Being Resilient

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Written Summer of 2014

I looked in awe as I watched my mother and my aunt turn and walk to the door at Souderton Mennonite Homes, compassionately leaning on each other, yet also steadying each other. My mother has struggled with congestive heart failure in recent months and my aunt has been receiving chemotherapy for cancer, but off they went, finding the support and encouragement they needed together.

We all need to feel needed. I’ve recently realized this as I have been searching for a new job that uses my 50 year old gifts and helps me cope with an empty nest. I realize it’s not an easy place to be…plenty of educational degrees and spunk to last a lifetime, but nevertheless…over 50. How do I continue to feel like a vital part of life when my daughter, my last child, travels 1000 miles away to study architecture at Iowa State University? That distance alone has my heart reeling. What if she needs me? What if she gets sick? What if she feels alone and desperate and yet is so far away? I could use a stimulating job to distract me.

So what keeps people like my mother and my aunt going when they’ve experienced health issues and have lost husbands and other loved ones? Resiliency seems to be what keeps the newly ousted New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson, moving forward. She touted in a speech to Wake Forest University, “It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. Show what you are made of…” In a recent article from the Boston Globe, Deborah Kotz suggests tips on developing resiliency:
1. Have a sense of realistic optimism. Stay positive in the face of adversity.
2. Rely on a social support system. You need friends and loved ones to buoy you in times of distress.
3. Work from your strengths, not your weaknesses. Write down the five things that are best about you and let those things lead you, rather than listing deficiencies that need to be overcome.
4. Set goals. Research indicates that people who establish goals are more resilient.
5. Be mindful. Acknowledge that opportunities abound. Part of being mindful also involves being authentic in how you handle the situation. Knowing that you are staying true to yourself throughout can make you more resilient.
6. Embrace the small rough patches. See minor challenges — like dealing with a new boss or a flood in your basement — as a way to build your resiliency over time.
7. Adopt an attitude toward gratitude. Rather than dwelling on all the things you don’t have or used to have, think of what you do have that you can be grateful for.

These are things my mother and my aunt must have learned a long time ago…because at ages 96 and 91, they certainly are resilient.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward

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Written Spring of 2013

Looking back and looking forward. Sometimes they seem the same. I’m reflecting on educational decisions and how they often decide the course of a person’s life. My daughter, my youngest child, is trying to decide where to go to college and what to major in. It’s odd, but all I can think about is my mom and how she was the only one of her siblings that was not sent down to Eastern Mennonite School for her high school education. The year was 1936 and there was no Christopher Dock High School and so some parents sent their young children to EMS if they wanted them to receive a Mennonite education. “But,” my mom recalls, “the barn burnt down that year and my parents didn’t seem too anxious to send me. And I wanted to go to Lansdale High School with my friends.” So when she graduated in 10th grade from the local school, she went on to Lansdale High School, later to become North Penn High School. How many pathways of her life were affected by that one missed opportunity?

My daughter, Vanessa, has expressed an interest in architecture. She attended a high school introduction to architecture course this past fall at Temple University to see if indeed that was an interest of hers. She enjoyed the class and her love of math and art seemed to coalesce in this one field. The teacher recommended architecture schools for the students to think of attending. One of them was Iowa State University. Vanessa loved even the mention of Iowa, the home of her father and grandma, uncle and cousins.

It wasn’t that long ago that I took a job teaching at Iowa Mennonite School and traversed the many miles with a college friend to our new home in Kalona, Iowa. There I met my husband Ken and married him on the lawn of my in-laws, far away from the PA woods and creeks of my hometown. My girlfriend also married a Midwestern boy and never returned, making her home in Chicago. Ken and I returned to the Indian Valley and raised a family, but the pull of Iowa can be seen in our children.

Three generations of decisions. Yet we all have changed each other’s lives. I want for my daughter the same thing I want for my mom…the chance to live in Harrisonburg, Va and go to school and learn in that Mennonite mecca, but just like with my mom, my daughter is pulled elsewhere.

God, I leave these past decisions and the present decisions in your hands…

Jordan’s Calling

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Written Fall of 2012

After the Haiti earthquake of 2010, my son Jordan, a quiet 17 year old, found himself in a house in Passe bois d’orme with 10 other persons from his home church including our leader, Jim Frankenfield associated with Water for Life. Jim wanted to help the people most affected by the earthquake, so we all headed to Cote de Fer, a nearby recovering town. But Jim wasn’t prepared for the sensitive Jordan by his side when we came across an old man stuck on his porch with a broken leg and no way to get to the hospital. Jordan saw the old man just as we all did, but his heart went out to him, and he pleaded with Jim that we had to do something.

The next morning, Jim came to me with his concerns. He wanted me to know that he was sorry we couldn’t do more for the old man but more importantly, that we would be disappointing Jordan who was counting on us to help him. Then Jim and I discussed how Jordan kept coming to him repeatedly the previous day with pleas for the old man, saying “We got to help him.” Jim knew as we all knew that the old man needed help immediately and was in danger of dying if his leg was not treated. I told Jim that I would talk to Jordan. I was amazed how much Jim was concerned about my son in the midst of the earthquake damage and our uncertain trip home. He took a lot of time to explain the situation to me and above all, did not want to hurt Jordan in any way.

Well, we did make it home safely and a few days later when we were all together at Jim’s house, the first thing he wanted to tell Jordan and me was that the old man was still alive and had received help soon after we had seen him lying helplessly on his porch. We were all so glad, but Jim especially wanted Jordan to see for himself pictures of the old man on the internet and assure him that he was alive and well.

Jordan did seem to go through some culture shock after his experience in Haiti, but he recovered. In his freshman year in college, he came to me and said, “Mom, the only thing I can ever see myself doing is being a doctor.” I was shocked since I had thought molecular biology was a pretty good major. But I understood…it all went back to his wanting to help the old man in Haiti…

Thank you, Jim….

Pleasures in Life

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Written Fall of 2012

Pleasures come in all varieties.  Pleasures of travel, pleasures of reading, pleasures of laughing, pleasures of family, pleasures of learning, and pleasures of teaching.  I find that the older I get, the more I enjoy simple pleasures.  Laughter with a friend or family member is paramount. Hugs and kisses every day. Snuggled in a homespun blanket and reading a good book is essential.  But (and I’m not sure why this is) going to Christopher Dock High School and tutoring ESL students….priceless.

Computer-Rape

Written Fall of 2012

“Mom, I think someone hacked your email account” was my son Jordan’s text.  I had just finished working for the day with no problems so it took me by surprise.  I signed in again to find I could not connect to the internet.  That was only the beginning of many issues that day and the next.   I called Dell to have one of their outside contracted Safecart personnel to look at my computer.  The native to India told me it would take 45 minutes, but after 3 hours he seemed still unsure of what my problem was.  He said I should delete Norton after my subscription was up and that I had space issues on my laptop.  Well, the next day everything came to a sudden halt when my laptop stopped working completely.

I had been praying for and encouraging the Laverty family about Emilee’s recent admission to the hospital and subsequent surgeries at the young age of 19 for dedifferentiated chordoma.  But I can’t tell you how distracted I was by my laptop issues and the obsession with getting my computer up and running again.  Suddenly, I couldn’t think of anything but finding a way to access my pictures, writings and be able to work for my freelance medical editing job.  It turned my life upside down and all I could do was worry that I had lost everything.  Finally, after several days, I ordered a new laptop with the help of my oldest son, Patrick.

I’m not someone who likes to think of Satan and how he intersects with my life because I prefer concentrating on God and his goodness.  But I can’t tell you how much this computer virus or worm felt like an attack on my own system.  I felt attacked with a new paranoia about some unknown violator taking away my laptop and my life. I know it’s a sign of how much we rely on computers to make our world go round, but it also felt like a breach of my personal safety and privacy.

It is almost 3 weeks since the initial incident and I am just now starting to feel any kind of confidence that my email is not being secretly viewed and sending out venom to others.  I still do not know how the initial computer-rape occurred and that alone degrades my confidence that it won’t happen again. The only thing that gives me some sense of peace is repeating the new passwords that I started using, such as “Be still and know that I am God!”  It seems to keep the powers of Satan or my own paranoia at bay.