Repost – Historical Leaders — When “Well Enough” Isn’t Good Enough

The following is a repost from October 31, 2011. I have updated a few dates and timelines. Happy Reformation Day!

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In my studies on Leadership, I have discovered a few traits leaders share.  One of these traits is a refusal to abide by the status quo.  Leaders want to change things, and just can’t leave alone anything they see as being in opposition to their vision of the future.  “Well enough” isn’t good enough for leaders when better is possible.  Here is the biography of one such leader.

He was born in 1484, in what is now known as Germany. His parents were trades people, with upwardly mobile aspirations for their son. Thus, he received the best schooling his father’s money could buy.

His father’s ambitions were that he become a lawyer, but the leader in him found law unsatisfying. So he dropped it almost immediately, and tried philosophy. That, however, proved unsatisfactory, as he found it questioned his religious faith too much. He later wrote “philosophy is good for the questioning of man, but man could only learn of God through divine revelation and the Scriptures.”

Shortly into his college career, he had an experience that led him to believe he should be a monk. This was very much against his father’s wishes, who felt he was abandoning his education and family. His friends were skeptical of his suitability to it, also. Individualist that he was, he continued the course once he decided it.

He tried very hard to be a monk, and later wrote if trying had been all it took, he would have been the best. But his superiors knew he was cut of different cloth (perhaps they knew a budding rascal leader when they saw one!), and sent him off to university to study theology, Biblical studies and the priesthood. He became a priest and earned a Doctorate in Theology, becoming a professor in it at Wittenberg University in Germany, a post he held for the rest of his career.

It was here he finally flowered and attained his now famous greatness. A representative from Rome came to his beloved Wittenberg, and began to sell tokens, called indulgences. These indulgences were meant for people to have the souls of their loved ones released from Purgatory upon the purchase of them. The church’s purpose in selling them was to raise money for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The church at the time taught faith alone cannot justify people, and that acts of charity, not faith, were also necessary to be saved.

By now I am sure you have guessed the identity of our historic rascal leader, so I will use his name from now on. Martin Luther was incensed at the selling of these indulgences to the people of the church over which he was pastor. He initially wrote to the Pope by way of his Archbishop in protest, with the first draft of his 95 Thesis, saying the wealthy Pope and church should pay for the building projects of Rome, and not the humble peasants they were supposed to be serving. He claimed he wrote it as a scholarly dissertation and objection, not a direct challenge to Papal authority and power. His 95 Thesis were also printed and posted on the door of the cathedral of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, now known widely as Reformation Day, in accordance with the Wittenberg customs of scholarly debate.  Today marks 437 years since that act.

The 95 Thesis were quickly reprinted from Latin to German and spread throughout the land, one of the first known historical controversies so spread. The word, spread thusly, went like a wildfire.

In direct contrast to the church’s teachings, Luther spent the succeeding years preaching and teaching (and writing) on justification by faith. Eventually, the catch-phrase, “By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” became the hallmark of his growing group of followers.

However, the Catholic church did not take Luther’s perceived challenges lightly. They launched investigations, set up heresy hearings that devolved into shouting matches, attempted to arrest Luther (the German King protected him) and threatened him with excommunication. Eventually, he was officially excommunicated. But it just didn’t seem to matter. No one would silence this rascal leader, and nothing would deter his beliefs.

Finally, the secular authorities had at him at the now infamous Diet of Worms at Wartburg Castle in January to May of 1521. Emperor Charles V presided, and the Elector of Saxony (and Luther’s patron) provided safe conduct through hostile territory for him to attend.

The Emperor and an Archbishop finally demanded in exasperation he recant. Luther replied,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand and can do no other. May God help me. Amen.

The Emperor and Archbishop, of course, voted against him, declaring his life forfeit. The Elector of Saxony helped him escape to safety on the return trip. He found chaos on his return, started by disciples who had taken Reformation too far. He cleaned up the mess, preached and wrote against the excesses and generally worked to lead people back to where he envisioned the Bible was telling them to go. Much to his dismay and distress, the radicals did have their way in larger Germany, igniting what is now known as the Peasants War, against which he preached and taught.

Luther rescued a group of nuns who no longer wished to serve as such and were being held against their will after he returned from Worms. Among them was Katharina von Bora, whom he eventually married, and with whom he had 6 surviving children. He had long advocated a married priesthood within the Catholic church, and now that he was out of it, enjoyed the benefits of it as a married pastor.

Opposing the Roman church’s central system, Luther organized the church that today bears his name in a decentralized system of synods, loosely aligned in common purpose. He declined to be leader of distant synods set up in his model, and preferred to merely advise them. He successfully laid out theology and catechisms (Large for pastors and teachers and Small for everyone to memorize and learn) for the church’s doctrine and its teaching for all ages. He rewrote the Mass to be a simpler service, a celebration for all ages that allowed for freedom of ceremony within synods and churches. Pastoral care and Christian education were both addressed as well, as he had seen problems with both of these areas in his prior service.

While in Worms, one of the things Luther did to pass his time was to translate the New Testament into German. This was the first time the Scriptures of any kind had been in the language of the people of the land since the fall of Rome to the barbarians. Later, he also worked with Bible scholars to translate the Old Testament, also. His version influenced William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English, and the translators of the King James Bible, the first authorized English version.

Rascal leaders not being content with the status quo in anything, Luther also wrote hymns for his church. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is, one might argue, his most famous.

In 1529 to 1531, Luther participated in a series of debates hosted and convoked by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, involving doctrinal unity among the emerging Protestant regions. It is out of these debates the Augsburg Confessions arose.

In a war with the Turks, Luther had to deal with the differences between Holy War and secular war. He urged the German people to defend their country on a secular basis. However, he told them it was not a Holy War, and believed the Turks could be left alone in their Islamic faith. He continued in his beliefs until he read a translated copy of the Qur’an.

No leader is perfect, and Martin Luther certainly wasn’t. His writings on the Jews introduced into German thought and culture an anti-Semitic thread that just wasn’t there prior to him. He held them in disdain, and his views on the subject were repudiated by the Lutheran church in the 1980’s.

Luther’s final acts were on behalf of his extended family’s financial interests. The count who ruled over the city of his birth had in mind to take over their means of livelihood, which was the same as their father’s, and Luther stepped in to negotiate. The successful negotiations were barely concluded when he suffered what appears in retrospect to be a series of heart attacks, followed by a major stroke and then shortly after by his death. Just before the stroke, he was asked by his assembled followers and protégées,

“Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” A distinct “Yes” was Luther’s reply.

The rascal leader Martin Luther died at the age of 62 in the town of his birth. He was buried under the altar of his beloved Wittenberg Cathedral. Later, when the soldiers of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded Saxony, the Emperor strictly instructed his troops not to disturb his grave. He is celebrated in the Calendars of Saints of the Episcopal, Church of England and, of course, Lutheran churches. The final Sunday of October is Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran church, celebrating this leader’s revolutionary 95 Thesis, now from 437 years ago today.

(My thanks to my Lutheran teachings and books, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther for some of the specific details herein!)

Happy Mother’s Day (guest post)

I was just rereading Terri Brady‘s amazing job with her Shout Out to Moms! from 2012. It reminded me of the late great humorist Erma Bombeck, who wrote a special piece one year for Mother’s Day. I have read a lot on mothers and Mother’s Day, but so far, no one has been able to duplicate it.  I laugh and cry every time I read it. I hope you enjoy this Mother’s Day gift as much as I do.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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“When God Created Mothers”

When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 movable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.

One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”

I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine-year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius, ” said the angel.

Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”

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Related Posts:

Terri Brady — Shout Out To Moms!

It’s Owls George

How do we face facts when our data confirms we are dealing with things we had assumed were something else? Do we deny it, or do we accept it?

13th LakeOne summer evening, we were camping at our favorite lake. We kids had eventually meandered off to bed, followed by my mother. My father remained at the campfire, enjoying it and the company of some of the other men from the campground, one of whom I’ll call Mike.

They heard the sound of hooting on the lake. Mike commented about how loud the owls were that night. My father said the hooting was from bears, and that was how bears communicate over long distances. Mike laughed and told my father they were owls.

My father patiently explained the differences he knew there to be between owl and bear hoots, but Mike would have none of it. No matter my father’s reasoning, “It’s owls, George!,” was all Mike would say, over and over. As the hooting came progressively closer to the site, Mike claimed once more they were owls, and he was going to bed. The other men, silent on bears versus owls hooting, agreed with Mike on going to bed, and went as well.

My father remained up, alone at the fire for a while longer. As he was getting it ready for the night, he heard noises from the beach that was part of the campground. The hooting was very near, and sounded like it was coming from across the stream that was next to the beach.

Suddenly there was a loud crash from the beach! It was followed by some bawling noises that sounded a little like calves. Then there was some more anxious hooting, and shortly afterwards the hooting moved away, gradually going back down the lake away from the campsite again. My father strolled over to Mike’s tent.

“Hey, Mike, you awake?”

“Yeah,” came the sleepy grumbling reply.

Awfully loud owls on the beach tonight, huh?” And with that, my father walked away laughing, to find his bed.

The next morning they decided from the tracks they found a pair of bear cubs had left the side of their mother, who’d stayed on the other side of the creek. They’d come to the beach, found a trash can, and in their search for food, knocked it over and scared themselves straight back to their mother. The anxious hooting my father heard was the mother, calling her cubs away from the scent of the humans she knew to be there. The only conclusion anyone could draw was we had been quite fortunate the mother hadn’t taken it upon herself to take revenge on the humans who had so scared her cubs!

In life, we often need the counsel of someone who is outside our situation, who sees the forest when we only see trees, and who can compassionately guide us through. Mike stubbornly refused to accept my father’s more experienced counsel. Fortunately for him, all he got was a good kidding over the next days and a place in a family story! More often, failure to heed wiser heads than ours can unfortunately lead to results that are more disastrous and oftentimes more tragic than simple embarrassment.

How do we find people with good counsel? I have learned from my mentors in LIFE to look for people who are successful in the areas where I want to gain knowledge or grow. If they have succeeded, they can teach me, and most are willing to share their secrets.

Another good place is books and positive audios. LIFE offers books and audios from people with proven success in areas of Faith, Family, Finances, Fitness, Friendship, Freedom, Following (or Leadership) and Fun. As I listen to the audios and read the books, I gain insight from their years of valuable experience. I get shortcuts to success, maps to roads I have not taken and keys for walking safely through the minefields of life.

There are great benefits to be gained when we learn from the experience of others, and the wisdom and insight they’ve gained. As I have often told our kids, we just don’t have enough time in life to make all the mistakes we need to learn everything we need to know, if we choose the method of learning by our mistakes! This is especially true in the information age, with the constant stream of data flow we all experience coming at us daily from media, the internet, smart phones, and other people. This is also especially true when the data flow is negative.

Positive data tends to be shoved aside, drowned out in the hullabaloo of disasters, crimes, tragedies and trivia. It takes a deliberate distancing of oneself from the data flow, to plug into positive sources, to stem the tide of negativity. When I pick up a book or pop in a CD from LIFE, I am making a conscious choice to change my input to positive, life-affirming sources, which in turn transform me into becoming one myself.

I invite you to consider the products LIFE offers, and how they might benefit your life. As I have heard it explained, the products from LIFE are 5 star restaurant quality information, with greasy spoon diner prices. Please feel free to contact me in the Comments section. As usual, all personal information will be kept confidential.

LIFE Leadership Logo

Easter In Song

For Easter, I am giving you a few videos of some of my favorite Resurrection Day music. I hope you like it as much as I do.

The first is by one of the early bands of the Contemporary Christian Music genre, 2nd Chapter of Acts. It’s called Easter Song.

The next is by Dallas Holm, another pioneer in Christian Contemporary Music, called Rise Again.

The next is by Don Francisco, known for his story-telling through music, Too Small A Price. (Warning: Graphic images inappropriate for small children. But don’t let the images scare you away. The ending is positively amazing!)

The last one is another by Don Francisco. It is my absolute favorite, the joy-filled He’s Alive.

Photo: After Eden: The Difference

 

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.

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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!