June 1, 2013 in City

Passing along life’s lessons

Divorce, multiple sclerosis lead mother to found Inspiring Grace
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

Lewis leads a yoga class at Sandpoint High on March 27.
(Full-size photo)

Lindy Lewis knows all about jumping outside her comfort zone.

She also knows sometimes life pushes you there whether you’re ready to jump or not.

Ten years ago, Lewis was living in Spokane, married with three kids and had a career presenting Broadway shows.

Then life pushed her.

She couldn’t multitask. She was tired all the time. One of her feet dragged. A divorce and a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system, put an end to everything familiar.

She and her three children moved to Sandpoint, where she had to learn to cope both with her disease and with single parenthood.

“I took a hard right out of corporate life and everything that was comfortable, my identity and everything that I was good at,” Lewis said.

It took her about 10 years to learn the life skills she would need to survive, both medically and mentally.

Knowing that everyone struggles with something, Lewis is now passing on what she has learned to high school students through a nonprofit she created called Inspiring Grace.

“I wanted to arm them with some tools,” said Lewis, 45. “Because life happens.”

Her tools include yoga, meditation, journaling, problem solving and positive thinking. Yes, all that touchy-feely stuff.

“It doesn’t have to be this total sit-down and Zen-out,” Lewis said. “It could be as simple as doing some deep breathing, finding a happy spot that when life takes you out of balance, it brings you back in.”

Lewis taps mentors from the community to go into schools and help teach classes focusing on mental wellness and taking initiative to get or stay healthy. The mentors have presented to 65 classes this year. “What I’m trying to build is a nonprofit that could go into any school system and it just augments and enhances the existing curriculum,” Lewis said. Thought-based wellness is an area she said many schools are missing, with the pressures of meeting standardized requirements with limited funding.

A certified yoga instructor, Lewis teaches yoga classes for several school districts around exam times. Several students have approached her about continuing yoga outside of school. Other classes include games, crafts and group discussions.

Sandpoint High School teacher and counselor Julie Petri said Lewis and the mentors have been well-received, and the students have welcomed the opportunity to connect with their teachers and each other on a deeper level.

“What she brought to the classroom was very powerful,” Petri said. “The students were able to gain a little bit more of what they need in the outside world that they don’t get in academics.”

Admittedly, she said, there was some hesitation because of natural teenage angst about self-image. The genuine attitudes of the Inspiring Grace mentors helped the students let down their guard.

“They know it’s for real, and they know they’re only there because they care,” Petri said.

Lewis said her passion comes from wishing she’d had the tools to create a sense of balance as she struggled with her disease.

“I’m on a Western therapy, but my symptoms and my life are managed with more of a balanced, grounded life,” she said.

Instead of letting multiple sclerosis run her life, Lewis said her nerve degeneration is in a holding pattern and she often has to be reminded she has a disease.

She still hikes, one of her favorite hobbies, but now takes pride just in reaching the end of a trail rather than how quickly she can finish.

Self-confidence is a lesson she works to teach by example, acknowledging that happier kids tend to be nicer kids. She seeks to connect with those who don’t know yet where they fit.

“I’ve really enjoyed the careers that I’ve had. They’ve been really fun. But this feels like I’m in my purpose now,” Lewis said. “I feel like I’ve really figured out that this can make a difference for some kids.”

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