Adults pictured, left to right: Val Hillman (305), Mike Hillman Jr. (322), Katrina Hillman (330), Alicia Harrison (349), Mike Hillman Sr. (335), Chelsy Hillman (339), Dustin Hillman (324), Teri Hillman Morelan (331), David Morelan (329)
If you’ve been around the Pathways community in the last handful of years, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the larger-than-life Hillman family in some capacity. Whether it’s the booming voices of two boisterous brothers bantering in the hallways of the Pathways hotel, a warm conversation where you just know you’ve got their full attention, or feeling their presence behind the TA table in a training room, you can’t miss their contagious energy or the passionate way they engage life. There is a vibrancy behind each of those grinning faces that tells you that their happy vibes are genuine, and if you see them together you can’t help but almost envy their camaraderie and connection. That connection was built on a foundation of love and dreams shared between Mike Sr., the family patriarch, and his beautiful wife of 32 years, Ruth. They traveled the world together, had five precious children and built a life worth cherishing. A cancer diagnosis for Ruth shook that foundation to its core and tested their resilience as a tribe. This is a vulnerable conversation between the whole Hillman family about their experience going through this cancer journey with Mama Ruth (as she was affectionately known by family and friends) and how they were able to use their pain to generate new growth and healing. Enjoy this beautiful testament to perseverance, lasting love and hope eternal.
Can you tell us about Ruth’s cancer journey?
Mike Sr.: It all started in 2001 – she was sick constantly and no doctors could find anything wrong with her. We ultimately pursued all kinds of testing to seek a cause for her illness and we conducted a lot of research on our own, which led us to Dallas to seek answers. The specialist we sought out there had a machine that operated with high enough resolution to detect the tiniest pancreatic tumor, which was our first discovery of cancer in her body. The small size of the tumor made her an excellent candidate for surgical removal, so we confidently pursued that option. It was supposed to be an all-day surgery, but she came out after just two hours. They had opened her up and determined that the tumor had spread, so they just closed her up and said, “well, you’ve got six months.” So we dug deep into research again and discovered and pursued an experimental drug regimen that apparently shrunk the tumor enough that she was again a candidate for surgical removal. In 2002, we found a doctor in New Orleans willing to perform a whipple surgery – a very extensive and invasive procedure which caused her to lose a substantial amount of weight due to the removal of parts of her stomach, intestines, liver, and quite a bit of her pancreas. She recovered slowly but the surgery was ultimately deemed successful – her cancer went into remission and stayed away for about five years. She had a fairly good life after she recovered from the surgery, and although she still experienced pain it didn’t slow her down any. She still worked and kept track of the kids playing softball, playing baseball – whatever they were doing at the time, she was engaged and present.
Cancer came back with a vengeance in late 2006 and we couldn’t do anything to combat it. It was in her liver and they gave her a 10% chance of extending her life for a couple of months by having a liver transplant, but she would have still been in incredible pain so she opted not to do it. She passed away in January 2007. Our oldest daughter, Teri, was 29 years old and our youngest, Katrina, was 18.
What were your initial reactions when she lost her cancer battle? How did grief affect you as an individual? As a family unit?
Teri: Mom and I were really close. I shut down for several years after we lost her, and I just kind of removed myself from everything that resembled progress or connection. I actually moved out of state to get my head clear. I left a marriage and moved to Kansas to be around family and feel closer to Mom’s memory. Other than that, I just quit living life.
I stepped away from the family for a while, and honestly we all kind of went our separate ways. I had stepped up when Mom went back to work, when I was in high school. I didn’t realize that I had done so until my siblings told me that I had become like a second mom to them. But after Mom died we all went our separate ways – I didn’t have the strength to fulfill that role in my grief. We came together for holidays and other events, but other than that there wasn’t really a lot of communication between any of us. We all just started living our own lives. She was definitely the glue for our family, and without her we became like passing ships. We didn’t talk about positive stuff, we didn’t talk about negative stuff – we just came together for special occasions and that was really about it. We’d spend a couple hours going through the motions together and then it was back to our own lives again.
Mike Jr.: For me, I think I just dove into staying as busy and distracted as possible and didn’t allow myself to revisit her death at all. Rather than confronting my pain I just stuffed it underneath busyness and worked hard to craft a life that looked good from the outside looking in.
Dustin: I just went into work, closed myself off from the world and built up a lot of walls from that hurt. I didn’t talk about it. I don’t think any of us just talked about it or had open conversation about Mom. If we did it was very brief and closed off – it wasn’t an open discussion. We didn’t talk about losing Mom, but we also didn’t recall the good stuff about Mom, which we do now. But at the time it was just too painful to talk about so we avoided it. Our grief made it impossible to celebrate her life, so we just pretended that everything was fine and we didn’t deal with it. When you walk in that Pathways room, there’s the sign that reads, “Time heals no wounds – it only provides opportunity.” It was our time. It looks a lot different now.
Mike Sr.: I don’t want to leave you the impression that we were alienated or anything like that. We did have some connection, but it was somewhat limited. Ruth was the one that kept track of what everyone was doing and wanted to do. I was involved, but not as much as she was and my own pain rendered me in no condition to pick up where she left off. When your kids become adults, you must assume a position of letting them step into their own way of maneuvering life and you don’t want to intrude on their process. I felt like I should let them each grieve in their own manner without forcing them to engage in a particular way.
Katrina: For me, I was 18. I had just graduated high school, and Mom died during the winter break of my freshman year in college. Within 10 days of her passing I just went back to school. I didn’t tell anybody that my mom passed. Unless they already knew, I didn’t say anything. I shut down and I took 18+ hours of school and worked multiple jobs and just kind of survived.
Mom really held us together. She was very in tune to who we were and she loved us for just exactly who we were. She taught us a lot of really good lessons. Even up to her last moments she was making sure we were taking care of each other, that we weren’t going to give up on each other and that the family unit stayed intact. She played a big role in who we all have become. The way that people see us, just loving the heck out of each other… she taught us that by loving us big. It taught us how to love each other big. Even when she was sick, she was still our mom and she knew exactly who she was and who we were. She was still involved. Even when she was in incredible pain, she was still there. It never stopped her from making sure we knew she was available and steadfast. Even from afar, she’d call and check in on us. It was just really hard to lose that connection.
Val: I was 21, newly married to an emotionally unavailable man, and I just found things to do to keep my mind going. Honestly, it didn’t hit that she was really gone for a couple of years.
Mike Sr.: Yeah, there are times when we all come back and recall the things that she did, and the nostalgia and sense of loss hits you like a brick and lets you know that something in your heart is unsettled. One of the reasons I personally went through Pathways was to make sure I wasn’t just living in the past and letting life pass me by. Aside from the insistence of my kids, the one thing that convinced me to participate in the training is that I thought it would help me make sure that life didn’t just slide away from me. What I ended up valuing the most from my Pathways experience is the strengthening of our family bond that resulted from all of us going through. Valerie was the first to attend and I was the last.
Let’s talk about each of your journeys through Pathways – tell us your “A to B” story, in order of attendance.
Val: I had heard about Pathways from a social worker at work, and my sister Teri had a friend who had been through it. I talked to her a little bit. She was great, but she was so passionate about it and her commander energy came across like a drill sergeant and I was like, “whoa.” I had just gotten out of a verbally abusive relationship, so an authoritarian approach was a trigger for me. But her message resonated long after the conversation, and I finally found the value in her words. I initially decided to attend with the goal of finding my strength again, because I had just had a baby and I just felt so low. I was really insecure, and really confused about where I was in life. Helpless and hopeless are the best words to describe how I was feeling. I always like to learn from situations, but from that place I didn’t even know how to ask for help because I was so disoriented and overwhelmed. My A was a pretty hopeless place – I just felt like I had hit a big brick wall.
After Pathways and to this day, I view every obstacle as an opportunity and I have tools to learn from the challenge, whereas before I was just comfortable to quit trying. Quitting is not even an option in my life right now. If I ever found myself stuck before Pathways, I didn’t have any idea how to get unstuck. Now I have a strategy and I have support from friends and family. I surround myself with people who can see when I’m running my numbers or not playing hard and they will hold me accountable. Now that I’ve healed from the abuses I suffered in the past, I actually do welcome being challenged to grow if it’s obvious that it is coming from a place of love. I now have friends that know the “icky” about me, where previously I just put on a mask and played the Christian good-girl role and kept the truth about my emotional reality in the shadows. I feel comfortable showing my real grit to people now. I’m confident in who I am.
Mike Jr.: I knew that the program existed from Val, who had graduated over a year earlier, and I engaged her and Teri’s friend in discussions about the training. My impending divorce and the emotional fallout of that experience was the catalyst for me attending the training initially. I decided that my son deserved a better father. Whatever it looked like, I knew something good was going to actualize from it, so I just decided I was going to go ahead and jump in.
When I went in to the training, I was just lost and definitely confused about my future. I found redemption in the training room and I was definitely more clear-headed and more confident in my choices. I knew that I was worth more than the behavior I was receiving from other people around me. So, understanding that I deserved to be treated with dignity and respect, I then started making healthier choices about who I invest energy into and who I allow into my inner circle.
Dustin: I moved into our childhood home a few years after my mom passed, around three years after we lost her. Within that time, I watched every single one of my siblings go through a failed marriage and every one of my siblings moved in with me. All five of us had moved into the home we grew up in. My dad was grieving pretty hard, and I was dating someone new at the time. I saw Mike come out of his Weekend/Walk full of hope. We worked together and he was staying with me most of the time, so I saw up close what the training had done for him and I was bought in (although I did drag my feet a little bit.) I finally went to the Weekend, simply looking for something different. Every marriage I saw around me was failing. I saw what my mom and dad had, and then the heartbreak he endured after losing her. He modeled what true committed love looked like – he stuck around and he was there. He loved her the whole time she was sick and he still loves her. Because I had that example, I believed that type of love existed but I wasn’t sure if it was possible for ME. My breakthrough came in the Walk, when I realized that I had resentments towards God. I had been questing after a loving relationship with a human partner that could be trusted all this time, when in reality the emptiness I was feeling was actually a spiritual thing. The training provided me the opportunity to resolve my feelings toward God about taking my mom away. She was my soft place to fall – well, not just mine, but for my whole family and for most of our friends. For practically anybody she met, she was a soft place to fall. She had seven brothers and sisters and they all relied on her – she was a big influence in all of our lives. I think the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was challenging the tape in my head of, “how big is God – how powerful or good is He really, when He couldn’t even stop my Mom from leaving the earth and leaving behind all the people that relied on her and loved her and needed her?” That tape was holding me back from surrendering my pain around losing her. I did a lot of work in the room (including a contract circle that I can’t remember) to reconcile my anger and my questioning of God. I ultimately realized that Mom’s death is not mine to question.
My “B” is perfectly encapsulated in the lyrics of “If I Can Dream,” because I didn’t even understand the question of “what do you want?” in the Weekend. No one had ever, ever asked me that before. What. Do. I. Want? That was a foreign concept to me, so embracing the power in those lyrics and giving myself permission to dream big was a total game-changer. I have a whole new perspective on what the possibilities are in my life and there are no limitations to where I want to go. It was revolutionary for me to do this training on my own and for my own benefit, versus only focusing energy and time into other people’s well-being. I had to make sure I was taking care of myself first, valuing myself enough to focus on my priorities and discover my passions. I now believe that all things good ARE possible for me – I CAN and DO have a wife I can open my heart and share life with. I CAN build a family built on trust and security and joy. I might get hurt along the way, but I can’t live with my heart closed off in fear of losing them. I have to make the most of my time with each person I care about.
Katrina: Dustin came home from his Walk and said, “I WILL be putting you into the Weekend, even if you’re kicking and screaming.” And I said, “Absolutely not. Y’all are crazy, this program made you crazy. I’m not doing that – that’s not happening. Stay very far away from me.” But they knew that I was going through some tough stuff and they weren’t going to let me run from it anymore. I was struggling through the residue of a broken marriage and still carrying the pain of losing my mother at 18 with me everywhere I went. I was merely surviving and some days even that felt like too much to bear. My “A” was really bad – I was traveling through really dark places, I was closed off and never talked to anyone about it. My brothers started asking me those very hard questions that you learn in Pathways and I was still very turned off by the idea of it. I didn’t like these new happy versions of my siblings and I didn’t feel like happiness was obtainable for me or that I even deserved it. I used to smile and have fun and try to enjoy myself, but deep down I didn’t feel like I deserved it because Mom wasn’t there to enjoy it too. I was very isolated – smiling on the outside, dying on the inside. I’m getting really emotional even talking about it because I feel like I’ve come a really long way. I don’t cry because of where I was, I cry because of where I am now. I contemplated suicide, and I was very comfortable with dying. I knew I couldn’t continue like this safely, and I knew that my brothers only wanted good things for me. Even though we didn’t talk about the nitty gritty or talk about the real stuff that was going on with us, my family was always there for each other 100%. Throughout college, when things would get rough, I’d call them and tell them I was going to quit and they’d say, “Absolutely not. You’re going to make it through, you’re going to graduate and go on to do great things with your life.” If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would have ended up.
My brothers came home and asked me one day, “Do you have plans on this Saturday and Sunday in December?” (This was probably in October, a couple months in advance.) When I couldn’t think of anything I was doing, they let me know that the whole family was attending Step Beyond. They said, “You must be there. You’re already registered, it’s already paid for and you cannot bail out, because you have no barriers.” I have a lot of faith in them, and when they speak to me in a certain way, I listen. Their confidence in me gave me the courage to do it, and I attended Step Beyond and I found a little bit of hope. It took me all weekend to commit to the process and play at a heart level, but I finally figured out how to fight for myself. Teri’s husband David Morelan went to the Core Training in January and I followed suit in February.
In the training I found light. I choose life every day and I have an amazing life now. I make choices that I couldn’t even dream of before, even while in the training. I’ve already exceeded my Life Plan, if that says anything. I literally have to create a new one right now, because I didn’t allow myself to dream enough to make it to where I actually am in life. I have so much to look forward to now, and I have so much hope for my future.
David [Teri’s husband]: My life before Pathways was almost entirely driven by fear. When I was eight years old I suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to love me, and from that point on I became something I never meant to be. That encounter taught me fear and I lived in it. A tape I told myself very early on was, “I have to do this by myself,” and that tape drove all my decisions because it was the only way I felt safe. I thought I had to do life by myself, and I couldn’t afford to fail so I never started something if I didn’t know if I could finish it. I didn’t live much of a life before Pathways. I never took a risk. Although born from a very bad place and motivated by a tape that told me I have to figure it out by myself, I did develop a strong ability to persevere since I had to figure out whatever I set my mind to. The Mother/Father game in the Weekend rocked me. The event that shaped my heart as a child was a memory that was very much alive, but I had never given my heart a voice and had never realized how much it had changed me.
Since Pathways I’ve been able to reconcile my past and use all the lessons I learned the hard way to create a new legacy for my family. My wife and I are foster parents and, God willing, about to adopt our first foster kids. I have a lot of empathy for kids whose lives went sideways, because I only have to look at my own life to see the effects of a stolen childhood. All the patience I learned the hard way, because of a negative tape, I can now use to figure out what type of medicine that kid needs and give it to them.
Teri: My best friend actually went in eight years before I did, and she had been trying to get me in the room since that time, but in my eyes I never needed it. The main reason I agreed to attend the training was that my husband David and the rest of my family had gone through and they had all these tools and were keeping all these secrets from me. They were having conversations that they couldn’t have if I was within earshot, so they would wait to have the conversation and that was ticking me off, so I decided to attend so I wouldn’t be left out of their world.
When I went in, I was terrified that because I am so much like my mom I would suffer a similar fate. I was almost 40 and had constructed a falsehood in my mind that I was never going to be a mom and that I was going to be dead by the time I was 52, the age at which Mom passed. Every time something positive was going on my life the rug was pulled out from underneath me, so I just quit life – I stopped moving and I was sitting on the sidelines, just watching the world go by. I had convinced myself that death was imminent and so I just waited for my expiration date to come. I had just gotten married the year before to a great guy that I didn’t think I deserved and didn’t understand why he’d chosen me.
Once I got in the room, I just felt pulled that it was time to try a different way of being. It wasn’t until P1 that I realized that I was angry with my mom for dying, and that’s really when things took a turn for me. I started seeing the light and starting seeking a relationship with God. I started learning how to trust Him and learned how to let a lot of things go. When I came out of training I actually found myself in a really bad spot, because my Core Map was telling me one thing and people were telling me that it didn’t align with who I was, and suddenly the job I had been working wasn’t a good fit for the new me. My values and my outlook had shifted so much that nothing made sense in my life anymore. It took me about six months to adopt an objective perspective on how I had changed within the training and establish a plan around how to arrange my life in new ways that honored those changes. Before the training I controlled everything because I felt like I was the only person I trusted to do anything. Pathways helped me realize that I could be a leader without having to do everything myself. I could finally ask for help and it wasn’t all on my shoulders, and I could say “no” without feeling guilty. I began to practice letting go, surrendering things to God for the first time and letting Him do the heavy lifting in my life.
Chelsy [Dustin’s wife]: Before the training, I was driven by achievement and exceeding expectations. I had a successful career and was focused on building a happy future. Just a month before I entered the training I became unexpectedly pregnant. I felt devastated by the disappointment I thought my family would feel (specifically my parents) because of me being unwed and pregnant, so much so that I truly let it rob my joy in that season. Because of the training I was able to face that disappointment head on. Today, I am a mom and a wife who is free and fearless, surrendered in God’s grace. I now pause before I take on feelings of disappointment or the burden of meeting expectations to ask myself if I am being true to myself. It is an incredibly liberating feeling.
Alicia [Mike’s fiancée]: My entry to the program was just a little bit rocky. Mike and I had started dating just a few months when I’m pretty sure he tricked me into going to graduation. I met up with Dustin’s wife Chelsy and sat with her, where I watched this bizarre ceremony unfold and ended up winning a scholarship that I was not happy about. At that point in my life I had gone through some very serious health issues which I still deal with, and that really knocked me off my feet when I was first diagnosed. I felt like I had processed that pretty successfully, and I was happy and had grown up in a great family. I had a wonderful life, but it felt very stagnant to me – life wasn’t progressing toward anything new. I was holding on tightly to the same old stuff that felt familiar and safe. I had talked to every single one of Mike’s family and friends, I had gone to a ton of Pathways events and had encountered a ton of Pathways people who all reported the same life-changing results. I finally decided I didn’t have anything to lose by giving it a chance.
I really struggled at the Weekend in my ability to be vulnerable. I felt very fortunate to have had all the Hillman’s support me in my training, but I felt like their prominence put a target on my back since people possibly knew my story by proxy. I still say that I kind of went through the process backwards, because it really wasn’t until P3 that I truly understood what I went for. I thought I understand what it meant that you do only have one life, but it wasn’t until I completed the program and got to my “B” that I realized, “why not make the best of this ride?” Sure, life will throw some crazy curve balls, but it’s how you deal with it and the tools that you use to make it through that really define your experience. In the first large group sharing in the Weekend, the facilitators asked me what I was there for, and I think I said something sassy as a defense mechanism but I eventually got to the truth. One of the TAs from my Weekend told me recently that everything I described that I wanted was basically from the P3 syllabus. Once I got there, I felt like I finally found what I came for – really figuring out who you are, your bad habits and actually having tangible tools for overcoming weaknesses. A lightbulb went off for me in there – to this day, six months later, I am still daily figuring out new ways to utilize my tools and I’m constantly growing. I am at a very different place from where I started.
How have the dynamics of your family changed since you all graduated from Pathways? Has a new sense of healing around losing Mama Ruth enhanced your connection as a family? How does your life look different together?
Mike Sr.: We now spend our energy rehashing the good memories, instead of feeling bad or feeling like we were abandoned. We acknowledge that, when she was here, it was good. We’ve come to the realization that memories are good medicine, rather than them being just a source of pain. Ruth and I were married 32 years and she held the family together, even as we traveled around the country and around the world. To me that was a huge loss and I didn’t realize how integral her role was until she was gone. Before Pathways I didn’t really talk to the kids like she had. I think I’ve been in a much different place since Pathways – I feel like I communicate better with them now. We’ve kind of grown to the realization that… it’s not acceptance, but we know where we are with it.
Katrina: We have allowed ourselves to really step into hard together. We talk about Mom often to keep her spirit alive. We even cry and laugh together when telling stories about her. We connect with authenticity and love for each other and support the family as a whole again, just as Mom wanted.
Teri: Before Pathways, Mike, Dustin and I would never just pick up the phone and call each other. Now, we’ll just pick up the phone every now and then and have a conversation, just because we’re invested in each other’s lives now. We have random Wednesday night dinners at my house, or we’ll get together at Dad’s lake house and come together for dinner and fellowship. It doesn’t have to be for any certain reason or strictly for business anymore – it’s just because we want to come together and spend time together. When someone is going through a hard time we come together, have a group discussion and make decisions as a family. Even if someone doesn’t like what the other one is saying, we can use our tools and communicate, be heard and not be defensive. As others have said, now we can actually come together and talk about Mom. I know we’ve had some conversations about when she was in hospice and the day she died, but we can also come together and talk about the happy times and the silly memories we all have. We do that almost every time we’re together now – something silly always comes up about Mom. We all have a CD of Mom’s recorded voice, singing to us and telling us how much she loves us. Any time she feels too far away, we can just pop that CD in and it brings comfort and warmth. The family is just closer. The communication between us is better than it’s ever been, by far.
Val: For me, pre-Pathways, I did a lot of things by obligation, just because I felt like I needed to or like I didn’t have a choice. In the training I learned how my heart works and what I need. I was still in the mourning phase of losing my mom during Pathways, and I got so much healing through that. I learned that it’s okay to be real. So now, the biggest change I see is… we’re not perfect by far, but I would say that we present real. If we don’t like something, we say it. Especially me – I don’t sugarcoat. What you see is what you get – even if it’s not the best, it’s still genuine. That’s one of the biggest things that’s changed with how I relate to the family. My mom was just such a great human being and a great mother, but I also inherited her tendency to love people so much that it actually requires giving away too much of yourself. I have learned through the pain that it’s healthy to love yourself first sometimes. I think we’ve all learned that through Pathways. We are just operating at a different level of authenticity with each other.
Dustin: Absolutely – we live in real. When we come together, whether it’s all of us or two of us, people can just see our authenticity. Complete strangers see what we have and ask us how we’re so close. We aren’t perfect, but we are working towards a shared goal of making our family our #1 priority. I just think that the values that mom and dad instilled within us from the beginning are finally starting to take root now as we’ve all come into our own. It looks a lot different now – I’ve had to explain to Chelsy how we used to engage because she doesn’t know my family pre-Pathways. She can’t even imagine how we functioned before because all she knows is this close-knit unit she sees now. Talking about this right now provides great perspective, because it makes me realize just how much we have grown through the program and through all of the hard work we’ve chosen to do since then.
Chelsy: As Dustin just brought up, it’s true that I didn’t know any of the Hillmans pre-Pathways and I also didn’t have the privilege to meet my mother-in-law Ruth. But I can tell you that I see her legacy living through them. I see the joy that they have. If you’ve spent any time around them, you know that they are all the life of the party and they are all so much fun. It means so much to me to feel like I know her through them, because I regret that my daughter and I won’t get to meet her this side of heaven. But, because the family has embraced celebrating her, I feel like I know her through the legacy she built while she was here.
Speaking of legacies, what part of your personality would you say you inherited from your mom? What could we see in you that looks like her?
Katrina: Our mom was very quirky, so the fun, crazy entertainer side of all of us we definitely got from her. For me, the fun and the caring side of her is what I really feel like I got from her. She would throw soapy water on the ground and we would put rags under our feet and that’s how we mopped the floor, singing and dancing the whole time. She unconditionally loved everyone that walked into her life. Before she knew them, she loved them. She held babies who belonged to total strangers, not even asking them if it was okay before she picked them up, cradling and cooing at them as if she was their own grandmother. It’s that kind of warmth that was modeled for us and I feel I present the same way.
Mike Jr.: The commander inside of Mom ensured that she always got stuff done, and she had no issues telling you how it was, or what needed to be done, or when you needed to step your game up. Whatever it was, she just told you how it was and that’s how you got it. I’m pretty sure that is how I got that side of me.
Teri: I’ll second that. I got her stubbornness and her love for people. She was always trying to make people happy and do for others. I think I got some of her goofiness. I like to be goofy with my children – we mop our floors the same way my Mom did. I’m looking forward to the days when my children are a little bit older and we can build a camaraderie and can just belly laugh and have fun. A little less corrective molding and a lot more connective bonding. My mom was my best friend in addition to being a strong parent, so that’s what I hope to emulate.
Mike Sr.: I just want to break in here and clarify that every single one of them inherited the stubbornness of their mother. J
Teri: Well, we might have just gotten that from both parents, Dad. J
Dustin: For me, I soaked up the ability to meet people right where they are. At a time in society when inclusiveness wasn’t considered the meritable ideal that it is today, she didn’t see race or social status. All of her friends came in different colors, shapes and sizes, and she didn’t care one bit. One day she brought home the bagging clerk from the Kroger, who was elderly and had a learning disability. She befriended her while checking out her groceries and brought her home because she seemed lonely and in need of some TLC. She just accepted everyone for who they were created to be, and I have that ability as well.
She also always helped you find creative solutions around things and never accepted defeat. She didn’t let people tell her how it is – that’s what I liked about her. She was a doer – she got stuff done.
Val: I’m pretty confident that Mom was a commander/entertainer. She was given a diagnosis that would have made most people believe the doctors’ predictions, stop trying to fight and just quit life… but she was persistent and she didn’t give up. She didn’t give up on us and she didn’t give up on herself, and I hope that I inherited that trait from her. Just seeing her fight and not quit pushed me and gave me a drive to embrace the truth that it’s only hard. I see and feel from her that she’s always with me, through all of this and everything in life. I know that I have the strength that she had, and I kind of feed off of that when trials arise in my life. She was tenacious – she had mettle, and even though she never went through Pathways she naturally grasped the concept of “it’s only hard” and lived her life that way. She had obstacles, but she always saw it as an opportunity.
What part of the HOPE acronym is most resonating with you during this season of your life?
Mike Sr.: Heart. Pathways has invigorated me to seek a better connection with my family and maintain a closer identification. It made me realize that I can’t do life by myself. At this stage of my life, I’m just enjoying my grandkids and working toward keeping myself together. I’m appreciative of my kids getting themselves on track and doing what they do best for themselves. I have full confidence in the lives my kids have built for themselves and I can sit back and reap the benefits now, instead of always worrying if they’ll be okay. I’m full of peace and pride about who they are and where they are going.
Teri: Passion. I am full of passion for my life, for raising these kids, for bringing the family back together, and for discovering and celebrating what the future has in store. I’m so grateful and excited that my kids get to grow up in a healthy family with strong communication and a positive outlook.
David: Ownership. Life is a series of choices, and I can choose to do the hard and walk into the unknown with confidence.
Mike Jr.: Elevate. I’m just focusing on elevating this family, learning more about each other, learning how to lift each other up to reach our highest potential and continue this legacy that our mom and dad shared with us, so that I can pass it down to my son and the whole next generation of the family.
Alicia: Goodness, do all of those HOPE words resonate with me! The one that stands out the most would have to be ownership. Since Pathways I have really come to understand what living MY best life looks like. It’s about finally being in the driver’s seat, and never letting life pass me by again. It’s about realizing that a stagnant life is a life I no longer choose to live anymore. In order to live a fearless, passionate, and fulfilled life, I have to step out in faith because this is my one shot at MY best life possible. I never dreamed that this organization would be the key in finding my spark again. Trusting the process never felt so good!
Dustin: This training helped me discover my passion for life. Walking into Pathways I was operating on autopilot – I was focused on getting the job done, not on enjoying life. I was choosing to love people from a distance in order to protect my heart. The training revealed the compassion I had for others, and it showed me what it was costing me to close myself off from not only the bad, but also the good. Leaving the training, I had a dream for my future and a new desire to continue my family’s legacy by building my own family.
Chelsy: I would say the Elevate element to the HOPE message resonates with my Pathways journey the most. I entered the training having no idea what the Pathways program could do for me. I came from a loving home, I had healthy relationships, and I thought I had everything together. It was through the training that I was able to better understand myself and how I operated. That understanding allowed me to break free from the things that I had no idea were standing in my way, and dismiss the things that were preventing me from living my truth 100% of the time. Now I know what an incredibly authentic relationship looks like, I know what I’m capable of when I push fear aside, and I know what it feels like to squash the voices telling me I should have known better when I make a mistake. I feel like I discovered a life for myself that is far more sincere, raw, and beautiful than what I ever thought possible.
Val: I am really taking steps to use the things that I’ve gone through to help other people, so I honestly have to say hope itself is my focus. I value being able to own hope for myself, and knowing that nothing and no one can take it from me.
Katrina: Heart. I function in a caring mode and came out of the training loving myself and able to love others fully. I have this strong, amazing family that I continue to love and grow alongside. For me it’s just about constantly functioning in my heart right now.