Surviving Your Spouse’s Alcoholism: Finding Life at the End of the Bottle

Cunning…baffling… powerful..The bright side of alcoholism is recovery!. Alcoholics Anonymous uses those words to describe alcoholism. It’s true. I’ve never felt more confused and powerless than when dealing with my husband Randy’s alcoholism. It’s an intense battle—one most of us are ill-equipped to fight. The harder you try to get someone to stop drinking and change their behavior, the more futile your efforts.

During the worst of Randy’s drinking, I had a recurring nightmare. Randy and I were prisoners behind enemy lines in a war-zone. The scene that kept repeating was one in which I had escaped and was trying desperately to pull him to safety. I couldn’t do it. Each time I had to run for my life, leaving him trapped in the line of fire.

That’s an apt metaphor. If your husband or wife has a drinking problem, you’ll understand. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to get through to them.

Why can’t he stop drinking? It seemed easy for me. I could put down a drink after a few sips, and never want more. For Randy, it was impossible to say no to the next drink–even with serious consequences on the line. At first I  thought it was my fault. If only I were the perfect wife, amazingly sexy and beautiful, then Randy would rush home after work to be with me. Wrong! There’s no way to compete with an addiction.

When I finally found Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics, I learned about the 3 C’s.

  1. I didn’t Cause Randy’s alcoholism.  Nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference in him becoming addicted to alcohol.
  2. I couldn’t Control it. I didn’t have any power to keep him from taking another drink.
  3. I could Contribute, though. I could act in ways that perpetuated the unhealthy patterns. Or I could learn some new ways to respond that could possibly help Randy want to get sober. Most of all, these new changes helped me.

Before Al-Anon, I didn’t have any recovery tools. All I could do was obsess on fixing and controlling Randy. I nagged and lectured and scolded. To no avail. I threatened to leave if he didn’t change. Maybe you’ve done the same.

Randy promised to stop drinking. I wanted desperately to believe him. We twirled round and round with the familiar dance. Nothing changed. I retreated into magical thinking, pretending everything was okay. Our problems aren’t that bad, really. Randy said he could stop drinking anytime. He promised to quit tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.

In the meantime, I became the “alcohol police.” I checked liquor bottles in the kitchen cupboard, measuring how much was there, how much Randy had drank the night before. I even checked the garbage cans to see if he was secretly drinking outside and then tossing the evidence. Talk about crazy behavior!

I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. I just knew when saw those verses, he would be inspired to change. I envisioned the scene…Randy would see the light and drop to his knees in gratitude for my help. Deb, I’m so sorry for not seeing this sooner. Thank you for helping me. I’ll never drink again. Then we would live happily ever after.

Reality Check

You know only too well, that never happens. Spouses are rarely the ones who talk their alcoholic partners into seeking sobriety.

After several years, I began to consider that Randy could be an alcoholic. I quickly countered with denial.  No way!  I rationalized. Drinking seemed normal, or so I thought. I looked the other way and pretended everything was fine. If we look at reality, then we’ll be required to do something. That seems so hard, so scary.

Fear looms with its icy fingers threatening to suffocate us. The what-ifs take over our thoughts: what if he has an accident on the way home from the bar; what if she loses her job; what if he kills someone in a car accident… scenarios play ad nauseam in our thoughts. It’s exhausting living on this emotional roller coaster—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I felt alone—even though I had caring friends. I didn’t want to burden them. Besides, what could they do? What I didn’t realize is that you can’t face this battle alone. You can’t be an army of one and expect to survive.

Never Alone

The good news is you are not alone. Others who have been where you are can assure you there is hope! Not merely to survive, but to thrive. You can come out on the other side more whole, more authentically yourself, than you ever thought possible. Addiction has taken a toll, but it doesn’t have to win this battle. There is light and life at the end of the bottle. It takes iron determination to get there, to not give up when things get tough.

You can move forward with your life—no matter what is happening around you. You are not an army of one. You are part of an army of thousands upon thousands who have been where you and I have been and they’ve found a better way to live. As a Christian, I believe we’re serving One who is all-powerful, the God of my understanding, Jesus Christ. A Bible verse says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not simply a few things, but all things. We will have whatever we need, whatever it takes to fight this battle and find healing and hope for ourselves. Maybe in the process, our loved ones will also desire to fight with everything they’ve got to defeat their addiction.

Hope begins when I believe all things are possible with God.

If your spouse has a drinking problem, I have the greatest compassion for both of you. Please let me know how I can pray for you. 

*This is the first in a series of articles about how to cope with your spouse’s alcoholism.

 

Brave Beauty: Finding the Fearless You (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

Brave Beauty devotional book for girlsWhile reading Brave Beauty, a devotional for tween girls,  I couldn’t help but think of how much I would’ve appreciated a book like this when I was growing up. Those preteen years are the beginning of an awkward time for girls. I remember having so many doubts about myself and whether or not I fit in. Author Lynn Cowell does an excellent job making readers feel understood and valued.

The book is comprised of 100 mini chapters, courage-building ways for readers to find answers by growing confident in God. Topics range from family, self-worth and friends, to faith, forgiveness and loving difficult people. The author uses a simple, yet effective style to communicate godly wisdom. Each chapter includes a brief example/story followed by a “Becoming Brave” practical challenge and a “Courageous Call” to action. The bite-sized chapters will appeal to young readers–and “older” readers, too, as I find myself looking forward to what’s coming next!

The author offers this gem: It takes bravery to be a girl who thinks people are more important than things. The culture we live in makes “stuff” like clothes and the newest phone so important. A brave beauty recognizes that people are more important than things.

So true and important for girls to learn this when bombarded by a culture that values materialism.

If you have a young girl in your life, get her Brave Beauty. It could be life-changing!

 

 

Courage to Carry On: Finding Hope When You’ve Lost Everything

Courage to carry onCourage is something I’ve thought about often during the past month–a commodity sorely needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the heartbreaking devastation of these storms as news channels have broadcast moment-by-moment updates. At times, I felt like I was watching a natural disaster movie. It all seemed surreal. But to the people of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other areas where there’s been massive flooding and wind damage, it’s all too real.

To say I even begin to understand is an understatement. I have no idea what it’s like to lose everything you own. Sure, it’s easy to say material things are just “things” and don’t matter. What’s really important is our loved ones. And that’s true. But putting your life together after such a disaster is painfully difficult.

I’ve experienced the anxiety and terror of wildfires burning close enough to our home that you see flames. Three years ago, a wildfire burned more than 250,000 acres in our beautiful Methow Valley in Washington state, and destroyed more than 300 homes. We watched our friends reel from their losses. We also watched as they courageously began to rebuild their lives. Two years ago, another fire devastated our area and claimed the lives of three brave firefighters. The tragedy shook our entire community. Several hundred friends and neighbors gathered in the community park for a vigil. The stillness of that August night was lit with the glow from flashlights, cell phones, and glow sticks. Suddenly, material possessions seemed insignificant.

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand.
                                                                                                                     -Gloria Gaither

Believe

A few years ago, I did a word study on courage. In these times of unspeakable tragedy, courage is what will carry us forward. For me, courage is built on a foundation of faith. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s looking at your fears full-on and saying, I believe! I believe God is with me through any circumstances I face, no matter how difficult. Whatever situation you’re facing, just breathing the word courage can help you remember God is with you. He is the source of your strength and the reason why you can be courageous.

When I think of courage, people like Corrie ten Boom come to mind. She and her family made the bold decision to hide Jews in their home during World War II. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to a concentration camp when they were found out. Only Corrie survived to tell the story. She proclaimed God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy for the rest of her life. Countless people heard her story–including a former Nazi guard who came forward and asked for her forgiveness. Offering forgiveness to someone who has caused so much pain takes courage to an entirely different level.

And then there are heroes of 9/11–too many to write about in this short blog. The courage of people like Welles Crowther, who is known as the man in the red bandana, inspire us. Welles was twenty-four years old when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center where he worked. He managed to get out safely. But then he ran back in numerous times to save others, accompanying them down forty floors to safety. Welles lost his life that day, but his story lives on. Courage has a way of leaving a legacy.

Take Action

The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the words do not fear appear at least 366 times. What that tells me is having courage and not being afraid is important enough that God inspired the repetition of that command. Sometimes we think courage is some kind of bravery we have to muster up in our own strength. Not true! Courage is a by-product of faith. The antidote for fear is faith. 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,  I will try again tomorrow. -Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

That’s what will make the difference for hurricane survivors. Having the courage to believe they can take the next step, and then the one after that, one-day-at-a-time. They need courage to believe they can walk through this difficult time and come out on the other side–probably with a story to tell and being different from when they began this unwanted journey.

Walk Through

To carry on is the courageous keeping on with whatever is at hand, whatever is next in importance to do. During World War II, when London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 59 straight nights, the city never shut down. The people of London went to work and kept their daily routines. That’s remarkable!

I would have been tempted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up around my head. Courage says to keep going, to walk through those deep valleys.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

-Theodore Roosevelt

That’s the bottom line. From somewhere deep inside, you find strength that you could never have imagined and the courage to carry on.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

We are praying for everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes. May the Lord give you His peace that passes all understanding.

Moms: Our Real Heroes

Moms: our real heroes

Mom & me

I just spent the past several weeks with my hero, my mom. Diagnosed with colon cancer in December, she chose to  have the surgical procedure–difficult under any circumstances, but especially at age 90.

As her surgical team prepped her on that early Tuesday a.m., they all remarked at how amazing she is for a woman her age. “We don’t see many 90-year-olds come through here,” one nurse commented. “Usually their health is compromised and there are too many risks.”

Mom and I both knew that even though she’s strong, this surgery presented lots of unknowns. We prayed together the night before and attempted to say good-byes–just in case. I hugged her extra long before they wheeled her into the OR. A compassionate nurse called me several times while I waited during the almost 4-hour surgery to assure me everything was going well.

While I helped Mom during her recovery, I had time to think about what makes a mom a hero. A while back, I had chatted with Mom and thanked her (you can never say it enough) for all those little things that made a difference while my brothers (four of them!) and I grew up. Things like always being there, packing school lunches, staying up late to sew cute new outfits for me–and for my dolls, too. Mom’s response to my gratitude surprised me. “I don’t think I did anything special,” she said. “I did what moms are supposed to do.”

Maybe that’s an important part of the mom/hero equation. They don’t think they’re doing anything out of the ordinary. They simply do what moms are supposed to do.

I love this quote from Jill Churchill in her book, Grime and Punishment, There’s no way to be a perfect mother–and a million ways to be a good one.

My mom is the first person to admit she wasn’t a perfect mom. It’s the million other ways that she was and is a good mom that make all the difference. So take heart if you’re in the thick of momhood. Once you accept you’ll never be perfect at it, then you can consider the myriad ways to be the hero/mom who leaves her kids and grandkids a lasting legacy.

Some of my mom’s “good-mom” techniques:

  • Be committed.  Mom was all in. 100% there for us. That’s no easy task day-in and day-out with a tribe of kids. We never wondered if she would be home when we came in from school or playing outside. We never once worried if she would have dinner prepared or if she’d be there to tuck us in at night. She was always there–except for the day she gave birth to our youngest sibling– but we’ll overlook that!
  • Set high standards. Mom insisted that we tow the mark. We learned to be honest, to care about others, to help with chores (without getting paid) and without complaining. We knew better than to be disrespectful. She had a zero-tolerance policy.
  • Give selflessly. When I became a mom, I realized this was hard work–without vacations. You’re always a mom. You really can’t take a break or go on a sabbatical. Mom’s job consisted of being home full-time. She tended to the needs of five uniquely different children, managed mountains of laundry, cooked, cleaned and stayed up late to get it done.
  • Stand up for what you believe is right. Mom loved imparting her wisdom and values to us. In the early 1970s when I was a young adult, Mom expressed her opinions on some of the crazy cultural views–like something called “open marriage.” The purveyors of this philosophy touted the advantages of having multiple partners to”enhance” your marriage. Mom didn’t mince words. Those ideas had no place in our family. Period. (I recently read a review on the book, Open Marriage. The reviewer said it was a bad idea in 1970 and it still is  today). Mom knew what she was talking about!

I’m thankful God’s plan for my mom’s life included more time for me to thank her again for being my hero. You really can’t say it enough.

 

 

 

 

 

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Learning to Embrace Change

change-is-goodChange is something I’ve always resisted. From the time I was 13- years old and my dad announced we were moving from my small Midwestern hometown to a quaint “village” in Pennsylvania, to all the current changes, including retiring from my day job. Change is hard no matter what the circumstances. Even a positive change, such as retirement, can be challenging.

Twenty-one years ago, Randy and I decided to move from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Winthrop, Washington. I remember the combination of excitement and stark fear as we took on this new adventure. I also recall how hard it was to put the “for sale” sign outside our familiar home, the one where our sons had grown up. It was tough loading up all our belongings into that Ryder truck on a late November day. Then we drove across the mountains to an unfamiliar place where the only person we knew was a real estate agent. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve never regretted that decision. I had to let go of what was familiar in order to embrace what was new and ultimately best for us.

The perspective of hindsight is so interesting–and encourages me to welcome future changes. What I see as I look back through many years, is that most changes I’ve faced have impacted my life in a positive way.

It’s often hard to see at the time, though. At 13, I thought my world had come to an end when I left my dearest childhood friends. My dad had tried to point out the positive aspects of this move which I stubbornly refused to consider. In retrospect, Dad was right. Even though I loved Iowa, moving across the country gave me more vision for what might be out there in this big world.

When I married Randy and we began moving around the country–and the world–with the Air Force, Dad never lamented that he’d miss us and his grandchildren. He was always a cheerleader, saying how great it would be for us to explore the Far East and the other stateside places where we were stationed. “Now we have another new place to come visit,” he’d say with so much optimism I almost believed him.

Of course, there are changes that are anything but positive. Illnesses, job losses, and the loss of loved ones are beyond difficult. In the past decade, Randy and I have lost both his parents and my dad. And we’re all too aware of my mom’s aging–and ours as well!

I’m finally learning to accept that change is inevitable. Since that’s the case, why not embrace change instead of fighting it? I learned a long time ago  in Al-Anon that acceptance is the answer to most of my problems–especially those situations I can’t control.

So what does embracing change look like?

  • Look back, but don’t stare. Instead of wringing our hands about those “coulda/shoulda/woulda” experiences, we can consider what we would do differently, what we can learn from those situations. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move forward.
  • Be intentional about treasuring moments with loved ones. Losing someone we love will always be difficult. Instead of fearing what is inevitable with aging parents or other loved ones, by being intentional with our time, we will have an abundance of memories and gratitude for the ways this person has impacted our lives. A beloved physician who practiced in our town for several years, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 62. A friend wrote on her online memorial/tribute page how she had told Cynthia how sad she was to be losing her. Cynthia reassured her, “Yes, but just think of how lucky we were to have had this much time together.”  What an amazing perspective–and one I want to remember!
  • Remind yourself that change can be good! Sometimes when an unexpected change comes and knocks us off our feet, there’s ultimately something positive that can come from this experience. A job loss can lead to an unexpected opportunity, one you wouldn’t have considered before, or an injury that sidelines you for a while can give you perspective on the direction you’re headed with your life.

I’m all too aware as we embark on a new year, change can be expected and even welcomed. I’m telling myself, Don’t be afraid of change. Don’t get so settled into your comfortable routine that you miss new opportunities.

So when the trapeze of change swings in your direction, have courage to grab hold and then let go. It might be the best thing that’s ever happened to you!

What changes are you facing right now that seem scary?  Let me know…it will be a privilege to pray for you!

 

 

 

Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

How You Can Have Your Best Year Ever

It’s hard to believe 2017 is right around the corner. It seems like I blinked and now it’s mid-November. ApproachingMichael Hyatt Achieve What Matters 2017  year’s-end gets me thinking about what I’ve accomplished during the previous 12 months. Goal-setting has always been challenging for me. It seems easy enough to write down the goals, but a few weeks–or even days into the plan, and I’m already struggling. A couple of years ago, I signed up for Michael Hyatt’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever goal-setting course. I felt like my first stab at it went well for 2015. I moved forward in several areas where I’d felt stuck–but still, I knew there was room for improvement. Last December when the opportunity came to take the course again, I decided to go for it!

I knew I needed extra help/coaching to keep going beyond what Michael calls “the messy middle”–the point where you just want to give up and throw in the towel. I signed up for the VIP plan which was a special offer for course alumni. What did I have to lose? Throughout the year, I’ve received a monthly coaching video from Michael as well as a quarterly Q&A session. It’s so helpful knowing I’m not alone in this process. I can’t say I’ve had perfect success with each goal, but I’ve made undeniable progress. Now that’s something to celebrate!

I bought a large white-board to track my progress. There are lots of computer apps out there to help with this, but I like having something I can look at that’s BIG! Some of my encouraging “wins” this year include launching my first self-published children’s book (on my 2015 list, but I didn’t quite get there) and retiring from my day job–a long-held dream that I finally got the courage to pursue. There will always be areas where I can improve — being more consistent with writing (now that I have more time) and being diligent with a weight-loss plan and exercise. What’s so encouraging about this course, is that it’s never too late to dig in and take those first steps forward. This course helps you get clear on what really matters and why it’s important to you. Your “why”/motivation for reaching a particular goal is a huge component in being successful. You can ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t reach this goal?”

This is the 5th year for 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. The course has been completely revised with a ton of valuable information added. One thing I can tell you without a doubt–any course or product Michael Hyatt offers is exceptional and well worth the cost. I’m a very grateful student. Because I’m so convinced of this course’s value,  I decided to be part of Michael’s launch team, helping to get the word out and encouraging you to check it out. It’s really been a life-changer for me.

Michael will be offering some amazing free information in the next few weeks. I’ll be sure to let you know how to access it. Even if you decide you’re not interested in taking the course, the eBook, life assessment and webinar will be worth checking out.

Today is the first day of Michael’s launch and he’s offering an eBook, Achieve What Matters in 2017. This is an incredible download… with more than 30 thought leaders, influencers, and high achievers all sharing their top strategies for starting the year off with a bang.

You can get the whole PDF (no cost) here:

http://bestyearever.me/a20085/2017ebook

You’ll recognize many of the names as they include
multiple best-selling authors, speakers, and
leaders of their respected fields.

People like:

Tony Robbins
John Maxwell
Dave Ramsey
Marie Forleo
Andy Andrews
Jeff Walker
Amy Porterfield
Lysa TerKeurst
Andy Stanley
Chalene Johnson
Lewis Howes
(and many others)

It’s all available here:

http://bestyearever.me/a20085/2017ebook

Enjoy!

P.S. As we get closer to the start of 2017, the
timing on this couldn’t be any better. The
insights were pretty incredible. Take a look
for yourself!

 

 

Friends For Life

Friends that Last a Lifetime

Captain Kalmbach gets ready for another adventure!

A couple of months ago, Randy and I traveled to Austin, Texas for a reunion of the 15th TRS (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) which was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. We had an amazing time reconnecting with old friends. Most we hadn’t seen in more than 36 years, but we discovered that time didn’t matter. Our experiences had bonded us together in ways I hadn’t imagined. I couldn’t help but think that each of us had been divinely appointed to be there during those years–1978-1981.

As we reminisced, we wives wondered how we had ever survived being on an island the size of New Jersey–most of us with young children, with our husbands gone half the time. The guys flew RF-4s, the reconnaissance or “recce” counterpart of the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. They spent 2 weeks on temporary duty in South Korea where the 15th TRS operated a detachment. Then they returned to Okinawa for 2 weeks, a cycle that continued for the entire three years of our assignment. Randy never unpacked his suitcase!

At the reunion, we laughed about the challenges of coping with life on Okinawa, mostly by ourselves. Back then, it hardly seemed funny. When a typhoon threatened the island, our husbands left us behind to get the planes out of harm’s way. You’ve got to be kidding! I thought. They leave and we stay? To their credit, the squadron always left a few guys to check in on us, making sure we had everything we needed to weather the storm. We were grateful for that!

Communication (or the lack thereof) was especially challenging. We didn’t have any phones. This was long before cell phones or texting. Can you imagine? When Randy left for Korea, we were incommunicado–except for the “Phantom Express.” Other crews whose 2- week rotation was up brought letters from the guys who were still there. I still treasure a box of Randy’s “Phantom Express” letters.

Even though we dealt with our share of inconveniences, we knew we weren’t alone. Some of my dearest friendships were forged on Okinawa. The friends who sponsored us when we arrived gave us the lowdown on how to deal with life in a very foreign country, i.e., how to avoid mold growing on your shoes in those dark, damp closets among many other tidbits of helpful advice. One friend faithfully came to visit every Tuesday after work to encourage me and share her faith. Another friend’s joyful, optimistic attitude bubbled over and became contagious– no matter what you were going through. I knew I could always count on these friends. They made all the difference during those three years living overseas.

So when Randy and I received the invitation to the reunion, we hesitated to travel so far for a weekend spent with people we hadn’t seen for several decades. Neither of us anticipated the sweetness of reuniting with friends who had walked a very unique journey with us. Randy separated from the Air Force after our Okinawa assignment in 1981. Those who stayed in the service commented that they never experienced this depth of friendship at any of their future military assignments.

Maybe that’s because tough circumstances tend to draw us closer together. I’ve learned through the years to watch with anticipation to see who God brings across my path to help me find my way. After all, friendship may be the closest reflection of God’s love for us that we will ever experience. I’m convinced that some of God’s brightest reflectors happened to be on Okinawa at the same time as me.

 

 

Let Compassion Guide Your Social Media Conversations

Heart of compassionMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like social media conversations are often lacking in compassion. There doesn’t seem to be much restraint as people are quick to vent their emotions online.  The result is a nasty, mean comment that hurts!

I recently read a troubling conversation thread on Facebook. My friend had posted a picture of her son who would have turned 34 that day. The photo showed him on an earlier birthday, blowing out candles on a cake. My friend simply wanted to remember him in better times. Last fall,  he was killed in a tragic series of events. Sadly, he had suffered from mental illness. One day he snapped and killed three people on a random shooting spree near his apartment. Then police shot and killed him. There’s no way to understand the intensity of pain and anguish felt by each person affected by this tragedy. This would be any parent’s worst nightmare.

Most people who commented on my friend’s Facebook post had only words of compassion and support. Really, it’s impossible to find the right words. Then as I scrolled down the page, the mother of one of the victims weighed in expressing her raw anger and bitterness. The conversation that ensued seemed like a posting free-for-all. My heart ached for my friend and for this mom who are both dealing with an enormous burden of grief. I was thankful for a few voices who brought some reason and compassion into this volatile exchange of words.

Social media has brought many positive changes–the ability to communicate with a large audience, to keep in touch with friends by simply sending out a short update. Text messaging makes it possible to contact people quickly and efficiently. But lately, I’ve been more aware of the downside. Maybe it’s because you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re communicating with, that makes it easier to send out brutal comments and criticism. People are quick to judge the mother whose child climbed into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo or the parents of the toddler who was attacked and killed by the alligator at Disney World. You just write whatever is on your mind and then hit send. There’s no compassion or even an attempt to understand what the people involved are experiencing. The biggest problem with social media communication? Once those words are hurled into cyberspace, there’s no way to retrieve them. The sting of negativity is there forever. It used to be that when you had a verbal confrontation with another person, there might only be a few witnesses, if any. Now, a Facebook or Twitter post can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands or even more.

Last Sunday, my pastor talked about how damaging words can be. He referenced James 3:1-12, a scripture passage that tells about how something as small as our tongues can be so destructive–just as a small spark can start a huge firestorm. (Something we’re painfully aware of here in central Washington as another fire season begins). The same guidance for speaking can be applied to our social media conversations. Instead of rushing to comment and pass judgment on others, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves the three questions Pastor Jeff mentioned in his sermon:

1. Is it true?
Do we know the facts about what’s being said–or is it hearsay?

2. Is it helpful?

Is what we’re considering passing along something that will have a positive impact?

3. Is it necessary?

How important is it that we share this information?

Maybe when we feel strongly about joining a social media conversation, we need to put love and compassion first and leave judgment and criticism behind. Most of us are struggling through life to do the best we can. And if there’s a need to confront or express our opinion, we can consider how to communicate this in the most loving way possible.

How do you respond to negative comments on social media?