“Those who can see beyond the horizon and do not stay in the valley and play the victim are those who not only are resilient but also who open the door to other possibilities and sometimes great opportunities.” Shambaugh
Last Sunday night, I started reading Rebecca Shambaugh’s book “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton” and was hooked straight away. Shambaugh writes, “Hillary provides us with examples of several unique attributes that are required of leaders at any level … such as being a continuous learner, being resilient and being adaptively authentic.” Somehow that word resilience jumped off the page and accompanied me like a dog on a lead all week long. I’ve been asking myself what it means; how do you develop it in yourself; how do you develop it in children; and why is it necessary?
I’m always inspired by other people’s stories, especially people who rise up in the face of adversity. I love the fictional Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Do you remember this famous scene? My husband and I love Scarlett’s character so much we came very close to calling our first daughter Scarlett but you can’t have Scarlett Froggatt can you!
I have real live friends who inspire in the same way. On Monday evening, I was privileged to watch Australian Story with my friend Maggie Mackellar. Her courage and resilience is awe-inspiring. You can read her book or her blog.
She is warm, generous and delightful as you can see in this post she wrote for me last year.
On Tuesday, the dog was back pulling on that lead. I watched the kindergarten children at my door. Some lined up confidently, while others held onto their mothers, screaming for dear life. I took the criers’ hands and told their mums to go. With my knee I pushed open the door for the rest of the children to skip inside, put their hats in their trays and meet me on the floor. All the while I was remembering when my children were small and the agony of letting go. Our Sam was the clingiest of all. She would wrap her whole body around mine and her fingers around my hair so that it was almost impossible to separate us. When we finally unravelled her and the teacher would take her, Sam would have one last desperate lunge toward me and I ran. For the first few weeks of kindergarten this experience tore at my heartstrings. I would return to my car, put my head in my hands and bawl.
Raising my children these past twenty three years has been a series of letting go and holding on. Ed Young, author of “Kid CEO”, defines parenting as “the process of teaching and training your children to leave.” It sounds harsh, but what I really think he is talking about is building resilience so that your children are strong when adversity comes. Adversity does come.
On Wednesday I came home from work to Sam complaining of chest pain. I tried not to react (tug of the dog on that lead and my desire to be resilient), I tried to consider all the possibilities, but when the pain was still there at 6pm on Thursday night I took her to the medical centre and the doctor sent us straight to emergency. By midnight, after many scans and tests they ruled out blood clots in her heart and sent us home. We were delighted to sleep in our own beds but I wasn’t convinced that we’d found the solution. Leukaemia has taught me not to take risks with health issues and even though Sam said the pain seemed to be a lot less, I wasn’t sufficiently satisfied to ignore it. On Friday I rang the haemotologist. He agreed it was necessary to bring her in for CT scans to see if Sam had GVHD in her lungs. Again we spent the afternoon waiting and late afternoon the scans revealed that it was not GVHD, but that there was a hole in Sam’s oesophagus and air bubbles had escaped from her lungs.
We were sent to emergency to be admitted. Entering the empty room together for Sam to change into her gown was a surreal moment. It felt like January 2009 all over again. “Hey Sam,” I said, “let’s just pray.” We held each other close and the tears rolled down, intermingling on each other’s cheeks, and peace came. Peace in the form of a solid gel enclosed in the shell of a
pod-like cocoon and we were in the centre. I felt Jesus holding us in the palms of his hands. It was tangible.
Then the rush began. They inserted a canula into her hand, took blood, hooked her up to IV fluids and prepared her for an ECG. The doctors told us she would be fed through IV until they were certain that they had been successful in closing the hole. There was danger that any food or water could pass through the hole and cause a severe infection in her lungs. Five doctors gathered around the desk outside where Sam lay, discussing the prognosis. This, we were told, happens to one in 33 000 people and had nothing to do with Leukaemia or the bone marrow transplant; yet in spite of this and the fact that she’s been a patient at St Vincent’s for over 18 months. Sam had to go through the entire history of her treatment.
The lung specialist arrived at the same time as the orderly. The orderly was there to take her for another CT scan with dye, but the lung doctor told him to come back later. He sat by her bed, tenderly taking her hands. For what seemed like an hour they spoke. He examined her, our haemotologist arrived at the end of his shift to check in on us and see if we were okay. He shook his head and told the lung specialist about Sam, about the bizarre complications since her transplant and for a moment we felt like family. So much of our daughter’s life has depended on this man.
I cannot describe the peace in the room and even the laughter. Yet this was serious. I reflected for a moment and thought to myself, We are becoming strong; we are gaining resilience; somehow we are going to be okay. Then I heard the doctor say, “So I’m going to send you home but I want to see you on Wednesday and you can call me anytime on the weekend if the symptoms get worse. We are going to let the hole heal itself.”
As I write this I am still slightly in shock. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t feel particularly strong or invincible, but I cannot deny that we were surrounded by hope those two days this week in the hospital. Hope, accompanied by grace and maybe patience, is doing its perfect work like it says in James 1:4. Sam is here with me as I type. She is updating her website. She has a pounding, infected ingrown toenail but her breathing is good and the chest pain is gone.
If you want to take the resilience test you can look here. As for me, I think I am still a work in progress but I serve a very big, capable God.