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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To Change The World — Repost for Furgeson and Baltimore

Dear Readers,

I posted this poem a while ago. In light of last year’s tragic riots in Furgeson, MO, and this week’s in Baltimore, MD, I am choosing to do it again.

When I wrote it, I was thinking about the men and women whose positive words, lives and actions changed the world. Men like Jesus, who turned His world upside down by a doctrine of love and forgiveness. Men like Gandhi, who changed their worlds with non-violence and peaceful protest. Men like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who changed their world with a dream and a vision. Women like Mother Theresa, who changed the world through sacrifice and service. Women like Princess Dianna, who changed the world through compassion and service to the least and lost.

The people in Baltimore this week started protesting from different races and socio-economic backgrounds. They did it in peace, seeking justice. That was a protest that meant something. Not the riots which followed.

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The world is not changed                                                 

Standard Time Zones of the World as of 2005. (...


By long speeches made

By someone whose words

Are bold and are grand.

The world’s only changed

When games stop being played,

And two people reach out,

And grasp hand to hand.

The world is not changed

By many a weary mile

By people who gather

To march in a long walk.

The world’s only changed

When to scared people smile,

And break down some walls,

To take time to talk.

The world is not changed

By acts of anger and rage,

By acting out unthinkingly

And causing great strife.

The world’s only changed

When love sets the stage

And a stranger reaches out

To help change one person’s life.

The world is not changed                                                                       

World! Wide! Love!


By those filled with hate,

Who spend their lives working

To draw others apart.

The world’s only changed

When someone refuses to wait

To dear down all the barriers,

And reaches out, heart to heart.

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.

 

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

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.

We They or Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touro student demonstration. 11 Sept 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Statue of Liberty

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

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

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

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

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

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

The Courage To Stay (Part 1) – A Parable

Once upon a time, there was a land ruled over by a benevolent and kind king and his council. His subjects, though few, were happy. His dukes and princes came from the ranks of common people and acquired their titles through great service to them.

Each duke and prince was responsible for the well-being of the people in their region, and they worked hard to help they prosper and succeed. It gave the common people joy to know they could aspire to their ranks. As word of the happy kingdom spread, more people came, desiring to be subjects of this good king, and thus the kingdom grew and prospered.

Eventually, as time passed, the good king grew old and tired, and passed the rulership of his kingdom to his sons. He counselled them to listen to the advice of the council, as well as the dukes and princes. And for a time, as the sons learned to rule, they took this wise advice. So the kingdom continued to prosper and grow.

After some time, however, some of the older council members passed their titles on to newer ones the sons chose. Unfortunately, the sons began to slowly choose people who would want to do things to help the sons and the council, and not always the people. They also began to build up armies, which quickly grew great in size and influence.

Many of the dukes and princes started telling the sons and the council how their decisions were harming the people and the kingdom. Some started visiting other kingdoms, and the sons sent their armies against them, declaring them traitors. The dukes and princes who stayed kept telling the sons about the harm they were doing. At the same time, they were encouraging the people to do the right things for the kingdom, telling them not to visit other kingdoms or rebel.

Finally, the sons, their council and the generals of their armies met with some of the leaders of the dukes and princes who were speaking out for the people and kingdom. The dukes and princes were told if they did not stop speaking, they would be called traitors and the armies would be sent against them, too. With great courage, these dukes and princes said they’d rather be called traitors and have armies against them, then to harm the people any more.

The dukes and princes went to a no man’s land, where no kings dwelt. Many of the people who were encouraged by them followed them. Life was hard there, with no livelihood, and the armies of the kingdom coming against them. The dukes and princes gladly gave of what they had so the people would be able to live. Most of them stuck together, and the strong survived the wilderness.

Eventually, another kindly king heard of their plight, and offered to give the dukes, princes and people land to build new homes. The offer was gladly accepted, and all the people rejoiced at the compassion of the king. The people, who had grown weak and almost starved on their journeys, began to recover and thrive once more.

But the armies of the sons’ kingdom still came against them again and again. Time after time, the dukes and princes would have to go to war, while the common people were able to rest in safety, and often in ignorance.

Eventually, a few of the dukes and princes tired of the war, and signed a peace treaty, while the others fought on. The peace treaty divided the dukes and princes, and eventually the people. Those who signed the treaty went to another part of the new kingdom, farther from the borders and war, to live in more safety. Most of their people left with them, but some stayed. These were called turncoats by their dukes and princes.

Those who refused to sign the peace treaties stayed with their people, refusing to sacrifice their honor for some safety. It took great courage for these dukes and princes to stay! The dukes and princes saw some of the people who stayed had no one to lead them, and accepted them as their own. These people had great gratitude towards their new dukes and princes! Most of the people knew very little of the fight of the dukes and princes, and the toll it was taking on them. But the dukes and princes continued the war, because now it was a matter of honor to them.

After long years and much struggle, the dukes and princes won their war. The victory was a quiet one for them, because most of the people still didn’t know how hard they’d fought. Soon, though, they went to the new king and told him they wanted to start their own kingdom, in alliance with his. They would move mostly out of his territory, into uncharted lands that looked to their scouts to be very prosperous, which were right on the borders of where they now were. They offered trade agreements and exclusive accesses. To their delight, the kindly king agreed to all their requests and gave they his blessing! The dukes and princes who’d moved into safer areas tried to join them, but the king and the brave dukes and princes who stayed said only those who’d had the courage to stay during the hard times of war were welcome during the prosperous times of peace.

The dukes and princes who had the courage to stay became the ruling council and set up a peaceful kingdom, where the people flourished and the kingdom grew quickly. New dukes and princes arose, and some even rose to the ruling council. The alliance with the kindly king held firm, and the agreements blessed both sides. The kingdom was a happy place, and the people rejoiced in the wisdom and courage of their rulers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There are many examples of courage in literature and history. In my parable, I have explored with you, dear reader, a few aspects of the courage it takes to stay when others are running away. In my next post, The Courage To Stay – Historical Examples (Part 2), I will go more specifically into it.

But I WANT It!

Recently, I noticed my friend Rachael at work, whose hair is normally fluffy and

A 19th century Scottish woman with curly hair ...

quite curly, had straight hair. When I commented on the change, she said she’d straightened it. She said she was tired of curly, fluffy hair, and wished for straight hair.

I laughed and told Rachael with my straight fine hair, I had wished for years for hair like hers! I reminded her how I used to pay for a salon permanent every few months, to make it curly, though it would never be thick and fluffy like

Portrait of girl with straight, blonde hair

hers. (I don’t any more.)

Rachael smiled and said, “No, you do not want fluffy and curly hair!” I grinned back and replied, “No, you do not want straight and unfluffy hair!” We were each born with what the other had, and wanted it. We laughed together over the perverse human nature in both of us, to be discontent with what we had, to believe what someone else has is better, and want theirs instead.

Humans have been like this from the beginning. In the book of Genesis, the story is

English: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, S...

related of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Picture Eve as a Victoria’s Secret Angel and Adam as a Calvin Klein model. They were gorgeously naked and unashamed together in a place where every desire of their hearts were met, the weather was perfect, the animals well-behaved, no harmful things grew and enjoying unending fellowship with their loving God and one another.

Everything was perfect, until Eve met the Serpent, heard there ‘might’ be more. She ate the fruit, conned Adam into open rebellion against God in eating it with her, and they screwed up the whole Paradise. All because of a maybe she thought she wanted, offered by someone Eve ought not to have trusted.

Isn’t 20/20 hindsight wonderful? I’m not, however, going to kid myself into believing I would have done any differently . . . Would you? Honestly??

Truth be told, we’ve been messing it up ever since. How many wars over the millenia were simply started as wars of acquisition? Too many, I am quite sure. If we take a step back, aren’t we really sometimes at heart like small toddlers, who throw temper tantrums and fuss because we’re not getting our own way? We just might have more “civilized” means of doing it.

As I think on these things, I am reminded of the Disney movie, Finding Nemo, in

Cover of "Finding Nemo"

which the Seagulls uniformly chant “Mine! Mine! Mine!” upon seeing anything that may be perceived as possible food. It’s funny in the movie. It’s tragic to watch adults act it out daily.

The Apostle spoke to the problem in James 4:20, when he said,

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

We have not because we ask not. Can it be truly that simple? Of course, God isn’t a Cosmic Slot Machine, either. Unlike the Genie in another Disney movie,

Cover of "Aladdin [Region 2]"

Aladdin, God is unlimited, all-knowing, all-seeing and not bound by us or our wishes. And we don’t get 3 wishes with Him. We get the deepest desires of our hearts.

And not only do we get the desires of our hearts, we get a relationship with the One who created the Garden, who formed the universe with His thoughts, who spun the stars with a whim. We get a relationship with a Person who is so vast, our galaxy, our universe cannot hold Him, because He created it. It all comes packaged with intimacy with an immensity that is as far beyond human comprehension as the moon is to an amoeba.

And all we have to do is ask . . .

Is Orrin Woodward REALLY All He’s Cracked Up To Be?

I am often asked, “Is Orrin Woodward REALLY all he’s cracked up to be??

Orrin Woodward

Orrin and Laurie Woodward

Please allow me answer that, once and for all, with the following (true) story,  names unchanged to protect neither the guilty, nor the innocent.

I will start by saying I got an iPhone late last summer. I read the manual and became rapidly proficient in its use. Or at least, I thought I was.

Recently, a group of ladies had the privilege to attend a retirement dinner to honor Pat Tefel, the delightful and grace-filled lady leader of our TEAM LIFE business team. It was a wonderful evening, highlighted by the presence of leader, blogger, home schooling mom and all-around lovely woman,

Chris and Terri Brady

Chris and Terri Brady

Terri Brady.

Terri’s husband Chris recently had a birthday, so when I briefly spoke to her at the start of the evening, she suggested I go on FaceBook and give greetings to his partner Orrin Woodward, since it was his birthday that day. After getting a photo with Terri and my husband, I went to my table and linked into the wifi where the event was being held. I found Orrin’s page on FaceBook, and thought I left him a message on his wall.

The next morning, on my break at work, I went on FaceBook to check up on things, and see if anyone had posted photos of the party. The first thing I found was a private message from Orrin Woodward!! I had posted my birthday wishes to him privately!!! Oh, my goodness!!!

Orrin’s was the message of a gracious gentleman, honorable and kind in all his dealings, as he said,

Thank YOU Cathy! I hope you are having a blessed day.

To understand the importance of this exchange, think about having the CEO of a multi-national corporation, who has thousands of people who look to him for leadership, combined with the public acclaim of a best-selling author like Steven King, all rolled into one incredible package, on your FaceBook friend list. You are a tiny, insignificant speck in his radar, and are pleased just being acknowledged as his friend, and with a blanket group thanks to everyone who wished him birthday greetings on his wall. That is how big a deal it is to me!

When I realized the size of my blunder, and the graciousness of Orrin’s response, I posted the following, being very careful to do it to his wall:

Thank you so much for your gracious and lovely response to my accidental private message birthday greetings last night! I meant to post that on your wall!! Clearly I have more to learn about FaceBook for iPhone . . . (Color me red-faced.)

That evening at the party, I had told Terri I was a high-end tech user, and promptly proved it. I even had the boldness to call myself “the app queen!” Horrors!! In my bragging, I totally forgot Proverbs 16:18, which says

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

I fell, alright! The Law of Unintended Consequences (and Murphy’s Law) were very busy with me that night. It is only the kindness, graciousness, humility, character and gentle spirit of Orrin Woodward that saved me from total embarrassment and utter shame.

I am telling you this (and making public my foolishness) for one reason: We all look for leaders to follow, to emulate, to seek to become what they represent. Leaders who show such humility and character as Orrin Woodward did with me are worth following anywhere, and for any reason.