05 November 2013

Going BIG or Going Home

My husband, Todd, and I met in 1992. He was just home from the Navy and I was home for college summer break. He persistently (and thankfully!) pursued me until we married in a sweet ceremony in my grandparents' backyard 7 years later. Never taking measures to prevent starting a family, we also hadn't made it a priority. Add even more years onto our history, my biological clock was definitely ticking, so we scheduled our first appointment with a doctor and began our journey into parenthood. 

Soon afterwards, I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. We were given options, and decided to start in vetro fertilization. After months of tests and physically, spiritually, mentally and financially preparing, I unexpectedly lost my 6-figure income and work-from-home job. Without the funds to continue our current path, I saw this as a sign that maybe children weren't in God’s plan. So I moved forward in life with a little bit of my heart left behind.

I found a new corporate gig that allowed me to bury myself back into 10-12 hour days working with challenging projects that I loved. My hard work was rewarded by quick promotions directing a scrappy marketing team from brand awareness to the sale of the company. With a few corporate wins under my belt and resources coming in from our new parent company, I found time to breathe and revisit my family situation. I was told by doctors that my window of opportunity was closed and the only option for in vetro, at my age, was to now accept a donor egg. 
(PSA: I interrupt my own story to encourage anyone experiencing infertility to PLEASE do your own research and get multiple opinions from referred and trusted doctors!)
My husband wasn’t comfortable with this idea...or any idea that produced a child not 100% of both our DNA. And so I started, again, down the road of grieving the loss of never having kiddos of my own; mourning over babies I would never get to meet.

Months later, my husband and I went to see the movie “We Bought a Zoo” about a dad trying to cope with raising his children after the death of his wife. One scene flashed back to a memory of the entire family on the beach one happy day. I felt my chair and my arm shake. When I looked over to see what was happening, I found my husband weeping uncontrollably. In this breakthrough moment, he apologized (needlessly so!) for being an obstacle in my dreams of a family and told me he was ready to consider adoption. He told me he wanted kids.

WOAH! I had already put that part of my life behind me! He was asking me to dig back into my now hardened heart to find the courage and hope and desire and…

..and so we started again. We found an agency that we loved and poured over heavy folders of information and exhausting paperwork. In the meantime, my job had become increasingly stressful with reorganizations and shifts in culture. I had committed myself to at least 2 more years in order to maintain the stability required by the courts to process our impending adoptions plans. Simutaneously, Todd had been presented with an opportunity to join Nerium International as a way to earn more money. He signed up, we researched other financing and scheduled an appointment with a lawyer and a banker. 

This had become our “WHY”.

I went to work a day before those appointments feeling AMAZING. You see, I had founded an employee-driven corporate responsibility initiative that had finally gained HUGE momentum and blossomed into a robust community outreach program - today was our in-house blood drive and our participation numbers were off the chart! The sea of teal staff volunteer t-shirts took my breath away as I walked into our make-shift clinic.

Then, at 5pm, suddenly and without warning, I was called into the president's office where I was relieved of my executive position. The meeting took all of 15 minutes. There was a lot of talk, some options and decisions, a piece of paper to sign and barely a wave goodbye. I’m sure I said something back and I know I drove myself home, but the news launched a black-out period that lasted several weeks.

Twice I had been on the verge of having a family complete with children. Twice I had been financially shut down. What was God trying to tell me here?!?!? What clues had I been missing?!?!? 

Had God not gotten the memo about my “WHY”?!??!

As I lay in bed, I remembered that my husband had ‘this Nerium thing’ on the side. I knew I should take a closer look and get to work..but I just couldn’t lift myself out of the darkness. What I could lift were my hands, and my hands had wrapped themselves around a book called The Slight Edge. I was tired of TV and even more sick of the voices in my own head. So I read.

I read. I started eating right. I started to run. I started taking calls again. I went to a few Nerium meetings. Still, not having the heart to dive in, Todd and I attended the Dallas Fall Bash. Partly to see what it was that we had in the business. Mostly just to get away.

With my wall still up and my head in a million other places than in the moment, I sat among 10,000 of the most positive people in the world - yet still felt all alone in the big state of Texas. I had listened to Mark Smith talk about finding your “WHY” and it tugged at my heart a bit, to which I promptly crossed my arms over my body in a decidedly defensive move. Negativity quickly took over my mind and told me, "Gina, you have taken all the “Purpose Driven Life” classes, you are in touch with your spirituality and yourself. Nobody knows like you know...that... know...that...


My thoughts were then interrupted as the lights dimmed to cue a new session. A video began to play on the many large screens and through the loudspeakers around room, blanketing my senses with its message. I began to get lost; lost in the words, lost in the stories, lost in a presentation about Big Brothers Big Sisters. I was moved. My eyes began to water. I reached my hand over to grab Todd's for reassurance...and realized that he, too, was crying. He asked me if I wanted to be a Big. I said yes! We were going big...or going home!

When we returned to Kansas City, I immediately contacted BBBSKC and started our paperwork to become Bigs. I had visions of a little mini-me who loved unicorns and pedicures; we would be inseparable and I would teach her so much. But we learned that there are over 500 Littles-in-waiting (more than our area had ever handled) and that there were far more boys in need than girls.  By signing up as a couple, I lost my preference of being matched with a girl. Totally bummed at first, I had a feeling that things were going according to a higher plan.

The process was easy and we were warned that it might take weeks or even months to find the perfect match. When presented with a handful of profiles, it was love at first written sight. Zachary was described as very active 7 year old, funny, a tree climber - with ADHD and anger issues - as the only male with his mother, grandmother and two sisters. We were warned that it was a tough case. But this was our little dude, I knew it in my heart!  
Todd & Gina meet Zachary!

Upon meeting the family, we knew we had made the right choice. He took to us quickly and was very social. While at their home, I noticed a waif-of-a-girl hiding behind the door from a back bedroom. As we headed out to our first outing, Zach asked, "Can Hannah come?!?" About that time, the tiny girl came running out and held his arm, peeking behind him with pleading eyes. We were told it was his sister - that she was very attached to him but that he was very independent of her. Of course we said yes.

Hannah was painfully shy and didn’t join us in any fun at first, but quickly warmed up. After the 2nd week of joining us and Zach already planning our 3rd as a group, we knew we may have a problem. We felt like we were failing Z-man by not giving him some much needed one-on-one attention, but watched as HE never failed to thoughtfully include his other half. We had decided to approach our case manager and ask for advice in talking to the kids about separation. 

Three become Four!
She beat us to the punch, as Hannah had been found a Big Sister match that she was not taking it well at all. We were told that Hannah doesn’t attach easily to other adults and that she had done so with us. I secretly could NOT have been MORE excited when they asked if we were willing to update our volunteer status. Who knew - we were having twins!

One time, we were cooking dinner with the twins. In 22 years together, Todd and I had never spent time in the kitchen together - let alone eaten in the dining room. As we arranged the table and began to pass out garlic bread to accompany our gourmet spaghetti meal, Zachary stopped our bustling and asked if he could say grace before we ate. He told us that he had never done it before, but that it just 'felt right'. So we all held hands and there, in the most common of days, my house became a home through the voice of a little...and my own heart healed just a 'little' more.

What started out as a way to fill a void in our lives has given us the opportunity to fill the voids in these kids' lives in ways we never could have imagined. We give so little time, but get back so much: In every moment we get to spend with them, with every fundraiser we champion on their behalf and every event we are blessed to share our story, with every Nerium University they attend with us and dream board they make alongside our team - they not only got US...but 10,000 of the most positive people in all the world. NERIUM is making an impact on ALL our lives!

The funny thing about finding your “WHY” changes. It changes because what you thought was your why in your head had not yet made it to your heart. Because, like Mark Smith had tried to tell me that day, I didn’t know! He tried to tell me that you’re WHY was the thing that you punched in the gut, that thing that drove you to be a better person and at the time, I was too stuck in a past of feeling beat up. Your WHY changes, because YOU change.

While this WHY hasn't translated to financial success for my business, I feel my entire being...that I am meant for this thing: for Big Brothers Big Sisters + Nerium International. This thing that is making a better person. This thing that is so much ‘bigger’ than my ‘little’ self. 
This thing that has rippled beyond me, beyond my husband, beyond my twins..but continues to give back in unexpected and transcending ways. In the way that I now see how people and events have been serendipitously placed in my journey shining light on the path ahead. 


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