Many of us have stood motionless in cemeteries. A lone trumpeter playing taps. Da-da-da…da da daaaaahhhh. The click of the rifles in an honor salute round. Boom. Boom. Boom. I get misty just thinking about the military send off at my Merchant Marine dad’s funeral. Maybe you have lost a loved one who served in the military too.

Arlington National Cemetery - Washington DC United StatesGrowing up I didn’t know much about Memorial Day because I always called it Poppy Day. I scurried around our little Mayberry town selling paper poppy flowers that the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) Women’s Auxiliary carefully crafted out of red crepe paper and finely twisted green wires. I proudly grasped my little paper poppy bouquet and raced toward farmers and townsfolk getting out of their vehicles on main street. “Would you like to buy a poppy? They’re only 10 cents or two for a quarter?” I loved collecting the donations even if I didn’t at the time understand the greater cause of my efforts.

Memorial Day in the United States finds its roots in the early 1860s after the American Civil War. Decorating soldiers’ graves is common around the world. I remember while visiting the former Soviet Union, standing at a war memorial with an eternal burning flame where many Russians placed small bunches of roses and solo carnations.

In the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand there’s a sobering photo of one U.S. solider who died leaning over a sink in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Starving and exhausted, he bravely pulled himself up to the faucet and collapsed, hunched over with his head tucked between his bent elbows. The photo caption reads, “American soldiers and guerrillas went behind enemy lines to rescue men at this camp, but they were too late.”

For many of our troops, “too late” describes their fate. For others, “too much” describes their resilient combat efforts. There is something intensely personal about stopping to reflect on those who have sacrificed their very lives for our freedom. Brave and resilient? Absolutely. Beloved and missed? Absolutely. Who will you be remembering this Memorial Day?

Brave and Resilient Tip #108: Take time to reflect on the sacrifices so many make for you every day.



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.

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.




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.

Beyond Your Priorities

Smart. Compassionate. Intuitive. Committed. I’ve long admired these qualities in Florence Nightingale, the British heroine who is credited with founding the modern nursing profession. Born into affluence, Florence refused to settle for the pampered lifestyle of high society women of her day. Instead, this determined lass focused on poverty instead of privilege, serving instead of superiority.

Just beforBritish Postage Stamp Commemorating Florence Nightingalee turning seventeen in 1837, Florence sensed her lifelong calling to infuse faith and mercy into her advocacy for the ill and the dying. I appreciate Florence’s spunk. I respect her unswerving devotion. She is the energy and empathy in every needle poke and comforting word that compassionate nurses extend.

Brave and resilient, Florence Nightingale led a team of nurses to care for wounded and disease-ravaged Crimean War soldiers and established the world’s first secular nursing school. Florence modeled unwavering dedication, living a life stripped of other people’s conventions and expectations.

Even simple things like listening to someone or asking about a person’s day moves us too beyond our own priorities to attend to others with genuine interest and ardent humility. The Lady with the Lamp would have it no other way.

 Brave and Resilient Tip #88: Move beyond your own priorities to assist others.

Life’s Contrasts

photoNature. I love the outdoors. Particularly the budding of spring and the amber glow of fall. Ahhhhhh…bring on the pumpkin bread and pumpkin spice candles. Hello gorgeous autumn leaves and crisp breezes. Fall is a steady exhale before the slow breathing of winter. Wooh, whooshhhh.

A couple weekends ago, I marveled at the burnt orange foliage a block from the beach of Puget Sound. (And, no, the Sound is not the Pacific Ocean, as a couple of locals reminded me). I’m fascinated that big ole maple trees can lose their leaves just yards from waves rolling onto the shore. What a contrast of nature. Crunch. Splash. Crunch.

But isn’t this like our everyday lives? Contrast is inherent in being human. On one hand we may be exuberant over our kids’ improved grades, our boss’ praise, our doctor’s “everything is normal.” At the same time we may be we may be juggling the unsettling news of a layoff, a major auto repair, a death.

If you’re shuffling these contrasts in your week right now, I’m right there with you. I’m right with you on contemplating how to remain steady when we face the ebb and flow of highs and lows. I find today’s words from the devotional Jesus Calling timely on our resiliency through anything: “Don’t let your well-being depend on your circumstances.”

Our circumstances will fluctuate like trees bursting with green in spring and dropping their crumbly leaves months later. Who we are and our contentment are not dependent on the inequality in our days. Varying challenges are part of every season we’re in. Yet we can learn to focus on the good yet to come. We can gain hope. For many of us, the beach may only be a block away. For others of us, we’ll be crackling our soles in the crusty leaves a bit longer. In the meantime, Colossians 3:2 encourages us, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Crunch. Splash. Crunch.

Brave and Resilient Tip #86: Our well-being is not dependent on our circumstances.


A Season for Everything

IMG_3853This past weekend, I enjoyed the great outdoors of the Colorado high country. The aspens shimmered with spectacular splashes of yellow, orange, and still-holding-on green. Fall is now here and winter is on deck. The changing of seasons reminds me of King Solomon’s perspective, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

You understand seasons in your own life. Kids growing. Job soaring. Health flourishing. You also understand seasons in which the people and prosperity of our lives can wobble and wane. I have three friends and two acquaintances right now in skirmishes with cancer and chemo. Two friends that lost their beloved dogs in recent weeks. Another friend searching months for a job.IMG_3756

The longer I live and the more fall leaves I photograph, the more I understand life’s joys and challenges come in seasons with splurges of brilliant colors and splotches of darker hues. My color commentary for more resilient living? Learn to embrace whatever colors your today and keep mindful and expectant that even the wearisome seasons will eventually fade into fresh, rich colors in their own time.

Brave and Resilient Tip #81: Learn to embrace whatever colors your today.

Pace Yourself

Some of us get a little ahead of ourselves. We dash ahead, zip around, keep the balls rolling. We are multi-taskers with a superb ability to juggle and zigzag the challenges in our path. Watch out priorities! We’re crossing things off our to-do list. Check. Check. Check. Who’s got time to shift down to second gear?

IMG_1439In some ways we’re like this clever squirrel in my backyard. (Look at those nails. Yikes!) He lunges and swings from my apple tree branches, daily nabbing tender green apples and feasting away. Chomp. Gulp. Toss. The little neurotic varmint only takes a few bites before dropping each partially eaten apple to the grass. Or to the deck with a clunk-clunk. He yanks another apple off the tree and repeats his snacking. Chomp. Gulp. Toss. Next.

Some days like this squirrel, we get in our routines and nothing is going to interrupt our flow. We chomp, gulp, and toss our way through our meals, our driving the kids to and fro, our projects, our meetings, our home and yard chores, our TV shows, our getting ready for bed, and starting all over again. Oh, I forgot to mention our devotionals, our workouts, our texting, our Facebook® catching up. Sigh.

Becoming aware of our daily pacing, is one way to sharpen our resiliency over time. Maybe it’s time that we consider how we chomp our ways through our to-dos, gulp down our meals, and rush through times with others, tossing out little peppy platitudes and “hang in there” advice.

To the squirrel’s credit, I do see him chillin’ at times, and early mornings he runs with friends across my roof (sounds like a bowling league!). He does have a life outside his sloppy eating habits.

Oh, the wisdom in nature around us. If only we’d pace ourselves to savor a few apple slices in the sun before fall knocks on the door. If only we’d toss some things off our plate and go scamper with our friends.

To tidy up my own pacing, I am beginning to plan a more carefree approach to my days. First, I think I’ll invite friends over for a deck barbeque. For a little stretch time, we can rake up the half-eaten apples in my yard. Rake. Bag. Lift. Next. (I’m just kidding . . . then again, it could be bonding way to build resiliency.)

Brave & Resilient Tip #78: Pace yourself as you savor each day.

Pillar of Hope

On July 20, 2012, moviegoers at Aurora, Colorado’s Century 16 theater encountered a life-altering melee—a crazed gunman killed 12 movie fans and injured 70 others. Two and a half weeks later, I took this photo of the makeshift memorial across the street from the theater. I am still sobered by the images of the hundreds of flowers, stuffed animals, candles, baseball caps, hand-scrawled notes, posters, Bibles, and rosary beads.

IMG_0396We are seeing this scene repeated this week in the wake of the downing of the Malaysian airline over eastern Ukraine. Murder. Mayhem. Misery. I don’t think any of us will ever make sense of these cruel acts of violence on the unsuspecting innocent. What I do know is that, in time, healing and hope do emerge from the unspeakable mourning.

This past Sunday, two years since the Aurora tragedy, a tree was planted in Denver’s new Hope Park in honor of each person who died in the 2012 mass shooting. A park called Hope. I like that.

Just when we feel like our world is splintering apart around us and we can’t look at one more close-up of grief-marred families or mounds of memorial flowers and Teddy bears, one word ushers in a new dawn: Hope.

How are you feeling about hope in your life today? Are there situations or people siphoning off your hope? Does hope feel disparately elusive? I get that. I respect that. I’ve been there.

In first-century Italy, Pliny the Elder declared: “Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man.” Writing about the same time as Pliny, the Apostle Paul explained that suffering produces perseverance/resiliency, and in the process, enriched character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). Each time we press on through pain and difficulty, we are fortified in resiliency, refined in character, and uplifted with hope. Not always in refreshing waves, sometimes simply in a cool trickles across our toes.

I welcome hearing your perspective on hope. What does hope really look for us today? What kind of hope pillar is holding up your world?

Brave and Resilient Tip #74: With our world so shaky at times, hope is a steadying pillar.