The Life Changing Journey to “Orange”
Two Truths I Know
It’s true. Life can change in an instant. Unexpected change. Overwhelming circumstances. One minute, I was an expectant mom with five children at home, and owned an interior design company. The next minute, the birth of our blessed sixth child was belabored by extreme complications. TJ. When he was born, he looked perfect from the outside, but the inside was damaged by Cerebral Palsy and other health challenges. Life, as we knew it, was drastically changed, and we didn’t know what to expect or how to navigate the next step.
It takes a village is also true. With the support of doctors, nurses, rehab, a husband, 5 children, family and friends, we did what we could. We learned what we needed to know, and put one foot in front of the other. There were good days and bad. The good was when we realized how fortunate we were to have a village of support.
The bad was learning so many others are not so fortunate. My heart leaped forward when I found out that some families with special needs children are housebound because they can’t travel with a wheelchair or get their child into the car. That will never sit well with me, because so much of life is beyond our front doors.
The Steelman Family Foundation
It was for this reason, I was compelled, with my family, to start a foundation to help find wheelchair accessible vans for families diagnosed with a permanent disability. Family activities spent together were so important to us, and helped heal the heartache and challenges that Cerebral Palsy brought to our life. We know the importance of having experiences as a whole family, and we fully believe each person should be able to participate in community, recreational or everyday experiences united as a family. And through this, the Steelman Family Foundation was born to help families “roll.”
While dedicating back to our community, who supported us immensely, our heart expands each time we raise funds to provide a wheelchair accessible conversion van for a family. Since its inception, the Steelman Family Foundation has provided 5 vans for 5 families. With each van, a family’s life is changed in many, many ways, and we are so grateful to be able to give back in this way.
Heaven Sent and Bent
As a “recovering interior designer,” I found our challenges in life to be like the challenges of decorating a room. Don’t take this the wrong way, as it is not meant to be flippant. When decorating a room, there are various elements that comprise the room’s personality and style. There are colors, shapes, textures, layers, lighting, flooring and furniture. Sometimes, a room is humdrum, and needs a spark or a splash of color that draws attention while bringing all the elements together. Before TJ, our life was simple, plain, going along with the day to day course. When TJ came into the world, he brought the spark into our family. He became the splash of color that stood out and yet, at the same time drew everyone closer together. I call him our ‘orange.’ It is the brightest color on the wheel, and surprisingly goes with every color. More importantly, it represents joy. And TJ brought us joy in so many layers.
It was not easy to arrive at that joy or know that he was our ‘orange.’ It took time. Lots of time, laughter, tears, reflection, anger, doubt, frustration and love. Through the emotions, the challenges, the adjustments, the tasks, the care, the support and each other, I realized we needed to share our story to help others learn how to live a joyful life and thrive even with the most overwhelming circumstances. We needed to help others become aware and more tolerant and compassionate of those that are not fully abled in body or mind.
We all have a bend to us. I have 6 children and many grandchildren, and they are all imperfect. Each one of us in this world is imperfect in some way. Some of us have greater struggles than others, but if we put them all in a pile for anyone to pick up, it has been said, we would pick up our own. And that is what I have learned through our life and our family. We may have our struggles and we may pick up our own. Most importantly, we can lend a hand to others to help them through their struggles. This is why I speak about my profound experience of surviving, finding joy and thriving. Every one of us struggles with our professional life and our personal life in some way or another. When given a new perspective, a boost of confidence, a dose of motivation, a path to wander and support to guide you, I want to help people understand, know and believe that anything is possible. And they, too, will find their ‘orange.’