An Unexpected Launch
By Kirsten Duncan
An Unexpected LaunchNov 19, 2019
Ep 30. Brian's Story: Storms in Life Have a Definite Beginning and a Definite End
Brian’s dad profoundly impacted his life; Brian wasn’t raised to be like anyone else. Brian was taught to stand in the gap, to be an intentional encourager. Brian has endured hardship in his adult life and has used those experiences to propel himself into projects that he is passionate about. Losing his dad unexpectedly and being fired from his job brought gifts of support, connection, and friendship into Brian's life. These experiences laid the foundation for his book, People Buy From People, titled after one of his dad's most valuable lessons. Originally envisioned as a book for those in sales, Brian realized that his book, woven with stories of his late dad, is a book about life. Brian recently launched and hosts his own podcast, The Intentional Encourager, where he shares stories of inspiration, hope, wisdom, connection, and ... encouragement. As Brian states, encouraged people are powerful people. Who can you encourage today?
The Intentional Encourager Podcast
People Buy From People, Audible
People Buy From People, Book
Ep 29. Patti's Story: The Struggle is Real and So is the Love
Patti recently published her first book: When He Was Anna: A Mom’s Journey Into the Transgender World. This chapter of Patti’s own story began when her youngest daughter, Anna, announced at the age of 17 that she is transgender. Patti’s husband explains in the foreword, this book is about a parent’s love of and support for their child, who now goes by Tristan. Patti openly and honestly shares the struggle, heartache, and trauma of discovering, loving, and supporting her transgender son.
Patti has a passion, and that is telling our stories so that others know that they are not alone. A gift of her journey has been guiding other parents who follow in her footsteps. Becoming a published author fulfilled Patti's life-long dream; although she could have never imagined raising a transgender child would be her topic, it was. Watching Tristan evolve into a confident, independent young adult has been a treasured gift of her journey. Patti's greatest hope is that Tristan's life is filled with happiness and joy.
When He Was Anna: A Mom’s Journey Into The Transgender World, book
Author Patti Hornstra, Instagram
Ep. 27. Matthew and Cha's Story: Showing Up Gloriously For Others
For more than ten years, Matthew knew something wasn’t right. After countless doctor visits, Matthew was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, IGA nephropathy. His immune system attacked his kidneys necessitating a grueling dialysis regimen and ultimately an unsuccessful kidney transplant.
In this episode, Matthew and his wife, Cha, share their journey through chronic illness, a failed kidney transplant, and the wait for a second transplant.
Battling a chronic disease is exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming. Yet, Matthew and Cha discovered a strength and resolve in themselves and the beauty and connection of community.
For more inspiring stories, visit An Unexpected Launch and watch us on YouTube.
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Ep 26. Sara’s Story: In Sharing Your Truth, You Open Yourself to Joy
At 17 years old, Sara was raped and became pregnant. Unbeknownst to Sara, the woman counseling her through her pregnancy made plans for Sara’s baby to be fostered and ultimately adopted. Sara fought for her son and called the foster family to inform them that she was taking her son home. At a young age, Sara learned the power of truth, your story, integrity, and the importance of walking through your pain.
Sara met and fell in love with her husband in college. They married and had two more sons. They were a happy family of five...until Sara realized that her husband had been living a double life. He had been sleeping with men for 14 of their 17 years of marriage.
Throughout their marriage, Sara’s intuition whispered, “He’s gay.” Each time Sara questioned her husband, he reaffirmed his love for her. Sara ignored her intuition. Through her healing work, Sara has learned to trust and listen to herself.
After her husband disclosed his betrayal, Sara grieved deeply the loss of the life and future that she thought awaited her. As she’s come to learn more about forgiveness and grief, Sara has realized that there is never closure. Instead, we are confronted with many openings. Deep, personal, inner growth can help to navigate grief. It begins with acknowledgement of living your life differently than you thought and seeking the possibilities.
Sara believes deeply in the power of nature. Being present in nature allows you to get out of your head and forces you to drop into your heart. Meditation, breath work, and nature allow you to drop into our heart, where the healing and deep connection occur.
Loneliness is a universal experience to those experiencing trauma and grief. Three words guided Sara’s recovery through loneliness: truth, inspiration, hope. Owning and speaking her truth, finding inspiration every day even in the little moments, and hope for herself helped Sara overcome loneliness.
From the age of 17, Sara knew that she would write a book that would help others feel less alone. Her debut book, Walk Through This, is a guide through traumatic experiences and the journey to forgiveness. Her goal was to create a resource that she didn’t have and wished she had during her trauma recovery.
Sara openly shares her story, including thoughts of suicide, because she knows what it was like to be in a story and feel as though no one else was there. Sara intimately knows pain and wants to spare others that pain. She wants others to see themselves in her words and know that they are not alone. In sharing your truth, you begin to understand yourself and open yourself to possibilities and ultimately freedom.
Sara’s inspiration for her journey came from immersing herself in nature, a support group, and being present with her boys. Through her journey, beautiful unexpected gifts have appeared. She’s appreciated inspiring conversations, and seeing people embrace and be excited by her body of work, including her book.
Sara Schulting Kranz, Website
Walk Through This: Harness the Healing Power of Nature and Travel the Road to Forgiveness, book
Walk Through This. A Story of Starting Over, Documentary
We Need a New Definition of Forgiveness, TEDx Talk
Ep 25. Shari’s Story: Strength Comes from the Struggle
Abandoned at birth in a parking lot in Seoul, South Korea, Shari’s life had a traumatic beginning. Shari’s American family didn’t hide her adoption, yet it wasn’t something that was discussed. It wasn’t until later in her life that Shari would begin processing her adoption and the impact that it had on her life. After Shari and her husband adopted their daughter from China, Shari began to process her own adoption. Shari realized how similar her journey was to her daughter’s, particularly struggling with identity issues, having to justify belonging in their family.
In 2017 Shari was diagnosed with breast cancer requiring a double mastectomy. Upon hearing her diagnosis, Shari fell to her knees, paralyzed. Shari’s biggest fear was leaving her children. If Shari could go back in time, she would talk more openly with her children about her diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.
Shari’s cancer journey was marked by loneliness. Shari began journaling to help manage her loneliness and her journey. Part of her journaling practice now entails looking back at previous journals to see her growth and progress. Journaling helped her maintain focus and discover meaning in the struggle.
Shari began listening to inspiring podcasts, and reading, actively seeking out sources of positivity.
A few years ago, Shari attended a memorial service and listened to the beautiful sentiments shared by friends and family. People told stories of how this woman impacted their lives. Stories this woman never heard. Shari vowed she would not let another year pass without sharing what her friends mean to her. She met with 50 woman over the course of a year for intimate, meaningful conversations.
After each conversation, Shari captured the essence of their conversation on Facebook. While writing the synopsis of each conversation, Shari reflected and was filled with gratitude for all of the amazing women in her life. Every woman will remember that meeting with Shari; it was a moment that someone heard how much they mattered and the difference they made in the world. These conversations became Shari's debut novel, The 50/50 Friendship Flow, a perfect book for every woman and her friends.
Shari’s current initiative is meeting with 52 women asking them “What is the mess that became your message?” Hearing these insights gained along these journeys has been therapeutic for Shari. Her hope for these conversations is that we learn from one another.
Revealing her story has felt vulnerable. Once behind her, Shari didn’t openly talk about her adoption and breast cancer journey. During her book launch interviews, these life experiences resurfaced. Speaking freely, reflecting, and recognizing the power of her stories has been a powerful process for Shari.
Shari recognizes that her struggles have led to meaningful gifts. Appreciating the gift of each day, knowing where to spend her time and energy keep Shari focused on the beauty that surrounds her. Shari is able to relate to more people and to connect with them on a deeper level. Focusing on our similarities brings us together.
“We all have a common story, something that connects us”
The 50/50 Friendship Flow, book
Ep 24. Renee and Piripi’s Story: Taking the Gloss Off, Sharing Their Raw Truth
Renee and Piripi met at 13 years old, started dating at 15, and were together for 11 years before marrying. Eighteen months into their marriage, Piripi disclosed that he is gay.
Knowing from a young age that he was different, it was a long and slow journey for Piripi to accept that he is gay. Piripi did not want to live his life defined by living in a box, straight or gay. Piripi’s journey continues, and four years after coming out, there are still days that he struggles. Even after admitting to himself that he is gay and knowing there was no returning to a straight life, Piripi remained in denial for a period of time.
As their marriage began to crumble and her world turned upside down, Renee was clutching at straws, and she asked Piripi if he is gay. The answer was definitely not. After their marriage had dissolved and Piripi disclosed to Renee that he is gay, Renee felt complete and utter denial.
As Piripi struggled to accept that he is gay, and as Renee struggled to accept the end of their marriage, they both entered a dark period marked by depression. Piripi turned to alcohol and drugs to ease his pain, lacking the tools and resources to cope. After one year of abusing his body, Piripi realizes that he’s entering a growth period, striving towards happiness. Counseling and the support of friends helped him to move forward.
When their marriage was crumbling, gas lighting played a role. Renee didn’t question Piripi’s accusations. Lacking internal defenses, Renee began to question fundamental aspects of herself, of what she knew to be the truth. Renee, in the depths of despair, consumed a bottle of sleeping pills. Renee had never been depressed, and she had misconceptions about suicide. She felt that she was immune; too smart, strong, successful, happy, and optimistic to be at risk of suicide. She encourages people to reach out, to not feel ashamed, noting that depression touches everybody, in every corner of society.
After he came out, Piripi struggled to navigate the gay community. Still holding onto guilt and shame, it was more difficult than he had anticipated. He recommends to individuals coming out to seek resources, support groups, and trusted individuals.
After Piripi came out, Renee watched him being congratulated and celebrated. Meanwhile, she was devastated. Renee struggled to reconcile these two truths. Renee withdrew from Piripi to begin her healing and discover her future. She worked through the shame, anger, and stages of grief. She began looking forward, reimagining her life.
After a period of growth, self-discovery, and healing, a sense of peace washed over Renee. She was ready to share their story. Renee and Piripi launched their podcast, Me & my GAY ex-husband to tell their story; a story that is usually swept under the carpet. They hoped to create connection, assuring people in a mixed-orientation marriage that they are not alone. Through their raw, honest, and emotional conversation, they have created a real and relatable resource.
Telling their personal and intimate story was initially scary and left them feeling exposed. The support and outreach fills Renee and Piripi with purpose and the strength to continue sharing their story.
Their journeys have been a whirlwind marked by beautiful unexpected gifts. Piripi’s unexpected gift has been discovering his sense of self and self-belief that he would not otherwise have sought. Renee’s gift has been freedom, the gift to take control of her life, to reimagine what she wanted, to discover joy. Ultimately, they embrace their separation, viewing it as a gift, emerging as transformed individuals with new goals and dreams.
Ep 23. Marquina’s Story: The Emotional Elephant in the Room – Will My Cancer Recur?
A moment of absolute shock, disbelief, and fear. A death sentence. Fear that she would leave her three and a half year old son motherless.
“I heard ‘malignant’ and thought, I must not know the definition of that word.”
Previously healthy, feeling fine. Except for that lump. Her gynecologist recommended she call ‘her surgeon.’ Marquina did not have a primary care doctor much less a surgeon. Not believing yet that she had cancer, the meeting with the first surgeon left Marquina feeling written off, not seen as a woman navigating a devastating diagnosis. Marquina was referred to an experienced breast surgeon who thoughtfully discussed the implications of her diagnosis, performed a more in-depth exam and discovered that the cancer had spread. Had she remained with her original breast surgeon, the cancer in her lymph node would have metastasized and rendered her stage 4, metastatic.
Marquina’s days were filled with back-to-back appointments, her vocabulary expanded to include words and terms that she had never imagined. She was forced to make major decisions about her body. She also knew that how she responded to this crisis would impact her journey and her memory of it. She did not want this period to be defined as traumatic; she wanted to define her experience through growth and self-transformation.
Marquina settled into a rhythm, weaving chemotherapy and its side effects into her life, working on the days that she felt well. Marquina vacillated between the highs of “I’ve got this” and the pits of despair and pain.
Marquina lived her life day by day. Listening to her body. Doing what her body allowed. Creativity allowed Marquina to begin to reclaim her life and gave her strength on her darkest days. Marquina realized that she could transform the experience of her eight-hour chemo infusions. With the help of a makeup artist, gown and accessory donations, and a photographer, Marquina created the Glam Chemo photo project.
Marquina created the Women’s Empowerment Project wherein artists created beautiful canvases from the bodies of women with cancer. While the artists were painting, the women bonded as they shared their reasons for participation: some were saying goodbye to their breasts, some with post-mastectomy scars wanting to discovery beauty in their bodies.
Societal pressures lead many of us to hide our authentic selves. Cancer forced Marquina to explore who she wanted to be, what she valued. Valuing close friendships, she recognized that deep friendships require sharing of yourself and listening. Being vulnerable, sharing your struggles fosters true connection.
Marquina published Tough: Women Who Survived Cancer, a collection of 37 stories of women with cancer. Marquina wanted to highlight the breadth and the depth of women’s experiences coping with cancer. Marquina’s greatest hope is that women can see themselves in the stories of others.
Marina is a competitive air guitarist. This creative outlet helped Marina express and embrace herself throughout her cancer journey – and she’s continuing on, rocking this pandemic with her air guitar.
TedX, The Unexpected Lifeline
Ep 22. Cha’s Story: We Are Seeing The Best of Us Rise
Cha believes in the best of us. She desires that we learn to ask good questions. Ones that lead to transformation, open our minds and our hearts. The right questions are ones that help us to be seen and understood.
Cha was raised in the Bahamas where the color of her skin did not impact how people viewed and valued her. She did not know she was “black” until she came to America. She didn’t know that there was a narrative about her skin color. A narrative that she had to fight against. When Cha arrived in America, she felt ugly, not even a girl. Cha felt that she was merely a black body.
When Cha was seven, a white boy called her a nigger. Cha did not know what that meant, but she knew it wasn’t good and realized it had something to do with her brown skin. No adult provided her comfort or protection, no adult denounced the boy’s racist comment. Cha encountered so many voices from children, teachers, and adults that made it harder to love herself, that made her feel less than human. It wasn’t until Cha became an adult to recognize the systemic failure of adults to protect her.
It is important to consider other people’s experiences; it makes us more perceptive, empathetic, and caring. Black people in America have not had the same life experience as white people. The fact that our constitution was amended to make blacks human is a disgrace and insulting. For blacks were fully human before the amendment was written. The original language of the constitution should have captured Cha. Should have captured every black person.
Because of her brown skin, Cha fears the narrative white people have about her, and the nuances of that narrative. White people’s perception of Cha impacts her life. Cha feels like she is shadowboxing; she often doesn’t know what she’s coming up against. Cha fears when others have power – and wield that power – over her. Cha fears for her daughter’s safety every time she leaves the house for a run. It’s an added layer of fear. She worries that someone may have a narrative about her daughter that could pose a threat to her safety.
What is different about the response to George Floyd’s death? Why is the world unifying and protesting now? Whites have the ability to nuance the deaths of black people, rationalizing the circumstances. The was no room to nuance the death of George Floyd, who was asphyxiated under a man’s knee. We cannot ignore his death. The death of countless black people.
Seeing the collective energy and powerful response is fueling our momentum in quest of peace, love, and exorcism of systemic racism. Staying curious and caring about one another will help us listen to and understand each other.
White people can serve as shields for the black people in their lives, their community. That looks like stepping in, physically, emotionally, verbally, to protect. It looks like protecting each other, not leaving black people standing alone. Not today.
We must draw those who are using less peaceful means to express their rage into an inclusive conversation. How? By acknowledging their pain. Understanding that their expression comes from consistently not being respected, loved, or heard. Lacking any modality by which their voice is being heard.
Cha sees many beacons of hope today. We have the capacity to be amazing. Times of peace do not reveal the depth and strength of humanity. Growth and strength spring from the dry and crooked places. The land is dry. The ground is broken. Yet we are rising. Together.
Ep 21. Morhaf’s Story: I want to be authentic, I’m inviting others to be authentic
Morhaf’s diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer was revealed gradually in the conversation with his lung doctor who walked him through a series of images and pathology results. Given a moment to absorb the news, Morhaf cried and then asked “What’s next?” Despite feelings of sadness and loss, he wondered, “Are there glimmers of hope?”
A cancer diagnosis is not only devastating for patients and healthcare providers alike. Being a physician himself, Morhaf recognizes the importance of giving patients the space to process their diagnosis and to understand the widespread implications of cancer. Morhaf knew the statistics of survival for his diagnosis and had access to resources that made the journey more bearable. While moving from a doctor to a patient was devastating, Morhaf has become more sensitive in managing his own patients.
The “Big C” is not a death sentence; one should never lose hope. Morhaf advises patients and caregivers seek trusted resources and healthcare team as well as others who share their diagnosis.
Although Morhaf’s sense of identity has evolved throughout his life, his cancer diagnosis exacted the most notable challenge. At first, cancer brought a devastating sense of loss, not only of life, but to access of doing what is most essential, which for Morhaf is being a physician. Taking on the identify of a patient was transformative and led Morhaf to connect with a large community of cancer survivors.
Morhaf doesn’t celebrate cancer, doesn’t view it as a gift. However, he acknowledges that he was faced with a difficult situation and is making the best of it. The urgency of an incurable disease propels individuals to squeeze their life projects into a short period of time. This comes with sacrifices, trade-offs, and loss of connection.
Cancer is an isolating disease, and this lack of connection has exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. Patients are faced with daunting decisions. Individuals living with cancer need to take precautions which exacerbates their isolation. When faced with an incurable cancer, these human connections are precious, compounding this loss of time from loved ones.
Humanity struggles with authenticity. And authenticity is essential to who we are. Morhaf shares his story, so that others can see him, know him, and want to share their story too. Humanity is constituted of memoires – of narratives, of stories. In sharing our stories, we make accessible experiences and dialogue that all can learn from.
Grief is part of the lived experience. Major losses change our life course: loss of a loved one, a parent, a child. Over time, our experience with grief changes. With support and space to share our grief, we can move towards healing and celebration of life as well as a reconciliation of mistakes made.
“When I die, I want people to remember me.”
Being Authentic, Memoir
Roads to Meaning and Resilience with Cancer: Forty Stories of Coping, Finding Meaning, and Building Resilience While Living with Incurable Lung Cancer
Ep 20. Kelly’s Story: Sharing Our Stories is Essential for Healing
Self-described as one-dimensional and intense, pre-coma Kelly loved her job, her colleagues, her award-winning real estate company, and working hard. Always pushing forward, evolving her business was top of mind.
Then the unexpected. After a long workday, Kelly didn’t feel well. She knew something was terribly wrong. A series of admissions, readmissions at different hospitals, and a lack of diagnosis, Kelly was close to death. With multiple organs failing, Kelly was placed into a medically-induced coma. Kelly felt isolated and alone.
The day Kelly emerged from her coma, she was alone. Her husband asked for a divorce. Never afraid of a challenge, Kelly fought her way back to health and recovery while raising her three-year old son and maintaining a hand in her company. Kelly’s recovery took 3 years and a lot of grit. It wasn’t without challenges and some humbling moments. Kelly was surrounded by a supportive, loving community. She also discovered her internal strength, noting that until we are tested, we don’t appreciate our own strength.
“You are stronger than you think”
Kelly’s near-death experience allowed her to discover who and what she loved. Where she should focus her time and effort. Kelly became spontaneous and learned to have fun. She discovered balance. Kelly’s divorce provided the freedom to create a life she loves. For Kelly, it was her opportunity to find her way back home, making peace within herself despite the surrounding chaos.
While recovering, Kelly had no ability to read social cues. Deciding that she wanted to sell her company, Kelly confidently reached out to and secured a meeting with Barbara Corcoran. Armed with expert advice and the out that Kelly was seeking, this meeting was a pivotal moment in Kelly’s business and recovery. This paved the way to Kelly’s career in speaking and to authoring her first book, Building a Dream Team.
Kelly founded Arras Sisters with the goal of building community - a tapestry of women - and helping women share their stories. Women need to share their voice. For themselves, their families, and communities. Kelly’s passion is helping women discover – and be proud of - their voice. Sharing stories is essential and will break down barriers. Stories provide a survival guide for those who are struggling and seeking resources to help them through their healing. In turn, telling our own stories is essential for our own healing.
“Feeling seen and heard and knowing we matter is essential”
People are afraid of telling their story for fear it doesn’t matter, or they may be suffering in shame or embarrassment. No matter the essence of your story, when you are ready, share your story. Not only is it a release for the story-teller, it’s the light that someone else seeks.
“Your story can change the world”
The women surrounding Kelly are her source of inspiration and hope. Kelly finds fulfillment in watching women evolve their stories and their businesses.
Kelly is grateful for her journey; helping women find their voice and share their stories has been the biggest gift. Learning to listen, and discovering patience – for herself and others – have come through her healing. Taking the time to hear and understand others has been transformational and opened Kelly’s eyes to the beauty, strength, and power within those who surround her.
Kelly’s greatest hope is that people find fulfillment and lose their shame. Her most important – yet most simple – advice?
“Share your story”
Ep 19. Daniela’s Story: In Pursuit of Connection, Love, and Purpose
Daniela was 5 years old when she and her mom left communist Romania seeking asylum in Germany. Unable to live together as a family, Daniela and her mom were only able to see her dad in secret. Daniela’s primary concern was to not worry her parents, and this marked the beginning of Daniela avoiding her feelings.
After being denied citizenship in Germany, Daniela’s family loaded their belongings into a car with the plan of driving until they were granted asylum in another country. They ended their journey in Portugal. The immigrant asylum that was their home was a volatile environment. Listening to crime outside of their walls, Daniela did not feel safe. Here, she developed her love of learning and animals. Reading served as her escape and coping mechanism.
Daniela’s family immigrated to the United States, the fourth country Daniela had lived in and the third time that she arrived in a country not knowing the language or the culture. Being treated differently and being bullied was traumatic. However, this fueled Daniela’s life-long passion for fighting for those who are under-represented.
To survive, Daniela pushed herself towards perfection. She excelled scholastically. Daniela also excelled at addiction. Looking inward and being still was too painful. Daniela entered the University of Washington, joined a sorority, and found comfort in alcohol. Yet she was able to function at college and at the company she co-founded. For a time. Until alcohol got in the way.
Daniela’s friend intervened; however, she didn’t know what resources were available or how to successfully recover. Initially, Daniela tried to stop drinking on her own. However, she continued drinking until she was charged with a DUI and arrested. Waking up on the cold floor of the jail cell, Daniela knew she couldn’t live this way, but yet she didn’t have the resources to recover. After Daniela’s father bailed her out of jail, she sought the structure of rehabilitation.
While in recovery, Daniela created the WEconnect Health platform in her quest to address the high rate of relapse and the lack of resources provided post rehabilitation. She wanted to create a community that offered connection and accountability.
Removing the stigma around mental health and equating physical and mental health have been challenging. Yet Daniela believes that sharing stories will help combat the stigma that has been associated with substance use disorder. Daniela believes that when we open up and share, we begin to pave our path to strength, success, and joy.
“Be vulnerable, ask for help, and be gentle with yourself.”
Recovery from substance use disorder is a life-long journey. Valuable resources that Daniela turns to include EMDR therapy, community support meetings, meditation, yoga, exercising, and journaling. Hope and inspiration were overshadowed by desperation early in Daniela’s journey. Daniela felt that her only way out was following the recommendations made during rehabilitation.
Daniela’s life is a gift. She has strong, loving relationships, and an incredible business that fuels her passion and fulfills her mission. Daniela’s greatest hope is that individuals reach their greatest potential, that people learn to look inward and work through trauma, and that they discover that being vulnerable and healing can lead to transformation and joy.
TedX Intimacy in the Workplace
Virtual Recovery Support Meetings
Ep 18. Valli and Harper’s Story: Navigating Through the Fog and Finding the Light
Valli and her husband were in a state of shock upon learning their newborn son, Battle, was born with a genetic mutation that resulted in severe hearing loss. Valli stuffed her anxiety and didn’t share her fears with anyone. She felt alone, ashamed, and that she was not allowed to have these feelings. Embarrassed that she felt so sad about Battle’s diagnosis. She wished her healthcare team could have acknowledged how difficult it was to receive the diagnosis, reassure her that Battle would thrive, and connect her with a support group.
Valli grieved the mainstream motherhood experience that she had envisioned. Despite their best intentions, friends and family repeated “He will be fine”, a phrase that minimized Valli’s grief. More helpful would have been hearing,
“This must be really hard. We will stick by your side and support you.”
It is important to feel your grief and move through it – on your own timeline.
Valli recommends that parents of children with hearing loss surround themselves with a trusted, supportive team that is united in purpose and vision and seek reputable experts and resources. Parents should trust their instinct and intuition as they know their child the best.
When four months pregnant with her daughter, Harper, Valli had in utero genetic testing performed. Valli knew her baby had a 1:4 chance of hearing. Valli focused on that 25%. Upon hearing that Harper would be born with hearing loss, Valli felt complete disbelief, surprise, and sadness. She grappled with knowing how challenging it was going to be to navigate the medical appointments, surgeries, and caring for two children with hearing loss.
Battle and Harper are hard-working teenagers who are resilient, adaptable, and thriving. They need to work harder than their hearing peers to learn, to socialize, to play sports. They have not grown out of hearing loss, they have adapted to it.
Valli’s strength came from praying, surrendering, serving others, and finding purpose. Believing that there was a bigger plan and seeking the blessing. Writing about her children and their shared journey through hearing loss has become her mission. Valli’s inspiration came from within; from her desire to create a joyful home.
One of the biggest blessings that has come from Valli’s journey is her gift in speaking to, guiding, and inspiring others. Valli’s greatest hope is that her children be joyful, discover and leverage their talents, and serve others.
Harper, now thirteen years old, is a first-time author. She and Valli co-wrote Now Hear This – Harper Soars with her Magic Ears, a book describing her experience living with hearing loss. The book is based on Harper’s fourth grade journal entry “What makes you unique?” Writing a book together was fun and yet challenging.
After working on the book for years, it felt weird and surreal holding the published book in her hands for the first time.
Throughout this process, Harper learned patience and collaboration. Writing a book was not easily and involved numerous steps. Valli is encouraging Harper to write her next book.
Harper would want children with hearing loss to know that they can excel in school and sports; though they will have to adapt, their hearing loss will not prevent participation in daily activities. Harper would want hearing teens to know that her hearing loss has not stopped her.
Harper feels that her hearing loss allows her to be more understanding of people and the challenges that they may be facing, to be less judgmental. Harper has become somewhat of a celebrity amongst children with hearing loss; they look up to and want to be just like Harper.
My Battle Call Valli’s blog
Now Hear This – Harper Soars with her Magic Ears Valli and Harper's book
Ep 17. Merf’s Story: How Does it Feel When No-one Wants To See You Or Wants You To Show Up?
Merf, born Martha Sue, grew up in a small, poor town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Fishing and shooting guns. Wearing cut-off shorts and jerseys. A tomboy.
There were unspoken rules for how a girl was to dress and behave. A home-made yellow, gingham graduation dress served as a turning point and marked the beginning of feelings of confusion and the need to conform to gender rules.
“All of the sudden, I felt that there was something wrong with me. I should want to wear this dress. I should want to put on makeup. I should want to do all of these things, and I just didn’t want to do any of those things.”
After all, tomboys can’t grow up to be tom-men. Adolescent girls were expected to outgrow this “phase.”
Before graduating high school, Merf set off for Buffalo, New York with dreams of becoming an Army medic. Despite passing all of tests, a psychologist probed Merf with personal questions concerning shaving and dressing habits. None one of this made any sense. It felt horrible, uncomfortable. Feeling singled out, once again Merf had the sense of wrong doing.
Despite the passing of time and increased awareness, individuals still suffer discrimination and judgement. Although Merf is less afraid of physical violence, the threat remains. There has been some progress with the passage of laws to protect individuals’ rights, evolving language, and less shame.
To move the collective conversation forward, we need to examine our beliefs of what we hold to be true. Why do we hold these beliefs? Do they serve us? Merf encourages us to listen to each other’s experiences.
Feeling that butch and gender queer individuals were unwelcome most places, Merf found joy, community, comfort, and safety in the gay bars. Merf felt acceptance being surrounded by like individuals. Fear of AIDS and hate were rampant; few places felt safe. A dark time, drinking eased Merf’s discomfort and began a descent into alcoholism
After being admitted to the ER, Merf pursued sobriety and recovery. Lacking clarity of thought, personal will, and internal strength, there was a safety net for Merf that offered treatment and assistance. Merf – by the virtue of being white – was not criminalized or imprisoned. Merf was lifted up. Given a chance. New York’s investment in Merf’s recovery was a saving grace.
Merf went from recovery and five years on welfare to graduating from law school and becoming an award-winning attorney. Merf’s community and relationships were foundational to this success. While Merf lacked self-belief, the surrounding community was vocal with its unwavering belief. Institutionalized in a psychiatric ward without a shirt or shoes, on suicide watch, Merf received a visitor, an acquaintance, who said, “You’re going to do great things.”
The most challenging aspect of Merf’s gender journey has been the shame associated with feeling different and trying to conform. Feeling failure in nearly every role, Merf has worked hard at letting go and embracing self-acceptance. Fear of violence has been challenging and has impacted life decisions and caused anxiety and feelings of violation.
It’s been a gift to move through life as a man, as a woman, and in the spaces between. Life is quite different for Merf being treated as a man versus a woman. Merf is thankful for the unexpected kindness and communities that have been developed and strengthened through the conversations surrounding gender issues.
Merf’s greatest hope is a world that is peaceful, loving, and kind and where all are treated respectfully. Where there is a place for everyone.
“Be willing to awkward and have fun. Even when it’s painful. Try to find joy - no matter what. We can simultaneously hold pain, discomfort, shame, joy, excitement, and hope.”
Ep 16. Sarah’s Story: The Trauma Club. Worst Club Ever. Welcome.
Sarah and Shawn met at Microsoft; they shook hands and Sarah heart sparked. They married in 1997, began building their community, and shared incredible adventures. In 2001, they had a child, Carson, who completed their family of three. Carson was their focus; Sarah and Shawn were deeply committed to their family and partnership. Love was rippling and flowing.
It was Father’s Day 2015, and Shawn wanted to celebrate a meal out with his family. Shawn excused himself from the table and did not return. Sarah and Carson found him collapsed in the restaurant’s entryway. Placed in the ambulance, Shawn was declared clinically dead and rushed to the ER. The medical team worked endlessly to resuscitate Shawn; however, at some point, Sarah felt that Shawn was no longer present. “Please, just let him go,” Sarah requested.
Returning home, Sarah found women and children from her community waiting for her. They spent the day sitting with, supporting, and loving Sarah and Carson. Sarah was in awe of their kindness, generosity, and support.
Sarah’s biggest fear after Shawn’s death was financial security. A stay-at-home parent for 14 years, Sarah worried over supporting her family. She wondered could she keep their house, could she get health insurance, life insurance? Sarah desperately misses her partnership with Shawn, their companionship, and laughter. She longs for having that special person who knows her inside and out and who sees and loves all of her.
Sarah’s immediate concern and highest priority after Shawn died was Carson. To fully support Carson, Sarah knew that she needed to be healthy in body and spirit. Therapy and parental support were key to Sarah’s journey forward. And in turn, Carson was Sarah’s source of strength. Carson has been Sarah’s anchor. Now a solo empty nester, Sarah needs to find a new anchor; one she knows resides within herself. With Carson launched, it’s time for Sarah to focus on herself. With no one to take care of, she’s launched the next chapter of personal journey and is discovering what brings her joy and purpose.
Carson started high school just weeks after Shawn’s death. In shock, Carson didn’t reveal their father’s death to anyone. Despite being in a supportive, loving community, it wasn’t until years later that Carson opened up and talked about Shawn’s death. Watching Carson at graduation, Sarah felt a sense of freedom in recognizing Carson’s growth, skills, and awareness; Carson was joyful and living their life fully.
“Worst club ever. Welcome.” is how Sarah greets her grieving dead-spouse/partner acquaintances. The trauma club is the worst club to be in. However, many gifts come from trauma. From trauma came compassion, insight, and resilience. Sarah’s learned how to ask for and receive help. She’s discovered her strength, courage, self-compassion.
The women who lost and grieved before her and were willing to share their stories were (and are) Sarah’s inspiration. Not only were they a source of valuable information, Sarah saw these women thriving, living full lives filled with joy, kindness, and self-compassion. These women represented possibility. Seeing someone else down this not-asked-for path, gave Sarah hope.
Grief group counseling Contra Costa County Crisis Center
Widow/Widower social support Soaring Spirits
Financial advisor Ryan Baker
Therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Comedy: W. Kamau Bell, Jimmy Gaffigan, Fortune Fiemster, Mike Birbiglia
Podcasts:Terrible, Thanks for Askingand Unexpected Launch
Ep 15. Jodie’s Story: I Took Control of My Husband’s Infidelity Story And Am Using It For Good
Jodie and Erik had been married twenty years and had two beautiful children. Life felt pretty typical. However, knowing that the news of his infidelity would be breaking on the 5:00 news, Erik admitted his affair with a co-worker to Jodie. Jodie’s heart raced, she couldn’t breathe, she lost sense of truth. She no longer knew who she was married to for never once did Jodie think Erik capable of having an affair. Knowing their most private, painful moments were to be broadcast, Jodie and Erik knew they had to prepare their 13- and 15-year old children. It was excruciating; their children were blindsided, and their world was forever changed.
Being thrust into the public spotlight was surreal. It was inescapable; news of Erik’s affair flooded the TV, internet, radio, newspapers, social media. Jodie’s course forward was altered by Eric’s public outing. Others were telling their story poorly, inaccurately, and one-sided. Though embarrassing and painful, this was Jodie’s blessing. It forced Jodie to tell their story, their truth. And this began to set Jodie and Erik free.
There was never a doubt that Jodie would stay with Erik. Although she initially felt weak for this choice, she came to see how courageous and strong she was for trying to save her marriage. Her family. Learning to forgive the unthinkable and recovering from infidelity require strength, courage, and hope. No-one journeying through infidelity – whether they choose to stay or not – is weak.
While Jodie isn’t certain that she can trust Erik again, she trusts her ability to endure anything life gives her. Trust in yourself begins with hindsight, learning to listen to your intuition. Living through moments that you think are not survivable. Learning to use our trauma for good. Jodie has immense hope in Erik. That he won’t be unfaithful again. And right now, hope is enough for Jodie.
Raised without a father, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Jodie is no stranger to adversity. Jodie’s strength comes from God. She knew her path forward was through love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy. About a year into couple’s counseling, Jodie felt stuck. Focused on healing her marriage, Jodie wasn’t healing herself. After reading “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle, something clicked; she became inspired forward by hearing her story echoed in someone else’s. Jodie began to write, to share her story. Esther Perel, a psychotherapist who specializes in infidelity, was another source of inspiration and momentum.
Jodie’s first published post felt exhilarating. Right. True. Necessary. Erik has been supportive of Jodie’s writing from the beginning, encouraging her to write. To share. To express herself openly and honestly. Writing has been the vehicle to release her story and her pain.
“We are not our mistakes; we are what we do after.”
Jodie and Erik love without reason, without conditions. They give each other their first and their best every day. Jodie and Erik have worked hard – on themselves, their marriage, their family.
“We are a stronger family because of my husband’s infidelity not in spite of it.”
TedTalk: Moving Forward
Dear Sugars by Cheryl Strayed
Marriage and Martinis Podcast
Ep 14. Susan’s Story: What Brené Brown Did for Shame and Vulnerability Susan Cottrell Is Doing for Love and Inclusion
A typical Christian family, Susan and Rob raised their five children in the Evangelical Church. Then, two of their daughters, Annie and Hannah, came out causing Susan and Rob to rethink life, primarily their relationship with religion.
When Annie was twenty, she called Susan; their conversation was lifechanging. Annie was struggling with a same sex attraction towards women. She had prayed about it, resisted it. Yet her feelings persisted. Despite feeling terrified of rejection, Annie came out to Susan. Touched that Annie shared the most intimate part of herself, Susan was grateful for their closeness and the gift of Annie’s truth. Yet, Susan was afraid. For Annie. Their family. She wondered “What now? What does this mean?”
Susan shared Annie’s coming out with her friends and her bible study. Their reaction? “It’s a sin and you can’t accept it.” Shocked and disheartened by their reaction, Susan struggled to understand how a parent could reject their child in their moment of need. Susan and Rob withdrew from their church and moved to a new community. Never once did they consider withdrawing from Annie.
Susan and Rob re-examined their relationship with religion, church, faith, and God. Susan began researching, reading everything she could find, watching videos, and relying on her faith. Not finding what she was looking for, she created the resources she needed. Because so many parents reject their LGBTQ children (primarily out of fear), Susan wrote, “Mom, I’m Gay.”
“Love is the foundation. Always press into love.”
Love of family and God paved the way for Susan and Rob to found their nonprofit, Freedhearts. They created community to unconditionally love and affirm, to connect individuals to loving and embracing community, and to share resources. Their greatest vision is that no one is left alone and unloved. What Brené Brown did for shame and vulnerability, Susan works to do for love and inclusion. Everyone deserves love and inclusion—simply because they are human.
“My heart longs to set people free.”
Two years after Annie came out, Susan’s daughter Hannah said, “I think I’m like Annie. I think I’m gay too.” “No, you can’t be,” was Susan’s first response. Thinking – in that moment – that if two of her children were gay, it was something Susan and Rob did. But they quickly realized that is not true, and they moved forward in continued love and inclusion.
She says to parents who may be struggling after their child has come out, look for the love. Find the love in yourself. Love means to embrace, accept, and be with someone along the journey. Love will overpower the fear. Go have coffee with your child and talk about your lives, not their orientation or identity. That child coming out is facing more than we could imagine.
LGBTQ children want their parents to know “It’s just me. I’m the person you cuddled when I was little, that you sang songs to. I’m that same person. I’m good-hearted, loving, and kind.”
Susan’s strength throughout her journey is rooted in loving herself, her family, and God. We are all filled with love, beauty, and wisdom. Susan has laid aside judgment and instead discovered a depth of love, compassion, tenderness she didn’t know was possible. She sees and loves people as they are.
TedTalk: Susan shares choosing her daughter over the church
Ep 13. Gill’s Story: The Biggest Gift of My Incurable Brain Tumor is The Outpouring of Love and Support
Three years ago, Gill, a father of four, was diagnosed with a golf-ball sized, grade 4 glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive, incurable brain cancer with a dire prognosis. Gill has undergone surgery, radiation, 95 rounds of chemotherapy, and wears 36 ceramic electrodes on his head to disrupt cancer cell growth. He’s just celebrated his 28-month “canniversary”.
Upon hearing he likely had GBM, Gill did some internet research; the statistics – that approximately 50% of those with GBM die within 15 months – were not reassuring. He feared he would not be able to watch his children get married and that he would miss out on loving and hugging his future grandchildren.
At the time of his diagnosis, Gill’s children ranged in ages from 8 to 21. Gill tailored the details he shared according to their ages. Knowing they had access to information on the internet, Gill was more forthcoming with his older children. His message centered on peace and optimism.
Gill’s deep faith and trust in God provided him the strength to continue undergoing intensive treatment. Awaking with the knowledge that he has an incurable disease, Gill begins each day by giving thanks for another day and all of the blessings and gifts in his life. Whether the sight of a beautiful bird, a conversation with a stranger, Gill takes nothing for granted.
Early in his cancer journey, Gill was 1 of 150 Americans selected attend a week-long pilgrimage to a holy site in France. It was a beautiful and healing experience.
Despite aggressive treatment, residual tumor remains in Gill’s brain. Gill refers to his tumor a “squatter, he’s hanging out, not paying rent and not causing any problems.” This squatter is the source of much beauty and many gifts in Gill’s life.
For those facing a GBM diagnosis, Gill suggests they focus on what they can control. Worry only adds angst and stress can adversely impact health. To caregivers, Gill emphasizes that love, positivity, and support are critical. Pity can be destructive to a patient’s hope and optimism.
Gill, his parents, and sisters have met – face-to-face and virtually – hundreds of individuals around the globe who have become Gill’s Prayer Warriors. Their prayers are powerful; Gill feels blessed and rich to have this army behind him. In addition to his deep faith, Gill draws inspiration from his parents, his sisters, his friends, and complete strangers. Gill enjoys talking with and inspiring others through the sharing of his cancer journey.
Watching his journey unfold before his eyes is beautiful and has reignited Gill’s faith in humanity. “Most people deep down are loving, caring and supportive.”
Gill’s greatest hope is to live a long life and to have the opportunity to love and hug his future grandchildren. He hopes for more time to experience the beautiful love he’s received and to inspire as many as he can along the way.
Optune: GBM Device
Ep 12. April’s Story: My Son’s Cancer and Disability Provide a Unique Perspective on the Beauty of Life
April fell in love with Billy when she was 16 and they married three years later. Just two months into their marriage, April discovered she was pregnant. April had big plans: she was going to earn her doctorate, conduct research, move to a big city. Being pregnant was not part of this plan. Although initially scared and angry, April would quickly come to realize the gift this baby boy Tyler was to be.
Before Tyler’s second birthday, an aggressive cancerous tumor was discovered in his foot. April and Billy were faced with the agonizing decision of choosing the best course of therapy. April and Billy elected to proceed with a below-the-knee amputation. At just 22 years of age, this decision and process were overwhelming for April and Billy. Not only were they navigating a serious cancer diagnosis, April and Billy realized they needed to learn to care for a child with a disability.
April and Billy sought out resources and opportunities for Tyler to ensure he had the support he needed to continue to heal. Tyler's first meeting with other children with disabilities was life-changing. However, though she recognized Tyler’s need for support, April didn’t see her own need.
Initially, April didn’t appreciate the value of leaning on others, and she allowed her pain to isolate her. April advises those going through a challenging time to allow others to encourage and support you. It was the smallest gestures of kindness – a note, a meal, a cap for a bald head – that strengthened April.
Prior to his amputation, April asked Tyler if he’d like to run down the hospital hallway one last time. What did April feel watching Tyler run down the hall for the last time on his own two legs? Defeat. She felt like she was saying goodbye to a sense of normalcy and that with amputation, they were taking from Tyler his innocence and those things he loved about life. Tyler is now a healthy, cancer-free, 18-year old, and he wouldn’t change a thing in his life. He feels that he is the person he is because ofhis cancer and disability. He possesses resilience, a unique perspective, a strong sense of purpose, and meaningful relationships not otherwise possible. Although some things in life can be more challenging for Tyler, he views this as a small sacrifice for what he’s gained.
April has gone from feeling defeat to amazement at how far Tyler has come. With tears in her eyes, April watched Tyler cross the finish line of a 10-mile hill run in a triathlon for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He completed his first para-triathlon last summer and competed in Ireland for the USA IWAS team in track and field where he brought home 3 bronze medals.
Tyler boldly lives his life with purpose. He competes, volunteers, mentors, uplifts, and encourages. He’s driven by the memory of his friends who lost their lives to cancer; he takes his life opportunity seriously. He knows life is a gift, and he strives to make the most impact he can.
April recently published her first book, No Mess, No Message. Her biggest dream is that people will find hope and recognize that whatever stage of their journey they are in, the situation will change their lives for the better.
The biggest gift of their journey has been gaining perspective, truly knowing people on a deeper level. April acknowledges that it’s humbling being with people who have stories to tell. With Tyler’s cancer and disability, she knows first-hand how valuable life is and how important it is to avoid getting caught up in the small stuff.
Ep 11. Cindy’s Story: Finding My Voice After My Father Sexually Abused Me Allowed Me To Flourish
Cindy is a mother, a wife, a friend, a writer, and a daughter. Cindy was “just your average kid”. She has wonderful memories of her childhood, including Sunday night dinners with her family, playing barbies and kickball in the cul-de-sac, doing chores, and participating in sports.
Although typical in many ways, Cindy’s childhood was scarred by sexual abuse at the hands of her father. He began abusing Cindy when she was just five years old. Manipulative and controlling, Cindy’s father prevented her from talking about the abuse by threatening to harm her mom and sister. Cindy kept quiet. Initially.
With time, Cindy started to find her voice. “No more, ” she said. Her father's response? Physical and emotional abuse. Although she tried rebelling, this young girl was unable to make the abuse stop. Eventually Cindy became numb. She longer feared her father. Although she wanted to say something, Cindy was terrified that her mom and sister would be harmed.
When Cindy was ten years old, she found the courage to fight back against the physical abuse. Standing up to the physical abuse, the sexual abuse stopped as well. Likely, a contributing factor was that Cindy was going through puberty. Her father was only attracted to prepubescent children.
Abuse taught Cindy about hiding, shame, fear, secrecy, and sex. It wasn’t until later in life that Cindy began to appreciate the adverse impact the sexual, verbal and physical abuse exacted.
Sexual abuse harmed her self-esteem, silenced her voice, and made her cautious. It impacted how she raised her four children. The sexual abuse impacted her intimacy with her husband.
Wanting to live her healthiest life, Cindy sought therapy at the age of 19 and began the most crucial part of her healing. It was incredibly painful, hard work, and a long process. Most helpful were trauma therapists.
A few years ago, Cindy shared her story of abuse with a group of women. Their responses, from shock, to compassion, to anger, and to disbelief, compelled Cindy to write her memoir, Under the Orange Blossoms.
She wanted to break the cycle of silence and knew other victims would benefit from hearing her story. During the process of writing her memoir, Cindy was re-traumatized as she recounted the details. No matter how painful it was to recall and relive those memories, she pushed forward thinking “I am doing this for me and someone else, and hopefully this makes a difference.”
Family, her husband, her children, and friends were Cindy’s strength as she continued the healing process. Inspiration came in many forms: surrounding herself with people who feel like sunshine, finding her tribe, mantras, nature, exercise, and reading stories of others who have been through adversity. Cindy meditates daily and gives thanks, focusing on the beauty present in her life.“Forgiveness is key to living your higher self.”
Cindy is most proud of finding her voice. The voice that was trapped inside of that little girl. After being programmed to be silent and master secrecy, it was counterintuitive for Cindy to start talking. Brutally shy and not wanting to be seen, her mantra as a young girl was, “Be the wallpaper.” Cindy is proud that little girl is finding her voice.“Everybody has history, some kind of trauma. That is part of being human. If you hold onto this trauma, it can bind you and lead to anger, shame, and loss of control.”
We try to shake it off by ignoring it. There’s no secret formula to releasing pain and anger, but letting go is freeing. When Cindy found the words to rewrite her script, it changed her outcome. It took a long time, but it was the beginning of her healing process.
Ep. 10. Luanne’s Story: Living Free From the Secret My Husband Is Gay Paved My Way to Joy
Luanne and Matt met at a small Christian college in Indiana trying out for a music ensemble. As their friendship deepened, with shared values and interests, they fell in love. Luanne and Matt married and have four children. A true team, Luanne and Matt created a close and loving family. It was the family Luanne had dreamed of.
Nine years into their marriage, Matt could no longer hide his same-sex attraction and admitted it along with a brief affair and a porn addiction. Committed to their faith and their marriage, Luanne and Matt, who was a full-time worship pastor at a large Evangelical church in the San Francisco Bay Area, turned to reparative therapyin the hopes Matt could be “healed” and overcome his same-sex attraction. It became clear therapy wasn’t going to be successful, and Matt identified as a gay man.
Luanne and Matt remained married. They both wanted to keep their family intact, and despite all of the hurt, there was much good. Luanne loved their relationship, their family; she didn’t want to walk away.
After 23 years, Matt decided to end their marriage. Coming out as gay and intending to divorce Luanne, Matt had to resign his position in the church. The congregation was notified, and overnight, their private story became a very public one. Having their lives in the spotlight was challenging, but Luanne was relieved to no longer have to bear the weight of their secret.
Wanting to have an authentic relationship with his children, Matt revealed his truth to all four of them at different times in the months leading up to his public coming out. It wasn’t that Matt is gay that was hard for them to accept, but that Luanne and Matt were getting divorced. Luanne’s advice for others is to choose friendship and hope as their guiding forces. “It’s not the end of your family.”
The first few months after Matt left their marriage were challenging. Luanne poured herself into creating her own life and life-giving experiences. Their children have been Luanne’s strength and inspiration throughout this journey. Some days it was a struggle, but in her desire to be a mom, she was motivated each day to love and guide their children.
Luanne connected with other women in similar situations for encouragement and support. They called their group text message “Life Support.” Although in different stages, they were all moms who either were or had been married to gay men. It was lifesaving to reach out to someone who understood and could share their wisdom. Counseling was helpful to process her experience and emotions.
Losing her community of friends has been the most difficult aspect of this journey. Loneliness and missing a partner in life is challenging. Accepting that she’s in this place, a place she does not want to be, has been difficult. The biggest gift? Finding joy. For many years, Luanne walked through life with a heaviness. In carrying this secret, she lost herself and experienced sadness and discontent. Now, living free from the secret has paved the way to authentic joy.
In their Tedx Talk, Luanne and Matt commit to choosing truth, hope, gratitude, and friendship. Luanne’s greatest hope is that they continue to move in a positive direction as they face their new normal, The New Nightingales. She’s hopeful their family can continue to have a healthy outcome from this shift in their lives.
Luanne wants others to know that healing is possible, and there is life on the other side. In reflecting on her journey, she knows the best is yet to come.
An Unexpected Launch Stories of ordinary people navigating extraordinary circumstances
COLAGE for those with an LGBTQIA+ parent/caregiver
Ep. 9. Aidan's Story: I am More Than my Brain Injury
The last thing Aidan remembers of December 4, 2015 was getting into a friend’s car for a sleepover. He doesn’t recall their car reaching speeds of 80 mph in a residential area. That the driver, who was under the influence, lost control of the car. That they hit a brick wall. Head on.
Aidan was not wearing a seatbelt and his head first dented the dashboard and then shattered the windshield. Found unconscious, he was rushed to the trauma center. His diagnosis? Diffuse axonal injury; severe traumatic brain injury. His prognosis? Grim.
Aidan warns teens against the dangers of drinking and driving. Teens don’t believe such a catastrophic accident is possible; they are, after all, testing their limits. His biggest piece of advice is to always protect yourself and your friends.
Despite being told he wouldn’t attend school until the following September, Aidan went to school the day after he was discharged from inpatient rehabilitation. Aidan simply wanted to be an ordinary teen. His mindset was “I’m going to get better. I truly believe that this will not hold me back in life.” Although his injury continues to impact his daily life, he wanted to push the limits and test his abilities.
Returning to school was challenging. He was treated differently and felt like an outsider, even around life-long friends. Not to mention, he was simply exhausted. Able to maintain concentration for only 15 minutes at a time, effective learning and completing homework were impossible. What is it like to be a 16-year-old boy recovering from a brain injury? “It’s tough. There’s no doubt about that.”
Aidan was afraid of almost everything. He feared living with this brain injury for the rest of his life and being unable to pursue his dreams. That his future was so unknown was terrifying. Aidan questioned everything that he did. Aidan experienced severe, uncontrollable anger for months following the crash hurting those who loved him the most and resulting in the loss of friendships. Yet another loss as a result of his injury.
Afraid to return to his high school for senior year, Aidan finished high school in Viterbo, Italy. Aidan was seeking his own path forward, looking for a way to diminish the stress of feeling like an outsider. The change in culture was an amazing, life-changing experience. It opened Aidan’s mind to the larger world awaiting him. The experience was instrumental to his recovery.
Upon his return from Italy, Aidan’s applied to and was accepted at ICON Collective, a year-long music production academy.
Aidan struggles with depression and considered suicide on a number of occasions. Knowing that tomorrow is another day kept Aidan moving forward. At every turn, he reflected on accepting change and seeking opportunity. Realizing that life can change in an instant – for the better – was reassuring. He stayed true to himself, kept pushing forward and accepted that he will feel sad. He acknowledged that mental healing takes time and effort.
Aidan’s dad came out as gay two months before the car accident. Aidan struggled with knowing this would change his life, day to day, how he lived, and how he viewed the world. Aidan was angry with the world, angry with having to deal with his brain injury, having to move, and the inevitable change in his life. Aidan loves his dad deeply yet admits taking out some of his anger on him.
He aims to reach as many as he can in the hopes that his experiences help transform their life for the better. He hopes people can come out of their shells and show who they really are and push for greatness. “Every single human can achieve greatness – whether they have a brain injury, learning disability, or a challenging situation. You can turn anything into gold.”
Ep. 8. Bella's Story: The Ultimate Gift - The Gift of Life
Bella, the President and Founder of Alexander’s Hope, has a long-standing history of non-profit work and volunteering. At the age of 12, she traveled to Uganda where her heart was opened to non-profit work. She saw the world through a new lens and was inspired by the people she met who were not brought down, but rather up, by their life circumstances.
Bella’s younger brother, Alexander, is the kindest person she knows. In 2017, the lives of the Chaffey family were forever changed. At the age of 19, Alexander began experiencing chest pain that was attributed to panic attacks. For several months, he worked to alleviate his “anxiety” yet experienced another “panic attack”. That summer, the family vacationed to Arches National Park. Half-way through their descent down, Alexander experienced intense chest pain and was unable to continue hiking. Bella and her sister, Sophia, ran in search of a park ranger. Alexander was carried out of the park on a stretcher; believing that this was another panic attack, the Chaffey’s finished out their vacation.
Knowing Alexander was suffering something beyond panic attacks, his mom pursued additional evaluation. Alexander was immediately referred to medical imaging and was ultimately taken by ambulance to UW Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve and was in dire need of a heart valve replacement. Too weak for surgery, Alexander was taken for a coronary angiogram. During the scan, his heart stopped, and he was resuscitated. Ultimately, Alexander received a heart valve replacement and was placed on ECMO. Within one week, doctors concluded that Alexander needed a heart transplant. His heart was removed, he received an artificial heart and was placed on the transplant list. Miraculously, within eight days, a donor heart was found for Alexander.
The mission of Alexander’s Hope is to spread awareness of organ donation and to alleviate misconceptions. They are working with the state of Washington to update Driver’s Ed videos discussing organ donation, targeting youth when applying for their driver’s license. Alexander’s Hope partners with Nick of Time, an organization that provides EKGs to high schools to test for undiagnosed heart conditions and teaches CPR and AED operation. Bella’s ultimate dream for Alexander’s Hope is a truck or physical space to enable screenings and to extend the reach internationally.
To the approximately fifty-percent of Americans who are not organ donors, Bella would like to clear up misconceptions, share Alexander’s story - and those like him - whose lives were saved by the gift of an organ donation, and stories of those who did not receive an organ. On average, 21 people die daily waiting for an organ. One donor can transform the lives of 75 people.
Ep 7. Marie's Story: Filled With Pride For My Transgender Son
Being one of eight daughters, raising two little girls was comfortable for Marie. Her youngest, Erin, wasn't a girly-girl. Although Marie didn't think too much about it at the time, Erin wasn't interested in dolls or dress-up and gravitated towards Legos and puzzles. She resisted her older sister's tween hand-me-downs, the shirts a bit tighter, the shorts a little shorter.
After a family gathering with her niece who had come out as a transgender female, Marie spoke with Erin, sharing that there are many ways to be in the world and opened the door to questions or conversation. Two months later, Erin emailed Marie, coming out as a transgender male, Coden. Reading the email, Marie was surprised at how much thought went into Coden’s decision. Although uncomfortable when referred to as “she” or “Erin”, Coden reassured Marie that he had not suffered or felt burdened by being a transgender male.
Marie emailed back,“I love you always and forever. This must have been really hard to write. I’m so glad that you did. I’m going to forward it to dad. We’ll work on pronouns, and the name may take a little while. We love you.”
Their oldest daughter, Molly, already knew. That night, their family continued on as normal. While the pronouns and names changed, Coden was the same person who had left for school that morning.
Inspired by a bear cub, Coda, Coden selected his name. Marie loves this unique name because Coden is a unique kid. That society as a whole isn’t welcoming to individuals seen as “other” is Marie’s greatest fear for Coden. Although the West Coast is liberal and accepting, Marie fears that as Coden ventures out, he will meet people who won’t see him for who he is.
To support Coden, Marie sought a counselor and took time off of work. Her counselor was a safe harbor to ask questions, share her fears, to be taken care of. A physician expert in transgender health and development has been an invaluable resource. Coming out at thirteen, Coden was able to take medication to pause puberty. This allowed time to ask questions, explore options, and ultimately decide to initiate transition hormones allowing Coden the opportunity to go through puberty around the same time as his peers. Parents can best support siblings and other family members by being open and willing to talk. Avoid keeping secrets throughout the process.
Love, listen, and be willing to share, Marie advises parents of a transgender child. Become educated. Follow your child’s lead. Coden didn’t change; he remains the artistic, compassionate person he always has been. Help others see that this is normal; there are countless ways to “be.” After he came out, Marie noticed an ease and a comfort in self in Coden.
Her family has been Marie’s source of strength and inspiration. Friends, teachers, and the school district have been important sources of support. A gift of her journey is the awareness that she placed people in boxes; you are “this or that”. Kids see others with 3-D glasses and care less about the boxes. Life is a broad spectrum filled with endless possibilities, not an either/or.
Marie hopes that we all have the ability to see people for who they want to be seen as. She hopes to see this awareness spread beyond liberal pockets and that leaders in government, sports, and entertainment can be free to be themselves.
Marie’s children fill her with pride. Coden's coming out story involves a persuasive speech delivered to his English class at the age of thirteen, one month after his email to Marie. Parents shouldn’t raise children as a particular gender, he said. They could get it wrong, making it harder for a child to say who he/she is when they are ready to do so. He proudly concluded, “I am transgender, and my name is Coden.” His self-awareness, courage, and confidence blow Marie away.
Ep 6. Todd’s Story: My Wife Is Lesbian. What Does This Mean? Where Do I Fit?
Within 6 months of dating, Todd fell in love with Lisa’s beauty, intellect, and shared interests. They married, have two beautiful children and enjoyed life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Raising their children, spending time together, and traveling are cherished memories.
Todd never suspected Lisa is lesbian. In hindsight, he realizes that there were signs. A few years prior to her coming out, Lisa was unsettled, unhappy. In search of herself, she trekked to Asia. Lisa confided in Todd. She was in love with another woman, someone they had known since college. Todd felt shocked and wondered “What will happen now? What does this mean? Where do I fit in?” He likens his reaction to walking along. Not paying attention. Approaching the edge of a cliff. And stepping off. Going off of the edge, having no control. Wondering what does the rest of my life look like? Todd experienced stress, loneliness, panic, and fear…even now, a decade later, it remains difficult to relive these memories.
After she came out, Todd and Lisa remained together for eight years. Todd wanted to remain together as a family, to fulfill his dream of being married, having kids, growing old together. They sought assistance from a therapist to help navigate their mixed-orientation marriage. With limited experience, their therapist shared a few resources that provided little guidance.
Over time, Todd sensed Lisa was unhappy and supported her in an exploration relationship. Although this worked initially and they maintained an open dialogue, Todd suffered panic attacks; afraid of losing the life that he knew. His future was unknown, and he could not imagine beyond the moment. About five years later, Lisa’s relationship with her exploration partner ended, and Todd and Lisa’s relationship became strained. When Lisa met another woman in a support group, Todd realized that remaining in the marriage was no longer feasible.
The first few months following their separation were challenging. Todd and Lisa told their children they were separating; their children already knew Lisa is lesbian. Mourning the loss of their 25-year relationship, they were uncertain how to uncouple their lives and to minimize the impact on their children. This period was marked by loneliness and uncertainty. Seeking the freedom to choose his next path, Todd moved out of their family home into an apartment.
During this painful period, Todd leaned on and found support in friends and family, including Lisa’s family. Throughout this experience, Todd has developed a close relationship with his father-in-law, a gift for which he is thankful.
Another gift was learning to fly, a passion shared by his grandfather and something Lisa supported. Todd could leave the earth, control where the plane was going. This sense of control was powerful, "it was my Prozac."It gave him joy during an uncertain, unsettled time. Todd is also grateful for becoming closer with his children, enjoying close communication.
Lisa struggled to come out and to discover her identity. Similarly, Todd needed to discover his identity. He urges to stay true to yourself. Be supportive, kind, respectful, and loving to your spouse as their journey is difficult as well.
Todd’s greatest hope is happiness for everyone. To begin a new life, Todd moved across the country. He’s found a great support network, close friends, and a new job. He hopes to continue to grow and learn more about himself. He’s proud of his journey, his growth, and discovering who he is and what brings him joy. It’s liberating and exciting.Resources
An Unexpected Launch Courageous stories from those forging the way
Ep 5. Mike's Story: Being Gay Isn't a Choice. It's Who I Am.
Mike has known Janine since the eighth grade. On one of their early dates, they were so immersed in their conversation, they didn’t realize they closed down the restaurant. Chairs on the tables, floor being mopped, they were asked to leave. In that moment, Mike knew he was in love. Janine fit perfectly into Mike’s large, gregarious, boisterous family. An ‘aha’ moment for Mike… “this girl is cool!”
Mike and Janine had a solid, loving, fun marriage. They grew up together and their relationship, and subsequently a family, grew with them. Family was their priority. Although he didn’t fully recognize or accept it, Mike’s sexuality has always included an attraction to men. Their marriage defined by trust, Mike knew he needed to share these feelings with Janine. Unable to hold it in any longer, he overcame his guilt, shame, fear, feelings of isolation, and he confided in Janine.
Mike fought accepting he is gay; with Janine’s support, he spent two years exploring his sexuality. Mike stopped sleeping, became anxious, panicky, spent days screaming at the top of his lungs inside of his head. It was scary and there was no escape. Knowing something had shifted, Mike finally realized this wasn’t a choice he was making. This is who he is.
"I'm gay," Mike blurted out at the breakfast table moments before their daughter's book club was arriving.
No preparation, the words tumbled out. The truth spoken from his head, heart, and stomach, a weight was immediately lifted off of Mike. Juxtaposed with the look on Janine’s face as the rug was pulled from underneath her. The following weeks and months were carefully navigated. Their children and keeping life as normal as possible were their priority. Mike found an apartment close to their family home.
Mike found few resources that resonated with him. He found support at Gay Father’s of Toronto; however, Mike felt in limbo. His greatest sources of support were Janine, his exploration (and current) partner, and a therapist.
The most challenging aspect of Mike’s journey has been finding himself. He’s a gay man and a dad, a friend, someone living a “straight” lifestyle. He lives a family-centric life. Mike acknowledges that it is going to take time to fully embrace is identity as a gay man. He doesn’t see this as a challenge, just the next phase in his journey.
The biggest gift of Mike’s journey? Feeling the power of love; realizing that love and family can take any shape or form. Mike and Janine call their “less conventional family” the “new normal.” Seeing their children embrace this experience has been a gift.
Mike advises gay spouses to seek out platforms - like An Unexpected Launch- and to know that while you feel alone, you are not. Mike recommends letting your spouse in; you can’t do this alone. Mike realized his coming out was inevitable; he could not have endured burying these feelings and his truth.
Mike’s greatest hope is that his family continues to thrive, grow, and carry on what they’ve started. That they continue to embrace who they are, realizing there is so much love and that they are all ok. Mike also hopes all in our situation find peace, new hope, and happiness.
Ep 4. Sally's Story: My Marriage Blew Up
Sally met a rugby player at a bar. She fell in love with this rugby player – also a firefighter – when she witnessed his compassion at the scene of an accident. They married and have two incredible boys. Sally and her husband were true partners in raising their boys; their lives were filled with joy and quality family time.
Her husband began having panic attacks, shut down, and ceased communicating. Unsure of how to navigate her marriage, and because she didn’t want it to be over, Sally stayed for another 8 years “before it all blew up.” Although she wishes she would have opened the lines of communication at the earliest hunches of her husband’s sexuality, Sally is thankful for the years they were together as a family.
Upon learning her husband was gay, Sally felt completely untethered and doubted everything she knew to be true in her life. When their boys were 10 and 13 years old, her husband moved out. Several months later he told them he was gay. This was a confusing and chaotic period complicated by his addiction and alcohol.
Initially Sally didn’t know how to guide her children, herself, and her husband through this uncharted territory. As she began hearing stories like hers, she realized that she would “get through this.” Resources critical to her healing were walking her dog, Starbucks smoothies, journaling, reading, talking with close friends, counseling, and a mentor who was a PFLAG President.
Discovering her strength and confidence and being able to support others have been the biggest gifts of Sally’s journey. The depth of conversations when sharing life experiences has enriched her life. She’s inspired by freedom, friends, travel, and learning to live in the moment, unafraid, and on her terms.
Sally’s greatest hopes? That her children live lives filled with love and confidence in themselves. That she creates a life filled with love, joy, and honesty. Sally hopes people in similar situations hear our stories and feel reassured that with vulnerability, honesty, and hard work, they will get through it and come out stronger than ever.
Thank you for listening! May our stories help forge your path forward. I hope you’ll stay tuned for our next episode and in the meantime, please visit An Unexpected Launch to learn more.
https://pflag.orgPFLAG has been saving lives, strengthening families, changing hearts, minds and laws since 1972. Our family and ally voice is integral to advancing equality.
https://melodybeattie.comMelody Beattie is one of America’s most beloved self-help authors and a household name in addiction and recovery circles.
Ep 3. Janine's Story: Writing My Gay Husband's Dating Profile
Janine and Mike met in junior high. After admitting her crush on him, they began dating in university and fell in love, married, and had three beautiful children. They were partners. Unbreakable. With trust and respect, they navigated good times and bad with humor and friendship.
Two years before coming out as gay, Mike admitted he was attracted to men. Yet he reassured Janine that she was the love of his life. Feeling she had nothing to lose, Janine supported Mike during his exploration.
However, one Saturday morning, 15 minutes before ten nine-year olds were to arrive for book club, Mike stated “I’m gay.” In that moment, Janine felt numb. She knew it was the beginning of their end. Janine feared telling their children, family and friends. Would she ever find a love like theirs again, Janine wondered? Knowing that Mike had developed feelings for someone else was heartbreaking. Janine experienced loneliness; she was picking up the pieces of her life while Mike was starting his “new and exciting gay life.”
Janine and Mike’s strong foundation and friendship allowed them to talk openly with their children, share Mike’s discovery that he is gay, and witness Janine’s support of his journey. They remained close, setting up and sharing an apartment, allowing their children to stay in their home during the first few critical months of transition.
When the relationship with Mike’s exploration partner temporarily came to an end, Janine helped Mike draft his dating profile. Over a bottle of wine, they discussed what characteristics would be important for Mike and their family. Fast forward, Janine and her new partner, and Mike and his original exploration partner are close friends, together they parent and celebrate milestones.
The biggest gifts of Janine’s journey have been her self-discovery, the people that she has met, and the realization that mixed-orientation marriages and sexuality need to be talked about. Janine wishes that there would have been more resources available when Mike came out. Most importantly, she wants people to know that their journey is unique and to celebrate their own path forward.
Tune into Episode 5 for Mike's story.
Seeking additional information or have a story to share? Please visit us at An Unexpected Launch.
How helping my husband discover he's gay helped me let go
From coming out to partners in parenting: Ex-spouses on their do-over
After 21 years of marriage, I helped my husband come out as gay
Ep 2. Ethan's Story: My Dad is Gay
My oldest son Ethan was 18 years old and six weeks into college when his dad, Matt, came out. Now 22 and a college senior, Ethan is ready to tell his story in hopes that it will provide hope and guidance to parents and children.
One of Ethan’s most confusing days was accidentally stumbling upon Matt’s separate email account and realizing that his dad might be gay. Worried “it would kill her”, Ethan didn't tell me and carried this secret for two years. Anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt settled in while Ethan pretended that life was A-Okay.
Shock; the immediate reaction to Matt’s simple acknowledgement “I’m gay.” Slowly Ethan began talking with friends; finding freedom and support in sharing.
Living 2,000 miles away from home, feeling alone, and confused, Ethan struggled. When his 16-year old brother was in a near-fatal accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, it brought Ethan to a breaking point. Rock bottom – and a turning point – was the night that Ethan considered attempting suicide; he no longer knew who he was, what his family had become, and he simply didn’t want “to deal with it anymore.”
Wanting to be just like his dad – his hero – Ethan wondered “Am I gay?” A void in Ethan’s knowledge, he finally turned to a counselor who helped him realize his emotions, thoughts, and feeling were normal. Ethan discovered that he is not gay and wants others to feel supported in their own questioning and self-discovery.
Now, stronger than ever, Ethan has found meaning in the chaos. He’s discovered his own identity, is learning to be his best self and follow his heart, his passion and to live life for himself and not for others.
Ethan’s advice for parents? It’s never easy; he encourages parents to share what they are thinking, what will happen next, and assure their children that their emotions are normal. Keep talking, address the “confusion that swirls in a child’s head.” Ethan urges children to find someone to speak with, to know what they are feeling is normal, and most importantly, this happens to others and – “you WILL get through it.”
Seeking additional information or have a story to share? Please visit us at An Unexpected Launch.
www.colage.org COLAGErs are people with one or more LGBTQIA+ parent or caregiver—they are skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities. Our stories are important, and so is yours.
http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-8255; available 24 hours everyday.
Ep 1. Kirsten's Story: My Husband Came Out
Welcome to the inaugural episode of An Unexpected Launch, hosted by Kirsten Duncan. Episode one is the beginning of My Story. After 24 years of marriage, my best friend and husband came out as gay. Just two months later, our 16-year old son was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. I traveled to the depths of grief and loss. Through inspiring stories of courage, grit, and resiliency, and with the love and support of my family and friends, I’ve navigated my way forward and created a new life. I witnessed first-hand the transformational power of stories, of being open and vulnerable with our darkest moments. I am ready to share our stories.
We discuss mixed-orientation marriages, or those in which one spouse is straight and the other is gay. I knew nothing about such marriages until I found myself in one.
As I searched for answers and stories like mine, I struggled to find resources that resonated with and inspired me. Certain others must feel the same way, I set out to create what I could not find. I am grateful to the women, men, and children who have shown their vulnerability, and with courageous voices share their beautifully complex families, their sources of inspiration, and grandest hopes.
Join me as I talk with families in mixed-orientation marriages. We’ve refused to let loss and unexpected moments define us; we’ve used our challenges to propel us forward and to discover beautiful and unexpected gifts. May our stories help forge your path forward.
Learn more about My Story on my blog https://anunexpectedlaunch.com