Words of wisdom from a woman with a gift

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Words of wisdom from a woman with a gift

UNL journalism grad who has MS finds her education has made all the difference in her own story.

She got lost.

She had to, she realizes now. Because sometimes you have to get lost in life before you know where to go. Because sometimes life begins again, surprisingly, when it becomes more disorienting than you could ever imagine.

And you want to give up.

UNL alumna Mary (Huffman) Hepburn, 66, says she first started to feel lost like that one day almost four decades ago. She was crossing a street. A car approached, no big deal. She was young, just 28. She was tall and strong back then, someone who loved to play basketball.

She had time to run.

But she couldn’t. Only walk.

How weird.

That car had to slow way down.

Another day in that era, while driving a car herself, Mary’s vision suddenly changed and she started seeing double.

Double stoplights.

Double roads in front of her.

Double cars coming at her in the other lane.

Scared, she had to slow way down.

And on yet another day, on a basketball court, Mary tried to drive in for a layup. But her body just quit, as if her muscles had forgotten where to go.

It took doctors three years to figure out she had multiple sclerosis. After that, she said, her life slowly fell apart along with her body. MS shredded the roadmap she’d held in her heart for what she wanted her life to be. She had a thriving career as a journalist. She loved it.

But she lost that.

She got lost.

She got divorced. She moved back to her hometown, North Platte, when she was 46 and bought a house that actually was one she’d once had lived in as a kid. She had family nearby. Friends.

But still, she felt disoriented. She hosted many pity parties, she says, but found that eventually, no one wanted to come and listen to her bellyache. She prayed.

She hit her rock-bottom one day, and it was the turning point.

Here’s what she wrote about it:

… I would often sit in the driveway and watch the world go by. One day, while shopping, someone said, ‘Oh, you are the lady in the wheelchair that sits in the driveway.’ Right then and there I made up my mind I would not be known just as the lady in the wheelchair. I was a journalist and I would make my mark by writing and teaching again! …

Mary writes the religion column for the North Platte Telegraph. She has written more than 1,100 columns over the past two decades. She writes them now from her wheelchair in a specially-equipped room in the Linden Court nursing home in North Platte, dictating her words into her computer.

She writes from a room that always feels cold to her, because, besides taking away her ability to walk at all, MS also makes her feel cold.

But her eyes are warm. So is her voice.

“I write 50 (columns) a year,” she said. “One that stands out lately was headlined: ‘You have to get lost to know where you are going.’

“They’re doing renovations here, and I literally was getting lost in this building because a couple of sections have been added on, and so I was going around and I thought, ‘You have to get lost to know where you are going. … Ah, ha! That’s it! That’s my story!’

“And then I equated that to, ‘OK, that’s what it’s like in life, with God — He can help us get to where were are going.’”

She has written about her life better than anyone. You can read the two-parter she once wrote about her life for the North Platte paper here and here.

She knows her column inspires people. Readers send her cards and letters.

The people she writes about inspire her, too.

It’s important, she says, to be grateful for what you can do, especially for the people who’ve helped you along the way. And it’s important to give back, however you can, because of what you’ve been given.

That’s why Mary, a 1972 UNL graduate who studied journalism and education, always gives back to her alma mater. She’s given a little almost every single year since 1993. No gift has been greater than $25.

“Why I give back to the university is because I just had such good things happen to me and so many opportunities that I want to perpetuate that, and I hope that other people will have that same opportunity and love for journalism and the university that I did.”

Her UNL education was a gift. It’s why she has a column now, and a cool life.

And it helped her find her way home.

All gifts from the heart like Mary’s — no matter the amount — make a huge impact at the University of Nebraska. They help support the current Our Students, Our Future initiative, which is helping to make better futures for us all. The two-year, $200 million initiative seeks gifts in support of students and goes through 2017.

If you would also like to help promising students, please contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216 or send us a message.

(Photo of Mary courtesy of the North Platte Telegraph.)

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