled with addiction and domestic violence and recently separated for the near 100th time. We found ourselves without a shelter and all of the belongings we could take were stuffed into the trunk. It was so full it wouldn’t close and the hatch was tied down with thick wire. The three of us slept as well as we could while crammed into an old brown 70’s model Ford maverick. The nights in Texas can be cold if you are used to the usual warm climate. Some nights I would look outside the little window and wonder if we were going to eat the next day or where we would use the restroom. My mother cried often. My brother and I also cried. Somehow I always remained hopeful that life would get better.
I am so grateful it wasn’t as cold then as it is now. I hope all of my students are housed and clothed, warm and cared for during this cold winter.
I am also grateful that my own children do not have to sleep in a car or wonder where their next meal is going to come from. I am so grateful that I am not having to figure out how I will keep them warm from the harsh winter winds.
Today as I write this I am going to ask you for a favor. Choose gratitude. If you have a roof over your head, be grateful. If you have food for your children, be grateful, if you have a job, be grateful. If you have a vehicle, be grateful. If you have your health, be grateful. If you are breathing, be grateful because there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for! Looking back, I am grateful for the time that we were blessed with white powdered donuts and milk for breakfast because people in the community gave my mom some spare change and that we had that old brown car to sleep in when the nights were cold because the shell of it protected us from the winter winds.
Maybe today you can look for ways to give back to the community. United Way of Abilene helps families in our communities by helping organizations who help families! I am sure our Salvation Army is full at this time and may need resources, hands and feet.
Whatever you do, I hope complaining is not part of your day today. Pray for our AISD students and families, many are struggling right now! No matter where you are, remember that warmer days are ahead! Have hope! I love you! Love you! -Steph