Friday, October 9, 2015

What We Make of Our Lives: Inspiration from the Little Boy Who Could

"We have no choice of what color we're born or who our parents are or whether we're rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we're here."  Mildred Taylor, author

In the early morning hours of July 5, 2010, my nephew, Kurt William Baker was born into the world. His arrival was long-awaited and his parents were joyous and relieved that his mortal journey had begun. Little Kurt looked perfect, a chubby baby ready to join his siblings at home. But his parents and doctors already knew that despite his appearance, his body was not perfect, not on the inside. At only 20 weeks gestation, a routine ultrasound discovered a serious problem inside his little body. The condition, known as congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation (CCAM), caused a tumor to grow until it pushed on his heart and covered an entire lobe of his lungs.

Kurt and his mom, after Kurt's first surgery
Within months of his birth, doctors discovered another problem; one of Kurt’s kidneys was failing. A dilated ureter prevented flow of urine out of his kidney, and it was slowly dying. Surgery for the removal of the tumor was postponed so a procedure could first be done on the potentially life-threatening condition with his kidney.

Young Kurt has since had multiple surgeries, doctors appointments, endless tests and additional challenges. His growth is slow and some of his features resemble those of a little person. Yet, there is still no diagnosis and the actual medical conditions that first threatened Kurt’s life have no identifiable source. They are not caused from a genetic disease, nor are they the result of improper diet, activity or the intake of harmful substances before he was born. 

Sometimes conditions exist in our lives that are out of our control, and certainly not of our choosing. Before he even entered the world, Kurt was already set on his own unique path in life.

So what is Kurt's path? Long-term, I cannot say for sure. But this little boy, and the beautiful family he was born into, always makes the very best of every moment. Let me share one such moment with you.

Sky-high Five

Kurt Baker, 2015
In February, 2013, when Kurt was 2 1/2 years old, his family sat aboard a 757 airliner, anxious to arrive in the land of Aloha, where our whole family was meeting for a family reunion and farewell of sorts. Kurt needed the restroom, so he hopped out of his seat and started the walk through the too-close-for-comfort aisle to the rear of the airplane. 

My family and I sat several rows behind Kurt's family so I saw him as he ambled toward the back with a family member. As he approached, I put my hand up in the air and he high-fived me as he walked by. 

But Kurt did not drop his hand after he passed me - he kept it up, silently inviting high-fives from the next 30 rows of passengers. 

Every single person near the aisle responded and high-fived Kurt as he walked by.
Minutes later, he walked back toward his seat, 
hand up again, and that time, 
even passengers in the middle seats leaned over to reach, anxious to put their 
hands out to high-five the 
little man coming through the aisle. 

Hands together for Kurt, and for the good people who accepted and returned the love of a little boy who LIVES VIBRANTLY on his path. To me, Kurt will forever be, The Little Boy Who Could.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Real Men, Strong Men -- Part 2: My Three Sons

My Three Sons

I admit right now, I don't understand boys. After several years of  tryi
ng to raise little boys, my husband bought me a book entitled Boys Should Be Boys by Dr. Meg Beeker. The book enlightened me and helped me understand that boys grow, learn, and bond through risky behavior. By defying death together, they grow in mental and physical strength, and cement their friendships. I try to keep this in the back of my mind as I watch my boys wrestle, fight, and inevitably slug it out or punch each other in the stomach. I still don't understand it from a personal perspective, but psychologically I know somehow this helps them develop.

Boys learn about strength from watching those around them, especially their fathers and other men in their lives. I pulled into a clinic parking lot a few months ago and saw a physically strong male yelling at a scared woman in the seat next to him. The skeletons and dragons tattooed on his muscles muscles demonstrated that he sought after strength, but his actions and demeanor weakened him. 

Boys need to understand the difference between being strong and having strength. 

All of us have the responsibility to live as examples for our youth. While I try to teach my boys each day, the truth is, my boys teach me every day, and the little lesson lessons are always different.


Trenden is the oldest and therefore the guiena pig of the family. We try out all of our parenting tactics on him, and inevitably end up changing the rules frequently during our grand experiment. At least once a week, I go to Trenden’s room and apologize for something, and Trenden is always loving and understanding. He doesn’t hold a grudge and forgives me (or us) as often as asked. Despite the fact that he is "only a teenager", his capacity for understanding astounds me. And better yet, when he understands a principle in his life, he applies it and lives it.


As soon as the garage door creaks open and I pull the car in the garage, Casen comes running out to help. He is the first to take heavy bags out of my arms or to grab groceries out of the car. He notices others and is always willing to help. He truly lifts and lightens the burdens others carry. Casen possesses a unique gift for helping the helpless. He quickly acts when he sees babies, small children, animals or adults in need. His kind heart shows through the service he gives to those around him. 

For Giveness

A free months ago, Daven had a church lesson about the steps of repentance. When he got to number three, instead of writing "forgiveness", he wrote For Giveness. This little change in the word immediately also change the meaning to me. When we apologize, we are askinfor giveness and a restoration of the relationship, trust and blessings that we lost. My young son is the perfect example of this, as he trusts, loves, and invests in others unconditionally, and is quick to apologize and show a tender heart when he is in the wrong.

I never thought I would be the mother of three boys. Raising strong boys in a time when society balks at the young white male is tougher than I ever imagined. I am grateful my boys keep teaching me how to be a parent!

Strong Boys will become Strong Men.

What ideas have worked in raising your boys?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Real Men, Strong Men -- Part 1: Fathers and Husbands

Real Men, Strong Men

Growing up I saw a change in how society and media valued and imagined the roles of fatherhood. I saw reruns of Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, and the iconic shows of the 50s and 60s. Then came the days of the Brady Bunch, followed by the Cosby Show, and transitioning into Everybody Loves Raymond. After that I stopped watching so I can't say exactly what is on now. But overtime strong fathers and husbands were represented less and less, and the sidekick dad was born. This character is one we have seen over and over again on television and movies, where the incredibly smart and strong woman leads the marriage and family, and the fumbling father and husband is fodder for all of the jokes.

Sometimes it seems we have forgotten what 

Strong Men  really are. 

Strong Men can hold a newborn with just the right gentle touch, while letting the mother sleep nearby. 

Strong Fathers have the courage to send their children into the world, but not before having taught them correct principles and arming them with the courage to choose the right, not the popular, path. 

Strong Men fight battles, not only for freedom, but for a return to values, like faith, virtue, honesty and integrity. 

My Father

Belief in Potential

My family travelled to my parents' out-of-state home a few years ago. Everywhere we went, my parents introduced us to their friends, associates, and coworkers. On one such occasion, a well-respected man approached my dad. My father introduced each of my children, then my husband, and then he said, "And this is my daughter Jodi." This much loved and admired man exclaimed, "Oh Jodi, I know you Jodi. Your father has told me all about you."

I wondered what exactly my father had said to this man, who is a giant among men. But I knew that whatever he said, it was better than the truth. For Strong Men and Strong Fathers look at their children and see who they can become. They see them through the eyes of one who sees their divine potential. They hope their children will discover who they really are and who they can really become with guidance and help. 

My father is the perfect example of this principle. He demonstrates his belief in me and inspires me to become better. I have always wanted be like my Dad. He is an example of righteousness in all he does. He shows faith in every action and demonstrates unconditional love at all times. Most all that my siblings and I have learned about life has come from the words, actions, works and examples of our father and mother. 

The first man in my life is strong and meek, tough and gentle, indomitable and vulnerable. He showed me the goodness that comes from a righteous, Real Man.  

My Husband


My husband has spent the last 14 winters teaching each of our kids to ski. He gives them personal lessons, signs them up with instructors, guides them, coaches them, pushes them, but never gives up on them.

He teaches them perseverance through patient perseverance himself. Skiing and snowboarding with 4 kids, who have 14 snow gear accessories each, is no small task. Simply arriving at the resort with  all the children and items in tow is a feat.

On Presidents' Day I watched one of our kids frozen in fear at the prospect of skiing down a steep slope. After waiting and encouraging, it became evident our son was not going to conquer that mountain that day. Tolan did what I didn't see anyone else to do on the slopes. He worked his way to the spot where our son stood, scooped him up in his arms, and snowboarded down the hill carrying our son. 

When our son's task seemed simply too big, his father carried him through it. As soon as he was on a hill where Tolan knew he could stand on his own two skis again, Tolan put him back on his feet and pushed him down the hill. 

A Strong Man does what is good for his family. He teaches, lifts, encourages, and carries others through hard times. 

I am grateful for the strong men in my life. They teach me, encourage me, and make me want to be a better person.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Exit Light: Always A Way Out

Have you ever stumbled in darkness? Tripped on a rock you should have seen? Driven past an exit? Missed a step? Read pages of a book without remembering a single word? Spent an evening with "friends" you don't really like? Broken promises to yourself?

For the better part of six months, fear cemented me in a tar pit. Even when I knew what I wanted to do, thoughts of inadequacy prevented me from trying get unstuck. Illness sprouted frustration which germinated self-doubt. I looked at the success of those around me and deemed myself as "not good enough" to achieve. Mired by my own indecision, I nearly allowed the pit to paralyze me.
In short—The devil on my shoulder won too many times.

A loving husband, encouraging parents and caring loved ones gently pulled me to safety. Inspiring books, prayer, motivational talks and clear next-steps advice helped me free my mind from the mud.

I learned:

Imbalance in life results from thoughts or actions being out of sync with morals, values or true desires. Sometimes people lure us away from achieving, laziness trumps activity, complacency overpowers education and following the status quo steals from innovation.

But even in dark places, an Exit Light shines, however dimly, lighting a door away from undesirable patterns, indecision, mediocrity, bad habits, sin, and poor choices. 

Have strength to exit a lifestyle not living up to your potential.

Some of the resources that motivated me to get out to the muck:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Turning Trials into Milestones

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with a tumor on my brainstem. Not only is this a I'll-never-forget-that-day day, but it is also the start of a series of what could be painful anniversaries, including the dates of my three brain surgeries and the haunting night I almost died. Those longs days, weeks and months are times my family doesn't want to remember; yet I cannot forget. 

Spring is a time of renewal, growth and blossoming. I don't want to dread this season, or fear dates on the calendar. Instead, I am trying to celebrate my second chance and appreciate the not-so-pretty, but beautiful life I live.

Laugh. Often. 

Today I went to lunch in honor of a friend's birthday. The girls and I shared fun stories, but we also cried a few tears, some even in honor of my anniversary. Afterwards, I walked back to my car and discovered a small gold necklace on the center console. At first, I wondered who the necklace could be from, but when I sat back in the seat to contemplate, I quickly realized the answer. "This is not my car!" I said out loud. Then I hopped out of the twin silver Honda Pilot, looked around me and ran the half a block more to my own car. I laughed about it all the way home, smiling to myself at the thought of what the experience must have looked like to an observer.

Not every day will have such incidents, but it was a small reminder that even the most painful moments will pass, and joy will return. Laughter makes it return faster.

Celebrate Life.

After some research, thought and more than a bit of inspiration, here are some ideas of positive ways anyone can commemorate the hard days in the past and celebrate the future.
  • Start a new tradition. (It can be something that helps you mark the day, or one that helps distract you from it.)
  • Be grateful for life. Make a gratitude list using a roll of receipt tape, then roll it throughout your home to see all the things you have to be thankful for.
  • Celebrate the strengths you have developed as a result of your trials.
  • Write thank you notes to the people who've helped you along the way.
  • Take the time to tell someone you love them and why.
  • Go to lunch with friend.
  • Hug your children (or spouse or other loved ones).
  •  Go to a park or on a walk to enjoy nature.
  • Visit a place you love and create new memories there.
  •  Play the song, "Eye of the Tiger", and run up some stairs in victory knowing you've made it another year.
  • Laugh out loud. Laugh at yourself.
  •  Have a party or celebration of life, for yourself or for the person you are remembering.
  •  Plant a healing garden.
  • Do service for a charity.
  • Start a project in honor of making it through another year.
  • Finish a project in honor of making it through another year.
  • Make a keepsake or box of things that remind you how far you've come.
  • Search for joy and bask in the little pleasures of life.
  •  Soak up the sun as a reminder that you are loved, most of all, by God.
  • Thank God for every day, even the painful ones.

Happy Spring and happy anniversary to me.
Life is good, even when it's not.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Text that Saved Me: The Story Behind the Heart-Text Idea

*Several weeks ago, I posted the "heart text" idea, a simple way we can show others we care by texting our love to family and friends. Of course, there is more to the story than the short post details. There are personal, painful moments, and even some science behind the theory. The following is the original post I wrote, but then decided not to publish. Call it a change of heart. Here it is.*

Depressed and Hopeless
More than down in the dumps, I was totally depressed. The long winter days had taken a toll on me mentally, and my only-sometimes-functional body had further sent me into a downward spiral. I felt alone, without purpose, overwhelmed—and too embarrassed to admit any of it. So, when the phone rang, I didn't answer, even though what I probably needed most was interaction with someone who cared.

I buried myself under my covers for a few hours, then I tucked myself in a corner chair with a book, anything to avoid the painful feelings I had about life. Several days turned into weeks. Each day after the kids left for school, a similar scenario played out and I was beginning to wonder if the seasonal blahs were something more.

My mind, it seemed, wouldn't allow me to be happy. I wondered if it was hormones, an early mid-life crisis, or even just a bad mood that had become a bad mode. At times, I perked up for hours here and there, especially when my family was around, but for the most part I just didn't know how to get out of the funk I was in.

One particularly bad day, I'd climbed back in bed as soon as the kids were off. Hours passed and I felt again like I was simply not enough. Then my phone beeped and buzzed on the dresser. I had a message. The text was short and sweet, but it represented salvation. In that moment, I knew someone was thinking about me. Someone cared. The sender was a friend who texted just to check in and say hi. That day, she saved me. Not from physical death, but from feelings of hopelessness that threatened to drown my soul.

Never Alone
Everyone wants to belong and to feel accepted. This need is so strong, some people will do just about anything to feel like they are part of something. They will join gangs or start unhealthy habits, such as drinking or smoking, just to have a group to join.

I believe that everyone has their hard, I-don't-want-to-be-in-this-place moments.  I also believe that even a little friendship and love can turn a day around, or even turn a life around.

Research indicates that social support reduces the impact of stress and fosters a sense of meaning and purpose in life. In addition, emotional support from social ties enhances the psychological well-being, which, in turn, may reduce the risk of unhealthy behaviors and poor physical health. (1) Another study showed that "Personal relationships form a safety net around individuals to protect them from too much isolation." (2)  

Often when you are alone, you feel alone, which isn't healthy for anyone. 

About a year ago, some weeks after the above-described incident, I embarked, not on an experiment, but a personal quest to help a friend. The Heart-Text campaign came to me in a moment of inspiration one night, but at first I was too afraid of being thought foolish to try it. When my friend was in need, love for my her trumped my fear and I told her my inspiration. The idea was simple, I thought about her all the time, I figured if I texted her, even a fraction of the times she was on my mind, she would feel my concern and know she was never alone.

Lessons Learned
What we learned together, over the course of the next months changed both of us.

* We all need to feel loved and remembered. Even the smallest indication that we were remembered, that someone cared, lifted our spirits and brightened our days.
* We all need a safe place to cry for help. A frown text or crying face emoji expressed a simple plea for help, the need for a shoulder to cry on, an encouraging friend, or just a listening ear. Knowing we always had someone to lean on made the hard days more manageable.
* Helping others provides a boost for yourself. Serving and loving others is a great way to deal with personal issues of sadness, depression, loss and pain. The more we threw ourselves into each other, the less we focused on our own problems.

Relationships and Networks
If you know someone well enough to have their contact info in your phone, you know them well enough to show them you care. (Okay, you don't have to text smiley faces to all your professional clients and vendors, but then again, maybe, on occasion, it wouldn't hurt.)

Showing support for a friend can strengthen your relationship and help ensure you will have your own support group, when you need it. Make sure it always goes both ways.

The Experiment
It's simple, just text a heart, smiley face, or "Just thinking about you" message to friends or family whenever they pop into your mind. If you know someone is having a particularly difficult time, increase the frequency of the texts or include offers to help. 

That's it! Let the Social Improvement Experiment begin and discover for yourself whether or not a text can change a life. Be sure to report back on your results.

(Disclaimer: Don't act like a stalker and bombard them with hundreds of messages a day, just let them know you care.)

Some of the Research: