Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Every night at 10:00 p.m., my local news starts the broadcast by asking, “It’s 10:00. Do you know where your children are?” It seems to be a rhetorical question, but living in these days of increased crime and terror, it’s something every parent needs to be able to answer emphatically. Children need to be off the streets and safely home with their parents to help prevent getting into trouble.

So on Friday night, November 10, 2017, at 10:00 p.m., I was at Gatekeeper’s Total Recall Women’s Retreat where the host, Dr. Tiffany Swift noted: “The ability to yield yourself for spiritual, emotional and mental maintenance is a privilege. The grave condition of our city doesn’t have to be a permanent situation. The overload of your schedules and extended taxation of your mind both need a moment to reboot.”

There were many things I learned about rebooting at this enlightening and edifying 2-day retreat from the inspirational guest speakers and fun, interactive sessions. However, the praise and worship experience proved to be the highlight of the retreat for me. Let me explain how a group of 6 millennials provided an answer to the question, “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” while they helped me reboot all at the same time.

THE GROUP, as they are known, is a close-knit group of gifted singers and musicians who used their God-given talents during praise and worship Friday night at the retreat. Although they are millennials, they are far from the typical “children” their age. They could have been anywhere on a Friday night, yet they volunteered to be part of the retreat, not to entertain us, but to usher us into the presence of the Lord through their ministry of songs and music. Interestingly enough, most of us who attended the retreat were literally old enough to be The Group’s parents!

THE GROUP at The Retreat: seated – Nikki, Ariana, and Liz; on keyboards – LaMonte and Anthony; and Stephen on drums

I posed 3 questions to The Group, but before you read their answers, take a look at the bios they wrote for the retreat booklet. How many millennials would describe themselves like this?

I’m Liz! I have lived in a few different countries and even obtained a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, but all of those experiences pale in comparison to the ride I’m on with The Group! It is such a blessing to be able to learn and grow with a team that God has put together through his work and for his purposes. My hope is that you enjoy Total Recall 2017 and that God speaks to you personally about your own journey to finding completion in Him!

 

Hey my name is LaMonte Gray and my main goal in life is to serve and please God. I do enjoy sports, playing the keyboard and eating a nice tender steak, however there is nothing that I enjoy or value more than being in the presence of God and his people. He has always been my everything and my hiding place. There is nothing that I could ever put before him in the life that he gave me.

 

My name is Stephen J. Starks. I have always been around the glory of God, and God gifted me to play drums. I’ve been blessed through my years of playing to play with and for many great musicians and singers, but nothing has blessed me more than playing with the great group that I play with now. I have a deep hunger and thirst for Jesus that is being fulfilled! …. Hey beautiful people! My name is Nikki Starks, and yes, I married our drummer. I enjoy being a part of ministry with my family. I consider myself to be a people person; I love spreading God’s love to whomever I can, however I can. Although singing is one of my gifts as part of the group, I am excited to be exposed to the many other gifts and ultimate calling that the Lord has for me.

 

Hiya folks, my name is Ariana Ward. So far during my 20 years of living, I have experienced some great heartache and pain, but God brought me out. Because of certain decisions, I am now a mother of 1. I am a singer, bass player, a full time college student and most importantly a lover of Christ. Everything in my life has led me here with The Group, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

I am but a man after God’s own heart, named Anthony Ward. Alias: Tony Kartez. God has gifted me with a mission of love, to share His heart with the people of this world via music, service, and creativity. Each day He reminds me that there is nothing I can’t accomplish through Him. So I take great pleasure in learning new ways to edify the gifts and talents He’s generously blessed me to possess, so that I may give them back to Him and His people without void.

Like I said, how many millennials would describe themselves like this? So yes, the women who attended the retreat were blessed to be ushered into the presence of the Lord by these kids. It was a praise and worship experience like none I’ve ever had in the past, and as I listen to brief excerpts of the worship experience I recorded on my iPad, I am still in awe at how God’s spirit entered that room on that Friday night and ministered to us through them. Of course I was so caught up in the moment that I did not record the “best” part, but maybe you can catch a glimpse of what I’m talking about by watching the clips below.

PLEASE NOTE: I really had no idea when I was recording that these videos would end up on my blog. Forgive the very amateur nature of the video and just enjoy being in the presence of the Lord through our praise and worship experience that Friday night.

 

 

 

 

 

So now, back to my interview. But first I need to mention that the retreat was actually the very first time The Group led a praise and worship service other than at their local church. For all practical purposes, this was their first public appearance as worship leaders… WOW!

It’s surprising what you can learn about a person just by asking 3 simple questions. I’ve known 5 of these kids since they were born, and all are members at my church, New Covenant Outreach Ministries. Related by blood and one by marriage, The Group is not your typical group, and their answers are very uncharacteristic of what you see in the media from the ‘typical’ youth of today.

Q1: How did The Group come together? Combining 5 minutes of conversation in response to this question, it can be summarized like this:

A: We could easily and appropriately say that we are together because God said so. A lot of things happened to get us to realize that God picked each one of us to be here. Our individual journeys with music and worship were for the most part separate. We grew up in the same church, but never worked together unless it was under the watchful eye of the Pastor’s wife during a holiday program. God took the time to reveal his plan in ways that were unique to each of his little children. In retrospect, it is such a blessing to be known by such a loving and careful God, who really does order our steps for his perfect purposes. We were off doing our own things—one of us too pregnant, another too scared to sing outside of her head, some too busy navigating the trials of marriage, others too focused on everything God had to say other than music—yet God brought each of us face-to-face with his plan. If anything our union is a testimony that you are never “too” anything for God to hit the master reset in order to give you a new purpose!

Q2. What would you like for the world to know about The Group?

A: We exist to cultivate the heart of worship and have a heart for God’s people. We are actually all related and like each other.

Q3. Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers?

A: Thank you, readers for reading and jumping in to a story that is being laid out before our very eyes. We are just a group of young people trying to do what God called us to do, and we want to share this burden with you—so please pray! Pray first that we are able to grow together under God’s direction and headship so that we can reach the goals he has set before us. Secondly, pray that we have the faith to believe for his provision. We have very practical individual and group needs in order to keep moving forward in this journey. So please join us in petitioning—better yet, bombarding heaven so that those needs are met, and that we are able to do what God called us to do to the best of our ability. Not only will that improve the music God gives us to create, it will be a bold testimony to each and every person we stand before. It’s not always easy. In a worldly sense we are young and trying to get started. We get scared and nervous. We also need instruments so if you feel led to bless us to continue to bless God’s people, don’t hesitate to be part of this harvest. Please consider donating to help us reach the young (and not so young) through our music as ambassadors of His presence.

THE GROUP (from left to right) Anthony Ward, LaMonte Gray, Stephen J. Starks, Nikki Starks, Liz Hunter, Baby Areah, and Ariana Ward.

If you would like to make a donation to help The Group move forward in their ministry, you can do so through my Paypal by clicking here.  I assure you that 100% of the donations will go directly to The Group.

I’m pretty sure the parents of these “kids” are thankful to be able to answer the question, “Do you know where your children are?” with an affirmative, “YES, they are working in the spirit of excellency in the ministry the Lord called them to do.” After all, this is The Group… Created by God.

 

BONUS AUDIO – Songs (Breakthrough and Weary Soul) composed, produced, and performed by The Group!

 

Audience Participation Is Not Necessary

It’s not about me, but on my “About Me” page on this site, I wrote:

My prayer for each of you who choose to subscribe to my blog is that you will be inspired and encouraged by the testimonies and stories that I share. My favorite scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” As I seek the Lord for guidance as to what I should share with my subscribers, I earnestly pray that you will be blessed and inspired. As Revelation 12:11 says, we are overcomers by the words of our testimonies.

So it’s really not about me… LOL!

What I mean is this website is not “about” me. Of course I share my thoughts and testimonies because I know them better than anyone. But when I started blogging, I really thought it would be more interactive. I thought some of you would share your testimonies too. After all, this is the “Living Inside The Testimony” blog site where I tell people that I’m a nurse by profession, author by passion, and storyteller by the grace of God. On here, we all live inside testimonies meant to be shared to help inspire and encourage others. Yet I was looking for audience participation, subject ideas, and lots and lots of comments. The reality that I have discovered is that it’s up to me to share and motivate you. As an author, I’ve learned it can be a quiet and lonesome journey because unless you sell a million copies of your books, you never really know if anyone is reading them or not.

Am I making a difference? Does anyone look forward to reading the latest blog post? Have you read any of my books? Are you being blessed or inspired? This modern age of social media, reality TV that is anything but reality, and the answer to any question right at your fingertips thanks to Google, Siri, or any other electronic personal assistant or search engine has left us bombarded and overloaded with way too much information already. However, the fact remains that I describe myself as a storyteller, and THIS blog is here to inspire and encourage you.

Welcome to my blog site where I’ve got a story to tell you!

Now I get it. I think I always did, but I guess I had to confess to all of you. This is my blog, and it’s my responsibility to be the only participant. So I will stop wondering if you’re reading or not. We are overcomers by the words of our testimonies, but maybe I need to be the first overcomer.

I certainly hope someone is reading. I certainly hope I have inspired someone. As I read through some of my previous posts, I encouraged myself! I wondered where I found the words to write what I did, but of course they must have been divinely inspired by the Lord. Some of the stories feel as if I’m reading them for the very first time, and guess what, I impressed myself. Yes, I really did. That was really all the reassurance I needed that this blog is not falling on deaf ears. I hear me. I hope you do too!

A Gift for You

If you have the luxury of sitting quietly for a couple of hours to indulge in an inspirational story, A Gift for Me by Tosha Holliman would be the perfect book! I was immediately captivated by the smile on the little boy’s face standing there with his two prosthetic legs on the front cover, and then I saw what appeared to be “a gift” in someone’s hands in the background. The gift was that same little boy, appearing to be not much older than a newborn in the picture, with no legs and missing part of one arm. HE was the gift, the good and perfect gift from above! (James 1:17)

It didn’t take long because just reading the table of contents sucked me in. Once I started, I honestly could not put the book down. It’s literally one that you can read from cover to cover without ever getting out of your seat. I found myself rushing through page after page because I couldn’t wait to see what the author was going to say on the next page. I felt myself full of all the same emotions she experienced as she described her life’s journey and innermost thoughts. The struggles with love, compassion, heartache, heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, shock, concern, anger, devastation, hurt, pain, and unforgiveness seemed so very real as I found myself praying along with her.

I could identify with Tosha, the wife and mother of 4, although I basically had nothing in common with her other than wanting what we all want out of our Christian walk with the Lord, a perfectly normal and happy family living a quiet and peaceful life. That would not be the case for Tosha and her baby boy; yet she discovered God had something much more precious in store for her. This gift came with strings attached because this gift was given to bring glory to God.

You’ll read the book’s synopsis on the back cover which explains against all odds, this mother decided to keep her baby even when doctors said you still have a small window to abort. As she felt him move and heard his heart beat for the first time, her heart, body, and soul connected with his immediately as he continued to grow and thrive in the womb. God gave her a glimpse of Aidan walking one day. She believed whole-heartedly in the power of God. In this excellent testament of a mother’s love for her child, she opens the story of her life and shares the true blessing of Aidan Jeremiah as God is continually being glorified through their lives.

I highly recommend anyone searching for answers or needing encouragement along life’s journey to pick up a copy of this book. You will experience God’s grace and mercy like never before. Although your journeys may be different, you will form an immediate connection with this loving, faithful mother. You will find yourself bonding with Aidan and cheering for him before he was even born. This is certainly a gift that will bless you beyond measure!

Please visit http://peculiarunlimbited.bigcartel.com/ to order your copy of this extraordinary book today!

Then visit https://www.facebook.com/PeculiarUnLIMBitedFoundation/ for more information and find out how Mrs. Holliman is encouraging and inspiring others to go from impossible to possible. Aidan is UnLIMBited and will inspire others to live life with no LIMBits! As an added bonus, you’ll find some very cute videos of Aidan on that Facebook page too.

As Aidan’s photo card says: Thank you for sharing my journey with me and for accepting me for who I am…. Aidan

If you’d like to meet Tosha, she’s hosting a book signing in the Memphis area on February 18, 12:00-2:00 p.m. Come get to know her while enjoying refreshments, prizes, and hear excerpt readings from her book. And guess what; I have a gift for YOU, the first 3 people who leave a comment on this blog post! I’m going to her book signing and will purchase 3 books to give away. If you’d like for me to send you a complimentary copy of A Gift for Me, just be one of the first 3 people to leave a comment on this blog post, and I’ll ship you an autographed copy after the book signing. That’s my gift to the first 3 people who comment on this post. Has Tosha’s story changed the way you look at challenges you may be facing? Have you ever received a gift you didn’t think you wanted, but now you can’t live without? What gift has God surprised you with?

Julia Was a Dreamer

Sometimes there is so much history to a story that it becomes difficult to pick up from today’s thought without looking back first. Such is the case with this post. Please stay with me as this journey will be well worth your patience. You may know there are currently 4 books in my Living Inside The Testimony Book Series, the 4th written by my beloved friend, Julia Gray. Remember this video introduction I made about her book:

And then the book debuted on Amazon as a #1 Best Seller and #1 Hot New Release on April 13-14, 2015. Here’s my blog post that tells all about that… 

It Happened Overnight

So that brings me to April 14, 2015 when Julia sent me an email introducing me to Diane Grover, the wonderful lady who founded the International Down Syndrome Coalition (IDSC). The email included this link to a Huffington Post article about Diane’s IDSC:

From Birth to Advocacy, the Beginnings of the International Down Syndrome Coalition

Talk about divine intervention! Julia discovered Diane had a daughter who attended Madonna Learning Center with James. Diane was an international celebrity right here in our hometown! What are the odds of that happening? (100 out of 100 when God is in control!) Julia had not met Diane face-to-face, but she felt Diane may be someone whom she could reach out to about possibly helping us promote the book since Diane was a larger-than-life advocate for Down syndrome who lived just across town.

Julia also learned Diane not only founded the IDSC, but she had recently launched Dreamer’s Coffee House. We assumed her hands were full and that it may take some time to get a response from her. Julia simply sent Diane a copy of the book and anxiously awaited a reply.

In August 2015, Julia was thrilled to meet Diane in person for the first time at Madonna when the school was moving into their new building. As only Julia could do with such fun and wit, she described Diane to me in an email August 2, 2015. Isn’t it nice that deleted emails aren’t really deleted. I found this old email from Julia today that went like this:

Then, Diane Grover was there also (and may I vent a bit because she spoke to all the right people and never broke a sweat!  I never saw her leave a 10 foot parameter the entire time.  It was hot and just taking the effort to walk across the cafeteria gave you a wet head.  She was seen, thanked for being so much help, and promised to come any time they needed her – UGH!  Then she left without a hair out of place AND she has hair with a lot of body that she has to straighten.  That stuff should have gone POOF!).  She greeted me like she was so glad I was there (I love it when people do that.  I need to get better at it, like Diane) and introduced me to her husband and told him I was the one that sent her the book.  Then she went on to goosh about how it just DREW her in.  She really emphasized that.  All this made me so happy but I didn’t realize the real implication of it all until she and her husband started talking about all the books she has been sent.  She said that everyone that writes a book on Ds sends her the book and usually she reads just a bit and puts it aside because she can’t go on out of lack of interest but that she LOVED my book.  Eeee!!!  I said then spread the word and help me promote it to which she assured me that she had already decided to blog about it.  I was thinking, “DO MORE THAN THAT!!!” but I bet her blog reaches lots of people.  I’m assuming this is it… http://www.dianegrover.me/

Sidenote: Diane sure did a lot more than that!!! She even sent the book to a Christian movie executive looking to adapt a book about Down syndrome into a movie. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if The Book about James becomes The Movie about James! (Maybe I’ll blog about that later once Diane hears back from the movie executive.)

So anyway, back to this part of the journey. With that encounter, Julia’s relationship with Diane took off at an accelerated pace. She was hopeful that Diane would be able to help promote the book within the Down syndrome community and beyond. Julia was passionate about challenging people to have the courage to see things without preconceived notions and prejudices and desperately wanted to reach the masses with her message. We quietly waited until things calmed down with Diane’s coffee house launch. By Spring 2016, things began to move quickly. Diane reached out to Julia and wanted to start selling the book at her coffee house and through her Dreamers Merchants!!! Julia and I started making plans. I still have the document I compiled of all our text messages about Diane with all the plans Diane had for helping Julia promote the book. Needless to say Julia was ecstatic that Diane promised her “Wherever Dreamers Coffee goes, your book goes!” Julia and I had officially become DREAMERS.

Julia at her book signing at Dreamers Coffee House at Vantage Point Golf Center, 9580 Macon Road, Cordova, TN

And so it began on June 25, 2016, with a book signing at Diane’s coffee shop. Talk about a whirlwind romance! Within a year of hearing Diane’s name for the very first time, Julia and Diane had become very close. They had so much in common given that Diane also has a large brood of children, the youngest of which had Down syndrome, and she was a homeschooling mom too. Julia trusted Diane completely and knew she loved James and the book so very much. I got to meet Diane in person at the book signing, and I fell in love with her too. She REALLY liked Julia A LOT, and she committed to both of us that very day that she would take The Book about James wherever Dreamers Coffee went because she believed so strongly in the message Julia shared in the book. Julia was thrilled. Julia was actually beyond thrilled. She was almost giddy.

Julia’s book signing at Dreamers Coffee Shop June 25, 2016. Thank you Allison Thron for making it so special!

Julia was an official Dreamer. The Book about James hit the road with Diane and her coffee. Diane even took the book to the 44th Annual National Down Syndrome Congress in Orlando, FL in July 2016.

“The Book about James” was at Diane’s Dreamers Coffee Booth at the National Down Syndrome Congress in Orlando

Diane interviewed Julia for her own blog and had planned to share the interview last year during October for Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As Diane said, “Life took a different turn. Instead of advocating in October, I spent most of the month of October praying for my friend Julia and her family. On the evening of October 7, only a short time after Julia and I were texting about her plans to speak about her book and my plans to work hard to promote her book, Julia collapsed from a sudden cardiac arrest. Julia died on October 30. So Down syndrome awareness month took a back seat for me.” Diane shared her interview with Julia on her blog last November. You can read it here. As Diane said, “Like her book, it is part of her lasting legacy.”

Diane Grover’s Blog: A Very Special Interview with My Friend Julia Gray about ‘The Book About James’

So, like I said at the beginning of this post, sometimes there is so much history to a story that it becomes difficult to pick up from today’s thought without looking back first. My very dear, sweet, kind, compassionate, wonderful, magnificent, fabulous, talented, funny, humble, precious, beloved friend Julia passed away just over 2 months ago. I wanted to blog about her, but it was much too painful because my heart was shattered. It was difficult to even sit at the computer and type because every time I thought about her, I started crying and couldn’t see the keyboard for all the tears swelling in my eyes and rolling down my face. My intention today was not to blog about her, but somehow that is what I found myself doing for the better part of this cold winter day. My phone says it’s 18 degrees outside. The hole in my heart feels especially empty today. I’ve been texting Diane. I told her I was blogging about Julia, and she created that delightful “JULIA BELIEVED THAT DREAMS COME TRUE!” poster above for me. Diane has no idea that much of this blog is about her relationship with Julia. She won’t know until I post it, but I know she will be happy. You see, Diane is on a fresh new campaign right now with Dreamers Merchants to stand up in 2017 and share the dream with others. She believes in the dream of meaningful jobs for individuals of all abilities! She convinced me to wake up and dream with her too. She believed in Julia and The Book about James, and she promised me that she would keep her promise to Julia by taking the book wherever her coffee goes. That is the only way I have been able to see through these teary eyes this extremely cold day and finally blog about Julia. I sure didn’t want to, but I simply HAD to. I am a dreamer too! Julia made sure of that when she introduced me to Diane.

Thank you Diane Grover for waking me up so I can dream with you. Together, we will keep Julia’s dream alive!

 

 

 

Let’s See Where Baseball Takes Him

That’s the title of one of my numerous photo albums on Facebook.

It’s also part of living inside the testimony. This testimony is actually my youngest child’s pursuit of a college baseball scholarship.

Allow me to digress for just a moment for those who have not visited my website before.

I’m a nurse by profession, author by passion, and storyteller by the grace of God. My desire is to help readers discover that we all live inside testimonies meant to be shared to help inspire and encourage others. You’ll find yourself laughing, crying, rejoicing, and soul-searching all at the same time as my books take you on a roller coaster of emotions and self-enlightenment. Discover the inspiration, faith, hope, humor, and love we all have in common. I share my own personal testimony in the first book, and the remarkable testimony of others in all the books that follow.

Living Inside The Testimony® is actually my trademark. I really do “own” it. So why didn’t I realize my baby boy was living inside his very own testimony?

Brandon has been playing ball every year since he was a 5 year-old kindergartner.

Brandon Collier - 5 year old T-baller

Brandon Collier – Ellendale Little League T-ball (5 years old)

Like many parents, we thought he would enjoy playing different sports. His first sport was basketball, and that’s where he earned the nickname Speedy. He was so fast running down the basketball court that his coach simply started calling him Speedy. Later that year, he started playing T-ball too, and somehow the nickname just stuck with him. After all, he had been running ever since he learned how to walk. He had been jumping, and climbing, and defeating the laws of gravity ever since he was a toddler. He scaled my kitchen cabinets like spiderman and then sat on top of the counter when he was only one. He leaped across the living room from the sofa to the love seat, and I caught him in mid-air once to prevent what surely would have been a terrible head injury as he jumped from a chair toward our brick hearth before he even turned two.

Fast forward 12 years, and Brandon is now a 17 year-old senior in high school whose dream is to earn a college baseball scholarship. He wants to major in Business Management and perhaps follow in his dad’s footsteps and own his own business one day.

Brandon Collier, Boltoh High School Varsity Outfielder, Class of 2017

Brandon Collier, Bolton High School Varsity Outfielder, Class of 2017

He’s still Speedy too. Just take a look at this video composed of several short clips of some of Brandon’s high school games which I thought would serve as my personal memories only. Little did I know that I would use these same “home videos” to create part of Brandon’s online recruiting profile for college coaches, recruiters, and scouts to view. On the video, he’s the one batting and/or running bases.

Okay, since this is a blog and not another book, I’ll try to be brief and get to my main point… 🙂

Whether Brandon earns a baseball scholarship or not, whether he ever plays baseball beyond his senior year of high school or not, and whether baseball doesn’t take him anywhere other than where he’s already been, Brandon knows life will go on with or without baseball. He will still go to college. He will still have a career. He will still become the man GOD created him to be. College baseball is a dream. If this dream doesn’t come true, all he has to do is dream of something else. It’s all part of living inside the testimony. Baseball is part of his testimony; it’s part of his life, but it’s not his whole life. It has taken him places he otherwise would not have gone. Being part of a team and the life lessons learned on the baseball field will serve him well later in life.

However, I most certainly do believe he will get a baseball scholarship. He believes that too. I also believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sin, and I will spend eternity in heaven. He believes that too. I believe we were all created for a purpose, our lives should glorify and magnify our Creator, and we all live inside testimonies meant to be shared to help encourage and inspire others. I believe he’s too young to fully understand that although he does understand people are watching him. His life is a testimony, so wherever baseball takes him, it’s all part of the journey.

One of the first projects he had for school this year was to create a small poster with a picture of himself and 10 words to describe who he is. Along with 10 adjectives, he included this picture of his favorite scripture:

Philippians 4:13

Count the words in the scripture. Yes, it’s 10 words.  It’s not 10 different adjectives that describe Brandon but a combination of 10 words put together into one sentence which describe him. This is what he brings to the baseball field. This is what others will learn from him as he continues living inside the testimony, whether the testimony is on or off the field. It really will inspire and encourage others even though he may be too young to see it right now.

Where will your dreams take you?

I hope your answer is “Wherever God leads me.”

So let’s see where baseball takes him…. Click here if you’d like to see some of the pictures from my Facebook photo album. (I think you have to log into Facebook once you click the link in order to see the pictures.)


BONUS VIDEO

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. I’m throwing in this little video clip simply because it’s part of the testimony. Brandon is a massive 5’7″, 140-pounder who starts on his high school varsity football team as a wide receiver and cornerback. Needless to say, I have to trust the Lord every.single.day for his safety and protection when he runs out on that football field because he is one of the smallest players out there. This was the season opener last week. All I’m going to say is watch this #StompDown by #27 Blue, my baseball player… LOL. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy watching him play baseball and football. What’s even better is watching him grow up and become the young man GOD created him to be. We can certainly enjoy his athletics along the way. 🙂

Wake Up and Dream This 4th of July

Independence Day, a day Americans celebrate our independence on the Fourth of July every year. It began on July 4, 1776, a day that represents the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation.

Wake up and Dream, a dream of Diane Grover to open a coffee-house in Memphis, TN, which she did in 2015, where she employs individuals of all abilities, especially individuals who have a disability such as Down syndrome like her daughter. So in a way, Diane’s dream can help individuals with disabilities become independent entrepreneurs. Let me explain…

Diane took on the initiative of bringing attention to the abysmal rate of employment for individuals of all abilities. It has grown into a movement of sorts, and is expanding nationwide. She hopes you will wake up and dream with her and share Dreamers Coffee House with others. With every purchase, you can bring her one step closer to her dream of hiring individuals of all abilities and show the world that every person deserves the dignity that jobs innately bring!

Meet the Dream Team by watching this video to learn how Dreamers Merchants employs people of all abilities, including those with disabilities, helping them to find their own level of independence. It is indeed worthy of an Independence Day Celebration, complete with fireworks and a parade!

 

I accidentally discovered Dreamers Coffee House because Diane Grover is a friend of Julia Gray, author of the 4th book in my series, The Book about James. To make a long story not so long, suffice it to say Diane loves the book, she loves Julia and James, and she inherited me since I come as a package deal with Julia. She wanted to help promote the book because she thinks everyone needs a copy of this beautifully inspiring work, so she invited Julia to her coffee-house for a Down Syndrome Fundraising Event. Julia was there to talk about and sign copies of her book. Diane donated a portion of the proceeds to the Down Syndrome Association of Memphis & the Mid-South (DSAM.) I was there to help Julia promote the book (and take pictures of Julia of course) but what I found when I walked through the door left me speechless.

 

Julia Gray at Dreamers Coffee House

Julia Gray, author of “The Book about James” at Dreamers Coffee House for a Down Syndrome Fundraiser

Honestly, I’m not even a coffee drinker, but I simply fell in love with this place, my new favorite place! I saw a team of people with all abilities helping each other #WakeUpAndDream! I became an instant believer of the dream. I drank iced coffee for the first time and loved it. (Afterall, this was a scorching hot summer day in Memphis, TN.) I shopped in the gift shop and discovered unique gift items made by companies and entrepreneurs of all abilities, many with disabilities. I witnessed the coffee shop’s general manager, Allison, “wow me” with the love and attention to detail she gave everyone and everything, although she had no idea I was watching her every move. And I just had to take a photograph of the precious lady in the picture above, an individual with Down syndrome, WORKING on her job as a barista in this quaint little coffee-house.

I watched as Down syndrome families came in one-by-one, to support the DSAM and Dreamers Merchants. After all, it was a fundraiser for them. However, it seemed more like a family reunion. You see, what I learned that day is that we are all part of the same community, albeit we have different abilities, but we are all one in the same. Each family wants the same for their loved ones, regardless of their abilities. We are all Americans, and we all have the same dream, The American Dream, a set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. (as defined by Wikipedia)

Families of all abilities came to support the dream #WakeUpAndDream

Families of all abilities came to support Dreamers Coffee so all individuals can #WakeUpAndDream

Like I said, I accidentally discovered this place. Even while I was there, I had no plans to blog about it. I was simply supporting Julia and her book. I took a few pictures so I could post on our Book about James Facebook Page where we serve as co-administrators. I posted the pictures and looked forward to Diane’s invitation for Julia to continue following her to other events to promote her book.

Then I had a dream. I couldn’t get Diane Grover, Allison, and all those I met at Dreamers Coffee House out of my mind. I dreamed about them that night. I thought about them the next day. I dreamed about them again the next night. Three days later I decided to blog about my new favorite place because I simply woke up and dreamed. I want everyone to know about this wonderful coffee shop. I want Diane to open coffee shops like this all across America and all around the world. Until those physical coffee shops are open, I want everyone to support the online Dreamers. Yes, if you’re wondering how you can experience a taste of this dream, just click here to visit Dreamers Merchants. There you can #WakeUpAndDream. There you can make a purchase to help the dream come true – meaningful jobs for individuals of all abilities! And there, you can meet Diane Grover, and read her blog. There is one blog entry in particular that I’d like to share here: Can You Hear Me Now? Diane Grover discovered after 50 years that she is severely hearing impaired and has been all her life. How did this wife and mother of 5 beautiful children survive her entire life without knowing she could not hear like the rest of us… and at the same time, launch Dreamers Coffee House? I think that was the biggest WOW-factor of my most eventful day. It’s time to celebrate Independence Day!!!

Bringing Awareness to That Which Is Invisible

What happens when others can’t see your pain? Does it make it any less painful? Ask most people with a chronic illness which causes physical pain that isn’t visible from the outside, and they will tell you they hear this all the time:

“But you look so good. You can’t possibly be sick.”

If only you could see what’s going on inside. Flip my body inside-out, and perhaps you will see a totally different person. That’s what happened when the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) changed their picture of a lady exhibiting the hallmark signs of Sjögren’s.

Ways Sjögren’s Can Affect the Body

Ways Sjögren’s Can Affect the Body

If you could see all of those physical symptoms listed above from the outside, it would certainly appear that this poor lady is sick. Now take a look at the new picture.

This is Sjögren’s

This is Sjögren’s

That’s why Sjögren’s is considered an invisible illness. Doesn’t she look too good to be sick? She looks very healthy from the outside, right? But just read the small print, and you’ll see a totally different person.

Sjögren’s (pronounced “SHOW-grins”) is a systemic autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. Along with symptoms of extensive dryness, other serious complications include profound fatigue, chronic pain, major organ involvement, neuropathies, and lymphomas.

April is Sjögren’s Awareness Month, and my goal is to help raise awareness of this debilitating and complex disease. I’ve written about it before. It’s actually the title of my third book, SHOWgrins. SHOWgrins

It was a year ago that I blogged about losing one of the five fabulous women in the book, Judy Kang. “What Do You Do When You Lose One?” Judy was a woman of great faith and fortitude, and she lived her life to the fullest amidst the uncertainty of not knowing from day-to-day what health challenges she would face, as there were countless of them for many years. Some days she never even knew where her next breath would come from. She summarized her battle with Sjögren’s like this: “In 1996 I was diagnosed with a lung illness which they realized was caused from primary Sjögren’s syndrome. I was on oxygen for 9 years and in 2010 managed to get a double lung transplant. I still have symptoms of Sjögren’s but luckily have a renewed life.” In April, 2014, she began her eternal life.

As sad as it makes me to think about my dear friend Judy Kang and her battle with Sjögren’s, I am filled with excitement and gratitude knowing I have an opportunity to help the SSF increase awareness of this very common yet silent and often invisible illness.

If I have sparked your curiosity about the invisibleness of Sjögren’s, please don’t stop with this blog. A good place to look for additional information is right here on the SSF website. You can also find interesting facts that will help you see inside the body of a Sjögren’s patient during Sjögren’s Awareness Month on Facebook. Just consider some of these statements made by Sjögren’s patients. You will find a new post each day on the SSF Facebook page during awareness month.

  • Living with Sjögren’s means I look healthy on the outside, however my disease is attacking my internal organs and destroying me from the inside out.
  • Sjögren’s means living with a disease you don’t understand & hating the feeling of always being sick.
  • Living with Sjögren’s is losing your teeth too young. I rarely smile or talk in public since my inability to produce saliva has caused embarrassing tooth decay.
  • On the days that I can barely get out of bed because of Sjögren’s fatigue, I think, “this is one more day of life that I have lost.”
  • I’m 23 & struggle to open lids/ bottles because of the debilitating pain I experience daily in my hands & wrists. I am so young but feel weak everyday.
  • Sjögren’s means living in daily pain but constantly hearing, “you don’t look sick.”

If you’d like to help bring more awareness of this invisible illness, please consider making a secure tax-deductible online donation here.

All donations go directly to the SSF, and I’ll send you a complimentary PDF copy of my SHOWgrins book for any donation amount. Not only do I write about Sjögren’s, but I also have Sjögren’s. The best part about having it is that I know I have it, so it’s not invisible anymore. I can learn to live well with Sjögren’s despite having it.