A Superhero Without a Cape

Daddy's Girl

Daddy’s Girl

He came from an economically depressed region of the country to a family that would most certainly be considered poor by most standards. He became a hero to me (and many others) and his legacy lives on for and through me. He was my dad. And his strength came from his relationship with Jesus Christ.

My dad grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, born to a young couple and two older brothers. In his first years, he was ill as a result of a vitamin deficiency. A younger brother died around age 2. At some time in his young life, his parents operated a boarding house for workers of the mines or railroad, where his mother cooked for the boarders. Smart, outgoing, and talented (as were his brothers), he learned to play the guitar with ease. His mother carried a gun for some time, ready to take the law into her own hands against the men who had killed her brother. When missionaries came to the area to minister, my grandmother found God, and soon my dad and his brothers were sent a few counties away to a Christian boarding school. My dad was only 13 when he started 9th grade away from home.

It was there that he fell in love with God and the piano. He had such a natural talent for the piano, that when at one point he got bored and wanted to quit, his teacher informed the president of the school. This small but fiery lady informed him she would send him home if he quit the piano. He agreed to stay, knowing the punishment he would receive at home would be far worse than continuing piano lessons. His love for playing grew and he dreamed of being a concert pianist, famous around the world. In 12th grade, he felt God was calling him to preach, but the dream of being famous influenced him to deny that call. Before that school year was finished, he was in the hospital with a fluid-swollen spinal column. A spinal tap was done, and within hours he was paralyzed from just above the waist to his toes. Doctors were not sure if he would live, and they were certain he would never walk again. He promised God that he would preach from a wheelchair or bed if God would spare his life, and he always said that God healed him.

He went through physical therapy and eventually regained his strength and was able to walk. His older brother, Alvin, would carry him from the bed, setting him on crutches to wash the dishes for his mother. (When he spoke of this, he would always get emotional with admiration for a brother who was strong enough and kind enough to care for him this way.) Even though he wasn’t back to full strength, he was drafted into the Army. Within a few weeks of marching, he was hospitalized and discharged. He returned to the Bible college associated with the Christian high school, where he spent time working at the radio station. He met my mother and they married shortly after she graduated from the college. He was told that he would never father children, but that clearly turned out to be untrue!

He was determined to have his family experience as much of the country as possible. We traveled every summer – to Ohio to visit my mom’s family, to Michigan to visit college friends, to spend time with uncles, aunts, and cousins at beautiful sights where revivals were scheduled, to historical sites in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and various other places to encourage our patriotism. No matter what the sights were, no matter how far he had to walk, he sacrificed for us to see it, knowing that his legs would ache and shake all night, preventing good sleep.

My brother, Chris was born while they completed their baccalaureate degrees at Asbury College, living on the property of my grandparents who had moved there to work at the college. Dad also learned the craft of piano tuning. They returned to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky to minister in the organization where they had completed high school and Bible college. Dad taught piano, organ, voice, chorus, and piano tuning at the college, and spent some time directing band at the high school. He directed performances of Handel’s The Messiah for years. He also took opportunities to preach or play the piano in revivals, at camps, and various church services across the country. Dad was required to take one night a week to relieve the faculty member who was in charge of the men’s dorm. If Mom had duties on the same night, he would take me with him to keep him company in Mr. Davis’ office. The men were supposed to be studying during that time, but many of the them came to him to get his fatherly advice or exchange jokes. I just sat and watched a master encourager.

When my brother was about to turn 20, just months after his wedding, the family (without me) decided to visit a state park for a weekend to celebrate his birthday a week early. They dropped off their things and proceeded to view the sites where Chris was involved in a fall. He had a head injury and was unconscious for two and a half weeks before he died. I listened to my dad’s body-shaking sobs on the way to the hospital, wondering if I would lose him, too.

He changed after that. Oh, he still told his same old, lame jokes. He still had a clever quip to other smart aleck words or actions of students, but the brokenness was obvious, at least at home. If Chris’ name was mentioned, he was immediately shedding tears, and so I refrained from bringing him up at home, in fear that it would be to heartbreaking for him. When I made it to college, I had the privilege of singing The Messiah under his direction. I watched tears stream down his face as we sang, “Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows,” and he put every ounce of energy into leading us. I don’t know of anyone who could sing with less than 100% effort, knowing the kind of grief he had experienced.

And that is what makes him my hero. I can’t imagine the oppressive grief of losing a child. Getting up everyday, working … just putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not sure how people can do it. But Dad kept going on. He kept giving piano lessons. He kept directing the chorus. He kept reading God’s Word daily. He kept preaching. He kept showing everyone he met how God loved and sustained him.

Years later, Dad had a stroke and was unable to care for himself or even talk for 14 months before he died. My daughter overheard me telling someone about my dad’s dream of being a famous concert pianist. She later said to me, “Mom, Grandpa was famous,” and proceeded to remind me that he knew people around the world. She was right. He taught students for 35 years, some of whom are missionaries around the globe. He tuned pianos all over Eastern Kentucky and many other states. He preached all over the country. He even traveled three times to Papua New Guinea to tune pianos for missionaries, to preach, and to sing.

Dad was a small-framed man, and he walked with a significant limp all my life. Most people catching a first glimpse of him would not consider him strong. And yet he was the strongest man I have ever known. (Besides the fact that he could take a much larger man to his knees with his unique handshake.) He never held back tears to express his own grief, in empathy for others, or when he felt the love of friends he knew he could count on. And his legacy of sacrificing to show God’s love lives on as I do the work of helping people who are at a low point find the hope and courage to change.

He was a God-worshipping, family-loving, music-performing, coffee-drinking, ever-whistling, joke-telling, people-encouraging, Kentucky Wildcat-cheering, Super Dad.

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Addiction: It’s Not About the “What”

So many different thoughts and arguments exist when the topic of addiction comes up. Most people automatically associate drugs and alcohol when the word “addiction” is mentioned. They get pained looks on their faces because the family member or former friend who has fallen into the using or drinking lifestyle is sad at best. There are no easy or simple answers to the problem of addiction. Pointing fingers at druggies and alcoholics as the basis of the problem is counterproductive.

Recovering-addict-turned-comedian, Mark Lundholm, explains addiction in possibly the best, most simplistic way I’ve heard. He says what someone is addicted to isn’t the problem. Caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, alcohol, food, porn, sex, relationships, gambling, video games, attention – it’s all the same. It’s not the “what.” The foundation of any addiction is “now.” We are addicted to now. Our fast-paced, have-it-now society has pushed and promoted this behavior. We want food now? There is a microwave or a fast-food restaurant to make it happen. Nevermind the question of health. We want creativity? We want nearly instant relief from pain? We want to get past grief or trauma now? We yearn for intimacy? Anyone of those chemical or non-chemical remedies are at our fingertips. Is any one of those choices worse than another? Obviously, chemical use might get you dead faster. However, the others can be just as devastating to your mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, and physical health. The mere fact that the fast-food drive-thru exists confirms this have-it-now-no-matter-the-cost attitude.

In reality, addiction is the evidence of life being out of balance. The NOW attitude leads our human nature to engage in whatever gives us relief from pain or stress. Once respite has been achieved, our brains have locked into memory all the related sensory information, causing a craving that is virtually irresistible. Those of us with coffee or sugar (aka sweet tooth) addictions can smell a Dunkin Donuts within a mile and begin to salivate. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point.

We can write-off the addict/alcoholic as the scum of society, but until we teach people to take the time to deal with the get-it-now attitude, to learn that achieving anything of value (pain relief, weight loss, fitness, inner satisfaction, creativity, etc.) takes time, very little progress will be made. When instant gratification isn’t the goal, when grief is a process to work through, when a relationship is worth the time and effort to repair – that is when recovery begins. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of experiencing “aha” moments of people who struggle with addiction. And in those moments, I find the inspiration to overcome my own challenges.

“Village” Moms

We’ve all heard the age old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” (That title got you, didn’t it. You thought I meant The Village People!) In the last week preceding Mother’s Day, my thoughts have been repeatedly thinking specifically of the women who have contributed to my life. There have been many, and I found myself feeling the need to acknowledge and share just how meaningful some of those relationships have been before writing about the one who birthed me.

The first years of my life, my family resided in an apartment building where three other families lived. Whether verbal or unspoken, those three moms were given permission to discipline on the spot or report misbehavior back to my own parents. I’m sure there were times when I balked at their apparent intrusion into my doings, but no one was about to allow me to be irresponsible. I don’t remember a thought process that led me to believe it created a safe environment at that time, but when I look back, I clearly felt safe. I knew if anything were wrong – if I got hurt, if anything scary happened – I could count on those ladies to help me. They hold a special place in my heart, remembering all the times we celebrated holidays together, or shared some fresh-baked cookies and iced tea. I can still hear their unique laughs in my head when I recall old memories. Janet, Faith, and Ruby were good “village” moms.

When my family moved to a new home, many more moms were added to my “village” on a regular basis, whether they had their own children or not. My K-3rd teacher suctioned her hand to my bloody forehead and lead me to the school nurse when I fell and hit the concrete step. She also spanked me when I defied her authority or set me in the corner until I apologized to another student. She comforted me when I reached the school building crying because the below-freezing air burned my lungs while crossing the swinging bridge and walking up the hill to school. Patsy was a good “village” mom.

My 4th-7th grade teachers also needed to discipline me on occasion. I was expected to do my homework, to be respectful in class and on the playground, and to talk only at the appropriate times (which seemed to be PRETTY difficult for me). I remember having a level of fear of them, but it was a fear born of respect. When we were read to, allowed to listen to basketball games, or acknowledged for following the rules, I knew we were loved. Agnes and Mary were good “village” moms.

Several ladies had significant impact during my high school years. One noted that I might be feeling lost and out of sorts when my own parents were spending much of their time at an ICU 85 miles away, watching hopefully over my unconscious brother. She sent her daughter to ask me to stay in their home, which felt more like family. One realized her young hurting cousin needed a comforting mentor and repeatedly showed up to take a walk in the pasture. One, who already had a houseful of seven (I guess one more is not a big deal, and I was expected to contribute, which I appreciated), invited me to spend spring break in her home, far away from painful reminders of loss. I’m not sure she will ever understand just how much I needed that week of not feeling the pain of becoming an only child. One of my teachers, also a class sponsor, lent me her ear plenty of times. She expected me to “get” Great Expectations, various other literature, and exceptional grammar skills, but she also spoke words of understanding and encouragement, and still does. Another, also the mother of my from-birth-friend, challenged me to create a personal written story that simultaneously created some healing of the deep wound in my heart. Carlene, Bethany, Ruth, Martha, and Ruth were good “village” moms.

Even in my adult life, “village” women have mothered me in a time of need. When I first left home and lived far away from family, one lectured or loved me in my “greenness” of marriage. Later, when that marriage was over, even further away from family, one accepted, loved, and encouraged this single, struggling mom by graciously giving me sewing work to do and generously paying me. Another claimed me as her fourth daughter. Before my own parents moved closer, she always invited me to her holiday family gatherings, making sure I wasn’t alone. More than once, a warm handshake with her included the passing of money to pay overdue bills. Allene, Dee, and Earlene have been good “village” moms.

I also count Aunt Ruth, Aunt Beth, another Aunt Ruth, Grandma Mae, and Grandma Ava. When I add all these “village” moms to the mom who birthed me, I feel overwhelming gratitude for the contribution of the “village” in my life. My mother took that proverb to heart, providing for me a “village” of godly women and modeling the kind of woman who effectively and constructively molds young people to be the best they can be. I only hope I can be half the mom these moms have been to me.

Comfort: A right or a privilege?

I’m not sure why, but every time I hear a certain commercial, I feel some frustration. I’m sure you’ve heard it. A famous actress comments on a well-known brand of furniture by imploring the listener to “live life comfortably.” Something about the tone of the ad just comes across like there should be an expectation of comfort. So that we’re clear, I’m not against comfort. I like my comfortable bed, my recliner, my sofa. I appreciate having a comfortable, adjustable chair to sit in at work. I even enjoy a level of comfort in the vehicle I drive, despite its age. But I think there is a difference in wanting those things and expecting them.

Maybe it’s the month I spent in Papua New Guinea back in 1982. Seeing people satisfied with the very little earthly possessions they owned changed me. The way the people sang with uninhibited strength was energizing, to say the least. People walk for miles to get to a church service or carry heavy loads of produce or wares to care for their families. I watched a nurse clean and bandage the burned belly of an infant who had rolled into the fire kept going the majority of the day for cooking. As a layer of skin peeled off in her hands, I made an effort to hold back the tears. Then she told me that the child would most likely have serious scars due to the parent’s not understanding the need for changing bandages to prevent infection, as well as the lack of clean supplies.

Maybe it was the trip to a remote village in Alaska with a group of teenagers. It was clear that I take so much for granted when we were required to refrain from flushing any paper down the two toilets to which our group of 21 had access. And the only showers were a quarter mile down the road. They were coin operated and we tried to get two or three people rotated through on the $1.50/10 minute sessions. (Quite an interesting planning maneuver that was! I learned a lot from those teenagers and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.)

Or maybe it’s the occasional trips I get to make back to the place I call home. Seeing how simply people live and the strength they show by being satisfied with what they have gives me perspective.

I am not preaching here. I’m not saying you must turn your back on all things comfortable. I’m sharing my own new desire to live more simply. To not be drawn in by “stuff.” To always appreciate what I have and the wonderful people in my life who touch, move, and inspire me to be better each day. To even appreciate the people who have made me uncomfortable enough to grow and not be satisfied with anything less than my best.

Baby Boomer Sandwich 

Many of the details regarding my generation category fit the majority of people born in the era called Baby Boomer, with some exceptions for myself and my cohorts who were raised in a conservative atmosphere. I am at the tail end of this generation, sandwiched between the Mature/Silents of The Great Depression and Generation Y, also known as Millennials. I am watching a child mature into adulthood and an adult decline in health and awareness simultaneously. One is taking on more responsibility, making decisions for her future, and another is finding the need to release independence, which must be heartbreaking and uncomfortable. One is not 100% clear about a career choice, while the other spent 35 years working for one organization.

 

This sandwiched feeling is proving to be uncomfortable at best and stressful as well. Making choices regarding where time is spent, while trying to manage a relatively new career, is a nerve-wracking, hair-graying, exhausting experience. (That hair-graying thing is for a friend, okay.) I’m not saying I desire to be free of the responsibility of caring for a parent. I’m just saying that it is not only physically exhausting, but also a very emotionally-draining experience.

 

In 2001, my father passed away after a stroke that left him unable to do anything for himself for 14 months. It was excruciating, watching a man, who had survived many health problems and the loss of his only son, who had spent his entire adult life showing and preaching God’s Love, who never met a stranger, not be able to speak or sing. I could see in his eyes how painful it was, and in his last week felt it necessary to tell him it was okay to let go and receive his heavenly reward. I promised him I would take care of Mom and I will keep my promise. 

 

Since then, Mom has been diagnosed with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Her hands that once held a paint brush, pen, or wood-burning tool to create beautiful artwork are now gnarled. She struggles to put on any shoes because her toes are crisscrossed. Walking, standing, or sitting in a hard chair can last only minutes, and she sighs often in pain and frustration as her body fails. She feels like she is only a burden to me. And in an effort to simplify my life and be less stressed to handle the caregiving role, a downsizing move and purging of things caused a reliving of memories that felt somewhat like I imagine an airbag deployment might feel.

 

In addition to the immediate reality of pain and weariness, the news of my parents’ peers having significant health issues and passing from this world are ever present reminders of my mortality. I see the look of “when will it be me?” in my mother’s eyes. Since I’ve already lost one parent, I feel for my own peers when I hear they have lost theirs. And I wonder how long before I’m without my remaining parent. I also ponder why two people who used their talents for God would have the ability for sharing those talents taken away. That’s when I remember a quote from Erma Bombeck. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.” My parents certainly used all of theirs. It’s the only thought that comforts me when I am aware of my mother’s pain and remember my dad’s. 


I realize that parent-child relationships can be challenging and that aging and pain can increase those challenges dramatically. I only pray that God gives me wisdom and helps me show a gracious spirit in whatever time my mom has left. I certainly don’t have what it takes to fulfill this responsibility on my own.


Erma Bombeck. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ermabombec106409.html  

A time to help, and a time to be helped.

Things have been a little crazy in my life. Many of you read my post about the emotional conflict of moving, and moving is exactly why I didn’t write last week. I’m reposting this because asking for help was a painful experience as well. How is it we (and I really mean “I”) think that mentioning to friends and coworkers a challenge ahead of us is really communicating that we need help? Why is it so painful to actually admit we can’t do something alone? For so long I’ve been pretty independent. I really do love learning to do things on my own. I used to change the oil in my car. Because I could, and save money. I have primed the water pump on an evaporative cooler and changed the pads myself. (Those of you living not living in the Arizona desert might need an explanation regarding said evaporative cooler, aka swamp cooler.) I’ve change the O-rings on a pool backwash valve because paying someone to do it was out of the question. I’ve installed shower doors by myself. I’ve taped, dry-walled, and skip-trowelled a room. I’ve installed a ceiling fan, changed a ceiling fan light switch, and many other outside-the-box tasks. Asking for help is like nails on a chalkboard for me, so having to ask for help in moving last week was beyond difficult and way outside my comfort zone. But I had to do it. There was no way I could do it alone. And although there were many who couldn’t help because of the urgent-last-minute-nature of my request or the distance, those who were able to help, did so with a gracious spirit. I am extremely grateful and humbled by some who came a significant distance to help. Others worked throughout the night because it was cooler. Still others worked in the hot sun with no complaint and genuinely-giving attitudes.
So, that double dare? That came back to bite me. And I very nearly fell under the weight of it. Eating my own words was a bitter experience. In following through, I have grown and become more compassionate toward others who need my help. Hopefully I can remember this lesson the next time I need help.

journalmehealthy: is what i see in the mirror real?

“There is a season, turn, turn, turn…”

“No! Me do it.” Recognize those words? You must have heard them before from a toddler, recently finding his or her voice and discovering independence. We get aggravated with them because the additional time it takes for them to complete the task will most likely take  significantly longer than if we did it for them, yet we secretly cheer at the thought of one less task on our agendas. We feel the sweet smell of success when our children can do things for themselves. For me, that independence took on a life of its own in adulthood. Why is it so difficult to ask for help? Is it the fear of looking weak? Like someone will think we can’t “handle” things? We’re somehow wasting their valuable time?

I love helping others. It’s why I became a counselor. Helping is just part of my nature. And it was…

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3 Reasons Why I Will Always Cheer for University of Kentucky Basketball: Not the reasons you might think.

I’m sure I’ll hear from some haters on this topic, but just bear with me before you get your drawers in a wad. This is not just about scores and records. Not about championships or losses. This is about loyalty, pure and simple. Hear me out before you try to argue some point from an article you’ve read or anything else, for that matter. Three reasons. Here they are:

1. Kentucky basketball is pretty much the only sport there is in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. As a kid, the nearest professional team of any sort was Cincinnati Reds baseball, and our ears were tuned to the radio for those games in the summer. Although I’ve been away for 27 years, UK basketball is still in my blood. I grew up in those mountains, in an environment where television wasn’t an option. I can remember working feverishly to get school work done in our two-room elementary school where we attended on Saturday rather than Monday, so that we could listen to Cawood Ledford “Voice of the Wildcats,” call the games. Even if the guidelines had allowed for it, the technical and logistical option of watching any TV was fuzzy, at best. Literally. When I finally had the option of TV as an adult, the ribbon wire that ran nearly a mile up the mountain to an antenna shorted out every time it stormed. We eventually made the then-exorbitant purchase of the 10-foot satellite dish to watch the games and invite others to watch with us. Those are some good memories, with my dad getting caught up in the excitement, and passing along that loyal excitement to me. Cawood Ledford was from a county near where Dad and his brothers grew up, and he talked about him like he knew him personally. There is something about watching games now that makes me feel close to Dad.

2. Somehow cheering on the Kentucky Wildcats makes me feel a loyalty to the mountain people. Life is hard in those mountains and survival is a result of loyalty and courage. Coal-mining is hard work and it can damage health in many ways, but it’s been an industry that has sustained the area for a significant period of time. I have nothing but respect for those who have taken care of their families this way, no matter the risk.

Furthermore, if you’re a stranger visiting the area, and you mistakenly drive up the holler, pulling up to someone’s house, you might be met with a rifle-toting homeowner. However, if you have the opportunity to get acquainted and step inside, the refrigerator will be emptied onto the table, day or night, to make sure you never have a pang of hunger while in their company. If you eat what is provided, you have most likely made a friend for life. And I do mean life.

So when the Wildcats win, those loyal, hardworking, highly-hospitable people of the mountains win. Even if it is just to get noticed in a world where so many run to the city and miss the calm, laidback, stunning beauty of a frequently-underrated part of our country. Did I say beautiful? There is nothing like casually driving the winding mountain roads, enjoying the green foliage in the spring and summer, or the rainbow of colors in the fall. It’s a truly magical place to get in a relaxing vacation.

3. Because of UK Medical Center, I know the miracle of motherhood. I suppose there are plenty of other places that could have assisted in making that happen, but they didn’t. In 1987, after multiple fertility drug trials, tests, and diagnostic surgeries, I had major surgery at UKMC to repair blocked fallopian tubes. Just over twelve months later, the most beautiful baby girl was in my arms and my life has not been the same since. And if I could turn back the clock, I would go through it all again.

So there you have it. You can tell me about the money spent on the program. You can question my loyalty to a school I have never attended. (Maybe I should take an online class just to say I did.) I don’t care. I love to see them win. For the Commonwealth. For the caring, loyal, hospitable people who deserve some nationally-noticed bragging rights. For some great childhood memories. For the gift of motherhood. And win or lose, I pray they represent Kentucky with grace.

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