It seems somehow serendipitous that we began the theme of forgiveness over the weekend, and I found out on Monday that Frank C., a true Strong Man of Grace, lost a nine-year battle to cancer.  Frank was a man transformed during those nine years.  He was always, always a good guy.  He was funny, intelligent, loving, people-oriented and just a great person to be around.  And as he would freely tell you, however, he had “an Italian temper” and it lost him a few wars over the years as he was busy fighting those battles.

I got the opportunity to stay with him, his wife and daughter about five years ago as we ventured south for a trip to the Masters Golf tournament.  His family had re-located to South Carolina because the chemo had left him always feeling cold in our damp and sometimes raw northern climate.  He spoke during our visit of forgiveness—of forgiving himself for his occasional, passionate, hot-headedness—of forgiving others who he perceived had wronged him or those he loved.  He seemed genuinely to be at peace with events that at one time caused him consternation.

I had the opportunity to speak with two friends who visited him in this last month.  They both shared that while he couldn’t get out of bed, or even lift his head off the pillow, he still gave fist bumps, laughed and joked, and expressed concern for others during their respective visits with him.  It makes me emotional just thinking about the depth of his grace and the beautiful lessons he taught us during these years of adversity.  Both women said it’s a visit they will never forget.

Frank, we love you.  We will miss your vivacious laughter, your gracious hospitality, your generosity and your beautiful humility.  Thank you for teaching us so many wonderful lessons over the years and leaving behind a legacy of grace.

Live Like You Were Dying (The Bucket List Video)


Our SWOG stars don’t have to be famous or have their acts of grace portrayed in the media.  Those may be the ones that are easier for all of us to see.  But, for me, I literally see strength and grace daily in the behaviors of friends and colleagues.  Let me give you some examples:

  •  A dear friend of mine from college is battling breast cancer at age 51.  We had our reunion a month ago and she came without wig and without pretense.  She has had one mastectomy and is contemplating another.  She is having BRCA gene test which could lead to even more surgery.  She shared her journey and we marveled at her “SWOG-ness.”
  • Another friend’s wife is battling ovarian cancer.  They raise awareness and raise money for a cure.  Ultra-SWOG.
  • I just learned another friend/colleague is driving 4+ hours (ONE WAY) in order to be in a breast study at a university medical center–doing mammograms, sonograms and biopsies.  And she apologized to me for not assisting in my home move.  Oh My God!
  • An amazing woman of grace in my life–an angel and former colleague–has battled colon cancer and now is trying food elimination diets (under a doctor’s care) to hopefully determine the source of continued pain and fatigue.  She never complains.  She simply shared this to make those of us close to her aware of it (and apologized for any grumpiness the diet elimination may cause).  SWOG-extraordinaire!
  • A woman from a group I’m in recently told us about a challenging work-related situation.  An employee of hers shared the news a few weeks ago that his child was diagnosed with cancer and that he was going to resign his position in order to take care of his child.  Devastated by the news of what the family was dealing with, she shared first her empathy and then dialogued about how he could keep his job and still attend to his child’s needs.  After discussing it overnight with his wife, he came in the next day firm with the decision to resign.  The employees raised several thousand dollars for the family and the company matched it.  Recently, the woman (in my group) became aware he was involved in other fund raising activities which were representing that he was “let go” from his employer.  Yikes!  Her question to us was–“How do I handle this?  My employees are outraged and I feel slandered.”  Beautiful example of “Between stimulus and response their is a space; in that space lies the power to choose our response; in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Stephen Covey)  Sure would have been tempting to pick up the phone and think about it later.  Realizing the difficulty of potentially losing a child to cancer at a young age, she didn’t.  She paused.  SWOG Star!
  • Yet another friend is dealing with the likely end of a several year significant other relationship.  She’s taking it a day-at-a-time while she sorts through what that means for her life as a whole now and going forward.
  • About 2-3 years ago, my college roommate volunteered to medical testing to determine if she could be a potential kidney donor–not to a close friend or relative–but to a young man in her church.  She was a match and went through the long process of continued tests, monitoring and eventual donation of her kidney to strengthen if not save this young man.  We got the update at this year’s reunion–but only after we asked.  She doesn’t brag about it.  And by the way, he’s doing really well.  WOW.  Super SWOG.
  • Finally, a life-long close girlfriend told me yesterday that sister #2 (she is one of three girls) has breast cancer.  Translated– so now her mom and both younger sisters have or have had breast cancer.  She’s contemplating the BRCA gene test, too, but handling the whole thing with tremendous wisdom and grace.

You are all my heroes and a wonderful testimonial to strength and grace!   Thank you!  You all choose to behave in ways that show tremendous courage in the face of the adversity that life throws us.

As more come to my mind, I’ll share them in my posts and SWOG Star category.  Who do you see in your daily lives that’s a SWOG Star?  How does their strong, courageous, wise and grace-filled behavior impact you?  How can it help others?  Feel free to share your stories and sources of inspiration.

 

“It is not our abilities that show what we really are, it is our choices.”    Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter

Check out this music video from Secretariat and AJ Michalka:  It’s Who You Are:  Secretariat — “It’s Who You Are” Music Video


One of my greatest heroes of the 20th century, a true strong woman of grace, is living out her days quietly in England, slowly and tragically descending into the darkness of dementia/alzheimers. She had the good fortune, as an aside, to be married to the sort of man who has confidence enough to cherish a strong woman of grace.

While politicians will argue about her tenure as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher is one of my great heroes (I decline to use the silly term “heroine”).

Dick Pollard

 

Dick, one of the greatest thrills of my life was to be in her presence at our local chamber dinner just months before she suffered her stroke in 2002.  I have a picture with her that I absolutely cherish.  Ironically, I just watched Iron Lady this weekend.  Wow.  That’s the first time I was introduced to her husband and how special he was, too.  But, it takes a confident man to recognize another one, and I know you cherish your strong woman of grace.  Thank you for sharing!


I just got finished watching To Kill a Mockingbird; I read the book by Harper Lee through my book club about a year ago.  I think Atticus Finch is about as clear an example of strength with grace as I can think of right now.  I’m reflecting on the scene when the guilty-as-sin Bob Ewell spits on Atticus after the trial.  Even though I know the outcome, I’m really wanting Atticus (played by Gregory Peck) to cold cock the son-of-a—–gun.  But, instead–in front of his children–he slowly retrieves his handkerchief, wipes his face, walks around Bob to his car, gets in, and calmly drives away.  Wow.  Strength and Grace.

Think there wasn’t emotion?  There had to be emotion.  He got spit on in front of a whole group of people including his children after losing a controversial trial, defending a black man who was essentially proven innocent but an all white jury found him guilty in spite of the evidence to the contrary.  What a GREAT example of, “between stimulus and response there is a space; in that space lies the ability to choose our response; in our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Covey).  OK, OK…I know.  It’s only a movie.  But, I want to use it to demonstrate a point.  Getting spit on was the stimulus.  Atticus stands there for a good 15-20 seconds and does nothing–that was the space.  He slowly retrieves his handkerchief and wipes his face and then calmly walks around Bob to his car.  That’s his response.  In that space do you think he wasn’t wrestling with his emotions and contemplating his response?

Thank God for emotions.  What would we be without them?  And we can’t avoid the bad ones–hurt, anger, embarrassment, frustration, grief.  And we can’t always reframe thoughts in split seconds in order to make the bad emotions go away.  Death, abandonment, losing a job, having a child get in trouble…all these things cause POWERFUL emotions.  Most of these events trigger many different emotions that you process over time.  Most people have heard of the grief process you experience after the death of a loved one.  The process usually starts with disbelief, then acute pain, then numbness, then anger, and somewhere down the road if you’ve processed through all those emotions–acceptance.  You can’t just reframe thoughts and make the grief go away.  But, you can create space in almost any situation to minimize the regrets of a response born of the emotions you’re experiencing.

Let me illustrate using a more benign example of what I see women–particularly in my generation–do all too often.  We’re in a business setting and someone questions a decision we’ve made or an action we’ve taken.  We almost immediately become defensive and then spend time touting our resume of experience, education, awards, accomplishments and so forth.  That would be a great place to create some space.  In that space, we need to reframe thoughts like, “I can’t believe they’re questioning me” to “Let’s understand the question, listen to the concern, think about what I decided and explain the rationale.”  It seems so easy to believe the negative–that’s where our insecurity comes roaring to the forefront.  The space allows some time to talk yourself down from the ledge and deal with the question or situation in a grace-filled way.  The person asking the questions may indeed have impure motives–they may be trying to “catch you” or make you look bad.  The grace results by not allowing it to happen.  The strength comes from handling situations with grace on a regular basis.

Consider Atticus…what would you be thinking if some lying scum bag you just faced in court spit on you?  Now contemplate the strength and dignity in calmly walking away.  Who looks like the fool?

For those that are Christians–on this Easter Sunday consider how often Jesus demonstrated strength with grace.  Think about how many times He “let it go” and did not cling to pride or ego.

Happy Easter!