So somehow going on a vacation with a bunch of strangers you meet on the internet is totally cool in 2017. Literally, got on a plane and decided to carve out 5 days of my life to hang with a bunch of mamas from the Down syndrome community. I mean, I was fairly certain that at least 50% of them WERE NOT serial killers. Therefore, I was also somewhat confident that those of us that weren't could take the rest of em. Aaaaaand I am still here to tell our story so looks like everything went well, serial killer wise. I can almost 100% assure you that there are zero dead bodies left in the Estes Park area of CO. That's all I am going to say on that matter.
When I agreed to go on this Ruby's Rainbow Retreat back in February, I was super excited! As the date approached I started freaking out. It was a very overwhelming thought to go on a trip with 7 other women that you have never met in real life. This was me stepping way out of my comfort zone and doing something that I felt was going to be good for the soul.
Please if you haven't checked out Ruby's Rainbow yet, don't wait another second:
Click HERE RIGHT NOW!
An organization that grants scholarships to people with Down syndrome. YAY!!! Also, Ruby and her mama, Liz, are literally amazing!!! Ruby and Ruby's rainbow have been such a source of hope to us and so many others. Showing us all everyday that our kids are worthy, capable and determined.
These 2 little words kept echoing in my head. Be brave. The mantra to get me to put one foot in front of the other and actually follow through. Not only did I have to join these ladies but I knew I would have to share with them. Open up to them, and allow myself to be vulnerable. Onward. Be brave. Turns out opening up and letting my new friends in wasn't that difficult after I got to meet them, share meals, talk about our kids, and listen to their stories. It certainly took courage to let them in but they made it easy for me. I felt safe.
What I didn't expect was just how many times I would have to BE BRAVE on this trip. White water rafting nearly did me in. Just before heading into the raft, the guides have an obligation to tell you all the ways in which you can die, so that really kinda dampened the mood for me heading in (insert frowny face emoji). As they assigned us to a boat and dismissed us, I nearly started walking the opposite way,
"I'll catch you later. I'm headed to the bus guys!!! I'll make sure no one takes our sandwiches! Mmmmmmmmmkay?"
BE brave. I got on the boat with trepidation in tow. Realizing quickly that I was indeed going to survive this expereince and just how much I relied on these, my new friends, to get us all safely to the finish. Teamwork. There definitely were some "bumps" and "lean in teams" to be had but mostly it was "forward team" with the frequent paring of icy cold splashes of water and a guide chiming in "aaaaand stop" - Oh yes, and the laughing. ALL. THE. LAUGHING.
We were brave. Forward team.
There were many times where our plans just weren't going to pan out exactly as we thought. We took a wrong turn, we were too late, we changed course, we didn't get the parking spot we wanted, the table at the bar was full, the lines were too long. Yet when we got wherever it was that we ended up, we were always rewarded with more than we could have hoped for. Spilling subtle reminders that we are all living a life in which we found ourselves in a place that we did not expect. A place we did not plan to be. A place that we find beauty in world around us in the deepest possible sense. A place where we were rewarded with the purest love. A place where we had to BE BRAVE. Forward team.
Riding for over an hour up into the high elevations of the mountains of CO, where you break bread and share a steak dinner, definitely leaves an imprint on your soul.
Meeting and connecting with other families over the years has helped me to navigate through so many things that seemed impossible at the time. These people that mostly live on the other end of my phone have become my family. I genuinely love them and their kids. What an honour it was a couple weeks ago to get to hug these 7 women, to break bread with them, to rely on them, to share my heart with them, and to laugh with them. They hold a very real life place in my heart and I am honoured to have been able to spend some real, genuine time with them.
Be brave. Forward team.
If you are new to Down syndrome, one thing I can tell you is that these people all around the world have been the biggest gift to me and our family. I have cried with them while I hold my phone, while in the same room, and while in their embrace. I have celebrated their lives, their kids and they have celebrated mine. I have leaned in for advice as well as given it out. I treasure these people so deeply. It was a dream come true to be able to meet some of them, give them a hug and start real live relationships that will last our lifetime.
Be brave. Get out there and find your family. Forward.
Here's the IG caption that went along with the above pic:
I'm the kind of gal who needs time to reflect. Time to let things settle. A couple weeks ago, I got to do this thing. And here's what I left with: Be brave. Not only was I completely out of my comfort zone heading to CO to stay with 7 women I had never met before (who were all kind, warm, and funny) once I got there I continued to be edged outside of it just a little bit more every singe day. Be brave Steph. Go white water rafting. Be vulnerable. Share your feelings. Take one more step ~ Forward team ~ Our carefully made plans were sometimes thwarted ~ Be brave. Lean in team ~ Leading us somewhere we didn't know we wanted to be. Rewarding us with beauty we may have otherwise missed. Somehow this became a metaphor for our entire trip. Finding truth, wonder and purity in the places we didn't know we'd be ~ Bump. Backward team. And stop ~ Grateful for the subtle reminders that sometimes what's in store for us is beyond anything we could ever plan for. A little like Down syndrome. For me, I am thankful that extra chromosome brought us together but it's only just the starting place for what we share as a community of women. If there's a piece of advice I could give to families that are part of the lucky few, it would be TO CONNECT. Get out of your comfort zone and become a part of this great big, loving, accepting, knowledgeable world ✨🌎✨ ~ Forward Team. Forward.
I got to wrap my arms around these super kind and beautiful people too. What an amazing Down syndrome family we have.