I spent some time Friday evening with a long-time friend of mine and a wonderful SWOG.  I learned her younger brother was in his final battle with cancer.  I believe she said he has been fighting it for eleven years (I know it was double digits and felt like a long time), and he’s now being cared for by her mother, her and our local Hospice.

In that moment my heart ached for her and her mother.  Her mother just lost her husband and life partner only a few years ago, and now she’s facing the death of her only son.  I didn’t ask my SWOG girlfriend specifically, but if I were to guess, I believe he’s only between 50 and 55 years old.  It seems too young to part with him from this earth.

She’s handling it with the grace I have come to anticipate from her, and I admire her strength and tireless spirit with which she is helping both her brother and her mom.  I couldn’t help but reflect on the life events she and I have shared over the years…our three parents’ deaths, our kids’ ups and downs, my divorce, her husband’s accident, health issues, and the joys of adventures, new artwork, new businesses, new jobs and so on.  Through all of it, she remains a beacon of light and wisdom–encouragement and beauty.

I was cleaning out a cabinet yesterday and found my little Simple Truths book written by Kent Nerburn.  There are chapters on everything from “Love” to “Work” to “Money” to “Travel” to “Death,” but there’s one in the book called “Strength,” and it reminded me of her.  Mr. Nerburn says in this chapter:

True strength does not require an adversary and does not see itself as noble or heroic.  It simply does what it must without praise or need of recognition.

A person who can quietly stay at home and care for an ailing parent (or sibling) is as strong as a person who can climb a mountain.  A person who can stand up for a principle is as strong as a person who can fend off an army.  They simply have quieter, less dramatic, kinds of strength.

True strength does not magnify others’ weaknesses.  It makes others stronger.  If someone’s strength makes others feel weaker, it is merely domination, and that is no strength at all.

What a wonderful description of what I see in her on a regular basis.  Thank you for the blessing of your friendship.

We are with you my dear SWOG.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

 

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Within 24 hours of my “Amazing Grace” blog post, two of our SWOG’s have come forward to divulge they have breast cancer.  The strength they show in both disclosing their condition and in their determination to beat it is nothing short of remarkable.

My heart is both concerned for and in awe of these two Strong Women of Grace.  I hope everyone will join me in lifting them up in prayer and admiring their positive determination to overcome.  There are other SWOG’s that follow these posts who have beaten breast cancer.  I want to take a moment to admire their resolve and hold them up as wonderful examples of courage under adversity and reasons to celebrate and be hopeful.

You are not alone–ever.  Your family, friends and this community are with you!


That was the headline in this Sunday’s newspaper–“Amazing Grace” with a picture of Pope Francis beneath it.

I know I haven’t posted in awhile and I’m so sorry.  Many of you know the grind of my schedule over the last year with my organization being acquired by a larger one.  Some of it was my schedule.  Some of it was my exhaustion.  Some of it was writer’s block and just plain not being motivated to post.  But, when I noticed that headline at the same time I watched Pope Francis on TV minister to prisoners outside of Philadelphia, well…let’s just say I was finally inspired out of my funk.

I’m not Catholic…never have been even though I’ve been to my share of Catholic masses over the years with friends.  I haven’t really even followed this Pope since he was named a little over two years ago.  I was only vaguely interested in his scheduled trip to America.  I didn’t really think it would have much impact on me.

For some reason, though, I started to tune in.  I started to follow the news coverage when he arrived in DC.  I read his speech to the joint houses of Congress.  I watched with awe when he arrived in New York City and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Finally, I tuned in Sunday and watched most of the day as he worked his magic in the City of Brotherly Love.

I used to think Pope John Paul II was a pretty cool dude…but this Pope…WOW!  I found myself inspired by his simple message of love.  He seems to teach from the heart like Jesus teaches.  He didn’t shy away from the tough messages but he delivered them from a foundation of love–love of this earth, love of our neighbors, love of God, love of each other.  The aura of compassion and grace that emanates from this man is palpable.

Yes, I know he’s the Pope…but he’s different than any of the ones I’ve witnessed before.  His humility, his kindness, his approachability, his “please pray for me,” make this man–I don’t know–just unconventional.  I read and later saw the story of the Keating’s from Elverson, PA and I wept.  For those who aren’t familiar, Pope Francis spotted the Keating’s young son, Michael, who suffers from a severe form of cerebral palsy, as the Pope’s Fiat drove away from his plane upon landing in Philadelphia.  Ordering the car to stop, the Pope got out walked over to the boy, put his hand on his head and kissed him as his sobbing mother looked on.  Mush.  I just turned to mush.

What a role model.  What an inspiration.  I found myself looking at people differently.  This little voice in my head kept saying as I came across people over the weekend, “The Pope loves you and that means God loves you, and therefore I love you.”  My heart was filled with mercy and compassion.  Things didn’t feel black or white and my tolerance and patience levels soared.  It was grace at work within me.

OK….now how do I keep that feeling of grace in place?  How do I transform to that being my default approach and not something that comes along as seldom as our recent “blood moon?”

Any and all ideas are welcome!


This may sound a little peculiar because I don’t personally know this individual–never met him and really don’t know much about him other than his public personality.  But, I was stopped short this morning when I learned the news of Stuart Scott’s passing.  Stuart was a sports analyst and commentator for the popular ESPN.  He passed away this morning after a lengthy battle with cancer.

I’ve watched a lot of sports over the years and when ESPN came into being many years ago, it became a regular staple in my household.  According to an article in USA Today, Scott joined ESPN in 1993 and, “quickly moved up the ranks as one of the network’s main SportsCenter anchors thanks to his rapid-fire delivery and unique phrasing to describe highlights.”

But, the part of the article that really touched my heart and soul was the statement he delivered below when he accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2014 ESPY Awards in July:

When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.

WOW!  I’m mopping up a puddle of tears right now.  Incredible.  That quote gives new meaning to the age old saying that a tragedy does not define you; how you respond to the tragedy is what defines you.  People who knew him will remember him working through incredible adversity, being a dad to his two daughters, his talent in bringing sports highlights to life, and his poise and professionalism.

Rest in peace Mr. Scott.


I am truly finding Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder really an amazing read.  She spends time on each of the areas of emphasis–Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.  But, the final emphasis, not even found in the title of the book, is the area of “Giving.”  She states in the beginning of this section:

Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder:  All are critical to redefining success and thriving, but they are incomplete without the fourth element of the Third Metric:  giving.  Giving, loving, caring, empathy and compassion, going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others–this is the only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing.  If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our response to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity.

She goes on to talk about “Social Entrepreneurs” who she describes as “classic go-givers (versus just go-getters)…they build their work on a foundation of adding value to people’s lives.”

I am fortunate to have many examples of these “go-givers” in my life.  My college roommate does mission trips to Haiti to help build clean water filtration systems for the people there.  Another local woman I know helps impoverished women secure professional wardrobes that they can use for interviews and when they find gainful employment.  But, I must highlight one woman–a dear friend from college who is–like the women described above–a beautiful example of SWOG and what this blog is all about.

Her name is Pam and she often adds comments to my postings–making me feel like I’m reaching people and reinforcing the journeys we are all on.  She and her mother founded Samara–The Center for Individual and Family Growth.  It is a non-profit that helps families break the cycle of neglect and abuse by teaching them there is another way.  They work with a population of hard to serve and the outcome stories are simply amazing.  I invite you to visit their website and view the video which tells about the work they do and how they do it.  Check out their website here:    Samara Center

We can all make a difference with the blessings bestowed upon us.  Grace is not only a name, but a way of living.  Thank you, Pam, for providing us a tremendous example of the grace of Go-Giving and what a difference it can make!


Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I just haven’t felt the urge and had a whole lot to say. But, I have been wanting to do this since mid January. On January 14, my Dad passed away. I could say so many things, but I will let his eulogy speak for itself.

Dad’s memorial SWOG Post


Yes, I’m sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Just know when I don’t, it’s usually because I just don’t have a lot of inspiring, enlightening things to say. But, life naturally brings experience, and in the last two weeks I have experienced the inspiration of grace from two wonderful strong women of grace.

The first SWOG is a dear friend of mine. In fact, she was one of my angels who saw me through my divorce. She led a valiant two year battle against her father’s esophageal cancer–researching state of the art treatments, driving him thousands of miles to Ohio State and back to doctors who administered those treatments, helping him get nourishment when he couldn’t eat in standard (what we take for granted) ways, staying with him at Ohio State–most recently–when his condition and health took an unexpected turn, seeing him through the transport back to Pennsylvania, coordinating family and friend communications and prayer chains, and ultimately letting him go when the dear Lord called him home within the past couple weeks. Her Dad was/is her hero and it is a sad time, but she has handled her grief and this time of trials, tribulations, ups and downs with tremendous courage, gratitude and grace. Well done my brave SWOG friend! You are a wonderful inspiration to me and others!

The second SWOG is a young woman in her late 30’s. She is an accomplished woman–an attorney in Philadelphia–a partner in a prominent law firm. She lost her husband–her soul mate–last Friday in a tragic plane crash. He was just 43 years old. I attended the services today and marveled at her grace. I’m not talking about composure. She freely hugged and cried with the hundreds (and I’m not exaggerating) of folks who came through the receiving line to express their condolences. But, when the service started and it was time to remember Tony with personal testimonials, she stood up and delivered an unbelievable tribute to her husband–to the way he lived his life and the special relationship they shared. It brings tears to my eyes just typing these words as I reflect on her strength, her courage and the beauty of her love for her husband. I am in admiration of the love you share with your special partner in life. Thank you for sharing it with us today.

I continue to be amazed by the grace found in the experiences we all face as life takes its twists and turns. I have a song on my iPad that I just love called, “In My Veins.” The lyrics go like this:

Nothing goes as planned

Everything will break

People say goodbye

In their own special way

All that you rely on

And all that you can fake

Will leave you in the morning

But find you in the day

Have a listen as you reflect on your own examples of strength with grace in your life.  In My Veins by Andrew Belle


I had breakfast yesterday morning with my best friend from high school.  We are not originally from this area but moved here independently of one another and, thankfully for me, we have stayed in touch over the years.  After kids were older we have gotten together more frequently, usually for breakfast and occasionally for dinner, but always with a lot to say–a lot to share–often with laughter–sometimes with tears–but always with respect for how much we have each grown over the years.

She was one of my pillars when I went through my divorce.  She and her husband took me to one of their alma mater’s football games–not an easy feat as it is several states away and a hard ticket to get.  She checked in frequently, and even helped me secure a part time job to “test the waters” in a different industry from the one I was used to working in.  She’s just been there–steady, caring and ready with a listening ear.

When she left a voice mail last September and told me to, “Call her when I could; she had something she needed to tell me,” I knew it wasn’t good news.  I could hear the strain in her voice.  I got the voice mail late–after 10:30 on a Sunday night–but I knew I had to call.  When we connected that night, she told me the worst possible news–she had breast cancer.  In some ways, unfortunately, it wasn’t a total shock.  Her mother was a breast cancer survivor and each of her two younger sisters had also waged battle with this terrible disease.  But, even so, the news left my heart somewhere in the pit of my stomach and I found myself just feeling overwhelmed with concern.

She made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy.  She then underwent chemotherapy and radiation and finished her treatments in the Spring of this year.  She lost her hair, missed a good deal of work, dealt with nausea, nerve tingling, exhaustion, difficulty doing most everything including getting out of bed and even walking.  She even had to deal with a vision of what it would look like if her family moved on if she didn’t make it through by seeing the activities they were still participating in without her being able to join them.  But, through it all, she didn’t waver in her faith and her will to keep going.  I’m happy to report she’s looking good, feeling good, and coming to the end of this chapter in her personal journey.

It was what she said toward the end of our breakfast that solidified my desire to write about her this morning.  I’m not even sure how the conversation initially made reference to my Mom (the namesake of this blog), but she told me, “I thought of her when I was going through all this.  I thought of ‘Grace,’ and I knew that I wanted to handle myself with grace through this whole process.”

That you have accomplished, my very dear friend.  That you have.

 

 

In tribute to all the SWOG’s out there that have fought this battle–please know that you are not alone.

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What defines us is how we rise after falling.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.         Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I just finished watching a replay of the Penn State vs. Wisconsin game from the 2012 season.  It was the first football season following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and the NCAA sanctions against the University and the program.  The Wisconsin game–the last game of the year– was the crowning jewel on an inspirational season where after starting the fall 0-2 under new head football coach Bill O’Brien, the team went 8-4 overall and won the Wisconsin game in overtime.  When the NCAA sanctions were handed down just before summer camp began in 2012, around 15 players defected from the team and Penn State’s prospects looked bleak.  But, several key leaders stepped up to the plate and kept the team together.  Any fan will always remember the video Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich made in the beginning of the season to declare their commitment to the University and the team.  Penn State Michael Mauti & Michael Zordich & Nittany Lion team video 2012 season

Richard Rohr talks about people experiencing “necessary suffering” before they can transition to “second half living.”  We all know stories like the Penn State one.  We all know individuals or families who go through unthinkable tragedies or suffering during their lives.  Right now I know a woman going through a difficult divorce; a few folks battling cancer; another several women dealing with parents who are fading; and one woman–who I’m very worried about–dealing with an extensive amount of adversity within her job and career.

The “necessary suffering” can be a tremendous impetus to transform ourselves into a different way of thinking and a different way of living.  But, you also see and hear of folks who aren’t able to get through it–they get stuck and can’t seem to move beyond their hardship or grief.  Brene Brown discusses the differences between people who get through it and those that don’t in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  She points to a few critical ingredients:

Resilience: The ability to overcome adversity.  What makes up resilience?  Brown says the five most common factors of resilient people are:

  1. They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills.
  2. They are more likely to seek help.
  3. They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope.
  4. They have social support available to them.
  5. They are connected with others, such as family or friends.

 

Spirit or Spirituality:  Recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

From this foundation of spirituality, three other significant patterns emerged as being essential to overcoming adversity:

  1. Cultivating hope
  2. Practicing critical awareness
  3. Letting go of numbing and taking the edge off vulnerability, discomfort, and pain.

As I’ve been reading this information, I realize that the folks I’ve seen get past the necessary suffering in a graceful way do indeed possess these characteristics or practice these tendencies.  When you watch the Penn State video (link above) you can witness first hand the resilience and spirituality of the two leaders of this team.  They were resourceful.  They helped each other and their coaches helped them.  They held a belief that they could do something.  They connected and bonded as a team.  And you can see the spirituality when they talk about the men who wore the blue and white before them.  They spoke of the special opportunity they had and they spoke with confidence and hope.  And they didn’t numb their anger and hurt but used it on the gridiron to win.

Those young men experienced the unthinkable.  Being punished for something they had no part in.  But, think what lessons they learned that they never would have learned had it not all happened and they hadn’t stuck it out.  Think of the men many of them have become as a result of the experience.

What defines you?  Think about it.

 

 


So did anyone see NBC Nightly News this evening?  There was a great story about two women who have started this organization to provide superhero capes to kids who have heart problems.  They give kids AND their parents hope through outfitting children facing heart surgery with superhero capes.  It was one of those stories that reminded me of my SWOG Star category and how so many women (and men) have taken difficult, life-altering situations and helped others through their pain with amazing grace.  Their website can be found at the following link:  Heart Hero Capes

We all know everyday heroes who make a significant difference in people’s lives.  Whether it’s teaching parenting skills to moms and dads who were abused themselves as children or installing pure water systems in underdeveloped countries or forming prayer groups for family members in need or fund raising so kids can go to summer camp or…..

Who are your SWOG Stars?