Thursday, June 28, 2018

Celebrating Some Inspiring Fathers

My dad always says the best gifts you can give your children are roots and wings, and I think he's done a pretty great job with that over the years.

As I continue to think about the people that inspire me in my life, my dad always comes to the forefront. He's someone whose passion for life abounds in every facet of his life, and he shows kindness and generosity to everyone he meets, even if he still can't "make a long story short."

Two of the best dads I know!
Growing up in the newspaper business, I think my brother and I often begrudged the number of times we thought we were being "drug" along to certain events. But really, my dad was showing us how to be good community members. To this day, I buy raffle tickets from anyone who asks me, and we certainly do our share of eating at benefit meals. And it's not just because I don't like to cook!

I can't think of anyone who loves his community more than my dad. He's proud to be a graduate of Hillsboro High School, and still remains active in many organizations that make our community a better place to live.

And while you won't find my dad anywhere else but on the sidelines of a Hillsboro football game on Friday nights, he has always encouraged Johnny and I to find our own paths.

When I was in high school, we toured a variety of colleges, including his alma mater, Eastern Illinois University. Dad never finished college, and he joked with the admissions counselor that maybe he and I could graduate together. I was less fond of that idea.

Dad and Grace

One rainy day in February, we found ourselves on a tour of the University of Missouri in Columbia, billed as the world's oldest journalism school. I had big aspirations to be a world-famous photographer for National Geographic at the time. And as we got in the car to go home, he looked over at me, and said "Lou, if this is what you want to do, then this is where you need to be."

And that was that. I studied journalism for four years at Mizzou, even spending one semester working in London. I took a job at a small, daily newspaper in Indiana after college. I had pretty much decided that I wasn't cut out for big city life, but I also never really thought about coming back to my roots either.

One weekend, I came home to shoot a Friday night football game for my dad. After the game, we sat at home just talking. He and mom were working on a deal to put the two newspapers in Hillsboro together, and he asked if I would come home and help be part of the process. I was honored that he asked me, and that he valued my input so much, he wanted me to be part of the project.

Dad and Charley
It took me a long time to understand what my dad meant by giving us roots and wings, but I think he did a pretty good job. He's always encouraged our dreams, even if they sometimes led right back home. And I'd like to think he shared some of his passion for his community with me too.
And while my dad gave me roots and wings, there's another dad in my life, helping me do the same for Grace and Charlotte.

When it comes to dads, he's one of the best, and someone who inspires me with his passion for life too. After deciding to return home, I prayed God would put someone in my life that would be able to help me at the paper someday. I didn't know that meant marrying the sports editor, but Kyle is also someone who is very passionate about the community and Montgomery County as a whole. And he works hard every day to make it a better place.

And while that in and of itself is inspiring, it's his passion for Grace and Charley that makes me so happy.

I read in a book once that the divorce rate of parents with special needs children is higher than one in every two. That means more than half the marriages where special needs children are involved don't make it. Why? Because it's the hardest thing you will ever do. In addition to things all couples argue about, like money or who took out the trash last, you have the added pressure of raising a child with very special needs. In our case, we are taking care of a child with a terminal illness, who can't tell us any of her wants or needs and depends on us for everything. There's no reprieve when she goes to a friend's house. There's no down time while she plays by herself. Grace needs one of us for every single minute of the day. And while we wouldn't trade this journey for anything, it can be overwhelming at times.

But instead of dwelling on the hard times, we try our best to focus on the positives and live each day to the fullest. Thanks to a couple of really great sets of grandparents, we also usually make some time for a date night every now and again.

I've come to learn that the road on this journey is never easy. And I'm pretty sure that's true for everyone, even though we all face different struggles.

But my dad is right, the best gifts you can give your kids are roots and wings. Even though sometimes I feel like my wings are flapping, but I'm not getting anywhere, I know that my strong family roots are always there to lift me up. And I hope someday that Charlotte will feel like those are the best gifts she's ever been given too.


Learning To Survive The Grace Cup

Two weeks ago I decided that the fourth annual Grace Cup would be the last.

I was dreading the stress of the day, which included worrying whether or not I would have enough players to host not just one, but two soccer games. When the success or failure of an event that is so close to your heart lives or dies on the whims and social schedule of 17 and 18 year-old kids, it can be a tad worrisome.

2018 Grace Cup Boys and Girls Teams
In the few days before the games, which brought together some of the best small school soccer players from our area, I had made peace with the fact that we would have to do 7-on-7 for the inaugural girls game and that I'd have to reshuffle the boys' line-ups due to last minute dropouts, but now I had the weather to worry about. All week long, it looked as if Mother Nature might let loose with the water works right about the time that the games were in full swing.

As it turns out, all that stress was for nothing. I have no better chance in controlling the actions of teenagers than I do in controlling the weather patterns that seem to change from minute to minute in central Illinois.

2018 Lincolnwood Alumni Game
Brothers - and goalies in the Alumni Game
 What I do have control over is my ability to surround myself with good people who make the Grace Cup a success, not just monetarily, but also in terms of raising awareness for infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy (INAD) in honor of my daughter Grace, who is battling the disease.

While I was stressing out about how many players we would have and what those players and their families would think if the game wasn't up to par, others were working to make the game a success behind the scenes.

Charley playing soccer with her cousins.
Herschelman cousins at the Grace Cup
 Lincolnwood soccer coach Joe Webb, his wife Ashley (Young) and other members of the Webb and Young families made sure that the field and concession stand were ready to go, a process that I wouldn't have the first clue about.

Travis Matthews, one of my closest friends since I could walk, took care of game balls, referees and inviting some special guests, some of his youngest players from Impact FC, who walked out with the big kids. The looks on the faces of the younger players reminded me why I wanted to do the Grace Cup in the first place, to grow the game of soccer, in addition to raising awareness for INAD.

Daddy and his girls before the game.
There are plenty of others who helped out too: Aaron Webb, Kyra Shull, Charles Babcock, Kenny Lauderdale and Berry Lauderdale, who all helped out with the scoreboard, braving biting insects and errant soccer balls during the process; Renee Wynn at Creative Flair for getting the shirts done despite my tardiness in getting her the final numbers; Dave Mattson, Brent Stuckey and Ryan Webb, who handled coaching duties along with Travis, making sure that everyone felt like they got as much out of the experience as possible; and the Beeler and Helgen girls, who acted as a welcoming committee and handed out rosters to the public.

I'm sure there are others who played a role that I'm forgetting, for which I'm sorry, but no one helped more than my beautiful wife Mary. In spite of her more than valid concern over my mental health when I said I wanted to add a girls game to the mix, I didn't hear one "I told you so," when I had my greatest struggles.

Galer/McLaughlin Clan at the Grace Cup
Herschelman Family at the Grace Cup
 Without the aforementioned people, the day of the game would not go as well as it does. Without Mary, it wouldn't happen at all.

Even with all of my crazy the past few weeks, she has encouraged me to not give up on the Grace Cup. She has reminded me that it's always better once its over and that the impact on the players and their families is what matters.

And she's right. Even if only a few of those kids were moved by Grace's story, it's worthwhile. This year we had two former Grace Cup players officiate the game, Brendan Zeller and Steven Cowles (along with Steven's brother Joe), while Kenny Lauderdale and Aaron Webb have also played.

Fun family photo together at the Grace Cup
It's always neat to see players from previous years follow us on Facebook or on Twitter. That's one person that may never have heard about INAD before that feels at least a small connection with our story.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this year won't be the last Grace Cup. I know that there is a pretty good chance I'll be pulling my hair out next June, hoping that the players show up and that the weather stays dry, but I also know that anything I go through is way easier than what Grace has to go through every day.

Thanks to everyone who supports us on our journey and we'll see you next year at the Grace Cup on June 8.


Celebrating A Life Of Strong Women

A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. - Eleanor Roosevelt.

My college roommate shared this quote with me as a gift during our time at Mizzou, and it's always been so true for me.

On our Grace-Filled Journey, I'm blessed that people stop to tell me how strong they think I am in a tough circumstance. And while I'm always humbled by such comments, I truly feel like I just do what needs to be done to take care of my family. First and foremost, I'm a wife and a mom, who has everyday struggles like everyone else, and I try to do my best for Kyle, Grace and Charlotte.  I don't feel like that makes me strong or courageous. I just do what needs to be done, just like most moms.
But if I do have an inner strength that guides me, I can tell you it most certainly comes from a long line of strong women in my family. In celebration of Mother's Day in May, this month I wanted to write about some women who have always been an inspiration in my life.

Celebrating Mother's Day with all my favorite girls!
And not unlike many people, I think my biggest inspiration is my mom.  She's seen me at my best, but also at my worst, and she manages to always love me anyway. She has shown me what it means to persevere and most importantly, to be kind to everyone.

I always think of that Ray Boltz song, "Thank You" when I think of my mom. I just know that when she gets to heaven someday (hopefully a LONG time from now), there will be people lined up to greet her and thank her for all the ways she has touched their lives.

She's just always there when you need her. Need a ride to the grocery store? She's there. In fact, she helps me with the girls nearly every week at the store, walking Grace around while I get the supplies for the week.

Need a dessert for a bake sale or an event at church? It's guaranteed she will make something delicious, and always save some cookie dough for me.  I bet Charley can't wait to be big enough to get the cookie dough!

Baking is always one of our favorite together times!
 She's been at every single important event for me and my brother over the years, even flying halfway around the world to visit me when I lived in London. And she doesn't even really like to fly!
She's been a Sunday School teacher, on every committee there is, and someone we will never, ever be able to replace at the paper for all the things she does. I'm supposed to be learning how to do what she does this summer, and I'm pretty sure those are some big shoes to fill.

But most of all, my mom is there when I need someone to talk to. When the times are hard, when I need to cry, when I don't know what to do, she's only ever a phone call away.

And my mom is a problem solver. When I'm just mad at the world, I call my dad. He lets me blow off steam (and say words I don't usually say in front of my mom) and doesn't judge. Dad just lets me be angry. Mom, not so much. Mom is always ready for a solution to every problem there is, or is ready to talk about steps we can take to remedy a situation. Which can be frustrating when you are just indeed mad at the world, but inevitably, it's always better to work on the problem than to just complain about it.

So, who was the first person I called when we learned that Grace had a terminal illness, my mom. She and I had lunch in the back room at the Ariston and I just cried and cried. And even though we may not have found a cure for INAD, we certainly found some great solutions to make this an amazing Grace-Filled Journey. On the days I'm not sure I can get out of bed and face another INAD-filled day, my mom reminds me of all the great things in my life, every single time.

But my mom isn't the only one who gives me strength. I have been blessed with two pretty amazing grandmothers too, women that have shown me unconditional love, and that the best job in the world is truly that of a grandma.

My Grandma Hutson (my mom's mom), died when I was only in junior high, so I don't have a lot of memories with her, but I know she made our childhood special. She helped to make Halloween costumes. She babysat for us on paper nights. Even though she only lived in Vandalia, she wrote me letters all the time because she knew how much I loved to get mail.  I think I still have them all somewhere. My Grandma Hutson had more than 20 grandchildren, but she always made me feel very special.

I was blessed to have many more years with my Grandma Nancy (my dad's mom), and she taught me to do everything with a smile. My Grandma Nancy could truly find a silver lining in every moment. One of my favorite stories is when she was in a hospital recovery room after my Grandpa Phil had surgery, and she told him that all his lines on the machines he was hooked up to looked really straight. I wasn't there, but other family members explained to her that "flatlining" was not really a good thing, and we still giggle about it to this day. She just always found something positive in every situation.

She was also quite the baker and shared her famous treats with new people who moved into town, were ill or just needed a little pick-me-up.

My grandma was also a fierce supporter of community journalism, and one of the reasons I can still write for The Journal-News. She understood fully what it meant to be part of a community, and we are proud to carry on her lessons today. It's one of the reasons I'm so proud to be the fourth generation in my family to be part of the newspaper family.

I'm definitely stronger for these women who have come before me. But I would be remiss without mentioning a few other strong women in my family, who came on board when I married Kyle. I'm so grateful to have his mom and both of his grandmas in my life. Their faith and dedication to family continues to inspire me each and every day.

I still can't say that I feel like I'm a strong person, or that I do anything any differently than anyone else in my situation, but I do know that some amazing women in my life have set a wonderful example for me on how to be a good wife and a good mother. And I hope someday that Grace and Charlotte find some of those same values inside them.