A Beautiful Mind

Version 2
My neighbor, Ilse, has a beautiful mind, it just doesn’t always cooperate as she’d like. Dementia has a way of muddling the brain’s communication pathways, leaving a person drifting in and out of a mental fog. Dementia is unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly. One hour you’re laughing and reminiscing, and the next you’re glum and refusing to take a bath.

I write about senior issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, for my at-home caregiving client Right at Home. It’s one thing to write about America’s 5 million people with age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s, the number one form of dementia. It’s quite another to personally know someone with the memory, thinking, and behavior disorders.

In February, Ilse’s husband, Herman, died unexpectedly. So their daughter Edie and her husband, Gary, moved in with Ilse as full-time family caregivers. Their sheltie puppy became fast friends with my collie pup. Now we’re more than waving “hi, there,” neighbors. We’re friends. We’re extended family.

Last Friday night, Edie hosted a one-year birthday party for her pup, Dutchess, and invited my puppy Ayrabelle and me. Doggie hats. Doggie balloons. Doggie cake. And a wonderful evening of Ilse fully lucid and loving the frolicking pups. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Ilse so talkative and thrilled.

Dementia can cloud the mind, but not the heart. Else is still my fun-loving, German-born neighbor, and I look forward to more parties and everyday moments when she is fully her
playful self.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, how do you stay connected with the person or the caregivers as the disease progresses with its ups and downs?

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Keeping You Strong

KFourteen years ago, June 7, 2002, Gracia Burnham was forced to leave her dead husband lying in the rain on a soggy hillside in a Philippine jungle. As captives of the Filipino terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, American aviation missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham endured a year on the run across densely vegetated outlying islands.

Their Muslim kidnappers engaged in sixteen gun battles with the Philippines military up to that fateful June afternoon when the military surprised the rebels’ jungle camp, killing Martin and a Filipino hostage. A bullet ripped clear through Gracia’s left thigh and the government forces immediately evacuated Gracia from the tragic scene.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Gracia via phone about her year of captivity and her life now as a speaker, author, and grandmother living in rural Kansas. Surviving as a jungle hostage only to have your soul mate killed upon your rescue might send many a person into a horrific tailspin. What has kept Gracia from giving up under such duress?

Gracia carries a 3 x 5 card in her Bible that Martin carried in his. Martin wrote these words from 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 on the card: “He will keep you strong to the end . . . . God, who has called you . . . is faithful.” Gracia explains that this Bible truth assures her that “I can make it after all. I can survive.”

Gracia talks frequently to audiences from cancer patients to school children about being brave and resilient beyond one’s own strength. “We can all look at our lives and see how we’ve gone through a terrible trial that we never would have chosen,” Gracia says, “but God does show up. He is still loving and good.” And as Gracia can attest, God gives fresh strength in the uttermost parts of the planet.

How has God shown up and given you strength when you need it most?

Brave and Resilient Tip #138: You can gain strength and make it after all.

The In Between

IMG_5743Springtime in the Rockies is, well, winter shaking out its coat of snow and ice. I snapped this photo recently of my backyard apple tree stuck in the seasonal in between. Brrrrr and beauty all rolled into one. You know what? You and I find ourselves in these seasonal in betweens too.
Our children are graduating to the next level of school or birthing a career and we are in a bit of a holding pattern. We applaud their life milestones while placing a bit of a check on our emotions. We want them to launch . . . we want them to stay. The in between.

The present job is just draining us or the company is taking another direction and we are left behind. We want a better work fit . . . we want the familiarity of our coworkers and paycheck. The in between.

The medication and treatment are winding down, but we still are not back to our normal energy and activities. We want to be well   . . . we want our “other” body back. The in between.

Like snow-covered apple blossoms, we are to hold steady through the in between seasons. On-ice circumstances do eventually thaw. Resolve and patience will usher in the new, the good. What about the awkwardness of wanting to be done and through and beyond our in between? I’m finding these words from Psalm 37:7 of help: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him . . . .”

Stillness. Waiting. Shhhh . . . can you hear the plop-plunk, plop-plunk of your in between melting into the new and the good?

What’s your in between right now? What helps you be still and wait?

Brave and Resilient Tip #137: In between times do usher in the new and the good.

The Untold Truth of Chernobyl

Radioactivity sign on a shelter door closeupYury flopped open a mini date log, pointing to the black marks he scrawled to count his helicopter trips over the still-smoldering Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Early morning April 26, 1986, the facility’s reactor number 4 exploded, heaving tons of uranium, cesium, plutonium and other radioactive poisons three miles into the atmosphere.

In the weeks following the disaster, the Soviet powers ordered Yury, a Russian video journalist, to film aerial scenes of the crippled Ukrainian facility. Yury and his copter pilots hovered eerily over the molten mess again and again. Odin, dva, tri, chetire, pyat’ . . . the numbers in Yury’s flight manifesto seemed inconceivable.

“After those flights, my hair started to fall out,” Yury explained in solid English. “At first I thought it was from a lack of eating vegetables.” As the driver of my U.S. humanitarian team to Chernobyl’s 18-mile radius Exclusion Zone, Yury seemed anxious to dialogue on that brisk day in January 1991. Our Jeep lurched and pounded on the outlying ruts, kicking up choking dust billows. Compared to the sickening cloud of radionuclides from the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe, the grimy travel debris seemed trivial.

A quarter-century after I became one of the first Western journalists into the Zone, it is time that I disclose the truth. Not about humongous-eyed aliens, but the truth behind a hush-hush secret that grieves me to think that I schlepped along in silence myself for decades. People tend to confess things to me. Addictions. Affairs. Crimes. Like them, Yury’s private mystery long wadded into the core of his nightmares needed space to thud to the surface. After showing us his Chernobyl flight record, Yury stared at the Jeep’s steering wheel before continuing his memories.

That April Saturday in 1986, Yury captured video of his family throwing an outdoor party not far from the doomed power plant. The media cameraman filmed the springtime flowers and squealing laughter of the kids. He recorded the fresh gaiety of the afternoon, oblivious that all around invisible chemicals wafted in the breeze and swirled into streams. Deadly atoms gripped trees, grass and shoes. Ionizing particles floated inside nostrils and lungs.

While Yury kept the camera rolling on fun, firefighters and first responders at the Chernobyl facility raced to dampen the roaring reactor. No one could stop the radioactive fury. And no one told the public of the out-of-control monster fanning a lethal plume northward across Belarus and countries beyond.

Soviet Union leader Gorbachev and other members of the Politburo learned of the tragedy around 3 a.m. Saturday—about 1 ½ hours after the steam blast rocked a 1,000-ton lid from above the reactor’s fuel elements. Seeds of a global cover-up rooted overnight. What Soviet commanders knew and when is still debated. Some 36 hours after the explosion, residents of Pripyat, the power plant’s surrounding “atom town” received first official details of the meltdown: “Attention comrades, an unsatisfactory radioactive situation has occurred at the Chernobyl power station. As a temporary precaution, it has been decided to evacuate citizens of Pripyat.” Three hours later, with the aid of 1,200 buses from Kiev, the community of roughly 45,000 turned eerily empty.

Somewhere in the panic and precaution, Soviet authorities learned of Yury’s idyllic spring day video. Moscow aired clips of his film on state television. The communist powers distorted Yury’s truth of the clear landscape and jovial people into a half-truth for the world to see. Da, April 26 was a bright, sunny day. See the local children giggling and romping, the adults toasting and feasting. Yury’s video footage proved all was well for USSR citizens. Or, was it?

In control of our Jeep ride to the Zone almost five years later, this seen-too-much news professional could no longer control his dam of secrecy. Yury stammered with the sobering reality. “The government used my video to say that “Nyet, nyet, nyet, the Chernobyl plant is fine. Everything is fine. That video, it . . . it. . . how you say? It is a black spot on my heart. A black spot on my whole life.”

The civil authorities turned an innocent party into international propaganda. If Sweden hadn’t sounded the alarm, three days after the initial devastation, how long would have the Soviets remained tight-lipped? Authorities held back on the full effects of the radiation contamination for years. Children splashed in streams. Women gathered mushrooms in the forests. Men tilled their farmland.

The Republic’s calculated downplay of the Chernobyl melee cracked open in October 1990 when Byelorussia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pyotr Kravchanka addressed the United Nations General Assembly. “I want to be completely frank with the Assembly,” Mr. Kravchanka said in issuing an appeal for international aid. “The bitter truth is that it is only now, four and a half years later, that we are finally and with tremendous difficulty making a breach in the wall of indifference, silence and lack of sympathy, and for this we ourselves are largely to blame.”

A few weeks later I was invited as a reporter to join a New York-based group delivering three ton of medicine and relief supplies to Belarus hospitals and orphanages. Our host, the Byelorussian Children’s Fund, escorted us throughout this troubled country where more than half of the unseen Chernobyl toxins showered unsuspecting citizens with a blanket of potential disease and death. I grasped the hand of a dying teen and cradled babies no body wanted. Seeing dozens of bald, chemo-sick boys and girls is still tough to form into words.

I sensed the country’s suffocating uneasiness as Yury drove us to the Zone’s checkpoint and armed communist guards herded us into an outdated bus to tour a number of desolate evacuated villages. At one point we ventured within four miles of the mangled energy plant and our cell phone-sized dosimeter soared to indicate dangerous radiation levels—10 times higher than what is considered safe.

I can still hear the haunting creak of dilapidated playground swings. Picture dirt-swept toys and dolls long abandoned in schoolrooms. Drawing close to Chernobyl’s Ground Zero, we met an elderly couple outside their farmhouse. “Why are you still here in this contamination?” I posed. The wife pointed to the sky and scolded me through our interpreter, “Neyt! Neyt! Neyt! We see nothing in the air!”

Denial can work for any of us, until reality snags our heels and hauls us down. An accurate tally of the ill and dead from Chernobyl may never be known—estimates still range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. As celebrated author Mitch Albom notes, “One day can bend your life.” April 26, 1986, was that day for Yury and countless innocents like him.

Today the United Nations reports, “No established legitimate authority was able to immediately address the situation and provide answers for questions such as: Is it safe to leave the house? Is it safe to drink water? Is it safe to eat local produce?”
Thirty years ago in a Cold War culture, Yury did not know Moscow would manipulate his family-time video. Today we live in a world where employees (politicians, NFL players and more) refuse to submit evidence—delete the files, shred evidence or wipe the data—or become infamous whistle blowers. Was Yury an unknowing pawn on a convoluted global chessboard or merely a dedicated family man just doing his job? Yes. Both.

I imagine feeling radiation betray his own body and watching the same in others only added to Yury’s internal agony. Perhaps he wondered, Am I partially to blame for these hurting kids? Could I have spoken out against the mishandling of my video or alerted the outside world to the truth?

Brave and Resilient Tip #136: Always hold to the unarmed truth.

I cringe as I type. Sitting in that chilly Jeep in early 1991, was Yury attempting to alert the outside world through me?
In his UN plea, representative Kravchanka added this perspective. “The verdict of history has yet to be passed on those in our Republic who . . . hid the truth about the effects of the accident from our people,” the foreign affairs leaders said. “It is difficult to say why they did this, and to disentangle cause from effect: was the deception caused by secrecy, or was the secrecy the result of the deception? Either way, it was inhuman.”

Deception always hurts someone. In the case of the Chernobyl disaster, someone swelled to hundreds of thousands. Countless men, women and children lost homes. Lost hair. Lost lives.

I respect national security issues, but is there ever an appropriate time for governments to sequester the reality of a mistake, a manmade disaster, a tragic oops that injures and kills? Its no wonder distrust festers in the psyche of citizens on every continent.
I have no time for regrets. Neither does Yury, if he is still alive. I’m unclear how anyone can fly numerous times over a fuming nuclear reactor and live years later to tell about it. Of the first-on-the-scene photographers who snapped photos or recorded video on the ground and in the air that fateful Saturday, two are dead from radiation-related disease and one was constantly ill from the Chernobyl exposure for years before dying in a 2015 car accident.

Maybe my silence has propagated Yury’s guilt, widened that dark spot on his heart. I’m truly sorry, Yury. I was so wrapped up in telling the rest of the Chernobyl story that I forgot to tell yours. To your homeland and mine, I say stop the sludge-flinging and blaming and cramming fault under calculated layers of classified deception.

A man who believed that the truth will set you free, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, espoused, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The Soviet government hid the truth from its unsuspecting citizens and the entire planet, while we sometimes hide the truth from even ourselves. I challenge us all to hold to the unarmed truth and inspire others to do that same.

This one is for you, Yury. May your mind and heart live free. Da. Da. Da.

On April 26, 2016, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, national foxnews.com published a condensed version of this article by Beth.

Puppy Love

IMG_2225Five weeks ago, I brought home my new puppy girl after a whirlwind 30-hour adventure to Reno and back. My new collie companion is named Ayrabelle (Air-uh-bell), which in Scottish—the home country of collies—means “prayerful . . . beautiful . . . loving.” What a fitting name for this spunky yet gentle pup! Two hours after I met her in the Reno airport, Ayrabelle crossed her paws and fell asleep on my lap during the turbulent flight to Seattle. Doesn’t she look “prayerful”? (Shhh . . . don’t tell any airline folks that I took her out of her soft-sided carrier.) IMG_2109

So much prayer went into my finding Ayrabelle and I am beyond grateful for your prayers after my agonizing loss of Logan. I can hardly believe that he passed six months ago! I plan to train Ayrabelle for puppy therapy to visit hospitals, care facilities, schools, etc. More and more I am sensing the need to give back to others and my community. I know I will have more stories to tell in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, I want to share a few darn cute photos of Ayrabelle, also affectionately known as Piranha Puppy. Her baby teeth are razor sharp and I feel like my recent vocabulary has reduced to two words that I bark out repeatedly: “No chew.”

IMG_2170Here’s to believing that good things DO come to those who wait. In this process of waiting and searching for the right-fit dog for me, I’ve found greater respect for the lamenting and honesty in the Psalms. David and the other psalmists remind us that it’s okay to grieve and long for better times. Waiting is interwoven in resiliency. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord, hear my voice . . . I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5).

If you are in an in-between time of waiting for answers to your prayers, take heart in knowing that Ayrabelle, my prayerful pup, is ready to cross her paws for you. Me too.

IMG_2269Brave and Resilient Tip #135: Good things DO come to those who wait!

Hmmm…look who has mud on her lips. Someone was digging in the backyard raised flowerbed where Logan loved to dig.

Jostling Our Perspective

There’s nothing like washing clothes in a laundromat to jostle your perspective on the things you take for granted.

Version 2Last week I whipped to the closest coin laundry to wash a couple of dog beds and an old comforter. I was zipping along cramming the bulky items into one of those advertised “big front load washers.” But the door would not latch shut after I swiped my credit card (it’s still called a coin laundry, but plastic payment was a faster choice). Rats!

That’s when I glanced over at a man with thick glasses at a side table drinking a Fanta® orange soda. With a Disney movie blaring from the mini screen above the dryers, I approached this stranger in my frustration.

“Do you work here?” I quickly inquired. “No,” he mumbled, continuing to stare at his magazine.

I rolled my eyes and partially huffed back to the broken washer, when this man’s voice pierced my irritated mood. “That’s why I always use the top loaders,” he offered. Now someone tells me! I bemoaned to myself. I found the coin laundry’s phone number online via my cell phone and talked to the real owner about my credit card charge for a machine I couldn’t use.

That’s when I really noticed the petite man. My eyes followed him as he shuffled past me to another washing machine, sliding and leaning on his wooden cane and a rolling laundry cart. Standing tall, he may have reached my middle ribs.

Instantly, a wave of humility surged over my annoyed attitude about finding another washing machine to use. The owner would refund me, but I didn’t care anymore. All I could think about was this disabled man quietly washing his clothes, sipping an orange soda. I wondered if he returned here week after week. Me? I’d only be back to wash another cumbersome dog bed.

Between my washer and dryer trips, I retreated to my vehicle, but watched the diminutive man through the front window return to his spot at the side table. Painstakingly, he folded his white tube socks and blue towels. His cane resting on his laundry cart.

There’s nothing like washing clothes at a laundromat to jostle your perspective on the things you take for granted.

What everyday people or life circumstances have nudged you to count your blessings lately?

Brave and Resilient Tip #134: Stay attuned to the everyday people who can jostle your perspective for the good.

You Do the Math

I admit that yesterday was not my best day for dealing with a discount airfare company. After several attempts to book a flight online, I called the company’s customer service number, and well, I lost my patience. I tried to remain calm and even-paced in working through the overseas language issues and essentially being told a lie, but I could feel my words intensifying with a sharp tone. “This is not working for me. This is not good business. I’ve already wasted 45 minutes . . .” I barked before harshly hanging up.

I felt a check in my spirit as I was winding up to tell the ticket agent how incompetent his company was, but I ignored the pestering nudge. Instead of bridling my tongue, I let it gallop across a pasture of justifications. How dare this reputable company brush me off? I have a right to fill out all my address and credit card info, press “agree and book,” and have everything work smoothly. Blah. Blah. Maybe you’ve swirled in a similar expectation game where your words morphed with sharp edges.

Recently a close friend shared her principle of using words and a kind demeanor to ADD to someone’s life vs. SUBTRACT from this person. Yesterday, I did not ADD to the customer service person’s life with my impatience and tough-girl tongue. I regret that I SUBTRACTed from his day and perhaps his favor with the boss. Sigh. Today is a new day to be more intentional about the beneficial rule of ADD and SUBTRACT. Math was not my favorite subject in school, but this type of buildup or teardown equation counts for peaceful relationships and a joyful countenance no matter what circumstances jostle into our days (even malfunctioning websites).

“May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my defender” Psalm 19:14 (God’s Word).

Wouldn’t it be wild if we had to use a calculator at day’s end to ADD up the positive, helpful words we thought and spoke to others? One thousand one, one thousand two . . . .

Brave and Resilient Tip #132: Make your words count each day for ADDing to others’ lives.

Fireside Chat

If you and I were sitting around a roaring fire and chatting about life and our dreams and aspirations for 2016, I would hope we’d find ourselves chuckling and at ease. But, I’d also want us to stay real and transparent that we don’t always have life figured out and wrapped with a sparkly bow. Life just gets messy at times, but thankfully we don’t have to stay in the mess.
In our little fireside chat, here are some things I’d like us to ponder.

  • Am I an approachable person?
  • Who do I allow to speak truth into my life?
  • What keeps me from receiving insight or correction from others?
  • What little things am I letting eat away at me?
  • How might I risk more authenticity in relationships?

IMG_4066After I added another log to the fire, perhaps I’d share a bit from my journal, which I write in here and there. On December 18, I recorded in my journal an
excerpt from the Our Daily Bread devotional that day, “Once you have become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down.”

I wonder what problems I’d share with you over the crackling embers. I just said “no” to a new collie puppy that just wasn’t the right fit for me. How long will I need to wait? Do I go back to an online dating service or go with a local professional match service? I recently lost a couple of main clients, how will I regain that income?

We’d probably banter back and forth about our everyday dilemmas and even bemoan political campaigns and ISIS threats, but then maybe we’d dig deeper in conversation.

  • What do you say to a friend who has a loved one who is terminally ill?
  • How do you keep trusting God when others think He’s rather removed from everyday involvement in our lives?
  • How do you stay sexually pure when the world says, “Huh? Why?”
  • Is it really possible to find joy in gut-wrenching trials? How?

Questions like this is where trusting camaraderie is forged. I’m glad we had this fireside chat. We may not have solved everything we’re currently mulling over, but I think we’re on a good start for the year. Here’s one final question for you.

What keeps us from being real and approachable with others? I’ll add another log or two while you send me your thoughts on this.

Brave and Resilient Tip #130: Risk being approachable. Risk being real.

Window on the World

IMG_1942I am writing to you from an airplane slicing through swirls of creamy clouds as light as my Mom’s mashed potatoes. I love to look out airplane windows and contemplate life. There is just something about getting above the planet and looking down on the patchwork of crop fields dotted with meandering streams that gets me out of my myopic view of everyday life. I feel like pressing my nose against this window on the world for the entire flight.

Imagine the colossal view that God has not just of Earth and all the celestial wonders, but also a close-up watch on each of our lives. The ancient Jews called Him El Roi, which means “the God who sees.” He sees all the moments of our existence from our beginnings in the womb to the end of our days and every nanosecond in between.

God sees the wrap up of our 2015 and sees ahead to the adventures and challenges of 2016. He observes what we eat, how we drive, how we work, how we interact with others. El Roi never loses sight of who we are and what we need.

But you know what? At times I pause and wonder if God has diminishing vision. Hearing about unspeakable ISIS atrocities, or violence in America, or people suffering everything from cancer to loss of jobs ruffles my faith in God’s eyesight. Is God seeing this breakdown in our world? Is He simply catching a quick glimpse of our angst or is He truly focused on us when disappointment and despair invade?

When these questions resound, I am learning to recalibrate what I know is absolutely true. And on opportunities like today, I get my head above the clouds to clear my fuzzy vision about God’s character. I am drawn to King David’s confident words about God’s watchful eye. “You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight. . . . Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
you’d find me in a minute—you’re already there waiting! (Psalm 139: 3-10, The Message).

God not only sees us now, but He’s already ahead waiting for us? That’s a mind stretcher, but it settles my doubts about El Roi’s need for His annual eye exam. Today’s flying “on morning wings” reminds me that no matter where we travel or if we hit some turbulence along the way, we will never escape God’s notice.

Before my plane descends, I want to linger above Cloud 9 just a little longer, pondering El Roi’s perfect vision and my need for His observant care in the year ahead. If you’d like to join me, I’ll switch to the middle seat so you can get your own close-up view of the creamy clouds as light as my Mom’s mashed potatoes.

How would you describe God’s eyesight?

Brave and Resilient Tip #129: No matter where you are, you are never out of God’s sight.

 

The Gift of You

As the year draws to a close, the Brave and Resilient team would like to wish you a joy-filled Christmas and New Year’s. May you be refreshed by peaceful times of rest and cherished memories with family and friends.

Ann Voskamp shares in her book The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas: “The greatest gift God graces a soul with is His own presence.” A few pages later Ann includes this reflective quote by Frederick Buechner on the birth of the Messiah:

“The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible
not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.”

 It is our prayer at Brave and Resilient that you unwrap the gift of God’s presence this holiday season and throughout the days and years to come. We are grateful for the gift of YOU!

BlessedChristmas1959


Two months old to the day, Beth is pictured
with her family for this Christmas photo
taken on November 1, 1959—Mom Bernice’s
29th birthday.

Brave and Resilient Tip #128: Unwrap the greatest gift from above: God’s own presence in your life.