There are so many wonderful quotes out there about family…“The love of a family makes life beautiful.” is one of my favorites because in my life, it really truly does. My family, near and far, are what make my life so beautiful.
I’ve seen another quote floating around lately that I’ve always liked, but this weekend, really felt it demonstrated. “Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”
Understand before reading any farther, that our blood family is more precious to us than we could ever explain. We are spread across several states and sometimes go weeks or even months without seeing one another, but every time we are together, it’s as if it were yesterday. We love our blood family to the ends of the earth and back, there’s just no match.
But this weekend, we traveled to St. Louis for The Color Run.
You may know from our St. Jude adventures, that our little family has become a group of runners. I almost laugh out loud when I think that because only just a few shorts years ago, I’d get winded just going up and down the stairs. No kidding, no exaggeration. Winded, from the stairs. So for me to sit here and tell you we’re a family of runners almost seems a bit far-fetched. But we have. Chris started running as one of the inaugural members of Avon in Motion to encourage and support our sweet neighbor Lexi in her battle against cancer. I joined in the next year, and my cousin joined us the next. And yesterday, our youngest, our sweet little 4 year old, “Ali-Pali” ran nearly half of the 5k. The other half she rode in the stroller with Ben and cheered on the rest of the crew.
In the span of those couple of years, our son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism, expressive/receptive language disorder, and a motor delay. He has come such a long way in those few years and we have no reason to believe he won’t continue to knock our socks off with his progress in the coming years. Much of his success is due to the early intervention and therapy at Easter Seals of Central Illinois and the support of Autism Speaks.
So, when I learned earlier in the year that we could run and help Autism Speaks at the same time, I was in and this amazing group of people, some of which I’d never even met before, jumped in with me. Yesterday, more than 50 people donned Color Me BENTON shirts to run for our boy, to celebrate him and the amazing person he is, to thank Autism Speaks for the work they do, and to help support their efforts in finding the cause and developing treatment for those individuals with autism spectrum disorders. These 50 or so people, they are family. Some of them, I still haven’t met. How is that possible? When you’re in the city streets with 25,000 other runners, nearly anything is possible. Apparently my oldest friend, (seriously, I don’t remember a time in my life that Karla wasn’t my friend), apparently, she & some of her family were just a ways behind us, but couldn’t ever catch up. (That, of course, is because of the crowd, and not so much our lightning speed!)
As we sat and scrolled through picture after picture upon returning home last night, we had to keep taking deep breaths and “sigh breaks”. This group of people, team Color Me BENTON, came from hundreds of miles, accounted for nearly a dozen hotel rooms throughout the city, and converged together with hugs and well wishes for a boy they’d never met, just because they love us and they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s an amazingly overwhelming feeling to look around and think about not only the impact Autism Speaks and Easter Seals has made on our family, but on families across the country.
I had the pleasure of meeting an occupational therapist along the route yesterday and by no surprise, we got to chatting. She loves the kids she works with and loves what she does. I wonder if she’ll ever truly understand what I’ve tried to explain to a speech/language pathologist in training we know: When you do what they do, yes, they help a child. Really, that’s an understatement. They rescue a child from a box they are trapped inside. When Ben became able to express himself, telling us what he wants and needs, it’s as if he’d been freed by the ability to use words. SLPs, occupational therapists and their counterparts for all the different types of therapies, help change childrens lives, but even more than that, they change entire families lives. Because Ben can better express himself, our home is happier; our family is more relaxed; we are better able to function as a family unit. These are things I hope I can express my appreciation to all of our therapists over the years. They have changed our family’s life.
And that group of people who came together this weekend, to run a 5k and get colored powder thrown at them along the way? They are family. Even the ones we’d never met before yesterday; even the ones we still haven’t met; even the ones who couldn’t make it to St. Louis but donned their shirts (or wanted to but couldn’t because we couldn’t make connections before we left town), they are family. They encourage us in ways they may never know. They support our belief in our son and our dreams for his future. They give us the strength to push through another rough patch, time and time again. They are in our lives because they want to be there, they accept us and our son for who we are, they would do anything to encourage us, and they love us, no matter what. And mercy, do we ever love them!!!