This year’s Distinguished Young Alum Award winner Beth Showalter ’06 Toenies received her degree in Journalism from Asbury University, but it was a few years later that she truly felt God’s call on her life and found that her Asbury experience prepared her in ways she never would have expected.
“I think it was in 2010, when I was working for a small business, I moved up the chain of command, jumping several levels and found myself president of a lens company,” she explained. “It wasn’t until I went on a speaking tour in Milan, Italy — and I was the youngest ever president in that industry and the only female — that I was realized I have a platform that not many people are given. I really needed to maximize that platform and share the love of God with people through business.”
Beth, who is from Florida and the daughter of missionaries, credits her journalism degree for helping prepare her for such high-stakes roles.
“I have not spent much time in journalism; however, I think it gave me the attention to detail that has helped me be so successful in both my personal and business life,” Beth said. “Just having that critical eye has helped me increase revenue and profit percentages for businesses by catching little bitty things.”
She also has the skills to run her personal blog, which documents the life of her oldest son, 3-year-old Isaac. Beth and her husband, Mike, who were married in 2014, also have a newborn son named Adrian. Isaac was born with special needs, and his story is what continues to shape Beth’s.
“Before I had Isaac, it was a normal pregnancy; my doctor called it textbook,” she said. “We had enrolled him in a daycare, then everything changed at that 37-week ultrasound. He had to come right out because there were major problems. He then spent three months in the NICU where I had to leave him every day. Going through that was traumatic. Every expectation I had was out the window. It’s almost a grieving process, not just for yourself but for your child and the expectations you had for your child’s life.”
Beth used her blog to document the process in hopes it would encourage other families in the similarly difficult situations.
“It is also so hard because Isaac is undiagnosed, meaning we don’t know the cause of his challenges,” she said. “We don’t know how long he will live, whether it’s to age 10 or age 100, or if he’ll walk.”
She uses her blog to share how she’s learned to cope with the unique challenges.
“I’ve been able to see joy in the moment,” she said, explaining that Isaac is assessed to be cognitively similar to a 7- or 9-month-old baby. Recognizing advancements in his development is a huge deal. “For me seeing any progression, like if he’s weight bearing on one of his hands, those are ‘inchstones.’ We celebrate every little inchstone, not just a milestone.”
Beth is able to largely work from home in her role as Chief Operating Officer of 1-800-BOARDUP, and is grateful that she can witness those triumphs. And her blog posts sharing the journey have also helped others walking a similar one.
“There’s been, honestly, probably about 100 families that I’ve bonded with through this experience,” she said. “Some of them are further along in the journey and some are newer to the special needs journey.”
She also started a group with other Asbury alumni, specifically for special needs mothers. They meet virtually for fellowship, prayer and Bible study. She said through the group she’s been able to help other moms “dig and find” what they need for their children, whether it’s applying for a grant or getting a donor to donate wheelchair ramps. They also encourage and pray with each other.
Now, she has a new set of challenges, as Mike — a Naval Aircrewman Petty Officer 1st Class – is currently deployed overseas for up to seven months.
“This is our third deployment of over six months since we were married,” Beth said. “We’ve had 12 deployments where he’s gone one to two months at a time. It’s our first long one with kids.”
Her God-given curiosity, tenacity and problem-solving capabilities have helped her stay afloat, and through Isaac’s birth, God revealed her next mission field.
“It’s all of these other special needs families that I’m able to put my arms around,” she said. “I know what it’s like. It is a very lonely and scary place to be. I think looking for people that are walking in stages similar to where I have been has just been such a huge calling. There are several people right now that I’m mentoring, and they’re new to the special needs journey. We all have been tossed into this bucket and shaken upside down and spit out, and we’re supposed to figure out which way is up. God has used my situation to help people know they’re not alone and it’s going to be OK and you can find joy and beauty in the most desperate of circumstances. You can still find peeks of light.”
The lessons she learned as a military spouse before even having children have also proved beneficial in the wisdom she can share with others.
“I’m someone who naturally likes to have a plan, and to be able to go according to that plan. You certainly can’t when you’re married to someone in the military,” she said. “You just have to learn to be flexible, there’s no other option. It was a good thing for me, probably setting me up for this life with Isaac, when I don’t know what one day to the next will be like. It’s OK to live in the moment.”
Other lessons were learned at Asbury. Beth saw the benefits of a strong community long before gaining the titles of military spouse or special needs parent. It was her time at Asbury that taught her the value of healthy community.
“I think some of the most influential people I met were at Asbury. My tennis career was also a highlight, spending time with other amazing women,” she said. “And the way that Asbury brought people together in the [residence] halls was so unique. I’ve stayed in touch with so many people from that experience.”
She called the Christian influence “vital” in her life.
“It is such a very important time of life,” Beth said. “That’s where you are growing into the person you’re going to be. You don’t have your parents over your shoulder. It’s just you living out the start of your life and figuring out the direction you want to go to.”
With that solid foundation, God continues to prove his faithfulness on Beth’s journey.
The Distinguished Young Alum Award was created in 2000 to acknowledge Asbury’s younger alumni who are emerging as influential leaders in their area of expertise. This year, Asbury recognizes how Beth has used her professionalism and personal story to influence the world for Christ through the platform of service and leadership.