My Mom Was Rich – Guest Post

The following eulogy was given on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at our mother’s funeral by Suzanne Aardema, one of my younger sisters.

Suzanne said so much good stuff about our mother’s life and the example she left for us, I asked her if I could share it with you. I told Suzanne her words deserve a much wider audience than just those of us present that morning. I am reprinting it (other than the emphasis, which was how she said it) exactly as she wrote it. Thank you, Suzanne, for allowing me to post it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi. Thank you for coming.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but my mom, she was rich.

Mom worked a bunch of lousy, low paying jobs in order to help make ends meet in a family with five kids, and yet mom, she was rich.

You see, my mom, she understood the secret to being rich. My mom understood that being rich is not about what you have or what you can get. Mom understood that the secret to being rich is in what you can give.

From the time that I was a young child I can remember my mom exemplifying that giving spirit in how she lived.

The door was always open. Everyone was welcome, and there was always enough for another plate at the table.

My mom and dad opened their home to so many people over the years. People who were down and out. People who needed a place to stay temporarily or for a longer time. There were the foster children, and my brother’s friend Allen from high school who had been booted out by his parents.

There was Mary, a young lost woman who mom took under her wing. Mary became a part of the family lived with us for several years until she could get back on her feet.

My friend Ray from college lived at the house for a while, and even my husband stayed there long before he was my husband or even my boyfriend.

The Makokha family came and stayed for the better part of a year, and they became a part of our extended family. Then there was Diego who lived there for like, forever and then Bruce. I’m sure that I’m missing a few names.

The door was always open and everyone was welcome. Even when times were tough, there was always enough for another plate at the table. Because my mom, she understood the secret to being rich.

I remember in my wild high school days I used to have friends sleep over a lot. One night I had permission for my friend Donna to sleep over. Well, I came home with not one, but two friends.   I can still remember sneaking my friend Vickie up the stairs on her hands and knees while mom was sitting in the living room. Of course, we were laughing so hard, she suspected something was up. But when she came upstairs and opened my bedroom door and saw the three of us there, she just laughed. Everyone was welcome.

Even in my wildest years, my mom never gave up on me. She kept hoping, praying, believing that I would come around. She bailed me out of trouble and disciplined me because she could see the bigger picture.

My mom understood that serving was better than being served. As many of you know, she was involved in this church and served in various capacities for many many years.

She sang in the choir, served in the altar guild and the prayer chain. She regularly visited shut-ins, and organized a woman’s retreat.

Mom loved this place, and she loved the people here. Even as her health declined over the past several years, the only thing that mattered to her was being able to get to Our Savior’s church every Sunday so that she could worship.

I never realized what an impact she had made here until I was speaking with my friend Arleen the other evening and she told me about how mom had supported her and the other young mothers with the moms group for many years. Mom was always there, praying, interceding, supporting.

Mom was rich in life. A loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She loved travel, adventure and trying new things. I remember when we went to Israel together in 1993, she couldn’t wait to ride the camel. That was the highlight for her.

Mom was a woman of faith, and she understood the principle of Galatians 5:6, that the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. She lived her faith by loving the people around her.

Even in her final moments, mom gave us a gift to cherish.

I have lived overseas for almost 20 years, and my brother Rob and sister Judi have also lived outside of this area for most of their adult lives. Whenever we came to visit or mom came to visit us, there was one thing that remained constant. Whenever it was time to say goodbye, mom would tear up and cry. It never failed. She hated to say goodbye.

In her final moments, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us for a while. Her eyes opened and tears streamed down her face as she said her final goodbye.

As mom walked into the arms of Jesus, she was a very rich woman. It has nothing to do with the amount of finances that she did or didn’t have in her bank account.

Her life was rich because she understood that being rich is not about how much you have or what you can get, but it is about how much you can give.

I hope her example inspires us all.

Thank you.

Christmas 2013

 From left to right (siblings in birth order): Rich, me, Judi, Suzanne, Rob & in front, Mom

A World Without You (For Mom)

I wanted to call you today

       to tell you about something

                      but I could not.

Because I remembered that now

        I live in a world without you.

I got in my car

       to go and visit you

                   but I remembered I could not.

Because I realized now

                    that I live in a world without you.

No more seeing your name on my caller ID.

             No more hearing your ring tone on my cell.

                         No more jokes, laughter, stories, tears or memories.

Because I grieve now

             to live in a world without you.

God’s hand is strong.

       God’s plans are perfect.

                  God’s ways are just.

                           God’s heart is loving.

You walk in a world I imagine

             but cannot see.

You rejoice

             and I grieve and mourn.

You dance in the fulfillment

             of God’s promises.

I live in the light of their hope.

           As I live in a world without you.

Obituary photo of Barbara L. French, Albany, NY

A Swift and Deadly Season

Have you ever looked at a situation and wondered why? As in, why is this so, or not so? And why isn’t this being addressed?

I have gone through something like that lately, dealing with something unexpected in my life. I discovered there was a mass murderer on the loose in the world, killing indiscriminately, regardless of race, creed, sex, age and socioeconomic standing. The mass murderer to which I refer is pancreatic cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, pancreatic cancer is ranked #4 on the list of cancer killers. The following figures are a compilation from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. I highlighted the 2013 statistics for pancreatic cancer, so they could be more easily visible for you.

Cancer   Type

Estimated   New Cases

Estimated   Deaths

Bladder 72,570 15,210
Breast (Female – Male) 232,340 – 2,240 39,620 – 410
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 142,820 50,830
Endometrial 49,560 8,190
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 59,938 12,586
Leukemia (All Types) 48,610 23,720
Lung (Including Bronchus) 228,190 159,480
Melanoma 76,690 9,480
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 69,740 19,020
Pancreatic 45,220 38,460
Prostate 238,590 29,720
Thyroid 60,220 1,850

Percentage of patients deceased within 5 years of diagnosis:

1. Pancreatic cancer – 94%

2. Liver cancer – 83.9%

3. Esophageal cancer – 82.7%

4. Lung cancer – 83.4%

5. Stomach cancer – 72.3%

6. Brain cancer – 66.5%

7. Ovarian cancer – 55.8%

8. Oral cancer – 37.8%

9. Kidney cancer – 28.2%

10. Rectal cancer – 33.5%

11. Colon cancer – 35.1%

12. Laryngeal cancer – 39.4%

13. Cervical cancer – 32.1%

14. Prostate cancer – 0.8%

15. Breast cancer – 10.8%

16. Bladder cancer – 22.1%

17. Skin cancer – 8.7%

18. Uterine cancer – 18.5%

19. Thyroid cancer – 2.3%

20. Bone cancer – 33.6%

21. Leukemia – 44%

In the last 5 years, pancreatic cancer has listed film star Patrick Swayze and Apple mogul Steve Jobs among its most famous victims. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually not found until patients are symptomatic, and by then it is usually in more advanced stages.

Many pancreatic cancers tend to be swift growers, with times between diagnosis and death for most patients measured in weeks or months. Battles with pancreatic cancer are, as I titled this post, swift and deadly seasons for many patients, measured in weeks or months, instead of years as is the case for most other cancers. As you saw in my compiled statistics above, the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancers are shockingly low.

Breast cancer is discovered through self-exams and mammograms. Prostate cancer markers are found through a simple blood test. Colon cancer is found in a colonoscopy. Lung and throat cancers are found through x-rays and other tests. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is found when areas of the skin are seen to change. The only way to find pancreatic cancer is when a patient arrives at their doctor’s office, complaining of its symptoms. And by then, it’s far too often too late. There are no currently viable tests for early detection of this deadly disease.

The media was very vocal about Patrick Swayze’s and Steve Jobs’ fights with pancreatic cancer. Now, I want to tell you about someone lesser known and no less loved. Her name was Barbara.

Barbara was born on July 2nd in Albany, NY. Her father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, VMI. His exploits there were so legendary, a movie was made, called “Brother Rat,” and Eddie Albert played him. By the time Barbara was born, he was a entrepreneur, who would later be quite successful. Barbara’s mother worked for the railroad.

Barbara was a studious child. Her parents were divorced, and her mother remarried several more times to a succession of step-fathers of varying character. Barbara went to both public and parochial schools, and eventually graduated with high honors from high school. Offered a full-ride academic scholarship to Syracuse University, Barbara gave up college to marry her high school sweetheart, George, and the pair settled briefly in Florida while George served in the Navy, where they started their family.

After George left the Navy, the small family returned to their hometown and settled down. While they looked into moving elsewhere once or twice, nothing ever came of it, and they raised their family in the same town where they grew up. All their children graduated from the same high school, and a couple of them even had one or two of the same teachers. George and Barbara were active in their church life, and encouraged their children to be active church members, too.

As their 5 children started to leave the nest, George and Barbara began to travel together. First was Maine, then a cross-country trip and then another one into the South. Eventually, after retirement, they explored maritime Canada. Barbara also traveled abroad with one of her children, going first to the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt), and later to The Netherlands, where that adult child had moved with their family.

There was an esophageal cancer scare for George, and then a spinal stenosis (bone spur on the spine) for him, but they beat that, and celebrated their 50th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska on a small ship. Barbara considered it a great victory to get George on any type of cruise at all, which had long been a dream of hers. Unfortunately, within 2 years of that wonderful time, George’s cancer resurfaced, and he lost his long battle to it 6 days prior to their  52nd anniversary.

After some time of attempting to live on her own with live-in help, it became obvious to Barbara’s family she needed to move into an assisted living facility. Always opinionated, independent and stubborn, Barbara didn’t like the rules one bit. Eventually, her health demanded she move about 2 years later into another facility that was more comprehensive, which she liked even less.

On Sunday, February 9, 2013, Barbara went  as usual to church, complaining of nausea. She looked jaundiced and felt unwell, thinking she had a persistent flu-type virus. Diagnosed as a diabetic over 15 years before, her blood sugars were erratic at best, swinging wildly up and down. Later that day, Barbara insisted on being transported from her assisted living facility to a local hospital. She never went back.

Monday, the hospital found a mass in her abdomen in an MRI. They tried to do an endoscopy Tuesday, but were unable. It was decided to move her to the regional major medical center Wednesday night, hours prior to a major winter snowstorm. At the medical center on Thursday, they did the endoscopy, and confirmed it was advanced pancreatic cancer.

Within days, her 5 children and many of her 10 grandchildren knew Barbara’s pancreatic cancer was inoperable and untreatable. Barbara was moved into a local nursing home with Hospice care on February 25th, where she spent her final days.

When asked, Barbara said she wanted to be remembered “As a woman who loved her Lord first, and her family second.” She had definite opinions, clearly stated to family members, for her final arrangements, with her wake at the same funeral home, services at her church, burial next to George and a luncheon back at the church after. She told them what she wanted as part of her service, and was very clear about it.

Barbara would be among the first to tell you she was not perfect. “A sinner saved by grace,” was what she often said of her imperfections. After George died, Barbara found her life’s purpose of caring for him over, and struggled with finding another so late in life, while grieving his loss. Her grief and lack of purpose often appeared in overwhelming neediness and anger, which drove away the people to whom she most wanted to be close. Thankfully, in late December of 2013, Barbara finally found peace with herself and her situation, and the anger and neediness largely disappeared.

Barbara was always a woman of wry wit. One of the vacations George and Barbara took often with their family was wilderness camping. When asked by a friend who was well to do (and took fancier vacations, like European tours), what the family did when it rained, Barbara dryly deadpanned, “We let it.”

Barbara had great patience with the antics of her 5 rambunctious children, 10 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. Her younger son was especially skilled at jollying her into good humor when he’d misbehaved, much to the consternation of the rest. Barbara was also strong-willed, which was a good thing, with 5 strong-willed kids.

By now, dear reader, if you’ve followed my blog, read my family stories and gotten to know me a little, you’ve guessed Barbara was my mother. I initially wrote this on March 11 and edited it in the days between then and now, knowing she was dying and wanting to capture my thoughts on Mom and her killer. Before she left us, I read it to her, and received her approval to publish it. I knew I’d be unable do more today than publish it. My mother Barbara’s swift and deadly season, her battle with pancreatic cancer, ended today, and she is at home in Heaven with her Lord and her beloved George.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21
Barbara French

When Life Just Stinks

Have you ever had a time in your life when you look at what’s going on and think, “This stinks!”?? How do you handle times like that?

Sometimes, we’re drawn up short by the harsh reality stuff in our life stinks. It might be because of illness (either yours or someone close to you). It might be because of financial difficulties. It might be because you get an unexpected shock, like hearing of the death of someone you loved. Or it might be because of a combination of stuff. No matter the causes, the stinky realities in our lives exist. Sometimes, we can prevent these stinky realities. However, often we cannot. They just happen to us, with nothing we can do or say to prevent it. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus is quoted as saying,

He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Both unfair and fair, stinky and wonderful, things happen to all of us. Sometimes they are a result of our actions, because as I’ve said before, actions have consequences. But often it’s just sun and rain, as Jesus said. I thought at one point of calling this post, “Life Isn’t Fair,” until I remembered something I always told our kids. Life isn’t fair.

Gifts like intelligence, beauty, humor, birth place and wit are doled out completely unfairly. Curses like illness, sudden death, poverty, birth place and handicapping conditions are equally unfairly measured. (Yes, I just said “birth place” twice, for a reason. Think about it.) People who “deserve” good things to happen to them have bad things happen, instead of the good we believe they deserve.. And the opposite is just as true, too. Any way we look at it, life just isn’t fair.

It’s a common misconception in people going through painful circumstances that no one understands what they are going through. But as we’ve just learned, everyone goes through them. So, what do we do when our life seems to stink? How do we cope? Some people cope by escapism. They seek relief in mindless games or television, activities or other distractions. Speaking as someone who has tried escapism, I can tell you it doesn’t work. All it does is put off the issues until we come out of our escapism reveries. Then, we still have to face them.

Some people cope by medicating their emotions with alcohol, drugs or food. They drink, use drugs or eat to feed the inner hunger or numb the inner pain caused by the outer circumstances. Speaking as someone who has tried medicating my issues (my drug of choice being food), I can tell you it doesn’t work, either. Like escapism, all it does is put things off. Unfortunately, if we abuse these medicating tendencies too much, it also adds addictions, weight and/or long term problems we have to deal with for years after the original painful issues have disappeared.

Some people cope by withdrawing. They close in on themselves emotionally, and sometimes physically, and shut the world out. They may or may not do what is necessary to continue the mechanics of daily living, but when they do, it’s mechanical. There’s no joy in their journey. But when we withdraw, the challenges from which we are withdrawing don’t go away. Often, the very act of withdrawal can make them worse.

Sometimes, we cope by reaching out. We seek a listening ear to pour our troubles. In moderation, this is a healthy coping mechanism. Receiving the gift of compassionate listening from another person is a great way of realizing we’re not alone, that others have traveled similar roads, and we will survive this, too. The challenge we face is not to overwhelm our listeners and being viewed as being too needy. Compassion has its limits, too, and we have to remind ourselves of that sometimes.

Besides reaching out, my personal favorite method of coping with hard times is with prayer in my Christian faith. When I pray, I reach out to God, who, in the words of the Old Testament, is named

The name of God is Elohim – My Creator

The name of God is El Roi – God Who Sees

The name of God is Adonai – My Lord, My Master

The name of God is El Shaddai – God Almighty

The name of God is Jehovah Nissi -The LORD Our Banner

The name of God is Jehovah Mekeddeshem - LORD Who Sanctifies

The name of God is Jehovah Jireh – The LORD Will Provide

The name of God is Jehovah Ezer -The LORD our Helper

The name of God is Jehovah Roi – The Lord is My Shepherd

The name of God is Jehovah Rapha – LORD Who Heals

The name of God is Jehovah Sabaoth – LORD of hosts (of armies)

The name of God is Jehovah Shalom – The LORD our Peace

The name of God is Jehovah Mekeddeshem - LORD Who Sanctifies

The name of God is Jehovah Shammah – The LORD is There

In times of trouble, when life just stinks, I especially love the ones I made bold! Why?

  • God Sees me. I am not forgotten, lost in a sea of humanity. I am noticed.
  • God is my Helper. I am not without Someone to help me. I have a strong Defender.
  • God is my Banner. He goes before me to fight off what troubles me, and to carry the banner of His victory over sin, death and Satan with Him
  • God is my Healer. When it hurts, he heals my body, my heart, relationships, finances and everything that’s broken in my life.
  • God is my Peace. When all is craziness around me, He is my Sanctuary, my place of rest.
  • God is There. He is ever-present. I don’t have to worry about where my friends are. I am not alone.

My faith helps me to keep going, to hold on, even when times are hard and life just stinks. It helps me to fight off my tendencies to escape or medicate my pain with overeating (or eating stuff I know I shouldn’t). It helps me to more than cope, to more than survive. It helps me emerge stronger and better than ever. By now you might be saying, “Sure, she can talk that way. She doesn’t know what I am going through!” You’re right; I don’t. But at the same time, you don’t know where I am walking now, either. That’s neither here nor there, except to say I’m in a painful place as I write this, going through tough stuff. But as the Native American proverb said,

Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.

I’m not walking in your moccasins, as it were, and you’re not walking in mine. But I am still walking, and I do have a question for you: Are you still walking? Are you still moving on, or are you escaping, medicating or withdrawing?

Come, let’s walk together.

The Committee of They

How often are we ruled by the opinions of others? How often do we allow what we believe other people “might think” to dominate our own thoughts, attitudes, choices and actions?

When our kids were younger, they often tried a classic child persuasion ploy on my husband and myself for things they wanted. “But everyone’s doing it!” was their plaintive cry, usually after a parental “NO” had been already been heard. Upon closer questioning, it was usually found “everyone” was not doing it. Some were, and some were not, and we almost always remained firm in our resolve our kids would be in the “not” group. When told  due to budgetary restrictions to wear a style that was last year’s, or banned from an activity that was either against our beliefs or we couldn’t afford (or we didn’t have time to do), I was told “they” didn’t wear such dorky things, “they” had cool Moms and “they” got to do all the best stuff.

One day, I got sick of it. I looked at my young teenagers, interrupted one mid-rant and firmly informed them, “The Committee of ‘THEY’ don’t live here any more!” The non-ranting sibling quietly asked in the shocked silence what I’d meant. Stunned by the simplicity and profound truth of what I’d said, I told them we would make our decisions as we always did, with discussion between my husband and I, based on our values and lifestyle needs, and not based on what “everyone” else was saying or doing. “They” were not to be used as an arguing point any more, because I’d just decided “their” opinions and behavior never had any influence on us before, and therefore didn’t deserve to have any now. The kids were thunderstruck.

When told of the conversation, my peace-loving husband (bless him!) said simply, “I love it!,” backed me completely and eventually began using it himself. It took some time to get the kids to understand a “they” argument meant an almost sure automatic “NO” from us, but they eventually got the point.

As time went on, we saw how this rule applied in other areas of our lives. When faced with opposition after we started our own non-traditional business, the Committee of They chimed in with a nearly unanimously negative response. My husband and I considered “their” response, and promptly ignored it. “They” didn’t provide for our family; we did. When Committee of They told us we were not raising our children properly, we considered “their” response, consulted trusted counselors (who were also successful parents themselves), and ignored “them.” We decided we were the parents, the ones to whom God gave the responsibility to raise the kids, not “them.”

As I look deeper at life, I realize the voices of the Committee of They are persistent, pervasive and proliferating. They are persistent because we hear it constantly, no matter what we do. They are pervasive because we hear them everywhere, from our friends, family and the news media. And they are proliferating because like critics, who go nowhere and do nothing yet tear down those who do, “they” are everywhere, criticizing everything.

And “they” are growing. Think about it with me for a minute. When was the last time you had an idea you didn’t follow through on because of what “they” might think, say or do? Come on, be honest with yourself, because we’ve all had them. The incredible irony of it is we never realize others think and speak about us way less than we believe they are, just because, like us, they are too busy thinking and speaking of themselves and what “they” might think of them!  (Did I confuse you yet?) Recently, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and leadership expert Orrin Woodward said on Twitter,

If you poll the crowd for your success advice, expect the success of the crowd.

Orrin’s partner, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and leadership expert Chris Brady quoted recently on Twitter,

When you don’t march to the same beat as everybody else, then you have to be able to stand up for what you believe in. — Gary Major

It takes inner toughness to stand up to the Committee of They. It takes willingness to listen to trusted voices of counsel and reason, come up with a decision together and stick to it in the face of opposition. Critical bombs will be lobbed your way by The Committee of They who disagree with you. Heck, at times you’ll think it’s a war zone with all the shots “They” are taking at you!

But if you stand firm, stick to your convictions and what you believe to be your best course, you will find an inner satisfaction no outside approval from The Committee of They can offer.  And sometimes, you even get the immense personal satisfaction of showing the world (sometimes in a public arena) you were right and “they” were wrong, without ever finding a need to rub it in. The rest of the time, just knowing it for yourself is plenty good enough . . .

The Pomeranian that Ate the Bear

Black Bear

How do you face something that is fearful to you? What do you do when confronted with something that is fearful?

The differing reactions people have to facing fears are even more varied than those faced one summer night when we were camping. We had to deal with an object that was realistically fearful and harmful, an adult wild black bear. The reactions of those involved shed interesting lights on human nature.

My siblings and I were asleep in our tent, as my parents were in theirs. My father was awakened by the noises of the bear rooting  for food in a trash can near the tent my siblings and I were in. We hadn’t used this can, considering it unsafely positioned, but others had prior to our arrival, and the bear was looking for a meal.

My mother woke with the distinctive soft snapping sounds of my father’s pistol case as he unlocked and opened it, then as he removed his 357 magnum pistol from its holster and quietly loaded it in the dark. She whispered to ask what was going on, and why he had his gun out in the small hours of the morning. My father quietly and calmly explained the situation, and told my mother not to be upset. She told him he couldn’t kill it with a pistol, and would only make it mad. He said his intent wasn’t to hurt it, but to use the gun’s loud noise, only if necessary, to scare it. He knew, and had taught all of us kids, bears don’t like loud sudden noises, and these usually cause them to leave.

Eventually, much to my mother’s relief, the bear moved away from our site and toward the other sites. Much to my mother’s dismay, my father put on his pants and shoes, took his gun and went outside, intending to follow the bear from what he believed to be a safe distance, and scare it if it threatened anyone.

Orange and white Pointer.

The first thing he saw was our dogs, in the car. The Pointer, an elderly fellow, was asleep. The young Dalmatian was awake, wide-eyed and shivering in fear. She whimpered when she saw my father. The bear had made a

English: Dalmatian Italiano: Dalmata

mess next to our tent, but had left the 5 of us kids alone, and we remained blissfully asleep.

Closer to the lake, 2 more dogs were sleeping outside their owners’ tent on their leads when the bear came to their site. My

german shepherd

father heard the German Shepherd, growling low and threatening the bear. In the moonlight, he could see the Shepherd was preparing to attack if the bear came closer. The Pomeranian was awakened by the Shepherd’s growling. He lit into a long series of loud and high-pitched yaps! The bear, startled

Pomeranian dog

by the noise and disliking its sudden and shrill tone, took off up the nearest mountain, as fast as it could go, as my father dove into some brush to avoid it. After the bear was gone and the campground again quiet, my father picked himself up, dusted himself off and went back to their tent to tell my mother of the bear’s hasty departure. He then unloaded and put his gun away, safely re-locking its case, and falling back into his much-deserved and much-disturbed night’s rest.

That night, when confronted by a very real danger, most of us in that campground slept unaware, including our Pointer. How often do we sleep when the dangers of financial ruin, or relationship crises or leadership failures or any other disasters loom on our horizons? How often do we slumber, even when there is real danger someone is trying to wake us up to face?

Some wake up, but are more or less paralyzed by differing levels of fear. My mother, often uncomfortable with the wilder parts of a wilderness environment, stayed in her tent and tried to convince my father to stay with her. Our Dalmatian shivered and whimpered in the car, instead of barking. How often do we stay paralyzed by our fears, when we could and should do something, even if it’s just to shout out a warning? We need to get up, move and do something, because doing nothing is very often a certain method for making a bad situation worse.

Some get up and threaten the fears, like the German Shepherd. He threatened to fight back, but didn’t follow through, or at least never had a chance. But as I learned early in my parenting journey, a threat is useless unless there is follow through behind it. Just growling only makes for noise, not effectiveness.

Others, like my father, get up and patrol on guard. They prepare for a fight, and usually hope one isn’t necessary. They are sheepdogs of life among herds of fearful sheep, who mistrust them because of their ferocious nature that is so like wolves, never realizing how well-protected they are with them.

And others just get up and do something about it. That Pomeranian did something! That it was so effective was more a testimony to the natures of Pomeranians and bears, than to the courage of the dog. While it’s not always true, sometimes doing something is all it takes. As Mark Twain so rightly said,

Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.

Let’s take a lesson from that Pomeranian, face our fears head on and be people who do something about it!

Re-Post: Gratitude – A Thanksgiving Prayer

This is a re-post.  I am also very grateful and thankful for our U.S. military, who serve us at home and abroad so thanklessly all year, and for our first responders, who do the same at home!!

I’m thankful for the flowers.

Fall Foliage at the New York Botanical Garden

I’m grateful for the trees.

I’m awestruck with all nature

And all its wondrous beauty.

I’m thankful for the animals,

For the ones so wild and free,

And for those who life as friends

Among us, loving me.

Blubbertail in the window

I’m thankful for the heavens

And their great bright starry host.

And I’m grateful for the seasons;

There’s not one I don’t love the most.

I’m thankful for the valleys,

And the mountains soaring so high,

And I’m grateful for the oceans

And the water’s abundant supply.

The 2007 U.S. National Christmas Tree is lit o...

I’m thankful for my family,

My children, bright and strong,

And how my spouse still loves me

When I am in the wrong.

And I’m grateful for the people

Whose love will never end,

Both family and others,

The ones I’m proud to call “Friend.”

Our Family Portrait, 2008

I’m mostly thankful, though, Lord,

For the love I’ve come to know

In the ways You gently touch my heart

And cause me to quietly grow.

I’m grateful also, dear Lord,

For the gifts You’ve given me,

And the way You teach me how to use them

So you can set other spirits free.

Lord (Jesus)

I’m thankful for it all, Lord,

For this life that I call “Mine,”

And I’m asking You to help me

To be thankful more of the time.

And I’m asking You to shake me up

When I have a bad attitude,

That others might be drawn to You

Through my life of humble gratitude.

The Launching of the Queen Mary

In life, things often don’t go as planned. When this happens, sometimes chaos and hilarity can result. The following is as true a story as I can remember. Names have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent (and the guilty!).

I was 10, and wilderness camping in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I was there with my parents, older and younger siblings and dogs. Our camping site was located on a lake that is about 1 1/2 miles long, and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point. (That’s important information.) Here’s an actual picture of the place:

13th LakeIt was a lovely hot summer weekend, and my 8 year old sister and I were swimming and playing in the water off our campsite, next to the boat launch. We noticed some commotion above us on the road leading to the boat launch. My sister was busy with what she was doing in the water, so I went up alone to investigate.

I found 5 or 8 cars, some 20 people and one truck towing the largest boat I’d ever seen. The newcomers were arguing with the men at the campsite about the feasibility of the boat being launched into the lake. They demanded to see the boat launch, and seemed displeased when told they were standing on it. I asked my mother what was happening, and she said, “They are trying to launch the Queen Mary here!

They turned to the State Forest Ranger, who’d just arrived, and tried to convince him he could use the rescue winch on the front of his truck to help them. While the adult campers chuckled behind their hands, he said that was out of the question. No amount of persuasion or argument would convince these folks the boat couldn’t or wouldn’t be launched. Even if it was, the twin engines wouldn’t be able to come up to enough speed for the water skiing they wanted to do in the confines of such a small

Water skiing on the Yarra River in Melbourne

space. The Ranger and the men from the campground kept trying to tell them they’d have more success at a bigger place like Lake George or Blue Mountain Lake, but nothing would deter them from their goal of boating on that lake that day.

Well, nothing until while all the adults had been busy arguing, one had left his toddler in the front seat of his car alone, and unrestrained. This was in the years before seat belts were popularly used, let alone car seats. The parent had not set the emergency brake, and when the child started playing with the controls of the car and got it into neutral, gravity took over. My mother and I both saw the car moving at the same time, and shouted for my sister to move. She barely leaped away in time, as the father ran after the car and his child.

The child was retrieved and was perfectly fine, damp and delighting in his ride. The Ranger’s winch was employed, and the car retrieved from the lake. It was then they declared they were going to change the oil on the car right then and there, and let the old oil drain into the soil and lake. It was only the Ranger’s presence as a representative of the law which prevented some “frontier justice” by the men from the campground. The Ranger hauled out his ticket book, started angrily listing things for which he was about to cite them, and said tickets were a certainty if they didn’t leave immediately.

Within a short time, the lake again belonged to the wildlife, the campers and Ranger. The adults sat down to well-deserved cups of coffee and some relaxation, as they laughed at the boaters. I told them what my mother told me about the boat, and enjoyed the laugh I got. What my mother said to me became both the title of this post and the name of what is a favorite family story.

When I consider this story, I think about the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust process I have learned from LIFE. Orrin Woodward, best-selling author and LIFE co-founder, learned this information during his career as a successful engineer from its inventor, the legendary engineer Edward Demming.

Orrin Woodward

Orrin Woodward

In the Plan, Do, Check and Adjust (also called PDCA) process, we work out a Plan, Do the Plan, Check the progress of the Plan with an outside source like a mentor and Adjust the Plan as necessary to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Each step is an individually critical component in success of any endeavor.

Let’s review my story in light of the PDCA process. The folks with the boat had a Plan: they Planned to launch their boat on the lake and go water skiing. They tried to Do their Plan. They tried multiple methods to Do their Plan. However, they failed to listen to the wiser counsel of others when confronted with undeniable data, didn’t Check their Plan against the available data and failed to Adjust accordingly. It was in this failure to Check and Adjust stage when the car ended up in the lake, instead of their boat.

So, how can we make this process work for ourselves? Please understand, in saying these things, I will be talking to myself as much as I am talking to you!

How many times do we go benignly along through life, trying to launch our Queen Mary Plans, little realizing how impractical or physically impossible they are? And even when they are possible, do we work them out with others who might know more than us, to help us make a better Plan? Others, of course, go blissfully through life with seemingly no Plan at all, living out the true-ism a failure to Plan is a Plan for failure.

Sometimes, we get stalled in the Do step. Some of us are wonderful Planners, but not so great at the Do part. A Plan is not meant to be a paper tiger. It’s meant to be a blueprint for building something. Nike didn’t make their slogan, “Just Do It,” for nothing, you know.

When we finally get our Plans launched and Do them, do we Check how we’re doing with them? Or do we go sailing onward, benignly or willfully ignorant of data running counter to what we want to be seeing? Data, as it has been so rightly said, isn’t right or wrong. It’s just data. To deny the facts of something in front of us and move on anyway is either ignorant or foolish.

Do we stop sometimes and Adjust what we are doing in the face of data that tells us stuff we might not want to hear? The Adjust stage is when you either refine the Plan, or decide it’s fine for now, and go forward. It is here where the counsel of a mentor can be most crucial. Often we need a voice outside of ourselves, who compassionately knows us, to look in on our situations and offer a broader view we likely do not see. It’s like going through a dense forest, and having someone in a helicopter above, who sees the way, telling you where to go and how to turn to navigate successfully.

Had the folks with the boat that day practiced the PDCA process, we likely would never have seen them, and I would not have this (hopefully!) entertaining story to illustrate the PDCA process for you. They would have realized their boat needed more space than our lake had, and gone elsewhere. They would have happily water skied, not needed to change the oil on one of the cars, not almost hit my sister with the car and left us in peace. And I would have been left to find another story to illustrate the PDCA process for you.

I hope my story of a failure of the PDCA process, and my explanations of it help you find joy in your journey as you use it to find more success in life!

We They or Us

Who decides in a society who “we” is, and who “they” are? How are we “us” and those folks “them”? What makes the one human race so divisive we feel we must devolve into different groups, competing for everything, instead of sharing it?

These are the thoughts that have run through my head recently as I have pondered my stance on the subject of illegal immigration in the U.S. I thought my opinions clear and logically held. “They” (meaning the undocumented immigrants) are not here legally, which was wrong. “They” take jobs from Americans. “They” take entitlements to which they are not rightfully entitled as non-citizens. “They” . . . I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’ve had my paradigms on the subject radically shifted lately. Two events have caused me to reconsider everything I believed about this politically and socially charged topic.

The first was the TEAM LIFE Fall Leadership Conference I attended in October. At this conference, a couple was recognized for achieving the ranks of leadership in the company held by only 11 other couples. As part of their recognition, they told the riveting story of how they earned this achievement and their success.

Thelmar and Sandra were born in Guatemala. Both of them came to the U.S. as illegal immigrants, and Sandra was deported the first time she tried to come. Thelmar had been a Communist revolutionary in Guatemala, but left when he realized his life was in danger there. He came here to work against the system in the U.S., and by working within it, learned to love it. Thelmar and Sandra earned their places in the U.S., and their eventual citizenship, by hard work, dedication and a commitment to give back to the country that had taken them in when they had nowhere else to go.

Hearing their moving story, I felt like my whole accepted point of view was turned upside down and shaken. On a break later, I told my mentor I was going to have to do some serious rethinking of my views on illegal immigration, given what we’d heard.

The second event came from FaceBook. I saw a link to a video by a group called UpWorthy. It was about a high school student, a political refugee from Albania, who was planning to go to college to be a doctor. Ala’s immigration status was tangled in a paperwork mix-up that was no fault of hers, and the government threatened to deport her.

Ala’s story is part of a larger documentary, “The Dream is Now,” a film by Davis Guggenheim (Academy Award-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth”). I will be honest. I was prepared to dislike Mr. Guggenheim’s film, simply due to his earlier work, since I disagree with his subject of the other film. But the short clip about Ala softened me enough to watch the 35 minute documentary, and I was glad I did. (Here’s the link if you want to see it: “The Dream Is Now.”)

Touro student demonstration. 11 Sept 2006

The documentary is a series of portraits of young people, denied access to employment, education and military service because of their “illegal” immigration status. These young people have done everything we tell our children about getting good grades and working hard, but success is denied them because of their “illegal” presence in the U.S.

Thelmar and Sandra’s story, and the stories of the young people as told by Mr. Guggenheim, have upended my paradigms on “illegal” immigration. I am now wondering many of the thoughts with which I opened this post. I am questioning why we deny access to our citizenship to those who have proven they are willing to become productive assets to our society. 

I used to argue illegal immigrants take jobs away from deserving citizens. Most, in fact, work undocumented jobs that most citizens don’t want. And if someone who came here illegally was able to prove themselves better equipped and able to do any other kind of job, they have earned the right to work at it by their skills and willingness. Isn’t that what we tell those born here “legally”?

I used to argue illegal immigrants took entitlements. I now understand if they are allowed to work and pursue careers like those of us born in the U.S., they wouldn’t need to seek entitlements to which their country of origin does not entitle them.

I used to argue illegal immigrants were here illegally, so that made it wrong. But then I remembered something: Who was in charge of immigration when the Mayflower showed up? Who controlled it while the U.S. was a struggling bunch of disjointed colonies? Why did we suddenly start shutting our doors and denying the truths of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty?

Let’s look a little deeper into that poem I just mentioned. If you’ve studied poetry or history at all, you know a line or two of it. But do you know it all, or what it’s even called? It’s significant in this discussion, so here it is:

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...

The Statue of Liberty

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The last few lines of the poem are without question the most famous. But I want to call your attention to something about them. There is no reference to the legality of how people come. There is no commentary on where they come from, their skin color, religion or culture. There is only an open hand, and behind it an open heart, of welcome for those who would come and seek it.

If someone has come here “illegally,” and that person wants to better themselves and then work to better this society to which they have come, I now say, Let them come! Let’s accept them, give those who want to contribute a viable path to honest citizenship and deport those whose behavior suggests they are here to break laws or cause trouble. And of those who are already here, let them stay.”

How can we as a society end the “we” and “they” mentality that is so poisonously pervasive? What will change the paradigms of a whole nation, as mine were so radically altered? How can we get back to the feelings which prompted the words Emma Lazarus so eloquently penned?

“They” are not our enemy. In this issue, a strong case can be made “we,” with our hatred and fear, are our own worst enemies.  To paraphrase from the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and we are us.

Yours Mine Or Ours (The Encroaching of Collectivism)

How do we define where our rights as individuals end and our responsibilities as members of collective society begin? Is it fair to define what is mine without society telling me what I can or cannot do with it within the confines of reasonable laws and sensibilities?

I recently came across an article online that got me thinking about this question. It also got me thinking about something that came up about 6 months ago along the same lines. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

The article was about some people vacationing in Europe and having dinner at a restaurant. The group ordered their food, and received more than they could eat, leaving about 1/3 of it behind. Others got upset with them, and called local officials, who fined them 50 Euros for wasting food. The article, from http://36meals.blogspot.com/2011/10/money-is-yours-but-resources-belong-to.html, went on to say the following:

The officer then told us in a stern voice: “ORDER WHAT YOU CAN CONSUME, MONEY IS YOURS BUT RESOURCES BELONG TO THE SOCIETY. THERE ARE MANY OTHERS IN THE WORLD, WHO ARE FACING SHORTAGE OF RESOURCES. YOU HAVE NO REASON TO WASTE.”

A senior police officer of the Hamburg police ...

The tourists were sympathetic to the officer’s position, and the blog went on to condemn the Western attitude of being able to order and eat as we please, perhaps wasting some in the process. While I cannot condone the greed and gluttony which prompted ordering and wasting of large amounts of food, the attitude of the officer and the reaction of the tourists disturbs me. Greed and gluttony are two of the Seven Deadly Sins, the others being wrathslothpridelust and envy. However, society has had a history of failing to successfully legislate and enforce legislation against any of these human ills. This is because morality is an issue of the heart, and not of just behavior.
English: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four La...

The Seven Deadly Sins

The other side of it, the one from 6 months ago, was a report of an MSNBC network news reporter stating children belong to the community at large, and not their parents. (http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/04/09/critics-slam-msnbc-hosts-claim-that-kids-belong-to-community-not-parents/

Melissa Harris-Perry recorded a commercial for the network in which she stated that children do not belong to their parents, but are instead the responsibility of the members of their community.

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children,” she says in a spot for the network’s “Lean Forward” campaign. “So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Melissa Harris Perry

Ms Harris-Perry faced a firestorm of criticism from pro-family, religious and politically conservative groups for her statements. Many considered her comments to stem from elitist thinking, while there were those who supported it. To declare parents are not the primary responsibility for their own children, as they have been since parents started having children, was radical at best and polarizing to say the least.

In both cases, there is an allegation being made that the rights of the collective societal community are greater than the rights of the individuals within it. It is asserted the state is a tribe, collective or hive, protecting the resources for the good of all within it to distribute as it sees fit. It is this collective mentality I seek to address.

The U.S. was founded on the principles of human freedom, dignity and individual rights over the rights of a collective state society. The founding documents are clear in these areas. It is only when the rights of the individual overstep and move into the rights of another that the state has a right to step in and declare the boundaries have been violated. To put it in more simplistic terms, as I learned it as a child, my rights end where yours begin, and it is the state’s job to make sure those lines remain clear. And the state’s job ends where my rights, and yours, begin.

In this individualized paradigm, for the most part, the needs of the few outweigh the needs

Individuality

Individual

of the many. The few or one are given as great a weight in considering decisions as are the many. Individual rights are more difficult to trample, as are the rights of minorities. When everyone has rights and they are all honored and respected, it becomes easier to accord rights to others, and the society as a whole benefits. In such a society, leaders come from within, rising as defenders of rights of individuals and minorities. Leadership becomes something possible for the many, not the few.

The U.S., Austrailia and Canada have been good examples of this individual societal paradigm. Founded on the beliefs the rights of individuals are paramount, these states have enjoyed social and economic freedom envied around the globe. Historical examples can also be found in Greece and pre-Empire Rome.

bee hive

bee hive

The attitude I see in both stories is the rights of the hive or collective or tribe is greater than the individuals within it. When a tribe is given the rights of the resources, whether these be food, shelter, clothing or children, the tribe becomes more important than the individuals within it. The needs of the many in this case therefore outweigh the needs and rights of the few or the one. Only the needs of the society as a whole are considered.

When no one has rights to be respected, it is rule by majority, with individual and minority rights being lost in the mob. In this society, leaders are those with best access to resources, or who are given power by those who already have it. Leadership becomes something impossible for the many, but not for the few.

Examples of the collective societal paradigm can be studied in the communist societies such as pre-Glasnost Russia, East Germany, North Korea and Cuba, to name but a few. It’s not a paradigm that’s not been wanting and not tried. It’s been repeatedly tried and found consistently wanting.

Best-selling author, blogger, leadership expert and business leader Orrin Woodward said

Orrin Woodward

Orrin Woodward

the other day on Twitter,

Societies, Civilizations & Corporations all decay from within before they are overcome from without.

Any attempt to move the U.S. from its fundamental principles of individual human freedoms as clearly outlined in its founding documents is decay in its society. I’ll say that again: Any attempt to move the U.S. from its fundamental principles of individual human freedoms as clearly outlined in its founding documents is decay in its society. Attempts such as these examples, and others like them we see on an alarmingly almost daily basis, are to be resisted.

The only way to remain a free society is to decide we want to be one, and then to take the necessary actions in the social media, the mainstream media, the voting booth and in legal protest to make sure our voices are heard and clearly understood. Sometimes, all it takes is someone standing up and saying, “NO!” Let’s all be that someone.

LeaderShift

LeaderShift