Have you read this week’s Featured Story? “Kyle’s Legacy,” by Penny Whipps, is the emotional story about how Penny was able to create an organization that reaches out to at-risk youth in the wake of her own son’s painful death. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to head over there right away—we’re sure it’ll touch your heart. Then come back here, since God Makes Lemonade recently had a chance to catch up with Penny.
GML: Where do you live?
Penny: Right now, I’m living in Bend, Oregon, with my brother Don and sister in-law before moving back to Sisters, Oregon, only a few miles away. I have a son and lovely daughter in-law who live in Portland and a daughter who lives in Central Oregon.
GML: What are you up to these days?
Penny: I’ve been working in publishing for many years now and I’m working on some books right now for authors I represent. I also run my own nonprofit, Just1x. I’m currently adding speaking engagements to my 2012 schedule. I’ve been speaking in public and private high schools across the country—Oregon, Minnesota, and Georgia are coming up pretty soon.
Just1x speaks at schools, youth groups and other student-organizations to challenge teens to break the code of silence on behalf of their friends and seek help for them. When kids get involved in dangerous activity, someone needs to step up. Just1x defines dangerous living as “anything you or your friends are doing that puts your life or theirs in jeopardy.” Just1x speaks to the student living dangerously now, the student who isn’t but is thinking about it, and the student who has no intention of living dangerously but knows someone who is and is keeping it secret.
I started Just1x after meeting some of the boys who were with my son, Kyle, the night he died. I was shocked to realize those boys knew Kyle wasn’t acting normally and something wasn’t quite right, but they were afraid to talk to Kyle. No one said anything. That’s what pushed me into action. Kids have got to have the courage to break the code of silence when this sort of thing happens. They have to decide whether their own popularity, comfort, or reputation is worth more than their friend’s safety, and maybe even their life. This has become a calling in my life and not something I would have chosen. But after I spoke five times within the first five weeks of Kyle’s death, I realized that if I’m willing to move past my own discomfort and pain, we may be able to save some kids along the way. If one student is saved or makes better life choices because he heard Kyle’s story then it’s been worth it.
GML: What inspired you to write your lemonade story?
Penny: Well, I really wanted people to know that you can survive the death of a child. Through faith, you can continue on with love and compassion for the people you do life with. Also, I wanted readers to hear Kyle’s story in hopes that they will be inspired to help someone they know who is living dangerously and seek help for them.
GML: What was it like to see your story printed in the book?
Penny: It’s exciting to see my story in writing and know that it may bring encouragement to someone who has lost a child. I also love that my story is among so many other stories that will give hope and encouragement. There is something really special here. I hope my story encourages people with the fact that even if the worst thing happens to you, like losing a child, there are ways that something good can come out of it.
Obviously, I’m also very excited to be a part of a project that gives aid to single moms. I was a single mom for 15 years. I had a community and family that came around me and helped me, but when I travel, I often meet single moms who don’t have any form of encouragement or help. I don’t know how they make it. Single moms struggle with feeling alone and feeling forgotten in a community. Not only do many of them deal with the shame of being divorced or feeling like they don’t fit in any more, but when tough things come, such as financial difficulty, illness, loss of job, death, you just feel devastated. This book brings communities together to bring support to these women. That is pretty cool.
I know there were times when I felt very alone—I was doing everything as a mom and a dad. We single moms are tired. Honestly, if I hadn’t had the support of the people around me during that time, I don’t know how I would have made it through. Even with the support that I had, especially in tough times like when Kyle died, you feel very alone as a single mom. I feel like sharing my story at GML is a small way for me to bring encouragement to other single moms.
GML: Have you had a chance to read other stories in God Makes Lemonade?
Penny: Yes, I read through the book and some stories had me laughing and some crying. Mostly, it’s just encouraging to read other people’s stories of how something so painful turns around and becomes something so beautiful and useful.
GML: And just for fun, can you tell us one of your funniest family memories growing up with Don Jacobson?
Penny: The story that is told at almost every family gathering is about the time when my big brother got in trouble for shocking me with an electric fence. I was very little… probably four and Don was maybe six-years-old. Or maybe he was eight and I was six. Who knows? We were at my grandparents’ farm and Don kept telling me to go touch the electric fence (because he wanted to see me get shocked). I must not have been very keen on the idea, but he coaxed me with, “Don’t worry, I’ll turn off the fence. You won’t get shocked.” Somehow, Don convinced me the fence was turned off, so I touched it and sure enough, got shocked and went running to the house crying. At that point, my grandpa was watching from a distance and saw the whole thing happen.
He came out and told Don the fence was turned off. My grandpa didn’t actually turn it off though. He upped the voltage to teach Don a lesson. Trusting my grandpa’s words, Don went out there and touched the fence. He got one of the biggest shocks in his life! One of the best parts was that after it happened, he looked up at my grandpa and said, “Grandpa, Jesus isn’t going to like you very much.” He didn’t realize he had been caught. And he got it big time. Hahaha. Really though, Don has always been my protector. We goofed around a lot as kids, but he has always watched out for me.
Thanks for stopping by and getting to know Penny a bit better. Come back next week—we’re already working on another interview with the author of our next featured story. Or you can pick up a copy of God Makes Lemonade, where you’ll find more than eighty inspiring stories like this one.
Author Penny Whipps