This year has been challenging.
And wonderfully rewarding.
Horrible in some ways.
And just marvelous in others.
Early in 2014, as Zion’s behavior declined, I began to wonder if autism was just going to claim him altogether. I was on the verge of losing hope.
(Single parenting is hard, eh?)
But I summoned my strength, and made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. We changed ABA therapy centers late spring, and that changed the course of our lives.
For the better.
I took another chance in the spring, and I opted to spend the majority of my tax return on an online marketing class. My goal was to expand Zoe’s Starfish, and eventually make it a 501-3c non-profit organization to benefit the families of children with autism.
I loved that marketing class. It was empowering.
I was investing in myself and my future, and really delved into nerd-esque learning for the first time in two decades.
I expected it to pay off immediately.
Nevertheless, I continued to work on making Zoe’s Starfish all it could be, by designing new jewelry, hostessing home parties, running a store on Etsy.com, and blogging…all while working 50-60 hours a week at the hospital.
In just a few months, I had driven myself into the ground.
My blood pressure was so high from the stress, that my doctor took me off work for 2 weeks.
By summer’s end I was 2 months behind on my mortgage payment, and buried in medical bills.
But then something amazing happened.
My sister started a GoFundMe.com campaign, and friends and family rallied together and raised enough money to pay off that debt. Around that same time, I was contacted by a dear friend from high school who had an idea for a fundraiser for Zion. His vision was that he and the guys from Nytrix, a rock band who hadn’t played together in 20 years, would gather for a reunion concert in our home town as a fundraiser for my son.
They would call it Rock on for Zion.
I was floored.
And extremely grateful.
About a month later, my dad had a massive heart attack, and nearly died. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and began a slow but steady recovery.
By now, Zoe’s Starfish online presence was growing, and I was making enough income to miss some work to be with my dad. I worked many late nights designing and creating jewelry, and running a continuous feed of photos through Etsy and our Facebook page.
I sat in dad’s hospital room on my lap top.
Some nights I stayed up until 3am sorting through gems and buttons and beads, designing new jewelry.
Every single day I would type “zoes starfish” into Google to see where we ranked.
And one day in late September, I saw it.
#8 on Google’s landing page.
I admit it. I cried. (Shocking, I know.)
As dad continued to recover, I was able to reduce and balance my hours a bit at the hospital and spend more time with him.
Rock on for Zion was the first week of October. They raised enough money to pay off Zion’s secondary insurance policy through spring 2015.
That same week, I was contacted by another friend from high school. He and his soccer buddies had formed something called Old School Charity Group. They offered to donate to Zion as well. A month later, they raised enough money to pay off Zion’s secondary insurance policy through the end of 2015.
Mid October we saw a spike in Zion’s behaviors. Home life became more challenging. But having a pool of resources, as well as a home-based business, allowed me to be available for my son, as well as meetings with his ABA therapy team.
Autism is a challenge for the entire family, not just for the child.
But we got through it together.
November and December saw a flurry of Zoe’s Starfish jewelry parties. We hostessed 14 of them altogether. (Thank you to all of the beautiful people who invited us into your homes!)
We were able to save some money, help some other families in need, and take some time off during the holidays to enjoy each other’s company and rest.
It has been one whirlwind of a challenging year.
But did we survive?
Zion is thriving at his new therapy center.
Zoe’s Starfish is now ALL TEN results on the landing page of Google. (Try it. Google us right now!)
My blood pressure is stabilized. I am working on getting my weight down some more.
Dad is recovering nicely, and has dropped an impressive 50 pounds.
We saw adversity, and we faced it.
But most importantly, I learned that we are supported.
We are surrounded.
We are LOVED. So very much.
Life will never be perfect. But if you have the love and support of friends, you have all you need.
You know that scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life?
The one when all of the townspeople come to the Bailey’s home and pitch in their own money to save George and his family?
That’s exactly how I felt this year.
Dear 2014: Thanks for the lessons.
Dear 2015: I’m ready.