Category Archives: Difference

Letter to My Younger Self

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I participated in one of those development opportunities at work this week which good companies make available, but which take great leaders to make impactful. It was held at the end of a long day, in the middle of a long week and an even longer year. I was tired and knew that I’d be taking work home to attend. But I appreciate these two leaders who invest their time in us, and so I went. The content was interesting, but the last 15 minutes hit me hard. They asked us to write a letter to our younger selves. Here’s what I wrote, unedited and written in a stream of consciousness so powerful it shocked me.

Dear Kelly,

Never, never, never forget it’s the people. None of the other stuff you accomplish will ever matter squat unless you do it taking care of those around you. It’s not a competition:  it’s a marathon called life, and you only get one race. Run one you’re proud of. You are a neat person–don’t let anyone make you forget that, no matter how they treat you, or carrying whatever baggage they’ve got. That’s about them, it’s not about you. Don’t let their issues and behavior become yours. Stay true to yourself and what matters to you, and it will all work out as it should. Have a blast!

Kelly

I’ve recently written that I’m at one of those internal turning points we come to infrequently, which force us to choose what to keep and what to discard, what to run toward and what to walk away from. I’ve been struggling with what I’m willing to adjust for this new season in my life, and what I want to cling to. Writing this letter reminded me, in a few short but powerful minutes, of what I can’t afford to forget as I find my new path. I am strong and sure-footed. The future is bright. I will find my way.

“Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.”  –Helen Keller

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Ministry


I’ve always believed that God can use anything for His purpose, no matter how ugly or tragic it is on its own. He is definitely using the Facebook community for those who love someone with HLH. He’s even using me in that venture, something I’d have never expected to be part of in a million years.

I’ve written about this group before – they were a godsend of information and support when Megan was diagnosed with this rare disease. I’ve stayed a part of this online community, even as she has gone into remission. I’ve thought about leaving it behind as we try to move on, but I can’t do it. Being part of this group includes the occasional gut punch that makes me want to throw up, when I read of a new diagnosis or worse. But these people are now a part of my life. I know more about some of them than I do about some I call friends. But there’s more than that to why I can’t walk away:  I feel like I’m serving a purpose there.

I welcome every new member and offer them a prayer, even while I tell them that we wish they had no reason to be part of our group. I comment on the photos that parents share of the children that they’ve lost, telling them their children are beautiful. I use present tense on purpose:  that’s what parents want to hear…for them, their child isn’t gone. And I try to be reassuring when someone just needs to vent. Heaven knows I needed someone to listen to me, back when I was struggling to process everything.

The group has turned into a five minute a day ministry. I don’t know if I’m doing anyone any good with it. Actually, that’s not true:  it’s doing me good. We had tremendous support from family and friends as we went through our ordeal, for which we will always be beyond grateful. Even so, there were countless moments when I felt completely helpless and alone. No one can really be there for you at 2:00 in the morning, when you can’t sleep from sheer terror because the doctors have no idea what is wrong with your child, and you know that she is dying as you watch. No one can remove the stress of managing the details of every day life or holidays with your family split right down the middle, hundreds of miles away. Though we were well supported, I know what it is to feel utterly alone. That’s why I can’t abandon this small group. In ministering to them, I am somehow being healed myself.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”  –Henri Nouwen


Epitaph

A dear friend recently lost her mother unexpectedly. Via Facebook, she allowed her friends to be bystanders to this tough chapter of her life. From the rapid escalation of her mother’s sudden illness, to the moving poem my friend wrote and read at the funeral, to the emotional task of disposing of the house and furnishings of her childhood, we got a tiny glimpse into the life of an amazing woman. But one of my friend’s most recent posts posed a question I hadn’t thought of before:  have you ever wondered who would write the epitaph on your tombstone?

I have to admit, I hadn’t. While I don’t think I care much about what’s on my tombstone, I do care, a lot, about what I leave behind. As a mother, I want to leave behind happy, well-adjusted children who know God and how to laugh. As a leader, I want to leave behind lives I’ve made just a little better for having touched them; corporate America can be a stressful, degrading, even soul-sucking desert…it can also be an easy place to hold up a candle. And as a human, I want to live my whole life having never given up seeking God. I struggle and fall…every day…but I believe that God expects only that we get back up, dust ourselves off, and sincerely try again. I’m getting to my feet now – today’s a new day.

“And were an epitaph to be my story, I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone:  I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”  –Robert Frost

 


Snail Mail

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I received three unexpected pieces of snail mail from friends over the last few weeks, each of which made my day. I had forgotten the joy that mail used to bring before email and social media made it nearly obsolete. I don’t want to forget again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for social media. It’s allowed me to reconnect with friends who’d slipped away, and to stay connected to others thousands of miles or oceans away. I am sure most of these dear people would have stayed part of my past before today’s technology. Instead, they remain in my life, even if in only in small snippets. Many of them still make me smile just by being them, exactly why they were part of my life in the first place.

In spite of the positives, we gave something up when we moved away from letters. A Facebook post is like a piece of hard candy…short and sweet…while a good letter is far more substantial. It proves that someone thought enough of you to take the still short but meaningful five or ten minutes to dig out pen, paper, and envelope, and sit down to compose their thoughts. Lately, I’m increasingly nostalgic and grateful for the holes, large and small, filled by so many people in my life. They are worth so much more to me than the 49 cents and ten minutes a letter would take. I believe I will start taking that ten minutes a month to begin thanking them, one at a time. It will take the rest of my life; I have a large debt to repay.

“Without ’tis autumn, the wind beats on the pane,
With heavy drops, the leaves high upwards sweep.
You take old letters from a crumpled heap,
And in one hour have lived your life again.” –Mihai Eminescu


Being Different

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A globe-trotting friend of mine recently shared an unsettling experience she had in Malaysia about being different. Though being on the other side of the planet makes this feeling more likely, being far from home is not required. Here’s her story:

“Today, I felt diversity. I’m used to being one of the few or the only woman in the room, but I’m not always aware of the difference. Today I had to walk through a courtyard of men at Muslim prayers. There was no route around. With my white skin, uncovered blonde hair, and western style dress, I clearly didn’t fit in. I felt the perceived burn of all eyes on me, and for the first time in a long while, I felt uncomfortable being different. In fact, I felt unfounded fear…breathe deep, eyes down, shrink into myself, and maybe no one will notice me. As uncomfortable as I was, I treasure the experience to walk in the shoes of others who fall into the category of ‘minority’. I am deeply thankful to have the opportunity to be a citizen of the world and to grow from these experiences.”

I suspect most of us know the feeling my friend experienced; I have several similar memories myself. Even if the geography and visible differences aren’t as stark as this Malaysia experience, we all know what it feels like to be the odd one out: to be the only one of our gender or race in the room, or the most poorly dressed, or the only one who doesn’t know anyone. At a minimum, it’s an awkward, unpleasant feeling. Sometimes, however, the discomfort crosses over into fear. It’s an uncontrollable, biological reaction. I have felt it and been ashamed, knowing that it was irrational, as the only visible “threat” to me at that moment was that I was different. The real threat, however, is when these natural feelings go unrecognized and unchecked in our society.

Too many of today’s news stories have their roots in this human phenomenon. If its biological basis is part of our hard wiring, what are we to do? As with my friend in calling out her experience, awareness is a good place to start. Human beings the world over have the same hopes and fears. Of course, there always have been, and always will be, those who inexplicably go bad. But they are the exception. My choice–and upon reflection, easy decision–is to fight my fear of differences. I will not allow the destructive minority to color my perspective. I resolve to treat all humanity as I know in my heart the majority are.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” –Martin Luther King Jr.


Strangers

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I owe my daughter’s life to strangers I’ll never meet, and a small measure of my spiritual well-being to people I barely know. They have unexpectedly given me gifts as large and meaningful as any I’ve ever received, and in so doing, have given me glimpses of God.

The first two strangers to intervene on our behalf donated the pints of blood my daughter received on day two in the hospital. They were just the first of dozens of givers of life. I can’t adequately thank them for giving her back to us, but I have already begun donating blood myself to pay it forward to the next child who needs it.

Other kindnesses ranged from small to huge. I was four days into a new job when I suddenly disappeared for a month in the hospital. Though they barely knew me, my new team members became part of a chain of friends who kept meals flowing to my husband and daughter left behind. A dear friend’s sister-in-law offered to let me shower, bake cookies, and share in her golden retriever’s therapeutic powers while unexpectedly stranded in a strange city. The post office clerk, who noticed the address on the box of my daughter’s hair she was donating to make a wig for another chemo patient, asked her name and said she’d pray for her healing. A local pastor, a friend of our own at home, prayed with me at the hospital, and his congregation sent my daughter a care package of thoughtful gifts when she was at her sickest. My young stylist’s assistant volunteered to come to our home and give my daughter a makeover as a gift to cheer her up. A young pilot, friend of a former co-worker’s son, volunteered to fly us to the transplant hospital to reduce the load on our fragile daughter. Fellow histio moms, who live in the transplant city, offered their washing machines and even their spare rooms to us. Think about that: offering your home to a complete stranger. One of them even befriended my daughter, regularly visiting her and taking her small gifts to cheer her up. All of these people have left a profound impression on me.

We are also so deeply grateful to our family and friends for everything they have done to support us; they have truly made the difference, keeping this crisis from breaking us. But the completely unexpected kindness of strangers has been a surprising silver lining through this ordeal. So much of what makes the evening news shows humankind at our worst. But these small, unanticipated acts of compassion from complete strangers have reinforced my faith in humanity. Several have told me they are just paying it forward after events in their own lives. I will honor their gifts by spending the rest of my days finding ways to do the same.

“We all have life storms, and when we get through them and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there’s always something beautiful you can find.” –Mattie Stepanek