During the writing of the book Nourished, with my daughter, Rachel, I experienced a long season of multiple crises and burn-out from chronic over-giving and over-doing. (Note to self: be careful what you write about or God will take you much deeper into the subject than you want to go!) But of course, it was in this very valley that I eventually grew stronger and a little wiser and learned something about compassion and joy no matter what. I shared with our readers all that I gleaned about how to nourish a “brain in pain” in that chapter — but I am still an eager student, curious as to why suffering (given some time) turns some folks heroic, yet makes other perpetual victims.
After watching the fascinating Ken Burns series on The Roosevelts this Fall, I began to read everything I could find on the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. (I came to it late, but thanks to my husband’s lifelong interest in WW2 era, I have now caught the history bug in earnest.) Reading a good biography about flawed, complex, great men and women can be more inspiring than essays or devotionals. It is the difference between reading C.S. Lewis describe the four kinds of love versus reading A Grief Observed – the poignant, personal story of falling in love with, then losing, his beloved wife. One tells, one shows. One hits our brain, the other our heart. Opinions are observed, stories are felt.
Before polio struck FDR – at the very beginnings of his political career – he was wealthy, handsome, proud, narcissistic and aloof, even haughty. Spoiled by a doting mother. And in fact, if his pride had been left unchecked, his mother might have been the only person who could love him. However, after being struck down at the prime of his life, his athletic frame crippled over night, he changed. And thank goodness for our nation, he changed for the better. His compassion for other polio sufferers became legendary; his newfound empathy led to personal action. He befriended, helped and encouraged hundreds of fellow polio victims at the rehab-resort in Warm Springs, Georgia, and did not forget them once he was in the White House.
After Hitler began his first unspeakable extermination… burning houses, killing Jews and sending them to concentration camps, FDR was the ONLY world leader to publicly condemn this first wave of horrific crimes against humanity. I can’t help but wonder if his own personal understanding, from his experience with polio and the fight against prejudice of the physically-challenged, played a part in his courage to speak up for those who could not. His famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” wasn’t just political rhetoric; it burst from his heart, echoing his personal hard-won victory over defeat and despair. The courage he gleaned from his very personal challenges, would inspired an entire nation with bravery in critical days.
We may never understand the reasons for suffering. But when seen from a broad view of history, I can see that those who allowed suffering to change them, for the better, instead of for the bitter…. became wiser, more compassionate, courageous. It clarified their spiritual purpose. People who allow themselves to be refined in the fire of suffering, eventually discover within themselves the stuff of which heroes are made.
And so what does this mean to us? To you and me, today? It means that when suffering is allowed to have its way in our lives, when we choose to let it soften and strengthen and expand us, instead of harden and weaken and shrink us…. something heroic happens within. In short, suffering can be the very thing that prepares us for, and increases our capacity for our greatest calling. What seems so random and crippling today, in the long view of your life, maybe the very experience you needed to fulfill your greatest purpose for being put on this earth.
”Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
James 1:2-4 The Message
I want to dedicate this blog to my dear friend, Michele Cushatt today, whose courage and spirit while battling cancer inspires me daily. She’s my hero of the hour!
A bit about our friendship is written in Nourished, and you will love Michele’s upcoming book (to be released in early March), also with Zondervan, titled Undone: A Story of Making Peace With An Unexpected Life)
(Nourishing Smiles, by Becky Johnson)
Sometimes words just get in the way, especially when pictures tell their own story so well. Here is a series of snapshots that my daughter (and co-author), Rachel, took one morning as we sat visiting and clowning around the dining room table where our big blended family had played a rousing game of poker on New Year’s Eve, the night before. To set the scene: I had been drinking coffee in the kitchen, when Rachel’s three-and-a-half year old son Jackson hollered, “Hey Nonny, there are cup holders in here!” (Meaning, “Come put your coffee in one of the cup holders around the table and play with me.”How could I resist?)
Rach happened to have her camera handy and here is what happened next.
Victor Borge once said, “The closest distance between two people is a laugh.” I have discovered this to be unfailingly true. Not just with friends, but also with my kids and grandkids. In the excerpt below, from our newly released book,Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep, I expound a little on the blessing of laughter to both grease the skids and brighten the joy of parenting and grandparenting.
(Excerpt from Nourished…)
I’ve discovered that a kid will follow you to the ends of the earth if you make them laugh. And I will follow any child who makes me laugh to the ends of the earth as well. There’s something irresistibly contagious and fun about parents and kids who enjoy comedic repartee.
I read that comedian Billy Crystal used to wash and blow dry his two little daughters’ hair. Using the voice of Jose Eber he invented a flamboyant personality he called Mr. Phyllis. He would style their wet their hair into funny forms. Twisting it into a horn for example, he’d say, “This is a good look for you. I call it the unicorn.”
Let’s face it: there is no better audience in the world for adult silliness than children. As tiring as little children are, they give us regular endorphin boosts with their smiles, giggles, and funny antics. When my kids were young I scribbled the cute, funny things they did in a blank book. Over time, I began to look at everything my children did through the eyes of Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry (the 80’s & 90’s version of today’s Jim Gaffigan), imagining how the latest maddening or messy event might be funny if I wrote about it later.
So the day I found my two-year-old pouring the contents of a large box of powdered milk on the head of his seven-month-old little brother, who sat on the floor blinking like a bewildered snow baby, I grabbed my journal and jotted notes about what I was seeing, before stepping in to clean up the mess. Those few seconds bought me time to think, and often to chuckle, before reacting. Over time, searching for the “funny” in the frustrating became a habit and not only helped me find more fun in mothering, but eventually led to a career in writing humor.
These days I try to “catch and keep” the cute things my grandchildren say and do on Facebook, knowing I have a treasury of their “adorable funnies” to re-read, enjoy and share. One of my favorite funny grandkid quips was when my oldest grandson, Nate, was young and asked me, very seriously, if I knew that TV could “rot your brain.”
“Oh, dear,” I said. “Should I turn it off then?”
He answered, “Yes.” Then, wrinkling his brow he appeared to be studying me with concern. Finally shaking his head slowly, he added, “I just hope it’s not too late.”
For awhile, our grandson Georgie lived with us and it like having a short, bright, happy Forrest Gump in the house. He never tried to be funny, his innocence was complete and sincere. Which made him endearingly hilarious. Even this day-dreamy six year old was impressed by how many things his grown-up grandmother could lose or forget in one day. So he was always on his toes with me. The first week I drove him to Kindergarten, I missed the entrance and had to loop back a couple of times. By the second week, he was sitting up in a state of alert as we neared the school. “Nonny! We’re almost at the turn-in place to my school! Stop! LAND HO!”
I cracked up, remembering he’d been watching a lot of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. “Georgie,” I said pulling over into the drop off zone, “I am sorry Nonny is so bad about forgetting things.”
Always looking for a way to encourage me he cheerfully said, “Actually, Nonny. You are really GOOD at forgetting. You are a GREAT forgetter!”
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. William Makepeace Thackeray
Read more about our book, Nourished, and find ordering information by clicking the link on the picture below:
(Becky, the Mama)
In a week like this one, in a world like ours, sometimes we just need to turn off the TV, shut down the social media, get still and reach for a tall drink of Peace.
In truth, the only guarantee we have for peace, have ever had really, is peace from God that blankets our minds and heart no matter what is happening around us. (In fact, we are guaranteed that “in this world you WILL have trouble.”)
This peace is found in images of Christ asleep in the boat in the midst of a storm, in birds that don’t worry about where or whether they’ll find food, and flowers that don’t fuss about what they will wear. It is found in not worrying about tomorrow because we only get 24 hours worth of grace at a time, like manna. (Matthew 6).
“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 24:27 33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
The best thing we can do in times of overwhelm is find our center of peace in Christ’s example and his words; ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with peace beyond human understanding, and then become Living, Breathing, Relaxed, Trusting, Walking Peace in and to a troubled world.
“Peace, Be Still”