Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Tag: Inspiration – Personal Growth

One reason I love life (but the point where my grace ends)

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One of the many reasons I love life is the unexpected synchronicity that happens all the time….

Driving traffic-clogged I-4 at 6:50 this morning to get to the YMCA prayer breakfast, I responded (okay, yelled) at the radio because a well-spoken but clearly wrong (by the discrimination yardstick) Baptist Minister explained to the radio host why his speech should be protected and isn’t discriminatory (e.g. denying a wedding cake or photography service to a same-sex couple about to get married is protected speech he argues, based on his Biblical beliefs. But, denying the same couple a hamburger, or accounting services etc he says is discriminatory).

Finally I arrived at the mega Orlando First United Baptist church for the YMCA prayer breakfast. I ran into the packed room, saw our Oviedo YMCA Exec Director at my table and I said loudly to him across the noise,

“I just drove like a bat out of HELL to get here!”

Just as I said this I turned around and seated right next to me at my table is a lovely young pastor with my town’s local New Covenant church. (But you know God has a stellar sense of humor, so goes the saying “Because God made (insert what/whoever you think is worthy of God’s sense of humor).”

I asked the Pastor about his church, told him I’ve heard good things about his pre-school. He shares a little about his church (Anglican). He asks me where I go (Unitarian Universalist). We both make polite conversation. Pastor asks me if my husband and daughter attend UUU (mostly no and I tell him why and why I left my Methodist church. Fond memories and deep gratitude for my daughter’s programs and our religious roots I explain, but I had increasing discomfort, and my new church resonates better with my views).

I tell Pastor a tiny bit more about my church all the while trying to be diplomatic and respectful, yet honest.

Oh yeah, hi there, Mr. President

Then our speaker gets up. Lucas Boyce (Dir of Business Development and Legislative Affairs for the NBA’s Magic). Lucas wrote “Living Proof: From Foster Care, to the White House and the NBA” and is clearly living proof for character and faith and belief in himself (and bold courage).

Lucas inspires us with several stories, each underpinned by his faith and that moving from a crack addict prostitute mother to foster care to life with a loving adopted mother who encouraged him informed his life’s trajectory. Lucas built the life he dreamed as a child (with thanks to God first he said) the moment he saw the White House (and after he saw the coolest airplane ever in the movie Air Force One).

Somehow on his pathway to become a lawyer he became a White House intern/page during President GW Bush’s term. One day President Bush did a quick photo-op on the south lawn with the pages. Twenty-two year old Lucas, not yet groomed on the basics of Presidential how do you do said something like “Hey yeah, how are you? but closed with, “I’m praying for you Mr. President. It’s a just cause (post 9/11 reference).”

The next day President Bush told a staff member he was impressed with “that young man” and to hire Lucas right away. From that moment Lucas’s life moved exactly where he wanted it to go.  

The crowd, all 1,000 of us, gave Lucas a deserved standing ovation.

Passionate. Inspired. Full of faith and conviction.

Believe. Pray. Worship. Inspire others. These are the fuels that feed our compassion and hope and propulsion forward.

BUT while you pray and inspire others, please know this:

The majority public opinion believes that religious beliefs should NOT allow legal rulings to protect speech that denies well-behaved (ruly), shirt-covered citizens service.

So clergy if you must deny officiating a same-sex marriage because it goes against your Biblical beliefs, you have the right as a religious institution.

(However,  I will never believe it feels truly righteous and holy and God-infused, authentic to one’s spiritual core to deny marriage to a loving couple).

Our nation’s individual views on God (and God’s will and use of our free will) is all over the place yet all of us in small moments of respect and grace at round tables can listen to the one another. I truly want to hear someone’s concerns over same-sex marriage however, when the legislative hammer comes down and denies service to our citizens due to sexual orientation, I immediately stop listening. 

Red Barber did his job, so can business owners against same-sex marriage

The radio interviewer then asked the Baptist Minister….. “I know this is a different issue but baseball announcer Red Barber nearly quit announcing for the Dodgers after desegregation and Jackie Robinson started playing. But Barber changed his mind. He knew he had a job to do. Can’t business owners against same-sex marriage simply serve someone and do their job?

The Baptist minister said for him no because it violates his speech.  At that moment the minister said no and denied service to a SS couple, is the moment I don’t believe he worships the same God — I do.

Okay, disagree with same-sex marriage if you must, but your job as an American heterosexual citizen afforded rights is not to deny to others, the same services/benefits YOU enjoy.

We are not, any of us, born chosen or special because we are heterosexual any more than we are born chosen or special because our eyes are blue or brown or hazel.

(To help illustrate the real life wrong in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Let’s use our heart rather than our head. Picture your adult child, deeply in love with her long time same-sex partner. One day both giddily head to the only bakery in their tiny town to order their dreamed-about wedding cake, budget tight but they’ve got just the cake picked out in their head. Lo, the baker-owner Frank who has known these ladies since they were little and used to give them free sugar cookies every Sunday says sorry ladies, I love you both but I can’t bake your wedding cake, my beliefs don’t allow it).

That’s love? 

Postscript:

“The man who broadcast Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers recalled that, as a boy in **SANFORD, Florida,  (Red Barber): “I saw black men tarred and feathered by the Ku Klux Klan and forced to walk the streets. I had grown up in a completely segregated world.” Red Barber confessed that when he learned the Dodgers would field a black player, his first reaction was to quit his job.” (Society for American Baseball Research).

When we don’t know any better we don’t do better. Once we know better, we must do better.

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My friend: Ironman athlete’s journey with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

Image: Courtesy of Joy Von Werder and Oviedo-Winter Springs Life magazine.

I wrote the following article about my friend Joy because I’m awed by her athleticism and courage, and because she wants to use her story to help raise awareness for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  CMT is the most commonly inherited neuromuscular disorder in the world.

Joy is a premier athlete, a jogger-swimmer-biker who competes in the most intense triathlons (she’s also a personal fitness and tri trainer). These are the people who not only enter Ironman races but finish on two feet, without throwing up and consider doing it again. (Iron man definition: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

A certain measured degree of  endorsed “crazy” has to come with these choices.

Premier athletes seem to have built-in bulletproof mind-body discipline. They find others like them in neighborhoods, chat groups or gyms and form inner circle support camaraderie.  I find the dynamics fascinating. It’s a world I don’t want per se, nothing I’m pining away for, but I can’t help but admire and voyeur the intensity and accomplishment that hurts like hell before the finish line. (I work out 6 days a week but you won’t catch me running tri’s or marathons.)

Despite having to grapple with deteriorating muscle strength and changing balance from CMT, Joy finished the grueling  Aqua Bike event this past year.

Here’s her story….

The Great Floridian Triathlon (GFT) is a grueling iron-distance race − a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run that has been known to bring even elite athletes to their knees.

So in 2007 when Winter Springs resident and triathlon coach Joy Von Werder challenged herself to complete the GFT, she did so with some trepidation. But with the encouragement of her family, who cheered her from the sidelines throughout the day, she not only persevered, she exceeded her expectations. The good news: The 44-year-old finished the GFT much more quickly than she had anticipated. The bad news: Not expecting Joy to complete the triathlon so expeditiously, her family was having dinner when she made her dramatic finish!

Fast-forward six years: Joy once again takes on the Great Floridian Triathlon. This time, however, she entered in a physical limitations para-triathlon category, the Aqua Bike (swim-bike).  Read more…Sorry, but I have to link to the magazine who published the piece.

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Connecticut tragedy – where to look for hope

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles – view portfolio

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

It’s with the unspeakable events of today that I yearn for the bedtime story comfort of Mister Rogers.  There’s nothing we can say that will empty our spirit of the anger, the fear, the bleeding sadness that’s pressing so hard on our hearts we cannot breathe. We almost need to be reborn into the innocence of Mister Roger’s words, look for the helpers, the caring ones, the arms flung across the sobbing….

I refuse to die one more inch inside because another madman, once a child himself giggling in some distant elementary school, ravaged his own. I refuse to believe our world is crumbling faster than collective hope can re-balance. I refuse to believe we’re destined to fall off the cliff of humanity, no matter how many bullets fly.

To live outside hope is a soulless diminished world void of any reason for being, but that we’re here to watch the world devour itself.

No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

 

 

 

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New and improved: What’s interrupting YOUR joy?

Happy New Year 2012I’m not one for making lists of resolutions because I think if you want to change, today is as good a time as any. But, when January 1st nears it’s ingrained to think about resolutions, to use the date as our deadline to get going, or at least start simmering ideas for what to improve, change, add, drop or enhance.

Having recently come out the other side of some pretty severe “chronic” insomnia (I don’t believe anything has to be chronic) that wreaked absolute hell on my mind and body (and poor husband), I can finally focus on what I want the New Year to look like.

Before Christmas, I was too self-absorbed in my exhaustion and misery (sleep deprivation was used as torture for soldiers — I now know why) to think too much about transformation and goal-setting.

My singular goal was to fall asleep, to stay asleep and to feel like the person I once knew, void of the wretched anxiety and depression that crept in every day and night (the side effect of the mind and body not getting regular REM sleep, and the despair of spending hundreds, gulp thousands? on supplements, sleep medications, a pricey sleep lab and insomnia books to figure out what was keeping me up — only to come up empty and tired).  After I did about 200 hours of research and ordered my own tests the answers came (adrenal fatigue and gluten-intolerance, more posts to come on that topic).

Health is wealth might be a trite saying but it is irrefutably true.

When you’re swimming in the middle of physical or emotional pain, any state of unbalance in your mind and body, most everything and everyone around you dims and fades to the background. Pain of any kind is all-consuming and selfish, because chronic pain takes you into its clutches and moves all other facets of your life to the periphery.

You forget about better days even when you know  from years of your own attitude adjustments and experience and from loved ones that crappy stuff eventually changes. When you’re stuck in a mud hole and you’ve tried countless ways to dig out you tend to forget you can get out.

The excitement of possibility, your child’s cool project and silly laugh, your husband’s latest joke, a visit from a good friend, a jog in a brilliant sunset, a girl’s night out, stellar pizza, that ridiculous Will Ferrell movie — none if it feels like much but white noise.  For weeks, what used to easily tune me into life’s vibrancy felt like constant interruptions to what I was obsessively trying to figure out — how to sleep.

Is there anything right now interrupting your joy?

And if you feel joy after you came out from despair, please share.  The most inspirational and contagious stories are those that detail triumph.

Everything can improve. Everyone can prevail.

We’re empowered as humans, we’re programmed to survive and evolve.

We sometimes forget this in the eye of pain, with our bills, loss, envy, ills, pills, the nightly news, economic forecasts, political mudslinging, unemployment rates.

So turn off the bad news, and look for, search and dig hard — for the good.

Look for what it is you want to see.

And if you haven’t found your answers yet, keep looking. The answers will come. Keep asking, and asking, and asking, and asking and asking……..If a doctor tells you something you don’t want to hear, find a new doctor, a holistic practitioner who will help you find the healing that is waiting for you.   If a friend makes you feel worse when you’re around her, find a new “friend.” If someone tells you the world is going to hell in a hand basket, tell them — only if they want it to.

To your new year and new you —

With joy,

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

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Triple amputee Ironman: journey and humility inspires

Regardless of our differences, shared stories leap across our muddy rivers of misunderstanding and meet in streams of friendship ~ Laura

rajesh durbal, world's first triple amputee to compete and Ironman, inspiration, overcoming obstacles

Rajesh Durbal’s website – Live-free.net

A couple years ago I heard an extraordinary young man share his message in a non-extraordinary way, that is with humble tones tucked inside a truly remarkable story.

Rajesh Durbal, the world’s first triple amputee to complete the Ironman, spoke to the Seminole County YMCA Prayer Breakfast without pomp or projecting his voice.  He wasn’t a particularly dynamic speaker except for a brilliant smile he showed easily.  But the volume of his voice didn’t matter.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta knew how extraordinary Rajesh was when he interviewed him on CNN. The city of Orlando understood when they created a “Rajesh Durbal” day in his honor. Despite the national fanfare Rajesh told our small YMCA Prayer Breakfast that morning, a room with no more than 150 people, how grateful he was to be exactly where he was.

Image credit: Live-free.net

Rajesh stammered from time to time, confessing that he was used to talking to groups about his physical hurdles, not his faith, but that he was excited to have the rare opportunity to publically share how Jesus saved his life.  He didn’t sound preachy or insistent, his words felt like an intimate testimony for how his faith carried him through seeming insurmountable challenges.

I can’t imagine bringing my faith forward without stumbling all over myself.  Because for every inch of my extroversion, spirit is unquestionably a power that mutes my vocal cords, as much because my beliefs are unconventional as for how spirit can move through even the loudest people in the most whispered, private nudges.

When Rajesh was born he had several bones missing from both legs and his right arm was partially developed.  Doctors amputated both his legs when he turned one and put him in a full body cast for 3 months.

Image credit: Live-free.net

After his cast was removed he was fitted for leg prosthetics and began the grueling process of learning how to walk.   For years he struggled with agonizing pain, feeling alienated from his peers and depression. Rajesh often thought about suicide.  Eventually he began to pray and in time he connected with Jesus.  Through his faith and hundreds of hours of training for races (Rajesh created his own prosthetics for his triathlons) he finally felt free within himself.

When he spoke to us that morning Rajesh was supremely humble about his accomplishments. After he finished the Central Florida YMCA CFO, a bold, confident New York edged guy who easily commands an audience, walked up to the podium and announced that while he wasn’t scheduled to speak, he had to say a few words about how Rajesh inspired him.

Motivated to keep going by a smile

Mark told the audience that over the years he’d competed in a number of races but that his finishes had slowed thanks to some new aches and pains. During one event he was struggling more than usual and was in so much pain he wanted to quit.  When he looked up he saw a young man with two prosthetic legs run by him, beaming.

Rajesh’s perseverance despite his challenges inspired him to keep moving.   And beyond that, Mark said, I want to share that when you move about your day realize something as small as a smile can have a profound effect on someone, something so insignificant can impact someone’s life in a positive way, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

As I listened my friend Alicia looked transfixed, her own story likely weighing on her heart.  Alicia is a personal trainer who runs a triathlon training business. Several years ago she finished her own Florida version of an Ironman, coming in so much faster than she expected that her family (who took a dinner break) missed her finish.

A few years ago Alicia was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that over time leads to muscle-wasting. She’s had to stop running because her feet go numb now and her balance is wobbly.  Alicia can’t bike her usual 80 to 100 miles and she gets more tired than she used to.  While she’s a couple paces slower; she’s not stopping.

She still looks like the poster woman for the fit, zero body fat premier athlete.  Doctors credit her extraordinary fitness level to slowing the disease’s progression.  Alicia told me she tries to strike a balance between doing too much and not enough, but that there’s no definitive way to tell when her fitness activity is helping or setting her back but by trial and error and how she feels.

After Rajesh finished speaking Alicia said she was going to her car to get one of her company training shirts for Rajesh because she hoped he would  “do her the honor” and wear it during one of his events.  A few minutes later she waved me down, a shirt bunched in her hand.  She was clearly excited and nervous.

When we walked up to Rajesh he was politely listening to a man talk about some business deal or another. Likely this was the thousandth time Rajesh had heard a pitch from someone hoping to promote a product through his story. When the man left Alicia stepped forward and introduced herself.  She told Rajesh she was a certified tri trainer and that she hoped he would do her the honor of one day wearing her company shirt during a race.

With a flat expression Rajesh said, “No sorry, I only wear extra small.”

Alicia looked startled but managed to mutter something about how it was fine, she could get him another size.  By then my exalted view of the triple amputee Ironman was gone. “Even someone in a wheelchair can be an asshole”  I once told my husband, spewing one of my home spun philosophies on human nature.

“I’m just kidding” Rajesh said and laughed, his smile spread across his face.

Alicia and I laughed. I moved forward, said hello and nervously shook his hand.  Rajesh wasn’t an ounce intimidating but for some reason the power some people have to overcome the worst and still remain soft can be so overwhelming, their exalted image swallows me.

Alicia is just as humble about her accomplishments and ability to overcome her health challenges. I needed Rajesh to know this.  After she handed Rajesh the shirt I blurted out in one breathy sentence, “Alicia finished her own Ironman in Florida she’s really amazing and inspires her clients all the time she has some health stuff going on but she still keeps going. ”

She smiled and shook her head, brushing off the attention. Behind me one of Alicia’s training clients who had been listening stepped forward.  She told Rajesh that yes it’s true, Alicia is a great trainer and motivator, that many, many people appreciate her inspiration.

Alicia usually so careful to keep her emotions tucked in started to cry. This “wasn’t about her,” she insisted repeatedly.  Rajesh smiled a little and then silently let the moment move over us.

The day before I saw Rajesh speak I told my 13 year old daughter Tara all about him. This guy is something isn’t he I said? Now that’s inspiration. Tara asked me to take his picture.  I told her I’d gauge if it was appropriate because I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable.  But Rajesh didn’t seem to care, he casually leaned in for pictures with the lines of people waiting for him without any impatience or awkwardness. When it was my turn for a picture I told him, “My daughter would have come but she’s a teenager so this was way too early to get up.”

Rajesh laughed and muttered that the only way to get a teenager up in the morning was to throw water on them.

Triple Amputee Finishes Ironman, Rajesh Durbal.

These are the people who elevate me the most in life.  Those who have earned the right to bellow their accomplishments a little and yet without false modesty,  stay grateful and humble. Men and women who overcome blows and still rise with optimism, with humility, with easy laughter and inspired tears. They cry with you and you smile with them. In these moments if we’re lucky we find the sacred, inside a silence that understands.

 

 

Afterword:

In 2009, Rajesh took, writes the bio on his website live-free.net, “his first leap of faith by running in the City of Orlando corporate 5k. He didn’t even come close to finishing first, but he finished.  That inspired him to challenge himself even further.  He decided to do something no one had ever attempted.  He was going to compete in the Ford 2010 World Iron Man. His peers did not believe it was safe for him to do.  But Rajesh was determined to prove that all things were possible through Christ that strengthened him. He trained day and night, hours at a time running, biking and swimming.  He spent the late nights building his running shoes from an old pair of Nike sneakers. Four versions later of the same sneaker he was able to run a Half Marathon race on his walking legs. Determined to progress, he visited Home Depot to build his own bike legs, often spending multiple hours on the floor in the aisle piecing together his creation.”

Rajesh Durbal’s website – Live-free.net

 

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