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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Reach for the Stars

“Even with major interventions, your pregnancy is high risk of having a bad outcome. You should have an abortion,” I was told by my obstetrician 18 years ago during my pregnancy with my son. Richard and I immediately told the doctor that wasn’t an option.

I also told the doctor I was a mama bear who would do what it took to take care of our baby.  And then I went home and cried.

Richard had a dream during that pregnancy where people were telling us all the challenges we faced, and he told them, “I’ll stand up for my son.”

We believed in our son and his chances, before he was born. We changed doctors, and by the grace of God, both my son and I survived. There aren’t medical explanations for our survival other than Divine Providence.

Flash to three years after his birth, when he was diagnosed with significant speech impediments. We were told he might need 6 years of speech therapy to clearly communicate with others. I watched in frustration when he tried to play “Duck Duck Goose” with other preschoolers, even though he could say neither duck nor goose. Doubting Thomas friends and some relatives tried to tell us to accept our son’s “limitations.”

We didn’t believe the can’ts. We saw his potential instead. He and I worked together to practice what he did in his speech therapy, and he overcame those challenges in 2 years, instead of the predicted 6. As we worked to help him overcome his challenges, we also worked to nurture his strengths.

When he showed interest in robotics and computers, I helped our county start a 4-H robotics project and founded a 4-H Tech Club to teach kids about science and give him more science opportunities.

Flash to his freshman year of high school when he won a state 4-H demonstration contest in mechanical arts as he demonstrated how to build his own computer. This year, he led a team of younger 4-H Tech Club members as they gave a presentation on computer hardware at the Indiana 4-H Foundation’s Annual Meeting, as 1 of 4 clubs included in a state-wide science showcase.

And the boy who couldn’t say duck or goose has grown into a recreation leader extraordinaire, working to develop inclusive games for kids. He’s attended recreation conferences, serves on the board of an annual recreation workshop, has planned recreation activities for camps and retreats, and recently led a workshop to teach 4-H leaders how to introduce new games to their clubs.

So much for the kid they were concerned wouldn’t be able to talk clearly.

Today is his 17th birthday. If I knew where that doubting doctor was who urged us to push the panic button 18 years ago, I would show her the article in the paper last week where he was named a Star Student for our area. I would share with her that the high risk pregnancy resulted in a young man who started working pollinating corn in the summer when he was 15, has worked ever since, and who plans to work 2 different jobs, 6 days a week this summer – who used his earnings to first buy his own computer parts to build his own computer and then to buy his first car.

As Mary Kay Ash once said, “When children know their mothers believe in them, they develop self-confidence. On the other hand, if a parent repeatedly tells a child that he’s shy, he’s stupid, he’s mean or he’s going to grow up to be a bank robber, he’ll probably develop that quality or bring that vision to pass.”

In life, avoid the Debbie Downers who dwell in the can’ts and probably won’ts. Instead seek the people who see your potential and inspire you to reach for it. Encourage others to set high goals and reach them.

“If you shoot for the moon and you fall short you land among the stars.” - Mary Kay

So what’s stopping YOU from shooting for the moon and encouraging those around you to do the same?


Mentor Moms

The key to my success – or sanity – as a mother is finding a few good mentor moms who have survived the parenting phases I am working through or am about to enter.

To me, one of my biggest challenges as a parent is that we learn by doing – and generally doing badly. No two seasons are the same, and each poses its own challenges. By the time I have made a lot of mistakes, and hopefully learned from a few of them so I can do better next time, the roller coaster of parenting takes a sudden dip, drops into a shaft, and I struggle to see how disaster can be averted.

That’s where mentor moms come in who have just taken steps along the new path of my parenting journey. It’s easy to get so stunned by the new turns of the parenting adventure that I think I’m alone, and I can think no other parent on the planet ever faced the challenges I do.

But when I quietly share my concerns with those trusted mentors, they share their own experiences, assure me that it’s normal to struggle, and suggest ways I can better parent children who are no longer kids but emerging adults. They remind me of the power of unconditional love and offer strategies in how to parent and still set boundaries.

With their help, I not only take comfort  but hope. At the same time, I can mentor younger mothers and assure them they aren’t alone in their experiences.

And when I try hard enough, I remember advice I’ve often shared – the tough times of parenting are when we remember that the Bible often says “and so it came to pass” instead of “and so it came to stay.” The struggles today are not permanent but will pass.

There was a time, as a mother, when my biggest challenge was staying up all night with a sick baby. It was tough. Now, in retrospect, I can look back on those times and what I remember is the time spent holding my babies. Not the tears, cries, and full range of bodily fluids.

And I wonder, with Mentor Moms who help me today, if I will one day look on today’s challenges with the same poignant fondness.


Exfoliation and New Growth

This morning, I told someone that my taking better care of my skin is a reminder each morning to take better care of myself – body, mind, and soul.

There are benefits of exfoliation. When you remove dead skin, it gives room for the newer, healthier skin to glow. Then, when you apply moisturizer, the new skin is able to absorb the moisturizer better.

There are things in our life that we only enjoy for a season. If we fail to exfoliate our lives, the dead layers can accrue so high we have no space for new life and new growth.

When we cling too long to that which gives no life, we don’t have a free hand available to reach for the stars.

New wine needs to go into new wineskins.

Are you ready for the next great opportunity which lies in your path?


I Over-Ate My Way To a Heart Attack – And Why I Talk About It Now

For decades, I had gradually snacked my way into obesity. It was always  – just once. Just once, I would enjoy this snack, that dessert, and that fried chicken. Except the just once happened all the time. And my favorite foods included fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and every kind of potato or corn chip known to man. Not to mention potatoes, pasta, breads, and all kinds of cheeses. And exercise was something I thought about and planned to start – later. If you gain 5 pounds a year, that adds up to 50 pounds in a decade.

Risk factors for health issues like heart attack are mixed – we’re born with some, and others we cultivate with our own bad habits. Well, I had plenty of them. And I reveled in the illusion that pursuing them was “living.”

However, I was wrong.

When I had my heart attack, I felt stupid because I knew better but failed to live a healthier lifestyle. Fortunately, I survived and got a second chance.

But the trick now is not to blow it. I talk about my heart attack, and what I have to do now for varied reasons:

  • Others can learn from my mistakes. Maybe what I have gone through can inspire someone to eat an extra vegetable or walk an extra 15 minutes. If so, it’s worth my being transparent. Too often, we live in a cloud of denial. I’m here to say that women in their 40’s CAN have heart attacks and artery disease. 
  • Going public keeps me accountable. After my heart attack, my cardiologist told me if I wanted to really recover and reduce my risk of future heart attacks, I had to eat better, exercise more, and lose a minimum of 51 pounds. Well, it’s almost 4 months since the heart attack, and so far I’ve lost 30 of those pounds. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve struggled over every ounce. Each day is a sequence of choices to healthier eating. By going public, I know that when I eat with others they can see what’s on my plate, going into my mouth, and if I walk what I talk. When you announce to thousands of people – through Facebook and your blog – that you’re working to lose that much weight, it gives an accountability I didn’t anticipate.
  • People see that when we make mistakes, we can learn from them and work to fix them. I can’t fix what I ate 6 months or 6 years ago. However, I can control what I eat today. I can drop bad habits and incorporate better ones into my daily routine.

Maybe if more people went public like me, we could all inspire others to do better.

Trust me. Which of the following two options sounds easier?

  • Eating a healthier diet, with appropriate portions and exercising daily.
  • Eating by whim, not exercising, and having a heart attack where they do emergency surgery to place a stent to correct the artery blockage. This involves a medical team putting a miniature tube (catheter) into your artery, threading it to the blockage, inflating a balloon to open the artery, and then inserting a stent to hold it in place. In my case, when I flinched when the cardiologist inserted the tube into the artery, he told me, “If you move like that again, you will die.” And then after the procedure and after they remove the catheter, first a nurse applies direct pressure to the artery for half an hour, followed by 4 hours of your not moving while a sand bag rests on the artery to reduce the risk of a fatal hemorrhage.

Somehow, we have to get to a point where more people choose the healthier diet and exercise to lower the number of people who need the medical intervention.

One of the reasons I survived is to encourage others to follow the advice we all know is good for us:

  • Eat right.
  • Exercise.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink your water.

An ounce of prevention really is easier than a pound of cure. Or in my case, 51 pounds of cure.


How Non-Profits Can Succeed With a Little Help from Business

“The point of a fundraiser is to make money. If we don’t, it’s a social occasion. Since this is a fundraiser, we’re reorganizing it to make money,” I told a committee stunned into silence several years ago in my first year as their president. Fortunately, they opted to listen to me and make the most of my expertise in strategic and organization planning.

The year previously, they had tried a new fundraiser that didn’t quite break even. I’ve had those learning curves and knew that we take what we learn from those experiences and retweak what we’re doing to make money. We re-invented the entire model for the fundraiser (a talent show) that year. First, I cut the ticket price in half. In addition, I decided performers did not need to buy tickets. Then, we switched from having a full dinner theatre menu to a dessert reception halfway through the performance. With the  dessert reception, to save money, I asked the parents to donate desserts. Because we went from a dinner theatre to desserts only, we eliminated the need for tables and could fit more chairs into the auditorium. As a result, we had more opportunities for ticket sales.

Because the new ticket price was only $5, more families decided to bring grandma, grandpa, their uncles, their aunts, and their next door neighbors. We sold out of tickets, the parents brought in beautiful desserts, and the entire event was a fun success.

In the brave new world of nonprofit development, the smart ones solicit expertise from business professionals. It’s a risky venture for them. Right now, I help two different nonprofits who have decided to make the leap and ask for more help from the business community. With one of them, we meet for lunch each month and review their marketing strategies/fundraising communications. With the other, we meet twice a year for a lunch followed by an intense afternoon of review and discussion of their publications. That one is particularly exciting, because the other members of the committee are from St. Louis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Evansville.

Both of these organizations have decided to take the risk of bringing materials they have prepared to a table of business professionals from varied fields and ask what we think. And we tell them what we think – what works, what doesn’t, and how they can more effectively present their message. Smart nonprofits recognize that the business as usual, 20th century model no longer yields the same results. They don’t want us to simply rubber stamp their ideas but to share our talents. If  we tell them a logo is dated and needs to be fixed, they may not change it, but they listen attentively to us and thank us for our input.

I thoroughly enjoy those nonprofit panels because I learn from the other professionals attending.  We each have unique perspectives, and I like to think we make a positive impact on the nonprofits involved. Our combined efforts are more effective than if we worked individually.

But there is a deeper issue here. Maybe once upon a time, businesses simply cut checks to organizations they wished to support. What these organizations have realized is the value of cultivating our time, talent, and our treasure. Successful business professionals can bring a lot to the nonprofit volunteer table. We’ll scrub tables and do dishes, but we’ll also analyze ways to fundraise smarter if asked.

The organization wise enough to make the most of my talents is also going to be the one that I support the most financially. Yes, there are other organizations I may write an occasional check to support.

But the nonprofits that wisely make the most of what I can offer them are the ones I’ll support the most and promote the hardest.

And those nonprofits, with a more mature vision of public/private partnerships, are the ones that will most likely succeed in the future.


Think Like a Business Owner

After being half of a mom and pop family business for the past 13 years, I’ve realized that my owning a business impacts my perspective in  my teaching, volunteer efforts, speaking, and writing.  The mindset required to keep a small business viable, to meet new challenges each year, means that I recognize going with the status quo is no longer a recipe for survival.

How do you think like a business owner prepared to meet new challenges?

  • Listen and watch the world around you. As times change, you must understand what is happening. Then you’ll better predict future trends.
  • Adjust for changes. Last year’s solution may not solve this year’s problems. Be willing to approach challenges from new angles for success.
  • Raise the bar. Don’t accept mediocre service or results. With each project, always be on watch to continuously improve the process and your product. When we decide we no longer have room for improvement, we might as well put the seal of failure on our business ventures.
  • Build your dream team. Surround yourself with people focused on successful outcomes. Avoid those who live for drama or advocate mediocrity.
  • Have fun. Attitude is everything. The more you enjoy what you do, the better job you will do.
  • Refuse to settle. Don’t settle for lower standards and a “good enough” mentality. You can always do better.
  • Remember profit and cash flow. Businesses will not survive if they lose money. When a business is having problems with profit and cash flow, it’s time to change the business model and/or marketing mix.
  • Give back but don’t give everything. Give back to the community and to the causes you care about. Of course you’ll give to your clients as well. At the same time, remember that profit is not a 4-letter word. Sometimes making sure your business generates a profit means you will have more flexibility to help other people.

I wouldn’t trade the adventure of entrepreneurship for anything. But I never realized, when we started on this path, how it would change my whole life.

 

 


Why The Arts, Museums, and Culture Matter

Our museums, arts, and cultural events play a vitally important role in our society which is easily forgotten.

In a world where bad news seems that which is most likely to be repeated, we need the arts.

We need to visit the events and places that remind us of our history, our culture, and our creative instinct.

During World War II, Blessed Pope John Paul II worked with an underground theatre group to preserve and share Polish culture and theatre. He recognized that the best offense we often have in fighting evil is to share our stories so we preserve the memories of who and what the best of us are.

Museums have always been places of refuge for me. They probably matter more to me than most because I have seen the worst of humanity and lived in the face of evil. With that knowledge, I know just how important it is for us to always work to preserve beauty.

We must keep the best of our arts and culture present in our thoughts and minds to remind ourselves to aim higher, to tell our stories, to sing our songs, and to always seek ways to enrich the lives of others.

Every museum, concert, and cultural event is an opportunity for us to be inspired by others so we can aspire to be better ourselves.

The key that they share is a reminder of hope, as oases for the soul. Our hope in ourselves, in each other, and for the future.

 


Prodigal’s Parents

The older I get, and the emptier my nest gets, the more I think of the story of the prodigal’s father.

What torment he must have felt.  I don’t have a prodigal. But every parent will go through moments of surprise at life decisions.

Letting go of my kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are the worries – will they be safe? Will they be happy? Will they be ok?

Then there can be uncertainty or frustration – will they forget all they have been taught? During those years when I tried to share my heart and soul with them, did any of it stick? Or did I waste my life?

And then there is the sadness of missing these kids who were and are the light of my life.

As I think of the prodigal’s father, and as I watch my own children stretch to make their own journey, I remembered the final scene in Alex Haley’s Queen miniseries. Queen had survived a horrific life and when her own sons wanted to leave home, she wanted to hold them back. She told them the world was a mean place where they might get hurt. And actually (there were other causes), she went through a complete breakdown.

But when she recovered, and as she said farewell to her sons, she told them words I have paraphrased and used myself.

Wherever you go, always remember that there is a road back home, and that road is a lot shorter than the one it took for you to leave. The door is always open, you’re always welcome, and we love you very much.

My job now is to simply love them.

And with those words, I know as they venture on their own stories I’ll be covering them with prayer and daily singing Jean Valjean’s, “Bring him home,” with a heartfelt prayer to keep them both safe.

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home

 


Bedtime Stories and Happier Endings

You never know the end of your story. And the saddest parts of your story can be used by God for happier endings later.

I flashed last night to one of my own darkest chapters, 38 years ago. We had moved out of state, to a different part of the country, in the last ditch final attempt of my parents to keep their marriage together. At that time, keeping a rotten marriage intact “for the sake of the children” was the norm, even when the cost for that was priced in pieces of children’s souls, trapped in a horrid situation.

We lived that summer in a tiny, 1-bedroom apartment that didn’t allow children. There were 4 kids, and we slept on army cots that filled the living room every night and were stacked against a wall the next morning. Because kids weren’t allowed, the curtains were kept drawn, and we had to play quietly. Our only respites were to leave to visit the library or to swim at a pool. And then we had to leave quietly so we wouldn’t get caught living where we weren’t supposed to be.

The door of those bad memories generally stays closed. I savor living in a world where my family has a home, and each morning I can open the curtains and savor the sunshine.

Last night, the door opened when I learned on Facebook of a woman who needed beds for her children to get out of a bad situation.

Times have changed. Now there is recognition that there are times women and their children are sometimes better off out of a bad situation and marriage.

So I shared the need for children’s beds on my Facebook wall. When I share such needs, I generally say a fast prayer that if it is God’s will that the need be met in that manner, that He will open the doors to make it happen. It so happened that night that someone’s parents were getting rid of beds that might work. The parties involved exchanged emails for follow up.

I don’t know what the ending of that story will be or if the beds that were needed and found will work.

But I do know that for awhile, I flashed back to being the quiet girl who survived a horrific summer by reading books. Except now I’ve learned there are good people. With my husband’s example, I’ve learned that not all dads are bad and how wonderful it is for my own children to have the childhood I didn’t.

But I was also reminded that those bad times are what made me who I am, and God will help me take the pain from those experiences to reach out to others in similar need now who need a helping hand.

These kids, whoever and wherever they are, have a chance to build a better life and will get to do so with something better than army cots stacked against a wall. They’ll get real beds.

They won’t know there’s a writing mother out there who’s praying for them and pulling for them to build better lives. And who recognizes that when we reach our own hands out to help others today, we sometimes empower them to do the same in the future.


Cardiac Rehab as a Model for Reorganizing Health Care

Cardiac rehab is an effective model for helping people change lifestyles and improve their long term outcomes after a heart attack or other coronary incident. Why does it work? The dedicated staff who work in it do miracles:

  • They reach people where they are.
  • They find ways to help people increase their exercise.
  • They work to change the lifestyle habits that most likely got patients like me into cardiac arrest in the first place.

At each step of the rehab process, they set a small goal and when patients reach it, they set a higher goal. It’s a model of continuous, steady improvement.

Another key to its success is the careful monitoring of patients so immediate adjustments to rehab workouts can be made whenever needed.

This model works. Its secrets to success are how we need to focus more efforts, funding, and training towards: preventative healthcare.

Unfortunately, we work with a healthcare system which has not yet caught up with the rehab model. I have found that the system that did an excellent job of saving my life during my heart attack and then helping me change my lifestyle immediately afterwards still has a major learning curve.

I am a traditionalist and very much want to follow doctor’s orders.

But how does the healthcare system handle the patient who follows doctor’s orders? I’ve done that and more.

  • When they told me to drink more water and less of everything else, I quit drinking all soft drinks and iced tea. I cut my coffee habit from a minimum half pot daily to a single cup each morning, after I’ve already drunk 16 ounces of water.
  • When they told me to change my eating habits with more fruits and vegetables, I did it. I followed every guideline suggested to me: limiting beef to 2 times per week and limiting eggs to 2 per week. They said to add more fish and beans to my diet, and I did both.
  • When they told me to exercise more, I started gradually, built up my endurance during rehab and have now worked up to exercising 6 to 7 times weekly.
  • I’ve diligently taken every medication they prescribed on the schedule they recommended. My goal is to eliminate and/or reduce medication dosages as much as possible by end of this year.
Yes, I’ve had my stumbles – chocolate is one of them. Potato chips are a trigger food. But I’m working on it.

And lo and behold – guess what. When you completely change all the input of an equation, the output will change as well. When you lose 26 pounds in 15 weeks and add exercise, the way your body handles problems changes.

It’s one thing for a healthcare system to admonish us to eat better and exercise more. It’s another for it to be prepared to respond when a patient actually does it. With lifestyle changes as dramatic as I have made, maintaining the same medications and dosages they gave me four months ago can actually make me sick. Last night, my blood pressure was so low, I ate a single serving bag of baked potato chips because I craved them and also because I hoped the salt content would raise my blood pressure which had dropped so low I was sick.

They have cut one medication entirely and another one in half.

Today, as I waited to hear whether or not my prescription level for a pill was going to be cut, I delayed taking it. They changed another dosage instead of the one I’m convinced is too strong for me. I stared at the pill, gritted my teeth, and took it.

I have an appointment early next week, at which I’m going to push for lab tests to be run. My last labs were run over 2 months ago, and I sincerely hope my new lifestyle will be reflected in the results. And I’m praying with those results, I’ll be able to push to get more medications eliminated or reduced.

Maybe our healthcare system fails to respond in a timely manner to situations like mine because most people don’t change their whole lifestyle.

The pills that helped save my life and bought me time can become an albatross if I stay on them too long at former dosage levels. I wonder what would happen if our healthcare system were as proactive as my wonderful experience in cardiac rehab was.

And I think this is a system-wide problem and not a unique, individual issue.


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