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Sept. 20, 2021

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Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Author gives empathy with wisdom

The Columbian
Published:

For Rene Steelman, its not just about sharing wisdom; it’s about sharing empathy.

A mother of six, Steelman’s youngest son, TJ, was born with cerebral palsy. She has taken care of him for the past 30 years. She now shares the trials and tribulations of raising a child with severe disabilities in her new book “Heaven Sent and Bent,” to be released in spring. As part of the book launch, a lunch is set for Jan. 19 at Vancouver’s Heathman Lodge.

“(Writing the book) really was a healing process for me” Steelman said, as well as a deep calling “to reach out, especially to young mothers.”

The title is a reinterpretation of a proverb that has shaped Steelman’s outlook while caring for her son.

“There’s a saying out there, ‘heaven sent and hell-bent,’ that you have a blessing and something that comes to you, and you just better get on your bike and be determined to finish this trail you’ve been put on,” the 61-year-old said. “We look at (TJ) as a blessing, but it comes with twists and turns, including his body. It’s not an easy journey, (but) it’s our journey.”

In her book, she shares the faith, humor and strength of caring for a son 24/7 for 30 years with her family. She said she hopes that the upcoming luncheon can be a time of sharing, where attendees will pass along their experiences.

She dislikes the saying “God never gives you more than you can handle.” The idea that God doles out hardships for people to overcome indiscriminately, from one person dealing with a flat tire versus another with terminal cancer, doesn’t sit well her.

“Life is going to happen, cells are going to reproduce, people are going to overdose, drive drunk: That is life,” she said. “The trial is what you do with those events.”

“I think it discourages people, makes them feel badly about what they’re struggling with,” Steelman said, to just say God never give you more than you can handle. “I don’t know if that’s true. Sometimes this is more than I can handle, but not more than a team could handle. I just need to find a team.”

She said she also looks at other families who have much more difficult journeys than her own. Passing along empathy and support is vital.

She went through the stages of grief, “not because I lost (her son), but that I have him. It’s the loss of my independence and things I was going to do with my life. I grieved like I lost a child. By reading and praying, and coming through my own grief course, I realized I have a message to tell, that I need to be a part of someone else’s team.”

Steelman praised Vancouver Parks and Recreation programs, which give a respite to families of disabled people.

“Sometimes they need to hear someone respond when they say, ‘life really sucks right now’: ‘Yeah, it does!’ And it’s OK to say that; it’s OK not to want to do this.”

The Vancouver resident’s accomplishments include serving in the U.S. Navy, earning a degree in interior design and becoming a certified health coach. Now she is the host of “Heaven Sent and Bent,” online at TalkZone.com. She interviews other people who are facing their own struggles.

She and her husband, Tony, just launched the Steelman Family Foundation, which will help families with special needs children afford wheelchair-accessible vans. A regular minivan costs around $35,000, plus another $35,000 to make it accessible.

Before the Steelmans were able to acquire such a van, “we missed out on opportunities to go places as a family,” she said. “That was our goal, to have families that can move around and go places (together).”

The luncheon with Rene Steelman will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood Drive, Vancouver. Admission is $25, and includes a copy of the book when its released. Visit http://steelmanfamilyfoundation.org or www.facebook.com/heavensentbent.


Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.

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