Saturday, November 28, 2015

SkyRise Chicago 2015...

Things have been so busy since I did the SkyRise Chicago climb, but I wanted to share with everyone about the experience.  It was such a humbling experience for me and I had many emotions to process through before the climb and afterwards.

A few weeks before the climb, I was contacted by the PR woman in charge of creating buzz for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  She wanted to share mine and Juli's story with the media.  I was a bit surprised, because if you know anything about the RIC, they are the nations #1 rehab hospital for people who have been in bad accidents, had strokes, amputees, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, and the list goes on.  When we go for Juli's appointments, I am always humbled by the patients we see and meet, it really puts Juli's issues into perspective.  We emailed back and forth, while I answered questions about Juli, her doctor, and myself.  As we got closer to the climb, I did a phone interview with her, and she let us know that we would be paired up with a media personality the day of the climb so that they could get to know a patient before they climbed (there was a challenge that went out to the media, which included a trophy to the personality who climbed the fastest).  The Friday before the climb the RIC released a statement about the climb and some of the people who were climbing, we were included.
Early morning arrival
The day of the climb, we were instructed to arrive at 8 AM to meet up with our media personality.  Juli and I were assigned Jason Thomas of WXRT-FM.  He was a nice man, told me he had ridden his bike to the Willis Tower that morning as his "warm up".  He shared with me about his little one at home and how much he likes being a dad.  We talked for a little while longer, and then it was time to do "pictures with all the media" and then they were off on their climb.  Jason ended up winning the challenge, climbing to the top in under 18 minutes (crazy!).
Doing "press"

She had to do a "selfie" for her webpage- she's on WGN Radio
I didn't climb until 9:30.  I failed to mention that that morning I had woken up with a terrible head cold and was extremely stuffed up.  I hoped my nose spray would keep my nose clear until I got to the top, but by the time I was close to the stairway opening, I knew that was a pipe dream, lol.  I started the climb, slow and steady.  It was 103 flights, so I knew enough to not run up the stairs.  There were a ton of people on the stairs which made it difficult to pass the slower climbers.  As I finished the 2nd floor, I passed a man who was being helped up the stairs with a "gait belt" and had an entire team of people behind him.  Each step for him was a struggle but he was determined.  I told him he was doing a great job as I passed him, and he thanked me and asked me who Juli was (I was wearing a shirt I had made for Juli).  I told him she was my daughter and a patient at the RIC.  He wished me well and I wished him well and continued to climb.  By the time I reached the 33rd floor, my nose was blocked up totally and I began to question how smart I was to do this with a head cold.  Then I passed a woman who was climbing with an implant in her leg that was stimulating her leg muscle to work.  We encouraged each other and I continued to climb.  By the time I got to the 95th floor, I was sweaty, breathless and struggling.  They had volunteers on each floor encouraging us, so I picked up my pace.  My goal had been to climb in under 45 minutes, but I crossed the line at 48 minutes.  I think if I had been healthy I would have been able to make my goal.

The back of my t-shirt
Since Juli and I had "done press", Ryan, Noah and Juli were given VIP status and allowed to meet me at the top.  Noah and Juli were given finisher medals, and a representative from the RIC recognized us from the morning press shoot and ushered us to one of the ledges to take our picture as a family.  One of the best feelings in the world was receiving my finisher medal from an RIC patient at the top and hearing Juli tell me how proud she was of me.

Trying not to look too tired or sick
Taken by the photographer for the RIC
Thank you to everyone who supported our family for this climb.  To those of you who donated, I know that the RIC will be helping more families by building a new facility.  They have helped Juli so much in the 5 years we have been going there.

In my next post, I will tell you about George Watson and the amazing Watson family that stayed with us for the climb.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

2 Weeks Away...

After work on Friday, I got the mail.  There was a package sitting on our porch addressed to me.  I opened it...

It's starting to get real, folks.  2 weeks from today, I will be standing on the sky deck of the Sears Tower (sorry, I can't call it the Willis Tower).  All of that time running the stairs will have hopefully paid off and I will be at the top.

Why do I climb?  I climb for Juli! I climb to support the amazing doctors at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Thank you to all who have supported the 2 of us as we raised money for the climb. I am humbled by all of the love and support we have received.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Remember to Thank a Police Officer...

Most of us don't realize that when a police officer gets up in the morning, kisses their family goodbye, and walks out the door, that they might not come home that night.  Tuesday was just a regular day for me, until I checked my phone when I got home from school.  I had a bunch of text messages from friends who still live where I grew up.  The ones from the morning said- a police officer has been shot in Fox Lake.  I scrolled through message after message, and the last one- remember the cop who always came into Blockbuster to check on us?  My stomach dropped.

I met Lt. Gliniewicz when I was 18 years old.  Blockbuster Video had just opened in Fox Lake, IL, and several of my friends and I had gotten jobs there while we went to community college.  It was nice and convenient since I lived in Pistakee Highlands, it was maybe a 10 minute drive if you hit the stoplights.  I met Joe on my second day of work.  He was on duty at the time, and he made sure to tell all of us if we ever felt like we weren't safe, to call the police department.  At 18 years old, you think you are invincible, but we all told him that we would call.  He became a regular at our video store.  He would come in when he was on duty or off duty, and he always made sure our store was safe. When his sons were born, he told us all about them, showed us pictures of them and would show them off when he and his wife came into the store.

Eventually, we were made assistant managers, which meant we could open or close the store. Blockbuster closed at midnight, but once we closed there was always things we had to do before we could leave the store and sometimes we wouldn't get out of there until almost 1 in the morning, especially if the money didn't balance.  If Lt. Gliniewicz was on duty, he would come in close to midnight, check the store, and he would stay in his patrol car in the parking lot until we were safely to our cars.

When he found out I had been assaulted by another employee in the parking lot, the next time I was working, he came to me and asked me why I didn't call.  I told him I was ashamed and I didn't want people to know what happened, plus the guy had stopped and I had gotten away.  He told me that I shouldn't be ashamed, and asked me if I wanted him to put the fear of God into the man.  I told him my dad had already taken care of that.  After that incident, anytime I was closing and he was on duty, his car was in the parking lot and he always got me to my car.

My biggest regret is that I never I told him how much I appreciated him for keeping us safe.  Yes, I thanked him for walking me to my car after the attack, but I never told him that I always knew I was safe when he was on duty.  I hope he knew that it meant a lot to us.

No one likes to be pulled over or given a ticket, but the next time you see a police officer, remember to thank them for what they do for us every day.  Cops lives matter.  His life mattered.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Climb For Juli...

Those who know me, know that my daughter, Juliana, has faced some difficulties in her 6 years with us.  They started at birth with her VSD heart defect, then she refused to eat, followed with her developmental delay.  She has seen an array of specialists, all of whom have helped us in different ways.  The one I am going to highlight in this post is Dr. Gaebler at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

We were referred to Dr. Gaebler by Juli's GI doctor when Juli was about a year old.  Juli had noticeable weakness on her left side and her GI doctor was curious if that had any impact on why Juli didn't like to eat.  Our visits over the past 5 years have never given us insight into why Juli doesn't like to eat, but they have taken us down a different path.  I learned new lingo: AFO and UCB (the different braces/orthotics that Juli wears).
Juli's old AFO's, she has graduated to UCB's now 
We had even more tests done and were referred to different specialists from there.  Finally, this year, Dr. Gaebler was the first doctor who gave us names/diagnoses for what is going on with Juli and from there, doors continued to open.

Juli was diagnosed with Developmental Coordination Disorder along with Sensory Processing Disorder by Dr. Gaebler.  From there, our Developmental Pediatrician tested Juli and she tested high for anxiety (which broke my heart to hear that my 6 year old has anxiety, but it explained so much) and inattentive ADHD.  She will never outgrow Developmental Coordination Disorder and it will make learning difficult for her.  To help with this, we have added Occupational Therapy outside of the school (she already receives it during school). With the Sensory Processing Disorder, she is learning to handle it in her OT sessions.  Her screaming episodes where she becomes overwhelmed and doesn't know how to process are decreasing, although now she will "shut down" in order to shut out all of the sensory information.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because on November 8th, I am participating in the SkyRise Chicago Tower Up Climb benefiting the RIC.  Juli asked me to do the climb, and how could I say no to this face?
So, I need to raise $150 in order to climb the 103 flights of stairs, and I am hoping some of you will sponsor me.  I want to make this little girl proud of her mom.

**If you click on the words "sponsor me" it will take you to my page.  I am overwhelmed already by those who have donated. Thank you so much!**

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

God Is Good...

Back in May, I posted a little bit about how the end of the school year sucked and I had to deal with having my character challenged.  At the end of the school year, there was a mass exodus of a bunch of people who had done little to help me out, and some new people were hired, who I knew would have my back.  However, with school starting back up in less than 2 weeks my anxiety level had begun rise to epic proportions starting last week.  I was having nightmares every night of having to work with the person who had done this to me.  Over the summer, I had worked on forgiving this person, but I knew that trusting that person wasn't going to happen, at least right away.

Last night, my cell phone rang, and it wasn't one of my set ringtones, so I almost didn't look to see who it was.  I am glad I did.  It was our new division chair.  Our conversation went like this, "Hey Jenna, I don't know if you're going to be happy about this, but I have some news about your Chemistry team."  My stomach dropped.  Had I been removed...again?  I had been summoned in over the summer by the new Assistant Principal to explain to him what had gone on, and I had made sure I was professional the entire time.  "Am I off the team again?"  "You're still on the team and so is Grant."  "Okay, then what's not to like?"  "Well, so and so has been removed from the team this year to go teach math.  You will have a new co-teacher on your team."  Immediately my anxiety level dropped, and I said as much.

God is good.  I also don't find it a coincidence that yesterday morning I started 2 studies on anxiety, because I couldn't handle myself anymore.  Thank you, Jesus, this year will be a better year.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Character Challenge...

I'm not going to lie to you, the month of May has sucked.  I can even tell you the date the month began sucking for me, May 6th.  That is the day that all hell broke loose, and an attack on my character began.

I've never really had to defend who I am.  My character has usually spoken for itself.  Sure, I have made my share of mistakes, but I typically own up to those mistakes.  In this instance, I didn't do anything wrong, but my word meant nothing, length of time served meant nothing, who I was meant nothing.  Fortunately, I had allies, who found out my character was being attacked and came to my defense, which unfortunately also put them in the hot seat.  Never have I been in the office so many times in 1 month having to defend myself.  I will admit, I lost my temper on multiple times.  I did not always display a good Christian mouth (in fact mom, you probably would have put soap in my mouth one of the times- but I did apologize later for my language use), but I fought for what was right, and when it finally came down to what was right, it was found in my favor (it took the entire month, but I did come out on top).

Now here's the one thing I am struggling with: forgiveness.  I know that I need to forgive the person who caused this in the first place.  I don't want to.  Not yet.  I'm so angry that I had to go through almost 4 weeks of daily battles, that I'm not ready to forgive her.  I need to though, but it's hard to forgive someone when they don't feel any remorse for what they have done to you.

Matthew West has a song, "Forgiveness", and the lyrics are so true to everything that I am feeling towards this person right now.

It is definitely something I will be working on and praying for this summer, that God can help me soften my heart so that I can forgive this person who hurt me like this, especially since I have to work very closely with them in the fall.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sean McGrail...

Numb.  I am still numb.  Tomorrow, I attend your wake and Tuesday, your funeral.  It is hard for me to believe that you are gone, and yet you are.  I have cried so many tears in the last 2 weeks, and still I grieve for you, for your family, for your mom.

Your accident happened on May 1st, and I found out on May 3rd.  Our family immediately began to pray for you.  We share a friend, Stephanie, who encouraged me to go visit you in the hospital, and on Tuesday, I made my first visit.

Your mom welcomed me with a hug and thanked me for coming.  She took me by the hand and as she led me down the hall to see you, her first question was: "How is your daughter doing?"  I almost began to cry right then, because that was always your first question to me.  "How is your daughter doing? I'm praying for her," you would say those words every time you saw me.  You got your compassion and kindness from your mom.  We went into your room, you were all bandaged up, bruised, connected to monitors.  I took your hand and spoke to you.  In our last email exchange, I had promised to take you out to lunch once school was out, and I reminded you of that promise.  Your mom and I talked about you, she shared stories about you and I shared stories about you in class- your sense of humor, how you loved to listen to The Beatles.  After our visit, I promised your mom I would come back again.

I didn't get a chance to make it back to the hospital again until Mother's Day.  Things had changed by then.  You had developed pnuemonia and a blood infection.  You had had an MRI and the results were not good.  On the outside, you were looking more like Sean, but on the inside you were fighting the battle of your life.  I held your hand again and spoke to you.  One of your friends had come at the same time as me and the 2 of us shared stories with your mom about you.  I had spent all weekend looking through pictures for a certain picture I had taken of a drawing you had made on the board, so I could show it to your mom while I told her the story:  The year I had you, my co-teacher, Lisa Jett, was on a rant about someone being disrespectful in the classroom.  To lighten the mood while she was still on her rant, you got up out of your seat, went to the board and drew a picture.  When you were done, I burst out laughing.  Jett stopped mid-rant, and looked at the picture.  You looked right at her and said, "let's bring it in for a group hug now", walked over to her and gave her a giant bear hug.  The two of us laughed so hard we cried that day.  You were good at making us laugh when we needed to.  At the end of my visit, I promised your mom I would come back again.

At school the next day, I was searching through a folder, and I stumbled upon an essay you wrote your senior year for your English class.  Your English teacher had given it to me, and God had me find it that day because He knew I needed some comfort.

The last time I visited you was on Wednesday, May 13.  When I got to the hospital, I knew something had changed because I was asked for a pass code, and I didn't know it.  I had brought a small gift for you and your mom, but I had to leave it at the desk with a note.  I messaged Stephanie and she told me the code and a minute later I was messaged again by someone who had brought my gift to your mom and she had asked them to get me back.  I went back to the hospital, and as I got off the elevator, I knew something was wrong.  I caught some words being said to your mom and then she walked over to your dad and collapsed into tears on the floor.  I turned to leave, but she asked me to say.

Your mom gave me a hug and thanked me for coming.  As we walked down the hall to see you, she said to me: "it shouldn't have been 1994-2015" and the two of us cried together outside of your room.  We went in to see you, Shannon and Maggie were on either side of you holding your hands and talking to you.  I held your hand, I kissed your arm and told you I loved you before I left your room.  I gave your dad a hug and told him how sorry I was, I hugged your mom and told her how much I loved your family.  They shared pictures of you with me, pictures of when you were little, before I knew you.  Your mom showed me the letter you had just received from the head coach of Notre Dame, telling you he was praying for you.  Before I left, I promised your mom I would get your football jersey's from South for her.

On Thursday, Stephanie messaged me to start praying and to keep praying.  I prayed and prayed, and so did my family.  When I got the message that you were at peace in the arms of Jesus, I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried for your mom and dad and brother and sisters.

Seany, you were one of the kindest, compassionate, unselfish kids I have ever had in my classroom.  Your last act on this Earth was to donate your organs so that someone else could continue living.  I am so proud and blessed to have known you.  On Friday, when I picked up your football jerseys, I clutched them to my chest and walked into my classroom.  One of my students who is autistic asked me what I was carrying.  I explained, and he said: "He sounded like a really cool kid. I bet he would have been my friend."  I said to him, "You wouldn't have to bet.  He would have been your friend."

I have been a teacher for 14 years.  In those 14 years, I have lost 4 students.  This is the one thing they don't prepare you for.

Sean, you were one of my favorite students of all times.  You will always have a piece of my heart.
Sean McGrail 1994-2015