Friday, June 30, 2006

One Inspiring Father & Son

I am well aware that we just celebrated Father's Day 2006 two weeks ago, complete with gifts that no doubt included a wide array of carefully chosen, colorful new ties, and an assortment of cool new outdoor grills as tokens of our appreciation for the dads in our kid's lives (we could be a bit more creative with our gifts people, but that's for another blog, another day).

The good news is that I have a belated gift to offer up to these hard-working men, one that recognizes and honors terrific dads of children with special needs everywhere- one that will hopefully inspire them to be all they can be. And I simply must ramble on about it.

If you don't know about Team Hoyt, the amazing father and son whose remarkable tight bond has been fueled by years of running marathons and completing triathlons together, I'm going to change that fact. In recent years, this father and son have been honored in the press all over the world, including in Sports Illustated. But more importantly, the Hoyt duo continues to leave lasting imprints on people's minds and hearts, by modeling the power of a parent's unconditional love, a parental commitment that focuses on ability and possibility, not the limitations of a disability.

Dick and Rick Hoyt call Massachusetts home, but the world has become their athletic turf. The story of these two amazing athletes is made even more remarkable by the fact that Rick Hoyt has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. But that hardly defines his value to the world. Rick is a graduate of Boston University, where he is also employed. He's a spunky and determined man, much like his dedicated father, who gives new meaning to parent involvement and to being a dad. Rick Hoyt is a chip off the old genetic block... and that stellar pedigree has proved golden.

For more than 25 years Rick's father, Dick, a retired a lieutenant colonel in the air nation guard,has served as Rick's feet and arms. Together, they have completed 24 Boston Marathons, and countless triathlons. Today, they are known as Team Hoyt, with a lofty mission to integrate the physically challenged into everyday life. Dick and Rick Hoyt have lived this reality; they know it's possible. They have set a new bar for the rest of us. None of the old stereotypical excuses offered here. For more about their efforts, check out:

Because of my son, Eric, who had cerebral palsy and passed away in 2003 at age 12, I believe in living, breathing heroes. Team Hoyt fits that bill. You can learn more about their story and become inspired in your own life. It's impossible not to be lifted up at least for a little while by the Hoyt's rock-solid commitment to athletic pursuits and to life success, no matter how tough your day has been. Focus on what is possible in your child's life, and do everything you can to make it happen.

Another clear message you can't overlook when talking about Team Hoyt is this: Dads matter to their kids, big time. Just ask Rick Hoyt. His dad (and mom) believed in his value right from birth, and they never looked back. (For a similar story of the power of parental love, check out more of my life with my son Eric at or in my book Breakthough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations).

I hope you have a life changing week- one that helps builds your child's self esteem in ways that only a dad can! (Hint: Spend some fun one-on-one time together, and yes, dads, this can include the pursuit of sports). Just remember Dick and Rick Hoyt...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

This is a quick entry and a bit late, but I must say a quick Happy Father's Day to all you terrific dads out there! Too often the efforts of dads can be overshadowed by all those great moms in our kids lives- but your role is just as important to your kids. So big thanks for all you do- and if you aren't involved in your children's lives like you should be, take a new look at your role and step up your game. Your children will thank you for it- and they do deserve your best effort.

Remember that parenting is your responsibility, too.

This week, spend some one-on-one time with your children and give 'em all you got, especially actions that feed their self esteem and create confident, healthy children (think bear hugs, kind words, laughter) or go see that great new movie CARS together. They will remember these great moments forever......and so will you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Life as a Writer

If you are one of those cool people who has been reading my blog regularly bless you! No doubt, you're already hip to the reality that my entries are rarely brief-- but they usually stay on point, (well that might be a stretch at times). Fact is, I have rarely been called a writer (or speaker) of few words, unless an unyielding editor commands it.

But today, I was overcome by the need to make a quick, short entry to say just one thing, and I dropped everything else that demanded my attention to focus on getting these words out to accomplish that mission! (You should see the mess of papers on my office floor that I gotta go pick up now and refile! Geez!). I was suddenly possessed, with the need to shout from the mountaintop (okay from the second floor of my house) some words that I'm pretty sure Oprah would define as coming from my psyche as part of a grand lighbulb moment, IF I was sitting on the couch with her.. (Oprah, please call me!)

I love being a writer!

I love meeting all those people that my avocation has allowed me to meet. I love the fact that so many willing and eager subjects (and yes, even the naive) share the deepest part of their souls with me without even knowing who the heck I am or without asking for my driver's license or firstborn. After all these years, I am still amazed that total strangers trust me to retell their stories well, with sensitivity and fairness and accuracy, and assume that I will honor all those annoying off-the-record comments that some interviewees simply can't seem to live without. I love that in this tabloid day and age, people are still that trusting.

I LOVE the fact that I can spell without using spellcheck! Something that is freeing, especially since spellcheck is too often wrong. Kudos to my high school college English teacher for training me well, even though I did not appreciate her wisdom or red pen at the time. Thanks Judy Faber!

I love the fact being a writer grants me permission to take the time needed to really listen to someone's words in order to uncover the life jewels that they have been guarding tightly for years, those emotional tales housed deep within their gut and locked away in their memories. These are stories that rarely see daylight because we live in an incredible fast-paced world that finds itself too busy to really listen to them. I love the fact that I get the honor of bringing such stories to light.

In my work, I serve as a bridge that connects the public to some remarkably human life stories, and as a result, sometimes lives are forever changed. Wow!

I've been so immersed in the publication and speaking and special needs advocacy process these past few years, that I haven't had much time to just sit back and really reflect on why I love what I do, and how the heck I got to this point in my career. But today I must do it!

I love to hear people's stories, and I love words! And I am especially fond of those stories others seem to think aren't worth their time and energy. I love tales of the downtrodden, championing the underdog, and all that human interest stuff. You can have sports and politics and celebrities. There's room for us both, cause I ain't interested in your turf. Doubt I ever will be.

The power of the written word continues to amaze me. When used well, language, whether written or spoken (I love both) has the remarkable ability to change lives, foster vital discussion even on the most sensitive issues, bring warring factions together, serve as a lifelife, provide hope and inspiration and thanksgiving, help turn people's toughest days around, and allow us to recite powerful, hope giving prayer during times of personal devastation. Words can help end wars.

They can do that and so much more.. As a writer, I can't even put all the gifts into words!

So for today, I'm not writing about special needs or helping your child be the best he or she can be (don't worry, I'll return to it in my next blog). Today, I just needed to ramble on and pay tribute to the incredible profession that helps me do this work well by repeating the simple proclamation that first began this ramble, which I admit has now gone on a bit longer than I first envisioned.

I love what I do. I love being a writer. I love telling your stories.

It's one cool gig....

I hope you love what you spend most of your life doing, too. If not, it's never too late.

I should know! I've now got the clips and shiney new author's book to prove it!

Tip of the week! Spend some time doing what you really love, not cause you have to, but because you simply must. You'll be better for it.

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...