living the good life

the blog of denisse warshak

God answers prayer. Taking Dad home.


The last time I wrote, I begged for your prayers for my dad. I humbly asked that, together, we would knock on heaven’s door and ask God to take my dad home. As I write this, I realize God answered that prayer less than one day later. Less. than. one. day. later.

My mom, sisters, and I spent the last day by his side. I took photos of Dad’s hands with mine. I contemplated taking photos of him and with him, but decided against it. He didn’t look like himself anymore. There was no reason to record that image of him in my mind. He wouldn’t have wanted that. I also didn’t want my children to accidentally stumble upon those images. So, pictures of his hands it was.

We had stayed with him until 2 am. Mom snuck in bed with him for the first time, and I covered her up before we left. My sisters and I drove the ten minutes home and I fell asleep immediately, exhausted from the long day. Then, the phone rang at 5:40am. I didn’t even know whose phone it was. Monica came out of the bedroom and told us we had to go quick. It was time.

Panic set in. All four of us felt the buzz in the air. It was fear, excitement, butterflies in my stomach. I rushed to put on the clothes I had taken off only three hours earlier. They were the first I saw. They would do. Marcela was ready. So was I. The two of us got in my car and drove.

Less than ten minutes later we pulled into the parking lot of Pax Villa Hospice. Mom was sitting on the ground leaning on the building. “How is he? What happened?” I asked.

“He’s gone.” Her face was calm, but her eyes were red. Her hand shook as she held the cigarette to her lips.

I ran in. What I experienced when I walked into his room will forever be etched into my memory. The room was quiet, quite opposite of what it had been for the last nine days. The oxygen machine had been turned off. It seemed brighter in there, too. On the bed lay the still, lifeless body of the man who loved me my whole life. His hands had been placed on his chest. It looked wrong for them to be there because all the days before that they rested by his side. Without thinking, I touched them with my right hand. They were not warm anymore. Tears filled my eyes. I then slid my hand to his side. I felt his chest just under his arms. Still warm. I barely missed it, I thought.

I looked at his face. This, too, looked wrong. This face didn’t belong to my dad. His skin was much too smooth. The color wasn’t right. His jaw was open. I realized then that Marcela was standing next to me. She, for some reason, was trying to close his mouth and it wasn’t working. After many days of being this way, it couldn’t be moved. She found a small washcloth or some other small white towel and, again, tried to force it shut. “No,” I said. “You will break it.” I heard my own voice and realized how frantic I sounded.

Monica and Jessica showed up at some point. Mom came back in, too. Before I knew it, we were all gathered around him, holding hands, and praying. I prayed aloud, thanking God for taking him home. Thanking him for ending his pain. Thanking him for loving him and for the life Dad lived. My sisters prayed, too. Then mom pulled out a small black pouch from under his pillow. One by one, she pulled out beautiful crystal keychains and handed each of us one. I noticed the crystals were shaped like angels. I had noticed the black pouch before. Once when the chaplain had come to pray with us Mom had put the pouch in dad’s hands. I didn’t know the pouch had been under dad’s pillow all along. Mom explained that these little keychains were a gift to us. They had been with dad, in his hands, and blessed by the chaplain while he had prayed. Now we could have a little piece of him. We were all so thankful for the little gift.

Dad didn’t want anyone to see him after he died. He had asked mom and all his daughters to please have him cremated immediately. Thankfully I had made the arrangements for that earlier in the week and we didn’t have to think about that. The staff at hospice called the funeral home and they came. They showed up with a stretcher and went in his room once we were all out. After a few minutes they came out again. The bed obviously had my dad’s body on it, but it was covered with a navy blue blanket. When I saw them wheeling it out I caught myself in that frantic state again. Tears and a crazy voice. This was the last time I would ever be around my daddy here on earth. I couldn’t keep it together. It was too much. I watched as the stretcher was taken out to the parking lot and then loaded into the hearse.

And that was it.

My dear father-in-law pulled into the parking lot just then. He lovingly held my mom as she cried in his arms. Then he did the same with me. The sweet nurse who had cared for dad for the last nine days embraced us all. He was just arriving for his daytime shift at 7am. We will forever be grateful to him for his kindness. Hospice nurses are wonderful.

Monica asked Mom where Dad’s favorite place to eat breakfast was. It was a small Mexican restaurant close by. I remembered he had asked me to pick up tacos from there when he was at rehab not long ago. I couldn’t find the place and never did. Tears filled my eyes at that thought. We decided to go there. Someone mentioned Dad must be enjoying his first morning in heaven. Surely he was having his coffee and cookies right about then. The thought brought a smile to my face.

Dad passed away on June 23. He had his first stroke on March 23. His medical battle was exactly 3 months long. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe God had his hand in Dad’s life. Although he struggled those three months, I am thankful for the extra time with him. If God had taken him after the first stroke on March 23, we would have been so much more devastated. It would have been a shock to our family to have him taken so suddenly. Instead, God, in his loving kindness, prepared us and showed us his hand all along the way. We watched Dad decline. We watched him lose his abilities. We understood that, when the time came, he needed to go home. We didn’t want him to suffer. We didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. And goodness, how hard to be in a body that didn’t work and without being able to speak! My poor daddy!

I miss him very much. I’m grateful for the times in the hospital and rehab those last 3 months. I spent more time with him then than I had in the last several years.

And my mom, well, she is amazing. I watched her during the 3 months, too. She loved Dad unconditionally. She was always there for him. Although she continued to work, she stayed with him overnight in hospitals, spend all her time in rehab, and took care of him that entire time. I have beautiful memories of her selflessly helping him dress, walk, and eat. One time she was walking him to the bathroom and sang a song as if they were dancing the whole way. The two of them were always happy and positive. And yet, when he suffered, she suffered right alongside him. These days, she is the one hurting. She is the one who misses him every second of every day. Please pray for her. Pray that God would comfort her and guide her as she moves forward. I miss my dad, but I can’t imagine how much she must miss him. I know Dad is in heaven, rejoicing, with no more pain or suffering, but Mom is still here. She is suffering the loss of her husband and the life she had. I hurt for her more than I hurt for myself.

Lord, comfort her. Guide her. In Jesus’ name. 

We had a beautiful celebration for Dad. His motorcycle friends reserved the Chapel by the Sea at South Padre Island and over fifty bikes drove the hour and a half to give their dear Arturito his last ride. After a sweet service in which people shared funny stories and memories of him, we released his ashes out on the open road at the beach. It was what he would have wanted. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.

I could go on forever. I’ve been typing for over an hour and my face and eyes are red from all the crying. This is the most I’ve cried since June 23. I guess I needed to get this out. (I apologize for grammatical errors. I’m not going to reread this one!) Thanks for the prayers for our family. We love and appreciate every one of you!

It’s not Goodbye… Just See you later.

dad1             dad2

Today is day 8 in hospice care for dad. God is giving me a precious gift at this moment, a clear blue sky in the break of the heavy storm I’ve lived in for the last 12 days. My heart wants to express in words what it is feeling. And so, here I am, writing.

As I sit in this room with my dad declining, watching my dear mother nap crookedly in a hospital grade recliner, I can hear my dad’s breaths. He is sleeping comfortably. We are continually reassured that he feels no pain or discomfort. The medications are making him comfortable in his final days. We sit at his side, waiting. We wait for God’s sweet mercy to take him home to heaven.

Let me explain what has happened. My dad’s first stroke happened March 23. He was released a couple of days later, only to have another more intense stroke on March 28. My sweet dad has not been home since. He has been shuffled from hospital to hospital, having complication after another. He had infections, internal bleeding, you name it. Then when deemed well enough to progress he was taken to rehabilitation centers, only to get sick and end up at the hospital again. It’s been a rollercoaster. It’s been frustrating, upsetting, and leaves us all feeling helpless.

Dad is a fighter. He always works hard, does therapy with a positive and willing attitude. His personal goal was always to get healthy so he’d be able to go back home with my mom, his dear, dear love.

Last Saturday morning, something changed. Dad was found unable to speak, with the left side of his body completely paralyzed, and the right shaking/trembling uncontrollably. He had lost the ability to swallow. He had previously lost most of his vision, and we didn’t know how much of it was left after this. Dad had suffered another stroke overnight. This one has been the worst yet.

And now here we are. Doctors told us there was nothing we could do. If we give him blood thinners, he will bleed internally, they said. If we don’t he will continue to have strokes and ultimately one of them will take his life. There is no way to treat him. Hospice was offered. Here we are. Twelve days after the BIG stroke.

My heart is heavy. It’s broken actually. Seeing my dad go through this is excruciating. Seeing my mom watch him go through this is worse. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be by their side since this started 12 days ago. My amazing husband is holding down the fort at home with our kids as a gift to me. He is gifting me with the time and freedom to be present for my dad’s last days on this earth. I’m so grateful.

And yet, with that gratefulness comes guilt and pain, too. I should be with my kids, I think. This is hard on them, too. And the cycle of pain for all of us affected is ever-present. Only God is able to heal and comfort our hurting hearts.

It’s been hard explaining this situation to our kids, ages 10, 7, and 5. We explained that their sweet Tito is not going to get better. That this body here on earth is not working, and that Jesus will soon take him home to heaven. It’s not ‘Goodbye,’ I tell them. It’s just ‘See you later.’ All of this because we have the hope that we will be in heaven with God forever because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So today, this 8th day of hospice care for Dad, I seek your prayers. I humbly ask that you join me and my family as we pray for my dad. For our All-Loving, All-Knowing, Powerful God to take him to a place where there is no more suffering or pain. A sweet, sweet place where there will be no more tears. I place where he can dwell with him forever and ever. And best of all, a place where all who believe in Jesus can also dwell someday in his presence.


Those Who Died in Christ

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [k]in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [l]and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [m]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive [n]and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.


Faith like a child.

I’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room. He looks tired, weak, and fragile. It’s hard to see my Superman like this.

I’ve been sad about my dad’s health this week. He has had a series of strokes and infection that have brought him down. It seems one thing after another is slowing down his progress.

A few days ago I decided to share how I’m feeling with Emma. I’m sure my kids see that I’m sad, quieter than usual, and maybe more irritable. Being the oldest, I thought she might understand.

“I’m really sad, Lulu. Tito is really sick. He’s been in the hospital for a while now, and more little things keep making him sicker. Will you pray with me for Tito to get better?”

“Yes, Mommy,” she said. So we prayed together. We prayed for healing, for comfort, for Tita who is taking care of him, for the doctors and nurses around him, and anything else we could thing of.

“I know how you feel, Mommy,” she said all of a sudden. “My daddy was sick, too. God made him better.”

Yikes. My stomach sank. My heart started beating faster. I hadn’t thought of that! Four years ago it was her whose daddy was so sick. Emma understands what I’m going through.

“Mommy, we prayed for daddy to get better and he did. Your daddy will get better, too.”

Sweet girl. Oh, to have faith like a child.

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder through my daughter. We believe you will heal Tito. Hear our prayers.

Mark 10:13-16 says:

13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.


Please join me in praying for my dad. God is good!

Ian’s adventure continues…


While the rest of the Cloudwalkers are heading home today, Ian is not. He and a friend are staying in Tanzania a few more days. The reason he is staying is the only reason I am jealous of him taking this trip.

In June 2009, when Emma was three years old and Jack only 6 months old, we started sponsoring two children through the organization, Compassion International. For six and a half years we have sent them $76 each month, a small amount for us that we are sure makes a big impact in their lives. We have corresponded with them, sending letters and photos of our family. Even better, they have written to us and sent us photos of them, too. I love talking to our kids about our two kids, Phoebe and Elinathan. We often wondered what they were doing, eating, playing, and prayed for their health and safety. Above all, we prayed that they would hear about Jesus and believe.

Fast forward six years. Who would have ever thought that Ian would be visiting Tanzania??? We sure didn’t expect it! And yet, God had plans for Ian to climb Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, where Phoebe and Elinathan live!!! There was no way Ian would be in their home country and NOT SEE them. NO WAY! So, he is staying behind. He is on his way right now. He and his friend have taken a plane to the opposite side of Tanzania, to the plains of Shirati where our sweet kids live. I am so so so excited for him!!! I wish I could teleport and meet them, too.



We bought them soccer balls for Ian to give them as gifts. He is also bringing them each a photo frame with a pic of our family. Someone suggested that he take a pic with them while he is there, so we can mail it to them afterward. I think it will be so neat for him to meet these kids… to see where they live… for them to know that we are a real family and really care about them. I truly can’t wait to see photos of him with them!

So, all of that to say, keep up the prayers for Ian. He said the runway they landed on was dirt. They had to slow down because of cattle on the road. Pray for safety.

I’ll update soon.

Update on Ian in Kilimanjaro-Day 4


I was curious to see exactly where Ian is right now. Maybe you are, too. As you can see, he is getting pretty close to the top. The team went through Lava Tower and Arrow Glacier today. They are spending the night at Barranco Camp. I might be wrong about this, because I don’t remember exactly how many days they are making their hike, but I would guess the following is the plan.

Day 5 (SUNDAY)- hike to Karanga Camp

Day 6 (MONDAY)- hike to Barafu Camp

Monday night (close to midnight Tuesday morning) start the hike to Uhuru Peak and reach it at sunrise. Get to the summit Uhuru on TUESDAY. They will spend a few minutes there, take pics, and head back down.

Complete the hike Wednesday or Thursday through Mweka Camp.

If any of you out there know any of this for sure, or can tell me if I am wrong, please please correct me! 🙂






Real Life Heroes: Ginger, Troy, Jim, & Andrea


I’ve been getting ready for this post for a while. (You may have noticed I haven’t written in a few days. You’ll see why.)

Grab some tissues for this one.


A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. While we were talking she said, “Oh, you have to meet Ginger. She has a great story.”

I learned Ginger had twin girls my daughter’s age. She also had three older kids. Our kids had been in the same school for years and our three had never been in the same class. Hmm, I thought. I should meet this Ginger.

I didn’t realize until later, but Ginger had actually contacted me while we were going through everything with Ian. After he had his fingers amputated, I changed all of our dishes to melamine ones (plastic.) I was determined to have Ian help me in the kitchen again, and I figured it would be nicer for them to be lighter and not breakable. Anyway, Ginger sent me a sweet email offering to give me some new melamine dishes she had just bought. She was kind in her email, telling me her family was praying for Ian.  I replied to her email and thanked her, but said I’d found some already. That was the end of it.

For the next year, I continued to hear about this Ginger. We just kept missing each other. I knew OF her, and I think she knew OF me. We both wanted to meet each other. Then it happened. We were both registered to attend a writing conference in the summer of 2014. Would you believe we lived in San Antonio, but ended up meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina?

She was as sweet as everyone said she was. She was warm and kind. She said she was a speaker and she was writing a book with her husband. Then she shared her story with me. I was blown away.


Troy and Ginger were happily married with five kids. Troy was in the Air Force, and in Sept 2006, was deployed to Iraq. He said goodbye to his wife and kids that morning, not knowing it would be the last time. Sadly, Troy was killed in a plane crash.

Ginger lost her husband. Their five kids lost their daddy. Americans lost a brave young hero.

As I write this, I try to put myself in Ginger’s shoes. My husband is gone. I have five kids to take care of on my own. My kids won’t have their daddy. My twins are not even a year old! What am I going to do? How am I going to survive this? 

There are just no words.

Meanwhile, another beautiful story had unfolded. Let me just say, I didn’t know any of the following people.


Jim and Andrea were married. They had two sons. They, too, were an Air Force family. Andrea was a brave young woman fighting cancer. Darn that dreaded nightmare that is cancer. I hate cancer.

Sadly, Andrea lost her battle with cancer. Her loving husband, Jim, was left to raise their kids without their beautiful mother.


This is where my own writing stops. I don’t have the words to adequately tell this story. I tried, but I fall short. Ian just got back from a run and found me sobbing in front of my computer at my kitchen table.

Instead, I will share their words. This is written by Jim, from their blog. Again, I urge you to get tissues.

This blog began as as an account of Andrea’s and my journey though breast cancer and her eventual death. My intention was to chronicle our experiences from sickness to physical healing but God revealed His plan was beyond the mere physical. I have continued to experience healing in my life and now God has opened a door to a new chapter in my life. This journey has not ended but has transformed into a new normal and the hope of a new beginning

My monthly updates, which grew into this blog, reached an Air Force pilot’s wife in Jan 2007 who had lost her husband two months prior. Her name is Ginger and her husband’s name was Troy. Through this tragic bond developed a friendship. And now, through marriage, God has merged all of our journies to healing. This blog is a compilation of these four lives; two sadly taken and two left behind. In this common grief God has given Ginger and I a desire to journal our experiences as therapy for our pain and a source of encouragement to others who face life’s most enormous challenges

Andrea was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in Aug 2003 while we were stationed in Anchorage Alaska. After 6 months of chemo and radiation we moved to Washington DC. In June 2005 we moved again to Seymour Johnson AFB in NC. Two weeks later Andrea was told the pain in her hip was breast cancer that had spread to her bones. Two weeks later we were told the cancer was also in her liver and lungs. July 5th 2005 Andrea began chemo treatment. On Dec 17th 2007 Andrea lost her fight with cancer but won her place in eternity.

Troy was a loving father of 5 children, and like Andrea was a
faithful servant of Christ. Troy was an F-16 pilot who volunteered to serve in Iraq. He deployed in Sept 2006. One day during his tour there he was tasked to provide close air support to a special operations unit who had come under overwhelming enemy fire. In an attempt to limit civilian causalities Troy made two low level passes employing the gun from his F-16. After a successful first pass Troy attempted a second pass to ensure the safety of the American soldiers. It was during this pass that Troy’s F-16 impacted the ground. On Nov 27th 2006, Troy lost the fight in Iraq and that day won his place in eternity.

This blog is about our experiences, what God has taught us and most importantly about God’s faithfulness. It is about dealing with life with cancer and life after cancer. It is about dealing with the sudden tragic loss of a spouse. It is about death and life and the deep grieving and growing process we are going through. It is about our victories and our struggles. But always it is about God’s unfailing love for us.


This is their beautiful blended family. I love how God has joined these people!



Our girls did eventually end up in the same class. And, wouldn’t you know, they got along beautifully! The three have such gentle, sweet spirits. Only God could know they would need those having gone through what they have in their short lives.

I am blessed to know of Ginger, AND to count her as one of my friends. She is amazing. Jim, well, he is an outstanding man. I pray my boys will grow up to be the caliber of man he is. Jim now runs the organization Folds of Honor. Folds of Honor awards scholarships to children and dependents of military who have been killed or disabled in combat. Ginger is a speaker and shares their story with others in similar situations.

Ginger and Jim are real life heroes. Troy and Andrea are heroes, too. Although they were gone too soon, they will definitely not be forgotten. Jim describes it perfectly on their blog. They are four lives; two sadly taken and two left behind.


This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)

Real Life Hero: Matthew M.


This guy is amazing. Ian and I met him at a coffee shop in town a while back. He came up to Ian and just asked him about his legs. Why he’d picked those, what he liked about them, etc. We thought he was a newbie amputee and we might be helping him. Come to find out, HE was the pro and was able to shed some light for Ian.

Matthew’s story is amazing. I thought about rewriting his story, but decided against it. I’ll let him tell you the story. You can read all about him below. In his own words. 🙂

He truly is a REAL LIFE HERO!


“My name is Matthew Melancon, retired Sergeant. I am a motivational speaker and a double amputee. At the age of 18 I joined the Army and served in Northern Iraq from 2009-10 as a Scout/Sniper with the 1st Infantry Division out of Ft. Riley, Kansas. After being stationed in Grafenwoier, Germany, with the 172nd, I got deployed to the Paktika Province in Afghanistan as Machine Gun Team leader. While on a routine patrol in Afghanistan on September 18, 2011, the MRAP I was riding in was hit by an IED; both of my feet were shattered and ankles dislocated. My injuries required two-dozen surgeries over a two-year period, and resulted in my electing to amputate both legs below the knee. I have been honored with awards for my service, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Purple Heart.” 

On September 18, 2015, Unstoppable Hero, Wounded in Combat Veteran Matt Melancon, penned these words, “Tomorrow (September 18, 2015) is a very special day for me. Tomorrow will be my 4th anniversary of my “bad day at the office.” But that is not what this post is about… Today marks another special day only two years ago. Two years ago today I was sitting alone in an empty apartment. I was less than a month from my first amputation and almost 300lbs. As a result of my pending divorce I had no money, confidence or hope. My chain of command had been convinced I was abusing my wife and thus threw me my DD21 and said get out. It was on this night two years ago I felt the coil of hopelessness wrap itself around me, making it physically difficult to breath. I held my Sig 226, the one I bought myself for surviving an IED, resting against my temple, and I simply saw no other way out. I was a failed soldier, a failed leader, a failed husband and now a cripple. There simply wasn’t any hope left for me. I de-cocked the hammer, and curled into a ball and cried myself to sleep, I wasn’t going to be reduced to a statistic that day. Two years later I am more complete and whole than I ever dreamt possible. I have seen and done things that they alone would have made a life worth living. Everyone sees the “Extrovert Matt” who has it all going for him. But know, I too have my demons, and that all I have to do is turn and see them waiting for me to fail. But I am here today, the man I am, because of love. Not “Initiaves” or “Awareness”!! Do NOT be so naive as to think throwing money at organizations or “projects” will make this stop! Don’t think because you do push-ups and wear an awkward ring make these suicides stop! All your doing is letting emotions line someone’s pocket! Me being aware of your “awareness” is not the reason I’m here today. The love of the dedicated doctors and nurses and physicians is why. The love of those who stuck by and those who have joined me is why. Don’t be a statistic my brothers and sisters! Don’t become a number! Just keep growing! Don’t ever stop growing. It’s never over until you say it is. I love you all.”

The following day, Matt wrote, “On this day four years ago (September 18, 2015), I climbed into my truck and went out on my last mission as United States Army Infantryman. As we pulled through an intersection the IED detonated and the trucks V-hull design saved our lives. Unfortunately there was supposed to be a $20 rubber matt insulating my feet from the metal floor. It’s absence caused the energy transfer to make my heels explode inside of my feet. When we landed I was saved from a TBI and stayed conscious, but running off adrenaline, I leapt from truck to render aid to my driver. The “impact” with the ground drove my ankles through my feet. Breaking and dislocating them.

I would spend the next two years enduring 22 surgeries as I waited for the docs to put me back together again, and grew more angry and disheartened with each setback. Everything changed when MRSA infected my left foot and I was made an amputee. My success completely depended on me, and the work I was willing to put in! I got invited to an event by “Warfighter Sports” called Ski Spectacular and I would meet Team Utah, and witness everything I could become! Champions who were going to represent our country as amputees. That moment changed everything. I would go on to live a year so intensely, my right foot simply couldn’t keep up, and I would have it amputated and begin my therapy over again just so I could keep pursuing my dreams.

Four years ago I was simply living to check off the list of things you’re “supposed” to do. Today I stand more complete and whole than I ever imagined. I am grateful every single day for that IED and the way it destroyed my world. Two weeks ago I packed up all my stuff in Texas and moved to my home state of Utah, so I can train with those very same people who showed me that anything is possible. I was not a snowboarder, I was not an athlete, I was a boy with a gun and a dream of making the world a better place. Today I am a mentor, counselor, ambassador, and I will do whatever it takes to earn the prestige of being an athlete who wears this country’s colors again!

“What is a seed, but unlimited potential, and possibility. But for it to become anything, it’s shell must crack and its insides spill out, everything about it changes. If you didn’t know what growth was, it would look like complete and utter destruction.”
Thank you everyone for all your support as I faced trial after trial! Thank you for not giving up me, even after all the times I gave up on myself. My life isn’t about proving anyone wrong anymore, it’s about proving all of you right! Thank you, I love you all.”

Matt has been doing amazing things and continues to motivate others all over the country. He is a well-sought after motivational speaker.

Real Life Hero: Jeff J.


We live in the land of the free because of the brave. Jeff J. is one of the brave.

Jeff is a wonderful husband to Allison and an amazing dad to their two kids (and one on the way.) He’s a go getter, determined to live life to the fullest, with a positive attitude no matter what comes.

Jeff’s story is a tough one to swallow. I’m hoping I can do it justice, keeping the facts straight and his integrity intact.

Jeff was deployed to Iraq from March 2004 through March 2005. During that year he went on over 700 patrols in the slums of Baghdad. During a patrol in May his unit came under heavy fire. A RPG (rocket propelled grenade) pierced his unit’s Bradley tank. His back was broken in multiple places.

God showed him mercy. He recovered and came home to his beautiful wife.

Sadly, ten years later these injuries continue to cause major back problems. Jeff deals with pain daily, and on a normal day his legs go numb around lunch time. Doctors say not much can be done. Despite the daily struggles, however, Jeff never complains. If you see him in public, you would never know the pain he is in.

In addition, eight months of heavy combat are hard to forget. Jeff also deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to traumatic events, specifically warfare in Jeff’s case. Symptoms include disturbing recurring flashbacks that can last months or years after the events. He has nightmares once a week to this day.

Although he has sought treatment, PTSD is something he will never fully get over. In addition to nightmares, Jeff also has adverse reactions to loud, unexpected noises. Fireworks on holidays, for example, send his mind back to his days in Iraq. The memories are unbearable.

Learning Jeff’s story has given me a new appreciation for our military servicemen. Their experiences during war are horrific. When they return home, they do not just forget what happened and move on. No. They live with the effects of their experience for the rest of their life. Knowing this about Jeff has helped me realize that some disabilities, although not visible, still have life-changing impact on a person. We should all keep this mind, especially in the case of veterans.

Jeff is a true hero.

He has displayed courage, bravery, and self-sacrifice, in this case, for the greater good of his country. 

We should all be thankful to him for his service and for his willingness to defend this great nation.

Thank you, Jeff, for being a real life hero.

Thank you for being selfless.

Thank you for living your life as an example for us all to follow.

You are appreciated! Your efforts and hardship will not be forgotten.


This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)

Real Life Hero: Alana W.


Jessica met Alana through their kids’ school. She immediately loved her thick southern accent and infectious laugh. The two became great friends. Jessica considers Alana her real life hero and was anxious to share her story. Most of this post was written by Jessica.


A little more than a year ago, Alana was diagnosed with breast cancer. Knowing she had a difficult battle in front of her, she faced it head on and never lost sight of what she was fighting for-her beautiful family. She had the love and support of her wonderful husband and two children, as well as friends and family all around her.

This is an entry from her page. (in Alana’s own words)

After attending the Justin Timberlake concert in New Orleans on August 3rd, I discovered a lump in my left breast after taking off my very uncomfortable strapless bra. Chalking it up to a night of fun and an ill-fitting bra, I carried about my time in New Orleans and then the following week in Mississippi. We returned to Austin and I made an appointment with my doctor. She saw me the next day, August 12th, and then ordered a mammogram for the following day, Wednesday the 13th. To be honest, I was not that worried because the lump was painful and breast cancer is not supposed to hurt. Right? Regardless, I had my mammogram on Wednesday and the radiologist immediately ordered an ultrasound which was done at the same appointment. After the ultrasound, the Radiologist asked to meet with me in private. Uh oh. He informed me that the lump had calcifications around it and then a line of calcifications extending 10 centimeters from the lump. He said the lump measured 1.6 centimeters. I asked what all of that meant. His reply was “I am concerned. You need a biopsy right away.” Well crap. I had a biopsy the next day, Thursday, August 14th. However before the biopsy was even done the surgeon told me that I had breast cancer. She was very matter of fact and left no room for doubt. She proceeded with the biopsy. There was a fear that the lump was attached to my pectoral muscle. I was sent home to wait for the results over the weekend. The longest weekend of my life. I was convinced I had stage 3 cancer and was worried I wasn’t going to be ok. On Monday the 18th, I found out I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Poorly differentiated. I was devastated. I did learn, however, that it didn’t appear to be attached to my pectoral muscle and that I most likely had caught it early. The pain was from the tumor pressing against my muscle, causing soreness. I breathed a little sigh of slight relief. My cancer is fast growing and aggressive. If it had gone untreated, who knows what could have happened! Wearing that strapless bra that pressed the lump into my muscle causing soreness truly saved me! (Thank you, Justin Timberlake for “making” me dress up for you and your concert! ) The next 2 weeks were filled with endless doctor appointments, more biopsies (ouch), more mammograms, ultrasounds, and lots of fear. Today, I’m ready to fight this cancer and come out like a champ. I am positive and ready. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but I also feel confident that I will be ok. My kids are being brave and seem to be handling all of this ok. My husband has been a rock and his faith that I will be healed has never wavered. The Lord promised to never leave me or forsake me. I know He has me in His hands and will see me through this. My prayer has been one of thankfulness and faith. I can’t wait to see what God does through our family and I can’t wait to see how He delivers us from this nasty thing called cancer. We are ready.


At the time, she thought it was probably stage two. She was scheduled to go in for a double mastectomy and we had a big going away party for her boobies. She was so strong and brave and always had a smile on her face. Her faith was and still is very strong. That is one of the main things that has gotten her through all of this.

She had the surgery and found out that the cancer was also in 10 of 32 of the lymph nodes they removed. One of them had erupted and which caused it to spread to other parts of her body. She was dealing with a diagnosis of Stage IV, which is incurable.

She had such a difficult battle in front of her.

She went through chemo, lost her hair, bought wigs and hats with hair. She changed her diet completely and gave up so many things that would not be beneficial in her fight. After she finished chemo, she had to have radiation for some spots on her sternum.

The road has not been easy, but she has endured it like a champ.


Fast forward a year. Alana has been declared NED! That means NO EVIDENCE OF DESEASE! She will be the first to tell you that it is a miracle, that her faith in Jesus is what cured her.

When asked why Alana is her hero, Jessica responded,

She is one of my heroes because she never lost faith or sight of what is important. While she and I have a very different religious and spiritual belief, it has never been an issue. She just has the biggest heart and so much determination. She knew she had to fight and she did it with everything she had and she gave control to God because that is what she felt she needed to do. I am a fighter too and very strongly believe that you always have to try to see some sort of good in everything, in every situation. She believes she was given all of this for a reason, she may not know it yet, but that God has a plan for her. I admire her attitude and her will and her faith.

Thank you, Jessica for sharing this amazing story of a real life hero. Thank you, Alana, for being that hero for those around you! You are a true example of strength and perseverance. You never gave up hope.


This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)

Real Life Hero: Laura B.


{Guest post by my dear friend, Katie K. }


It was two weeks before my due date with my second child, our son Rhys.  I thought my regularly scheduled check-up was no big deal and my husband was even golfing an hour away that afternoon.  But when my doctor listened to his hunch and monitored us, he saw that my son was in trouble and needed to be born that day through an emergency C-section.  I was all alone and didn’t even see my husband until hours later when I woke up and he told me that our son was in the NICU.


As someone that already had one healthy child, I never expected Rhys’ birth to turn out the way it did. It almost didn’t turn out at all!  But we soon learned that we were going to be spending a lot of time at the NICU, and one of the incredible people that we encountered would soon become our favorite nurse and friend, Laura Blair.


When you don’t understand all the processes and medical terminology for things that suddenly start happening in a loved one’s care, a nurse becomes your special insider.  They see everything that happens in between the rare occasions when you get to see and talk with a doctor.  They administer all the medications, monitor vitals, feed and hold these babies around the clock.  They are the lifeline some parents need desperately when their child stays in the hospital but they must return to work or other children at home.  I cannot over-emphasize enough how comforting it is as a parent to see a familiar face and know that someone has been giving your baby love and attention when you cannot be there 24/7.


Laura shared positive moments with us and always had a kind word.  She exuded joy in helping others and shared how much her job meant to her.  Laura helped us understand the possible changes and helpfully answered questions.  She was a calming presence and her kindness will always be remembered by both my husband and myself.  On the days when she wasn’t assigned to be with Rhys, we felt like a friend was missing.


They must give serious treatment to these nurses in order to teach them to be encouraging but not give false hope to families.  Some of the nurses told us stories of babies that had been in the NICU for over a year, celebrating each milestone with the nurses that grew to love and cherish them.  Our extended stay (almost 6 weeks total) was an emotional rollercoaster.  One day things would be improving but the next day they were heading back in the opposite direction.  Doctors would talk to us about doing an invasive procedure but then decide it was best to keep waiting.  We saw specialists, did a million tests and felt torn every day that our baby wasn’t home with us.


I truly believe that it takes a very brave person to be a NICU nurse.  To see  the tiniest, most fragile patients and not lose faith.  To look at scared parents longing for hope and tell them that you will be there to do all that you can.  Laura comes from a big family where she was always helping take care of kids.  She has such a giving heart and sees her job as a blessing.  Even now, her husband is deployed to Afghanistan and she is serving as a nurse in El Paso.  Laura is a hero to us for the blessing she was to our family and we know she will do the same for many more families in the future!


This post is part of a series of 31 Real Life Heroes. If you’d like to nominate your hero, please email dwarshak(at)