Monthly Archives: January 2016
About a month and some change ago I had the opportunity to hear a really challenging message that I feel is practical for anyone. Do you remember a time in your life when someone said something to you that was extremely discouraging? Isn’t it amazing how well and how clearly you remember those words? One example that immediately comes to my mind happened when I was in the 10th grade. I had a geometry class with a particularly bonkers teacher who I couldn’t follow to save the life of me. Of course, in the first marking period I didn’t do so well grade-wise, not to mention that math is so not my strong suit. So I remember it being report card night and my mom visiting with this nutcase of a teacher. My mom and I both mentioned the possibility of switching me into a different class that would have a better pace for me to follow. What the teacher said next just blew my mind: “If you switch out of my class you will amount to nothing.” Ouch. Now obviously this man was a lunatic and I was in several high-level classes in high school…I’m not a complete moron, I just stink at math. But those words stung pretty badly. Now, I was able to indeed switch into a different class where I could understand the work and I finished geometry that year with A’s. Boom. Fast-forward and I have a Master’s Degree and I’m doing well for myself. KA-BOOM. But man, I can’t lie and say those words didn’t bother me or fade for a long time. Luckily it just gave me something to prove. For others, though, discouraging words really hurt and they drag people into a scary abyss.
The Gottman Institute did some research surrounding encouragement. Basically their research found that, on average, for every 1 word of encouragement someone receives in life, they will receive 6 words of discouragement. You read that correctly…1 good, 6 bad. SIX! Now stretch that out 20, 30, 40 years and you’ve got a grim picture, don’t you? But this is the sad reality for some people. We live in a judgy world sometimes; people cut others down because it just makes them feel a little better about themselves. When I heard about this study it really stuck with me on a variety of levels: as a dad, as a friend, as a husband, as a boss…am I really being an encourager?
Heart Dads, it isn’t enough to just get your kid through the scary medical stuff…get them through life in one piece by giving more words of encouragement to build them up. Let the medical team build them up physically while you build them up mentally and emotionally. But beyond our kids, are there opportunities where you can encourage other families? Like really encourage them. What about your spouse? What about your staff at work? Learn to ask “How are you doing” instead of “What are you doing.” What about your kids’ medical team? They see some scary things too…
And speaking of medical personnel, I want to talk to you for a minute. Doctors, nurses, Nurse Practitioners, CNAs, ultrasound techs, receptionists, etc. You can make a massive impact on a family’s health and well-being by being more encouraging. I know you’re busy, so are we. But I want to challenge each and every one of you: the next time a family is in your clinic, even if just for a routine check-up, take 30 seconds to look them in the eye and acknowledge the work they’re doing to make the best life possible for their child. A simple, “Hey, I just want you to know you’re doing a great job at this…it’s hard work, but we’re in this together and you’re doing awesome.” You wanna inject some energy into a tired family? That’s how you do it. Try it…I beg of you…if will work.
The encouragement-to-discouragement ratio is a bad one right now. So how about we flip that around and give more words of encouragement? I mean think about how amazing it would be if parents, who have been through some rough stuff, are the ones who lead the way in encouragement. How amazing would that be? Together we can make the world a better place, so let’s be thinking about what we say to one another!
So we’ve recently wrapped up the time of year where thankfulness is really something that’s front-and-center in most people’s lives. There’s Thanksgiving, there’s Christmas, there’s the celebration of a new year…all great opportunities to reflect, and – of course – I encourage that. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of being thankful…actually I’ve been thinking more about being grateful. “Bruh, you cray-cray, they’re the same thing!” you might be thinking…but hear me out here. To me, there’s a difference.
You see, to be thankful can often mean there’s someone to give that thanks and someone to receive it. You read this crazy madness I call a blog, and I say thanks. And I mean it. Being grateful, to me, is just a little bit different…it’s deeper…it’s almost like a state of being. You choose to BE grateful…and even if there’s no one around to admit it to, you can still be grateful and it can still be amazing. And being in a state of gratitude encourages you to give thanks. See? They’re connected.
What does gratitude look like for me? It looks like those things that have a deeply-rooted connection within me, and are often influenced by my personal experiences. Take breathing, for example: we breathe without once thinking about it. But I look at pictures of Nolan when he was on a ventilator and it stirs up this feeling deep within me: I need to understand the intricacy of this thing we call breathing and realize that I take it for granted. And when I put it in those terms I can be overwhelmed by feeling that I’m SO very fortunate to breathe without machinery. Or think about the very reason you and I are on this blog: the human heart. Before you became a heart parent, did you ever stop once to think about the function of a human heart? Some of you, maybe, but for most of us as long as we wake up the next day it’s all good, cuz the ol’ ticker is working just fine. Now? You are all about that heart, aren’t you? If you’re like me, you think about your own much more than you used to. But man, the heart is an amaaaaazing machine, yet there it lives in our chest without a second thought from us. My heart works pretty well so far…and that’s an awesome thing because we’ve seen how bad it gets when it doesn’t.
And the gratitude list goes on and on: a place to live, freedom, clean drinking water, time with my family, etc. I think true gratitude lives in the deep necessities of life. So why on earth am I talking about gratitude? Because existing in a state of gratitude is really important!
There is a Buddhist priest who is part of the spiritual care team at work and while I don’t run into him very often, I do enjoy chatting with him because 99% of the time our conversation – not prompted – always steers towards gratitude. I remember once running into him and he said, “Tell me one thing you’re grateful for…quickly.” I can’t remember what I told him, but he asked me if I kept a gratitude journal…I told him I didn’t, and he proceeded to tell me that keeping one is one of the healthiest things I could do for my body and mind. Fascinating. So I did some digging…
Forbes put out an article in 2014 about scientifically proven benefits of gratitude (read it here). I encourage you to read the article yourself, but I did want to touch on some of the points that were meaningful to me and expand on them a little bit:
Gratitude Improves Psychological Health
Here’s a good one for all the heart parents out there. Being grateful reduces depression and increases happiness. Personally I think a lot of this stems from the perspective given from being grateful. Once you realize what it takes for your heart to beat or your lungs to breathe, you realize that others don’t have it so easy…and therefore while your current situation might be challenging, you could potentially be far worse off.
Gratitude = More Empathy
Empathy is one lesson I think everyone living on this planet needs to learn. Period. You may not live through what someone else has been through, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put yourself in their shoes. And when you can do that, magic happens…and that’s how we make the world a better place. Now heart parents, we’ve been through some real nasty stuff, so there’s a tendency to have this “we’ve seen it, so we get it” attitude, but sometimes we can fall into more of a “we got through it, so you just get through it” attitude. And that, friends, is not empathy. I think we can all benefit from being more empathetic, and we grow that muscle through our gratitude.
Gratitude Increases Mental Strength
This is so crucial for us, isn’t it? We’ve all been at the end of our rope so many times, but having mental strength has kept us from totally going bonkers. But let’s be honest, guys, we could always use some more mental strength because we don’t know what CHDs – and life itself – will throw at us on any given day. Existing in gratitude will make our minds stronger.
So guys I want to encourage everyone – myself included – to live more in a state of gratitude, because it’s a very powerful state of being. Yes, it’s good to be thankful too…but never forget to be grateful. Maybe you’ll keep a gratitude journal…honestly I keep telling myself to do that, but honestly the only practices I seem to do a good job of keeping are drinking coffee and looking up memes. But maybe this will be my year, who knows? The best thing about gratitude? It has all those benefits and costs you nothing. Now that’s the kinda infomercial I like. Stay grateful, friends.
Wow, can you believe it’s already 2016? Where the heck did 2015 go? Anyways, I wanted to take a moment and wish all my friends out there a Happy New Year! I hope 2016 brings you lots of joy, hope, and fun!
So what’s ahead for us? Well I’ll obviously be posting more regularly on here as 2016 gets into full swing. This is a big year for us, though, because we will be starting preparations for Nolan’s third (and hopefully final) surgery, the Fontan procedure. To be honest, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous about it…but if there’s one thing Nolan has shown, it’s that he can persevere with the best of ’em. I’m confident his medical team is going to do an amazing job.
But hey, I’m getting ahead of myself…he’ll have an echo and a cath first, so all that will happen over the next several months. In the meantime, because Nolan is Nolan, he is currently struggling with a bit of the sickness: he’s got an ear infection (looks like his ear tubes finally fell out) and has been having a rough go of it for the last several days. He’s taking his antibiotics, so hopefully he’ll be back to his regular self in no time.
As we work on getting him better, we plan to jump back into the new year full steam ahead with lots of laughs, love, and fun.
Have a great new year, everyone…and enjoy this, which I found hilarious:
Hey Friends! Don’t worry, I didn’t forget you: it’s just been quite a busy month and some change. December was a really great month, though, I wanted to share with you everything that had been going on. Nolan got to do a lot of fun things like visit the organic farm with his brothers:
And he even got his school pictures. I mean look at this cute kid:
But one of the big reasons for celebration was Nolan and Grant’s birthday! Our big boys turned 3 and it’s always a great time with our family. We’re so thankful for our double-trouble. We even got to celebrate their birthday at school:
A week later, on Dec 17th we always mark the anniversary of Nolan’s first surgery, the Norwood procedure. We never forget how scary and stressful that time was, and my wife spends each year gathering items for the kids and families in the CVICU so we can bring them to the hospital on the anniversary of Nolan’s Heart Day. This year she collected lots of socks and headbands and also her famous little heart hats:
The twins’ school also had a silent auction where we stumbled upon this incredible Tin Man, which we won and gifted to the pediatric cardiology office as a way of thanking them for all they do:
And, of course, we can’t forget to remember just how far Nolan has come in the 3 years since his Heart Day. As I see him play and hear him sing his ABC’s, it really fortunate to have every moment with this little boy…you’ve come a long way, buddy!
Finally we couldn’t wrap up December without one more big celebration…CHRISTMAS! Christmas is already my favorite holiday and I’ve grown to appreciate it even more now that I have kids. I love watching the joy in their eyes when we set up our tree for the first time or as they see a new present to play with. I remember Nolan’s first Christmas, which was in the hospital, and the generosity of strangers as his room was filled with presents. It’s just such a special time for us and the kids all got some pretty cool stuff this year. For Nolan, his favorite gift was a big boy 12″ bicycle that looks like a motorcycle. To be honest, I was worried his short little legs weren’t going to reach the pedals…after all, he just started riding a little tricycle just last month (yes, it took that long for him to get to that point physically). But on Christmas day we brought him downstairs and he was like “A MOTORCYCLE!” and immediately wanted on. His feet reached the pedals but he didn’t have the strength to do it…so my wife and I sacrificed our lower backs and pushed him round and round the house (it was raining Christmas day here) and he was just SO happy. In fact, he refused to open any other presents because he liked the bike so much:
But then….THEN…something clicked in Mr. Nolan. He started to pedal the bike…completely on his own. And I will tell you something, that kid never acted more happy and free as when he can pedal his own big boy motorcycle around the house. And THAT, my friends, is some real Christmas joy right there! Far and away my favorite memory of Christmas this year.
I hope everyone had a great December and enjoyed Holidays with friends and family!