Living the Lessons of Resiliency: Connecting to Hope
Guest Post on Resiliency by Becky Sansbury
Three babies I never saw touched my heart and changed the course of my life. Three times I was pregnant when the child inside of me died unexpectedly. I had no idea how to speak about these unspeakable times of life. Yet, within that void, a voice beyond my own whispered, “Weep now. The words will come later.”
What did come immediately was a wave of caring. Women from the community brought food and shared tearful hugs, while enduring the awkward silence shared among us. I was overwhelmed by unwavering support from women willing to be present when none of us knew how to mend the fabric of grief inside me. One thing I knew with certainty; their steadying presence sustained me when the rest of my world crumbled.
Resiliency lesson number one: Faithful friends are as valuable as professional experts when you need to stabilize. Friends hold open the door of hope until you can walk through it.
Eventually our family was blessed by the birth of Laurie, then three years later, by Anna. The friends who wept with us, now rejoiced with us.
When Anna was a year old, my thirty three-year-old husband, Robert, suffered a severe stroke. Remembering the power of a committed community, I accepted every offer to care for my children, knowing that family and friends would surround my precious girls with love. My job was to pay attention to every detail of Robert’s medical care and advocate for him during his time of great vulnerability.
Resiliency lesson number two: Be willing to accept help so you are free to focus on a crucial concern.
Almost like a cruel joke, Robert made a magnificent medical recovery, but experienced frightening mental health challenges he refused to address. After years of counseling for all of us, I made an agonizing decision. I needed to end the marriage for everyone’s safety. Struggling with despair and guilt, I justified this wrenching choice on what was best for our children. Years later I acknowledged that I needed the peace of a fresh start too. As women, we often downplay our needs, preferring to focus only on the needs of others.
Resiliency lesson number three: Taking care of yourself amplifies your ability to empower others. Burned out leaders inspire pity, not hope.
Now freed from fear at home, I followed an inner call to become a chaplain and help others in distress. When intense seminary classes and clinical training felt overwhelming, particularly as a single mother, I remembered what I had endured and overcome during the previous ten years. The programmed reflex to dismiss my accomplishment as bragging almost silenced the power of my journey. Fortunately, I listened to a mentor who noted that women frequently fail to benefit from their hard-earned victories because we are embarrassed to claim them.
Resiliency lesson number four: Vividly recalling a success builds your confidence to create more. Heart-aligned leaders celebrate all personal successes, including their own, knowing that hope-filled people create healthy communities.
Where did my life experiences and education lead? Straight to connecting others to hope. As a hospice chaplain, then a career and family crisis counselor, I learned more resiliency lessons from insightful people, like the following women.
Marilyn hated going through a divorce, but she and I discovered a way to maintain her caring personality without hurting her legal case. Never a decisive negotiator and always wanting to be “extra fair” to other people, Marilyn hired a lawyer known for both her skill as a litigator and her high level of integrity. By taking this step, Marilyn protected both her children’s well-being and her own natural way of being.
Resiliency lesson number five: Look for ways to accomplish what must be done without sacrificing your values.
Roberta’s eyes flashed with curiosity and her mouth crinkled into a quick smile. Her slight head nods indicated delight in a conversation; but those small expressions were Roberta’s only form of communication. Paralysis had stilled her body and silenced her voice. But Roberta remained vibrantly alive inside.
Visits consisted of my guessing what Roberta might find interesting, reading to her from books on her bedside table, or chatting with her husband, Ray, while Roberta nodded or shook her head in an attempt to participate. Then came the day that changed everything.
Ray raced into Roberta’s room, plopped a roughly hewn crown on her head, and grabbed a board lined with letters. Ever so slowly, Roberta moved her head, directing a laser pointer attached to the “crown” toward the letters. I copied each illuminated letter as her shaky motions developed a rhythm.
“I-h-a-v-e-c-o…” Letter by letter, until she stopped.
What was Roberta’s message? “I have come out of prison.”
In that brief statement Roberta proclaimed her communication emancipation! In that same statement, the voice beyond my own whispered, “You have been living the words you sought. You are free.”
Crisis. Grief. Confusion. All of these can trap us as surely as a non-functioning body or a stark jail cell, stripping away power and robbing hope; but that doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Better than being rescued, we can move through difficulty using the lessons of resiliency to free ourselves, then others, from whatever imprisons us.
Over the next few months, I learned that Roberta focused on gratitude, contentment, and joy throughout her illness. In spite of her hardships, Roberta refused to let bitterness trap her spirit like ALS had overtaken her body.
Final resiliency lesson: Acknowledge your difficult situation, but refuse to allow every part of you to be consumed by it. You will find freedom within that protected space.
Please use these lessons of resiliency, plus the ones you discover, to strengthen your connection to hope. Whatever your age, your title, or your situation, you will empower yourself and others, thus blessing the world.