What Empathy Looks Like

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Life caved in around her from every side. Years of trying to fix her own problems had reaped no success. My friend was desperate on the other end of the phone, and I had no idea how to fix things for her.

Isn’t that what many of us want to do for people? Fix things? Yet, so many issues are not within our control. So, what do you do when a friend or family member is so broken and you don’t have the right tools to make it better?

As I talked to my friend, I wanted to convey a picture of hope. I wanted her to have something to visualize that she could hold onto. I began to describe a picture to her that another friend had shown me years ago. It was a simple sketch of a person curled up in what was supposed to be the palm of God’s hand. The interpretation was up to the viewer, but I remember thinking how sometimes things in life are so bad that all we can do is curl up in a fetal position and allow God to carry us through. I encouraged my friend to simply rest and let others help her through her difficult time.

“Oh, Amy, I like that. And I will picture you there with me stroking back my hair,” she replied.

And in that very moment, I felt like I realized the picture of true friendship. That is what empathy is all about: sitting down beside our friend, stroking back their hair, offering encouragement, instilling hope. If we can do that alone for our friends, it is a job well done.

Recently, I read some of Job’s story in the Bible. The story tells us that Job lost his possessions, his family, and even his health. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar went to comfort him. “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12-13). And honestly, that’s where is friends should have stopped, because when they finally opened their mouths they said all of the wrong things. All three of them began to insist that all of the tragedy surely had to do with sin in Job’s life. In chapter 42 verse 7 we read that even God got angry with Job’s friends for all they had to say.

Someone else dear to me shared some worries on her heart last week. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I simply asked, “What would be most helpful? Do you just want me to listen right now, or would you like some advice?” Because it’s super frustrating when you just want to vent and the person tries to give you a list of all of the things you should be doing. Have you been there? If you aren’t sure, ask. Otherwise, it is probably best to keep your opinions to yourself and just be present. That’s where Job’s friends got it right. They showed up. Too bad that wasn’t the end of the story.

I want to close with one more example. I work with a fabulous group of moms on Friday mornings during the school year. One of the ladies posted a prayer request for some health issues she was experiencing, especially in the midst of planning for her daughter’s birthday party with family coming to visit. The moms chipped in and provided food for the lunch and money for pizza for dinner. The party was planned and taken care of in a matter of hours. We can’t heal her heart, but we can come alongside and make the journey a little less stressful.

I am tremendously grateful for those friends who have simply shown up for me over the years. God takes care of us through his people.

What a privilege it is to sit alongside someone in their pain and attempt to ease even a little portion of it. Much thanks to my friend, Milet, who drew the amazing picture above so I could send it to my friend as a beautiful reminder of God’s love for her.

From my friend~ Willow Tree Sunshine~ "Friendship brings the sun...and flowers bloom."

From my friend~ Willow Tree Sunshine~ “Friendship brings the sun…and flowers bloom.”

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Doc Petry: Hall of Famer

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Friday night I had the opportunity to attend the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame banquet. My sweet dad was posthumously inducted into the humanitarian category for his contributions as athletic trainer at Bloomington High School South. Following, you will find the speech I gave on his behalf. So proud to be his daughter.

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Dedicated. Skilled. Responsible. Respected. Trusted. Likable. Honorable. Hard worker. Fast learner. Cool under pressure. Caring. Encouraging. Conscientious. All of these are words and phrases that have been used to describe Tom, also affectionately known as “Doc” Petry, specifically related to his 30 year athletic training career. He would be so humbled and feel incredibly privileged to become a part of this Hall of Fame.

Fame is an interesting concept. The word fame means the condition of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements. Aside from Indiana Athletic Trainer of the Year in 1994, my dad didn’t have a treasure trove of trophies, medals, or other awards. I doubt he ever broke any records. In fact, he started in athletic training because of his own physical limitations due to an illness he had as a child. He might not have been able to participate on a field or court himself, but he knew he could help people who wanted to do so. Regardless if someone was first string or fourth, he provided the same degree of care, probably because he knew what it was like to be sidelined.

Some of us get to be in the spotlight, and others are the ones running the spotlight. My dad was more of a behind the scenes person. One of our favorite stories about him concerns another Monroe County Sports Hall of Famer, Dave Reeve. Dave was a football player for Bloomington South in the early 70’s. He was badly burned in an accident in August of 1973 while filling a gas tank on a houseboat. Doctors felt his injuries would prevent him from participating in football for at least a year due to the weight of the shoulder pads. My dad was convinced he could rig up special pads, and sure enough with the doctors’ permission Dave was able to suit up a mere three weeks after his accident. Reeve later ended up in the record books of Notre Dame. Who knows what his future would have looked like without the care and ingenuity of Doc Petry.

In his long career, which by the way is nearly unheard of any more as the average American changes careers 5-7 times in their lifetime, it would be fascinating to know how many athletes he helped continue playing in spite of injuries. How many might not have received scholarships? How many might not have gone on to play at the collegiate level or beyond? How many are more comfortable even now as a result of the treatment they received?

Training didn’t come without its hazards. My dad had a terrible habit of keeping his scissors he used in his back pocket. My mom reminded him probably hundreds of times about taking them out before he would get in the car at the end of the day, but to no avail. Our 1971 Cutlass eventually sported a hole in the driver’s seat due to his negligence.

Those of you who knew my dad know he was a man of few words and didn’t get visibly excited about too many things. However, a hard-fought win, a success during a championship game, or a player’s personal achievement would bring one of the biggest smiles to his face with maybe even a few cheers.

My dad passed away due to complications from Parkinson’s four and a half years ago. One of the few awards that does grace the wall in his old office is the Ted Hall Memorial Scholarship plaque. He received it from the YMCA as recognition for making significant lifestyle changes in their rehab program he participated in. My dad used all of his marvelous qualities to stave off the effects of the disease for as long as he could. I watched his dedication in physical therapy and still remember him doing arm exercises with a Lysol can just days before he passed when that was the only part of his body that still functioned to any degree.

I have heard it said that our sense of smell is the sense that can lead to the most nostalgia. For instance, the smell of apple pie may take us right back to our grandmother’s kitchen. For me, the first overwhelming sense of loss from my dad’s passing ironically came when I took my boys to one of their first indoor track practices at IU. Who knew a sweaty gym smell could bring tears of sadness to a person’s eyes? And, even now, I can instantly recall the smell of the tape my dad used to wrap up the athletes. I didn’t ever get to witness him teach, but I did get to see him tape a fair number of ankles as I waited for him to take me home after school. One article about my dad by Rex Kirts indicates that in one given year (some time in the mid to late 60’s) he had used nine miles of tape. The hard-core numbers guy that Dad was, I have no doubt that measurement was fairly accurate.

One of his jobs as athletic trainer was to train upcoming young people interested in the career. He was a patient teacher, and so thorough it was said students under him learned more in their time in his high school training room than they would have in two years of college classes. Those who worked closely with Doc grew a deep respect for him.

I will close with these words from a plaque given to my dad before his retirement:

“For your unrelenting commitment in the classroom and your many years as the State’s Most Valuable Trainer we recognize the professionalism, dedication and talent you have provided this school. The high degrees of respect and admiration that you have earned and the standards you have set make you a significant part of the tradition and pride of Bloomington High School South.”

My family is honored for my dad to be included in the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame. Thank you for recognizing him as a valuable part of the athletic community.


*Additionally, I found out after writing this speech that a player’s whose life he helped save during a practice by making a critical decision and personally rushing him to the hospital for what turned out to be ruptured spleen, is now the athletic director at Notre Dame. “Small” jobs matter. So thankful for a wonderful example to follow.

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A Time to Stop Praying

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How often do you pray and feel like you don’t get an answer? Ever feel like your prayers hit the ceiling and stop there?

There are many reasons for this feeling, and I don’t want to explore all of them right now, but there is one thing I would like for you to consider: maybe it’s time to stop praying and start acting.

I wonder how often we pray about difficult situations, sometimes our own, and God just shakes his head, knowing we are fully capable of answering our own pleas.

We can’t pray for a new job and not make any applications. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to pray for healing without going to the doctor and following his/her advice. You can’t be magically freed from an addiction without doing the necessary steps to free yourself from it. If you pray to be relieved from a sin you struggle with, and yet don’t make yourself accountable to someone, you are likely to not be successful.

I am guilty as charged. I have begged God to remove things from my life without taking the hard, obvious steps to improve my own situation.

Granted, many things are beyond our control, and I believe God can at the very least help us cope, even if he cannot remove the situation. But, I think too often we cry out to God and the lack of an answer is because we already have one, we just don’t want to do the next difficult thing.

One of the prayers we have prayed with our boys is: “Give me the wisdom to know what to do, and the courage to do it.” That is a prayer that never goes out of style.

There is a song by Matthew West called “Do Something.” The beginning lyrics say this:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

So, regardless if the problem is your own, or it belongs to another, ask yourself, “What can I do?” How has God gifted you to be a part of the solution? Who can you get to help you? What are the steps you have been avoiding taking? Sometimes resolution doesn’t come without a cost.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to do something.