The Power of Words: Senescence and Debridement

Words provide endless fascination for me, and I’ve encountered a couple of gems in the past month that seem to sizzle with relevance. So, here are my words of the week – and how they resonate:

Senescence and Debridement.

Both words I learned accompanying my 94-year-old Aunt Virginia to the Wound Clinic at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.  She is a warrior queen of remarkable grit and constitution, but a pesky wound on her outer ankle has refused to heal over the past few months. Since beginning our biweekly visits to see the perspicacious Dr. Moran and her choreographed coterie of clinicians, Virginia’s stubborn sore has much improved.

Debridement. It refers to the forced removal of unhealthy tissue from a wound to promote healing. Mon Dieu! It’s French – from débrider, to remove adhesions or to literally unbridle. Though the body possesses miraculous and mysterious organic self-healing capabilities, sometimes the process hits a snag. It stymies, and it needs a little help to progress. Debridement sends an urgent message to all the white blood cells and healing resources to galvanize the rescue mission – stat.  And, it hurts like hell!

Unfortunately, we don’t always know why we attract the excruciating circumstances we do or why healing pauses, but we do know why pain exists – to tell us something is terribly wrong. Pain  might be the most potent teacher. It’s just a matter of making the right connection.

Senescence. Debridement is a necessary protocol when a wound is senescent – another vocabulary word from the good doc. Senescent comes from the Latin senēscere, “to grow old.” In medicine or biology, it refers to cells that are still metabolically active – but are no longer capable of dividing.  Existing but not thriving. That’s why they need the jump-start.  Life is about living, not just surviving.

Thankfully, we have come to the right place. On our first visit to this chaotic clinic, I was overwhelmed by the number of “customers” – all seeking some sort of relief. There were not even enough chairs for everyone. There were babies, adolescents, grandfathers, society matrons and athletes. I saw one disturbingly gaunt man slouched in his wheelchair with his bandaged ankle plopped in the lap of a young man who looked like his son. He spoke with unconscious gusto. I think he must have been a teacher. “I believe in word economy,” he proclaimed. “I read that boy’s paper, and he used commas like he keeps them in a salt shaker.” I chuckled, but no one else in the room reacted.

“Ms. Thompson,” the out-of-breath nurse shouted as she cracked the door.

That’s Virginia’s married name. More accurately, her divorced name – an identity she’s maintained for more than fifty years. I grabbed the wheelchair she usually propels with her own two feet, and we were off down the hall.

“This is not uncommon,” said the chestnut-maned doc with an easy, warm smile. “But it’s a bear to heal. It’s a problem of pressure. I’ll bet you sleep on your right side, don’t you? We must offload the pressure. That’s all there is to it.”

Offload. There’s the lesson.

“This is gonna to hurt . . . a lot,” Dr. Moran warned as her nurse squirted the swollen, red ankle with lidocaine.

“This is what we call debridement,” Dr. Moran explained. “We have to remind the body how to heal. We need to remove the dead skin that gets in the way. This sends the body’s healing properties and enzymes to the wound.”

Virginia winced and closed her eyes tightly. Then, one glistening droplet ran down her wrinkled cheek.

“Are you OK?” I asked quietly. I have never seen her register pain, and she has endured much in her life.

“I know that hurt . . .  Uh, Ginny, more lidocaine here,” said Dr. Moran. “We need to rally all the resources we can to heal this bugger.”

Virginia began to breathe a little easier as the efficient tech team wrapped her puffy leg with focused precision. Moran gave us a list of instructions and pointed us to our next stop – radiology in the main hospital for an x-ray.

I was not here by accident. In addition to providing companionship and moral support for my only living senior relative, this experience held a lesson for me.  Sometimes the process of removing the dead tissue requires a seismic jolt – maybe two!  We can’t let unattended wounds just scab over – and pretend like everything is OK while the senescent tissue underneath remains.  Ignoring pain does not resolve it. And, the Universe keeps amplifying the intensity of our lessons until we finally get the message.

After all the turmoil, displacement and trauma in recent months (and even years), I know now it’s not my job to change or fix the mess and dysfunction all around me to feel better. That’s a no-win energy suck and likely leads to spiritual senescence. It’s about staying mindful, making higher-grade choices – and getting myself unstuck – not everyone else.

In medical terms, I guess the prescription is debridement – liquefying the icky eschar and slough. But, no more “liquefying” on my home front, please! I get the message! Thank goodness, Virginia’s choices are helping her heal, too. It’s been nice spending this time with her, too.

Let’s rally those inner resources . . . stat.

Deep in the Heart: Giving in the Wake of Disaster

“And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do?”  Luke 3:10 (ASV)

Inconceivable. The destruction. The devastation. The suffering.

As a state and a nation, we are all struggling to find a reason, a context ― or some sort of meaning in the horrendous natural disaster that is Harvey.  We talk of heroic rescues, Texans pulling together under adversity and Divine order; however, the enormity of the hurricane’s wake still exceeds our capacity to comprehend. It’s almost impossible to fathom the numbers (as of Sept. 1):

  • 27 trillion gallons of rain water falling over Texas and Louisiana
  • 50 lives lost
  • 51.88 inches of rain ― the greatest amount of rainfall over land for a single storm in continental U.S. history
  • 40,000 + people forced from their homes and currently sheltered in the state of Texas in 239 facilities
  • 2,882 animals currently being sheltered in Texas
  • 1,000-year-level flood

Yesterday, I purchased a giant box of Luvs diapers and baby wipes for the first time in about 20 years and made a contribution the TrustedWorld.org, which is efficiently managing the logistics of contributed items. I attended a prayer service, but I’m still searching . . .

So, I remembered this article I wrote almost exactly 12 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. I think many of the messages still resonate today.

Reconciling the Overwhelming | Fall 2005

As we continue to grieve the devastating losses of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, our nation’s nonprofit sector now faces daunting challenges ― both immediate and long-term. Frontline relief organizations will continue to require sustained financial support as they scramble to manage the biggest displacement of Americans since the Civil War. Thankfully, Americans care deeply, and they are exceptionally generous.  Within two weeks following Katrina’s landfall, almost $1 billion was contributed to causes serving those stricken by the disaster. Unprecedented in American history, this pace of giving overtook historic rates in the early weeks for both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Asian tsunami of 2004. And amazingly, this outpouring of generosity is expected to represent only one percent of the total amount Americans are likely to give to worthy causes this year.

However, we must not neglect the frontline nonprofits after the breaking news fades. Even after support spikes have subsided, these organizations must be relentless about maintaining consistent funding levels. Still, as nonprofit leaders in a post-Katrina world, we might be feeling reluctant to actively raise funds for other worthy causes ― hindered by the overwhelming needs burdening so many. Understandably so. These unprecedented tragedies require our undivided attention, and it may be hard for some of us to go about our daily activities ― haunted by the shadows of those struggling in the ongoing anguish of disaster.

But this fierce commitment to humanity and our communities must help us stay focused ― working in the true spirit of philanthropy.

Let us embrace the power of generosity by leading our organizations with a vision of abundance, as opposed to scarcity.  As Americans continue to open their hearts and wallets in inspiring ways, let’s envision an expanding philanthropic pie. In fact, historical data proves that as donors increase their giving levels, they tend not to slide back to former habits. As we build compelling cases for support, giving will increase.  And what a privilege is it is to be part of the growth of the philanthropic sector ― as giving assumes such a prominent position in the American consciousness.

Impact Beyond the Gulf Coast.

Whether you are providing food and shelter for the displaced, education for our nation’s youth, or solace for the spirit, now is it the time to communicate directly and authentically with your donors.

Honor the situation, but do not apologize or shy away from contact on behalf of the cause you represent. Let’s reassure our donors that our organizations are strong and that we are grappling with new needs and shifting priorities. If we are confident and centered, our constituencies will have confidence in us and our missions.

In the long run, dedication to our causes will inspire donors who have already made our organizations priorities in their lives. This is a time for all of us to reflect carefully on our own giving commitments and clarify the impact we hope to make.  Now more than ever, let us strengthen our support of the organizations that speak to our personal truths, knowing that we can make a difference ― across the street or around the world.

Healing Trumps Trauma

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ― Pema Chodron

Appalled. I guess that word describes my current state. I keep trying to come to terms with the abhorrent behavior of our 45th president. Though I work daily to find a place of personal peace, the fear still creeps in. I know all is in “Divine Order,” but I am struggling to discern what kind of order that might be.  What could be the silver lining here? What is the gift in this, as great spiritual teachers might ask?

Well, I have a theory, and I guess I’ll go with it, because it’s really the only way I can contextualize the escalating chaos. I had a light-bulb moment when I saw Jeffrey Lord, a conservative pundit on CNN, attempting to defend 45’s alarming “Morning Joe” Twitter rant. Lord resolutely proclaimed, “You can’t call the president crazy.” Wow!  I had to put down my phone. That one sentence summed it up.

  1. Why can’t you?

There’s something distressingly potent in Lord’s protest. Why can’t you question a disturbing, unhealthy pattern of behavior that could endanger the lives of others ― in the leader of the free world? Lord’s claim shines a light on a pervasive mentality that strengthens the stigma of mental illness in the U.S.  Admittedly, this is not easy terrain to navigate, but mental illness is not a weakness. It is not an insult or a bad choice. It’s a disease ― a disease of the brain.  If you have a stroke, like President Eisenhower suffered in 1957, someone hopefully says, “Hey, something is not right with you. Are you OK? Let’s get some medical attention.” But with mental health issues, it’s much murkier. There is so much shame and embarrassment involved; we don’t speak up. We don’t get involved. The condition may not be as immediately life-threatening as a stroke, but it can certainly result in tragic consequences ― especially if you are president of the United States.

  1. “Crazy” perpetuates stigma.

On another level, I was shocked Lord said “crazy.” It seems to be the media catchall for all aberrant or irrational behavior, and its derogatory connotation helps propagate stigma and patient isolation, too. We are so uncomfortable talking about diseases of the brain that our default is “crazy” or now ― “cra-cra.” This language leaves no room for dignity, recovery or healing. And the shame prevents many from pursuing treatment (if their insurance will even cover it, that is) ― whether they are diagnosed or silently contemplating suicide. In a world where “the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics . . . and the suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the same period,”  we cannot continue to humiliate or ignore those who exhibit signs of mental illness.

  1. An inside job.

And finally, there is the reality to face that if we elected a man suffering from mental illness, he is our mirror. It is time to take responsibility for healing our own inner wounds. It’s time to choose authenticity, conscious communication, mindfulness and healthy boundaries.   

But Trump’s coterie of codependent enablers (flying monkeys) is not helping matters. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets, saying he “fights fire with fire.” And Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert minimized the threat of violence associated with the president’s hostile CNN-assault tweet ― actually saying he was “proud of the president” for creating a social media platform that connects with the people.

The 25th amendment offers some guidelines, but the act of defining “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” instantly becomes political and complicated in the realm of behavior.  In addition, the psychiatric profession is still hamstrung by the 1973 Goldwater Rule ― enacted after Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee in the 1964 election, was declared psychologically unfit for the presidency by psychiatrists surveyed in Fact magazine.  Goldwater won a defamation suit against Fact, and the resulting rule still prevents psychiatrists from voicing a caveat publicly without conducting an examination. Unfortunately, this further perpetuates stigma, as well― muffling open discussion of mental illness concerns under a cloak of disgrace.  There is probably a middle ground we can explore somehow.

So perhaps, from a quantum perspective, Trump is here to open our eyes (that have been “wide shut”). Maybe it’s time to end the silence, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness  (NAMI) is trying to do in our schools nationwide ― freeing our voices to tackle taboos that keep mental illness under the radar and under-treated. We are only as sick as our secrets, as they say, and questioning the mental health of the president in a constructive, supportive way might help lift the veil.

I am not sure of the answer, but at least we can start asking the questions about the very real behavioral concerns of this unconsciously virulent and externally triggered man leading our nation. It’s about his health ― and ours.

_____________
From NAMI: If there is NOT AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER but someone is acting irrationally due to his/her mental state, contact your local mobile crisis team. In the Dallas area, individuals may contact ADAPT Mobile Crisis at 1 (866) 260-8000.  If someone is acting irrationally due to their mental state and there IS AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER to themselves or someone else, call 911. 

Reeling from 2016? It’s in the numbers.

“Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”  ― Marilyn Monroe

clock2016

The agony and angst of 2016 are palpable. A grueling and malignant election cycle, combined with pernicious social unrest ― and the loss of too many beloved cultural icons to count have left us dazed and devastated.  So many friends and colleagues are anxious to bid 2016 a swift farewell, but I have recently stumbled on a compelling contextualization.

It’s about the numbers. After all, we seem to be a society obsessed with metrics. We are constantly parsing, computing, digesting and analyzing the data. We warehouse it, mine it and dump it ― but what about the most ancient of calculations ― numerology? Whether you embrace the metaphysical realm or deal solely in the concrete, it’s difficult to completely discount the math.

That is, 2016 is a “nine year:” The end of a cycle.

How does this work? Well, numerology is the study of numbers and their harmonics. Like those who question astrology, auras and chakras, skeptics abound. But who has all the answers?  Plus, this feels more like the mirror than the smoke. Without going into the granular detail, the Pythagorean system of numerology considers the cosmic significance of numbers associated with names, birthdays and years. That makes 2016 a “nine year.”

Do the math:

2+0+1+6 = 9

2+0+1+7 = 1+0 = 1

Clearly, we are living the completion of a particularly volatile and significant nine-year cycle.  Next year, 2017 will be a “one year.” A “nine year” heralds significant change and brings to fruition what began in the previous nine-year cycle. It’s a time of shedding old skin and trying on new ways of thinking and existing.  Where were we in 2007, the end of the last nine-year cycle? Where were you in 2007? George W. Bush was president, and we were about to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president in history in 2008 ― commencing a remarkable cycle fueled by the audacity of hope. But now, that cycle is ending ― as we enter another new era.

A “nine year” is a time of completion, resolution and forgiveness, says one numerology site.  You can even calculate your personal-year number for 2017. Mine is “five,” which also foretells change, new adventures, relationships and adventures. I’m ready.

The interesting impact of a “nine year” is it focuses on cleaning up unfinished business. And if we resist the closed doors or deny the new horizons, we will not see the new realities. Daunting stuff. So, the numbers tell us it’s time to learn from the past, radically accept it, and decide how we want to build the future in the next nine years. It is a time to jettison old thinking, pursuits, habits and relationships that no longer serve us. Another great quote:

“The only real battle in life is between hanging on and letting go.”  -Shannon l. Alder


That one has resonated with me deeply this year ― as I seem to have been entangled in perpetual tangos with many aspects of life. However, what I have discovered is change begins within ― in each individual heart and mind. As we end 2016, it’s time to reach your conclusions, and tie up your loose ends. Clean out your closets and make more room. This will help you step into the next nine years free of unresolved traumas and challenges that might hold you back.

Apparently, it’s natural for a “nine year” to be highly emotional.  It can even feel like it’s taking you backwards, but the purpose is to help you learn the lessons that keep you stuck. This is a necessary process to release old emotions that might be triggering you in the present ― impeding your progress. We may be evolving spiritually as a society in ways we cannot fully fathom right now. Sometimes, painful experiences are required to help us grow. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that some of our most beloved creative voices have left the earth this year ― at a time of such disruptive transition.  I think we are likely on the precipice of an unparalleled period of seismic spiritual realignment.

So, what will the “one year” hold?

Who knows? But 2017 is the number of beginning ― the dawning of something altogether new. The “one year” is time to act independently ― but also to lead by example, putting your unique talents to work for the greater good and the community as a whole.

The great news about 2017 is that transformation is an integral part of the equation. Be open and be ready. Fasten your seatbelts; it going to be a bumpy, high-velocity ride. Embrace positive expectancy.   Anything is possible ― with hope, faith, love ― and a clean slate.

The Rest of the Story

scrabble-wordsWhen I speak to groups or clients ― I like to describe myself as a translator of sorts.  I interpret a need or message for a specific audience. I help make that high-voltage connection that triggers the response or behavior desired.

In our first installment, we covered components one and two of the high-octane story or appeal:

  • The Pain
  • The Problem

And to review ― we structure the story intentionally to address all key information receptors/processors in the brain ― the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuitry. After all, we learned from Dr. Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that “our conscious minds comprise only about 5% of who we are. The other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.”

Next, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. The Solution.

I always start with the questions. How are you changing or improving lives like the one featured in the appeal? How are you delivering differentiated value? How are you uniquely positioned to effectively deliver this solution and make a measurable impact? What will happen if you don’t act?

Begin with the specific and broaden to a vision of scalability that can happen only with the donor’s involvement. It’s not “we.” It’s “us.” Involve the donor or customer in the solution. As an example, here’s a story about an organization* that provides medications to isolated, under-served communities worldwide:

“Our mission of providing essential medicines to those in the remotest locations around the world is very personal to me,” says Sam Doe, president and CEO of [Organization Name]. “Born in Thailand, I contracted polio as a child and lived in an orphanage until I was adopted by a family from the U.S. at age eleven.” 

Now, Sam wakes up each morning in America and pulls on his full-length leg braces — a daily reminder that he did not receive the polio vaccine as a boy. “On the bright side,” Sam teases, “since my shoes are attached to the braces, I never have to look for them.”

Last year alone, [Organization Name] delivered enough medicines and supplies to treat more than 25 million girls and boys in desperate need around the world. More important to Doe, each treatment represents one face, one child and one life — one more son, daughter, sister or brother who is receiving healing, health and hope.

With your help, suffering cannot prevail.

[*Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality.]

So, we have set the stage with the possible. We’ve created the case. What’s next? Now, it’s time for the climax of our story.  As Samuel Goldwyn said, “We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”

OLG_visionThe Ask

This is Fundraising or Sales 101. The whole letter or email is moving toward this pinnacle ― building on the “Why you, why now, why here?”  And this is often the place we falter in writing these critical communications. We forget to ask ― and do so directly.  We paint the picture and talk about what we do ― but this is where we drive it home.

Web/Digital Example from the University of Dallas:

JOIN US ON OUR LADY’S JOURNEY

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a special space on the University of Dallas campus devoted to our Blessed Mother Mary. Conceived as a sanctuary for students, alumni, faculty, staff and the community, it serves as place to meditate, worship, reflect, breathe and be — amid the chaos and commotion of Dallas/Fort Worth, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the nation. 

Situated atop one of the highest observation points in the Metroplex, the Shrine also incorporates the ancient, treasured stone of Tepeyac ― positioning UD among the globe’s most significant sacred locations for the Catholic community. Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s story as patroness of the Americas, we look forward to finishing the permanent grotto, fulfilling the vision of the Class of 1997 ―and completing the campus’ miraculous spiritual destination.

SHARE THE STORY OF THE SHRINE AND UD <links>

  • Explore a Shrine and Synchronicity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and the University of Dallas
  • Experience the Creation of a Shrine: The Art of Faith: 
  • Marvel at the Miracles of the Madonna: The Science of Faith: 

Support the Shrine and Learn More<Link to info signup and giving.>

There will always be a place to pause— and a candle to light . . .


Only one final installment remains in the story of the story. Take a deep breath and stay tuned.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up on my website. I would be honored to review one of your appeals, as well.  It’s all about maximizing your appeal. It all starts with the story one.

Stream of Consciousness

teardropI am a seeker ― with far more questions than answers, and in recent days, my queries have been dramatically outnumbering my explanations.  Fortunately, in the past decade, my lifelong spiritual quest has led me to the sagacious sphere of one Dr. Joe Clifford.  And that’s why I pen this post today.  Alas, I am struggling with his recent announcement that he and his family will be leaving our frazzled city in less than a month. Intellectually, I know this sadness will pass, and Dallas/#DallasStrong will persevere somehow, but I still feel an overwhelming sense of  loss.

References to Joe’s canny wisdom and his super-human pastoral care shimmer across the pages of my blog like freshly cut gems.  Since 2009, the content I have crafted here has included both professional and personal musings ― more like a meandering stream of consciousness than a stake in the ground, but these ideas started spilling forth way before Twitter was cool and Snap even considered Chatting.  And, this stream has definitely ebbed and flowed . . .

Now, thinking about the soul-rattling events of recent weeks and days, my own profound healing journey over the past seven years, and Joe’s impending departure, I can’t help but recall one of the first posts I was ever inspired to write. It was about a “Joe sermon.”  And several years later, I actually had the good fortune to do some “official” blog writing for First Presbyterian Church ― helping amplify the impact of Joe’s insights and the Word of God.  A career highlight and honor. 

An excerpt from that April 2009 post:

Joe has an extraordinary capacity to inform and enrich my path in ways that are difficult to articulate. Today was an excellent example. He talked about the celebration of Easter wearing off as we entered a week punctuated by the bleakness of tax day, difficult professional challenges ― real life, etc. Then, he said a friend forwarded him the Susan Boyle link on Wed ― the astonishing performance of the unassuming 47-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent, who has captured the world’s imagination. He says he does not have time for all the forwarded email he receives, but he opened this one for some reason.

He said he wept ― and he asked the congregation how many of us had seen it and wept. Most of those present raised their hands. He went on to describe theologian Frederick Buechner‘s take on the origin of these tears. I now cannot get enough Buechner. He ponders:

How do you listen to your life? How do you get into the habit of doing it? How do you keep ears cocked and your eye peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else? One thing I have said, which I think is true, is to pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who you are . . .

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.

Joe said we have a profound, spiritual reaction to joy ― to God. And it’s not enough to experience the moment ― we must use it as a way to discover our own life’s calling, what God has called us to do and be.

The world is hurting ― facing daunting challenges. I believe we are called to pay attention, be vigilant in our consciousness, and bare our hearts. Thank you for helping us do all of those things along the way, Joe.  Godspeed to you and your family . . .  with a smile and a tear.

This may not be Susan Boyle, but it’s a moment ― for now.