Every person you meet has a story. All stories have a beginning, middle, and end, as does life. Each day we have the wonderful opportunity to shape the lives of others and guide the direction or path they take on the journey we call life.
As I ponder back in time and think about my childhood memories, there are some people who have helped guide me along the way and made significant contributions. Many of them have no idea of the impact they have made. I have been blessed in so many ways. Unfortunately, we tend to not see the blessings at the time. They only become apparent to us once we are mature and secure enough to see beyond ourselves.
My Story Begins
My story begins in a double wide trailer home on the outskirts of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. There I lived with my mom, who was divorced and trying to raise five children. On top of that, she took take in the needy, and eventually foster, children. She showed us what true sacrifice was.
Did we have everything we wanted? No, but we had what we needed to survive. We also had trials and tribulations. But by learning to overcome them, we developed a sense of understanding and compassion, and strengthened our resolve.
When the Going Was Tough
You see, in a small town during those days, to have a divorced mother was not socially acceptable. I remember friends not being allowed to come over to my house. All over town people gossiped about the life my mom was leading. It was lonely at times, but there were individuals who chose to seek us instead of judging us. They sought to understand the story behind the person. To this day I am grateful for those people.
Even in today’s world so many people rush to judgment instead of seeking to first understand. Not everyone can afford to look “normal.” My mom could only afford so much, and everything had to be split among all of us children. I remember trying on the nylon stretch pants and matching tops she had ordered out of the JC Penney’s catalog for our school clothes. (As well as a lot of hand me downs.)
Unfortunately, the food subsidies and the budget led to eating high carbohydrate foods. And of course, being from Wisconsin, we ate a lot of cheese. All of which my body did not respond well to. So by the time we got the clothes in the mail, mine would always not fit, no matter how hard I tried to make them.
In high school I remember the embarrassing moment where my jeans were so tight that I had butt cleavage. To make matters even worse, the shirt I was wearing, no matter how hard I tugged it down, would not cover it. The gym teacher felt sorry for me and gave me a bag of clothes to take home.
Moments like these build character, to say the least, but also add to the layering of buried insecurities that can so easily be tucked deep within. Unfortunately, these same insecurities set the framework of the story we continually tell ourselves.
Choosing to Write My Own Story
Growing up seen as “less than” could have become the backbone of my story. Intertwine that with poverty and social stigma, and my story could have become dark. But it is up to each of us to decide the path we will ultimately take.
I could have become angry, bitter, and let the embarrassment of having to use food stamps at our local store, wearing clothes that barely fit, and being ostracized by members of our community create a chapter of defeat. But I chose to rise above all of that and rewrite my own story. I chose to learn kindness from my mother, giving to those even less fortunate than we were.
Even the most humbling experiences were used to propel me to another level. They shaped me into whom I am today and instilled in me a purpose to always be kind. For it was the kindness of others when I needed it most that helped me through the moments of despair.
Helping to Write Others’ Stories
Because of what I experienced growing up, I know how it feels. I determined to treat people the opposite of the way I was treated. It became my purpose to get to know them, and understand their personal stories. In doing so, I found that by being nonjudgmental, giving back to individuals, helping them learn, grow, and be successful was where I found peace. All the knowledge that I had gained, if it was not shared, was wasted.