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.

”Pray for Us”

I’m overwhelmed and my words feel as if they are tumbling out and sliding off my keyboard. Another multiple-victim shooting in our country? Earlier today the horrors unfolded in San Bernardino, Calif., where I lived for more than a decade post-college. Last Friday just about eight miles from my home in Colorado, another mass shooting ripped into our collective psyche. “Close to home” reaches a deeper meaning for me.

prayer - candle in handsThe words brave and resilient are increasingly intermingled in news reports and interviews with government and community leaders. Now is not the time for me to share my opinions on these tragedies in America and around the world. Instead, I am dedicating this brief message to ask for us to pause and pray. Would you join me in praying right now for all the people affected by these senseless murders? One of the women in today’s shootings sent a text to her father: “Pray for us.”

Her three short, tangible words remind us to put our busyness on hold for even just 20 seconds and ask for healing and help for those injured and those traumatized by these merciless shootings. May the grieving loved ones right now sense the closeness of the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) and may we never let these troubled acts become normal to us.

Bless you for blessing countless others through your heartfelt prayers.

Brave and Resilient Tip #126: Your prayers matter!

Scooching Forward

From the Brave and Resilient Classic Series

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Those words sear my memory, almost as indelibly as the time I first rode a bike without training wheels. I’m sure during my wobbly inaugural ride (of only a few feet), I chirped, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

You, too, know the exhilaration of accomplishing something you weren’t sure about at the start. Doing well in the class. Getting a promotion. Giving birth. Working out more often.

oldLadyCroppedI know well the pendulum of I-can’t and I-did-it. Years ago while recovering from a hospital stay, my mom visited me while my dad attended a business convention. Our first morning alone together, I made breakfast while Mom dressed. When Mom reached the carpeted steps joining the bedrooms to my main floor, she hesitated. Three simple steps that take three seconds to descend suddenly appeared a cavernous pit to Mom.Even afraid to grip the hefty railing, she rocked a little forward, stammering, “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t.” The combination of Mom’s still weak legs and her new medication morphed her mid-60s body into a fearful child. Petrified to ease her foot onto the first step, Mom’s “I can’t   . . . I can’t . . . can’t” faded to a whisper when I suggested Plan B. With my holding her hand, Mom sat down and together we scooched our bottoms down each step.

Decades later I sit here writing to you, pondering how often I, and maybe at times you, stammer, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Our mortified doubts may not leave our lips, but we all have our share of inferior moments where we are adamantly convinced that we cannot do something. I can’t deal with this marriage anymore. I can’t stand the way my boss treats me. I can’t go another month without enough money. I can’t endure the chemo. I can’t hack being single this long. I can’t get through to my teen. I can’t live like this anymore.

I get your “I can’ts.” It’s why I’ve created this website as a respite for anyone who needs a little encouragement, a welcoming place for those “I can’ts” of life. As much as I identify with your “I can’ts,” God gets them even more. He already knows all about your reluctance, your uncertainty, even your skepticism. He also knows how brave and resilient you are—what you can handle and just where you need a hand.

So before the next cacophony of “I can’ts” rumble and roar, reducing you to an emotional slug, why not share those “I can’ts” with God?

Go on. And sit on your tush, if you need to. He’s already there ready to scooch along right with you. Ready to hear your “I can’t” break into, “I did it. I did it. We did it, God!”

Brave & Resilient Tip #2:  Do not give in to the “I can’ts” of life.   

What helps you scooch forward?

See the Tips & Help page for practical ways to keep scooching forward in your life.

Well Worn, But Wonderful

IMG_0035I have a fond affection for older houses and the generations of people who lived in them. I love to photograph abandoned farmhouses. Years ago, in another side to my antique artistry, my dad and I would gain permission to salvage old doors and windows from some late 1800s and early 1900s homes. If those sagging, wallpapered walls could talk!

I enjoyed many an adventure with my dad using a crowbar, flat bar, and other tools to separate these architectural elements from the dilapidated homes. What a memorable father-daughter project. (And boy do I have stories! Like the time Dad fell partially through a floor and was hanging by the floor joists over a sunken basement.)

There’s such rich history to preserve in our world, and these aging housesIMG_0036 remind me of resiliency. . . a sort of well worn, but wonderful side to our lives. So often we zip through our days and scurry our minds to our to-dos in our weeks ahead. But today as I scan through some of my farmhouse photos, I’m choosing to pause. I’m adding some breathing space to think through the well worn but wonderful in my life. And, even a few of my favorite well-worn people. 🙂

Antique farmhouses weren’t built in a day and neither is resiliency. Every storm, every bitter wind, every sweltering summer helped shape and patina these once occupied homes. After a hundred-plus years, many of these beauties are cracked, bowed, and leaning, but they are still standing. May the same be said of us.

Brave and Resilient Tip #115: Treasure the well worn but wonderful in your life.


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.

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.

Giving . . . Without Regrets

Some news stories sober you, rattling your reality and etching a groove in your memory. Last Friday’s newspaper story on a local woman who donated her liver, sobered, rattled, and etched me.

In 2005, Becky Atencio gave 67 percent of her liver to a coworker whose own liver was shutting down. Becky learned about the critically ill father of two via a department email, but she barely knew him. Months later, after praying about becoming a better giver, Becky ran the liver donation idea past her 17-year-son. “He didn’t want those boys to go fatherless because he knew what that was like,” Atencio explains. “His father left him when he was six months old.”

gift box tied with a red ribbon in the handsThe single mother was tested as a genetic match for the coworker’s liver. Most donors can give away half of a healthy liver and expect it to grow back. Becky’s liver grew back to 85 percent of its original size and the recipient thrived. But Becky grew terribly ill with intense pain. She struggled to eat and lost significant weight. Three years after the surgery, doctors informed her that the liver donation damaged a nerve to her stomach. Food no longer moves correctly from Becky’s stomach to her intestines.

I met Becky last June at a jewelry party at a local juice bar. While I secretly wanted to add sugar to my carrot-beet-kale concoction, I had no idea that liquid veggies and low-portion solids were all Becky could eat. While others at our table were off eyeing the silver baubles, Becky and I started chatting. We talked careers a bit and I told her about the website. Becky humbly shared about her liver donation and the damaged stomach nerve. I took her number and told her I’d love to hear more of her story of resiliency.

Becky’s own body is failing now. She wears an implanted digestive pacemaker that compensates for the injured nerve, but the pacemaker must be continually adjusted and will become ineffective by year’s end. Surgery options are risky and she’ll lose more weight off her already 101-pound frame. Becky has appointment on February 14th at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for more testing and possible treatment. But she needs at least $25,000 to cover the clinic costs since its outside her insurance coverage network.

Eight years is a long time to struggle so painfully after sacrificing so much—a part of your own body—for a workplace acquaintance. I pause as I write. I bury my face in my hands, the tears cascading freely. Becky is such a gentle soul and is buoyed by faith in her Creator. Her model of bravery lifts me beyond my own distresses.

In looking back on the organ donation, Becky shares, “I don’t regret one single bit what I did. I think life brings on challenges, and there’s always a reason.”

Sometimes a reason we may never know this side of heaven.

People are praying and holding fundraisers for Becky. If you’d like to learn more about Becky’s inspiring story or make a donation to her, visit

Brave and Resilient Tip #57: Give of yourself to others . . . without any regrets. 

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. 

Everybody’s Got Something

For the past several weeks, I’ve been cranking my radio whenever I hear the new Mandisa song called “Overcomer.” I love the kickin’ music and the “chill” lyrics. I just found this incredible video from Good Morning America last week that features the world premiere of Mandisa’s new music video. In introducing the song, GMA co-host Josh Elliot describes the lyrics as “all about thriving despite adversity.”

obstaclesThriving despite adversity is the heartbeat of this Brave and Resilient site! That’s the heartbeat of my own life. I know you can relate to overcoming despite your own struggles. I was so delighted to see Mandisa’s video highlighting actual clips of GMA co-host Robin Roberts, former Congressman Gabby Giffords, Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton, and The Biggest Loser contestant Hannah Curlee in the middle of their own being bent, compressed, and stretched through intense difficulties. As Robin Roberts summarizes, “Everybody’s got something.”

You may be facing a wearisome something right now. A feeling that life is seriously too much. Perhaps you’re enduring a painfully rough patch in your marriage, your friendships, your job, your health, your finances. If so, please be encouraged by Mandisa’s words [under the Brave & Resilient Media tab]:

Stay in the fight ‘til the final round

You’re not going under

‘Cause God is holding you right now

You might be down for a moment

Feeling like it’s hopeless

That’s when He reminds You

That you’re an overcomer

. . . Don’t quit, don’t give in

You’re an overcomer

Yep, everybody’s got something . . . at some point in life. If your something today feels somehow overwhelming, Someone will keep you from going under. Just give Him your hand. Don’t quit. Don’t give in, because you ARE an overcomer.

[The song is only 3:22  long. Listen and find yourself wanting it for a workout song. Kick it! 🙂 ]

Brave and Resilient Tip #40: Everybody’s got something, so let your something help you to be something else.

Teddy Bears. Flowers. Candles.

Teddy bears. Flowers. Candles. All three are ways to bring us comfort and support. I’ve watched people give teddy bears to the hospitalized children of Chernobyl and to hospitalized AIDS patients. I’ve stood speechless at the mounds of flowers and candles stacked around makeshift memorials after the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech. Last July I took this photoIMG_0393 - Version 2 near the memorial of 6-year-old Veronica Sullivan, gunned down in the Aurora theater shooting.

Teddy bears. Flowers. Candles. All three elicit their own source of soothing and sympathy, calm, and compassion. If you look in the far right corner of the Aurora photo, you’ll notice something else that offers relief for the sadness and hope for tomorrow. After all my journalism trips to places of tragedy and recovery, last summer was the first time I recall noticing a complete Bible gently covered in weather-proofing plastic and placed among memorial mementos. This photo brings to mind the words of Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Parts of this world do dry up and disappoint. When life suddenly flips a 180 and we’re dazed by shocking news or a wave of pain and confusion, the thought of being brave and resilient is usually not in our grid. Who thinks about moving forward when you feel too wobbly to stand? It’s times like these that we clutch the teddy bears, smell the flowers, and light the candles. And, for a steadying support that will not wither or fade, we open a Bible and ask for strength and mercy to make it through. In our own time, we will feel we’re back on our feet and even grateful for a fresh resiliency that is now etched within the deep stillness of our heart and soul.

 Brave and Resilient Tip #35: Resiliency born through trials does not quickly fade away.