Back in 2006, Alan and I were living the good life. Troubles with our son, Austin, notwithstanding, we, "Had it made," so to speak. Alan had achieved a level of financial success that afforded us the luxury of enjoying the finer things…great vacations, a lovely home, nice clothes and cars…and also afforded us the luxury of knowing that we could send our kids to college, take care of ourselves into retirement and in general could live without the pressure that worry over money can create. There was no reason why we couldn't have spent the last seven years continuing to live that rich life. But doing that wasn't enough for Alan.
Instead of enjoying lunches with friends, going on shopping excursions and taking on the occasional volunteer chairmanship, I have worked harder than I've ever worked in my life - and Alan has too - for no pay. We've gotten lots of glory for our good works, won lots of awards, been patted on the back a lot, but we've sacrificed a lot these seven years - we've each donated 60 or more hours a week, we've donated millions of dollars, we've travelled a lot on behalf of Merrimack but haven't had a proper vacation since 2010.
As I've grown to know and love so many people with special needs and their families, I've certainly felt gratified for the work we are doing. I've known that my life has been enriched ten-fold by The Johnny Stallings Arts Program. But I didn't realize the true extent of that enrichment until Saturday afternoon, sitting at Epworth Methodist Church at the memorial service for Darby Jones.
At that moment, I realized that those ten girls - and all the
The reason is that an extended family has been created. People who would never have met before have been brought together in bonds of friendship and lives are being shared through JSAP. Because Alan wasn't satisfied with spending the rest of his life buying things, we have been allowed to be the facilitators of an amazing group of people, numbering in the hundreds now, who share a love of the arts and a love for people with special needs. This group of people is more valuable than anything money could ever buy. Prior to the advent of JSAP in 2008, I had limited contact with people with special needs. Today, I know hundreds of people and their families who have brought meaning and joy to my life. In this month of gratitude, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to Alan for having such a giving heart, to God for placing us in this position in the first place and to all the people I've come to know and love over the past seven years.
As we said good bye to Darby on Saturday, I silently expressed my gratitude to her. Darby and Valerie are responsible for about half of all of our participants - so wide was their circle of friends that each time we've added a new program, Darby and Valerie were our best recruiters. I'm grateful to Darby for bringing so many new people into my life,
The life of one little girl brought hundreds of people together in celebration on Saturday, but no one was celebrating more than me…I was celebrating the knowledge that because of Darby and JSAP, Alan and I have more riches than money could every bring. Because of Darby, I understand with greater insight why we must continue to work, raise money and create new programs. As her loss continues to bring our JSAP family closer together, we will work even harder in her memory. We will celebrate her life in everything we do. And I will be forever grateful to her for showing me that I'm the richest woman who ever lived.