Joseph, “An Unsung Hero”

Image result for Joseph Father of Jesus. Size: 77 x 92. Source: pouroutablessing.blogspot.com.es

As we enter the week when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, I believe the Christmas story offers us an interesting and sometimes forgotten character that many of us as grandparents raising grandchildren can relate to, “Joseph”.  He was asked to care for a child was not his biological child.  He made the choice to walk up stream and make a choice that would not have been the popular choice of the day.  I am not sure any other men in his village would have made the same choice. 

Joseph also was willing to give up his home for a period and travel to Egypt to protect the child that he was given care of.  After the threat was gone, he returned home with his new family and made a life in the village of Nazareth.  We don’t really have much information about Joseph, but all we really need to know about him, was the choice that he made, the choice to care for the child.

Each of you have made similar choices.  You have made the choice to step and care for a child that is not your biological child, although in most cases, is your biological grandchild.    Just as Joseph’s acceptance of his calling led him on an adventurous journey, so has your acceptance of your calling led you on an adventurous journey.  A journey although full of joy, can also be very challenging and exhausting at times.  Each of you have had to make numerous sacrifices along the way.  As I have written about numerous times, the journey as challenging as it may be, is worth the effort and you are a gift to your grandchildren, as they are to you.

So, as we celebrate the Holidays this week, whichever way you celebrate the Holidays, or not celebrate them, I want to say, on the behalf of your grandchildren, “Thank You!”  Thank you for your courage and commitment to make a difference in the lives of these precious ones. 

You are all “Unsung Heroes”, much like Joseph!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

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Lessons of Hope from Mt. St. Helens

Wildflowers on the slopes of Mount St. Helens in Washington state

Today on my computer “wall”, which changes every day, a picture of Mt. St. Helens came up. It is a beautiful picture of Recovery. I had the opportunity to visit the site in the mid Eighties, shortly after it re-opened to the public, following its eruption in 1980. As I drove around the mountain that day, I felt like I had landed on another planet. As far as you could see everything appeared gray and desolate. There was just the very beginning of the new plants beginning to emerge through the ash, a sign that new growth and a new landscape was just around the corner. Sure enough, 35 years later the mountainside is full of beautiful flowers and young trees. A magnificent new landscape has emerged!

I believe this picture is a great metaphor of hope for grandparents raising their grandchildren. Many of you, if not most of you, are experiencing an atmosphere of devastation and “grayness” from all of the past and present chaos that fills your environment. There may still be many dark days and periods ahead and we have to be honest about our experience and emotions during these days, and yet, I believe that through our endurance and sacrifice, and hard work, new growth is happening and will develop over the coming days and years. Our grandchildren are benefitting from all that we are offering them, and they can blossom and develop into healthy individuals. My sister, Pat raised her granddaughter, Kylie, for most of her life, without the help of a support group or support system. She endured many days and seasons of challenging circumstances and battles with her own daughter, but she endured and stayed the course. Today, Kylie, her granddaughter is a beautiful young mother and teacher today, and a great role model for the positive new beginnings that can come out of the ash.

And hopefully, one day in the future our grandchildren will say, Thank You, for all that you did and sacrificed!

Grands, hang in there, stay the course, the days of beautiful wildflowers are to come! It is worth it, “they” are worth it!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

How to Share with Our Grandchildren, “Their Story”

A couple of days ago, as I was writing a section of the book that I am writing related to our journey of being grandparents raising a grandchild, Sebellah walked into my office and saw what I was doing and said, “Read me the story about me.”  She knew that the story I am writing was about her in some way and that she was going to be contributing to it with her art pictures.  I told her that I didn’t want to read it to her, but I could tell her what the story was about.  She said, “Tell me the story”, so, I took the opportunity to tell her a little more of the story.  We have decided to share with her the story, primarily when she asks questions.  We have also strived to honestly answer her questions as she asks them, answering in a manner that we feel is age appropriate.  So, I took the opportunity to share a little more about her “birth mommy and birth daddy”, as we call her biological parents.  She has some awareness of Beth, her biological mom, our daughter, but very little or no awareness of Derek, her biological father.  I told her that they loved her, but that they did not make good choices and were not able to take care of her.  We talked a little about our “adopting” her and we talked about her birth and how she had to stay in the hospital for a long time when she was born and how we attempted to help her birth mommy and daddy, take care of her.  We also talked about the fact that her birth daddy had to go to jail, which led to a beginning discussion of “drugs”, “medications that people take that are not good for them”, and that there are laws to protect people from hurting themselves with these medications, and that is why her birth daddy had to go to jail.  We talked again about her “tummy mommy”, her preferred term for Beth, dying two years ago because she took too much “medication”.  I had some concern about using the term medication, but I felt like it was a term that made sense to her.  We talked about how, her birth daddy Derek, I used his name, was out of jail now and lived in Arizona.  I made the connection for her, that Derek was Grandma’s son and DJ’s daddy.  She has some awareness about those two from her visits with them when we lived in Arizona.  She asked if I thought that they missed her.  I said, “Yes”, and I let her know that we keep in touch with them and that we send them pictures of her and let them know how she is doing.  I said maybe someday you will meet him, her birth daddy, but left it at that.  It was a good conversation and another opportunity to share more of her story with her, and yet, it didn’t seem to impact her in any way.  I also said that anytime that she had questions about any of this, she could always ask us.  She seemed satisfied and went off to play with her barbies in her room.

It is challenging at times to know how to share “the story”, “our story” with our grandchildren.  We all have different stories to tell and different sets of circumstances to communicate.  I believe that our grandchildren need to know the story that they are participating in and has impacted their lives, as well as ours.  I believe that we need to be honest in an age-appropriate manner and that we can be careful with our terminology.  We need to be careful how we characterize the activities and choices of their biological parents and yet, it is also not our role to protect them or to create a fantasy image of them.  I believe it is wise to allow our grandchildren to “lead” the way, in that we offer information and elements of the story as they ask questions and seek understanding.  It is like my suggestion to parents about sex education.  You don’t have to have the “Big Talk”, it is better offered in small conversations that are usually initiated by a question from them.

Another lesson from my experience with Sebellah a couple of days ago is the importance of being open to “interruptions”.  They are often precious moments that we will cherish forever. 

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

A Tribute to “Haven”

Today is the anniversary of one of the darkest days of our journey of being a grandparent raising a grandchild.  It was 4 years ago today that “Haven”, Beth’s second daughter, and our 5th granddaughter at the time, died suddenly, only 5 months old.  The cause of her death was never clear.  She did have medical challenges throughout her brief existence on this earth.  Another part of the tragedy of her death was that Beth admitted to having taken Fentanyl and Percocet earlier that morning and when she awoke from the affects of those drugs, little Haven was blue and not breathing.  She called 911, but it was too late.

Haven’s death was a tragedy in so many ways and a tremendous loss.  A loss that I believe Beth, never recovered from.  A loss that still impacts our lives today.  A life that we missed experiencing. 

And yet, Haven’s loss offered Sebellah life, at least a chance at a life that she may not have had the opportunity to live had Haven’s tragedy not happened.  It was Haven’s death that led DCS to re-open Sebellah’s case because it had been closed and Beth had been given custody of Sebellah, although she never left our care.  Although initially she was going to fight it, Beth decided to support DCS’ order for Severance and Adoption.  A few months later, May 11th, 2018, we were able to adopt Sebellah.

This experience is a prime example of the paradoxical emotions and experiences that we have along this journey of grandparents raising grandchildren.  It is often not, “Either Or”, it is “Both”, and the “Both” are in conflict and confusing. The other paradox related to Haven was that we were hesitant to get attached, and then we did, and then she was gone.

Beth was admitted to a Psych hospital shortly after Haven’s death, and so we were left with the challenging task of having to make funeral arrangements and having to pick out the little coffin that she would lay in for eternity.  Along this journey, we are often the ones facing the most challenging of tasks.

Today, I want to pay tribute to “Haven” and even though her days were short, she brought immense joy and smiles to our faces.

We miss you!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

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Wounded Healer

This morning Sebellah decided she wanted the “Lolli Special” for breakfast.  The “Lolli Special” is sausage and salsa in a corn tortilla.  I add eggs and cheese, but Sebellah keeps it simple, sausage and salsa in the tortilla.  After I removed the sausage from the pan, I decided to use my own method of cleaning our nonstick frying pan, wiping it down carefully with a paper towel.  It’s a little risky, but usually I can get away with it.  This morning, I didn’t “get away with it”, and I burned my fingertips a little.  Not emergency room experience, but painful none the less.  Sebellah immediately ran to the restroom and came back with a box of band aids.  She insisted that I needed to use her “Combo Panda” band aids, after all they were “boy” band aids, she insisted.  So, as I am typing this, I am typing with a “Combo Panda” band aid on my left middle finger.  It did help a little, along with an ointment I put on first.  It does make typing a little more challenging, though.

I am healing, as evidenced by my being able to type.  The story does remind me of a title of a book by Henri Nouwen, “The Wounded Healer”.  Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite authors.  The title is a good description of our experience as grandparents raising grandchildren.  Most of the time we are focused on the role of being a “healer” in the lives our precious grandchildren, or at least being instruments of healing in their young lives.  It is also important that we also stop from time to time and recognize our own “woundedness” that impacts our lives and life experience.  After all, to remain in the role of healer in their lives, we must be healthy ourselves.  I initially resisted her demand that I put on a band aid, but then realized that putting on the band aid at her request would mean a lot to her.  So, I put on the band aid.  It did help a little.

So, we need to allow ourselves to be “Wounded Healers” and take the time to seek healing for our own woundedness, regardless, if the woundedness is related to our experience of being grandparents raising grandchildren or not.  Our woundedness may be the grief that we experience daily related to the pain and destructiveness we see in the lives of our adult children.  For some, it is the excruciating grief related to the total loss of our adult child due to an overdose or something of that kind.  Even if your adult child is still alive, they have loss so much of what their lives should have been like.  Either experience creates a hole in your heart as a parent.

Maybe your woundedness relates to dealing with your own aging parents.  Maybe it’s your own battle with the aging process or your own medical condition.   Maybe your woundedness is the loss of time with your friends, your partner or yourself.

Regardless of the specificity of your woundedness, I encourage you to acknowledge it, give yourself permission to experience it, and respect yourself enough to give it the attention it needs.  Take the time to grieve by journaling, talking to a friend or attending a support group.  Take the time to go to the doctor to address your medical needs.  Take the time to spend time with your ailing parent.  Take the time to schedule a date with your partner or a date with yourself for a day, an afternoon or evening, or maybe even a weekend.

Just as these precious grandchildren deserve the time and attention they need to heal, develop and grow, so do we.

So, stop and take the time to put on your own, “Combo Panda” band aid.  It does help!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

Precious Moments

Tonight, I had the joy of laying down with Sebellah at bedtime and laying with her until she fell asleep. We are spending the weekend with Allene’s dad and his wife, helping them move into their new winter home. Sebellah has her own little interesting spot to sleep that she has already claimed as “her room”. Since it is a new spot for her and since we did not bring her Unicorn night light, I have been laying down with her until she falls asleep. As I turned to look at her tonight after she had fallen asleep, her precious little face looked so innocent and so angelic. It was a great reminder of why we do what we do. We do what we do, as grandparents raising grandchildren, because these precious little ones deserve to fall asleep in a safe place with people who they can trust to care for them and provide a nurturing home that will give them the best opportunity to grow up and to discover all that they can become and be in life. It really is that simple!

My encouragement tonight is to take the time to look into the faces of your precious ones and to be thankful that you get to be one that has the opportunity to provide that safe place for them. Cherish such “Precious Moments”.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Better know as “Pops”)

Lessons from: Who Moved My Cheese?

Blog Leadership Leadership Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese?

I just read a short (only 94 pages), yet powerful little book full of leadership lessonsWho Moved My Cheese?. It is a good parable using two mice and two men who are in a maze and struggling to find enough cheese to survive.

Of course, cheese is not just cheese is this story. Rather, in this story it stands for anything you aspire for in your life. This includes your career, success, money, love, etc. Essentially, anything that you need to survive.

Leadership Lessons from Who Moved My Cheese?

The essence of Who Moved My Cheese? is about how people handle (or do not handle) change. It is a part of life and knowing how to cope is a necessary life and leadership skill.

The key to successful leadership is realizing that change is inevitable and actually a good thing. Employees will come and go, clients will come and go, and projects will come and go. The only way to ensure that a company survives is a leader who adheres to a clearly formulated and consistent vision. As it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day as a leader it is important to ensure that everyone is moving towards a long-term goal – no matter what change is thrown at you on the way towards it.

The sooner a leader understands that positivity and not anxiety is the key to dealing with change the sooner he can instill this belief in his employees.

Here are my notes from the book in the form of some cheese bites:

  1. Remember that old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese:  Being complacent leads to extinction. Embracing change and being flexible as a boss leads to survival.
  2. Don’t over-analyze or over-complicate things: Keep the true and tried mantra of K.I.S.S. in mind. Too many leaders take too long to convey a simple message.
  3. Go past fear and enjoy the journey of finding new cheese: Embrace the thrill of the hunt, be curious, and push the envelope. This is your job as a leader.
  4. Let go of old behavior instead of letting go of the situation: A different viewpoint can often help a situation more than a change of scenery.
  5. If you don’t change you’ll become extinct: It’s ok to Pivot as needed, or else you’ll be caught without any options.
  6. Consider what you might do if you weren’t afraid: This is a key takeaway as fear holds you back and prevents you from moving forward.
  7. Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old: In life and in business timing is everything.
  8. Move beyond the fear and feel free: Don’t be afraid to be leader and take the first step.
  9. Imagine yourself enjoying the new cheese even before you find it: It’s important to visualize an end goal as it will speed up reality.
  10. Let go of old cheese quicker so you can find new cheese sooner: When it’s time to let go, be sure to let go.
  11. Notice little changes early and help yourself adapt to bigger changes later: While practice really can make things perfect , it is even more important to keep an eye out for early signs of change.

Bottom line:
This book offers some of the lessons about leadership:

  • Let go of the past
  • Get over the things you cannot change
  • Keep moving forward
  • There is no reason to fear the unknown because the unknown may be better than anything you could have ever imagined
  • Change (for an organization) has unlimited potential, but it all depends on how you deal with it

If you haven’t read the book, I recommend that you do. It’s a quick read and nothing beats good cheese!

Retreived from: https://helloericritter.com/leadership-lessons-from-who-moved-my-cheese

(Rich speaking)

I read this book by Spencer Johnson, M.D., many years ago when I worked in a leadership position at Remuda Ranch. I believe these principles relate to our “work” as grandparents raising grandchildren. Following these principles can make our journey so much more productive and life changing for all involved. We will often find ourselves asking, “Who moved my cheese?” We might ask, “What happened to the life I once had?” Those are human questions that we will find ourselves asking, and yet, they are not productive questions. The bottom line is, we have to let go of our past, and find a new future. Our future can be enjoyable, meaningful, fulfilling and full of new adventures. Embrace It!

Sharing the Cheese and the Journey!

Rich (Better known as “Pops”)

Thankful for Night

Thankful for the Night

I am thankful for the Night

 The Night is followed by the Morning

I am thankful for Tears

 Tears gently stream to a place of Peace

I am thankful for seasons of Poverty

 Poverty produces the fruit of Humility

I am thankful for Dark Days

Dark Days are pierced with memories of the Light

I am thankful for Failures

Failures create a longing for Success

I am thankful for Pain

Pain relieved is Healing

I am thankful for Loss

Loss births appreciation for Gains

I am thankful for Sadness

Sadness seeds expectancy of coming Joy

I am thankful for moments of Vulnerability

Vulnerability invites genuine Intimacy

I am thankful for Brokenness

Brokenness beckons a new Wholeness

I am thankful for Goodbyes

Goodbyes leave room for new Hello’s

I am thankful for the Night

The Night is followed by the Morning

I wrote this poem in 2005 and shared it with my family at the Thanksgiving dinner table that year. Little did I know how much of the truth and reality of this poem was yet to be experienced. As I have shared several times already in these blogs, Success in life is all about how we face and handle Life’s Paradoxes. Sitting around the table that Thanksgiving was Allene, myself, Ryan, our youngest son, and Beth, our oldest and Sebellah’s future mom. Beth had already been struggling with her addictions and mental illness for years, and Ryan would soon start down the dark road that addiction offers and struggle for years himself. Ryan was able to make it out of that dark path, Beth was not. Hence, Life’s Paradoxes!

I am thankful for all of my children and my grandchildren, those who are with us, and the ones who are not. I am thankful for the one who left us way too soon. Even in her tragedy, she offered a precious gift that we cherish every day! Her spirit lives on! Yes, another Paradox.

We can find and experience Joy, Happiness and Fulfillment but not without the price of Sadness, Pain and Disappointment. My hope is that in the coming days our lives will be more about Joy, Happiness and Fulfillment and Yet…

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Acknowledging the beautiful spaces

Sometimes in the business of the “grands life” the beautiful spaces sneak by unnoticed and not appreciated. I am not a morning person, I do not wake up with pixie dust and rainbows. My preference is no conversation until I’m mostly done with my cup of coffee. Rich wakes with his brain in full fast forward mode ready to share all his thoughts, dreams, and insights that he has had since his eyes opened…and they are typically deep and meaningful which is to say we experience mornings completely differently. Sebellah is just like me in her view and feelings about mornings. Usually on school days she hears her alarm, turns it off and comes to the livingroom toting her unicorn pillow and favorite blanket. She then proceeds to toss her pillow on the couch between us , lays down and completely covers her head and body with the blanket complaining “it’s too bright”
This morning she came in, crawled up in my lap, pillow and all….. snuggled up with her face peeking out and smiled sleepily at me. In that beautiful space everything paused. I wasn’t thinking of everything we needed to do to get her ready and out the door to school. This time I was able to sink into that place, that right now and soon to be gone beautiful space and really feel the warmth and sweetness of it.
I believe these beautiful spaces help define who our grands become, how they connect with their world and us. Sink into the beauty and enjoy the wonder..you know, the pixie dust and rainbows!

Walking alongside you

Allene

From “GW Camp” to the “Mountain Top”

From “GW Camp” to the “Top of the Mountain”

I would like to share with you two of my life adventures, with two very different outcomes.  The first took place when I was in the eighth grade.  I had had a somewhat successful flag football career in elementary school, with the highlight being my pick six interception return for touchdown on the very first play of the season in the first game of the Huntington Beach Parks and Recreation season.  I kept my jersey from that game, as well as most of my others, until recently.  I kept thinking that the Flag Football Hall of Fame would call for it one day, but amazingly, they never called.  So, as I entered the eighth, I decided to go out for my school’s football team, all 110 pounds of me.  You see, when I was a kid, I was diagnosed with a special childhood disorder, it was a very serious disorder for a young boy who loved sports.  I had the infamous, “SS Disorder”.  I was “Slow” and “Skinny”.  In fact, my friends, especially Kelly, “you know who you are”, dubbed me, “Twig” as my childhood nickname.  In case you are not familiar with how sports work, being “Slow” and “Skinny”, are not great attributes in the game of football.  Another important fact about my junior high football debut was that I was not aware that we had to provide our own football cleats.  I assumed that since the Pine Street Junior High football program was such a high-profile program, that they provided the “all” of the necessary equipment.  Well, they didn’t.  So, on the first day of school and football practice, I wore penny loafers.  Penny loafers, if you are unfamiliar with them, were slip on dress shoes that you could literally put a penny in the front part of the shoe’s design, to of course look really cool, in the late sixties.  The other important thing you need to know is that penny loafers have very slick soles.  They are not recommended as an athletic shoe.  So, I started my first day of Eighth grade football practice with football pants that were too big, shoulder pads with one of the underarm straps that was broken, and penny loafers for athletic shoes.  I am sure that the video of my running wind sprints, holding up my football pants as I ran in my penny loafers, should be in the Junior High Football Hall of Fame. 

So, I did convince my parents that I needed my own football cleats before the second practice.  Well, after a few days of not convincing the Pine Street Junior High Football Coaching Staff, led by Coach Reeder, that I was a rising star, I decided to go along with a group of friends of mine who had decided that we didn’t have a chance of getting any playing time and chose early football retirement.  I wanted to talk to my dad first, but they convinced me that announcing our retirement could not wait and we must act immediately.  So, instead of calling a news conference, we decided to march into the school office and demand that they allow us to transfer out of sixth period football practice into regular Phys Ed class.  The lady behind the counter told us that was not an option and that we had to remain in sixth period football practice for the remainder of the semester, which was about 3 and ½ months.  So, every day we went to the football practice area and watched the football team practice.  We did have our own little area, where we would play our own pick-up football or sometimes use the time to do homework.  One day one of the coaches looked over at our group and said, “What a bunch of Gutless Wonders!”  We heard his comment.  Even though we laughed it off and even started calling our place where we hung out, “GW Camp”, similar to “POW Camp”, maybe there were some mild similarities.  Only in the way that we were viewed by those in charge.  The reality is that those comments by that coach, stung and had a major impact on my life.  From that point on, really until the event of my follow up story, I forever saw myself as a “Gutless Wonder” and “A Quitter”!  Any time throughout my adolescent years and early adulthood when I would struggle to finish something, which was often due to my impulsive nature, I would hear that coach’s words, “What a Gutless Wonder”!

Now, let’s fast forward to my early thirties.  I am married, with a young son under the age of one.  I had finished college, which was a major accomplishment, but I had dropped out of seminary, which of course reinforced the “I am a Quitter” message.  I am now in my early thirties considering going to graduate school to get a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, so I can become a therapist.  But how could I consider going to graduate school after my seminar fiasco, especially now that I had a family to consider.  I lived in Washington state at the time and one of my favorite landmarks was Mount Rainier.  Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot mountain that dominates the Puget Sound skies, when it is not cloudy.  I have always loved the mountains and camping in the mountains and had done my share of hiking and backpacking.  I had spent 15 months in my twenties in the Grand Teton National Park working at a lodge there.  I remember thinking that I needed to do something to fight that internal life message that I was a “Quitter” and a “Gutless Wonder”.  “I know”, I said to myself, I will climb Mount Rainier.  Now, I was smart enough to know that I could not just go out and climb Mount Rainier.  So, I signed up for a mountaineering class at Tacoma Community College.  The class was a month-long summer course which included a summit trek at the end of the class.  The class included in-class instruction on mountaineering skills and weekend trips to Mount Rainier to practice what we learned, especially how to work as a “Rope Team Member” and how to use your ice ax and the rescue procedures in case a team member fell in a crevasse. The in-class instruction also included a fitness run.  I remember during one of those runs, stopping and thinking to myself, “I can’t do this, Oh No, it’s true, I am a Quitter, and I am going to quit this too!”  Fortunately, that thought was follow up with, “No, I can do this, I have to do this, I am Not a Quitter”, If I can’t finish the run, I can walk the rest of the way, I can do this!”  So, I walked the rest of the way.  I did finish that run/walk and I did finish the course.  The climb up Mount Rainier took place in July and was a three-day adventure.  The first day we met at noon and did a short hike and made a camp for the night.  On day two, we hike up to 10,000 feet and made our base camp and retired early, because our ascent to the summit would start shortly after midnight, with our headlamps.  The reason for the nighttime ascent is that you want to do as much of the ascent in the cool of the night when the ice pack, glacier, is the firmest.  You do have to cross quite a few ice bridges across crevasses.  So, shortly after midnight, off we go.  The final ascent to the summit is done in rope teams.  In our case, we had four people on each rope team.  The rule was the entire rope team either made it to the summit or it did not make it to the summit.  If one member could not make it, the whole rope team could not make it.  Climbing Mount Rainier is more of an endurance climb that a technical climb.  Actually, only about 50% of people who attempt the climb actually make it to the summit, often due to weather issues, but sometimes due to a lack of the endurance necessary.  It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  The views along the way, both during the pitch blackness and as the sun started to come up were spectacular.  There were many times when I started to think, “I can’t take another step” and then I would feel the tug of the rope and I would take the next step.  Clearly, I do not believe that I would have endured the climb with out the tug at that rope and the support of my rope team members.  I did experience altitude sickness at 12,000 feet and threw up on the snow.  But, after that, I felt so much better and had a new sense of adrenaline that allowed me to make it to the summit with my rope team.  We made it to the summit just after the sun came up, around 8 am.  The exhilaration of the moment that we reached the summit is indescribable.  For me, it was more so, because of what this climb meant to me and about me.  “Yes, I made it, I did it!”  “It’s not true, I am Not a Quitter!”  “If I can climb this mountain, stand on top of this 14,410-foot mountain, I can do anything!”  As we sat there on the summit, a fellow climber, offered me a Twizzler.  That Twizzler tasted Amazing!  Still this day, Twizzlers are my favorite snack food.

Now, there is one more significant aspect of my Mount Rainier story.  The descent down the mountain we did in one long day.  There were times closer to the bottom when we literally and intentionally slid on our bottoms on the ice.  It was quite the ride.  Unfortunately, as we were descending, still near the summit, I took a step and the next thing I knew, I was hanging on the edge of a huge crevasse.  Fortunately, one foot caught the edge and even more importantly, my rope team did their job.  They all immediately fell on their ice axes, preventing me from actually fully falling into the crevasse.  One of the course leaders came over and pulled me out of the top of the crevasse.  It was a scary experience, although I was totally fine and uninjured, mostly feeling a little embarrassed, although I had done nothing wrong, but my rope team had done everything right.  I was grateful for their quick actions.  I made it down the rest of the mountain uneventfully.

So, I was able to challenge and change that message that I was a quitter.  I did go on to graduate school and graduated with a 3.8 grade point and I did become a therapist.  All throughout my graduate work, I kept a picture of myself on the top of Mount Rainier on my desk, and when I struggled to write a paper or complete an assignment, I would look at that picture and say to myself, “If I could climb that mountain, I can finish this paper, after all, I am not a Quitter!”

So, I would like to use these two stories from my life experience to remind us of some important life lessons.

  1.  Recognize any old Life Messages that may still be impacting or hindering your own success and happiness in life.  Years ago, I developed a technique that I used when working with adolescent girls who were struggling with an eating disorder and the “Stinking Thinking” that goes with an eating disorder.  The technique is: Catch, Challenge and Change.  We need to catch those negative thoughts that hinder us and rob us of experiencing life to the fullest and hinders our opportunities to use our individual unique gifts and talents.  Recognizing our own “Stinking Thinking” messages is the first step.  I cannot challenge what I cannot see.  Secondly, once we have caught and identified the negative message, we need to “challenge” it.  Sometimes it can be as simple as, “Stop It!”  We can challenge it by asking, “Is there any tangible, indisputable evidence that supports that message?”  In most cases, there is none.  We can also challenge it by giving the message back to the person who sold it to us, like my junior high football coach.  Sometimes, we may need to do something to prove to ourselves that the message is not true.  You don’t have to go out and climb Mount Rainier, but there may be a step that you can take to demonstrate the falseness of the negative message.  The third step is to change the message to an honest but positive message that will be an encouraging and motivating message.  Catch, Challenge and Change!
  2. Similarly, I believe that it is important that we not allow any one event or serious of events to define who we are.  I like to say that our “Life is a Story in Progress!”  Life is a series of adjustments and learning opportunities.  There is no greater time in which we must adjust or reinvent ourselves, than when we take on the role of being a grandparent raising grandchildren.  We are a Story in Progress!
  3. Thirdly, hopefully my story of climbing Mount Rainer can remind us of the value of “Rope Teams”.  As I stated earlier, my rope team, which was made up of myself, another man and two women, made all the difference in my positive experience of climbing Mount Rainier.  Not only did they literally save me from following deeper into a crevasse, but they provided the needed support and motivation during those moments when it felt like I could not take another step.  The need for a rope team is one of the main reasons that Allene and I have started our support group.  We want to be the people ahead of you who are willing to pull on the rope and say, “Come on, you can make it, just take the next step.  The view from on top is worth all the struggles of these steps.  Come on, we can do it together!”
  4. In addition to recognizing the value of a rope team, my story also reminds me of the value of having a guide when we are starting a new adventure.  We had two experienced guides that led us up the mountain.  They had climbed the mountain many times and new the paths to consider and which paths to avoid.  They also knew the skills and resources that would be essential for the journey.  They were not perfect, but they were experienced and had travelled the path previously.  Allene and I see ourselves in similar roles.  We are not finished with our journey, and we recognize that.  We have many years in front of us in caring for Sebellah.  Yet, we have walked the early stages of the journey, which I believe are the most challenging and overwhelming.  Hopefully, we can simply share our experiences and share what resources have been most helpful to us.  This is another benefit of a support group.   A support group offers the opportunity to be with other people who are sharing your journey, as well as people who are further along on the journey and can offer some guidance on the paths ahead of where you currently are.
  5. When I share my junior high football story, I can laugh about it now, although at the time and for many years to follow, it was a painful story.  Even now, I do still feel a sense of vulnerability in sharing that story, especially as a man.  Yet, I believe recognizing our vulnerability, as the author and educator, Brene Brown often talks about in her writings, is key to inviting and experiencing connection in our lives.  Our moments and points of vulnerability can become invitations and open doors to connecting with others who have similar moments and experiences of vulnerability.  In our venture of raising grandchildren, we will often feel vulnerable and powerless, and we will often question, “Our we really the best option for these precious children?”   The answer to that question is, “Yes, we are”, and we are a gift to them, just as they are a gift to us.  So, I encourage you to not hide or shy away from your vulnerability.  Instead, embrace it, move toward it and accept it.  It simply means that you are part of the human experience and accepting our vulnerability, invites connections with others who are sharing the human experience.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)