Living with MS – Answered Prayers – Amy’s Story

Often we pray for things in life and wonder if they are answered or not.  Many times those prayers are truly answered and we just don’t realize it at the time.  Amy McGovern is a mother of three young children and a wife to her adoring husband, Dan.  She feels as though she always prays but little did she know, over five years ago, how those prayers would be answered.  She and Dan were living in Rockford, IL and Amy wanted to move back home to Iowa.  So she prayed.  Not only did Amy pray that they would be able to move back home but, also that Dan would find a new job with regular hours and that they could expand their family by having a third child.

While pregnant with their second child, Griffin, Amy noticed she had some numbness in her feet but quickly dismissed it as issues related to the pregnancy.  She, along with her doctor, thought that it was most likely sciatica and once the pregnancy was over it would go away.  Seven months after his birth she started getting extremely bad headaches.  Amy was suffering from some post-partum as well and was convinced that she had a brain tumor.  She went to the doctor and they performed an MRI.  The good news was that there was no tumor but she did have some white lesions that were consistent with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or migraines.

Soon after she noticed numbness in her right hand and tried going to a chiropractor for about three weeks.  Then the numbness returned in her right leg and she was referred to a neurologist.  Another MRI was performed which again showed lesions.  The MRI was followed up by a spinal tap.  That was on a Friday.  After a long weekend of anxious waiting, Amy received news on her 29th birthday that she did in fact have MS.

That day was very surreal.  Like anyone, Amy had many questions in the months that followed.  During this time they were still living in Rockford, separated from their extended family.  That entire winter she was in a funk and slipped into a depressed state not knowing what her life would be like going forward.  One of the biggest questions she and Dan had was would they still be able to have another child that they wanted so badly?

McGovern Family

Amy remembers very vividly a conversation she had with her Mom on the phone sometime after her diagnosis.  Her Mom told her, “Your aunt Debbie is so impressed with how strong you are.”  Strong?  Amy had never seen herself that way in the face of this life changing disease that had suddenly rocked her world.  Soon, Amy realized that her aunt, mom and many others were right!  In spite of having MS she was still working and raising two small children.

“I’m kind of glad I have MS.  I think I have it for a reason, and I’m glad I have it and Dan or the kids don’t have it.  I think it’s made me a stronger person and has deepened my faith and brought me closer to God.  So for that I’m glad.”  Wow!  What an amazing outlook on what could very easily bring most to their knees in sorrow and despair.  Amy certainly still has days that she struggles, as we all do, but has realized that in spite of MS, she has a purpose and has every intention of fulfilling it!

Amy first began treatment with a once a week shot called Avonex.  It was effective in keeping the symptoms and flair ups at bay but it would wipe her out the entire next day.  “I kind of felt like I had the flu,” she says.  “I would also be extremely achy and get hot and then cold with the chills, but the shots were definitely worth it.”

Since her initial diagnosis the only time Amy has had issues with flare ups from MS is when she has been off the treatments.  She and Dan both wondered what that would be like if she became pregnant with their third child.  By this time they had moved back home to Iowa.  Her doctor in Dubuque didn’t want Amy taking treatments while they were trying to conceive, so she went off the shots and had a flare up.  This forced her to begin receiving treatments again.  The new treatment was with a different drug requiring daily shots.  Amy wasn’t excited about having to inject herself daily but it allowed the couple to still try to conceive.

Amy eventually did become pregnant and was told that the MS would most likely go into remission during the pregnancy.  “The third pregnancy was horrible,” Dan says.  Amy had an episode at about 14 weeks that required her to take a week off of work.  A short time after that she had a second flare up and this time it introduced a new symptom.  Up to this point her symptoms were always related to numbness on the right side of her body.  This time things were different.  She began having issues with vision in her left eye.  Her eyesight in that eye became what Amy describes as dim and it kept getting progressively worse.  She was scared and frightened.  Not only was Amy pregnant and concerned about the baby but she now had the added worry of wondering whether she could continue to work.  Amy absolutely loves being a hair stylist so her sight and being able to be on her feet all day is very important.  Would MS take that away from her?

Amy with Kids

Despite all of this Dan says Amy deals with it well.  It is easy for her to get wore down and she tires easily.  Amy has Relapsing Remitting MS and she has lesions only on her spinal cord at this time.  Her toes and feet are always numb and if she gets overheated her hands will sometimes go numb as well as her cheek.  Once Amy rests or cools down this typically goes away.

Dan is often concerned about what the next episode may bring and when it will happen.  He and Amy are now both grateful she is on a treatment plan that only requires her to take two pills a day.  It’s much better than the shots and, even though there are some side effects, the tradeoffs are worth it.  Recently, they had an issue with insurance and Amy was off the medication for two weeks.  Dan says it is frustrating when issues related to insurance could cause his wife to be sick unnecessarily and he can’t do anything to change that.

For most people that suffer from MS, the summer poses bigger issues.  The heat is difficult and the humidity is worse.  When the humidity and mugginess rises, it can really wipe Amy out and zap her energy.  Dan is very aware of this and reminds her that it’s OK to take a break.  That is much easier said than done when you have three little ones running around.  Amy says keeping up with them makes it sometimes easy to forget she even has MS.  The kids are pretty young but they know their Mom has MS and that she takes medicine every day to help her.  They got a book from the National MS Society called “Keep S’myelin” to help explain to the kids what it is and to reassure and alleviate any apprehension they had.

Even though she is very open about her diagnosis most people wouldn’t even know Amy has MS.  “It makes you realize that everyone may have something even if you don’t see it,” she says.  Having MS has caused Amy to look at things differently and enjoy life and be grateful for it.  It has reminded her to have patience and treat others kindly because you don’t know what is going on in their life or what struggles they may be trying to overcome.  “It certainly makes you look at things differently and opens your eyes to the generosity of others.  During one of my flare ups while I was pregnant, a neighbor up the street we didn’t even know that well brought us a meal.  There are a lot of good people in the world!”

Growing up Amy says that although she felt faith filled she didn’t necessarily have a strong connection to God.  That has changed now.  Anxiety has always been something Amy has dealt with but now, “I put it all into God’s hands.”  Dan agrees and would have rather the disease had affected him but believes Amy handles it with grace and strength.   “This has made our marriage stronger.  I was at my lowest and he stepped up.  You see someone’s true colors in times like that,” Amy says as they both look at each other, their faces erupting into magnificent smiles.  It was more than just smiles though; it was the two of them sharing with each other the joy and love they have for one another.  One couldn’t help but notice the peace behind those smiles that no matter what the future with MS will throw their way that they will be alright.  One strong woman determined to live her life and her adoring husband who is right there next to her for whatever she and his family needs.

 

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

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MS Run the US – What Are Your Blessings?

I have been given a tremendous opportunity to do something this year that literally could be life changing.  Is it scary?  Do I have doubts?  Of course I do.  I have them because this opportunity will require me to stretch and, in many ways, step out of my comfort zone.  Sometimes our greatest moments of clarity and growth happen when we take a risk; when we choose to act!  That growth is even better when the choices we make and the actions we take are to benefit others.

Early last summer I read a post about a running relay across America for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  My mother has lived with MS for the past 37 years so this was something that naturally intrigued me.  The relay team consists of 18 runners.  Each runner spends six or seven consecutive days running, on average, 180 miles over those days.  The purpose of the relay is to raise awareness and money for MS research and to help those living with the disease.  In addition to completing their segment each runner is responsible for raising $10,000.

I contemplated doing the relay for a few weeks and discussed it on runs with some of my closest friends.  We have the same mindset when it comes to running so I wasn’t surprised when they were supportive.  My mother, on the other hand, didn’t share the same type of enthusiasm.  Like most moms, even though I am a middle aged adult, she still worries – A lot!  When I finished my interview for becoming a member of the team and told her I thought it went well her exact words were, “Oh, crap!”  Despite her initial concerns she is now very excited about it and I plan to cross the finish line with her – running!!

Team Jill

For me, the fundraising seemed to be the most daunting aspect of being part of the relay team.  Sure, training for and eventually running 180 miles in seven days is no joke.  However, to raise that kind of money would really cause me to do things that not only have I never done before but that I was also uncomfortable doing.  I don’t like to ask for things and especially money.  In fact, when I was growing up and in scouts I hated when it was popcorn selling time.  Knowing I’d have to ring someone’s doorbell and ask them to purchase a bucket of popcorn from me would cause me to have a full blown panic attack.  I would do anything to get out of it.  This was going to be much bigger than asking someone to purchase a $3 bucket of popcorn.  Yes, I’m old and that’s probably what it cost back then 🙂

So far it’s early in the process and I’m happy to say that we are actually doing quite well.  I say we because it’s not me that’s raising this money but rather a pretty amazing community of people.  I have been beyond moved by the amazing generosity of people in my community.  I have seen that generosity not only in dear friends but also from complete strangers.  The process thus far has been enlightening to say the least.  As expected, it has caused me to have to do things I’m not entirely comfortable doing but with that has also come some unexpected growth.  That is a good thing.  However, all of that isn’t the objective of this post.  One of the things that I firmly believe is that, as with any worthy cause, educating and creating awareness is probably the single most important thing you can do.  If you can bring awareness to something it will eventually lead to unprecedented discoveries.  Through education and awareness it will touch people and cause them to act by sharing their time, talents and resources.

I have been fortunate enough to find MS Runs the US and become part of this year’s team to help raise funds and awareness.  I have met the people behind the organization and they are some of the truest and most genuine people I have the good fortune of knowing.  Ashley Schnieder founded MS Runs the US and actually ran across the country by herself in 2010!  Since then she has created the relay team and in 2016 it will be traversing the country for the 4th time.  Ashley and her husband Aaron are the real deal.  They have a deep passion for this mission and it shows in their actions.  They truly are people driven by their faith and are using their talents and gifts to help rid the world of MS.

Jill and Me

I also was fortunate enough to meet Ashley’s Mom, Jill, when I ran as part of Team Jill at the Brewers Mini marathon this past September.  Jill is Ashley’s inspiration for the relay.  MS has affected Jill in many ways and has stolen much from her but she is undaunted by that.  While we were running she told me that, “God has blessed me with MS.”  Stop reading and let that statement sink in a little bit; “God has blessed me with MS.”  How many of us would be thankful and feel blessed if we had a life altering, disabling disease?  I know there are days when something as minor as a blister on my toe from running will irritate me; and I’m the one that chose to run which caused it!  If only we could all be as convicted and at peace with our own circumstances in life.  The world would surely be a better place.

I was very moved by Jill’s comments that day and to be honest, still am.  Those words have replayed in my mind countless times since that day.  What a testimony of faith.  God has blessed me…  Shouldn’t we all – wouldn’t it be great – if we all could have that attitude and outlook on many of the not only big but even trivial things that we are presented with in our daily lives?  Jill went on to share that if it weren’t for her having MS the relay wouldn’t have been created.  She is glad the relay exists and and hopes it makes a difference in ending MS.

Recently, for one night, actually for just a few hours, I experienced just one of the symptoms that my Mom and so many others with MS experience on a regular, if not daily, basis.  Out of the blue I became very dizzy and couldn’t maintain my balance.  I felt like I was in a fog and no matter what I did I couldn’t make my body do what I wanted it to.  Needless to say, it prevented me from carrying out my plans that evening.  I literally couldn’t function.  It really gave me a new perspective on just one of the many things MS takes away from those it affects; something that I just take for granted.

I am now even more determined to bring awareness and do what I can to help those living with MS and find a cure.  I am in awe and have the utmost respect for my Mom, Jill and anyone suffering from MS.  As part of this journey I plan to share, through this blog, the stories of those living with and affected by MS.  By sharing their challenges as well as their triumphs I hope it helps raise awareness in the fight to help us eradicate this disease.  I will also share how training is going as well as my experience during the week of the relay.  The more I can write and bring awareness to people living with and being affected by MS then maybe, just maybe it will touch someone and help make a difference.  If you or someone you know that has MS wants to share their story please let me know.  I’d like to help you or them do that.  To see how things are going with the relay follow my blog and visit my relay page at www.tinyurl.com/curtfightsms.

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

 

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Drop Your Cape – Believe It Is Safe!

There are many people, myself included, that walk around each day with our guard up.  It is common place for many to don an emotional cape of protection akin to that of a super hero.  Many people have been hurt so badly by those close to us that we have built defenses we may not even be aware of.  It is all in an effort to keep ourselves from suffering from the same hurt again.  Unfortunately, far too often, those defenses are unneeded and often end up preventing us from realizing amazing opportunities that are presented to us on a regular basis.

Have you known someone, or maybe even yourself, who had a tremendous opportunity in front of them but end up pushing it away?  They end up squandering it by turning around and running from it, all because they are fearful that if they allow themselves to be open, to be vulnerable, they may get hurt in the end?  It may be a new employment opportunity.  It may be a new relationship.  It may even be something as simple as being the first one to say you’re sorry.  I know that I can admit to reacting this way at times as well as being on the receiving end.

Think about that for a minute. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?  You consciously choose not to take a chance on something for fear of getting hurt or failing.  Yet ironically, by choosing not to explore what lies before you, you are inherently hurting yourself and in a sense, failing.

I understand that we are emotional creatures and because of that we can’t avoid these types of choices sometimes.  We all have things in our past which can hinder our ability to accept new opportunities in our lives.  This is especially true if we haven’t fully dealt with our past.  When we don’t deal with our past properly the likelihood of us pushing away or refusing to accept good that comes into our lives is much higher.  We will continually miss opportunities and worse yet, may look back someday with regret and sorrow.

image

Sometimes our avoidance of people or situations may be unavoidable.  However, it is more likely that we can minimize our tendency to do so by really dealing with and working through our past hurts and disappointments.  It’s not always easy confronting our past but we must find the courage to do so in order to live a full life; to prevent cheating ourselves from really good fortune and joy when it comes our way.

It certainly is a matter of trust and for many, unfortunately, trust is something that is a great struggle.  We all want to feel safe but when trust is broken we end up losing, piece by piece, the layers of security that make us feel comforted and safe.  When that happens it can be quite scary and typically transcends to all areas of our life.  When our trust is broken it is easy to become jaded.  As a society, we need to do a better job of making those around us feel safe.  Not just physically but emotionally as well.  Often, the emotional baggage that some carry with them is more excruciating than any physical pain could ever be.

What it comes down to is that we need to treat one another better.  It’s as simple as being kind to those around us; to be respectful towards one another.  That, in itself, will make even a stranger feel safer in their world.  For those close to us and even strangers for that matter, if we could promise each one of them safety we might just change more than we could imagine.

I promise to do my part.

I promise to give others safety.

I promise them safety to be themselves.

I promise them safety and help in trying to figuring out who they are.

I promise them safety to help them not loose who they are when they are in my presence.

I promise them safety in knowing that when I fail them I will do everything I can to make it right.

I promise that in the quest for my own safety I will not jeopardize theirs.

What are you willing to promise for your own safety and that of others?

 

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

 

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Courage to Change – Achieving Your Own Greatness

I do not believe there are many people that, when given the choice, would turn down the opportunity to better themselves or their situation.  If you ask most people I bet they would probably tell you that they would love to improve their lot in life.  The real turning point would be when they discovered that it would actually take work on their part to make it happen.

Let’s face it.  We all want to be better.  Look a little deeper and if we are being really truthful with ourselves we all have areas in our lives in which we could improve.  No one is perfect.  For years I wanted to be better than I was.  I wanted more.  Here is the problem – I just sat there and waited for it to happen.  I thought that if I wanted it and hoped really hard it would magically happen.  I was doing nothing to improve myself.  I failed to do anything to help myself grow and get to that next level in my life.  Guess what?  Things didn’t improve and I didn’t change!

If you want to change then you have to act.   Improvement and growth cannot happen without a conscious choice on our part.  Think about it.  Even a tiny seed, when planted, will do nothing if certain things do not occur.  In order for it to grow out of its shell it must have water and nutrients among other things.  And yet, that alone is not enough.  It must grow and push through the earth in order to break into open air and capture the sun, which is another vital ingredient in what is needed in order for the pant to reach its full potential.  It can’t, however, get everything it needs void of effort from the seed itself.

The same is true with us.  If we just sit idle and do nothing to improve ourselves then we won’t grow.  It is impossible to do so.  This is true for our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self.  We have to work at all of these areas in order to move forward and develop into our true selves.

The real question for many is, “Do you have the desire to do what it takes to become who you want to be?” Maybe the better question is, “Do you have the courage to act in order to continually grow into the best version of yourself?”  I know what I want to be but maybe I’m not thinking big enough.  Maybe there is a grander purpose for me that, without action, I may never discover.  How can I deny myself of that possibility?

When

So how do we know?  I don’t know if we ever will truly know if we have reached our full potential or even if that is possible.  I do know, however, that a surefire way of not reaching it is to remain stagnant and fail to act.  Doing so would be tragic.  In fact, it would be selfish to do so.

Is it always easy?  Absolutely not.  There are going to be times when you feel like you’ve been beaten.  You may often feel like you don’t have anything left to give and yet, upon arriving home there are what seems to be a million tasks left to accomplish and many people demanding your attention.  The question is, what will you do when that moment hits you?  Will you allow yourself to be overwhelmed and become paralyzed or will you choose to at least continue moving?  Will you find the courage to continue forward one step at a time and attempt to accomplish at least one thing no matter how insignificant it may seem?  Will you choose to live or give up?

The odds may seem overwhelming but we all have it within us to do what it takes.  The key is to find that thing that keeps you motivated.  Maybe it’s your spouse or maybe it’s your kids.  It could be your passion for the community in which you live.  It may very well be that stubborn fire in the pit of your stomach causing you to refuse to let an unkind word or act of betrayal define you.  We all have that one thing that will keep us moving – that will keep our desire burning hot.  When you open your heart and listen to the possibilities you will find it!  Trust me – You! Will! Find! It!

In order to be complete we have to make sure that we work on all aspects of our lives.  For each of us the questions are different but they are there and our willingness to answer them may be the difference between our own greatness or our tumble into mediocracy.  Are you willing to get up at four in the morning to get your workout in before work? Are you willing to paint all day until your fingers are raw? Are you willing to spend your lunch hour praying for guidance and being thankful for all your good fortune?  Will you leave the TV off tonight so you can get lost in a book and make your mind sharper? Are you willing to allow yourself time to cry and grieve the loss that you don’t quite understand?  It’s as simple as just making a choice – A choice to act.

In the end, our day is filled with choices.  We can choose to remain stagnant or choose to act.  Be true to yourself and really figure out what it is that you want.  How bad do you want it? Are you willing to go above and beyond to get there?  We may not have the energy to get after it 100 percent every day but as long as we keep moving forward – as long as we continue to act – we will make progress.  That progress will be realized in the choices we make and the steps we take.  Each and every one of those decisions to take action will propel us closer to what we were intended to be.

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

 

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Blurred Finish

Often in life we set out to do things with high expectations of the results.  Many times we are convinced what the final outcome will be and of the path we will take to get there.  It is easy to get frustrated or feel defeated when it doesn’t go as expected.  Often, what we envision as the final result doesn’t resemble what actually happens.  We put in the hard work and unfortunately sometimes things out of our control affect our journey and the finished product isn’t quite what we pictured in our mind.  Even when that happens, if you honestly put in a strong effort and gave it all you have it’s still a win.  It’s still a victory!

This past weekend I experienced something that I never have since I began running races.  The weather conditions caused the race to be black flagged because of high heat and humidity.  Many competitors were either forced to stop, diverted to a different course or forced to turn around and shorten the distance they had planned to complete.  I had run races in the past that were more extreme as far as heat and humidity were concerned but the difference was that I had never seen the number of people collapse during those races that I did in this one.

The medical personnel had to be overwhelmed by the amount of people needing assistance.  I am sure many of those competitors were sure they were fine right up until they weren’t.  I never felt that I was ever in any danger of needing assistance and truth be told, if allowed, I would have completed the full course.  Would that have been a wise decision on my part?  We will never know.  What I do know is that the race director, medical team, local officials and first responders were handed an impossible task.  They knew the time and amount of hard work all the competitors put in for that day.  They had to make a tough decision and in the end I believe they made the right one.

If you are a runner then you surely understand the crazy mentality I talk about when I say there is nothing that will stop us from finishing if it were up to us.  We train for and are programmed to ignore pain and suffering.  It is what allows us, as endurance athletes, to compete for such long periods of time under, many times, less than ideal circumstances.  We certainly are a stubborn bunch.  I would not have wanted to be one of the many race officials or police officers that had to break the news to many that there was a change in plans; that the race they intended to complete was just not possible that day.  After months and months of dedication and training those are words that just don’t compute for many of us, myself included.

I was one of those runners that ran through, not one, but multiple attempts to get me to turn around and backtrack to the finish.  I encouraged my friend and partner in crime on the run to do the same and we did until it was pretty evident that if we did continue and got into trouble there very well may not be anyone available to help us.  It was disappointing for sure and not something we wanted to give in to.

Blurred Finish

There were many competitors that were visibly upset on the course and, while I understand their frustration, I believe that the decisions were made for the good of everyone.  Those decisions may have been difficult to accept but they were the correct ones.  It is frustrating when things don’t go your way.  However, some of the things I witnessed on the course made it justifiable.  I had never seen that many people laying on a course getting assistance.  One was as early as just five miles into the race.  That young woman didn’t look good and I hope and pray that she is well.  After we finished I heard many complaints and it would have been easy to complain right along with them.  However, we had a good run, and when we crossed the finish line I am sure we had put forth effort that probably exceeded what we would have in good conditions for the full race.  Above all we were safe.  I am grateful for that and the experience.

After the race we received word that not everyone was as fortunate as we were.  A young man passed away on the course that day.  I am sure he was doing what he loved but that is an incredibly unbelievable price to pay for it.  I pray for him and his family in this profound time of loss.

There were many memorable moments along the course that didn’t involve pain, suffering or disappointment. One that stands out is a husband that was holding up a sign waiting for his wife to pass by.  When he saw her he started screaming how wonderful she was doing and how fabulous she looked!  I mean really screaming!  At the sound of his booming pride for his wife it seemed that all the other noise on the course ceased to exist.  He didn’t stop there. He chased her for a couple blocks emphatically screaming his praises.  What an incredible gift to give her; acknowledgment of her hard work and dedication – a genuine reflection of his love for her.  I’m sure he boosted her spirits and desire to do well.  He had that effect as well on many of us that witnessed his support.

We all run for different reasons but in the end it is the finish, the feeling of triumph, that we do it for.  In anything we do in life we all measure that satisfaction in different ways.  When we eventually got turned around there was an older gentleman that yelled out to the policeman, “Do I still get my medal and jacket?”   Before he would alter his own plan he needed assurance that his effort would be acknowledged and rewarded.  For him, he needed that medal and jacket as a symbol of what he set out to do and the dedication it took regardless of the conditions.  It didn’t matter if his original plan was altered; he was still going to finish even though the path to get there had changed.

And so it is with life.  We often have so much we desire, so much we want, and we work hard to achieve it.  That achievement may be represented by a medal or a jacket.  It is captured in the screams of excitement from your spouse or parents about how great you are doing.  It’s that message at the end of a tireless effort that leaves you speechless and in tears.   Many times it may be as simple as that little space inside you that smiles a little bigger when you lay your head down on the pillow at the end of a long day.  At those moments we have the joy of knowing that tomorrow there will be another race to run, another moment with a loved one, another goal to achieve.  No matter what it is, we will be better for it regardless if there is a medal or jacket waiting at the end for us.   That feeling, that satisfaction, is something no one can take from us even if our course to get there is altered.

Be Great! Be Strong! Be Determined!

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Dream the Impossible – I Dare You!

I wish I had been as adventurous and willing to try new things throughout my life as I have been in recent years.  I can’t imagine where I may be today had I done so.  That statement may sound a little bit like regret but let me reassure you, it isn’t.  I am who I am today because of all my life experiences and had any of them been different I may still be sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen.

When was the last time you identified something you really wanted and then did whatever you could to go out and do it?  We all have different interests, passions and goals.  They are all important!  I believe that when you live life to the fullest, you get the most out of it by dreaming big.  Why not dream the impossible?  Why not go for it?  There are aspects in my life where I do that quite well and others that I still need to work on and improve.

I am fortunate enough to have strong and encouraging people in my life.  They have set tremendous examples of what it’s like to be adventurous, to live like no one else.  The interesting thing is, the more adventurous and determined I become the more of those people God places in my path.  I have gained and learned so much from each and every one of them and I hope that I, in turn, do the same for them.

Every one of those people in my life have unique gifts that make them the incredibly gifted and talented individuals that they are.  If you open your mind and your heart you can see that in most anyone you come in contact with.  When you do, when you stop and take the time to really do that, you will find that truly appreciating others and the gift that they are in your life will help spur you to be better and more complete yourself.

I want to be challenged in my life and as a result I have chosen to surround myself with others that do the same.  The determination and strength that they have in turn causes me to be more determined and strong.  We feed off each other and that’s something that for so many years I just didn’t get.

Does that mean it’s always easy?  No way!  It’s difficult and not always easy to be disciplined in order to achieve what you’re after.  I don’t care if you are an endurance athlete, an aspiring actor, a promising pianist, a world class educator or any number of things you could aspire to be.  It takes work and grit! It takes strength, determination and dedication!  It takes courage!  The question is, what is it that drives you?  What is it that makes your soul sing?  That is what you need to figure out.  When you are able to determine what that is you are on your way to true contentment.

Steps

So, start today!  What is that one thing that your heart longs for?  What is it that you’ve dreamed about wanting for so long but haven’t gotten started on?  It’s time to act!  It’s time to take that first step.  Sometimes that is the hardest thing to do – to take the first step. I promise you though, once you do, the next step will be easier than the previous and with each subsequent step it will continue to get easier until you are moving at a fast pace and wondering why you didn’t start sooner.

When you can do that and reach your goal – when you realize your dream – you will have a feeling in your being like never before.  I have some friends that have been chasing a dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  They have been close in the past but have now achieved that goal.  I witnessed their near misses as well as all the work that they had to put into getting there.  It wasn’t always easy and sometimes it was downright defeating but they never gave up, they never lost hope.

I wish I could adequately describe what it feels like when you attain something that you’ve worked hard for and wanted for so long.  I have trouble coming up with the words today that would do it justice.  I’ve felt it myself when qualifying for Boston, learning that I was chosen to be part of a relay team across the US and even when I started this blog.  Even though I don’t have the words I do recognize when I see it.  I saw it on the faces of each of my friends when they qualified for Boston.  The look they had, through their exhaustion, was pure joy.  They dared to dream big and then they made that dream a reality.  I saw it recently at my son’s cross country meet when a blind young man was running the race along with a guide.  His body language and the expression on his face going around the course was that of complete freedom!  I don’t know him nor did I get the opportunity to talk to him but he didn’t let anything hold him back from running that race.  He dared to dream big and then had the courage to do it!

So, please, dare to be adventurous.  It doesn’t have to be something on a grand scale.  Maybe it is going on a hike somewhere new and unfamiliar.  It could be taking a class at the local college for fun that you’ve been wanting to do.  Dare to go on a date you’ve been avoiding or meet up with the local book club.  Just act!  Take the first step towards what you want!  I don’t know all the adventures that lie in front of me but I do know that there will be many and I want to make sure I put myself in a position of strength and opportunity to take advantage of them.  I gain nothing by not trying and failing to take that first step.

Be Great! Be Strong! Be Determined!

 

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Ironman Lesson

I recently competed in my first half ironman.  I had previously done triathlons but never at that distance.  For the past couple of years I’ve had my mind set on doing a half ironman. I remember growing up and watching Ironman competitions on TV in Hawaii and thinking to myself, “How on God’s green earth are those people doing that?  That seems impossible.  I wish someday I could do that.”  Now, I don’t know after doing the half ironman if a full is ever in my future but I can tell you that up until recently I didn’t even think a half was something I would actually attempt let alone complete.

For those that know me, one could say I didn’t plan like I normally do.  I certainly did the training and was ready for it but unlike the other “big things” I’ve accomplished in recent years I didn’t ever lay out an official training plan.  I just had an “idea” in my head of what I should be doing.  I did get very sound and great advice from some amazing people but failed to actually write out a plan.  What made me, someone who had never attempted anything like this before, believe I could do it without having a full plan laid out?  I did it and I was successful nonetheless.

The day didn’t come without its struggles however.  The weather that day saw temperatures in the 90s and humidity close to 100%.  When I was riding the bike I just kept repeating to myself, “Just get to the run!  Just get to the run!”  The run, after all, is what I am best at.  Once I was running though all I wanted to do is walk.  The first five or six miles were painful, miserable and bordering on disastrous.  I was starting to unravel and fall apart.  Those early miles weren’t going as planned and although I told everyone the goal was just to finish I secretly had a time that I wanted to be under.  I really had no business even thinking about that.  The real goal should have been what I was telling everyone else – Finish!

A bright spot at that point was seeing my kids and parents about every three miles on the run.  My Mom is always my biggest cheerleader and I know she’d give anything to be out there doing it with me.  I got very emotional when I saw all of them.  My son was always ahead of the rest of them checking on me.  It was very touching to share those brief moments with him as he encouraged me.  My first lesson of the day was remembering to never, EVER underestimate the importance of family.

Half Ironman Finish

In those first few miles I began to feel sorry for myself and quickly was letting my head take over the day.  That is ludicrous.  I was out there trying to accomplish an amazing feat and nothing, surely not my own thoughts, should take away or diminish what I was about to complete.  The mind however is a very powerful thing and I was allowing it to let doubt and fear begin to take over.  I was forgetting that I was strong; that I was capable; that I had prepared and could not only finish, but in spite of the conditions, finish well.

At that point, I’m embarrassed to say, I prayed.  Embarrassed to say you prayed?  Yes!  Embarrassed because I only asked for God’s help when I was seemingly in trouble.  I was hurting and only then did I turn to Him for help.  Only then did I ask Him for guidance and strength.  That is so true in many aspects of our life.  We take things for granted and are not appreciative or thankful for them until we are in dire straits or, even worse, they are gone.

I can’t say that I didn’t pray to God earlier in the day or the days leading up to the race because I’m sure I did; even if it was only once or twice and only for a brief moment.  What I know I hadn’t been doing regularly up to that point recently is having conversations with Him.  I had been taking our relationship for granted.  That can certainly be true in a lot of our relationships in life.  It is easy to get “busy” and neglect those that truly are important to us.  In spite of my actions something amazing happened.

God didn’t judge me on my past actions or my neglect of our relationship when I looked for His help, His comfort.  He didn’t take away the pain and suffering on that day, in that moment, but I did, somehow, feel better.  I was quickly reminded of all those, like my Mom, that can’t do what I was doing but wished they could.  It gave me a new perspective and I actually got faster.  There was a comfortable peace that came over me and I knew I was going to be alright.  I had gotten caught up in how I was going to potentially let others down and somehow not meet some unknown expectations that others and I had.  It was not only cray but ridiculous to even think that way.

What a great lesson I was taught that day.  God didn’t ignore me because I neglected our relationship.  He didn’t leave me in a moment when I really needed a pick me up.  He was there.  That is so true in our own lives as well.  How often do we find it easy to be vindictive or to write others off when we feel we have been mistreated by them?  By doing so we have chosen to make a judgement on them and their actions without knowing their full story.  We don’t know what is going on in their life and they may have some real struggles.  Maybe we should reach out to them and be their support.  That can sometimes be hard to do but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

In the end I believe it comes down to this:  Be kind to others, don’t judge and when you do neglect someone have the courage to reach out, admit your shortcomings and start over.  I know I don’t always get it right but I’m thankful for the lesson I was taught that day and vow to be mindful of it.

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

 

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Be The Catalyst For Change

There is a lot going on in our world right now.  I see so much good, so much promise. Unfortunately, I also see a lot of bad and misdirection.  This country was, at one time, the greatest country in the world.  In many respects it still is.  What happened?  Yes, we are still pretty darn good and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  The opportunities we have in front of us are abounding – if we just would stay out of our own way.

It’s difficult to watch ad after ad of our potential leaders pointing the finger at one another and arguing about who is right or who has the answer.  The truth of the matter is, no one person has all the right answers.  They seem to be more interested in bashing their opponent or spinning their words to gain the most support.  I get it.  That’s part of the game they believe they have to play in order to win.  But do they?  What happened with just being truthful and letting that determine the result?

There is divide on the issues of immigration, race, healthcare, the institution of marriage and many, many more.  It seems that each side is more interested in proving that their opinions, their actions, their “solutions” are correct and no one is listening to the other point of view.  It’s like watching a bunch of narcissists trying to one up one another.  Each, it seems, is more interested in establishing their legacy and bolstering their image rather than really looking at the issues at hand to promote real change, real solutions.

It bothers me that the city in which I live has seen four women violently murdered this year.  Prior to that in the past 15 years the average for all murders has less than one in any given year.  That is more than four times the norm.  It is certainly troubling at the very least.  The last woman didn’t even know her attacker and the person that did it not only admitted his heinous actions but said he did it because he had nothing better to do.  He wanted to get into more trouble so he raped and brutally murdered her.  What?  Are you kidding me?  I am fortunate to live in the city I live in because if it was bigger I know more senseless crime like this would happen and it would just be discouraging.

Just yesterday, I read that a group is planning to hinder runners from finishing the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota.  I understand that they are trying to garner attention for their cause but I fear the way they are going about it very well could lead to even more division and violence.  The point many fail to see when focused on their little piece of the world is that all lives matter.  It doesn’t matter your race, nationality or sexual orientation.  As a community we need to be more tolerant and kind to others and their views, even if they are contrary to our own.

Unity

So, whose fault is it?  The real answer is that it’s all of our faults.  Yes, we each play a role in where we are at today.  Now, some may not be as culpable as others but we play a part nonetheless.  So how can we change the direction in which we are going?  Remember, there are a lot of good things going on as well.  The rhetoric for change and standing up for what is right is there.  I see it every day.

I see it in the countless posts each and every day of people helping each other to be better.  People reaching out to others to offer support and encouragement.  I recently got to meet a father who pushed his son, who has cerebral palsy, across the country – IN 60 DAYS!  Along the way, they raised money and gave away racing chariots so other children with disabilities could experience the freedom and exhilaration of movement; so they could feel the breeze in their face as the sun shone brightly on them.  Closer to home, some very dedicated and caring people started a chapter for Ainsley’s Angles so that gift of mobility could be celebrated here in our community.  Another woman I know is working tirelessly to bring adaptive and inclusive sport opportunities to those that have disabilities.  In the past few years in my community one man started an organization the makes connections for people looking for volunteer opportunities.  Above all else, it has been a hub for bringing people and resources together for those in need.

There are countless other organizations, people, and groups of people that are doing amazing things right here in our community.  I’m sure my community is not unique in that regard.  What are all of these people doing that matters?  They are choosing to act!  They are choosing to make a difference!  They are choosing to let other people know that they matter; that all lives matter!  All we need to do to change the direction we are going is to do the right thing.  If each of us could just choose to do the next right thing and be patient with one another, every day, we would be so much better off.  It’s not hard, but yet seems to be.  It’s because all too often, the right thing may not be the most popular thing to do.  Being patient isn’t how we are wired today in our society.  However, in the end, we will get much greater rewards if we can do just that – Be Patient and kind to one another.

So, instead of looking to others to change our lives, we need to concentrate on changing what we have control over – ourselves.  We may find that by doing so we’ll start to see something different around all of us.  When we do the right thing and are patient, our example will begin to be noticed by our children, family, friends and neighbors.  They, in turn, may do the same.  We may not succeed all of the time.  In fact, we won’t; we are human and we are flawed.  We will make mistakes but when we bring focus to what is important we are likely to make fewer and, as a result, change our situation.  That in turn can help promote change in our immediate community and who knows, maybe it could be the start of a movement for which we can all take credit for.

Be Great!  Be Strong!  Be Determined!

 

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It Does Get Better – Emerging From Grief Toward Wholeness – Part 7

It is devastating when we experience a loss of any kind.  Each loss will affect us differently than the previous one.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a pet, the loss of a job, the failure of a marriage, the disappointment of not achieving or having success at or with something you so desperately want, or the ending of a long and dear friendship. When any of these things or any other loss occur in our life we are going to grieve.  When we suffer a loss it will force us through a process that I’ve described in six prior articles.  (Here are links to each of them:  Emerging From Grief Towards Wholeness – Part 1, There is Nothing Wrong (Denial), Why Am I so Angry (Anger), Let’s Not Make a Deal (Bargaining), This is a Dark Place (Depression), This is My Reality (Acceptance).  We are human and the pain and sorrow from any type of loss is going to cause us to go through that process.  As a result, it will challenge us and eventually cause us to grow.

When it became apparent to me that my marriage was ending and over, I began grieving immediately.  The problem was, initially, I wasn’t doing anything to help myself get through the pain and hurt.  I was just a passenger along for the ride and wasn’t taking charge of my own destiny.  As I shared with you previously, I did start journaling right away but I eventually gave that up.  I began counseling but didn’t think I was getting anything out of it so I stopped going.  I read some books that helped.  I tried much of what they suggested but, when I couldn’t get my wife to buy into the ideas with me or it seemed hopeless, I gave up on those as well.

It wasn’t until months later that I figured out what I needed to do in order to heal; what I needed to do to make myself better; to become whole again.  I was too concerned with taking care of everyone else prior to that point.  I had to take care of my wife, our children, our parents, our friends.  Never once did it occur to me that I couldn’t do anything for any of them until I had first taken care of myself.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I started to take control and be in charge of my own healing.  I had gone away for the weekend to visit my sister and some dear friends of mine.  Early in the trip, as I was driving, I had a conversation with a friend that had gone through a similar situation in his marriage.  There was just something that seemed to click on that five hour car ride and the weekend that followed.  I knew at that moment that I needed to get up, brush myself off and take charge of my own fate.  By that point it was all about self-preservation.  I couldn’t continue to go on the way I was.  It just wasn’t working and wasn’t going to get any better if I didn’t make a change.  I would only continue my downward spiral if I didn’t do something.

Red Rock Morning

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from that moment forward though.  That’s when the work really began.  I discovered that grieving is like riding a roller coaster.  There were highs and lows.  There were periods where everything seemed great and then seemingly out of nowhere there would be a bad day.  Sometimes it was even a bad week or God forbid a month!  I found those bad days to get easier as time went on though.  That was the key – time.  Those feelings – the loneliness, anger, depression, emptiness, denial – all of it had to be worked through at the pace it needed to be.  For me, the emptiness at times was overwhelming.  I found I was tormented in the middle of the night by any number of things.  Often it was the knowledge that I was alone and my wife was not.  I felt humiliated, sabotaged, betrayed and used.  I was frustrated and resentful for what I perceived was wrong being done to me.

Interestingly enough, though, I believe that by working through the grief and embracing it, it gave me my life back.  I have rediscovered myself and have grown in ways I would have never guessed.  I was forced to travel a route I would not have chosen for myself.  Facing the obstacles on that road with my eyes open and dealing with them rather than taking continual detours, I have reached a new, and in many respects, a better destination than I would have had I not gone through this painful experience.  Through faith and a strong support system I was able to keep moving and, when I did have to change directions, I was able to quickly get back on track.

That was the key though.  I needed to keep moving forward, keep fighting for what I knew and believed would be better days.  When I look in the mirror today I see so much more that what was there previously.  What I see is so much better.  Like pruning a tree, the loss and subsequent grief I suffered caused so much growth.  I am better, stronger and so much more filled with life because I embraced my experience, eventually meeting the real struggles head on rather than running from them.  I refused to let them break me and define who I was as a person.  I used my loss to become more outgoing and take risks by putting myself out there.  It wasn’t always easy but I am so glad I did.  I have been exposed to so many wonderful people and experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  I have often wondered if I would have come to this place, this much better place, if it weren’t for the grief I was forced to work through.  In what may seem odd, there are some days that I need to be thankful for my grief because of where it has led me.

I do believe that I needed to experience all the emotions that came from my loss in order to heal.  I tried to fight them, deny them, but in the end it’s how I chose to react to those emotions that defined who I am and how I was able to move forward.  It was my embracement of my loss and choosing to understand my grief on a very intimate level that made me whole again.  No one ever enjoys experiencing loss.  We don’t ask for it or want it.  However, it is inevitable in life.  It is going to happen to all of us and we are all going to be challenged by it in some way or another.  The key to how it affects us is in how we choose to respond to it.  We can choose to ignore it and struggle for a long time or we can choose to face it for what it is.  It isn’t fun and it sometimes really hurts and can cause us unimaginable pain.  I can promise you this though, if you choose to work with it.  If you choose to face it for what it is, you will find joy again.  You will discover just how strong you are and how much courage you have.  You will not forget what it is that you lost but be able to remember it fondly and know that you are more complete because you had those experiences in your life.  Even though they may be gone now you are here.  You are the living example of your past and how you became who you are and that is beautiful.

Be Great!  Be Strong!

 

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This is My Reality. I Choose to Act. Emerging From Grief Toward Wholeness – Part 6

As I have described in previous writings in this series, when you suffer loss in your life you go through a process of grieving.  It begins with denial and then moves to anger.  Typically you bargain with anyone, no one, God and yourself to try and make sense of it all.  You most likely will suffer some sort of depression but eventually, to be healthy and resolve the hurt and sorrow, you will need to arrive at a state of acceptance.

As a result of some of the realizations that I had during my dark period of depression, I began to slowly start to accept what was happening to me.  How my life was changing.  I realized that this was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.  I could kick and scream as much as I wanted.  Believe me, when alone, I kicked and screamed like a two year old having a tantrum.  Regardless, it didn’t matter, my marriage was ending.  The loss was real.

Acceptance for me was finally realizing that I was tired of living the lie.  I was tired of all my wife’s spending.  I was tired of all the lying.  I came to realize that my wife had probably been lying to me about a lot of things for quite a few years.  I knew what was going on but it was easier to ignore it rather than talk about it in a healthy and constructive way.  The fact of the matter is I didn’t know how to do that without being confrontational so it was just easier to pretend and not say anything.  And I wonder why it was that my marriage was over?  Get a clue buddy!

I was tired of being played as a fool.  I was tired of the divisiveness that seemed to often occur between my wife, family and friends.  I was tired of loving and not being loved in return.  My emotional bucket was empty and this woman I was in love with hadn’t done much, if anything, to fill it in quite some time.  I was tired of being hurt.  I was tired of being lonely.  I was tired of being sad.  I was tired of being angry!  I was exhausted in so many ways.

I was also tired of my own lack of action.  I chose not to communicate clearly with my wife about how I felt and what I thought we needed to change.  That was my choice to avoid tough but necessary conversations.  That is on me and part of what I had to own in this whole mess to move forward.  I was also choosing to wallow in self-pity and feel sorry for myself.  As long as I kept making those choices and refusing to accept my roll and circumstances it would be impossible for me to become healthy again.

Courage

I don’t think it matters what type of loss you are experiencing.  In order to be healed and become whole again you need to get to the point of acceptance.  For each person the route they travel to get there is going to be different.  Eventually though, you will get there and it will be when you are ready; when it is right for you.  For some that may be quicker than others but I hope if you are grieving a loss in your life that you do eventually reach that point.  As odd as this sounds, I hope you reach that point of exhaustion; that point where you realize taking no action is worse than going on as you are.

For me, eventually, I found that this terrible thing that was happening to me was going to be the catalyst that allowed me to grow and become a stronger, better individual.  My grief was real and I had begun to embrace it.  I was learning to recognize my feelings and work with them rather than against them.  I was beginning to understand my grief.  I was becoming intimate with myself again.  It took me a long time to get to that point.  Years really.  I often would have glimpses of my whole and healthy self and then something would happen in my life and I’d have a small relapse.  After a short period of time, I would work through the issues and begin to move forward again.  I can tell you that with each subsequent loss, each perceived setback in my life, I have always come out on the other side stronger, wiser, more whole and more confident than I was prior to those challenges.  The key, however, is that I had the courage to face what was in front of me and address it.  I had the drive and determination to keep moving forward, even if it was slow.

It isn’t always easy.  It’s hard more often than not and sometimes it just plain sucks.  Welcome to life.  We are all going to experience loss.  We are all going to experience disappointment.  We are all going to have struggles that at the time seem incomprehensible as to how you are going to get through them.  But you know what?  You will get through them.  Why?  Because you are a strong person!  You are a person with resolve!  You are filled with fight!  God made you that way!  He believes in you and you just need to believe in yourself!

I believe sometimes people are afraid to accept their loss – afraid to embrace their grief and what it represents.  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of being afraid to move forward.  Just because you accept it doesn’t mean that it is forgotten.  Just because you accept it doesn’t make it any less real.  Just because you accept it doesn’t mean you can’t look back fondly on the memories you had prior to your loss.  Just because you accept it doesn’t mean that which you loved, that which you cherished was never there.  Quite the contrary.  Once you accept it you will remember those memories, remember that loved one and remember the happy times in a whole new light.  You will be able to remember them and look back fondly rather than with pain, sorrow, regret or resentment.

However, it all comes down to a choice and that choice is yours to make and only yours.  You need to choose what you want to do.  Do you want to remain enslaved to bitterness, anger, denial and sadness or do you want to choose life, hope, happiness and joy?  I hope that when the time is right and you are ready that you choose wisely.

Be Great!  Be Strong!

 

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