Sunday, June 04, 2006

Highlights of the Crystal Cathedral

First, I must apologize for going so long between blogs. Naughty me! But in my own defense, my schedule has left me slightly crazed (huge understatement). It has been filled with back-to-back travel. In fact, everytime I hear an airplane overhead now, I think I'm in an airport somewhere, and quickly remove my shoes preparing to go through an imaginary security screening!

My life as a newly published, slightly starry-eyed author has also been filled with lots of media interviews and book signings. Unlike many authors, I love book signings because I get to talk to lots of great people. I always come away with lots of food for creative thought, an especially important benefit for non-fiction writers. Plus, after trying to finish my book in record time in relative solitary confinement in my home office, I started feeling like the groundhog. Fact is, I'm thrilled to be out socializing again- and seeing daylight!

I got to attend one really cool awards ceremony in New York City to accept my Chief Everything Officer (CEO) Award in Community Outreach from AOL and Dove (more about that biggie in my next blog!), where I met Felicity Huffman and Marlee Matlin. And yes, that was cool. You can read more on my website at

So I have landed home for at least a little while, and in between responding to emails, new media requests and cleaning my I've-been-out-of-town-a-while clutter, I am eager to share with you some of my incredible experiences of the past few weeks. That includes some of the amazing opportunities that I have had to speak with (or should I say listen to?) many wonderful people from across the country who shared with me their stories of children with special needs with great honesty and emotion.

Many of their words were fueled by gratitude and unconditional love for their children, in light of experiencing some very real hardships. I am still trying to answer all the resulting emails. If you sent me one, please be patient, I will reply sooner or later; that's a promise. And I work overtime to meet my promises.

More than one person has shared their tears of frustration over the weight of the responsibilty they carry each and every single day, often without adequate support or kudos. Tears fell on my books at more than one book signing as people finally felt permission to lighten their emotional load and tell me in no uncertain terms the reality of their challenged lives, knowing that I understood and wasn't about to pass judgement. I held hands with people more than once; in many cases, hugs were a given.

At times, I felt like I was part of a special needs parenting revival! And while I wish my presence, or touch, or words could cure all the pain I witnessed, I hold no such power. I can only hope that my own honest, caring words may in some small way soothe and ease some of the pain that others feel, while providing some inspiration and needed direction to help these families meet their challenges well and move forward well.

In light of the tough demands facing many people who took the time to welcome me, most of these same individuals also graciouly took time to thank me for writing the words that they say they have been waiting to hear for far too long- words that loudly proclaim that their children DO matter, that they do have value, as do their parents. One mom wrote: "You are the hug that I have been waiting three years for..."

The work I do is humbling, and I take both the responsibility, and this honor, very seriously...It is an honor to serve this incredible population.

This mom's words helped sum up why I wrote Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs. Yet, those same words also left me feeling quite sad, because it should not have taken that long for someone to validate this woman, her child, and her hard work as a parent. That reality is just not okay with me, and I will continue to do everything I can to help change it, if only by creating greater societal awareness of her daily struggles and those of millions of others like her. I will be that honest, clear and relentless voice for her and for many others, make no mistake about that. I will not sit silently by as this population continues to struggle day in and day out to realize the simplest of human rights.

During my travels, I also have had the incredible honor of speaking with more than one person with special needs who far exceeded the odds cited all around them; in most cases, these people attributed their success to a loving, dedicated and gutsy parent, often times a mother. And YES, I also met my share of great dads committed to raising their kids well, too. Like our kids, too often these dads don't get enough press or credit for the great work they do. Thanks, dads! You matter, too! And I've got some cute photos of adoring dads with their beautiful little girls at a couple of my book signings to prove it.

All of these encounters, whether in person, or through email or by phone inspire me and energize me to continue the tough but important work that I have taken on. It's no easy feat to fight these battles and create awareness, especially as I continue to work through the death of my own son who fuels my passion for this cause and these kids. I will be sharing more of these encounters with others (with permission!) in my rambles yet to come this summer. But it's too much to share all at once...I'm still processing the whirlwind, and the sacred blessings. I do feel incredible blessed to have the skills, experiences, stories and venues to speak effectively to this issue.

I do want to start this catch-up phase with a brief summary of my incredible experience as the May 14th Mother's Day guest for the Hour of Power at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The wonderful opportunities I have had to put my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations before major audiences (thanks to some great media) have left me both humbled, honored and ultimately energized to continue to take the message of the value of this population to as many venues and stages as possible. My goal is to get the word out, stir some things up and create discussion and change that will change children's lives. Media interviews help an author do just that.

What I found during my appearance at the Crystal Cathedral (and in the planning that precedes it weeks before) was an incredibly warm, accepting and welcoming group of people that helped create for me one terrific experience that I will never forget. My belief is that if every church was this welcoming, church attendance and long-term membership would be growing not declining.

Everyone we came into contact with at the Hour of Power truly seemed to love what they were doing, who they were doing it for, and why they were doing it (for God). There was a family atmosphere backstage, with lots of warm greetings, hugs and laughter. Many of these people are church volunteers who during the rest of the week work in the nearby entertainment industry as makeup artists, directors, producers and musicians. The staging director had recently completed work on 'Memoirs of a Geisha', yet he told that for more than 20 years he had been volunteering the production of the program and considered it some of the most rewarding work he has done to date. And to think that so many of us are today driven by celebrity and fame... the rewards here are more concrete, more lasting, of more value.

Dr. Robert H. Schuller's long-time driver told me about the many wonderful program guests he had had the pleasure to meet over the years, including his personal favorite, former Soviet President, Mikhail Gobachev.

Because of this internationally-reknowned ministry and place, many of these people have rubbed elbows with some of the most famous or influential people of the times, yet they treated my husband and me as if we were the most important guests they had ever encountered.

I was thrilled to share my message, my passionate vision of special needs parenting with this audience (you can view that interview by going to my website and scrolling down to the Crystal Cathedeal interview link on my intro page). It was a wonderful moment. Faith has played a key role in my ability to survive my life challenges, including the death of my child. So to be in that beautiful place on Mother's Day to share my message about my son, and others with special needs, with a worldwide audience was something for which I will always be grateful. And all the great people I met at the book signings held after each service, touched me deeply and left lasting imprints on my heart and soul.

The people I had the pleasure of working with for this event are some of the finest individuals I've ever met. From the beginning of my contact and planning (thanks Maria and Erica!!!), these individuals recognized the value of my work and message and were dedicated to helping me share this message on this international stage in the most positive and classy way possible. Mission accomplished, and then some.

So to everyone at the Crystal Cathedral, thank you for all you have done and continue to do to help change people's lives throughout the world, including my own, by sharing powerful messages of hope and faith- valuable messages to those challenge by special needs! My heartfelt thanks and deepest gratitude to you all for sharing your time, energy, and support of my work with me. You have touched me beyond words...

Now, I want to know what the rest of you have you been doing to improve the life of a child while I've been on the road. So please write me and share all the good stuff. 'Cause then I can pass it on to my readers, and motivate them to do the same, plus it warms my heart to hear your stories. Think snowball effect, where the end result is the motivation to create better lives for kids! It's one natural and productive high...

In the meantime, savor the sensory gifts of summer! 'Cause those little gems of nature will sneak away again all too soon...

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