Lila’s a “Star Night”

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One year ago, I sat at Star Night, a benefit for Siskin Children’s Institute in Chattanooga.  My goal was simple: to meet Kenny Rogers. You see, years before, when I was only five or six, I started to notice the presence of a strange salt-and-pepper haired man in my house. Not my Daddy (he still isn’t grey), but a different, distinguished looking gentleman whose face was plastered everywhere.  Even on the inside of our kitchen cabinet doors, in a pose that can only be described as 1980’s classy.

My introduction to the one-and-only Kenny Rogers came at an early age in the form of make-shift karaoke sessions to “Islands in the Stream” and “Coward of the County.” I was, weirdly, just as in love with him as my Mom seemed to be. So when I found out my station had tickets to Siskin’s Star Night and Kenny was the headliner, I was in.

That night, I met Kenny (stretched face and all).  He even commented on my 6-month pregnant belly. I told him if we didn’t already have a name picked out, I would have considered McKenna.

But Mr. Rogers wasn’t the only person I was introduced to that night.  For the first time, I heard of 13-year-old Anna Frierson and her place on her middle school cheerleading team.  Anna has Down Syndrome and is a graduate of Siskin’s Early Learning Center. A few weeks later, I met Anna and her parents to do a story for Newschannel 9. I knew everyone who saw the piece would fall in love with Anna just like I did.   Because of her determination, her spirit, her easy way of fitting in with every other girl on the sidelines. Anna was making herself at home in a spot where no other special needs student had before in Hamilton County.

That night, Anna’s father told me, “We never let any doctor’s diagnosis define our daughter.” I could see the love in his eyes for Anna, his pride.  Little did I know how I would look back on that day, that meeting, and realize it happened for such a special reason. At this moment, Down Syndrome was only the subject of a story to me. A reason to admire the strength of another family. I had no idea, three months later, it would be my reality.

I told that story to introduce this year’s Star Night Video.  I stood in front of a few thousand people and introduced them to the light of my life. But, as it has so frequently in the past 8 months, it didn’t come without tears.  And when I choked up, and told the black-tie audience that I was sorry for getting so emotional, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my sweet husband. He told me later he felt like he was being pushed out of his seat, that he couldn’t sit still while I cried on stage.  He held my hand while I finished, and everyone got to see the reason we were there.

After the crowd saw that video, they donated another $40,000 to Siskin Children’s Institute.  I like to think that my Lila helped write a few of those checks.

As the night went on, I met so many wonderful families who shared their stories with me. Many came up just to say that they had been in our shoes, and wouldn’t change it for the world.  It reminded me that whether we are on the stage in front of a crowd decked out in sequins and tuxes, at the grocery store or on the playground, we are not alone on this journey. Someone else knows our pain, our struggles, our pride, our happiness.  As I said to the crowd that night, sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and you just have to adjust your swing.  And you can STILL knock one out of the park.

We sure did.

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9 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your Lila!!! I cried as I read this post.

    I don’t have children of my own, but have been blessed with many other people’s children. Years ago I was able to coach for the Dream League for mentally and physically challenged young players. Some friends had gotten involved and asked me to help. I was apprehensive at first. But you get on the field and you get to know them, and you forget they have a diagnosis. And it doesn’t matter. You’re out there to play ball!!!!!

    I grew to love each one of the players and can’t imagine what I would have missed in my life had I not helped. God has blessed us with these very special people in our lives. It also made me realize that we all have things that hinder us in our lives. Some people just have a name for what they have.

    Lila is beautiful!!!! She will grow and accomplish anything that she wants!!!!! Can’t wait to watch her!!!

    I know that you and your husband are very proud of your little girl!!!!

  2. My family was blessed on June22,2009, with Mr. Jack. Our daughters first and only child and so unexspected blessed with an extra chromozome. And we do mean a blessing.He is such a sweet child and very inteligent and extremely funny. God gives blessing in all packages and he gave our family a wonderful one.

  3. Words can not describe how I feel about reading such a wonderful story. I know we have seperate paths on our journey as “Special Moms” but I will say this, I was working at Wal-mart some 13 years ago and met Miranda Smith. Miranda was in a wheel chair and she captured my heart. I was workng in the toy department and her mom always brought her in to see me. I can truly say that I had no idea what she had or that she lived a life in constant pain. You see I fell in love with her determination, her spirit and her smile. I would help her mother with “Santa Lists” and I always took just a little time to say “Hi”, even when the madness of Christmas was upon me. I believed in true customer interaction and at times, I needed Miranda’s smile at the end of a tiring shift. I had Patrick in 2001, just a little after 9/11. Little did I know, that Patrick had the same diagnosis as Miranda. Time was an obstacle for me after he was born. I found her again, 9 years later. Still smiling, she attended our reveal party for the premiere of our show. I wanted so badly for her to come to my home and go with us and her mother agreed. We are all put in places for a reason and like your story, God smiles on us and we really don’t know how blessed we are.

  4. What a wonderful gift you have for sharing your story and enlightening others to the gifts and opportunities that are available for DS children. Lila is beautiful. I can’t wait to see how her life unfolds. I’m guessing it’s going to be quite extraordinary!

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