Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why We Do What We Do!

On any given day we make hundreds of decisions.  It actually begins before we get out of bed.  As we make our way through the day some decisions will be rote, routine.  Other decisions, while important, will not be life changing.  And of course there are those truly critical decisions that can change the course of our lives forever. 

Have you ever given much thought as to WHY we do what we do?  Well, I have.  While I am NOT a physiologists, scientist or expert of any kind on the subject, I do have some thoughts.  (You are shocked, right?) 
I believe that we make decisions using three criteria.  First, personal preference….whether WE like something or not.  This factor comes in handy when trying to decide what to eat, or wear, or what movie to see.  However, personal preference is not always the best tool to use for every decision.   Sometimes the most difficult thing to understand is how someone would NOT love what we love!

Just because we love something does not mean that everyone else will.  Such a simple concept and yet we all struggle with it.  How many of us have enrolled our children into something they did not want to do because it sounded great to us?  We are convinced that once they try it they will like it…but did they?  Just ask my girls about Girl Scouts.  I loved it!  They hated it!  Go figure!

The next criteria is our belief system, our personal views.  As a Christian I have a clearly defined set of rights and wrongs that guide me in my decision making process.  However, II Tim 2:15 reminds us that we must “rightly divide the word of truth.”  As our understanding of scripture increases our view of right and wrong may also change. 

Take women’s clothing for example.  There was a time that a woman without a hat was considered scandalous! How many hats did you see this Sunday?  Pants were also an issue.  Just a few years ago women were strictly forbidden to wear pants to church.  Today jeans are seen on many church pews.  What once was considered morally wrong in the 1950’s seemed silly in the 1990’s and beyond.  What’s my point? 

While the Bible never changes, our understanding and beliefs may change.  Realizing that we are all on a growth journey may allow us to have better peace with our own decisions and those of others.  Of course I am not referring to the core beliefs, but those some refer to as “matters of opinion.” 

The last criteria in our decision making process is what I believe to be the most critical; information.  How many of us have made a decision only to look back with regret and think…if I had only known that!  While we laugh as the man on the commercial slaps his forehead and proclaims, “I could’a had a V8!” it’s not nearly as funny when it happens to us. 

Have you ever voted for a politician purely based on commercials?  Made a major purchase solely based on the salesperson’s eloquent pitch?  Bought food at the grocery because the box made wonderful claims you later learned were marketing hype?  Assumed that something was going to happen just because “it always has” and then it didn’t?  Have you ever made a snap judgment on emotions, not facts?  I think we all have.  But I believe that taking that extra effort to do the research can make the difference between long term regret and soaring success. 

I began by asking if you had ever given any though as to why we do what we do.  It wasn’t a mere conversation starter.  I believe that understanding why we make the decisions that we do can greatly increase our ability to make good ones. 

So, let’s give it a try.  You have a decision to make.  No, I’m not talking about buying shoes or ordering breakfast.  I mean a REAL decision.  First, ask yourself, what do I like?  In a perfect world if I could have anything I wanted, what would I choose?  Next, ask yourself is this biblically right, morally right and fair to others?  How will my decision affect those involved?  If those two answers are in agreement, move onto the last and most important question of all. 

What are the facts?  Do I know enough to make this decision?  Taking that extra effort to do the research may change everything.  Once you fully understand your options and outcomes, then you are ready to make a well informed decision. 

Yes, we make hundreds of decisions everyday.  Some are mundane and routine, others life changing.  However, understanding why we do what we do can make all the difference!  So, the next time you need to choose, ask yourself, why I am doing this…then smile and think of me.  J 

That’s what I think…so what do YOU think?  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Be STILL and Know That I Am God

When I was a child one of my favorite cartoons was The Jetsons. The show began with a catchy theme song accompanied by pictures of the life that the Jetson’s lived. As they sang, "Meet George Jetson… daughter Judy… Jane his wife… his boy Elroy…" we saw glimpses of what life would be like living in the distant future.
Beds folded up in the middle and spit out the occupant, food rolled out of a machine in the wall, hot and ready to eat, space cars zoomed in out of midair traffic jams, and a robot named Rosie completed all the household chores, such as they were.
There was the loveable oversized dog, Astro, who "talked" in a barking kind of way. Every morning, Astro had to be taken for a walk. Of course in this futurist world one would not simply take his dog to the park, he would walk on a treadmill right outside his apartment. High above the city, man and dog took their morning walk, and the results were always the same.
The treadmill would somehow spurt into a ridiculous speed that was impossible for George to keep up with. So, at the beginning of each episode there he was, dangling off the end of the treadmill, high in the air holding on the dog’s leash screaming for Jane to rescue him. The dog of course was trotting merrily along and we somehow found humor in the fact that not only was Astro enjoying his run, he was taking pleasure in the fact that George was NOT enjoying the trip.
One was left to wonder why George didn’t learn from his mistakes and change his routine to prevent this seemingly life threatening experience. Someone once said that doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity. That may be true. However, I must confess that there have been many times in my life that I have been George; repeating a process and praying for a different result.
Modern technology has changed our lives. Hanging laundry on the line, washing dishes by hand, or spending a full day preparing a meal are now things of the past - parts of the story of our grandmothers.  Our stories are tales of hurry. Like George; we take on more than we can handle, and wonder why we find ourselves simply holding on for dear life.  The sad part is we are all on the same treadmill... but, there is no "Jane’s" to rescue us.
Is this lifestyle good for us?  Doctors have now determined that women who are always in a hurry suffer from depression and health issues many times more than their non hurried counterparts. One cannot live in crisis mode 24/7 and not burn out. But we already knew that, right?  Is there an answer?  Are we, the women of the new millennium, doomed to a life of treadmill experiences? I don’t think so.
I believe that key to having a full yet non-overwhelming life rests in our hands. If we are the captains of our own ships, then we need to grab the wheel and steer!
Psalms 46:10 shares a powerful message to all of us. It says, "Be still and know that I am God." I must confess that I do fairly well with the second part of this verse. I am fully aware of God and his magnificent power. However, it is the first part of the verse that I truly struggle to achieve. "Be still." What does it mean? 
I believe that each of us needs time to reflect on God’s glory and realize that we are not the movers of the universe. The world will NOT stop turning if we took some time off.  The things that we were killing ourselves to do would either be accomplished, or maybe done without. Either way, it would be okay.
Now, I can hear the collective gasps of all of you type A personalities out there. To somehow suggest that life would be okay without our list and schedules is nothing short of blasphemy! However, before you get the tar and feathers, let me explain. In 1999 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For a full year my life revolved around survival. All of the things that I had spent years doing now fell to my children and my husband. Guess what? They did okay.
That’s not to say that they did it the way that I would have done it, but it got done. Oh, there were a few things left undone, but that was okay, too. Through that trial I learned to let go. I learned that the ones that I love need me very much, but they are stronger, more resilient that I ever imagined. I learned that if I needed to take time for me it is okay, they will be fine.
All of us need to be still. It is not something that we do very well, but it could be the difference between making it to the finish line and collapsing along the way. We must allow, no…demand time for ourselves. Those whom we love need us and love us, but they do not always realize the sacrifices we make just being wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends.
It is imperative that we find a way to find quiet time with God. This accomplishes two things. First, we can relax and realize that we are not in control, God is. He is the master of our lives and He will take care of everything. Second, it renews our strength. Sound familiar? For some of this the goal of being still can be accomplished on a day to day basis. We find time to study the Bible and pray. For others, our life’s demands are such that the only way to spend time with God is to get away from our obligations for a brief period of time.
A retreat can be a wonderful way to accomplish some still time with God. Although the time will be short, the benefits can last much longer. For a few brief hours we are not "in charge." Our focus is not on doing, but rather on being; being a child of God, being aware of His blessings, being renewed and restored. In other words…”Being still and knowing that He is God.”
George Jetson may have been funny to watch as he struggled to keep up on the treadmill of life. However, a woman struggling for footing is anything but humorous. “Be still and know that I am God.”… Not just a verse, a life’s mission.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Relay For Life- a Cause Worth Supporting

In October of 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Just three months earlier my mammogram had been clear.  Now the cancer was almost the size of the palm of my hand.  Four centimeters by four centimeters, it was a monster.  I kept replaying in my mind over and over the commercial I had seen about breast cancer.  You know the one where they show a blueberry and tell you if your cancer is this size you have a chance.  Then they roll out a raspberry and say, “Don’t wait until it gets this big.” 

As fruits go I suppose my cancer had to have been a small plumb.  Afraid?  You bet I was.  Terrified is more like it.  I was forty-three years old and in no way was I prepared to die.  My phone never stopped ringing.  Friends and loved ones came out of the woodwork to say that they loved me and to offer their help.  Eventually though, they all ended with the same question; what are you going to do
I feared that question almost as much as I feared the cancer itself.  I wanted to scream, “Let me go to medical school and I will get back to you in about six years!”  Of course, I did not have that kind of time.  Actually, I didn’t have any time at all.  As aggressive as my cancer was, I needed to do something and fast!  There were so many choices, so much information, and as many opinions as there were people in my life to have them.  I needed to make the most difficult decision of my life, and I was almost too overwhelmed to even process the questions.
For the next ten months, my life would have one purpose and one purpose only: to survive.   Six months of chemo, surgery, and six weeks of radiation treatment wrapped themselves around my day to day existence.  At every holiday or special event in my life, I was painfully aware that it could be my last. 

Throughout my cancer treatment, I made friends with other cancer patients, some of who lost their battle with this monster.  It would also hit very close to home. My sweet mother would pass away with pancreatic cancer in 2008, and my first cousin, Sandy, died of breast cancer years before.  In each case I grieved their deaths, but I also found myself wondering why I was here, and they were gone.  Of course, there is no answer for that question, but sometimes I find myself asking it just the same. 

However, my experience with breast cancer was not all bad.  I learned more about myself that year than anytime past or present.  I realized just how much I was loved.   I found strength and courage inside of me that I never knew existed.  I also learned that when you’re in trouble, there are people out there who really care and are concerned about you regardless of whether you are a friend or a stranger.

 I know that this may sound strange, but I am grateful for my journey though cancer.  You see, it was a real growing experience for me.  I no longer get upset about the small stuff.  I appreciate my family much more, and I am thankful for every day that the Lord gives me.  I am grateful for the experience, but I would not want to repeat it… of course, therein lies the problem. 

There is a deep dark secret that many cancer survivors must hide.  It is the fear that the cancer will return.  It is not something that you talk about, but it is there.  Since we do not fully understand what causes cancer, prevention is quite difficult.  A healthy lifestyle may help, but even athletes can fall prey to this monster.  Once you have experienced cancer, you are painfully aware that it could happen again.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma.  This cancer is slow-growing and not very aggressive.  It is also non-curable.  I have undergone yet another round of chemo and still have a port in my chest wall.  I will be monitored for the rest of my life and will repeat chemo treatments if the cancer returns.    

Why am I telling you all of this?  Do I want your pity, or your sympathy?  Certainly not!  I am telling you because there is something that YOU can do to help.  Every year The American Cancer Society will holds Relay For Life events.  While each community may offer different entertainment, or decorations, the goal is always the same.

Typically there is a reception for all cancer survivors, and a special place where survivors can meet and share stories and encouragement.  Then the relay begins with a symbolic lap taken by only cancer survivors.  In the second lap, they will be joined by all of the people who have served as caregivers to cancer patients demonstrating that cancer is never a journey taken alone.  Then on the third lap, everyone will be invited to join in the relay uniting us all in the battle against this terrible disease.

All through the night, there will be someone walking the track at all times.  I believe that the American Cancer Society’s motto says it best: Cancer never sleeps so for one night neither will we.  One of the highlights of the evening will be a luminary ceremony to honor the survivors and remember those who have lost their battle to cancer. 

It is always an evening of hope and celebration, a time to demonstrate what can be done when we all work together for a common cause, a time to honor those whose lives have been touched by this terrible disease and give hope to those who are doing battle with it right now.

I am grateful for the research and treatments that saved my life.  I pray that one day cancer will be among the diseases like polo that children must read about in history books to understand.  Until that day though, we must never stop looking for and praying for a cure

Yes, I am a cancer survivor.  I have now fought and won two battles with this monster.  I have also lost my mother, cousin and friends to cancer.  But while I am afraid my cancer will return, I also have hope.  Hope that comes from faith in God, faith in loved ones, and faith that when we all work and pray together great things can happen.

If you are interested in joining a team you can go to the American Cancer Society website about the relay.  You will find it @ www.relayforlife.org to find an event near you.  If cancer has not touched your life, it will.  Let’s all work together to kill this monster before it can take any more lives! 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Waiting on the Lab Report

We’ve all been there.  You finally get around to making that doctor appointment that you have been putting off forever.  There is a problem.  It hurts. It’s swollen.  It looks funny.  Or just doesn’t work right. You didn’t want to call, but your loved ones and your body insisted upon it.  It’s frustrating.  After all, you’re a busy person!  People depend upon you! You don’t have time to be sick.  Besides, it will go away!  Just ignore it!  Take some pain meds!  Think positive thoughts… but it doesn’t go away. 

So you call, put the date on your calendar and try not to think about it.  But then the day arrives.  As you pull into the parking lot you grumble to yourself.  I’ll be here forever.  I should charge the doctor for MY time.  This is stupid.  The doctor will laugh at me.  I am being a baby.  I’m just getting older.  I’m not staying…I don’t have time for this! 
As your mind screams for you to escape, you emerge from your car and make your way inside the minimally decorated waiting room.  You sign in, take the clip board, find a seat near the person who looks the LEAST sick in the room, fill out the forms and wait.  Old worn out magazines, a flat screen TV playing infomercials or some guy talking on his cell phone are the only distractions.  So, you sit.
As you wait the reality of the situation hits you.  There is a possibility that this problem could be life changing.  Maybe it is worse than you think.  Maybe that little problem is just the tip of the iceberg.  You are strong, mighty, invincible, but you know what icebergs can do, right?  They thought the Titanic would never go down and look what happened!  Who would take care of you if you really were sick?  How would you survive financially?  Would you lose your job, your house, your lifestyle?
Lost deep in your own thoughts, you suddenly feel yourself rise to your feet and say, “I’m fine” as you make your way to the door.  How did that happen?  You never heard her say your name.  You’re on autopilot now; greeting the nurse, scales, blood pressure, temperature and a brief overview of why you have come.  The nurse doesn’t want the whole story, just the basics and that is what you give her.  When she has finished her report, she tosses a gown upon the examining table.  “Remove your dignity and put this on,” she tells you, “the doctor will be in soon,” and then she leaves. 
With clothes nearby wearing a paper thin gown you wait.  There is no escaping now.  What do you say when the doctor enters the room?  How long HAVE you had this problem?  WHEN did it start?  Does anything make it worse, better, does anyone in your family have this?  You don’t know!  Until this moment it has been more important to ignore it, than concentrate on it. 
But now it is test time and you didn’t study!  You don’t want to look stupid.  You are here now.  You’ve come this far.  But what if you say the wrong thing, leave out the details or miss a symptom.  What if the doctor looks at you and says, “There is nothing wrong with you!  Why are you here!  You are wasting my time!”  Don’t think…just don’t think… you tell yourself.  So you look around the room. 

Why are there so many charts and pictures of the human body? That plastic model on the table is a bit creepy, too.  Are they there for me to see or does my doctor need a cheat sheet?  Good grief!  You know what they say…fifty percent of the doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class.  Which half did I get?  This is a mistake.  Can I get dressed and get out of here without them seeing me?  But then, two short knocks on the door and the doctor enters to room.  It’s show time!

You’re poked, prodded, questioned and finally patted on the back.  “Well,” the doctor says, “this is what I think.  It could be this; it could be that, it could be nothing at all.  We need to run a few tests to be sure” As soon as you hear those words your mind begins to race. More tests!  More missing work! More expense, waiting rooms, poked and prodded!  And what did you say it might be?  “So, what happens if it is this…or that” … you hear yourself stammer. 

“It might be nothing”, the doctor says calmly.  “Let’s see what the tests say then we will take it from there, OK?” …. OK?  OK?  No, it is NOT OK!  I came here for answers!  I want to know now!  What do I tell my loved ones!  What do I tell myself?  How do I know what to worry about!  What do I Google?  “That’s fine” you hear yourself say.  “Thank you doctor, I appreciate it” …and then you leave. 

Days later the whole process is repeated; parking lots, waiting rooms, clip boards, ugly gowns and waiting.  Waiting… Waiting… Waiting.  That problem that was so easily brushed aside refuses to give up center stage.  Now your life rests squarely in the hands of the lab. 

Do they know that they hold your life in the palm of their hands?  Do they understand that the results of this test are not mundane, routine, or insignificant?  It is not merely one test in hundreds that they do each week.  You are not a number, a slide, an x-ray, or biopsy.  You are flesh and blood.  You are someone’s family member, friend, co-worker, mentor and leader.  Your life matters.  You have goals, expectations, and dreams.  But all of that is on hold as you wait for the lab report. 

People look at your differently now.  There is gentleness in their voice.  “Have you heard anything?”  They ask.  And you wait.  What your life will be over the next few days, months and years all hang in this one phone call.  You know it and everyone around you knows it.  Will this waiting ever end!

And then the phone rings.  Caller ID tells you it is the call that you have waited for.  This is it.  The call you have both longed for and feared.  While other’s watch you pick up the phone.  What will they say?  Will you hang up the phone happy and relieved, or with fear and more questions than answers?  Do you really want to hear what they have to say?  There is only one way to know.  You slowly push the button to answer the phone and hold your breath. 
“Yes, this is she…”


Friday, March 18, 2011

My Life is Filled with Sticky Notes!

Several years ago, I wrote a song for a friend’s fortieth birthday party.  The song poked fun at the loss of memory that most of us experience as we grow older. The chorus said, “Hardening arteries… senility’s creeping in…it gets the best of me, how did this all begin!”  It was great fun teasing him about growing older and all the wonderful changes that go along with the process. Of course that was when I was younger.  Today, it is not quite so funny!

I find that in order to survive I must surround myself with sticky notes! I can no longer remember even the simplest of things. Daily goals, phone numbers and messages are all posted on my kitchen cabinets. If my children request that I do something for them, I tell them to stick a sticky note on my purse. I take the note to work and place it beside my computer and hope that I will remember to look at it!

How did it come to this! I’m not old! Now, I have an official excuse…want to hear it? I took the drug Tamoxifen as an anti-cancer drug.  According to my doctor, it does diminish memory. See, there it is! A real, bonafide reason! I’m not old I'm just suffering the side effects of medication or so I tried to convince, my coworkers.

Of course they reminded me that loss of memory comes with age and then suggested that I may not regain as much memory as I hoped I would whenever I stopped taking the drug. They are normally right about most things, but this is one time I was hoping that they are wrong. In fact, at the time, I remember thinking that it was probably not important.  I figured that when I stop taking the drug I probably won’t remember that anyone ever said that at all!

Okay, you’re laughing…but just wait! It will happen to you, too. One day you will not know your address or your phone number. Your best friend’s name won’t come to mind or you will forget something very important like picking up your kids or that hair appointment that you made two months ago. Just like the wicked witch of the west said, "All in good time my pretty, all in good time." It will happen to you, too!

When I was about sixteen years old my preacher said from the pulpit that he looked in the mirror one day and wondered who the old man was looking back at him. Of course being sixteen, I had all the answers, so I remember thinking, "How can you NOT know you are old!" However, the older I get, the more I understand that statement.

So what am I to do? Am I doomed to a life of forgetfulness and the embarrassment that it brings?  Maybe not…after all there are memory enhancing drugs, electronic devises to write messages to myself, I have been known to leave a message on my own answering machine, stick a note in my car, or send an e-mail to myself. I have decided to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

So what if I can’t remember things the way I used to! I have wisdom that comes with age! I have knowledge that is born from experience! I am no longer looking for myself.  I have found me and I like what I have found!  Besides, I also know how to play the game of life. It is not important for me to store all the information in my head. Sticky notes are okay!  It is all a matter of mind over matter…if you don’t have a mind, then it really doesn’t matter!

Did I convince you?  Do you believe me?  No? Okay, I’ll confess.  I would love to have the mental capacity that I once took for granted.  I miss being able to do six things at once in my mind.  I get frustrated at myself when I forget, especially names and past events that leave me standing there smiling at someone because not only can I not remember their names, I don’t remember how I know them, but I am sure that I do. 

I hate to be embarrassed or feel stupid, but getting upset only seems to make it worse.  It seems that the harder I think the more I forget!  But part of being a “grown-up” is wisdom.  I just may have to accept that I may never have the memory that I once had.

So now what?  I believe that the answer lies in two things, humor and sticky notes.  I must be able to laugh at myself and admit that I have forgotten.  I must understand that it is something that all of us go through from one degree or another.  I must forgive myself for not being perfect and move on. 

Sticky notes!  They are my new best friends!  I love them!  I must …I have them everywhere!  I buy them by the case and I am not ashamed to admit it!  It works, it keeps me on track most of the time and I use anything that is reasonable to get the job done.  My life is filled with sticky notes!  I love it!  

Now...what was I talking about?...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Look Around-There Are Heroes Among Us!

I watched him grow, sang at his wedding, celebrated the birth of his children and was proud when he became a police officer.  He was a magician, a musician, a father, brother, son, husband, Christian and friend.  He loved his family, his God and his job.  Sgt. Ray Shinholser was the kind of man who made the world a better place to live. 

That's why, when a fellow officer and friend was killed in the line of duty, he decided to do something about it.  Ray wrote a song called, When's Daddy Coming Home.  He began recording it on December 5, 1988.  It was a big event covered by several television stations in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  A portion of the money raised would be given to help build a police memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor officers who had fallen in the line of duty. 

Just a few days later on December 12, 1988, he finished the song.  He was proud of what he had accomplished to help his fellow police officers and was anxious to take his son Michael to the studio to add the finishing touches to the tape.  Unfortunately, he would never get that chance.  Officer Shinholser would give his life in the line of duty the very next day. 

As his family gathered beside his hospital bed hoping for a miracle, they knew what Ray would expect of them if he did not make it: finish the song and help raise money for the memorial. So, just one day after his death, his wife, Debbie took their four-year-old son to the recording studio to finish what Ray had begun.  As Michael spoke the words his father had taught him to say, everyone in the room realized the painful truth, Michael and Mandy's daddy wasn't coming home either.      

Ray was a true hero.  However, Ray is not alone.  We are surrounded by others who like Ray, care enough to give their all.  They serve us as police officers, fire fighters, and soldiers.  These men and women spend their lives protecting and serving the people around them and not without cost.

According to the National Law Enforcement Association, on the average, a police officer is killed somewhere in the America nearly every other day. Since they began keeping records in 1792, over fourteen thousand officers have lost their lives while performing their duties.

I am thankful for these dedicated men and women who allow me to live my life without fear.  I believe that they are all heroes in the truest form.  Never before have their jobs been more dangerous or more necessary.  As we watched in horror the events that unfolded in New York City a few years ago, we witnessed heroism at its best. 

I know that the police officers and fire fighters are doing everything within their power to keep the citizens of this community safe from both local and international dangers.  We as a community should express our gratitude to these hard working professionals as often as we can. 

When the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was officially dedicated on October 15,1991, in Washington D.C., Ray's entire family attended as honored guests.  His song had raised over twenty-five thousand dollars for the memorial.  They sat both proudly and sadly at the ceremony, missing him but knowing that Ray would have been proud of them because they had accomplished his dream.

Life can sometimes be ironic.  Ray had no way to know that the song that he had written would soon describe his own life.  The chorus of the song says, "Momma, when's my daddy coming home?  He promised to take me to the fair.  I really miss him and I just want to hold him and show him how much I care. 
You say he's gone now forever and ever; that's something I just cannot understand.  Momma, when's my daddy coming home to hug his little man?"

The words of this song serve to remind us of the sacrifices that our heroes are making for us every day.  Look around, there are heroes among us.  Police officers, fire fighters, and soldiers make our world a better place to live.  These men and women are willing to give their all for the ones that they love.  They are public servants who defend and protect us even when we are not aware of the dangers.  I find it difficult to listen to the song that Ray recorded.  It is bittersweet to hear the voice of my long lost friend singing and even more difficult to hear the tender voice of his son at the end of the song.  Michael says, "Daddy, when are you coming home?  I miss you, Daddy.  I love you, Daddy.  Goodbye, Dad!"

Thank you heroes from the bottom of my heart! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Holocaust Survivor Reminds Us to think for Ourselves

An important piece of history visited North West Rankin Middles School in Brandon, Mississippi a few years ago.  His name is Gilbert Metz. Mr. Metz is a Holocaust survivor. As I watched the students enter the room and take their seats, I wondered if this gentleman would be able to hold their attention on one of the last few days of school. After all, as attention spans go, this was not the best time to do this sort of thing…or so I thought.

After being introduced, Mr. Metz began to speak to the students in his soft, calming voice. However, his voice was the only thing calming about his presentation. The audience sat spellbound as he began to tell his story. He was just fourteen years old when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz with hundreds of other Jews. Loaded into cattle cars, they were told they were going to work on German farms while the soldiers were away fighting the war. The trip alone killed some with no water, little food, and no fresh air.

Once at Auschwitz, they were told to label their luggage so that it could be returned to them later. Of course, that never happened. Clothing stripped away, replaced by ill-fitting uniforms, and heads shaved, they began a life you and I could not even imagine. In my mind’s eye, I could clearly see the little boy, not much older than the students seated before me, just trying to stay alive.

Mr. Metz spoke of being beaten, sleeping on hard, cramped bunks, hours of work with little food, exposure to the elements in all kinds of weather, and the weak being eliminated when they were no longer of service to the Germans. Sickness, suffering, and death were his companions every day. It was difficult to hear him explain the physical living conditions he suffered through, and the mental torture he described was even more troubling. It seems that the guards took great delight in explaining to them that the smell in the air was the scent of their family members being burned to death, and those chosen to die would wait days to be taken to the furnace already knowing their fate. They were routinely forced to stand in line, naked, awaiting the so-called physical exams. The physical cruelty was severe, but the mental cruelty was no less destructive. The child, Gilbert, did what he could to make it through each torturous day. Finally, after two long years of suffering he returned to his home, alone, the only survivor from his immediate family.

Gilbert Metz did not come that day to be honored as a hero, although he is one. He did not come to frighten children and their teachers, although some were clearly disturbed. He did not come to argue the reality of the horrors that he himself experienced, although some say that the Holocaust never happened. Gilbert Metz came because he had a message for all of us. He told that spellbound group that no matter what, we needed to ‘Think for ourselves.”

What a concept! Think for ourselves. What a powerful message! He explained to the audience that the same men who beat, tortured, killed, starved, and conducted experiments on these helpless Jews were the same men who would go home to their families, kiss their wives, attend church, and play with their children.

“How could this be?” I asked myself. How could the German soldiers treat these Jews as horribly as they did and then go home and tuck their children in at night and pray to God? How is this even possible? History will tell us that many of these men claimed that they were, “Just following orders.” Is that an excuse? Are soldiers expected to follow orders no matter what?

Well, I suppose the answer is yes…and no. Maybe that is what makes it so difficult. Inside each of us is the knowledge of right and wrong. We have had that knowledge since we were very small; however, sometimes we may be forced override those beliefs. We are taught that killing is wrong, and yet our soldiers are required to do just that. We do not want to hurt our children, and yet we hold them down while they receive an injection, or other medical procedure. We would not want to hurt someone else, but if we are defending ourselves against an attack, we may need to use extreme force in that defense.

So how do we decide what behavior is appropriate? I believe that Mr. Metz has the answer for that question. Simply stated…we must think for ourselves. We cannot be caught up in the mob mentality. We cannot be content to follow the crowd simply because it is easier.

Every day, our personal code of conduct is being challenged. Do we steal from work because everyone else is doing it? Do we rejoice when someone we do not like is struggling? Do we stand in-groups discussing and condemning others because they are different from ourselves? Do we feel we must wear certain things, or eat certain things, or drive certain things simply because they are popular? What about how we feel about ourselves? Do we wait for someone else to tell us that we have value?

The most frightening part of this story is that it was not an isolated incident from halfway around the world. While the story of Hitler and the Jews may be the most dramatic example of men blindly following a wicked leader, the basic concept holds true today in many forms… Children led by the local bully, Companies run by unscrupulous bosses, Neighborhoods divided by people who gossip and cause discord, families torn apart because the parents do not lead in a way that brings peace.

We must think for ourselves, if we do not, another Holocaust could be just around the corner. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Having a Sick Child Can Make You Feel Helpless

A few years ago I wrote a column for the local newspaper.  I am going to post a few of my favorites from time to time.  This one is from when my son was very sick.  Even though he is now fully recovered the sentiments of that time have not changed.  Thank you for taking your time to read what I have written.  I hope it speaks to you....  

Having a Sick Child Can Make You Feel Helpless 

            I am exhausted!  For the past two weeks I have watched helplessly as my son battled illness.  He was diagnosed with mono and a severe sinus infection.  At first, I was not concerned as both of my daughters had battled mono and won.  However, this time the struggle would prove to be much more difficult. 
          Complications from the illnesses have already caused Phillip to spend three days in the hospital, and we are far from being out of the woods.  He is going to be sick for weeks to come and the healing process will be very slow.  His father and I will do whatever it takes to help our son heal, but it is still exhausting. 
          For me the most difficult part of this illness has not been the lack of sleep, although there were many nights we were awake all night.  It was not the cost, although doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs and special foods can be costly.  It was not my missed time from my job or even the extra work that a sick child can bring that has caused this exhaustion. 
        My exhaustion comes from feeling helpless.  You see my son is a seventeen-year-old senior in high school.  He is six foot three, out going, funny, and intelligent.  Phillip loves his work at chick fi la and marching in his high school band.  He is excited about his senior project, loves working on his truck with his dad, and hanging out with his friends. 
        He is a wonderful son!  Whenever Phillip is around there will be laughter.  He brightens up a room just by entering it.  He has energy to burn and dreams that he is working to fulfill.  Phillip, like his sisters, is a blessing to our family and we love him very much.

That is why when he was told that he would have to give up all the things he loved he was devastated and I felt so completely helpless to make it better for him.  He would never march again as a high school student because the season would be over by the time he was well.  He would not be able to work for months because the mono has sapped his energy.  He would struggle to catch up from weeks of missed class time and his senior project would be on hold until further notice.      

I realize how lucky we really are that Phillip is expected to make a full recovery.  I know that a few weeks of illness is not much compared to others who struggle for years with chronic problems.  I understand that things could be much worse.  However, regardless of the length of the illness, the degree of the suffering, or the finale outcome of the disease, I believe that we are all united in one thought. 

We their parents, especially the mothers, wish that we could remove the suffering from our children.  If we had it our way they would never shed a tear, have a fever, or miss an event due to illness. 

When that baby is first put into our arms we accept an awesome responsibility.  Somehow we are magically expected to have all the answers and make all the right decisions.  Education, discipline, heath care and love become the coroner stones for raising our children.  Somehow we must find a way to reach the learning disabled child, reign in the rebellious child, find the right health care for the sick child and love them all no matter how difficult the journey becomes. 

We love them and we want to protect them from all harms but the sad truth is many times that is an option that is simply out of our control.  Some children will not be able to learn no matter how hard we try.  Some may have to learn the lessons of life the hard way, regardless of our efforts to prevent it.  Some will become sick and some may die and our love or our wisdom will not be enough to prevent it from happening. 

It is both frustrating and exhausting when the events of life seem to be against the ones we love the most, our children.  While it is true that we cannot control their ability to learn, the decisions that they make when they are away from us, or prevent them from ever becoming ill, there is one thing that we can do.  We can love them and make very sure they feel our love.

We can hold their hands, wipe their tears, discuss their mistakes, rejoice in the their victories, and stand beside them no matter what.  It is exhausting, it is frightening, and it is also the greatest job in the world.  We are whom they reach for in the middle of the night.  We are whom they turn to for help, comfort, and wisdom. 

We, their parents, are whom they need when it seems the rest of the world is against them.  In their darkest hour we can bring the light of love to make a sick child feel better, a struggling child feel smart, and a rebellious child feel loved.   

Yes, I am exhausted.  I wish that I could give Phillip back the weeks of his senior year that this illness will take away.  I wish I could make him well, and prevent his suffering, but I can’t.  So, I will do the one thing that I CAN do for him.  I will love him.  I will make sure his needs are met and that he knows that his dad and I are here for him.  We love him, his sisters love him, his grandparents love him, and his friends love him. 

I still feel helpless to make him well, but I don’t feel helpless to make him feel loved!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Growing old...Not for Sissies!

When I was younger I had ALL the answers!  I was an expert on all subjects, confident about all answers and believed firmly that life was simply about setting goals and reaching them.  Today, at almost 55 years old, I am beginning to think that there is a SLIGHT possibility that MAYBE I don’t know everything…oh, who am I kidding!  Not only do I not have all the answers…I am not even sure I know all the questions!
            How did this happen?  I used to have my whole life mapped out, planned.  I was strong, invincible, courageous and confident beyond belief.  I knew what my life would be like; work, marriage, children, where I would live, and what I would look like!  I planned it all!  It was going to be PERFECT!  Of course that was BEFORE I actually TRIED any of those things!
            Oh, don’t laugh.  You did it too!  Fess up!  We have all done it!  As little girls we play house, or school or maybe pretend we are a professional woman with the perfect house, husband and a 6 figure income.  (or maybe that was just me)  As teenagers we look at bride’s magazines and plan the perfect wedding.  We ooo and ahh over other people’s babies and see ourselves strolling down the side walk with a happy baby and a hunky husband by our side.
            Life was going to be perfect!  And then…well…then…life begins.  Once we start the journey we spent years dreaming of, things happen that we would have never imagined.  The economy takes a downturn and you can’t get a job.  That perfect baby has colic, health problems or is just ADD.  Somehow your Barbie mansion looks more like a bungalow, and that perfect shape has been viciously sabotaged by Krispy Crème Donuts. (oops, just me again)   And THAT my sisters is just the beginning!
            As we age things that worked, just stop working!  Those stupid infomercials toting strange products to replace or repair what time and nature have let slide have us getting out our credit card!  And don’t even get me started on menopause and hot flashes!
Our children age and somehow we go from having little ones wanting to either marry us (our sons) or be just like us (our daughters) to teenagers united in the belief that we know NOTHING!  Our once hunky husbands also take a hit in looks, energy and health over the years too.  I suppose that is a good thing.  Imagine the stares if Fabio was married to Betty White!   
            So what’s a girl to do!  Hang in there baby!  Know that you are NOT alone!  We are all walking the same path.  While we may be at different spots along the way, have different struggles and victories our journey’s are remarkable similar.  If you are at a good place in your life reach out and give a sister a hand up.  If you are struggling ask a sister for help.  God created the Church because He knew we would need each other…and we do!
            Don’t suffer in silence believing that everyone else has it together and you are the only one struggling.  We all struggle, we all cry, we all rejoice.  Let us help each other as we walk the path that leads to an eternal home with God. 
            Pray!  Pray together, pray alone, pray for each other, pray for yourselves! 
Talk!  Find someone you trust to share your struggles with.  There are some wonderful Christian women who may know more about what you are going through than you realize. 
And last but certainly not least, remember.  Remember that this life is a vapor that will someday vanish away.  We are but pilgrims traveling through this life to get to that one important goal, eternity with God.  BUT, while we are here let’s love one another, support one another and carry one another’s burdens.  It will make the trip easier for us all!
No, growing old is not for sissies. But the journey can be made oh so much easier when we do it together.  So ladies…will you grow old with me?  After allBEST IS YET TO COME!