Inspiring articles that lift the spirits and reminds us what’s possible.

We Honored His Wishes But Broke Their Hearts

When my boys were young, they loved to climb up and down each other…isn’t that just like boys? If they weren’t climbing, they were balancing or just rolling on the floor. With four of them, there was no shortage of playmates, and my husband and I enjoyed countless hours of watching (and participating in) their playfulness. It created a bond that could never be broken.

On January 11, 2014, that bond was tested. After 3 battles with cancer in 3 years, Malcolm received his wings at 21 years old. But they came at a cost to their bond, they came at the cost of trust. When Malcolm received confirmation that his cancer had returned and was inoperable, we began to brace ourselves for the worst. He had made it clear after his first bout with the deadly disease that he would never agree to chemotherapy again; so that left surgery. This saved his life when the cancer returned and was just centimeters from his heart, but when it came back “with a vengeance” in the fall of 2013, there was no knife made to stop it.

So we begged him to consider chemo. He refused for months, scouring the internet insisting there must be other options, but he knew there were none. Time went on and we felt the sands of time escaping every day, but we had to honor his wishes. My husband locked hands with me and prayed out to God, asking Him to comfort us, because as he said to the Father, “He was yours before he was ours”. Those words gave us both peace as we entered the holidays full of uncertainty but filled with faith.

In a sudden change of heart, Malcolm agreed to have chemo. But it was December, and the aggressive cancer that had been detected 3 months prior had been filling his lungs. We jumped into chemo mode, making schedules and getting him fed. But his doctors were clear, the chemo would just “buy him some time”, he was now considered terminal.  He signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and we prepared ourselves to prepare ourselves…one step at a time. We could barely process the information ourselves, and Malcolm didn’t want his little brothers to know, so we had to honor his wishes.

As Christmas neared, Malcolm began to experience even more discomfort (both from the cancer and the effects of the chemo). So to our surprise and amazement, he spent Christmas with his Dad, me, and his youngest brother, Matthew (while our 2 other boys went out of town with his mom…blended, remember!). He wanted to sleep on our sofa, because he said it was the most comfortable place to lay, and after losing so much weight again, he needed the extra padding. He was too weak to leave the sofa, so we had family over for Christmas Eve and played games  while cousins and aunts took turns curling up with him. But we never said it was his last Christmas, because we didn’t know for sure, and we had to honor his wishes. Being bound to the sofa wasn’t terrible because it kept him close to the kitchen, and I cooked all day, keeping his appetite stimulated by the smell of food. He began to regain some strength, and he eagerly awaited Christmas morning because he couldn’t wait to see the look on Matthew’s face. I have to imagine he thought it would look a lot like this picture, because Malcolm was surprising him with a new PlayStation! He was so excited, he could hardly sleep! That morning, he got the bright eyed screaming “Thank You!” he was hoping for, and Matthew spent the day playing his new game. Malcolm was too weak to leave the sofa, so I went to visit family that live a few blocks away to continue the Christmas tradition we had. When I got back home, I started to clean up, but he patted the sofa next to him, signaling for me to sit next to him and snuggle under the blanket, which I did because, despite a dirty kitchen, I had to honor his wishes.

He stayed at our house for a few more days and I cooked, cleaned, snuggled and laughed with him. He left our house the day after New Year’s (after spending NYE “babysitting” his youngest brothers). He was getting weaker and even needed a walker to get around the house. He went back to his mom’s house and we spoke with him daily. When we visited him after church the following Sunday, he was emaciated and frail. My heart shattered when I saw him, but I convinced myself that he would swing back from the chemo. Two days later, he had difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital (his only remaining lung had collapsed and he couldn’t breathe). He was in the ICU, clearly in pulmonary distress on Tuesday, but the next day he was up and laughing with the nurses. He took a turn for the worse and we gathered the boys to say good-bye, but none of us could use those words. While there was still a chance, we had to remain positive, leaving the hospital cheering for him and hoping for a turn-around. By late Friday, it didn’t look like he would return to us, and we braced ourselves to gather again and say good-bye for real. But Saturday morning came and he breathed his last breathe before we could get to him. We weren’t ready… his brothers were caught off guard… and our hearts were broken in pieces. Instead of having a “peaceful transition”, we were all kicked in the gut as if he’d died suddenly in a car accident. Years later, I’m  still tormented by the thought of having just one more day. I still hear the words of a tiny 10-year old boy in shock shouting “but I didn’t get to say good-bye!”  Malcolm didn’t want us mourning until he was gone, and he certainly didn’t want his baby brother to know so close to Christmas. So as hard as that was to do, we had to honor his wishes.

Speak Up and Be Like Rudy!

When I was in the fourth grade, I was the new kid (again!), and this time it was close to the end of the year, so I wasn’t going to bother making new friends. Well, to my surprise, my parents bought me a 64 pack of Crayola Crayons! This made me an instant hit in the classroom, and one girl, Esther, always wanted to borrow my crayons. The problem was, she kept breaking them! One day, with palm sweating and heart racing,  I mustered up the courage to tell her she couldn’t use my crayons anymore. She didn’t yell, but through clinched teeth she told me she was going to beat me up after school. And she was apparently a woman of her word because she did just that…slapping me right across my face!

Scared and upset, I boarded the bus and when an older girl named Rudy got on, she asked me what was wrong. I told her what happened, and she stormed off the bus to go find my assailant (it was a city bus, so the driver was, well, a driver). Rudy told the bully in no uncertain terms that she would regret it if she ever touched me again.  Suddenly, my tears dried up and I started chanting, “Rudy! Rudy!” The rest of the bus caught on, and she humbly signaled for us to stop. To her eager onlookers, Rudy simply said “I can’t stand when people mess with my friends”. And just like that, she showed me how to use my voice for someone else. Esther was never a threat to Rudy, she didn’t speak up for her own interests, she spoke up for some else. She demonstrated what the Prophet Isiah said: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed…”

And while I was just a kid whose feelings (and cheek) were hurt, if Rudy had remained silent, I would have a very different memory of that day. Because of Rudy’s courage, I saw the power in using my position and voice for others.  As a result, the bully was neutralized, and I gained a script to use for future conflict. And, I was able to finish the school year without any more broken crayons!

Being a leader often means standing up for those who can’t. Bullying is not just a schoolyard problem, but one that permeates offices, families, and communities. Whether it’s in your workplace, family, community, or school, speak up for others and be like Rudy!

 

Houston showed me some love!

It’s one thing to call yourself “inspiring”, it’s another to be recognized by a local periodical as such. Like any “inspiror” (OK, that’s not a word), my motivation is to help people have hope in the possibilities of life. To have hope that their last challenge won’t take them out. To show them that life has seasons, and some of them carry some really ugly weather, but that with faith, hope, and love, they can weather that storm.

So I was honored to be featured in Houston’s Inspirational Stories in the VoyageHouston online magazine. On Valentine’s day, Houston showed me some love!

Click HERE to read the article.

What You Focus on Grows

I love the old adage “What you focus on grows”.  It speaks to investing our time and attention to the things that matter. And in return, you’ll get dividends. Most times, people intend to focus on the important relationships, tasks, and projects in their lives, but it can be difficult. There are so many things vying for our attention, competing for our energy and focus. This can be especially frustrating when we talk about goals. Making goals is important, but sticking to them is even more vital. Here are a few ideas you can consider as you put your goals into place for this year:

  1. Put First Things First – As Dr. Covey states in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. Put the important things in your life (or day) at the top of your to-do list. Focus on getting those finished first, and THEN dive into something else.
  2. Drown out the noise – Distractions are all around us. Even the best laid out day can be filled with calls, emails, and other matters that take your focus away. Try methods like the Pomodoro (which has an app for your phone) to time your productive times. You intentionally focus during that interval and then take a break. This did wonders for me and kept me from chasing squirrels in my mind!
  3. Make a visual plan – I like vision boards, but they only remind you of what, and not when. OK, you’re saying “here goes the project manager” …but honestly, creating a visual timeline of tasks and goals will help you stay focused. There are tons of tools that will let you create something electronically, but what’s even better is to PRINT it out, put it somewhere visible and mentally check in with it.
  4. Setup an Accountability system – That visual plan you created is useful for keeping you accountable, but sharing its contents (milestones, etc) with someone else is the key to accountability. Whether it’s your spouse, a friend, a prayer partner or a mastermind group, sharing your goals (the what and the when) will help you remain focused on the promise you made to yourself. As you setup your goals, be sure to add some accountability to keep you focused on achieving them.

So, what do you want to grow this year? Whether it’s your health, your wealth, or your relationships, you’ll need to focus to make them grow. Because if you don’t…they won’t.

Change We CAN Control – It’s YOUR Attitude

Life always boils down to choices, and when it comes to dealing with difficulty, we really have two. As the famous poet Maya Angelou put it, “We can change our circumstances or we can change our attitude.” I am a proponent of changing circumstances, no matter how difficult they may seem. But even the most aggressive overcomer can’t change everything. So, what do we do if a situation is beyond our control and we can’t change it no matter how hard we try? That’s when we focus on changing our attitude. These three strategies will help if you need to change your attitude:

 

  1.  Choose to remain positive. John C. Maxwell said, “Remaining positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it’s leadership.” As leaders, whether we are leading ourselves personally, leading a team, or leading an entire organization, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to remain positive. A positive attitude is infectious, and that is what you want to infect the people around you with. It’s not a matter of smiling or faking through difficulty, but choosing to not grumble and complain can make a huge impact on how you endure the situation. I can’t remember the last time a bad attitude changed the outcome of a dilemma anyway.
  2. Look at the trial as a lesson. Everything that we go through has a purpose in our lives; whether it is difficulty at work, a project that failed, a relationship that failed, or even the loss of a job. Those hit us very hard and can be deeply wounding. But what they all do is that they help us grow by giving us lessons. And every time that we’re in a situation, especially things that are beyond our control, we have to ask ourselves, what is it that I can learn from this situation? Why is this happening? Why was I given the opportunity to learn in the situation? When we encounter our obstacles that way it helps us maintain a productive outlook. The most beautiful flowers are those that have had the most fertilizer!
  3. Prepare to share the lesson. Finally, and in my opinion, most importantly, you want to look beyond you. It’s one thing for you to learn a lesson. I always say, “I don’t lose, I learn.” But every time we learn we have an opportunity … There’s something else that we’re able to impart to someone else. When we share our lessons learned we grow personally, but we grow our community immensely. So, when we take those opportunities to look beyond ourselves, to find the purpose in that situation, the purpose behind that pain. Whatever trial that you’re dealing with, find a reason for that too, not just be about you because it never is just about us anyway.

 

So, remember, if you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your attitude…it’s yours. Keep this in mind as you prepare your goals for next year. Some things you can (and should) change, while some things you need a change of heart toward.

Don’t ASK. Just TELL. How to Help Houston Post-Harvey

Please don’t ask what you can do to help the Houston area.  Just tell us what you are going to do to help.

Texans are proud and this devastating flood has jolted us out of our comfortable lives and placed us in a very vulnerable position.  If you ask what you can do for us, most Texans will point to those less fortunate than themselves.  They may suggest you donate to one of the national organizations to show your support.

You Can Do More

More than ten million people in the Houston region of Texas are in shock right now.  They don’t know what to do next to recover their lives.  You see, it doesn’t take water intrusion into your home to be affected.  The catastrophic flooding affects a much larger community where we don’t know what to do for ourselves, our neighbors or our community at large.

At times like this, we need a “checklist” for taking action.  This checklist is organized for two groups.  Pick a checklist and tell us what you will do to help.

 

Local to the Houston Region Checklist

Your neighbors need your help, but they are uncomfortable in every way you can imagine.  The self-sufficiency enjoyed last week has tumbled into a pool of helplessness.  They are exhausted and don’t even know what needs to be done about getting back on their feet.

Just Tell Them:

I am here to help you:

  • Take pictures before anything is moved and again when things are bagged up or taken to the curb
  • Make the call to the insurance company (with the owner present)
  • Take food and beverages to first responders
  • Make meals for other families so they don’t have to worry about cooking
  • Give them a place to escape at your place to eat or just take a welcome break
  • Move damaged belongings to the street for pick up
  • Cut out the saturated sheetrock and drag to the curb or bag it up for the insurance company
  • Retrieve important documents and take them to a place where they can be dried as individual sheets of paper
  • Box up salvageable (dry) belongings
  • Take clothes and bedding to be washed and return them clean/folded
  • Take durable goods like dishes, pots and pans to my house to be washed and returned when you are ready for them
  • Transport you to where you need to go (millions of cars have been totaled)
  • Get quotes from water mitigation companies
  • Bring your kids to my house for a play date
  • Pick up groceries or other supplies
  • Pack school lunches for the kids
  • Drive them out to find a rental car (all local rental cars are gone)
  • Drive them to look at replacement vehicles or call dealers who are willing to bring the prospective cars to them for consideration

I am here with supplies:

  • Masks and ventilators
  • Paper towels
  • Disposable gloves
  • Trash bags
  • Bleach
  • Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Boxes and packing tape
  • Sharpie for marking boxes
  • Hand soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste
  • Feminine hygiene products and diapers
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Pet food and pet kennels
  • Cash and Prayers – the ultimate supplies

Outside the Houston Region Checklist

Just Tell Us:

We are strong and far from helpless victims in this part of the country.  We are courageous and confident.  We love our community and want to be independent.  But still…we need your help.

Spiritual and Emotional Help

  • Pray, meditate, visualize – or use whatever spiritual resource you acknowledge in your life to lift us up in your daily practice.
  • Remember us in your spiritual communities for months to come. Right now, many people are praying for the Houston region.  But things will get tougher before they get better.  Please still be remembering us in a couple of months when our world is continuing to spin in disbelief and recovery.
  • Call anyone you may know to show your love and support. Call them this week and call them again next week and the next.  Call them every week until you can tell they are feeling close to normal.  Let them vent, cry, rant and crumble emotionally.  Listening is a powerful force for recovery.

Financial and Organization Support

  • Every single disaster recovery organization is involved in this clean up and recovery. Donate to your favorite – whether it is the Red Cross or a local group like the Cajun Navy.  Show the people who are your surrogates in the field you care too.  Money keeps these organizations viable.
  • Volunteer in your area. Because so many volunteers have flocked to the Houston region, your local organizations may be short of man power.  Research a group who is helping here and offer your time to help there.  Keep these generous groups going for the good of your own community and ours.
  • Find a local organization – or be the organizer – who is gathering supplies, services and cash to be sent to our area.
  • Send gift cards to restaurants and stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s

Supplies – on an Ongoing Basis

  • Every time a disaster like this happens, supplies come by the truck load into the community. We are grateful.  Two months from now, the supplies may no longer be coming.  Find a family or an organization and pledge to give for the next six months to one year.  The truth is, it will be many years before we are back to something resembling “normal.”  Don’t abandon us when the news is no longer covering the catastrophe.
  • If you know of someone in the local area, you can “adopt a family” to help for several months. Maybe your local organizations can compile a list of family contacts.  You can use services like Amazon to send them basic supplies directly to their home.  Occasionally you can use something like Uber Eats to send the family a complete meal.
  • Another way to “adopt a family” would be to offer to pay for daycare for a period of time. This kind of thing is perfect for those of you who don’t trust the large national organizations.  You can make a huge impact on one family – without the organization’s administration costs diminishing the affect of your generosity.

These checklists are just a “drop in the bucket” – pun intended – and should be used as an idea starter rather than being considered a comprehensive list of what can be done.  Use social media to communicate your desire to help and organize others who feel the same way.

It’s going to be a long recovery.  Anything we can do to help those with huge disaster impacting their lives will help shift the energy from fear into comfort.  Hold us in your highest energy and tell us what you are going to do about it.

Tell Us You Care

Please stop what you are doing right now and go to one of these websites to make a donation.  Every dollar counts.  The people of Houston thank you for your support.

 

This article is contributed by professional business book ghostwriter, Kate Frank: www.AuthorLegacyResource.com/.  Kate was inspired to share this information by evacuee,  speaker and coach Elizabeth Barbour: www.ElizabethBarbour.com/.

Spring has sprung – let’s all wear yellow

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad Spring is here. And while I look forward to the warmer weather and the sunshine that it brings, that’s not why I’m so happy about it. Three years ago, my husband and I suffered a tragic loss: our oldest son died from a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma (yellow is the ribbon color for Sarcomas). And because his passing was in January, these past few years have started off dark and heavy. But thank God for sunshine!! The sun doesn’t make the hurt go away, but it does make it bearable. I still don’t know why he had to leave us, but I trust God through it all.

It is that trust that is the focus of my heart these days. It’s easy to trust God in good times, but how do we trust him with our grief and loss? I’d like to share some lessons that helped me, and should you ever need it, I pray that they will help you as well:

1. Grow in the dark until the light comes back on The Sunday after my son’s passing, our pastor’s sermon was titled “Where is God in My Pain?”. This is a common question, as grief feels like being in the dark all alone. But the good news is 1) we’re not alone AND 2) mold is not the only thing that grows in the darkness. Our strength, character and compassion get developed during those dark times. Trust in the process, and be patient with yourself as you sprout new buds. When the light does come back on, you will be amazed at the blossom. Your family, colleagues, and friends may not notice immediately, but in time they will, and you will, too!

2. Decide not to sink One of my favorite passages in the bible talks about Peter walking on water. The description of doing the impossible fills me with hope and reminds me of what’s possible. But this story is intended to remind us that we can only do the impossible (and difficult) when we keep our focus on our faith. When Peter took his eyes off Jesus while he was walking on the water, he began to sink. He turned his focus to the storm, and not his help. The next time you hear the expression “trying to keep my head above water”, think of Peter, and do what he did, and decide not to sink. Help is available, choose to take it.

3. Nothing happens to you just for YOU On Jan. 11, 2014, I became a member of a club I never wanted to be in. A club of parents grieving the loss of a child, and more broadly of a person having to live without someone they love. If I had thought for one minute that the pain I was feeling (and the healing I receive daily) was just for me, I would have missed the point. The world is full of hurting people, we see them in the break-room at work, in the mall when we shop, and in the pews next to us on Sunday. They are our neighbors out for a walk, or the teachers in school with our children. And as a result of my own experience, I can empathize with them. And it’s why I’m so passionate about giving back and helping others…I’ve been there. I needed support, and people gave it. When we find the purpose in our pain, we are able to bless others and be part of the cycle of giving.

To continue the cycle of giving by learning more about Team Malcolm and how you can help children battling cancer find comfort in the Arts in Medicine Program. We are raising funds through the month of March.

Do a new thing! 3 Questions for making lasting change

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Ahh, the new year. For my family and me, New Year’s Day is a time to enjoy family and black-eyed peas. It marks the end of the holidays and all the celebratory eating that seems to come with it, and it marks the beginning of new challenges. Over the Christmas/Winter break, I tend to rest, read, binge watch, and spend time with extended family. (there’s nothing like a game of Taboo to get the blood flowing!) Then, I end the week with reflection, I clean out my closets and drop off donations. This physically and emotionally makes room for new things. Then we return to work to catch up on what was missed during the holiday all the while thinking of what changes you’re going to make.

In preparation for all this “newness”, allow me to share some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  1. Why am I making changes? Are you making a change because it’s necessary (for a defined benefit), or because you’re bored with what you have? Sometimes people make change for the sake of changing, and find that they didn’t really need to move that cheese after all. Figuring out the real motivation for change will help you stick with it, or allow you to put your efforts elsewhere.
  2. What do I need to change? To satisfy your “why”, you’ll want to come up with a clear “what”. This will also require some soul searching. Do you need a new car or just a new coat of paint? Maybe you just need to tweak something instead of inventing a whole new wheel. Consider doing an old thing a new way. Sometimes changing a running route can motivate you to run more consistently.
  3. How will you create (or apply) the change? It’s easy to say “I’ll start running” or “I’ll read more”, but how will you actually achieve it? The key is to set SMART goals – Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time-Bound. The only difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline and a plan. For example, “I’ll run 3 miles per week” or “I’ll read 2 business books per month”. These can be measured, and that is a key element to success.

 

Need help setting and sticking with your goals? Coaching helps you move forward and stay the course. How do I know? I got one myself! I’m looking forward to great things this year, and I pray that for you as well.

Why I Cruise

Cruise ships in portI discovered cruising in 2005 after going with family to celebrate a milestone birthday (it was my uncle’s 50th). We went on a 5-day cruise out of Galveston, TX on the Carnival Ecstasy and at first I was nervous and worried that I’d be bored. It was just the opposite. This itinerary made two stops; one in Cozumel, Mexico and then Progress (also Mexico) and we had a blast.  It was my husband and our youngest son who was just 2 1/2 at the time.  He spent most of his waking hours in the comfort of the Camp Carnival playroom, while we enjoyed the adult fun on the Lido deck. When we would pick him up for dinner (or a lunch break) he almost ran from us. Not because he doesn’t love us, but because he was having so much fun. It was a May cruise and there weren’t as many kids as there are in the summer months, so he had his choice of toys and was the entertainment for the au pairs on board. Before the trip ended, we were asking ourselves when were we going again. And so the rest is history…this summer will mark our 10th year of cruising every year (except one).

STUMBLING THROUGH THE DARKNESS

One of my favorite movies is Ray, the feature film about Ray Charles. When Ray Charles was about five years old, he developed glaucoma and gradually became blind. One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie occurs in his mom’s home. He was stumbling around the humble shack in the darkness and began to get frustrated. He sat there and cried out to his mother who sat in the chair crying, wishing she could just take it away. But she knew it was best that he learn how to navigate this situation. He knew she was there because he could hear her breathing and crying, so he knew he was not alone. Before long, he began to move around the house, using his touch and hearing, which were both heightened by his loss of sight. She could have sprung out of her chair to “rescue” him, but instead she lovingly watched and cried as he listened for a grasshopper and made his way over to it. As he picked it up, he smiled and began to clearly hear all the other sounds in the background.
We often visualize God as a doting parent, there to pick us up at the first sign of trouble. While this image is comforting, it’s not a full depiction of God’s true nature and “parenting style”. There are times when God will rescue us, but there are times when He will lovingly sit and cry while we navigate dark seasons of our lives. The important thing to note is that He is there, watching and loving us as we work our way through the revelations that come from the darkness. In the darkness, we can hear things we wouldn’t hear, and smell things we wouldn’t otherwise smell. And most importantly, we would learn the things we wouldn’t have otherwise learned. There is always a purpose for the darkness.