Saturday, December 22, 2012

Someone who inspires me.

Her name is Debbie Christensen. I first met Debbie at a Tournament of Champions event, an event for the top fundraisers for the National MS Society.What a thrill it was for us to be there with this extraordinary group of people. Movers and shakers from all across the country who as individuals had each raised at least $10,000 for the MS Society. I had the chance to spend time with almost everybody there except for one person and that was Debbie. But she made a big impression on me.

Fortunately we were invited back the next year and so was Debbie. I made it a point to spend some time with her and get to know her a little bit and what an extraordinary person she is.

The first thing that you notice about Debbie is her smile. She is beaming with a huge smile that you could only assume is there 24 hours a day. She is happy, inspired, grateful, thrilled to be with people and to be included and recognized for who she is and what she does. She is an inspiration.

She is also someone who has been very impacted by her MS. She has a caregiver with her 24 hours a day. She rides in a reclining wheelchair. She speaks very slowly and softly and yet has much to say. She stays active, involved, has a large family (over 200 cousins) and a lot of friends.  This past November I had the opportunity to spend more time with her and I'm happy to say that now I am one of her friends.

Why does she inspire me? Because regardless of her circumstances she wakes up happy every day. Despite her seemingly limited abilities, she is there making a difference all the time. And I can only guess that what ever her MS has taken away from her physical abilities, it has added to her spirit.

Debbie makes me want to do more. She makes me want to be more appreciative. She makes me want to have an impact on people and the world around me.

But most of all she makes me smile.

May you wake up happy every day of the coming year. May you find an opportunity for gratitude in everyone of your life experiences. May something as simple as your smile be an inspiration to those around you. May the new year be filled with miracles and blessings for you and your family.

 Happy new year everyone.

You can read more about Debbie at the MS Society website.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thankful or Grateful?

Thanksgiving is behind us and every year it raises a question for me. What is the difference between being thankful and being grateful?

According to the dictionary there is no difference. They are perfect synonyms. But that just doesn’t seem right to me. They may mean the same things, but I do not think that we experience them as being the same.

I think that for many of us the word “thanks” doesn't carry that much meaning. As children we are taught manners, when someone does something for you or gives you something, you say ‘thank you.’ When someone says ‘thank you’ to you, you say ‘you're welcome.’ This polite behavior is taught to us over and over again until it becomes rote, an automatic reply to a gesture or deed given without a whole lot of thought. It is good manners and we were raised to have good manners. That is good and important. The problem is that saying thank you just doesn't carry the weight that it once did.

 Gratitude is another story. When someone tells us that they are grateful to someone for something that they did, or for something that they received, that carries meaning. It carries with it the suggestion that, what ever the deed or item was, someone was touched by it. The word “grateful” has a gravitas that thank you just doesn't carry.

I suppose that some ‘thank you’s’ are given from the heart and received that way too.  But in general, I believe that expressing our gratitude carries more significance than just saying thanks. Should we change the name of our holiday to “Gratitudes-givingday”? I don't think so and I am certain that Hallmark would put up a big fight if we tried. What I do think we can do is remember that Thanksgiving is about more than just saying thanks. It is a time to acknowledge all that we are grateful for.

If we do that, then our bellies and our hearts will be full at the end of the day.

 Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving. My mother's legacy.

"The best kind of giving is thanksgiving." 

 Below is a blog that I wrote four years ago about my mother and Thanksgiving. I was reading it yesterday and the thought that it was worth reposting. I hope that you have a great Thanksgiving. We all have much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving is one of my two favorite holidays of the year. I am sure that my feelings have much to do with the fact that this was my mother’s holiday when she was alive,. She would squeeze 30+ people into every inch of space she had in her small home and serve a feast to everyone who was mandated to attend, and anyone who needed a place to go. After all, everyone needs a place to go on Thanksgiving.

Each year’s dinner started the same way: with the reading of the menu. It took her some time to read the list of the 14 or 15 items she had prepared, followed by thanking everyone else who had contributed. “I want to thank David for bringing the butter” or “A big thank you to the Jones’ for bringing the extra folding chairs.” The truth was that people wanted to help and bring things, but this was her show, her Big Night. Occasionally, she might allow someone to bring string beans or sweet potatoes. But that usually meant we had a choice of the guest’s dish or her version of the same item.

Probably the most unusual or crazy thing that she did for the holiday was a TRIAL RUN. The weekend before Thanksgiving, she would prepare all her dishes, pack them up in Tupperware and bring them to our house, about an hour away. The holiday itself was such a source of joy and pride, I imagine that doing it only once was not enough for her. TWO THANKSGIVING DINNERS and each one was so much work. Who do you know who does that…….or wants to, for that matter? This was truly a labor of love.

She judged her success by the smiles on everyone’s faces and there were always plenty of those. This was her day to shine and she did. On Thanksgiving, she was a Star and we all knew it. Every year on this day, she got all the praises, attention, love and affection she so richly deserved.

I was lucky enough to spend 46 Thanksgivings with her. Now that Mom is gone, my great wife, Gail has inherited the holiday and she does a great job of filling Mom’s shoes. Now the holiday has become her night to shine and she does.

I had intended to write a holiday blog about Thanksgiving, more of my usual stuff about gratitude and perspective. Instead you got a story about my amazing mom and incredible wife. You will just have to trust that I do feel extraordinarily thankful and grateful for both of them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One of the best weekends ever.

 Almost two weeks ago I told you about our pending trip to Dallas. Now we are back and all that I can say is that my experience was much greater than anything I ever could have imagined. The event, the National MS Society's Annual Leadership Conference, started on Thursday and ended on Saturday and in between were general sessions, breakout sessions, gala dinners, entertainment and more than 500 of the nicest, kindest and most caring people that you could ever meet.

Then it occurred to me. “Of course they are nice. After all, this is a cause.” The people who work for the MS Society are a kind and caring bunch, otherwise they would not work there. The people who volunteer and contribute at this level are kind and caring, otherwise they wouldn't be there.  To be immersed, among and gathered with all of these people was an absolute joy. It was a great thrill for me and a weekend that was filled with  praIses and accolades. I do not know if that is because of the job that I did or because they are so darn nice. Either way, it sure felt good.

 There were X Games Gold Medal winners, Clay Walker, David Osmond and a very talented 10-year-old girl who brought the house down when she sang “the Climb”. There were astronomical fundraisers who have raised millions of dollars for the society, activists who have helped make great changes in how Medicare treats those of us living with MS. There were students who were scholarship winners, researchers and clinicians. Barbecues, cocktails and a video being shot that had everybody singing and dancing.

 In other words, it was fun, moving, informative and inspiring. It was everything that you could hope for at an event like this. It was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life. My only hope is that someday all of you have the opportunity to attend an MS Leadership Conference.

 Who knows? Maybe next year we can all meet up in Denver at the next conference.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

To me it is a very big deal!

I feel like I've told lots of people about this. Yet, almost every day I realize that I've left somebody out and the fact is that I want everybody to know.

 In mid-August I was contacted by the National MS Society. Not the local chapter where we normally direct a lot of our time and attention, but the Big One, the Parent, the Behemoth, the “national” National MS Society asking me if I would co-emcee their National Leadership Conference to be held in Dallas next week. Me?  They were asking me? There are a lot of Michael Gerbers in the world. Did they really mean me? They did and there have been very few times in my life where I have felt so honored and excited to be asked to participate in something. This was one of those times.

 As the song says "Our bags are packed. We're ready to go.” We are actually leaving a few days early to visit a very close friend in Austin, which we are also excited about. In fact, it will be a reunion for four us who have known each other for more than 35 years and who live in different cities across the country. Then it is off to Dallas for the really big show. An opportunity for us to meet and greet the real movers and shakers behind the MS Society. Individuals who have raised more than $1,000,000, companies that have raised millions of dollars, researchers who are at the forefront of the progress being made to lead us to a cure and the management and staff of the Society that make it all happen. 

 “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Our journey is thousands of miles (round trip, that is) and begins with an airplane ride. I promise to share some of the details when I return. Until then, I trust that your good wishes are with me as mine are with you every single day.

 Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thank God I am not disabled!

I hate the word “disabled”. It is the word used most often to describe a person who lives with a disability. But there is a big difference between the two.

A bomb or an engine gets disabled, rendering it useless, non-functional, unable to perform. I am not disabled. I am a useful, functional human able to perform thousands of tasks….and I have a disability.

Our world is getting much better at making this distinction, but we are not done yet. I hope that you will join me in my crusade to change our language and change the way people feel and think about people with disabilities.

I wrote about this more than 4 years ago and felt like it worth sharing again. I hope that you think so too.

u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u 

My father said something to me that I will never forget. He said “You are not handicapped. You may have a disability, but you are the least handicapped person that I know.” He went on to explain that a handicap has entirely to do with a person’s judgment about a disability. This includes the person with the disability as well as the observer.

Are we just talking about semantics? I don’t think so. I think that there is much more to it than that. The language we use not only defines us and how we relate to our disabilities, but also how the world sees those of us who live with a disability.

Am I handicapped? NO, unless you consider a handicap an advantage given to others as they do in horseracing or golf. What are some of the advantages that I enjoy? I get better parking spaces, I get right through airport security and everyone wants to take me to Disneyland so that they don’t have to wait in long lines to get on the rides.

Am I disabled? NO. To call myself disabled would be to say that there is something wrong with me as a person. I am a fully functioning, living person who, among other things, has and lives with a disability. I lead an amazing and incredible life, filled with love, family, friendship, adventure and romance. There are plenty of able-bodied people living in this world who do not have the life I have or the ability to think, feel or communicate as I do. That is their disability. Mine is that I don’t walk so good. (There are other ‘less visible’ conditions that I also have, but the world doesn’t see those.)

I also have an advantage. That advantage, what I have learned from living with a disability, is gratitude. Like most people, it was easy to take my good health for granted. Now, I don’t. Now, I cherish every ability that I do have and do much to preserve those abilities. Do I still take things for granted? Probably, but it is certainly less than before.

0Most importantly, I have discovered that there is a direct relationship between the gratitude I feel and the happiness I enjoy. Feeling and being grateful have become the keys to my waking up happy every day of my life. I consider that an advantage.

Hmmmm.......If a handicap is an advantage (like golf or horseracing), then I guess I do have one. Lucky me!

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.