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When in Rome…

Even the Titanic sank. Learn to turn tragedies to triumphs.

If you saw the Italian cruise ship that recently capsized, many people were injured, several died, and some are still missing. My husband and I were to leave out of Barcelona, Spain this week, the same as that ship’s port. Fortunately, we had to re-schedule our cruise for two weeks, due to a speaking conflict. It wasn’t that we would have been on that ship, and it wasn’t even that I was worried about traveling on an Italian cruise ship. My mother, on the other hand, has been worrying since the day I booked it six months ago!

I realize there is a slight history for her concern. I remember I called her from California when I was in the big 6.8 Northridge Earthquake when 50 people were killed. Also, we called during the 20-mph winds of Hurricane Camille Category 5, when we were on the Gulf Coast that summer. We also let my parents know, though, be it after the fact,  when leaving for Australia, I was bitten by a brown recluse. In addition, we were in a typhoon in China, robbed in Jerusalem, slept with jackals outside our tent in the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and in a near plane crash in Hong Kong. But I also know events happen right here at home. None of my 15 car wrecks were out of the country. As a matter of fact, three of them were in my own garage! We were in Tennessee when our fishing boat was grounded on a rock during a lightning storm, and both the huge floods of 1993 and 2007 were right in our own back yard – literally!
Yes, I have given my parents reason to be concerned at times throughout my life. But now that they are in their late 80′s the last thing I want them to do is worry about me! But usually, it is the first thing they do. I thought that surely, as many cruises as my family has been on through the years, Mom would never worry about the upcoming cruise my husband and I were about to take for our 40th anniversary. After all, we took my parents to Greece on their 50th, and to Ireland on their 60th, and to Panama through the Canal for their 65th. We are already planning their 70th in 3 years! So surely a cruise from Barcelona to other ports in Spain and Italy, and then to the Canary Islands and Morocco wouldn’t concern them. OK, we didn’t exactly tell them we were going to Morocco, just Casablanca.

Then came the frantic telephone call from my mother. “Did you see on the news that ships in Spain are all sinking?” I calmly replied, “Just one, Mom.” She of course screeched, “But it could have been yours if you hadn’t moved the date back two weeks!” Through gritted teeth I reminded her, “But we did Mom!” So now, as they are heading to Florida next week,  I certainly have more reason to worry about them and simple things like falling, getting lost, being homesick, or having a medical emergency. After all, St. Luke’s Hospital has been their second home this past year. But I vowed to them not to worry if they wouldn’t worry about us.  I had invited them to accompany us but Mom said that Daddy couldn’t fly for 16 hours.

So watching the news and the sinking ship again, it reminded me of a famous quote regarding the Titanic. There was an article in the newspaper back then before it made its ill-fated maiden launch saying, “Even God couldn’t sink this one!” As a believer, I know these are called “Acts of God” but I do not believe that God  actually causes such tragedies. Scripture tells us “It rains on the just and the unjust alike.” Tragedies do happen; and I do know He can use such occasions to admonish and perhaps even chastise us at times.

But my parents know that as a professional speaker, I have traveled with my husband all over the world motivating and inspiring various groups. She was so excited when I told her I would be speaking to a professional women’s association in Rome – that is, until she saw the Italian ship sinking. I just thank God it wasn’t during the time we were originally scheduled to be there or she probably would have been on the first flight over to look for me!

By sharing tragedies and near tragedies of my own life, I hope in speaking to help others put things into perspective. By telling of my early life story of “Troubled Teen to Teacher of the Year” and “Hall of Shame to Hall of Fame” I remind others that in all situations there is hope that some good may come out of tragedy. My topic this Saturday is “Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones.”

As a 30-year educator I have seen children, teachers and whole families live through the unthinkable. For instance, speaking in a school near Joplin last fall, the school was late opening because of the huge tornado that had blown buildings completely apart. But the people I met were stronger, more appreciative of what they had, and certainly more generous with others. What is there about the human spirit that we become so complacent and nonchalant during times of prosperity that it sometimes takes trials and tribulations to bring out the best in us?

Many of you may be facing stumbling blocks in your own life; some may have more of a Mt. Everest to climb. In my own family when we are facing illnesses,  financial difficulties or even the loss of a loved one, it has invariably pulled us more together as we lean on one another for comfort and strength.  On the other hand, there are times when we all may feel as if it is just easier to give up than to try to go back and re-build.  I know that when I was a troubled teenager, my parents would lie awake all night wondering where I was; they always dreaded that phone call that might come in the middle of the night. I certainly don’t want them to worry now that I am an adult; but I suppose that’s just what moms and dads do, no matter what their age.

You may be facing fears and worries, physical challenges or health issues over which you have no control. My message of encouragement to you is the same as I still use daily: begin each day on a positive note. Thank God for the new day, for the season, for loved ones and anything else that is good in your life. Release all the unforgiveness, hurt, anger, and any problems over which you have no control. Remember the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Find someone to help each day, and then end your day on a positive note by a hug or call to a loved one, a note to a friend, and a prayer of thanksgiving.

From one who once hated her life, to one who became the most positive and joyful person you could imagine, take it from me, anyone can change  – if they want. And they must be willing to seek help if necessary. In the midst of  storms, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, there is something sweet about overcoming. And besides, just think of all the stories we’ll have to tell! So every day, turn those stumbling blocks to stepping stones. I am sure when we return from our cruise we will have faced plenty of both. And once again, I am so excited to make new friends from every country we visit, especially where I will be speaking to professional women in Rome. Speaking of stumbling blocks, I do hope they speak English! Ciao!

Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, was one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame upon her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. For info, visit www.pepperseed.org

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