I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of this night for a long time. Maybe not during that first year where I struggled to survive, but when I created JM Stebbins, I dreamed of sharing my story on a big stage.
As time went on, the dream grew. There would be lights, music, video clips, comfy seats, and everyone would be waiting to hear the Unwillable tale. I dreamed of keynotes, TED talks, and so much more.
Honestly, those dreams kept me going while I sat alone in my office, looking out the window, and on my walks around the neighborhood, where I hid my tears and wondered what my life meant. When I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have it in me to make any of it come true.
But I always went back to one event. It would be in Bismarck. And it probably wouldn’t have a stage. Or lights. Or quality sound and video. But it would have friends. And it would honor the heroes of my story. The Chosen Family whom God sent to me in my times of need, coming from all walks of life. People that I surely never would have met, sans AE turning my world upside down and nearly ending my life.
I always saw me with my diverse group of heroes, and I heard the songs “Hall of Fame” and “I’m Still Standing” playing. I pictured myself smiling, all of us together, taking one big, happy picture.
These images kept me going and focused me and my drive to make sure that I could one day be the best version of my new self. That I could memorize a TED-talkish speech, that I could perform, that I could handle the hard questions from Clay, who I always hoped would join me, and that I would relish in it all. That I’d be surrounded by those I knew and loved, and some whose faces weren’t familiar.
That my true personality would return to do it all in the way I’ve always expected of myself. A big goal in those early days. I seriously questioned its viability. But it kept me determined.
It has taken a village for me. For this return. And it was amazing to see it come to fruition.
Every part of the night was perfect. The crowd. The faces. The laughs. The loud gasp from the front row when I said lawyers would use my story to attack me in practice. Sean running my AV. My Grandma’s attendance. Clay’s roast. The tears. Me trying to defend myself against Clay’s peppering of questions about my future. His disbelief (and I’m sure that of others) that I’m not plotting some million-dollar goal, that I’m not going too hard, and that I’ve learned from the past.
But the most wonderful part of it all, was the ending where I recognized my Chosen Family. Each one not only had to stand up, but (very much begrudgingly) joined me up front, and then we took some pictures. To be able to share all of these wonderful, beautiful, and kind people with everyone there, was awesome. And to share the ways they’ve helped me on my journey was a feeling I won’t soon forget.
The highest compliment I received after the event, was that those moments and faces literally brought the book to life.
Of course not all members of the Family could attend. A sound and lighting team would have been fun. A giant stage would have been super cool. A professional photographer to capture the evening, would have been welcomed.
But it happened just the way it did. And it was perfect.
Almost like magic.
And there was more. An AE warrior and her family, right there in attendance.
To be continued …
“We don’t need to be related to relate We don’t need to share genes or a surname You are, you are My chosen, chosen family” ~ Chosen Family by Elton John and Rina Sawayama
* If you missed Chosen Family (Pt I) click HERE to read it.