Tag Archives: faith

Spreading Hope, Love and Joy to the Hopeless

Operation Spread Hope, Love & Joy, Part II

preview-full-kindness

Point to Ponder:
How do you view the homeless or those on the street asking for help?

iGnite Neissa

by Neissa Brown Springmann

Sadly, in Austin and in most cities it is common to see homeless, desperate or hopeless people standing at busy intersections asking for help. Despite being advised by law officials and professionals to not give them money, if I have cash, change or any unopened food I always give what I have. And, when I do not have anything to give I get embarrassed and avoid eye contact. Ugh! Definitely not a mature and or compassionate response! I realize that by giving money I could be enabling their pursuit of getting a job or supplying funds for their next possible drug fix, but I don’t know their life story or history so to judge seems wrong and unfair.

Shamefully, there was a time when I didn’t feel this way and my heart was filled with judgement. While I didn’t voice it, when I saw someone asking for help my thought was that they should have more pride and work ethic than to lazily ask for my hard earned money. After all, I grew up with limited financial resources yet managed to work my way through college and make it. Why can’t they? However, several years ago I attended a Caritas luncheon where the co-authors of the book, Same Kind of Different as Me spoke. This experience changed my heart and perspective.

If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to. Or if you wait until April 2016 it will be out in the theaters. In summary, through volunteering at a homeless meals program in Fort Worth, the co-authors Ron Hall (a wealthy Fort Worth art dealer) and Denver Moore (a literal modern-day hobo) developed a unique friendship. An intense bond was formed and both lives were changed– with Ron’s heart experiencing the greatest transformation. As a result of the book’s message and success, the two men traveled to speaking engagements, with Austin being one of them. Towards the end of the luncheon, Denver, the modern-day hobo and former prison inmate spoke. While he had no formal education, he understood life, the spiritual world, and had a connection with God like I had never seen or heard before. The room was silenced by his compassion, faith and wisdom and while I clung to every word he spoke, it was his advice on whether or not to give the homeless and hopeless money that I will never forget.

Having lived a life of homelessness, desperation and having people look down on him, Denver passionately urged the audience to bypass judgement towards the homeless, as we will never know what they have experienced in life and why they are in the situation they are in. Furthermore, he acknowledged that we’ve all been told not to give the homeless money, however he pleaded that we give what we can, and in doing so respectfully look them in their eyes and smile. Ultimately, he reminded us that we will never know if it will be our dollar, our smile or our words that will be the difference in their life.

After his sincere message, rather than look down on the homeless or beggars, I began to view them, their situation, and people in general with more compassion. I contemplated how I would want someone to treat me, my children, my family, and friends if we where homeless, desperate or falling on hopeless times. Or, if we were just in need of some help, support or encouragement. In doing so I realized how self-righteous and judgemental I had been. Then recently it was upon reading Matthew 26: 34 – 45, verses that I have listened to many times before, that I finally heard and realized how much more I can and need to do:

On His right, he will say; (Jesus) Come here, you beloved, you people whom My Father has blessed. Claim your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of creation. You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink; I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives; I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me.
Even then the righteous will not have achieved perfect understanding and will not recall these things.
Righteous: Master, when did we find You hungry and give You food? When did we find You thirsty and slake Your thirst? When did we find You a stranger and welcome You in, or find you naked and clothe You? When did we find You sick and nurse You to health? When did we visit You when You were in prison?
Jesus: I tell you this: whenever you saw a brother or sister hungry or cold, whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me.
And then He will turn to those on His left hand.
Jesus: Get away from Me, for I was starving, and you left Me with no food. I was dry and thirsty, you left Me to struggle with nothing to drink. When I was alone as a stranger, you turned away from Me. When I was pitifully naked, you left Me unclothed. When I was sick, you gave Me no care. When I was in prison, you did not comfort Me.
Unrighteous: Master, when did we see You hungry and thirsty? When did we see You friendless or homeless or excluded? When did we see you without clothes? When did we see You sick or in jail? When did we see You in distress and fail to respond?
Jesus: I tell you this: whenever you saw a brother hungry or cold, when you saw a sister weak and without friends, when you saw the least of these and ignored their suffering, so you ignored Me.

Despite your faith or belief, the idea that we should treat others as we would want to be treated says it all. And, we have all been given a conscious that guides us and gives us valuable information, which is why I am unable to make eye contact when someone is asking for help and I don’t have anything to give them. I know it’s not right or respectful to not show someone respect and give them the dignity they deserve by simply looking in their eye and exchanging a smile.

As a result, several months ago I began creating baggies of crackers, rice crispy treats, and breakfast bars. And, as of last week I added our printable ‘iGnite spread hope love and joy’ note cards. I keep the bags in my car so that I can have them with me at all times and it truly has made a difference! Therefore, as we continue to focus on spreading hope, love and joy, I hope you will consider doing the same and making care packages that you can hand out when needed. While the person you give the goodie bag and smile to will appreciate your generosity, I promise that your heart will be the one filled with hope, love and joy.

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Goodie Bag Basket

Action Item:
Create goodies bags and fill them with helpful items and the printable iGnite note cards. Keep them in your car and with a smile and eye contact, hand them to the homeless, hopeless or someone in need.

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‘Enough is Enough!’

iGnite - remove the unnecessary

Photo from this summer’s iGnite Escape in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Point to Ponder:
What have you had “enough” of? What are you wasting your time and life on?
What keeps you running on the treadmill to nowhere and is keeping you from living your life, being fully present and feeling great?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

Recently I ran across a motivating radio show series called “Enough is Enough,” and as I listened, I became more inspired to also declare what I had had enough of in my life.

In last week’s journal I shared my realization that my current purpose/mission changed from what I originally thought it would be at this time. Prior to this, I was running myself ragged and trying to live up to the ridiculous expectations I placed on myself, which led me to declaring that ‘enough was enough!’ of letting my ego be my north star. ‘Enough was enough!’ of giving into the lie that my controlling ways were better than turning everything over to God in prayer. ‘Enough was enough!” of screaming at my kids and not being a present mom because I was stressed out of my mind due to believing that I needed to do more and was not enough unless I was multi-tasking and focused on accomplishing a million things.

So, what have you had “enough” of? What types of things are consuming your time and energy? What keeps you running on a treadmill to nowhere and is keeping you from living your best life, being fully present and feeling great? Because women share similar heartbeats and the human experience is not unique, here are some ‘enoughs’ that instantly came to my mind and might resonate with you too:

Do you struggle with living up to the expectations of others and are too hard on yourself? Are the people you are spending the majority of your time with life-suckers rather than life-givers? Do you live on an emotional roller-coaster because you are too involved in your children’s lives, care too much about the opinions of others, make too many assumptions and take everything personally? Have you neglected your needs and are not getting enough sleep, healthy food, adequate hydration and exercise? Have you busied yourself, are completely stressed-out and therefore your words, interactions and body language are negative, cold and argumentative? Do you no longer attend church or have a day off for faith, family and rest because your children’s extra-curricular activities have taken over or you’ve replaced it with more work? Do you wrestle with control and worry too much? Is your financial situation and spending out of balance? Have you placed a higher value on work and outside commitments and as a result neglected the needs of your spouse or the people you love? Have you bought into the lie that God didn’t create you “enough,” and therefore you have low confidence? Do the destructive emotions of shame, fear and doubt control your life? Do you reject the love of others or can’t trust others because someone didn’t love you back or violated your trust? Do you procrastinate or keep putting off what is necessary and important in your life?

With only a little over two months left in 2015 (EEK!), I want us to be intentional with the way we spend the remainder of our year by declaring and writing down the “enoughs” in our lives on this printable worksheet. By doing this, your spirit will give you valuable knowledge and information about what you are willing to accept in your life. This level of awareness and information will minimize the chances of transferring negative actions and emotional garbage into 2016 and will promote healthy progress by adding what’s necessary, rich and wonderful into your new year and life!

Action Item:
Be intentional with the way you spend the remainder of your year by declaring and writing down the ‘enoughs’ in your life on this printable worksheet.

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It’s Not What You Endure, It’s How You Endure It

 

iGnite - unshakeable faithiGnite Members Christie Skinner (left) and Kerrie Pennington (right) at Christie’s home while the iGnite Community helped her sort through her salvaged items on Sunday.

“Forget what you can’t control and focus on what you can control: your attitude, your faith, and your perspective. Choose to make the best of every situation that comes your way.”
(Anonymous)

Point to Ponder:
How do you tend to react when faced with personal loss or tragedy?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

As our iGnite community received word of via email this weekend, on Tuesday iGnite member Christie Skinner’s home burned. Upon learning the news, I sent Christie a text extending my sympathy, care and prayers. Honestly, I was nervous to reach out because I feared my text would be burdomsome. But, I tried putting myself in her shoes and I knew that I would appreciate friends reaching out. I didn’t expect or need a response, though what I received just minutes later blew my mind. Here is our exchange:

Neissa: “Hello Christie, Kathleen let me know about your home and I want you to know how very sorry I am. I am so thankful you all are okay. Please know that Russell and I are praying for you all and will continue to pray for you throughout the recovery process. Know that you are loved and being thought of.”

Christie: “Thanks!! It’s pretty sad but it’s just stuff!! And amazingly we are in the process of buying a little condo on Lake Austin so God’s timing is really good!!”

Neissa: “Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

Christie: “You can bring me a Diet Coke on ice anytime you happen to be around.”

My initial reaction was, “Really? Did I read that correctly? How is it possible for someone to have lost so much yet have such tremendous perspective? And, she’s only asked for a Diet Coke? I can do that!”

I was briefly able to stop by Christie’s home today, Sunday, while our iGnite community helped her sort through her items. I’ve always thought that if a big project or job needs to get accomplished, the quick solution is a group of committed women. Indeed the job was getting done, and Christie’s spirit was contagious. She was positive, smiled and did what she needed to do. The entire sight was inspiring, like Christie’s faith and attitude.

I am always amazed by the events, circumstances and losses that the human spirit is able to endure. Most everyone faces some type of tragedy or difficult circumstances in their life, though what distinguishes one person from the other is not what they endure but how they endure it. The way I see it is we have choices: we can either (1) endure alone, without faith, think that life is out to get us, God is trying to punish us, give up and have a bad attitude — or, we can (2) let go of our pride, let others know how they can help us (even if it’s simply a Diet Coke on ice!), pray for unshakable faith, ask for others who have unshakeable faith to pray for us and trust in the plans that God has for us: a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

While we all will not experience the tragedy of a burned home, we all will experience loss in our lives. It is for this that having an unshakable faith, never underestimating the power of prayer, surrounding ourselves with a community of people who also have unshakeable faith, and trusting in the promise of a future is crucial. There’s no doubt that life is going to shake us over and over again, but it doesn’t have to break us. Thank you, Christie for showing us this!

Action Item:
Contemplate Christie’s response to the events of the past week and be inspired by her unshakable faith and ability to accept help in such difficult circumstances.

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It’s Time to Turn On Your Shine!

iGnite - let your light shine

Point to Ponder:
Are you a light to those around you?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

Excitingly, last Tuesday our kiddos (Durant, 4 & Malaine, 2) attended their first week of pre-school in San Diego. You. have. no. idea. how thrilled I was! Not just for me and my own sanity, but for theirs too. I was excited that we could begin establishing a routine, they could start making friends, their world was expanding beyond “mom,” and I could have a little freedom.

The pre-school they are attending is at the church we attend, The Rock, and it’s in an area near downtown called Point Loma. Like all of San Diego (including the neighborhood we live in), it’s full of a very diverse group of people. Ironically, moving to a more diverse neighborhood was actually something that my husband Russell and I considered while living in Austin before we knew we were moving to San Diego. Now, I realize that our interest was more than just coincidence — rather, it was God opening and preparing our hearts and minds for our future environment.

So, Tuesday was their first day of school and it was an exceptional day for all of us. Absolutely, my heart was a bit unsettled and nervous, but I knew it was necessary for feeling grounded, creating relationships and for our overall growth and development. Then on Thursday, after dropping them off and while filling out paperwork in the school, a heavy dose of loneliness blindsided me out of nowhere. As I I looked around, everything felt unfamiliar. I’m just gonna be honest and say it — no one looked like me (how about that “don’t judge a book by its cover” fail!?). Unlike at the Mother’s Day Out my children attended in Austin, I do not have a relationship with the director, the teachers or any of the moms here. Seriously, I was on the verge of tearing up when out of the blue a random woman walked up, noticed my Stronger TogetHER tank [that I was of course proudly wearing 🙂 ] and said, “I really like your shirt! What’s that about?” I perked up and gave her the 15 second description of iGnite, ending with “we are community-based and believe that in all aspects of life, we are stronger togerHER.” She then enthusiastically invited me to join the women’s Bible study called SHINE. Shine – wow!  What an encouraging, happy and powerful word!

That word shine made an impression on me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. By definition, the word shine means to give out a bright light. As I looked more into ‘shining,’ I was reminded of a sermon I heard by preacher Francis Chan about how a silversmith gets his best, shiniest silver through a process called “testing.” The testing process starts with raw silver in a pot and a fire that is heated to the highest possible temperature. As the silver melts, the impurities rise to the top, at which the silversmith scrapes off the impurities and continues the same process of extreme heat and scraping the impurities off until he or she has the shiniest possible piece of metal — so shiny that they can see their own reflection in it.

What I find remarkable is how this process relates to life and the hardships, stresses, losses, disappointments and discomforts that we all must experience in order to shine. That with the right attitude and perspective, those scary and seemingly ‘unfair’ experiences actually produce maturity, perseverance, faith and wisdom in us so we can shine for others. That’s the part that I was forgetting about on Thursday in my moment of self-pity. I was so consumed by my own discomfort that I was forgetting about my responsibility to shine for others. I had to step outside of myself and my self-pity in order to see the big picture.

Author Marianne Williamson says is perfectly below, suggesting that when we shine, we give others permission to shine:

“Our deepest fear isn’t that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that are more powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, how are you not to be? You are here for a reason! Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory that is within us. It’s in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson

Action Item:
If you are currently experiencing hard or stressful times, just remember, you are going through the testing process so you can shine even brighter on the other side. If you don’t have the energy or even the hope to shine, find someone that is shining and allow their shine to brighten yours.
Or, if life is feeling great and you have plenty of shine to give, in all of your interactions, conversations and even casual passings-by, make it a priority to shine. It’s our responsibility to and for others who are not shining to gain strength from our glow. So let’s shine as brightly as we can so others can be inspired and encouraged to shine as well!

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Hard Lessons Learned from the Big Move

iGnite - make sense of change

Photo above taken during a Susan B. Komen rafting trip during the iGnite Escape to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Point to Ponder:
What changes are you currently experiencing?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

I suppose I can officially claim California as my new home state. While I’m a Texan and Austinite at heart, I’ve lived in San Diego for a grand total of sixteen days, and I am pleased to share that with each passing day I am feeling more confident, comfortable and accomplished, as I have achieved the following three goals:
I found a babysitter (actually, Durant, our four year old spotted her out at the hotel pool and the rest was history).
I can get myself to the Pacific Coast Highway and all beaches with no GPS (thanks to the wonderful iGnite member Jill Imhoff who lives part-time in San Diego and has taken me under her warm wing.) #StrongerTogetHER!
I can get to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for an awesome hike, and I actually know where the heck I am going
While I am thankful and proud of these emotionally grounding steps and stabilizing pillars, this whole moving picture was and has been nothing short of frantic, sad and angry, as sixteen days ago I was a wreck and the canvas was an ugly mess!

The week leading up to our departure to the west coast was bittersweet. The ‘sweet’ being spending time with dear friends and family members, and the ‘bitter’ being seeing our home that we brought both of my children Durant and Malaine home from the hospital to and was also filled with amazing memories, become an empty house. That just plain stunk. The absolute worst of the worst was saying goodbye, which if I never had to say another goodbye as long as I lived, I’d be okay with it!! I know that’s not realistic, but it’s my truth.

In the moving ‘blender’ were absolute physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, the emotions that come with a husband who has been gone for two months due to his new job and now being physically back in our lives, along with real sadness and anger. I had been faithful, strong and positive throughout the entire job loss, job change, putting the house on the market and the sale of the house. Then, when the reality of leaving everyone and everything I loved set in and we set off to San Diego, the blender produced an ugly mess of emotions.

When we landed in San Diego, it was of course sunny and there was a cool breeze blowing, but really I couldn’t have cared less. I was legitmately sad, mad and a house overlooking the beach in La Jolla would not have satisfied me. As we drove to see our new house (which I had not seen in person yet), everything was unfamiliar, and directionally nothing made sense. I couldn’t tell which way was North, South, East or West. When we got to our empty house, the rooms seemed small and the house felt cold, and even though the neighborhood was highly recommended and described as the perfect place for families, it felt unfriendly. Ultimately, it wasn’t Austin, “my people” were missing, and my in-control, comfortable and happy world had just been rocked and turned upside down.

Looking back, of course these were normal emotions which I should’ve anticipated (especially because I have never moved like this before), but I’m a’ glass half full’-type and a faithful person. I knew I couldn’t change the situation, and we had moved to a pretty spectacular place, so complaining or feeling sorry for myself was just not an option. However, this was still a big change and even the most optimistic attitude couldn’t combat my sadness.

I’m not writing this journal to give you the play-by-play on our move, rather, in the past two weeks I’ve learned a lot that I want to share. As summer has officially ended and the fall season and school year has begun, there is a lot of change that is and will be occurring in not just mine, but many of our lives right about now. And if you aren’t experiencing change now, there will be a day when you will, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned thus far:

1. Being sad and mad are normal and healthy emotions, but they must get out. I was being totally passive aggressive and ugly to my husband Russell, which was terrible for him and created a ton of tension between us. It wasn’t until I told him exactly why I was mad and sad and that I would get over it, but that I needed him to let me be mad and sad and not try to fix it that things started to get better. It was like having the flu, and the emotions needed time to run their course. Thankfully they did, and things became better quickly.

2. Manage your expectations, take baby steps and accept feeling out of control. I wanted to have San Diego ‘figured out’ the day we landed. I wanted all boxes unpacked and the house looking great and feeling like our old house within days of arriving. I was craving organization and control! Of course all of this was absolutely not possible, and thanks to the advice from iGnite Leader and dear friend Kathleen Parker, I needed to “relax, breathe and focus on having fun with my family. There were no deadlines.” Then, my sweet cousin Craig reminded me to “not lose any sleep over unpacked boxes.” What profound wisdom! And so, I’ve doing what I can when I can and am making great strides to chill and realize this whole process is a journey.

3. Don’t compare your new life to your old life. As soon as we got in our rental car and left the airport to begin our new life, seriously, my brain immediately started trying to fit my Austin life into my San Diego life. It was the strangest thing, as I could physically feel my brain trying to make it happen. I was in complete compare mode. Though San Diego and Austin have similar cultures, San Diego is it’s own place — as all places are– and while I can and will certainly partake in similar activities and develop endearing and meaningful relationships like I have in Austin, they are different. It’s a new time and place and things are automatically going to look and feel different. I will of course hold onto all friendships and memories in Austin, but in order to fully experience and make the best out of our time in San Diego, I need to fully embrace it.

4. We are StrongerTogetHER. It was intentional for our summer shirts to read StrongerTogetHER. We believe that living, sharing and experiencing life together and in community is the best and only way. Plus, we believe we are created for community. But what I didn’t expect was how badly I was going to need it and appreciate it once I got to San Diego. As I mentioned earlier, sweet iGnite member and friend Jill Imhoff lives part-time in Austin and part-time in San Diego, and the day we landed she reached out to me and validated all of my mad and sad feelings. Then, within three days she was offering to help me unpack. Letting others help me is not something I accept well, but I was drowning in chaos and confusion and I knew letting her help me would be the best thing. Then, three days later, she drove me around to help me get the lay of the land and most importantly, get to the beaches. She also took me to Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve, where we hiked. What I’ve learned is how important it is to be vulnerable, raw and let others be your neighbor. We can’t and aren’t created to do anything alone, and change is much easier to accept and move through when we allow others to help us. Reach out to others and allow them to give you the gift guiding you down a path that they’ve already walked down and are better equipped to show you through.

So, I challenge you to ask yourself: what change(s) am I experiencing right now? Do you have a new job, are you new to iGnite or Austin, or have you recently moved? Is your first or last child entering Kindergarden or are you an empty nester? Are you expecting a child or are you a new parent? Are you newly married or recently divorced? Are you in a new relationship or have you recently lost someone you love?

Change is everywhere and all around us. The key to managing it and getting through it without losing your mind is letting go and sharing it with others. And so, here’s to a fall season of new beginnings togetHER!

Action Item:
Stop trying to control your changing circumstances, whatever they are.
Instead, let go and allow yourself to share it with others.

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How Cary is In The Game

iGnite - Faith Bigger than FearPoint to Ponder:

Do your fears inhibit you from trusting people and life in general?

In an effort to be vulnerable, courageous and 100% in the game, throughout the month of July the iGnite Team is going to share some of our fears (eek!!). Like all things in life, nothing is as they appear, the human experience is not unique and we all have fears. Therefore, we feel it’s important that we open the doors into our heads and hearts so that in the event you are experiencing similar fears and emotions (and we know at least one person is) we can bring you comfort, encouragement and even spark some healthy conversation. So, without further adieu, I hope you enjoy Cary’s beautiful testimony and appreciate how she’s avoiding the sidelines and playing in the game of motherhood and letting her children fly.

CaryFyfe

by Cary Fyfe

 “Have faith in him…”

My oldest son, in his quest to encourage me to step back from his younger brother’s need to blossom on his own, softly laid these words like a potion, on to my raw, motherhood anxiety. There we sat, in a sports bar, of all places, the night before this wise young man left for his first year of college. I had asked him to dinner, just him and me, so that I could frantically plant as many seeds as I could before he sailed off into his future…my motherly cherry-on-top-gift to him. He quietly tolerated my mission, and his brown eyes compassionately caressed my anxious sorrow as he listened and validated. Then, when I finally took a breath between words, he softly said this: “You are a great mother. You did everything you needed to do with and for me. Thank you. And now, I want to tell you something important. You needed to do that for me…it was necessary for me…but it is not necessary for Jack. You can step back. You can give him space to use the great skills he has….please do that, Mom…it’s okay to do that. Have faith in him.”  I stopped talking, and I began to listen…and what I heard was my own fear — fear that disguised itself as concern, as necessary in order to guarantee the survival of my children. Fear that was not…was not….true. What was true was the clarity of my oldest son, the capabilities of my youngest son, and my misguided thought that I alone could set their ships on course, for life. I treasure that warm summer night when my sage-of-a-son very gently peeled away the layers of my misguided need to control, and compassionately revealed my useless fear. And in my case, as my son taught me, my fear wasn’t something that I needed to conquer, but rather something that I needed to recognize for what it was, so that I could have the faith to allow life to happen around me, as it was supposed to happen. Falling into fear is a dance that I still do, but because Taylor brought a simple truth to life for me, I can now allow sweet faith to be a bigger part of that dance.

Action Item:

Recognize your fears for what they are. Then have faith by letting go and let life happen around you, as its supposed to.

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Real Women, Real Stories | Charlotte Benson: Finding Hope After My Daughter’s Devastating Diagnosis

iGnite Real Women, Real Stories logo

Charlotte Benson

Photo by Catherine Sanderson | http://www.catherinesanderson.com

Roots:  I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and became an interior designer.  When I was 31, I moved to Paris to export antiques back to the U.S. and while living there I met and married my husband Craig who is from Little Rock, Arkansas. He said that I was the only one who could understand his French! We moved to Austin in 2002.

Family Life: We have two children, Christiane, age 12 and Garland, age 10. My entire family (3 siblings along with their children and my parents) have all moved to Austin.  We are a family of 21!

Favorite Quote: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” (Anonymous)

I’m Most Inspired By… Craig, Christiane and Garland inspire me everyday. They teach me about life and challenge me everyday in ways that inspire me to be a better person.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given:  The best advice I was ever given was not advice at all. My grandmother made an indelible impression on me without ever having offered a single opinion. I learned that the ability to make a meaningful impact on others is more about the life you live than the advice you give.

Something Most People Don’t Know About Me… This past summer, I went on a week-long overnight campout in the Teton Wilderness without ever taking a shower or washing my hair!  And I can still ride a tricycle!


My Story

Bensons Fall 2013

On March 28, 2008, my husband Craig and I received the devastating news that our daughter, Christiane had been diagnosed with a very rare neurodegenerative disease called Batten Disease. Batten Disease causes blindness, seizures, is physically and mentally incapacitating and is ultimately terminal by the late teens or early 20’s. Seven years later, it still takes my breath away to write all of that in one sentence.

What I remember about the day of her diagnosis was the shocking numbness that seemed to freeze that horrific moment and every racing emotion as we fell to our knees in disbelief and horror. While we were on our knees we began to pray. Pray for strength, direction, comfort, and sustenance. The months that followed came with the incredible support and love of our family, friends, and community, and shortly thereafter Craig and I founded Beyond Batten Disease Foundation. The foundation has become a life purpose for us and a vehicle for virtually everyone we know who wants to do something to help make a difference to channel their talents, gifts and resources to find a cure.

Christiane’s diagnosis completely changed our lives and shifted how we viewed the world. It was clear that we had a choice of how we wanted to live life in light of this news. We could either crumble in sadness and defeat or we could embrace our new role and do something to try to make a difference.

The very first effect Christiane’s diagnosis had on me as a mother, was an immediate and automatic elimination of the superfluous fluff that filled my life. It was as if an automatic sensor sifted out anything that lacked meaning and depth, and simply pushed “delete.”  I learned to be still and present with my children in a way I never had before and inhale every moment I spent with them.

I not only began to experience my children in a new light, but began to realize that God had also blessed my marriage by giving Craig and me a shared life purpose to not only care for our daughter, but also to help others through the work at our foundation. We began to experience the profound depth and unbelievable generosity of our friends and community in a way that we would never otherwise get to experience. The success of our foundation is entirely due to the compassion, pure love and sheer will of human kind to make a difference. To see up close the intuitive and passionate response of others to our own personal adversity is an extraordinary blessing. Everyone has pain and suffering, but God can use even the worst of circumstances to bring out the best in people. As we have said many times before; we have far more for which to be grateful than regretful.

I also realized that being the mother of a child with a terminal illness gave me a unique perspective and I began writing about my experiences. The unique perspective that emerged for me was not one of despair and hopelessness, but rather one of God’s incredible love and provision. I discovered that hope is a light that shines most brilliantly in dark places and that this was actually an incredible gift to unwrap and share with others. Writing has become an opportunity to share that gift and the simple truths that our precious children teach us every day. It is my hope that by sharing my stories and the light that I experience in my own dark circumstances that I will be able to encourage others to find the light that illuminates theirs.

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What is the goal of the foundation and can you tell us about the success you have had to date?  Our mission is to eradicate Batten disease and hundreds of other rare diseases like it. Today we are the leader for juvenile Batten research and have created a cohesive global research strategy. We have 30 key research projects currently underway as part of that strategy.  Over the last 6 years, $14.6 Million has been invested in research by leveraging donations, co-funding and partnerships because of our efforts.

Our success is entirely due to every single person in our community who has shared their talents and gifts and have joined our fight to save our daughter, and so many others like her.  Even though we have accomplished much in a short period of time, we still aren’t there yet!

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone else facing a devastating diagnosis of a child or loved one?  In the face of adversity, I think the most powerful antidote is gratitude.  I believe that focusing on the blessings in any unfortunate circumstance shapes our thoughts and ultimately creates our reality.

To read Charlotte’s stories, please visit http://beyondbatten.org/category/news/a-mothers-story/

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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