Wednesday, August 30, 2017

After The Storm

    Today is National Grief Awareness Day. I’d planned weeks ago to write a blog about grieving as it relates to our relationships. Then, a beast named Harvey came to town. Not to my town, but it might as well have been. My town has been plundered by Harvey’s wicked brothers and sisters through the years. I bet you’ve heard of them. Frederic, Elena, Katrina… and Ivan to name just a few members of this dysfunctional family.
     When storms like these barge into our lives, they take advantage of us, make a mess of things, and harm us physically… and emotionally.  They steal from us.They steal our homes, our possessions, our sense of security. Sometimes they steal people we love.
     You want to talk grief? Walk through a neighborhood after a storm like Harvey finally gets the heck out of there. Look at the slumped shoulders, defeated faces, and vacant stares of the people who are returning to find “nothing” where the “something” of their lives used to be. I’ve seen it.
     I’ve seen it as a journalist who covered every northern Gulf Coast hurricane from Frederic to Katrina. But, I’ve also seen it as the adult daughter of parents who basically lost everything when Ivan stormed into town.
     I was a TV news anchor in Mobile, Alabama that September night in 2004. Initially, we thought Ivan was heading west of us. At pretty much the last minute, he hooked east. My parents, my siblings, and even my children (who had evacuated to “safety”) were now in the bullseye. It would be several days before the roads would be clear enough for me to be reunited with my family. Cell phone coverage was spotty at best. When my mom would get a signal and call, she couldn’t talk. All she could do was sob. 
     When I was finally able to get to her, I saw why. Their house, and pretty much everything that had been inside, was gone… swept away by wind and water...or buried. 
Aerial shot of my parents' home after Ivan from the back. Photograph: Pensacola News Journal
Ground level from the front. See that one remaining front wall?
There was basically nothing behind it, but air.
     From mid-September to December, my mother would go daily to the place where her home used to be and dig through the shambles Ivan had left behind. She was looking for anything that might have survived the storm. It didn’t matter how damaged the “anything” might be. She just wanted to get back some of what Ivan had stolen from her. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t about “things.” Things can be replaced. It was about memories and life. It was about photographs, her grandfather’s glasses, a trinket her brother had given her when she was just 8 years old, an afghan that her mother had made by hand.
     Someone told me that I should stop her from going to the house every day. They told me it wasn’t healthy. I begged to differ. I told my well-intentioned friend to think of it like this: Some people grieve the loss of a loved one by returning to the cemetery every day for--- well, for as long as it takes. Others rarely, or even never, return. Grieving is deeply personal. What’s right for one person may not be for another. And while a loss to a storm is different from the loss of a loved one, it's still a loss. It's real. It hurts.And, we have to heal in the way that's best for us. 
        Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.* Most physicians will tell you it’s a good model to work from. But not everyone’s grief looks the same. Not everyone goes through all of the stages, and if they do, they may not come in that exact order. 
     So, what can you do? If you are the one experiencing the loss, don’t deny your grief. Don’t stuff it back and put on a brave face 24/7. Acknowledging the loss is painful, but it’s essential to begin the steps to healing. Cry… or scream if you have to. Talk to a friend or a counselor. Don’t refuse help from anyone and don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help, whether it’s from a family member or the Red Cross. Remember there are people who love you and who want to help you reassemble your life.
     And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again. 
     If you are helping someone who is grieving after the storm, don’t try to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Let them grieve in their own way. Be encouraging, but not demanding. Listen a lot and talk a little. Hold them while they cry.Sit silently with them when they cannot speak. Answer your phone when they call, even if it’s midnight.
      And remember to pray. Then pray again. And again.
    The important thing to remember is that when you, or someone you know, feel the emotions of grief, it’s okay. The grieving process helps us return to a healthier state of mind and body. Don’t let the emotions rule your life, but don’t shut them out of your life, either. Let them happen, work your way through them, and come out stronger on the other side. 
     It’s not easy. I know that. But, I also know from more than thirty years of interviewing people who have grieved the losses caused by weather thieves with names like Andrew, and Charley and Alicia…and Harvey… that the storm does eventually pass. The sun does eventually shine. The heart does eventually heal.
      We’re going to see a lot of spirit and spunk in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. We always do after storms like these. But, we are also going to see a lot of grief. If you are one of those affected, I may not know your name, but I understand your loss. Please know that I am praying for you. I pray for your recovery and the return of peace to your life. I will pray. Then pray again. And again. And, if you want to share your story with me, I’m happy to listen. You are not alone.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Empty Nest

     In the early, middle, and even later years of having my daughters at home, I never really considered the concept of the “empty nest.” Surely that wasn’t really a thing. Guess what? It really is a thing. My oldest was married 5 years ago and lives 7 hours away. My youngest moved 5 months ago. She lives 7 hours away.The empty nest has come home to roost.
     So, how am I handling it? Depends on when you ask. But, as I settle into life as an empty-nester I am learning a few things:

     1.  I can now prepare asparagus and broccoli for dinner without hearing "Ewwwww! Do I HAVE to eat that?"

     2.  I can clean the bathrooms on Monday and they are still clean on Friday.

     3.  Laundry really doesn't have to be done every day. Who knew?

     I am also learning that if I could roll the clock back a few months (or years):

     1.  I would happily return to preparing spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and chicken nachos every night.

     2. I would happily pick up those clothes that always piled up behind the bathroom door and scrub the tub every day.

     3. There are worse things than washing, drying and folding clothes.

I miss my kids. There. I said it.

     Don't get me wrong. I'm not sitting around moping. I'm up and at 'em every day, living my life, working hard and moving forward. I know this is why we raise our children... to eventually release them to become happy, healthy, independent adults who will live productive, happy, prosperous lives…and live those lives in such a way as to have a positive influence on society. I get that. I also get this: 

                                                   I. Miss. My. Kids.

     Someone recently said to me, "But you wouldn't want them to live with you forever would you?" Actually.... I kinda’ get the whole "Dallas" thing now. You remember “Dallas,” right? 
     The entire, flawed, fun, feuding, fussin’, cussin’, lovin’ Ewing family---grandparents, parents, kids, etc.--- all living under one roof! 
     I could SO be Miss Ellie, happily moving through life with all of my brood living under the same roof. Now hear this: Each family would have their own wing complete with their own bathrooms and laundry rooms!  There would be total autonomy for each family, with no butting into one another's business. But, everyone could gather together around the dinner table at night and give thanks for the food (asparagus for me... mac 'n cheese for them) and for each other.
    Does that sound old-fashioned and sappy in today's modern world where careers, and life's obligations and responsibilities are separating us not just geographically but also relationally? (Yes, Grammarly, I know it's not a word, but it should be.)
    Well, don't expect me to apologize. As Miss Ellie would say, "We may be right and we may be wrong, but we're family, we stick together and that's what makes us unbeatable."
    Wonder if Southfork can be rented for a family vacation?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Relationships: How are Yours?

My career path has taken an unexpected turn in recent years. After a lifetime of television journalism and corporate coaching, I find myself in the position of “relationship mentor.” You know, someone who helps someone else find deeper meaning, greater happiness, more stability, and richer satisfaction in their relationships. 
Photo: ©  2017 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
Most of my work comes in the faith-based arena, but I’ve come to believe that everything in life boils down to relationship. It’s how you treat others and how you expect others to treat you. It’s learning how to give with as much enthusiasm as you take. It’s learning to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own sometimes. But it’s also about knowing when to stand your ground when you need something from the other person, and knowing how to properly articulate that need. Relationship is about honesty. And trust. And courage. And endurance.
Relationships are not just between lovers. They may be between spouses, children, parents, or friends. They may be between businesses and clients, teachers and students, pastors and congregations. And then there’s the ultimate relationship. The one between you and God. If we don’t get that one right, not much else seems to come together,
All relationships are structured differently and have different needs and desired outcomes. But they also share many things in common.
  •          Relationship is the coming together of two or more people for the purpose of connection, fulfillment, companionship, and/or the achievement of common goals.
  •          There are needs, wants, and desires between those in the relationship.
  •          Outside influences can positively or negatively impact the dynamics of the relationship.
  •          Internal struggles can positively or negatively impact the dynamics of the relationship.
  •          Relationships can be mutually satisfying with give and take on both, or all, sides.
  •          Relationships can also become one-sided, with one person giving their all and the other person taking it all.
  •          Relationships can be vibrant, growing, and thriving. You know, the kind that make you smile or laugh out loud when you think about them.
  •          Relationships can become stale, not from lack of love, but from lack of use. They can also become ugly, when trust is violated and when the give and take is out of balance.

How do I know these things? Not because I have a degree in psychology. I don’t. Not because I am a counselor. I’m not. Not because I perfectly understand everything there is to know about humans and our relationships. I don’t.
What I do have is a lifetime of experience with my own relationships-some that worked, and some that failed miserably. I have a lifetime of interviewing people about subjects as far apart as A is from Z, and coming to realize that every story I ever covered in 35 years of journalism boiled down to “relationship” in one form or another.
I’ve researched. I’ve interviewed. I’ve talked about the ins and outs of good and bad relationships with husbands, wives, children, parents, psychologists, counselors, business leaders, politicians, ministers, ministers’ wives, scientists, professors, bartenders, fishermen, nurses, and baristas. I’ve heard stories that made me want to shout with happiness. I’ve heard stories that left me weeping on the floor. I’ve written books that have helped some people find their way back to a healthy, happy relationship. I’ve held the hands of others who decided it was time to walk away from a destructive relationship and walk toward a healthier life.
I had to face up to the fact that, as hard as I’d tried, I could not save all of my own relationships. Some of broken relationships I bore at least some of the responsibility for. Even “relationship mentors” who love Jesus and want to do the right thing when it comes to relating to other people don’t get it right in their own lives every time. But some of us try to take our mistakes, embarrassment, and heartbreak and use them to help others from falling into the same pit.
And that is where this blog post, and the next few posts to come, are headed. In the direction that will hopefully help you, and lots of other people, develop and maintain great relationships. Even the best of them can use a boost every now and then. And, even the best of them need work, and attention, and consistency.
The good news is that relationships have been around since the beginning of time. God created us for relationship… with him first, then with others. God did not create us to be loners. In the creation story in the book of Genesis, the only place where God says, “It is not good…” is in Gen. 2:18. “It is not good that man should be alone.” God knows we crave those ties that bind us to one another. He knows we need love relationships that connect our heart to another’s heart.
He also knows, and we should as well, that our relationships go into making up who we are and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Our relationships speak to how we feel about ourselves and how we take those feelings and project them onto others. Do you have healthy, or unhealthy, relationships? Do your relationships build you up, or tear you down? Do your relationships feed you, or feed on you?
Relationships are precious gifts. Whether they are with lovers, family, friends, or others who are in your social, faith, or business circle, you should choose them wisely and enter into them with great care. How do you do that? Check back in a few days for the next blog installment for important and practical guidance on how to enter into healthy relationships and avoid harmful ones.
In the meantime, take a few minutes and write down a list of the relationships that mean the most to you. Start with your family, then move to your friends, and beyond. Try giving the people on your list a call, or dropping them a card or email, and telling them how much they mean to you… and why. Bring joy to their life and it will rebound to you. I promise.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Got Girlfriends?

          Today is National Girlfriends Day- a day for women to celebrate the girlfriends who make our lives richer, fuller, more fun, and more stable. Do you remember your first gal-pal?
     Mine was a little blonde named Mary Ann. We were in first grade in a tiny school in central Arkansas. I don't remember much about her because my family lived there only a short time. But I clearly remember riding my bike to her house for a tea party with her dolls. I remember we took turns pushing each other on the swings at recess and that we shared our crayons. I remember collecting colorful fall leaves with her, then pressing them between sheets of wax paper. I remember us giggling at a lady with blue hair on the train we took to the next city for a field trip. I don't remember Mary Ann's face, but I do remember her smile. I hope she is still smiling!
      It's crucial for women to have girlfriends. My girlfriends range in age from their early 20’s to their late 80’s! I devote a lot of time to women's friendships in the Sunday School classes and conferences that I lead. Why? Because while men friends and lovers are wonderful, there are some things only a woman understands. There are some conversations, some situations, even some secrets that can only be shared with another woman. It's important that the woman, or women, with whom you share these things understands your heart and mind. It's also important that whatever you share goes straight into the friendship vault- a vault to which only the two of you have the combination. 
     Healthy, nurturing, trustworthy friendships don't happen willy-nilly. Like anything else that's important to have, you must work at it. Here are four ways to cultivate and grow those friendships.
     *1. Initiate. If you want a friend, be a friend. In the Bible, God said it isn't good for us to live alone. That verse is usually associated with marriage, but a lot of really smart scholars say it's a deeper verse that indicates God's understanding of our need for association and relationship in areas outside of marriage. Initiate that relationship! Reach out to someone new. Change where you sit in church or at social gatherings. Join a book or supper club. Keep your eyes and heart open for opportunities to initiate conversation. Sometimes we must take our eyes off dead center to really see the wonderful people and friendship opportunities around us.
     Once you've spotted a potential friend, smile and make eye contact. Introduce yourself. Make a phone call. Send a card. Once you're introduced, get moving! Invite them to lunch. Broke? Invite them for a walk in the park. Too hot? Invite them for a walk through the mall. Busy? Make a quick call or send a card. Stop with the excuses, already, and just do it.
        In established friendships, reintroduce yourself. You may know each other, but do you really "know" each other? How often do you let loose, let go, and really open up?  When we do that, walls come down and we grow closer, initiating binding ties that can't be broken by time or circumstances. One of my favorite games to play is the “random fact” game. Does she like Jiffy or Skippy peanut butter? Most embarrassing moment? Most exciting moment? First kiss? Last kiss? Bucket list of travel spots? Most unusual thing about her that no one would ever guess? It’s fun and it can spark a conversation that leads to a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. Try it.
          2. Communicate. It's true that we can have girlfriends we don't see for weeks, months, or years, and still pick up right where we left off. But it's so much better to keep the conversation going. And technology has made that much easier! How do you keep the talk-flow moving and keep it meaningful and not just a lot of chatter?  Find time to be alone-together where there are no distractions, just conversation. Make an "appointment" with your girlfriends. You schedule time for your boss, dentist and nail technician. Schedule time with the women who lift you up! 
     Remember, communicating does not always mean running your mouth. A big part of communicating is listening. When you do that, you hear a lot of things---some of them "unspoken." Also, be consistent in your communication. For relationships to thrive and grow, communication should be frequent. Be as open as possible, sharing concerns as well as celebrations. But be very aware of the friendship vault! These no holds barred conversations must be kept confidential. No gossip, no speculation, no pressing for more information than she is prepared to give, and no judgment. If she asks for your advice then by all means, give it--- in love. If she doesn't, then zip it. And hug her. And tell her you love her and are there for her.
     3. Associate. It's not enough to initiate a relationship or even to communicate within that relationship. We must take active, consistent steps to associate with our girlfriends if those friendships are to grow, and become strong and sustaining. And don't wait to be asked. Be proactive. Reach out. Spend time together. Move beyond the one-hour lunch on Wednesday. Go to a movie together, or to a museum, or an art show. Go to the park and feed the ducks. Ride bikes to your favorite breakfast joint. Walk your dogs together. Go to the farmer’s market. Walk the beach and look for seashells. The time for these activities doesn't just fall out of the sky. You'll have to work with each other in scheduling issues. Everybody's busy, but if we want something badly enough, we find time for it. Make the time. You'll be glad you did.
     4. Habituate. It's sometimes easier to begin a friendship than it is to sustain it. You take steps 1, 2, and 3 but then life gets in the way. The days and the weeks wear on you with their responsibilities, crises, activities and NOISE. You may lose your enthusiasm and discipline for initiating, communicating, and associating. One way to overcome that is to create the habit of consciously, daily, making an effort to create routines that encourage you to reach out and reach back to your girlfriends. If you need to put "Call my bud" on your daily or weekly to-do list, then do it, until it becomes a habit! Tape her picture to your laptop screen or refrigerator door. Anything that will remind you that despite the busyness of life, your friendship is important. It's important enough to invest your time. The payoff will be priceless!
*This is an excerpt from Drexel's women's bible study "Soul Sisters."
© 2017 Drexel Gilbert Enterprises