By Lori Hilliard
Four and a half years ago I went through a divorce. It was crazy and difficult. I had thought I would never, ever, ever be the woman who would have to go through that experience. But I did.
I have four beautiful children. At the time of the divorce they were 2, 4, 11 and 13 years of age. My second child was born with Downs' Syndrome. I was 41 years old. Many factors contribute to the challenges of a divorce.
A litany of questions came up for me at that time in my life. So much of my personal identity was related and linked directly to my marriage. I was a mother and a housewife. I struggled – well, no -- I fought – I fought hard to understand who I even was.
One day a few years after the divorce, a friend of mine gave me a beautiful bright blue book with an image of a white balloon on the cover. The book was titled, Just Who Will You Be?, by Maria Shriver. No single question had weighed greater on my mind following the divorce – I kept thinking, “Just who will I be?” I read that book and struggled to answer the question. But I could answer another question, and that was, "Who am I not?" I knew that I could not be the person who held onto pain and anger.
A few days after reading Ms. Shriver's book, I stumbled across a quote from Mister Rogers -- yes, that Mister Rogers. It was, "So in all you do in all of your life, I wish you strength and the grace to make the choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are." I knew that I wanted to live a life of "strength" and "grace." I knew that I wanted to share those qualities with everyone in my life.
Following my divorce I had searched and searched for a storybook I could share with my children that would explain what was happening in their lives. I found several wonderful books published on the subject of divorce, but they mostly featured make-believe characters like talking teddy bears. I wanted a real child’s face for my children to see and identify with -- a real face that would help them understand that other real children had been through a divorce and that it was not just a made up "character" story. I soon realized that I could write the book that I was searching for, and by doing so fulfill a great need.
And that is how I came to write the children's book Sending Love, My "Different-Functional" Family. The story is told through the eyes of my (then) 5-year-old son, Joshua. Just like us, children identify so much with their parents, family, school and friends. When something happens, and these touch points are changed and altered, the child is left asking, "Who am I?" I wanted my children to understand that a divorce is not their fault. I wanted them to understand that they are LOVE, that they were created in love, and that they are still loved -- like crazy.
The miracle I experienced by writing this book was the healing of my own heart as I tried to live "strength" and "grace." My relationship with my children's father was completely transformed. He helped with the photography in the book. We teach our children that they are still part of a wonderful family -- a beautiful "different-functional" family.
Looking back, writing this book was my "it" moment – the moment when life extended a mirror to me, allowing me to look deeply into my own reflection. As my eight-year-old daughter said when she was learning to skateboard, "Sometimes you are scared, but you just have to suck it up and do it." Taking this risk and pushing myself to write the book gave me the chance to make real, deep personal discoveries, and it also gave me the opportunity to pass on some small encouragement to those following me on the same path.