The email was a scalpel that opened my chest, spread my rib cage, grabbed my heart, threw it on the floor, and proceeded to stomp on it.  I, along with all ten staff including my two sons, received the same email.  Three men decided to vote me off the board and terminate all the staff, including me.  I was the founder of the organization.  I didn’t see it coming.  Nowhere was this in my personal or professional development plan.

After I threw up, the long ride from Kansas City back home was a blur. Still think an angel might have grabbed the wheel a few times.

My dream had died. It was flopping around on a cold, concrete floor with the life oozing out with every dying beat. In the length of time it took me to read a couple of sentences, ten years of dreams and commitments were sucked into a growling grinding garbage disposal of disbelief and despair.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, became famous for her 5 stages of grief, which I learned to memorize as “DABDA.” Physical death is the worst, but there are other forms of dying that we suffer.  And, as my son so eloquently stated, “Man, this sucks.”  To refresh those stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I have found myself going through all five stages within a minute. Numerous times each day.

So now what do I do?  All of us suffer from the sucker punches of life and how we react determines the level of contentment with which we are rewarded.  I do not have control over the decision of others, but I have total control over my reaction.  Having been sucker punched before, here are the rules I live by that gives me strength to win the battle.

  • Trust that God will make me better – I’ve learned that faith in a loving God doesn’t always make my circumstance better, but it makes me better.
  • Pray I will admit I almost never feel better when I’m praying.  It’s a spiritual discipline.  But I have learned that later the hope returns, strength comes back, and grace finds the open wounds and begins to heal them.
  • Do NOT punch back– Striking back at people who hurt me is built into my Irish DNA, but those who desire revenge often become the victim of their own anger. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “ I’ve decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
  • Say nice things to myself– I have learned the power of self-talk and speaking positive words to myself, out loud, is like giving myself a piece of dessert. It replaces the rotten things others are saying about me.
  • Turn a deaf ear to the rumor mill I have learned that truth, sooner or later, crawls out of the cesspool of rumors.
  • Seek wise counsel – Choosing people whose opinion I value is critical.
  • Lean on my lover Crisis either draws couples closer, or drives them apart. I have discovered in my wife an ocean of wisdom and streams of healing grace that could only be found in a storm.
  • Give grace – Without question, this is the most bizarre and difficult thing Jesus ever asked his followers to do:  Bless those who curse you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who despise you. My son, Isaac, says, “Grace is a horrible policy.”  It is so unnatural to us.
  • Anticipate great things –I’ve been incredibly blessed to found an organization that in 2.5 years has empowered over 150,000 people to feed over 25 million people. What is next can only be better!
  • Adjust the course– As my son, Caleb, encouraged me:  “Dad, you did not make a vow to God to run an organization. Your vow was to feed people and this gives you the opportunity to feed even more.”  I’ve heard that pilots spend 90% of their time correcting the course of the plane, even though they know it’s final destination. I just need to correct the course, but my destination is to do whatever I can for the rest of my life to feed hungry people. That has never changed. That was a vow I won’t break.

A Heart Surgeon found my heart, stuck it back in my chest, and it’s beating again. A few scars will always remain as a reminder, not of pain, but of healing, of hope, of a new life filled with even greater opportunities.

This is a new chapter. The story of my life has a surprising twist I didn’t expect. What would you suggest my next chapter be?  How would you write the next page of my life?