When Life Turns Upside Down

What do you do when your life upends on itself? How do you handle a major shift (or even multiple ones), for which you likely hadn’t planned?

Much as my life is open on Twitter, Facebook and the like, there are certain things about which I am deeply private. Upheavals in my life, stresses I am enduring and tough things I am going through are things I do not share as I go through them, except with those closest to me. These are not for public consumption. If I do share them, I do so after, as a testimony.

However, Dear Readers, I’ve been grappling a lot with the questions I started this post with lately. I cannot say I have every definite answer on them. So why share such stuff now? Because as is my usual way on this blog, all I can do is share my journey and where I am in it, and hope it helps you in yours.

It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the end of April. The weather was cool and the sky was cloudless. It was the kind of day that, when you woke up and looked outside and saw how gorgeous an early spring day it was, it made you happy to be alive in it. To make things better, we were attending a gathering that day with a group of our Life Leadership partners in Syracuse, NY, about a 3-hour drive from our home. It was a fun event, a reward for hard work and a time to spend relaxing with some of our favorite people.

On the interstate on the trip home, I was dozing in the front passenger seat of our minivan. I was tired from an exhausting week at work, and grateful I didn’t have to drive. My husband Bob was driving. Daughter Beth was in the middle seat, playing a game on her phone. Son-in-law Tom was in the back seat, sprawled asleep.

I woke to the rumble strip under us and saw the van speeding into the median strip on the left side of the road, heading toward scraping the guardrail. In a moment of panic, Bob yanked the wheel right, abruptly swerving us back onto the highway. Temporarily. The force of his yank caused the van to continue to careen to the right, swerving and tipping the van to the right, toward my side. I covered my face with my hands, and began to breathe the only prayer I could think of in such a moment, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

I stopped praying when the noise and movement stopped. I moved my hands from my face, shocked to be alive, and not in the Eternal presence of the One on Whom I’d called in my moments of greatest danger and need. I was upside down, pinned in place between the remains of the van’s roof, dashboard, and my seat, held firmly in place by my seatbelt, but I was alive!

I heard Bob asking everyone else if they were okay as he helped them out. I heard another voice, who I later learned was a woman who lived nearby, asking the same questions. I saw blood all over me, but quickly realized not much of it was mine. As far as I could see or feel, I just wasn’t cut that badly. I was, however, still pinned, and having a panic attack over it. The woman (who I learned was a nurse practitioner in her professional life) told everyone to let the paramedics and firefighters get me out. But I moved my arms and legs, hands and feet, and determined my spine was not damaged. I was just stuck!

Overriding her protests, Tom crawled in and released my seat belt’s buckle, freeing me and assisting me out. The woman insisted I go to one side away from the van and sit down on the grass there while we waited for the police and paramedics. Happy at being freed from my prison, I was grateful to comply.

I looked around and realized the van, which we’d just paid off a few short months before, was a total wreck. But we were all walking, talking and none of us appeared to be seriously injured! The paramedics looked at the scene, checked the cuts and road rash on Bob’s arm, and told him it was a miracle it hadn’t been torn off as we skidded upside down across the pavement and grass. My hands were cut where the smashing glass from my window and the windshield on my side cut them, but because I had put them up to pray, they took the damage, and my face did not. Beth’s shoulder was sprained where Tom had grabbed her by it and her hair as we started to flip and she was about to fly out the shattered windows and be crushed by the skidding van, saving her life. Tom’s bad back and Beth’s and my bad knees were made worse by the crash, but we walked away.

God protected us all that afternoon in so very many ways that are miraculous. In that 20-mile stretch of road, there was only one place where such an accident could have happened, and we could have skidded across 2 lanes into the grass on the roof. Everywhere else, there are guardrails, embankments, steep slopes ending in ravines and/or trees, hillsides and all the other things traveling on an interstate through hilly country involves. There was no traffic around us to hit us. The road behind us was empty when we skidded across it.

When Bob and I went to where they’d towed the van the next day to gather the remains of our belongings that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, we realized the back 1/3 of the vehicle was completely undamaged. The roof above my seat, my door and the passenger door on my side had taken the worst of the damage and had held just enough in place to save our lives, particularly mine.

God protected us even to our clothes and belongings. The only items of permanently damaged clothing were Bob’s shirt and Beth’s jacket, his with its asphalt stains and small rips, showing the force of the scraping along the pavement, and God’s protection of his left arm, and hers with its multiple rips from broken glass. And the shirt was easy to replace! Even the blood stains came out of all our clothes, including to my white turtleneck. The only items (aside from the van) lost forever were a plastic cup I’d been using and a small stuffed Tiger Beenie Baby named Stripes on the dashboard.

God protected our grandchildren. We could have brought them with us that day. Other people had, and the option was open to us. But we’d decided to leave them home with a sitter. So other than some emotional trauma because the sitter had the phone on speaker when Tom called to say we’d be late arriving and why our oldest granddaughter heard it. It took almost a week to reassure her that we’d be okay every time one of the adults walked out the door! (We now have a rule that no one answers the phone on speaker anymore!)

The paramedics and police arrived, and things moved rather quickly after that. They bandaged Bob and mopped up the rest of us. Tom initially objected to being transported to the hospital, but relented when our friends (who were following some miles after and would bring us home later) informed him they were not stopping to pick him up! (It was a good thing they did. His concussion needed further treatment the next day.) They brought us to the hospital, and we went through an evening of the usual Emergency Room “hurry up and wait” that non-life-threatening injuries have to endure. We didn’t mind. After rounds of tests, multiple bandages both large (Bob’s arm) and small (my hands), volumes of paperwork and what seemed like a million questions from marveling hospital employees, we were finally allowed to leave. We went to the nearest fast food drive-through, got food for all of us and our dear friends who’d waited so patiently for us and who we’d scared so badly (and who were bringing us home!), and went home.

We had minor concussions (everyone), several large cuts (Bob), multiple smaller cuts (mostly mine), 1 strained knee (Beth), 2 bruised knees (mine), 1 road rash (Bob), 2 bad backs made worse by the crash (mine and Tom’s, his being the worst) and multiple bruises (everyone, but mostly me because of hanging in the seat belt). In the hours and days to come, we also discovered a bit of post-traumatic stress as well among all of us. And we are alive.

Yes, I know, I keep repeating that. It’s the first lesson I learned from this. When your whole world turns (literally, in my case) upside down, find something or some things large or small to be grateful about. In a near-death episode, alive is a good place to start! We are also grateful for the other miracles, saving Bob’s arm and my face, the preservation of our belongings, the timing and location of the crash. We are grateful for our friends who came to us at the hospital, and who called our Life Leadership leaders and let them know, so they could pray. We are grateful for the prayers of our church family when they found out. We are grateful so little was injured, and that most are already healed and restored. We are even grateful for our insurance company, who was so quick with settlements and whose paperwork processes were so simple to navigate.

I took the next day off from work, to deal with the remnants of my concussion, get the stuff from the van and recover somewhat. We spent a lot of time over the next week with one another and our grandchildren, reassuring the children we were okay, and that we return home again whenever we left the house. Family time was more important to us than it ever had been over those days. When your whole world turns upside down, you get a chance to assess and perhaps even reassess your priorities. The traditional North American priorities of money and stuff can seem rather pointless when your paradigms get shifted so radically. We got a chance to affirm our faith and our family, from our immediate to our extended members, are some of the highest priorities in our lives.

Our lives have changed since the accident. Because Bob’s inattention (which caused us to go off the road to the left in the first place) was likely caused by a medical issue that had been previously unknown, Bob went the following week to his cardiologist, who is now doing tests and may send him to a neurologist for more tests. Until he gets a firm diagnosis and treatment, Bob is not allowed to drive. That leaves all the driving to Tom, Beth and me, and we’re now down one car. It makes life more inconvenient for everyone. In the inconvenience is the second lesson I’ve learned from this. When your whole world turns upside down, tolerance, patience and striving for excellence is required of those of us who live a life in service to others. You don’t have to fall into the trap of perfectionism when more weight falls on your shoulders than you are used to carrying. Perfect isn’t demanded. Your best is required.

There’s another lesson in Bob’s medical tests and current inability to drive.  These add uncertainty we didn’t have along with their inconvenience, creating a “new normal.” I grieved for our old “normal,” expressing my fears to my best friend (the same one who came for us that night). She reminded me fear is not from God, Who promises differently:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3

When your whole world turns upside down, living with uncertainty is almost always a sure thing. Being uncertain is normal. Having a transition to a “new normal” and understanding grieving for what used to be “normal” is acceptable. Dwelling in it is fruitless. I tried that for a few days. It got me nowhere. It was only when I accepted the uncertainty as being part of the “new normal” and accepted it as “normal now” that I began to find peace in my situation.

We also grieved. When Bob and I went to get our stuff from the van the next day, as we left, I looked at it and silently said, “You were good to us. You did not deserve the death we gave you, but I thank you for it, that in your death our lives were saved.” Yes, it was just a thing. But saying goodbye to a vehicle in a culture that depends on and almost worships transportation can be emotional in such circumstances.   We remembered what was, and thought a lot about what could have been. In the end, with counsel from friends, we chose to set the event as a time of what did happen, instead of what didn’t. In Joshua 4:6 – 7, God commanded the people crossing the Jordan River to take up stones from the bottom and set them as a memorial to His power for stopping the river in flood so they could cross it on the far side. This was counsel I got from our friends: When your whole world turns upside down, the hardships of yesterday and today become the memorial stones of tomorrow. We pass that site going back and forth at least a couple of times monthly in our travels for Life Leadership. The first time was incredibly difficult for me, and I had a panic attack. On the way home, I decided to ignore it. It was on that trip we got the counsel, though I did not receive it well at the time. The second time, I took that counsel from our friends and made a memorial stone in my mind there of God’s grace and protection. On the way home, the memorial stone was there. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The memorial stones of our lives are proof to us of it.

So, where are things now? We still face the uncertainty of Bob’s tests. The insurance settlement sits in savings, awaiting the day he will (hopefully) be allowed to drive again, so we can replace the van. If the tests never allow him to drive again, we’ll eventually replace my car with it. We are living a life of uncertainty, and just grateful to God to be living it. Because when your whole world turns upside down, remembering Who is in ultimately in charge is essential. As we are learning now, He Who saved us is also He Who continues to sustain us. And when the One who sustains you has saved you from something like what we went through, trusting Him to sustains you becomes a whole lot easier to do . . . 

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An Offering Of Tears In A Season Of Joy

How do you handle it when everyone around you is happy and you’re not? How do you cope during a time when the rest of the world celebrates, and you often want to cry?

I found myself in that place last year in the spring after my mother died. She died a month before Easter, two months before Mother’s Day and the birth of my 4th grandchild (her 11th great grandchild). The world was celebrating these holidays, and my heart was trying to find joy in them while grieving my loss. The paradoxes of the situation and the need to pay attention to the demands of the situations caused me to push my grief aside and not deal with it. It was only recently, when hit with another unhappy life event in yet another joyful time, that I finally began to process the griefs properly.

I wondered about this when I was listening to a sermon about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was this young woman, a teenager really if you look at the culture of the time (perhaps as young as 14), engaged to be married to a (likely older) man. In our culture, it’s often the happiest time of a young woman’s life, and even in her arranged marriage culture, it likely was for her, too. She likely knew Joseph and knew her parents wouldn’t have picked out someone inappropriate for her. They might even have been friends or acquaintances, with the slight possibility they already loved one another. The wedding is being planned, the guests invited, the preparations made, the household goods for their new home arranged and everything is all new and exciting for her. It’s a time of great joy for Mary, Joseph and their families.

In Luke 1: 26 – 38, into the scene enters the angel, speaking to Mary, telling her of the coming Savior. The angel says she is the chosen one, the virgin spoken of by Isaiah the prophet so many centuries prior,

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

This news was as startling and upsetting as it was joyful. The Jews had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah, yearning and hoping. But no one expected the Messiah to come as a baby, to be born to a young woman who would be viewed as an unwed mother, who could be quite literally stoned to death for her perceived crime of becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage. They never expected Him to arrive at that place in Nazareth, or that poor and insignificant family instead of to a wealthy or influential one. 

In what should have been her season of joy, Mary had good reasons for tears! But she kept things to herself, and went to her cousin, whom the angel had said was pregnant in her old age. And when Mary found Elizabeth, everything changed.

In Luke 1: 39 – 45, we read how Elizabeth encouraged Mary. Even John the Baptist, who Elizabeth was pregnant with, leaped in her womb at the very voice of the one pregnant with the Messiah. Elizabeth’s response was just what Mary needed to hear. In Luke 1: 46 – 55, we read Mary’s lovely response in the antiphonic poem called the Magnificat.

Mary’s praise glorifies God. Through her fears, in spite of her tears, Mary chooses to see the greatness of God instead of the smallness and harshness of her situation. She deliberately chooses to be joyful, not just happy, but to downright rejoice and celebrate over God and His love for her. Mary’s poem is called the Magnificat because she magnifies God, and makes Him larger in her eyes than the problems she also sees before her.

Sometimes, like Mary, we find ourselves grieving when the rest of the world is rejoicing. As I write this, it’s less than a week before Christmas 2015. I have friends who are dealing with some tough, stressful and unhappy situations in their lives right now. While the rest of the world celebrates, they feel like the only offering they have to bring is that of their tears.

And you know what? If the only offering you have to bring is tears, it’s okay. God knows we walk through valleys sometimes. In fact, He walks through them with us! In Psalm 23, David wrote,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

The rod of a shepherd is meant for their protection. The shepherd defends them from enemies using it, and also uses it to count them and make sure they are all healthy. The shepherd’s staff is used for guiding the sheep into positions of intimacy, either with each other or himself. Thus, to be comforted by God’s rod and staff is to fall under His protection and to be brought by Him into a place of great intimacy with both Him and others of His choosing. This is a place of great comfort indeed when we walk through valleys!

Another thing to remember as we walk through valleys is that hurting people often hurt people. It’s a great temptation when we’re wounded to strike out, so we can protect ourselves and not be hurt more. But the more we lean into God, the greater we seek the protection of His rod and the comfort of His staff, the smaller the temptations become to use our own pain as an excuse to hurt others. 

As we go through our seasons of walking on mountain tops or through valleys together, it is good for us all to remember no one else is at the same point of their journey at the same time as we are, even when we travel together. May you have a blessed holiday season, and a joyful Christmas and find joy in your journey, even when your only offerings are tears.

 

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate!

Have you ever had a complete failure to communicate with someone? What did you do about it? How did you solve your communication problems?

A few years ago, my husband and I were attending a party at a location in a nearby town. We’d never been to the place. We were told it was easy to find, just across from the WalMart. In the rush of getting ready, neither of us thought to look up the location online, so we could find an exact address to program into our GPS.

Instead, we sat in our driveway and asked my iPhone adviser Siri where Youth for Christ was. Siri replied she did not deal with ecclesiastical matters. I rephrased the question. Siri responded she dealt with things silicon, not spiritual! Frustrated, but realizing the humor of the situation, I tried yet again. Siri then asked me if I wanted her to find me a local pastor or another minister with whom to discuss my questions!

It was only then my laughing husband remembered about the WalMart. So I asked Siri where it was. There are 3 nearer to us than that one, and Siri tried to give me the closest. Finally, I thought to add the name of the town to the WalMart and told Siri to give me that one. Siri finally figured out what I wanted!! Our GPS armed with the information, laughing all the way, we finally left the party, somewhat later than we’d planned!

What Siri and I had that day was a failure to communicate. I believed I was clearly stating where I wanted to go. However, Siri’s global database had never heard of where I wanted to go, or her programming only chose certain words (like “Christ”) from what I said to interpret what I wanted. The resulting disconnect both amused and frustrated us. It amused us because her answers were very funny! It frustrated us because it left us clueless about where we were supposed to be going. It was only when we revised our end of the conversation (twice!) that we got the answers we needed.

Failures to communicate happen daily within human relationships in friends and family, and even among strangers. We may think we understand what we are saying, and think they do, but if they aren’t really understanding us, a failure to communicate is inevitable. As LIFE leader Chris Mattis says,

It doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter what you meant to say. It only matters what they heard.

Failures to communicate can damage relationships, destroy marriages and families and even cause wars in extreme cases. There are some historians who say the War of 1812 was to at least some extent a failure between Great Britain and the United States to communicate.

So how do we deal with this issue? How do we work past these challenges and speak to people so they hear us? 

In a college public speaking class, I learned 4 basic rules by which we were to mold all our speeches. I’ve since heard many public speakers use them, and I have personally found them helpful in my daily living when I use them. They are

Be bright. Be brief. Know your audience. Be gone!

Be Bright. One of the first keys in communication starts with having something to say.  The Bible talks in many places about people who speak endlessly with nothing to contribute, and we’ve all experienced unfortunate episodes with such special individuals personally. LIFE leader Terry Franks defines such one-sided conversations as

the slings and arrows of outlandish gerbilling! Light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak!

I am always reminding myself not to talk to hear myself speak or because I feel I need to add my voice to a conversation. I want to contribute productively to it. As my father used to say,

Silence is not an indicator of intelligence or its lack. Sometimes, speaking is.

Be Brief. Okay, I will confess this is the one with which I struggle the most. (I know, not a shock!) A mentor of mine is often reminding me to say the most with the least amount of words, and none if at all possible. As St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to saying,

Preach Christ, and if necessary use words.

It was in the area of brevity where Siri and I failed to communicate. I said, “Youth for Christ,” meaning the organization its regional location. Siri heard, “Christ,” and understood I wanted to discuss religious matters, something a computer program isn’t designed to do. I gave the briefest inquiry appropriate. Siri didn’t have the information I wanted.

Know Your Audience. Are they a close family member? A friend? A complete stranger? Is your language their first language, or is there a bigger communication gap than what we’re dealing with here? Are you unintentionally about to push buttons with ill-chosen words?

My conversation with Siri was lacking in this regard, too. I didn’t know, until we hit on the WalMart in the correct town, how to phrase my inquiries in a way so Siri would understand. Siri didn’t understand the nature of my original request, either. Siri didn’t hear or wasn’t programmed to hear the entirety of what I’d said. Siri only caught bits and pieces. And it was in her bits and their lack that our failure to communicate started, and escalated.

When I consider my audience, I have to be aware of certain things. Are they children? I tone down my vocabulary closer to their level and use simpler words and concepts, explaining myself more. Are they professional people? Jargon might be appropriate, or maybe not, depending on the group and situation. I will admit a definite distaste for buzz words!

Two books available from LIFE have truly been helpful to me in understanding people. The first is the classic Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. It speaks of peoples’ different social interaction styles, and how to know which styles you, your friends and family have. Each different style blend requires a different way of speaking to them so they will hear what you are saying. For example, I would not give the same information to my daughter in the same way as I did to my husband if I wanted similar reactions from them, because I know their style blends are polar opposites.

The second book is another classic, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People.  Before you think, “Oh, I have lots of friends!” please let me remind you we’re talking about successful communication with everyone. This book goes into volumes more than I can begin to get into in a blog post, and I highly recommend it.

Be Gone. How many times have we yearned to hang up on (or walk away from) a conversation with someone who just refuses to let go? The introductory pleasantries have been dealt with, the subject matter discussed and now it’s time to end the chat, but the other party just won’t let you get on with your day! Unfortunately, this is another sin to which I must lay claim to being guilty. It has taken the loving insistence of my friends to let me know of this bad habit, and to work to curtail it. I have to remember the time of the people with whom I am speaking is just as valuable as mine, and if I want them to value my time highly, I have to do the same for them.

So, rather than going on with a long-winded close, I will Be Gone for now to let you, dear readers, contribute to the conversation. I’d really like to know your thoughts and stories on communication, or its lack. The floor is yours!

Relationship Atomic Bombs

If there was one thing you could eliminate about the way people around you interact and relate, what would it be? Would you get rid of the way some people criticize others? How about when some people are rude or inconsiderate? In your mind, what is the one thing that is the worst for relationships?

In my experience, the single thing that is the most damaging, the most harmful to most relationships is gossip. It is a relationship atomic bomb, unparalleled in its incredible destructive power.

Gossip is defined as “idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others.” It’s sticking our noses into the business of others. It’s poking into someone’s dirt. It’s being an inquiring mind, when it’s quite possibly (and often likely) none of our business to know. And worst of all, it’s sharing what we didn’t need to know in the first place.

In the classic book The Magic of Thinking Big, author David J. Schwartz, PhD has several thoughts about gossip, calling it “thought poison.”

Thought poison is subtle, but it accomplishes “big” things. It reduces the size of our thinking by forcing us to concentrate on petty, unimportant things.

In another place, Dr. Schwartz defines gossip, writing,

Gossip is just negative conversation about people, and the victim of thought poison begins to think he enjoys it. He seems to get a form of poisoned joy from talking negatively about others, not knowing that to successful people he is becoming increasingly unlikable, and unreliable.

Regarding leadership and gossip, best-selling author, award-winning blogger and LIFE founder Orrin Woodward recently tweeted,

Never met a leader who made a habit of gossiping & I’ve never met a gossiper who made a habit of leading. #success

And best-selling author, award-winning blogger and LIFE CEO Chris Brady recently tweeted,

A person who gossips spreads poison and blames others for the fallout. #gossip #rumors #relationships

The fallout of gossip can be as broad as the number of people involved. It damages and even breaks relationships, causes multitudes of hurt feelings and untold numbers of misunderstandings.

I remember as a schoolgirl, there was some gossip about another person and myself. The rumors were I had said something about my friend that was cruel and mean. They were completely untrue! But my friend, and our group of friends, believed them. No matter how insistent my denials, how strong my protests, they didn’t believe me, and I spent the rest of my senior year of high school ostracized from my former friends. I never reconciled with them, and now cannot with some, as they have since died. Gossip caused my friendships to be shattered beyond repair forever.

Since gossip is so damaging, how do we avoid it? One rule my grandmother and mother both taught me as a girl seems appropriate here. When tempted to gossip, they taught me to ask myself, “Would I say it if that person were present?

Let’s go back to see what David J. Schwartz, PhD has to say for a personal gossip test from The Magic of Thinking Big:

  1. Do I spread rumors about other people?
  2. Do I always have good things to say about others?
  3. Do I like to hear reports of a scandal?
  4. Do I judge others only on the basis of facts?
  5. Do I encourage others to bring their rumors to me?
  6. Do I precede my conversations with, “Don’t tell anybody”?
  7. Do I keep confidential information confidential?
  8. Do I feel guilty about what I have to say concerning other people?

Dr. Schwartz follows this list with his Golden Rule of human behavior, “Go First Class.” We all have an innate knowledge of what First Class means. It’s the best of everything money can buy. In relationships, Go First Class means to be a person of trust, honor, integrity, character and class. It means to be able to answer the questions of the gossip test with a resounding “NO” because that would be against everything you believe in and practice. To Go First Class in our relationships means we are trustworthy friends, loyal and faithful.

When our friends know the relationship atomic bomb of gossip won’t be dropped on them, it gives them security in our relationships. It means our friends know they can count on us to hear deep intimacies, knowing their secrets won’t go anywhere else.

If you struggle with gossip, I urge you to take my words to heart, and apply Dr. Schwartz’s test to your conversations. Don’t forget, it’s not just a matter of not saying it. It’s also a matter of what you will accept being told. Let us walk together, speaking truthfully, in love, and without the thought poison of gossip.

 

Be Still And Know — A Not So Perfect Family Christmas

Have you ever received what seems like an impossible suggestion or request or even command? How do you deal with it?

It was late December. I’d been sick for about a month, and found out the previous Tuesday I had a sinus infection. I’d probably been sick with it most of that month, but at least now I was on antibiotics. The Friday after my diagnosis, we learned my husband, who had also been sick all month, had one, too. He was given the same antibiotics.

Being sick, however, didn’t stop the massive, out-of-control freight train that was my “To Do” list and schedule. I tried to delegate some. I asked my husband (who was home and retired while I was still working full-time) to wrap the gifts. Our son took on a majority of the cookie baking, as he had every year (whether I wanted him to or not) for the past 4 or 5 years. (I still had to do the ones for the Cookie Exchange at work, and of course I’d signed up for the most complex and painstaking monster of a project imaginable!!.) The pair of them even decorated the house and yard with lights, and put up the tree, though it stayed without ornaments for over 2 weeks. My husband helped me stuff the stockings. I asked our daughter to make our traditional Christmas dessert which her husband adores, Pumpkin Cheesecake. But I was still rushed, frazzled and quite frankly, worn out. There was just too much on that “To Do” list, too little time to do it, and I was still sick . . .

Finally, at church on the Sunday before Christmas, a friend read a Scripture that touched my heart. It spoke to my illness, my “To Do” list, my hectic schedule and my lack of joy in what is normally my favorite time of year. When I heard it, I felt like God was speaking the words to me, gently slapping me upside my head.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.” The words spoke life to my rushed, troubled heart. Sweeping aside my “To Do” list, my schedule and my self-imposed Christmas insanity, the words of Psalm 46 demanded a paradigm shift of my priorities, my schedule and my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to rest. Not just sleep, which my still sick body desperately needed. No, these words were calling me to true rest and peace in God. To know that perfect isn’t required, and okay is good enough. To know that the menu isn’t important, it’s who is eating the food, and making sure was Jesus our Guest, too.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to remember the Reason for the season. They reminded me again of what I’d known since childhood: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It’s about His life, His sacrificial offering of Himself for us so that we can have a relationship with Him and His Father. It’s not about the food, the presents, the lights and all the other trappings, no matter how good they are. Because they are the “good” of the season, while the gift of Jesus was, is and always will be God’s greatest and best.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They insisted I deal with the emotional weight I’d been avoiding, of that first Christmas without my Mom being among us after her death the previous March. I was reminded she was celebrating the holiday with Jesus, and even though it’s different without her, and always will be, that’s okay.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They reminded me I’m not in control of my life, and God is. Even when I tried to give in to the illusion and deception of being a (recovering) control freak, the words cut through my feeble efforts to direct my life and reminded me there is One who is ultimately in control. And He is in control not just of my life, but of situations and circumstances beyond my comprehension, even reaching to the far-flung galaxies of the universe. The words reminded me I can trust the One who spun it all into existence, and holds it together by His will.

That last reminder was very helpful 2 days later (and 2 days before Christmas), when I got a call at work, telling me our daughter and 6 month old granddaughter had influenza, despite having gotten flu shots! (CDC says the shots don’t cover every strain, and they got one it didn’t, of course!) Our daughter and son-in-law wanted us to take the 2 older children (who were not sick), and have them stay with us from that day, through Christmas and for several days after.

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words ran through my mind repeatedly as I spoke to my husband, working out first if we could do it. Then, when we decided we could, we discussed the logistics of my work schedule and transportation needs, all now more complicated by the presence in our house of 2 girls, ages 4 and 6, for a few unexpected days.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Stuff I’d planned and we “always” do didn’t get done. Our daughter didn’t get the cheesecake baked before she got sick. Since small granddaughters prefer Christmas cookies to cheesecake, we were okay with that. My husband and son decorated the tree with the help of 2 small girls. As long as my delicate, breakable ornaments were put high by one of the men, I didn’t care what it looked like.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  The 4 year old and I started having coughing fits on Christmas Eve. I suspected exposure to my daughter (for me, prior to her showing symptoms on Sunday) was the culprit. Instead of the “perfect” family Christmas, we had one that was a different and not so perfect kind of family Christmas. We were missing Mom, and almost 1/2 of us were ill. But in its own way, it was perfect, because those ancient words prompted me to remember Christmas is perfect when we are with people we love and we have invited God and His presence and peace to be in our midst.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I pray your holiday season will be filled with the gentle stillness of God’s loving presence and at least some of the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

When Pain Mocks The Song — Even In The Christmas Update Letter by Terri Brady

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.

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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

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 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!

Trust

(For John D)

“Trust must be earned,”

I’ve heard people say,

“By a man who acts toward me

“In a favorable way.

“Trust is a coin,

“Paid for favors done,

“Until it’s earned, there’s suspicion

“Toward the un-trusted one.”

 

“Trust is a gift,”

I have heard others tell,

“By someone whose heart

“Strikes my heart well.

“Trust is a treasure

“That must be given away,

“Not hoarded in a closed heart

“Until it all fades away.”

 

I’ve decided that trust

Is both a coin and a gift,

To be earned, then bestowed,

And give someone a lift.

It’s a coin because it can’t be given

Right from the very start.

It’s a gift because it’s granted

From the treasure of my heart.

 

When I give my trust,

It’s to someone who’s kind,

To someone whose actions

Reveal a like mind.

And when I give my trust,

On some bright, happy day,

The trusted one knows it won’t quickly

Be taken away.

When trust is abused,

It’s a sorry, sad thing.

It takes away love,

And leaves a hard, hurtful sting.

And the one whose own trust

Has been so abused

Feels lonely and sad

And angry and used.

 

But I’ll still give my trust

Even though it may hurt,

If a person decides

It’s of such little worth.

Because trust is too costly

To be hoarded, and lost,

And the love of a friend

Is worth any cost.