Time for a Trim Up?

We’ve all seen a few haircuts and beards that could use a trim up. Or, a scraggly dog or two. Recently, I pulled out my pruning shears and rescued my rosebushes and flowering shrubs from their unneeded winter coats. Snap. Clip. Snip.

IMG_4212 - Version 2The overgrown, dead branches flopped lifelessly to the ground. As I watched the brittle stems disappear to leave room for the fresh, green buds awakening on the healthy branches, I thought of pruning in our lives.

What prunes us back? Abrasive people. Financial strain. Negative health news. Job shifts. A loved one’s regrettable decisions. This list accounts for the pruning initiated by other people or external circumstances, but what about volunteer pruning?

The dictionary defines prune as “to rid or clear of (anything superfluous or undesirable).” What if we invited pruning into our lives? What if we signed up for Pruning 101 as at least a weekly class? Personally, I need trim maintenance daily because the course syllabus for my life includes:

  • Fear Removal
  • Worry Clip
  • Anxiety Dock
  • Attitude Shape
  • Complaining Shave
  • Pessimism Pare Down

Willingly pruning out “superfluous or undesirable” thoughts, actions, and relationship patterns from my life takes purposeful bravery. But the more I practice this, the better I feel emotionally and spiritually and the better I love, accept, and interact with others.

Need to thin out some dead-end attitudes in your life? Knock off some unsightly habits that weigh you down? I’m right there with you. Snap. Clip. Snip. Ahhhh. . . shedding those unwanted branches feels much better.

And, look! Now we can see those green leaves poking through. Prune on, my friend. Prune on.

What self-pruning tips do you find most freeing?

Brave and Resilient Tip #106: Willing and regularly prune out the superfluous and undesirable from your life.



Inside Out

On a brisk January day in 1991, I jostled in the back of a Soviet government jeep as a journalist traveling with a U.S. humanitarian team heading eerily closer to the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Armed guards escorted us through a checkpoint into the Contaminated Zone, an eighteen-mile area of land tainted by unseen radioactive nuclides. We were a handful of the first foreigners admitted into the Zone from Belarus (still Byelorussia at the time) after the horrendous explosion at the Chernobyl power station on April 26, 1986.

Radioactivity sign on a shelter door closeupFor four and a half years the Soviet officials covered up the disaster (ironically through Pravda, the political newspaper, which means “truth”). Finally after shunning international aid, the Communist regime alloweda children’s relief agency in Minsk to inviteour American team to help. We delivered medical equipment, medicines, food, toys, and Bibles to hospitals and orphanages with escalated cases of birth defects, thyroid cancer, and other life-threatening diseases.

A suffocating uneasiness held the Byelorussians hostage. I sensed the heaviness myself when our cell phone-sized dosimeter soared within the Zone to indicate dangerous radiation levels—10 times higher than what is considered safe.

In the evacuated village of Dyornovichi, I walked inside an abandoned kindergarten soberly scattered with dusty toys, dolls, and books. I hurriedly scribbled notes and hustled alone back to our 1960s-style mini bus. I closed the rickety door, somehow hoping the rusty metal and airy windows would protect me from the radiation fallout entrapping everything in this once vibrant community, roughly four miles from the crippled reactor number 4.

Looking back on my instinct that day to just get on the bus and go home, I see how easy it is to want to self-protect, to cocoon, and not face reality at times. The Soviet government hid the truth from the entire world, while we sometimes hide the truth from even ourselves. It’s okay to admit mistakes and to ask for help. King David, who tried to cover up his grievoussins and public shame, shares refreshing honesty before God, “What you’re after is truth from the inside out” (Psalm 51:6, The Message). Brave and resilient people pursue truth from the inside out no matter where we live or travel.

Brave and Resilient Tip #105: Pursue a life filled with truth from the inside out.

How can pursuing truth influence the world around you?



I See Your Courage

Young Martin Pistorius came home from school one day with a sore throat. The twelve-year-old never returned to his school. Within a year, an unknown illness deteriorated Martin into a mute quadriplegic who spent his days at a care center, blankly watching television, barely able to lift his head. Over ten unimaginable years, the South African boy grew into a man trapped in his own body. He could hear every conversation around him, but he just couldn’t communicate back.

rear view handicapped man arms raised  in wheelchair silhouetteI just finished reading Ghost Boy, the page-turning account of Martin’s misdiagnosis and eventual learning to use a computer to communicate, make friends, work, and find true love. Martin’s bravery and his comeback are inspiring to say the least. Here is an excerpt that describe Martin’s resiliency when the world around him was, in many ways, simply waiting for him to die.

“My mind was trapped inside a useless body, my arms and legs weren’t mine to control, and my voice was mute. I couldn’t make a sign or sound to let anyone know I’d become aware again. I was invisible—the ghost boy.”

When a caregiver started to notice Martin’s slight responses to her questions and observations, Martin’s doomed life of passivity bit by bit progressed into exuberant action. He moved from the overlooked to the overcoming.

I am grateful Martin’s family and other caregivers recognized his courage despite his myriad obstacles and unresponsiveness for more than a decade. Who can you encourage this week with “I see your courage. Your setbacks have given you such strength.”

And for the glue that held Martin together while he sat nearly comatose until his mid-twenties? He writes: “The one person I talked to was God . . . He was real to me, a presence inside and around that calmed and reassured me . . . I spoke to God as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me and asked Him to protect me from harm. God and I didn’t talk about the big things in life—we didn’t engage in philosophical debates or argue about religion—but I talked to Him endlessly because I knew we shared something important. I didn’t have proof that He existed, but I believed in Him anyway because I knew He was real. God did the same for me. Unlike people, He didn’t need proof that I existed—He knew I did.”
Brave and Resilient Tip #98: Applaud courage and strength.

Respect the Process

WeightLossPhotoHSchoolDuring the first NFL game of the 2014 season, NBC interviewed Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson. I continue to be impressed with this young QB’s phenomenal play, but I was particularly impressed with his words during the television interview: “Respect the process.” Following through on goals and aspirations are indeed a process, especially more milestone achievements.

But often in our nanosecond I-want-it-now world, we can lose sight of the inching-forward steps (and scooching) required to reach our targeted destination. Forty years ago as a young teenager, I daily pressed on to lose seventy pounds. But my physical transformation did not happen overnight. I stayed at it for about a year and a half without the aid of a health club, America’s Biggest Loser, or calorie counting on my iPhone. I doggedly adapted to eating more meats, fruits, and vegetables and took up jogging (aka 1970s era slow running long before a zillion types of springy sports shoes and coordinating trendy apparel). I remember many a day willing myself to dig a little deeper and keep my end goal at the forefront and not let those Hostess® Ho Hos and Old Home® fruit pies mess with my goal.

How about you? We’re almost two months through this year and I wonder if you are tiring of the process in your life. Maybe it’s weight loss or more consistent exercise or cooling your temper. Or giving your boss a little slack or the family a little more attention. Whatever we are midstream on this week, let’s remind ourselves to stop and look around. What are we potentially overlooking as we move forward checking items off our daily to-dos? What blessings in disguise are we missing as we plod closer to our long-term goals?

As we “brave on,” at some point all our energy, focus, determination, and sweat will pay off. But instead of zeroing in on just our end game, let’s look for ways to “respect the process” and enjoy it too. One exercise class, fruit smoothie, work deadline, and family night at a time.

P.S. Russell Wilson and I both rely on our faith in Jesus to fuel our goals and aspirations and it sure makes the process easier as we rely on God’s strength and supply. “I can do all things through Him who strengthen me” (Philippians 4:13).

Brave and Resilient Tip #97: Respect and enjoy the process of reaching your goals one new day at a time.




The Fight Left Inside You

This morning as I dipped a spoon into my cereal with almond milk, I flipped to the newspaper front-page story on Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old aid worker from Arizona who was kidnapped in Syria by the Islamic State terrorists. Kayla is now confirmed dead and the world mourns the loss of this young, compassionate humanitarian.

ISIS captured Kayla in August 2013 outside a Syrian hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders. Her ISIS captors allowed at least one letter to her family in spring 2014. Kayla wrote: “None of us could have known it would be this long but I know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes. . . Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing.”Vintage boxing gloves

Kayla epitomizes a brave and resilient life even while imprisoned by heinous killers. Even while separated from loved ones and the conveniences so many of us take for granted. I am spurred on myself by Kayla’s fight left in her and her refusal to “give in no matter how long it takes.”

It’s unlikely that Islamic terrorists will kidnap and kill us, but we still encounter our own set of challenges that press us to surrender and give in. Parenthood is exhausting. The finances slide closer to zilch. The doctor is ordering more tests. The company is reorganizing and downsizing . . . again. It’s a juggle to stay current with family and friends.

This very week, you may sense your inner fight fading. You’re tempted to throw in the towel. But I encourage you to hold to the words of Kayla: “I will not give in.” You’ve got a lot of fight left inside! The American aid worker reminds me of Paul of Tarsus who battled through imprisonment, beatings, and according to many scholars, eventual death at the hands of his captors too. “I have fought the good fight,” Paul reminds us. “I have completed the race. I have kept the faith (1 Timothy 4:7).

Learning about the bravery of Kayla Mueller, I’m inspired to look past this earth to eternity and remember that death does not end the fight, it wins the battle.

Brave and Resilient Tip #96: You’ve got a lot of fight left inside.




Afraid + Brave = Courage

Gulp. Being double-dog dared by your two older brothers ups the ante when it comes to courage. I remember in my elementary school days mustering bravery to squelch my inner terror. My brothers and their friends seemed to have no fear. But me? I’d sit on the edge of the barn loft, peering down into the pile of loose, billowy hay below. “Jump, scared cat, jump! Come on, chicken. Jump!” Gulp. It didn’t matter if the boys were kicking loose and sailing into the thick blanket of prairie hay. My buns clung to the edge of that wooden beam as I envisioning sure injury and possible death.

iPhoto Library“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do,” American World War I fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker once declared. “There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” We actually need fear for courage to exist? I certainly understand the hesitancies in life to try new things and press beyond what we consider our capabilities and limits. You know, the speaking in front of an audience, giving birth, getting a colonoscopy, going back to school, eating boiled okra, changing careers, moving to another state. We’ve all got scenarios that make us squeamish or hold us back from taking risks.

Merriam-Webster defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” That sums up my childhood days of double-dog dares and talking myself through the risk of free falling into that cushy hay pile. If I recall, I finally summoned enough “mental and moral strength” on my third visit to the edge of the hayloft. I needed to watch the boys jump and come up laughing, not crying. I needed to jump for myself and not them.

“Jump, scared cat, jump!” I braved the hayloft plunge and my fresh courage took me back to the ledge to jump and squeal in delight another time or two that day. Once I overcame that particular fear, my bravery, mixed with common sense, emboldened my courage for other life adventures. Like starting this website and writing this blog to hundreds of you. 🙂

Afraid + Brave = Courage. You ready to double-dog dare your bravery on today?


Brave and Resilient Tip #95: Take a risk. Let fear plus bravery be your guide to courage.



A Better Tomorrow

Walter doesn’t mince words. Never did really. Especially not at the mention of the Nazis who in August 1944 herded his family along with nearly 150 other Polish Jews into a suffocating hot railcar. For five days—in a space designed for only forty humans—the adults and children remained trapped with little food and no water. Roughly thirty of the prisoners died in that traveling oven.

Lamp silhouette in concentration campBut the worst was yet to come: the horrors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where upon the train’s arrival, Walter’s mom was forced directly to the gas chamber.

This week our world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Soviet army liberating the survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed. Millions of others murdered in the Holocaust, including some 40 of Walter’s extended family, have no graves.

How did Walter, barely into his teens, survive Auschwitz and eight other concentration/death camps? He credits his father’s coaching to not give in to the Nazi’s cruelty. Despite inhumane atrocities, Walter kept his focus on getting out, not on his present circumstances. He envisioned freedom. Walter refused to let anyone rob him of victory. He looked ahead to a better tomorrow.

After living through the unspeakable, the now 85-year-old prefers to be called a Holocaust victor and not a Holocaust survivor. Still brave and resilient seven decades after World War II, Walter compares his concentration camp experiences to the stresses of today. “I never had a bad day after that,”he wisely reflects.

Brave and Resilient Tip #94: No matter how tough life gets, look ahead to a better tomorrow.

Laugh On

IMG_0026Certain traits are inherited. Eye and skin color. Hair texture. Milk mustaches. I wonder about the genetics of goofiness and laughter and an inability to text with your thumbs. It’s long been said that laughter is good for the soul and medical humanities professor Norman Cousins proved that watching old comedy films is good for the body. The book of Proverbs observes: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Who needs ‘dem bones, ‘dem bones, ‘dem dry bones?

I think the Creator designed us with a funny bone so we’d be able to bear up under the heaviness of our world. So to keep you chuckling or at least smiling, I thought I’d share a couple playful photos in my collection. I personally think a lighthearted nature is both inherited and learned. (My mom would do silly things like writing little jingles, my dad would slide his dry wit into ordinary conversations. I’ve been known to do both.)

How about you? What keeps you grinning and giggling? What helps you not take life so seriously? When was the last time you snickered or snorted (you know, that air-uptake chortle that sounds like a happy hog)?IMG_1255

Our Brave and Resilient team would love to post some of your lighter photos and selfies. Go on, be brave and send us shots of your Best Hair Stylin’ Moments or other fun memories. You can text your photos using your index finger. I totally get that trait.

Brave and Resilient Tip #87: Laughter helps us lighten up, especially when our world feels heavy.


More on Victimization

Q. Would you please share some more thoughts
about victimization?

A. Let’s Talk! Victims are victims because they are being overpowered by someone’s disrespect and for various reasons can’t say NO or say STOP.

We teach children that whether there is stranger danger or someone offering drugs or someone trying to touch them inappropriately – they are to SAY NO, GET AWAY, and TELL SOMEONE. But there are millions of children, teens, and adults who never say no, seldom get away, and seldom tell anyone. Sometimes victimization feels impossible to stop, but we CAN tell someone (or more than one person) until we get the help and protection we need.

The Hazelden Foundation has a document entitled “Continuum of Violence” that is excellent. Picture a horizontal line. On the far left are the nonverbal and nonphysical types of disrespect. Examples are shunning and eye-rolling. Ever happen to you? That disrespect was hurtful, wasn’t it? On the far right end of the continuum is the expected “violence” of hitting, knifing, and raping. In the middle of the continuum are the nonphysical verbal messages of disrespect like teasing and taunting.

In a study I did on school shooters, I found that in every case, the shooters or perpetrators had been victims of ongoing teasing and taunting. They were not able to draw a boundary, didn’t say “stop,” and never got help, but instead stuffed their rage and focused on their bullies and became “like” them. We become “like” what we focus on — it’s called patterning — and these victims then became the ultimate bullies. Teasing is not to be minimized. Next time, I want to talk about what victims of bullying can say to their bullies, whether it is a school or workplace setting.

My point this week is to illustrate again how important our words are. It matters what we say. It matters that we say no to all forms of victimization, that we not stuff words of self-protection. And, it matters what we are thinking.

For Deeper Reflection

Matthew 5:37 “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ . . . .”

And even if you feel alone in your victimization, the One who loves you most will be with you.
Isaiah 43:1–3a “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . .”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.

A 180 on Fear

Shortly after 9-11 marred its way into our lives, I had the privilege of interviewing a number of grieving family members directly affected by the terrorist mayhem. I talked with Lisa Beamer whose husband Todd became one of the iconic passengers aboard United Flight 93. Todd’s “Let’s roll” rallying cry emboldened a courageous handful of passengers to storm their attackers before the commandeered airplane slammed into a Pennsylvania field. Instant comrades in their last moments, Todd and the flight’s other brave passengers saved unknown thousands of lives on the ground that fateful September morning.

two way arrow road sign - Version 2
Recently I ran across portions of my conversation with Lisa just a couple weeks after losing Todd. Her grief was painstakingly fresh yet her words comforting.

“If your perspective is only on this life and you are holding onto your little world at all costs,” she explained, “that’s going to be a very fearful thing. Anything can impinge on your security or threaten it—especially terrorism. Despite all the best efforts of our government, we will always be vulnerable in some places.

“Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to the events of September 11 was to look to something higher than themselves—go to church or a prayer service—and I think that’s an indication that people deep down know that this isn’t all there is to life,” Lisa continued. “It’s easy to forget about those deeper issues when life is good, but when a true crisis strikes and people’s earthly security is knocked out from under them, that God-given desire for looking above yourself and beyond yourself comes through.”

What wise words from a newly widowed 32-year-old—a pregnant mother suddenly raising two small boys on her own. Fear hisses when our circumstances spin out of our illusion of control. Fear claws into our thoughts and hunkers down until we look above and beyond ourselves. This 180-degree change in perspective happens when we train our eyes to view the needs of others around us and steady our focus to “see things from [God’s] perspective (Colossians 3:2).

As Lisa reminds us, “If your perspective is only on this life,” fear will eat away at the best of you. We won’t all be called to bravery at 36,000 feet like Todd Beamer. But we can start rolling today with looking above and a beyond our fears right in front of us.

Brave and Resilient Tip #83: Fear dissipates when you look above and beyond yourself.