Monthly Archives: March 2014

“I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

Blog post:

During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari placed last in the marathon, yet major sports magazines named him as one of two “top international Olympians” that year. While losing the race, Mr. Akhwari won the admiration of untold thousands because he embodied the spirit of a true Olympian as he finished despite setbacks.

Track and field athletes that year faced a common challenge when they arrived in Mexico City: its altitude. At 7,350 feet, it was the highest elevation at which any Summer Olympics had been held. From Mbulu, Tanzania, where the altitude is -3.85 feet, Mr. Akhwari suffered leg cramps early in the race. Yet he continued to run. He collided with another runner and fell, dislocating and badly cutting a knee and injuring a shoulder. He got up and he continued to run.

By sunset, most of his 56 fellow competitors had finished the race. Wounded and in pain, he continued to run. Most spectators had left the arena where the marathon’s finish line was located. Those who remained noticed lights flashing on a vehicle escorting a lone runner and cheered as the Tanzanian hobbled along the track in his own victory lap to cross the finish line more than an hour after the winner.

It’s doubted that anyone present realized they were witnessing a great moment in the history of the Olympics. Many journalists and people posting on various media have told the story of Mr. Akhwari’s personal victory.

In a New York Times article upon the death of Bud Greenspan in 2010 is this account: “Mr. Greenspan, an eight-time Emmy Award winner, often distilled his view of the Olympics into an incident from the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. He was filming the marathon.

“What mesmerized him was John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. … When Mr. Greenspan asked him why he continued to the end, Mr. Akhwari was incredulous at such a question. ‘My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race…My country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.’” 

I teach a women’s class at church one Sunday a month and today my lesson was about enduring to the end through our trials. I felt some of it was very timely with my life and this blog so I thought I would share. I started the lesson with the story about John Akhwari (I love the Olympics and I love this story). The lesson was based on remarks given by Thomas S. Monson this past October.

He said: “The difficulties which come to us present us with the real test of our ability to endure. A fundamental question remains to be answered by each of us: Shall I falter, or shall I finish? Some do falter as they find themselves unable to rise above their challenges. To finish involves enduring to the very end of life itself.”

He continued: When the pathway of life takes a cruel turn, there is the temptation to ask the question “Why me?” At times there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, no sunrise to end the night’s darkness. We feel encompassed by the disappointment of shattered dreams and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone…. From the bed of pain, from the pillow wet with tears, we are lifted heavenward by that divine assurance and precious promise: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Joshua 1:5).

He said: “We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were—better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were.”

It’s hard, though, to rise above it when we’re trudging through the mud of difficulties. It’s easy for us to retreat to our rooms in defeat and wait until it’s over. But I BELIEVE we can endure it, and endure it well. We might need a little help from one another, a little understanding, a little more encouragement from one another. Because in the end, just like John Akhwari, we weren’t sent here just to start the race.

In speaking of Akhwari, Robert D. Hales said:  “He knew who he was—an athlete representing the country of Tanzania. He knew his purpose—to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure to the finish, so that he could honorably return home to Tanzania. Our mission in life is much the same. We were not sent by Father in Heaven just to be born. We were sent to endure and return to Him with honor.”

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How are you feeling?” – Ugh!

I get tired of people asking me if I “feel better.” Or even how I’m “feeling.”

People don’t really want an honest answer to that. And most people don’t give an honest answer.

Fine. Ok. Good.

Those generally aren’t very honest.

I love it when people say, “It’s good to see you.”

There are a couple of ladies at church who know about my health struggles and that’s what they say when they see me. Then I don’t have to address it. And, you know, it always feels good to be seen.

Whether you’re having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day like Alexander … or you’re actually feeling really great and invincible, it’s always nice to know that people are happy to see you.

Fibromyalgia can be a fickle thing. I can feel fine for a few days, get a lot done, feel invincible. And then, bam, I’m down for the count.

I guess I don’t mind so much when people ask “How’s it going?” That doesn’t have to have an answer that relates to how I’m feeling. I can talk about work or the kids or whatever and not have to bring up my health.

It’s difficult for most of us to know what to say to people when they’re going through something, an illness, a trial, a time of difficulty.

How are you comforted, especially when there’s nothing you can do for someone?

I like a simple “hang in there.” It lets me know they’re thinking of me.

So whatever it is you’re going through … fibromyalgia like me or MS or dealing with a parent with dementia or a daughter with autism or a recent job loss … hang in there.

And remember this from Psalm 30:5 – “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I don’t know when that morning will come, but I do BELIEVE that it will come.


Help thou mine unbelief

Blog post:

My husband says it must be what a toothache feels like. You know, when you can’t get in to the dentist yet and you have to wait and the pain totally consumes you. For a day or two. Except this has lasted for 17 years now.

My forearms hurt and sometimes the palms of my hands and even my thumbs and fingers. My triceps hurt and my shoulders. My neck and all the muscles down my spine and my hips. Up and down my legs. Especially the muscles on the outside above my ankles. There are times when I feel like my ribs and spine are crushing me and I can’t breathe.

I sometimes have no strength, not even enough to hold a pen in my hand and write a note. Or stand in the kitchen long enough to cook a simple dinner. And I have tension headaches that can last for days.

And then there’s sometimes this fog. I can’t think straight. I can’t remember things, even little things. Everything is just kind of fuzzy. There are also bouts with depression.

I can’t sleep. I can’t fall asleep because I hurt so much. And I can’t stay asleep once I do. So I’m tired. Exhausted. In pain. And moody.

And consequently, I’m frequently short with my family. And then I pile guilt on top of everything else for being short with them. It’s not their fault. It’s no one’s fault. But that’s hard to remember when you hurt everywhere and you haven’t had an average night of sleep in six days.

So I retreat to my room, close the door and hide in my bed. I miss out on much of life. They go off on these fun adventures. They invite me along, but I know it won’t be fun for anyone if I go. They say it will be okay, but I know the times I’ve gone when I feel like this hasn’t been all that great for them. Or for me.

This is my life. It has been for the last 17 years. Some hours, days, weeks and months are better and some are worse than others. There are times when I feel strong and I feel I can do anything. And there are times when I feel so small and hopeless and alone.

It’s physically exhausting for me to even go out and shoot baskets, one of the things that used to bring me great joy. I try to walk on the treadmill for even half an hour and then I’m done for the rest of the day.

I do push myself, though. I push myself to go into work two days a week. And I’m grateful for laptops and iPads so I can work in bed the rest of the time. I also sometimes push myself to go to my kids’ activities. I’m happy to say I made it to every one of my daughter’s volleyball and basketball games this year. That’s really hard with the drive to games and the bleachers. Oh, the bleachers.

And I try to use laughter as much as possible. I try to find humor in the smallest of things and laugh out loud. Because laughing releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, and I need every feel-good anything I can get to combat the pain.

And when I have to be in public, I try my very best to hide it all, to fake it, until I can make it back to my bed where people don’t judge me. I’ve gotten pretty good at that, faking it, I mean. But sometimes it’s all just too much to hide.

It’s been really bad the past few months. I’ve seen some pretty dark days. So I’m trying to rise above that. I struggle to know what that means though. I guess I’m trying to accept the life that’s been given to me. I don’t know if, in 17 years, I’ve actually tried to do that. I always thought it would eventually get better. But it’s hasn’t. I think it’s actually gotten worse lately, as bad as it’s ever been.

This is not the life I thought I’d be living. So what is it I’m supposed to be doing? How can I turn this so-called weakness into a strength? I don’t know yet. But I think I’m ready to try and figure it out.

And then a few hours later, I’m ready to throw in the towel again and give up.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24).

So, here we go… I believe. Help thou mine unbelief…


National anthem deserves our respect

By Jacki Wood, written for the Nodaway News Leader

Two days after the horrific Boston Marathon bombing, the Boston Bruins took to the ice in the city’s first major sporting event since the attack. The Boston Fire Department Honor Guard, representing all of the city’s first responders, presented the colors and singer Rene Rancourt began singing the national anthem.

But after just a couple of phrases into the song, the entire crowd had joined in, singing so loudly and with such conviction, that Rancourt lowered the microphone and they all sang along together.

It was one of the most emotional renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I have ever witnessed. The “USA!” chants that followed reminded how the country can come together united as one.

Not all experiences with the national anthem are that memorable, nor do they have to be. But each should have the respect of the performer as well as the crowd.

Some of my earliest memories of “The Star-Spangled Banner” came at Spoofhound football games. I remember really cold, dark nights, when my mom would bring these old blankets for us to bundle up in and hot cocoa in an old thermos we had. And I remember the Marching Spoofhounds taking the field and forming an “M” for the football players to run through. And then there was the national anthem. Everyone towering around me stood with their hand over their heart. I would stand up on the bleachers so I could see. And the crowd sang along. They always sang along.

So that’s what I grew up knowing. You always sing the national anthem.

I’ve noticed recently, however, that people aren’t doing that much anymore. I’ve seen it at high school ballgames and during the Olympics. I really loved those US gold-medal athletes who stood atop the podium and actually sang with the music.

But if you choose not to sing along, I can respect your feelings as long as you respect the flag and the anthem. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

I attended a high school basketball game last week and was standing directly across from the teams as local JROTC members presented the colors in the middle of the floor. I stood there singing when I noticed movement just left of the flag.

It was one of the athletes (not from the Nodaway County team), and she was quite distracting. She adjusted the spandex shorts underneath her uniform, first the left leg and then the right. Then she tugged at the left sleeve of her jersey and then the right. And finally, she pulled her headband down, let her hair out of her ponytail, pulled it back up and then readjusted her headband.

I fought hard to concentrate on the song and the words and the flag and what it all meant. And I felt badly for the student singing just a few feet from her.

I did not know the player, but I was embarrassed for her, her family, her school and her community. Had she not learned to be respectful or realize the significance of the national anthem? Or did she just not care?

Regardless, here’s the back story:

After a 25-hour onslaught of Fort McHenry by the British, the early morning light broke through on September 14, 1814, revealing the US flag still flying over the fort. Francis Scott Key looked out from the ship where he had been detained, seeing this sight, and then penned the words that would later become “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

By the 1890s, it had been adopted by US military forces for ceremonial purposes during the raising and lowering of the colors. And it officially became the national anthem in 1931 (The National Museum of American History).

The respect we should show is not just for the national anthem, but also for the flag. According to The Flag Code:

“To salute, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute. Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart….When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music” (usflag.org).

Henry Ward Beecher said: “A thoughtful mind, when it sees a Nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the Nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the Government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the Nation that sets it forth.”

I agree. And I believe the fans of that Boston Bruins game last year demonstrated that to the rest of us.