Circle the Wagons!

When life gets a little more hectic than normal, I love to advise, “It’s time to circle the wagons.” I remember watching many a Western flick on TV growing up and inevitably watching the bad guys wildly chasing the pioneers in their covered wagons. Billows of thunderous dust. Horses galloping at full throttle. Women folk scurrying for their children.

Scottsbluff Nebraska - Version 2With bullets and arrows zipping all around, the lead pioneer would yell, “Circle the wagons! Circle the wagons!” The wagon drivers would maneuver the covered wagons into a tight circle, unhitch the horses, and draw every man, woman, child, cow, and horse into the middle of the ring.

The wagons served as a barricade and buffer to the assaulting marauders on the outside and gave the brave pioneers an advantage in firing back at their unprotected assailants. I feel like I’ve had to circle the wagons a bunch lately. Three weeks ago my 10-year-old dog suddenly showed signs of alarming neurological weakness. I circled the wagons to keep him confined to a small area in my house and using a ramp instead of stairs. This wagon circle is disbanding now as he improves, but other areas in life have me on alert to circle the wagons and hunker down.

I’m sure you can relate to times of drawing inward and stepping out of the fracas around you. I can think of numerous times in the Bible where the people circled their wagons: Moses and the children of Israel just before the Red Sea parted (Exodus 14); David and his men retreating to a cave to escape their enemies (1 Samuel 22); the disciples after Jesus died (Luke 24).

Psalm 5:11 from The Message describes what happens when we include God at the center of our wagon circle: “…You’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you.”

What is pressing you to circle your wagons these days? How does circling the wagons help you recharge for the journey ahead?

Brave and Resilient Tip #113: Circling the wagons is not a sign of giving up but of getting a better vantage point.

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.



Locking Arms Against Cancer

I detest cancer. Loathe. Hate. I could list a number of abrasive words to summarize why I detest the invasive disease. I was 4 years old and sitting across the living room when I first witnessed someone die of cancer—my maternal grandmother. By my teens, uncontrolled cancer malignancies killed two of my dad’s sisters, a cousin, and several people in my rural community. My mom and two of her sisters slugged it out with cancer. Aunt Bev and Mom didn’t win that battle. For 12 years, my dad showed relentless strength and character punching back at his cancer. Dad left his fighting gloves behind when he died in 2005.

photo - Version 2I challenge us all to put on fighting gloves against this insidious disease that attacks so many and so many parts of the body. In America, October and pink are symbols of breast cancer awareness, and gratefully, cancer in general. Recently I discovered these “love locks” attached to a waterfront fence at Chambers Bay Park in Tacoma, Wash. The mini padlocks are commonly inscribed with the names or wedding date of sweethearts who snap closed their lock and toss the key in the water. This pink pair is engraved with the breast cancer awareness ribbon and reminds me of joining arms with the millions in our world wrangling against all types of cancer.

Who do you know right now in the fight of their life against cancer or recovering from recent treatment? I think of Jane, Shelly, Jack, Judy, and Bonnie slugging away as I write. I think of a dear former co-worker, Wanda, who just passed away a few weeks - Version 2

I also think of loved ones now on the cancer survivor list: Kathy, Candy, Donna, Laura, Mary Jo, Wayne, Karen, Diana, Cindy, and Beth, and so many others. The American Cancer Society website announces that 14 million U.S. cancer survivors are celebrating birthdays this year. Hurray! Bravo! We salute each one of you!!! May you “live wisely and well” (Ps. 90:12, MSG).

This blog is dedicated to all the brave and resilient cancer fighters and survivors, and supportive family and friends who are locking arms for a cure. So take a moment this week and offer a hug, prayers, meals, a listening ear to anyone you know with cancer. Be present at a loved one’s treatment appointment. Share a “you beat it!” kudo with a cancer survivor. Thank an oncology professional. Run a Relay for Life. Donate to cancer research. And remember those who fought the good fight, but are now gone from your sight. We all can leave our footprints on the road to a cure.

Brave and Resilient Tip #84: Lock arms on the road to a cure.

Let’s Talk

Seeking Clarity in Pain

Q. How can I better deal with emotional pain during chronic physical pain?

A. Let’s Talk! We can experience emotional pain without physical pain, but physical pain nearly always brings a level of emotional pain. Of course, emotional pain varies, depending on the length of physical pain and its intensity. It’s totally within the normal range to have these emotions . . . but not healthy to hold
onto them.

So, while emotional angst is normal, what is a next step for helping our emotions while we are still suffering physically? Seeking clarity is always a great place to start. Untangling the dark tangles is a reasonable goal – to list and even separate out our struggles if possible. When the emotional tangle is still in one big wad, there is no clarity.

One of my favorite exercises is to be still before God and ask Him to illuminate and name all of the issues in my dark wad. Then I write down what gets identified. There’s encouraging victory in calling emotional issues by name! Examples are grief, depression, anger, or self-pity.

If this practice is new for you, keep persevering to listen to Him and to your own heart. God longs to unlock unhealthy strongholds in our lives. Really.

Next comes the opportunity to reframe and recalculate. You’re probably quite familiar with Siri or other GPS guides that correct your wrong turns with, “recalculating.” We want to do the same thing when we have gained some light on a dark emotion. After reframing, recalibrating, and recalculating, we can move forward better. We are wiser about what’s going on, and have warded off a heap of discouragement just knowing the issue(s) of our heart. Bite-size pieces are easier to chew on.

I always want to encourage you to not go at this journey alone. God longs to clarify, but has a lot of folks on this earth able to help us too. Do be careful, though, because sometimes well-meaning friends can make it worse. One example is for a friend to say, “Don’t feel that way!” Remember that when we finally can name what we are feeling, much truth is underneath—almost like panning for gold. Let’s seek the courage to dig.

For Deeper Reflection

Habakkuk 3:17-18Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be nofruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

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


Step by Step

The following are insights by guest writer Nancy Parker Brummett. 

One thing I’ve learned volunteering with older adults is that it’s not how fast you go that matters. It’s putting one foot in front of the other, taking one step at a time, and enjoying the trip along the way that makes a long life worth living.

On the days I lead a Bible study hour at an assisted living facility, I always have to go around and gather up the residents, even though the activity is clearly listed on their weekly calendars. (Hey, I understand. At that age I wouldn’t want to look at a schedule either!)

senior womanOne of my first stops was always Lou’s room. Usually I would find Lou reading a book, thumbing through a magazine, or just lying on her bed gazing out at the mountains she loved. As soon as I asked her, “Do you want to go to Bible study?” she would say, “Oh, sure!” I would help her find a sweater and one of the two canes she kept stashed around, and off we would go down the hall.

But we were in no hurry, believe you me! Lou would always stop to chat with anyone she saw along the way. Poking her head in to the facility’s beauty salon, she’d tease anyone who was getting her hair wound up in curlers, or compliment anyone who was almost finished getting coifed. As we passed through the dining room, she’d stop to chat with a resident sipping the last of her morning coffee, or pass out a hug or two to the staff.

I so loved having Lou in class. She really sang the old hymns with gusto, and once suggested that we all march around the room singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—and so we did—canes, walkers, and all! The very last time I entered Lou’s room, she was stretched out on her bed under the covers, but this time she wouldn’t be going to class with me. She had just gone to be with the Lord! I felt so blessed to be able to tell her goodbye, pray over her, and see such a peaceful look on her face—with just a hint of a smile. All I could think was, “Oh, Lou, now you are walking on streets of gold, and greeting everyone you meet with a holy kiss!”

I miss my friend. But her bravery in old age, resilience, and willingness to just keep putting one foot in front of the other day after day, will inspire me always. Step by step, Lou finished strong, and made it all the way to the throne room of God. By His grace, so can we all.

Brave & Resilient Tip #64: Our life’s journey is taken step by step.

Nancy Parker Brummett just published a collection of the lessons she wrote for her class in the assisted living facility. The Hope of Glory: A Devotional Guide for Older Adults is now available in print or eBook format on Amazon and is excellent for anyone over 65 and for leading groups in elder care centers or enjoying meaningful visits with older loved ones.

Collecting Jellyfish?

Who’s helping YOU navigate in rough waters?

I remember as a little girl learning to do the “jellyfish” during swim lessons at our rural Nebraska county pool. I loved the new water skill of holding my breath and doubling into a jellyfish form. The jellyfish float is also known as the survival float in which you are in trouble in the water and need to conserve energy.


In a college zoology class we studied jellyfish, and during a Florida spring break trip that semester, I brought back a freshly beached and deceased jellyfish. I wrapped my specimen well in plastic bags, but let’s just say my professor was not extremely receptive to my exuberance in handing him my aquatic find.

Jellyfish made international news two weeks ago when 64-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad swam some 103 miles from Cuba to Florida. Nyad first attempted the historic swim at age 29, then three other times over 35 years. A lightning storm. Sharks. Asthma. Several hazards forced her to end her previous swims. In 2012, agonizing jellyfish stings thwarted her lifelong goal. For her successful feat this time, Nyad wore a special suit and mask to protect her from the dangerous jellyfish.

“I got three messages,” a thrilled and spent Nyad told reporters after reaching the Key West shore. “One is we should never ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.” Nyad certainly models a brave and resilient spirit, a try, try, try again tenacity. What also impresses me is Nyad’s crew of 35 rallying around her in the choppy sea. During part of her nearly 53-hour swim, divers actually swam ahead of Nyad and moved jellyfish out of her way.

Nyad’s victory makes me wonder: Who’s on our team moving jellyfish out of our way as we navigate rough waters? Who’s jellyfish-collecting team are we on these days? As Nyad reminds us, we need never ever give up and we are never too old to chase our dreams. Today whether we’re smoothly in a backstroke, doing the doggy paddle, or hunched in a jellyfish float, may we always remember that we never swim alone.

Brave and Resilient Tip #41: No matter how rough the waters, you never swim alone. 

Bravery Through Ashes

Although many of us have never experienced a devastating house fire or a raging wildfire like the ones in the past year that destroyed nearly 850 Colorado homes close to where I live. We all understand ashes in our lives, we’ve all sifted through the powdery fine cinders of burned up dreams, jobs, relationships, finances, or health. We all know what it feels like when unwanted soot descends upon our lives.

IMG_0259Yet amid the embers of disappointment and the rubble of loss, many of us have also experienced a fresh wind, a new beginning, a depth of bravery and resiliency beyond the vestiges of our own strength, our own determined will to keep moving forward.

You may be familiar with the words of the prophet Isaiah who described God’s promise of “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:2-3).

Last year I took these photos in the initial weeks after the Waldo Canyon Fire roared into the foothills of Colorado Springs. Notice how the multi-colored pottery piece remained essentially untouched by the intense flames. Why? Because the pot had already been through the tempering fire of the kiln.IMG_0278

Perhaps you’re in the kiln right now or standing in the ruins.When you’re in the heat of things and the smoke hasn’t cleared yet, it’s hard to think of something good coming from the adversity. Yet, if you just hold on a little longer, the sprigs of something new, the bright colors of restoration will surprise you.

Isaiah also reminded us that that no matter how deep our pile of ashes or how scorched we feel, we are all God’s works of bravery and beauty. “. . .We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

Brave and Resilient Tip #32: Bravery and beauty do arise from the ashes. 


What rubble are you sifting through right now in your life? How have you experienced bravery and beauty through the ashes?

Let’s Talk

Harmony vs. Discord

Q. How can we get along better in our families and close friendships regardless of differences? I long for harmony, but discord is more prevalent because of our differences.


 A. Let’s Talk! Our hearts were built to love harmony, but we do live among others with great diversity of thought and life choices. Let’s explore how we can navigate that kind of music playing in our immediate surroundings!

Of course, we want people to think like we think. It’s undeniably more comfortable, but it is not realistic. What if differences among family members and friends help prepare us to love those outside our circle? If we can live well with those we know well—we can handle bigger differences at work, school, in our neighborhoods, etc.

So, how can we be okay with differences in our family or close circle? First, let’s go back a few columns. Remember we talked about how we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. If we try to change others, it is called control. Ugh. It’s an awful feeling to be either the controller or the controlled one. You can only control your side of a difference of opinion. With that out of the way, you are then in a neutral place to ask for clarification, just so you know for sure the other person’s stand on issues. Then you can ask if you can share your views, not to change your loved one’s views, but just so your position is heard and understood.

Next you are in the classic place where you can ask if you can “agree to disagree.” It is even helpful to say, “I am sharing my beliefs so you will know where I stand, but my purpose is not to persuade you to share my position.” That eases the control tension. “Healthy” families should be able to disagree and be okay. If we can’t disagree openly, then we are stuffing and that is unhealthy. Many families even have family meetings deciding on language to use to respectfully disagree.

Unconditional love is choosing to love someone REGARDLESS of differences or blemishes others may have. Jesus is about the only example of this in its truest form, but He compels us to choose it as a way to live among imperfect humans. Isn’t it totally refreshing when we know that someone cares for us whether we mess up or not? It is a great gift one can give to one’s children, spouse, friends, or world.

I can hear you asking, “But what if I am ‘right?’” My answer is: So, you believe that being right is bigger or more important than the relationship? Is that the message you believe and are sending to your family or, is the relationship more important? Can we love them anyway, even if we believe they are “wrong?” Are you miserable because of these people in your life? A peaceful heart has everything to do with choosing harmony in spite of differences. Does it mean we have given up our principles? No, it means we are choosing to be gracious. Do you hear a new harmony possibly? I sure welcome your thoughts on this discord vs. harmony topic.

You can contact me confidentially at


For Deeper Reflection

 Proverbs 15: 16-17 “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

Proverbs 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Proverbs 25:24 “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”

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.



Let’s Talk



Bravery in Today’s Culture  


Q. How do I stay brave when so much of our culture seems mean-spirited, aggressive, and violent?

A. Let’s Talk! Yes, when we hear about mass violence such as the Boston Marathon bombings, we shudder. We feel so vulnerable. But there are some acts of violence much closer to home that occur way too frequently. Interestingly enough, we can do something about these, and these actions help us to be brave. Let’s take a look.

Sadly, these other levels of violence are every bit as insidious. For example, you have seen that disrespect is rampant in our culture, haven’t you? Did you know that disrespect is a form of bullying and that bullying is violence? Really! Manifestations of disrespect lead to bullying in schools, the workplace, and even contribute to abusive relationships. We have almost become desensitized to bullying—excusing it and considering it “normal.” Bullying has infiltrated our homes, schools, and workplaces for decades. But, even though we cannot control others and outcomes generally, we can bravely attempt to establish strong and personal boundaries.

First, let’s look at a wider definition of bullying. Consider that bullying is a continuum of violence from nonphysical events on up to physical trauma. Examples of nonphysical bullying are spoken or unspoken disrespect such as shunning, eye-rolling, name-calling, teasing, taunting, and shameful or hurtful messages in person or on social media. Cyberbullying has risen to a crisis level. Physical bullying is more obviously seen as hitting, pushing, shoving, knifing, or raping. I share this list to raise our awareness of the many acts of violence around us—many that we may not have considered as violence. Shunning is every bit as damaging as a verbal or physical assault. It all hurts.

Our part is to protect our bodies and protect our hearts. I used to teach small children early in the school year a way to respond when disrespected. I asked them not to cave, TO BE BRAVE, and to hold up their hand in a stop position and say, “Stop” or “Please stop,” or “That hurts.” We cannot ignore any level of perpetration. If our “perp” chooses to continue, we need to get help from higher authorities and insist on accountability.

Recently, a father in Wisconsin was in the news on Facebook as standing behind his son:

Matthew Bent, whose son, Shiloh, was being victimized at school, posted a message saying he ‘stands behind my son in the fight against bullying.’ The reaction was enough to get the Kaukauna Area School District to notice.

We can bravely stand. We can bravely speak up. And we can bravely look up! We’ll look more at personal trauma next week and the consequences when we don’t draw a line in the sand.

For Deeper Reflection

Matthew 18: 15, 16 “And if your brother sins (or offends you), go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”

 Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

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.

Taking Care of Today

I used to roll my eyes when my journalism professor directed our class to write
another obituary. I thought to myself, Whatever. How boring, how mundane.
Is this what it means to be a writer? 
Today I wrote thirty-two obituaries, and
instead of rolling my eyes, I dabbed at them with a tissue. 

     — Excerpt from Lifting Our Eyes, p. xvii

I wrote those words six years ago after the shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech. Last week as I thumbed through my Lifting Our Eyes book, I ran across the story of the engineering professor recalling the killing rampage. I share part of Mark Stremler’s account with the hope that you will pause today and pray for people painfully affected by the unimaginable brokenness and agony of violence in our world.

Mark eyes dart out the window toward Norris Hall, but something keeps him from picturing what
really happened right below his office the morning of April 16. The silence in his conversation stretches into a forty-second pause. The words won’t come, but the terrifying sounds of gunfire do.

The sounds are so methodical. Bang . . . bang. . . . bang
. . . bang . . . bang. The yelling has a panic edge to it . . . .

Mark stops. Blinks. Squints his eyes. The vacant stare settles in. The silence
lingers once again.

I’m not sure if bullets are hitting off the ceiling below me, but I can feel the
vibrations on my office floor. Feeling the vibrations make this surreal situation
real for me. My hands start to shake. I hear sirens. I think about my family,
my wife, and four kids. I pray asking for the shooting to stop, for God to protect
me. . . to protect all of us. Finally the gunfire ends. . . .

I find myself sitting somewhere or out running when suddenly I flash back to
that morning mentally. I’m really not consciously aware, but I go there in my mind.
God protected me well, I was never in immediate danger on April 16. I just have
the memories of hearing and feeling the gunshot vibrations. The tragedy makes clear
the importance of my faith. Every day you never know what tomorrow holds,
so you need to make sure that you take care of today.

iStock_000000350369MediumTaking care of today. It’s really all we are meant to handle. We can visit the past, but we’re not to linger there. We can anticipate the future, but we’re designed to live in this hour, this tight span of minutes. With the many waves of violence surging throughout our world, perhaps taking care of today is our way to stay tethered to the people and blessings we don’t want to live without. None of us have guarantees on tomorrow, so as one mass shooting survivor reminds us, let’s make sure we take care of today.

 Brave & Resilient Tip #24: Take care of today. “. . . and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34, The Message).