Sunday, May 1, 2016

Thank You from Our Home to Yours

 A Belated Happy Easter from Our House to Yours

Rare picture of me with the children

Dear Editor,

Fourteen years ago this May my life was forever altered when my first husband was tragically killed in a military plane collision leaving me a widow at the age of twenty-five with two children under the age of two to raise. Two years later I moved to Steubenville, Ohio in order to pursue my masters degree at Franciscan University. While most people in my life thought I was crazy for moving to a town where I didn't know a soul instead of moving back home to be closer to family, I knew without a doubt that this was the journey God had in store for my children and myself. I was lucky enough to fall in love a second time and after remarrying we decided to put down roots and open a business nine years ago. The past nine years have been quite the family journey that included buying a small farm, homeschooling and having three more babies.

Unfortunately tragedy struck once again a year ago this May 1st. I once again unexpectedly became a single mom. At this time my family and I would like to take the time to publicly thank some of the people who have helped us through this past year. First I would like to thank Sheriff Abdalla, Captain Susan Bell and all of the sheriff deputies. I would like to thank all of the staff of the Jefferson County Jail. Thank you for helping to keep all of us safe. Thank you as well to the Steubenville Police Force. You have answered every call over this past year with professionalism and kindness. Thank you to Prosecutor Jane Hanlin, Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Bruzzesse, Detective John Lelless and the judges who serve Jefferson County for your hard work and dedication. I wish to also thank defense attorney Stephen Stickles and the other defense lawyers that serve our area so that our justice system can work the way our founding fathers intended it to work. During the past year I was also blessed to receive help from attorney Francesca Carinci and her secretary Amanda Varner. Thank you so much for helping me to navigate the legal system that I found myself suddenly involved in and for always answering my calls and concerns. To all the staff I have encountered in both the courthouse and the city municipal offices: thank you for always politely answering my answers and sending me to the correct office to get the help I needed. Lisa Scott, the Jefferson County Victim's Assistance Coordinator, has helped us to navigate the very confusing stream of paperwork that entered my life. Marisa Bortz, an advocate from the A.L.I.V.E. domestic violence shelter became a friend when I was in desperate need and didn't even know how to ask for the help that I needed. Thank you Marisa for listening to your gut and calling me personally on two different days when I was barely hanging on emotionally and really needed an advocate for our situation. Thank you to Eileen Spencer and everyone associated with A Caring Place and the vital services that they provide for families in crisis. I wish to thank the staff of Jefferson County Job and Family Services. You provide a public service that is desperately needed to help keep our children safe. Too often people criticize you instead of validating the tough jobs you have. I thank all of you for your help in our case as well. I especially thank the foster care families in Jefferson County, especially the family that helped protect my children while my innocence was proven. Thank you for loving them for those few days and for continuing to check on them and for becoming my friend. Thank you to our personal counselors, whose names I won't list for our own privacy. Thank you for helping us to get through this tragedy.

While I hesitate to start to list the following names, in fear that I may accidentally leave a name out, there are a few more people that we really need to thank. Without going into details, many people know that we almost lost our business during the course of the past year. During this past year a miracle was pulled off by the grace of God and the many prayers of my family, friends and customers. I know that many people thought I was crazy for fighting to keep my store open. Many people think I am crazy for still choosing to live in Steubenville and for not moving away from here. But you see, some things are worth fighting for. For my life both my children and the livelihood that the business can someday provide for them are ones that I consider a fight worth fighting. Fighting to stay in Steubenville is worth it as well. I firmly believe that if you pray as if everything depends on God and then work as if everything depends on you that things will work out. Now God doesn't necessarily provide for our needs in the way we wish and dream for, but He does provide.

The biggest hero of my story besides the resilient strength and love of my children is my now ex mother-in-law. She kept her word from nine years ago and chose to stay here and become, as she refers to herself, the “granny nanny.” If I work seventy hours during a week then she works seventy-five hours taking care of the children. Without her love and support I would have had to close our store as soon as our tragedy occurred. Thank you mom for loving me and your grandchildren to make all the sacrifices you are making! Without the financial support of both my parents, sister, other extended family members and friends across this great country the store would have had to close while I was fighting to get refinanced. It was very humbling since I had never asked for money since I was nineteen years old. Thank you for being faithful! Thank you to my past staff, especially Karen O'Day-Cooper, the former assistant manager. Thank you for stepping up and serving our customers especially on those days when you were suppose to be off of work. Thank you to my current staff that is continuing to give our customers the great service they have come to expect from our tiny store. Thank you to my customers past, present and future. I cannot tell you how much your words of kindness, prayers and financial support both through the store and with donations to our Go FundMe and to me personally have meant! Truly our doors would have closed last August and this past January through March if you hadn't provided for me and the children while I knocked on yet another bank door. I cannot even begin to try to list you all by name in fear of accidentally missing one name. Thank you to my extended UPS and The UPS Store colleagues: you truly mean it when you say “UPS is a family.”

Thank you to all the parishioners of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Weirton, WV. Your love and support has helped to keep us going. Thank you to the parishioners of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hopedale, Ohio and St. Terese Catholic Church in Cadiz, Ohio since they are my second “home” parish for those weekends when I can't make it to Weirton. Thank you to Michele Santin from the Office of Family and Social Concerns (Catholic Charities) for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville. During this past year instead of being able to buy for a child on the Christmas giving tree my children were the ones listed on a giving tree. Thank you to those anonymous souls that put smiles on my children's faces on Christmas morning by buying the presents I couldn't afford. Thank you as well to Catholic Charities for the help with a utility bill the one month that I was especially desperate for help. Thank you to the anonymous souls that have loaned me money without interest. Thank you as well to those who helped buy my kids back to school clothes and supplies, birthday and Easter presents. Thank you to those who provided us meals, Kroger gift cards and gas cards. All these little donations added up to help provide for our basic needs this past year. Thank you to those priests who gave us spiritual counseling over the past year. There were so many I am afraid to try to name you all, but I do have to thank two in particular: Father Francis of the Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Father Gregory Thompson of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church. Thank you for providing the corporal work of mercy by visiting my now ex-husband in prison. I saw you also provide friendship and comfort to the other families visiting prisoners. Thank you for providing that great need to those who desperately need God's mercy and kindness.

The tragedy that occurred in our life has meant that I had to go to work full time and thus stop homeschooling my children. I would be remiss if I didn't thank those people who have stepped up to help us. First, thank you to our amazing local Heart of Mary Catholic homeschool community! I truly miss seeing all of you at extra-curricular events. Last summer many of you stepped up to help with babysitting. It meant so much to know that my children were in loving homes those few times that neither I nor their grandmother could babysit. Thank you to the Encounter Youth Group. Last summer many of the youth and their parents spent a work day at our farm. Thank you from the bottom of my heart especially since we do not actively attend your activities. Thank you to the Mary Seat of Wisdom Classical Co-op. It was my privilege to have taught there a few short years and I truly miss all the parents and children. Thank you for providing this last year of transition for my youngest child. Thank you to our new schools: Steubenville High School, Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School and the Immaculate Heart Montessori School. Words cannot even begin to express how much the support, kindness and love has been from all the staff, teachers and families. It means so much to know that my children are attending schools where I know that people are looking out for their well being when I can't be there with them. It wasn't the easiest of years for us emotionally and I know that many of you have helped my children. To the many health professionals who provide for our health: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Finally I would like to thank all the wonderful people of our tri-state area. Too often we get down about our area. We list all the things that are wrong with it and not what is going right. Hopefully after twelve years I won't offend anyone as I now claim this as my adopted “home town.” Our area is still going through its painful economic transition, but it has one thing going right for it: it has the best people in the world fighting for it. I can't even begin to list all the people by name who have helped me over the years. Five years ago I almost died from pregnancy complications and people brought us meals for months. Some of them were complete strangers, but put themselves on the schedule a friend made up to coordinate meals. We experienced that same kindness this past year in abundance. A godmother made us three meals in less than six hours and dropped them all off to help get us through Holy Week. People have anonymously left cards at the store just to let me know that someone was praying for us not knowing that I really needed that encouragement on that particular day. I have encountered help over and over again from every business I have gone to over the past year. If they couldn't help they suggested someone else who possibly could and I would then go to that next person. This was both financially and for personal needs, like home remodeling repairs or lawn mower service.

I already believed in Steubenville and the tri-state area when I first pushed to open our business nine years ago. I believe even more in our area having gone through this tragedy. Yes our area is not perfect and yes, the legal system isn't perfect either, but it is the best system that we have in the world right now. I know that it seems like we have experienced even more setbacks with the announced closing of several different businesses in the past few months. But this I know: we may have to think outside of the box, but we can develop our own path. We can fight the good fight and provide a stronger tri-state area for our children. The good people in this area are some of the best and most professional in the world. All of us choose to stay here because we want a small town life for our children. We have some of the best schools with traditions of excellence right here in our valley. We are strong because we care. We rally when people are in need. My first thought when my tragedy occurred, especially as the true financial fiasco I was left with began to reveal itself was that my family was going to lose it all: our store and our house. But then I prayed and told God that I would fight as hard as I could for as long as I could, but I needed Him to provide my strength and for our every need. God is always good even when life is not. He is faithful even in my own unfaithfulness through human sin. He provided for my own family in ways I could not even imagine during this past year. It has been incredibly painful and also very humbling because I had to keep asking for help over and over again. But I know this: God will provide for our valley. We just have to be faithful and open to new business models as we enter the world of e-commerce and social media.

Thank you God for your faithfulness and for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Infant Jesus Child of Prague has provided for our family in miraculous ways. Thank you Saint Joseph for your ongoing protection of my family and interceding for our needs with your foster son Jesus. Thank you to Saint Cajetan for interceding and helping to provide for our Divine Mercy “bandaid loan” to help get us through to our final refinancing next year. Thank you to my family's patron saints and guardian angels. Your continued protection and guidance is very real and greatly appreciated. I cannot wait until I can thank you personally in heaven.

The words to Lauren Daigle's song “Trust In You” are my personal anthem and the best way that I can thank you God. They have guided me for this past year and are my ongoing prayer as I live my life aiming for eternal life in heaven. I hope these words help someone else in need as well:

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see
I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!
Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So, in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!
You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation; the rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!
I will trust in You!
I will trust in You!
I will trust in You!

Thank you all! May God bless you and keep you now and always.


Stephanie LS Rivers
Owner of The UPS Store-Steubenville

Occasional rare blogger at