Endure, How Spiritual Assets Build Resilience

Dan Maurer, my Minnesota writing friend (we met way back when we were both writing fiction), wrote his fourth book. Four. Books. And this one is my favorite yet. Dan has a gift for taking hard stories and highlighting the hopeful aspects of them, something we all so desperately need. From a graphic novel on addiction recovery to a nonfiction book of a young boy who was trafficked in the US, his work is always about transformation.

Endure, Dan’s latest book, explores how spiritual assets contribute to resiliency. He tells the stories of several people who endured intense trauma (domestic abuse, war, refugee life) and weaves his own story of recovery into the book. The people he highlights are incredibly vulnerable and brave in sharing their stories, I am amazed at how much empathy Dan showed in listening to, probing into, and sharing them.

The book has moments of horror, surprise, grief, and tenderness. And while I appreciated the stories people shared, as a wanna-be psychologist who loves learning about what makes human beings behave certain ways, my favorite parts of the book were when Dan examined specific spiritual assets and how they helped people overcome their personal traumas.

Hope, love, forgiveness, honesty, these are some of the assets the book highlights. Dan describes spiritual assets like this:

…spiritual assets become the transforming spark that undergirds a resilient response in many life situations, even yours.

Heavy on anecdote, but with research and Dan’s theological training as a Lutheran pastor sprinkled throughout, Endure is a book that is a pleasure read and that offers practical tools for a resilient response to trauma.

Endure would be a great book club pick or community read. Read a chapter and then discuss as a group how you have experienced the highlighted spiritual asset in your own life or how you could develop it in the future.

I don’t believe our world is any more broken now than it was in the past, but I do think we hear about pain and suffering much more. What we also need to hear about is hope, strength, character, and beauty. This is a book full of these kinds of stories. And, it is a book that can help readers live those kinds of stories.

Find Endure on Dan’s blog and on Amazon.

Dan has written several times for Djibouti Jones:

Strong in the Broken: Living While Recovering

On Writing, 7 Steps to Finding Your Niche

A Little Piece of Fiction (bonus: a photo of Dan playing the bagpipes in my Minneapolis backyard when we lived there in 2012!)

Save

Save

The Bookshelf: Light and Dark

Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor

Oh my. This book has been breathing life into my days over the past week. As Taylor writes about darkness, both physical and metaphorical, I paused several times to reread, to think, to gasp.

“John’s answer (John here is St. John of the Cross, who wrote The Dark Night of the Soul) is not simple but in the simplest possible terms, he says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God.”

Radical Runaway by Amy and Jonathon Hollingsworth

A young radical comes back from Africa confused, disillusioned, and looking for hope.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Everything David Grann writes is gold. Gold. This is the incredible true story of one of the former richest per capita groups of people on the planet, a tribe of Native Americans, who were ruthlessly picked off one by one, sometimes by those closest to them, as people stole their fortune.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

A young man processes through faith struggles.

The Not-Quite States of America by Doug Mack

A hilarious and instructive journey through the areas that are, well, not-quite states.

Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel

For anyone who fancies themselves a creator. Music, paintings, stories…Eric has tough love and insightful advice. I highlighted lines on nearly every single page.

Begin Again: Collected Poems by Grace Paley

Beautiful poetry, of course. Its Grace Paley.

Save

Save

Save

Strong in the Broken: Recap

What a lovely summer on the blog, I loved running the Strong in the Broken guest post series. Thank you, readers, for honoring these stories of vulnerability and hope. Thank you, writers, for sharing your experiences and opening our eyes to so many things.

Here are all the posts:

When Extroverts and Introverts Get Married, by Janneke Huisman

Thriving Through Chronic Illness by Singing and Dancing, by Amy Oestreicher

When Cancer and Life Collide, by Nicole Baldonado

Facing Infertility Abroad, by Lori F

Revisiting the Kidnapping, Reclaiming the Story, by Trish

In This Tent We Groan

Learning to Trust, Embracing Vulnerability, by Y.P.

Singing in the Storm, by Serenity

Loving Others While Fearing Others, by Jennifer Brogdon

Living While Recovering, by Daniel Maurer

Sick While Stuck, by Beth Watkins

Female in Saudi Arabia, by Ersatz Expat

Home is Where He Is, by Melissa

And the general post about the series: Strong in the Broken

Good Things, the Second. August 2017.

Taking note of one good thing, one beautiful thing, one thing to be thankful for each day.

1 pepperoni pizza and a sub sandwich all rolled into one and eaten with good friends from far away

2 my youngest playing piano songs she wrote herself

3 listening to my girls rummage through storage boxes of their childhood treasures

4 touring my alma mater with my son and slipping each other handfuls of Swedish Fish to keep energized

5 a quail, startled up from the brush between the dirt road and the wheat field, on my run of seven cool, cloudy miles in new trail shoes

6 picking raspberries while rain rolls in from the north

7 hiking Hurricane Ridge and teenage boys who run ahead just to fill more water bottles and bring them back for younger sisters

8 waterfalls that thunder and waterfalls that tumble and flow

9 free samples of tayberry jam, fresh cheese curds, jalapeno pepperoni jerky, and blackberry honey

10 Mount Rainier and swimming in chilly mountain lakes and teenagers, comfortable in the city and in the wilderness

11 sunset walks and hunts for seashells along the Puget Sound with in-laws and giggling nieces

12 early morning run with a Djibouti friend, in Seattle

13 my daughters trying on my mom’s old dresses, my prom dress, and my sisters’ prom dresses

14 a meal and conversation with a friend who has survived cancer, and the sound of our kids hanging out in the basement, like family, loving each other from the time of diapers to the time of university

15 a deep, vulnerable spiritual conversation with a generous friend able to hold all my questions and doubts

16 digging through photographs from high school and sending them, with giggling emojis, to old friends

17 family and friends from around the world, some who have known me for 39 years, gathered around barbecue ribs and Rice Krispie bars and eager to see photos from Djibouti

18 clean toilets that I vomited in while sick and a large and clean enough bathroom to allow me to sink to the floor until the shakes and sweats subsided

19 the county fair: cheese curds, free ice cream, turtle races, carnival rides, farm animals, grilled pork chops, free Tootsie Rolls (and a quick recovery from sickness so I could enjoy it all)

20 golf! The last time I golfed was 17 years ago, I was pregnant with twins, I didn’t do well. I did a bit, a teensy bit, better this time

21 my daughter accomplishing her swimming ‘rite of passage’ – a 1-mile open water swim, and doing it alongside her

22 10 suitcases packed, 49.5 pounds a piece. 5 roller bags packed, I don’t want to know how much they weigh. 4 backpacks packed. 1 satchel packed.

23 my husband’s dragon war drawing on the paper tablecloth at The Macaroni Grill in the Chicago airport. We are flying home.

24 meeting up with our two teenagers in London – all planes arrived on time and we go onward to Kenya together. Even on airplanes, I sleep better when we are all under the same roof.

25 Kenyan coffee

26 one girl who slept straight through jet lag and woke up excited to start her first year of boarding school

26b watching my kids love each other and make courageous choices without even realizing they are doing it

27 a hike through Karura Forest, Nairobi followed by lunch with Minnesota friends in Kenya and conversations of laughing until we cry and then talking about grief and crying again

28 home again and warm greetings from Djiboutian, Ethiopian, Somali, French, and Nigerian friends as we ran errands all over town

29 wind and rain rendered the morning thirty degrees cooler than usual, a two-hour refreshing respite

30 feeling proud of my cousin, a Houston firefighter, as he spends days helping rescue people

31 three loaves of honey whole wheat bread, baked and delivered to newly arrived staff, and the yeasty aroma that lingers in my kitchen

 

Good Things, the First

 

Save

Strong in the Broken: Thriving through Chronic Illness by Singing and Dancing

Today’s Strong in the Broken essay is by Amy Oestreicher: Thriving with a Chronic Illness By Singing and Dancing About It: How Writing a Musical About My Life Helped Me to Reclaim It. She got me by line 3 because my husband would love it if life were a musical and sometimes he pretends it is. This is a story of turning weakness into strength, using the detour of brokenness to accomplish a creative dream. I love how Amy figured out how to not give in to her sickness but how to be the boss of it and find hope.

It all started with a dream.

I grew up doing musical theatre.

Let me rephrase that. I grew up thinking my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.

I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.

Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do it in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…

…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!”

(These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason.Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.

My one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.

I called it my “world in a binder”.   My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!

I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.

Since then, I’ve been performing it in theatres, hospitals, and groups in need of any kind of inspiration and encouragement. When I realized how combining powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too.

Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day.  I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle. Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. My passion has re-anchored me in who I am. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. 

She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide,  and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.  Learn more at amyoes.com and sign up for updates on My Beautiful Detour, her upcoming book.