While cooking a massive risotto dinner for my two growing boys, and husband, who requires every bit of constant calorie intake for his job as a defensive tackle in the NFL – I quickly looked up from cooking to catch the TV screen when I heard “The Sudan Crisis” on CNN. My heart sunk as I saw numerous faces and families of survivors grieving from the tragedy of civil unrest, as bodies were being pulled from the Nile due to the devastating attacks killing over 100 people.
Although my two boys were so immersed in playing their hearts out in our living room, that they weren’t paying close attention to the coverage, I eventually turned the channel to keep my kids from possibly seeing any of the violent aftermath. With tears in my eyes, I went into the bathroom to gather myself. Although we have no TVs in my bathroom, there’s a mirror. Tears began to fall as I stared into the face of one more survivor who was lucky enough to escape civil war within the same region decades ago…me!
I was born in a refugee camp in the Sudan, where my parents met and married after escaping a civil war in their home country of Ethiopia as young vulnerable teenagers. An interesting dynamic in the Sudan during that time was there were no jobs for men. So, my Mom was the one working, and my Dad was the one most responsible for taking care of me and the house.
There were days where my dad had the equivalent of one dollar to his name, with no pay available for the household until the end of the week – and they had to feed me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Imagine the life decision of deciding who in our family eats today. However, my Dad did everything in his power to make sure I ate, even when that meant he couldn’t. Yet he maintained an unrelenting resiliency through his faith and dream to one day come to America.
YOU CANNOT BREAKDOWN WHAT CAN’T BE BROKEN
In the Sudan we would see an airplane flying above us and my dad would point to it and say:
“Sara Sara…look up! See that plane in the sky? One day we’re going to get on a plane like that and fly to America!” One day it’s going to happen.”
My dad had a vision, a purpose and understood that there was going to be more to our lives than forever living in a refugee camp with looming civil unrest, poverty and violence. His experience was not the experience he wanted for me. He had a dream and was determined to put our family on an entirely new trajectory to happiness, freedom and success.
I don’t think people realize how hard it is to come to the U.S. It’s not like you sign a piece of paper one day and someone approves. It takes years, dealing with all types of red tape, inefficiencies, and unjust interference. Yes, people may block a blessing for you to feel good about themselves, but that can’t break you when you have unbreakable faith in a dream.
At the age of four my parents were close to finalizing an arrangement to come to America, but someone who was supposed to help us purposely sabotaged everything, preventingthis opportunity from happening. As heartbreaking as this was, my Dad still never lost hope.
Whenever a plane flew above us and my Dad would still point to it and tell me “Sara, one day we’re going to get on a plane and fly to America.”
There was even a time where the home next door to us caught on fire and spread to our place where I was alone and sleep next door with my cousin. My Dad rushed in and saved me and my cousin. Our entire home, which was just a small mudbrick adobeinside the refugee camp, burned down to the ground. They were only ablsmalle to salvage 2 photos. We had to live with someone else in their small adobe home for the rest of our time at the refugee camp.
But still my Dad never lost hope. Even after losing everything he had, he never lost his dream. Which means he never lost focus on his “Why.” His “Why” was for ME to experience a life of absolute health, happiness, prosperity and freedom.
This ‘Why” was reinforced by his faith, which was reinforced through the visual of me …and the plane which symbolized the vehicle for how to achieve the dream. He made this dream a reality in his mind through his faith and imagination to boldly declare what he wanted in our lives. He then radiated this contagious energy through his heart into the atmosphere to make it happen. Which means he could never let an opportunity pass to feel the excitement of seeing a plane flying above us and tell me again and again “Sara – one day we’re getting on a plane and going to America.”
MIRACLES DO HAPPEN…ACROSS THE SKY
A miracle is an extraordinary sequence of events that’s not supposed to happen as they occur. You know what’s crazy about miracles? They often are fulfilled by someone else’s faith and belief in you. You know you’ve experienced a miracle when you’re a part of a series of events that all of the sudden play out perfectly…out of nowhere.
There was an amazing church in Virginia that was looking to bring families from third world countries living in poverty to the United States in the late 80s and early 90s. The people at this church happened to see this photo of me smiling, and they were moved by it so much they chose to literally move me and my family to America.
After escaping a deadly Ethiopian civil war as teens, living in a Sudan refugee camp for years with a daughter, having their dreams crushed when arrangements they had worked hard for to come to America were sabotaged, and having their home and everything in it burned down – my parents, guided by my Dad’s unrelenting faith, fulfilled their ultimate dream to get on one of those planes he pointed to so often up in the sky, and come to America. If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.
WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN…TO GO BACK UP AGAIN
Because of my Dad’s faith and dream, my life was changed forever. A God-sent miracle from a church family landed me in a country where I received a great education which included studying Political Science at the University of Missouri. It was also here that I met my soulmate Evander “Ziggy” Hood, who by working hard at his dream was drafted into the NFL. To say we were living the American Dream would be an understatement.
But during my pregnancy and what we were anticipating to be one of the happiest moments of our lives, we were heartbroken when the doctor told us there was a strong chance our first son Josiah would be an extreme special needs child. For the first time I found myself questioning my own faith. Why me God? Why us God? Why him God? And six days after giving birth, I had a heart attack at only 23 years old.
War does not just happen between nations, it also happens between your own thoughts within your own mind. Suddenly I found myself depressed, sunken into my own mental and emotional internal civil war that I was losing. After giving birth to my second son Jeremiah, I felt the increasing demands of motherhood and hit a near breaking point when Josiah was diagnosed with Autism after a year of grueling hospital tests.
Unlike my young parents, I couldn’t escape and find a way out of the war going on in my own head. Unlike my Dad – I would look up into the sky and see no hope. In the sky above me I could see no plane. That was because I had no “why.”
As I moped around the house, never going out, never feeling beautiful, never feeling worth more than a miserable mom who happened to be the wife of an NFL player living his dream while I was living a nightmare – I realized I had lost myself. Finally, I had to give myself a proverbial smack to the face and say “Sara you gotta get it together.” I had to pull myself up high enough to look up in the sky and find a plane that could take me to a dream state in my mind that I wanted to go. In this place I came to a realization that “I WANT TO LIVE!”
I want to live for my kids and my husband. I want to create a powerful armor I can wear and embody to overcome any obstacle for my son Josiah who deserves a SuperMommy at her fullest strength to protect him from a world that can be cruel. A world that’s not designed to care about his special needs. But it was also important to realize I needed to awaken a “Why” for my own purposes, to compliment a greater why for my son and family. I wanted to create more than a lifestyle, but a “Lovestyle” that can be my own special airplane for flying sky high in creating my best self.
My “Lovestyle” plane to flying high in life incorporates fitness, because once again after experiencing a heart attack at a young age, “I Wanted To Live.” So, my Fitness Lovestyle meant working out five days a week to lose 60lbs off what was a 220lb 5’3 body. This gave me the motivation and energy to pursue conquering even more fronts which included becoming a celebrity chef and makeup stylist – immersing myself in all things I LOVE like fitness, beauty and surely I can’t forget food! This love and motivation I continuously build from within, prepares me most for overcoming challenges to my greatest dream and passion – which is seeing my son Josiah and others like him, despite living with autism, still be able to live like a king.
When I first received the diagnosis that my son was autistic, a part of me mourned the future that I thought he would have. At my saddest low points, I became miserable at the thought that he won’t have a normal adult life and get to enjoy all of the different thrills we desire to enjoy. This included having a dream job, getting married, and creating a family of his own. But it soon hit me in realizing “My God Has A Different Plan!”
When I was 15 I heard a sermon about Josiah in the bible. King Josiah was the youngest king ever. The pastor spoke on how his faith was so strong. He kept God first and did not operate on what others said to do. Instead he operated on God’s time and word. The bible said “There was no one like him, and there will never be anyone like him.”
It was the best sermon I ever heard in my life. I was so touched by this pastor’s sermon I said to myself, “I’m going to name my son Josiah.” Years later, I had to go back to this moment, and all I asked for in choosing this powerful name. I chose a king…King Josiah.
True to his name, my son Josiah is a king. He’s making moves,changing the world in a way he doesn’t even know yet. Josiah has overcome so much and his presence has sparked a change in so many lives, no life more so than my own.
Josiah is the core to my ‘Why!”
Josiah is non-verbal, which is heartbreaking for a mother who is told by doctors that your child will never be able to speak for themselves. However, this experience has given me such a different perspective on life and the beauty of all things. One of my most powerful revelations is – by him not having a voice, it taught me mine!
The life that he has, and the joy and strength that he brings – awakened a voice within me that I never knew I had. I used to be quiet and shy, and I could easily be in a room and you would never know I existed. But his journey has showed me the power of what I’m capable of. We’re smashing barriers, bringing awareness to a cause that effects more than 200,000 people in the U.S. a year. We’re changing practices and perspectives in this world that will bring about a much better understanding of how to uplift their lives to the fullest.
FAITH IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
Faith allowed for my Dad to point to a plane in the sky every time one flew over our heads and say “Sara – one day we’re getting on a plane and going to America.” Faith allowed for my parents to be on the waitlist for years before coming to America, believing it would happen when there were no signs. This faith was also backed with works and preparation, for faith without works is dead. If they had not filled out all the paperwork, and went through every procedure for years to position themselves for a miracle, it never would’ve happened.
Now I use this same faith principle with my son Josiah. I was told he will never be able to talk or walk. But our faith along with his presence and unique vitality has given me the power to explore absolutely every resource I could find to help him communicate and go where he wants to go in this world. And guess what? Not only does he walk now, but he communicates with me every single day.
I live by the statement that I can’t control all of life’s circumstances, despite the control freak in me that wants to all the time. But what I can control is my reaction to them, and my choice.
And my joy is my choice. Even in my lowest moments and tragic circumstances, joy is my choice. And with this joy must come faith, which is my right.
I have the right to believe any dream I can envision can come true. Faith is also knowing that that if you want something that you don’t get, it’s still ok. You still have to accept that, which is all a part of the faith journey. With understanding you know this does not necessarily mean no, but just not right now. Josiah may or may never talk, but I still dream and give him all the tools as if he will. I will always put in the work and pour into my son, knowing that’s the only way it could ever happen.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE, & FINDING YOUR WHY WITHIN IT
Every day I point to a dream plane and destination, taking a leap of faith with my son. I am to Josiah what my Dad was for me. I embodied his “Why,” and he was the wind beneath my wings that allowed me to soar. Now the same circle of fortitude runs through me and my son – as Josiah embodies my “Why,” and I am the wind beneath his wings.
My job is now to show and prove to him that the sky’s the limit, by joyfully pointing in the air and working towards flying that universal love plane in the sky with his name on it. We will always dream, and I will always work every bone in my body until it’s a reality. And the beauty of it all is this “Why” empowers me to go after my own personal purpose and goals to live out my dream.