The gift of crisis

Carla was waiting for Matt when he woke up from his cardiac ablation. October 2012

Aunt Carla was waiting for Matt when he woke up from his cardiac ablation.
Washington, DC, October 2012

“You have been offered the gift of crisis.  As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift,” as in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important.  That’s what crises do.  They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.”Glennon Doyle Melton

Probably the only person I know who comes close to really understanding what Matt’s life has been like so far, is my sister Carla. Like Matt, she was born with a lot of medical challenges that meant she spent far too much of her childhood in hospitals.  As if all that were not enough, as a young girl she was severely injured in the automobile accident that almost took our mother’s life, which resulted in more surgery and hospital time.

I can say in all honesty, though, that I’ve never detected the slightest bit of self-pity on her part about all she has suffered.  Instead, I remember her telling me about the friends she made in the hospital, the doctors and nurses and fellow patients she described, how she loved the many cards people sent her, and how I always missed her patient and cheerful spirit when she was not at home with us.

It’s no coincidence that Aunt Carla has a particularly close bond with Matt.  She’s the one who came to stay with him during Jeff’s long hospitalization recently, and the one who also was here with us for Matt’s own recent cardiac hospitalization last October.  She and Matt share a lot of inside jokes, a love of the Pink Panther movies, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and similar zany humor, and so many silly giggles that I have occasionally been known to tell them both to STIFLE IT!!!

But what she and Matt share most is an understanding of what really matters; an intuitive sense that eludes most of us who get in a tizzy about things that are relatively unimportant.  As Melton says, crisis sifts out the empty fluff and leaves behind the essentials that enrich life most — and, obviously, that includes love, loyalty and a lot of laughter.

Have you ever been offered the gift of crisis? If you’re like me, you’d do your best to politely decline it.  But that’s usually not an option.  What, then, has it taught you? What got sifted out, and what remains?


  1. Just before Jesus prophesied about Peter’s denial, He told him that Satan wanted to “sift him as wheat”. (Luke 22:31,32)

    • Yes, I’ve always thought that one of the most haunting verses in the Bible. Thank goodness for the rest of that statement, which brings hope.

      • Tonja

        Julia, we love you and know that Matt and your family are in the best of care..which brings to mind, one of my favorite scriptures Psalms 55:22 ❤ Cast you cares on HIM, HE will sustain you and will never allow the righteous to fall <3. Stay strong….

        • Thank you Tonja, that is a beautiful verse and one I need to remember. There are some days I do better than others about leaving my burdens with God. BUT I am getting better at it all the time – I have no choice! 🙂 Thanks for your words of encouragement and love. It helps me to stay strong!

  2. Thank you,dear sister. It has only been in retrospect that I have viewed my circumstances as a challenge. I credit our mother for that. People that overcome obstacles generally face what they are called upon to face without giving much thought to whether or not they are “up to” the task. It’s the difference in being “crisis oriented” and in just living our lives to the fullest in His service as God would have us to do. Love and prayers coming your way!

    • Carla, I think you’re right about people not being too introspective about holding up under trial. It’s really a practical matter of not having the time or energy for that kind of rumination. Whenever people ask how we are managing, or say they couldn’t do what we are doing, I say “Yes, you could, if you had no other choice.” Still, it must be said that some bear these trials with more grace and fortitude than others. You are among those! Love you.

  3. Mike Bertoglio

    There is also the purported meaning of the two Chinese written characters for crisis: dangerous-opportunity.

    • Yes, a friend of mine used to remind me of that years ago. It does help me stay a bit calmer and less devastated when I reframe these stressful circumstances in that light. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Ashleigh, which I used in this post.

  4. MaryAnn

    This makes my heart sing to know about Matt’s special connection w/ his Aunt Carla!
    He is a wonderful person, I love him!
    I will give some thought to your quote. I have not considered crisis as a “gift”. Again, you bring to the forefront ways for me to expand & grow. What a GIFT you are to me!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. I know it’s hard to see our crises as gifts, but I believe the things you have been through have only added to your compassion and understanding of others. Thanks for your tremendous gift of encouragement that you share so freely with all!

  5. HarryS

    Julia on her wonderful blog site brings us this insight into the deeper content of crisis.

    “You have been offered the gift of crisis. As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift,” as in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.” — Glennon Doyle Melton.

    Isn’t this a wonderful idea and experientially as I have gone through crisis after crisis in my life the dross has been sifted away and the truth prevails. The truth is somehow through some exertion of some character we didn’t even know we had has brought us through.

    Over two decades ago I was told that the Chinese character for crisis contains two components and further in-depth look at these two contains many more. These are “danger” and “opportunity”.

    This brings me to the point of Thanksgiving for all the times of this force, of this growth of “living life on life’s terms”.
    Even the crisis of “being sick and tired of being sick and tired”, the end result of my active alcoholism, resulted in entering into the vast spirituality never even dreamed of. 🙂

    Our enlightened people understand the need for constant and unremitting reconciliation in our worlds.

    • Thank you, Harry – perhaps nothing is more encouraging than to see and hear from those who have survived and overcome. I am so happy that your recovery is the source of rich gifts for you. As you and Mike pointed out, crisis brings danger, but also the chance to redeem the troubles and grow.

  6. kjyaccino

    I love your post today! It’s heart-warming to learn more about Carla and Matt’s bond. And I love the crisis – “to sift” explanation. How so very true. I intend to try to remember to focus on what matters most even before a crisis comes. Thank you, Julia.

    • You’re welcome, Kathy! When it comes to crises, we’re both “gifted!” 🙂 Your support over the years has been invaluable. Thanks for being here.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, my “gift of crisis” came in the form of my staircase fall in 2011. I am truly happier, kinder, and have just a sense of mellowness that I didn’t have before. God sifted away my too particular, uptight ways. Now I’m just MYSELF but I still want to be my ” best self “. I always enjoy reading about your family and their comments!

    • Thank you Sheila! It sounds like I could use some of the same kind of sifting you mention – maybe that is what I am getting now?! You have been a wonderful influence for me and a valuable encouragement on this blog. I really appreciate your presence here! I love talking about my family and hope it doesn’t feel too much like showing boring vacation slides 🙂 but thanks for your gracious comments!

      • Sheila

        You are very kind…. and I am very flattered!

        • 🙂 Then it’s a win-win!

  8. Your post is also a gift, Julia.
    Such a great reminder to see the bigger picture. I’ve been through many crises, and some have had powerful gifts, others I’m still trying to find.
    Thank you,

    • Thank you Denise, I am so happy you like it! I’m with you, there are plenty of gifts I’ve yet to discover in some of the things I’ve been through…but we’ll keep our eyes open so we will know them when they appear! Thanks for being here.

  9. Beautiful post, Julia about your loving family. You’ve been through a lot, but handle it with grace and poise. Thanks for introducing us to Carla.

    • You’re welcome, Alys, and thanks for being here. I really appreciate your kind words. Carla is one in a million; I hope to bring her to CA with me someday and maybe we can all have tea together! 🙂 Especially if we can get Boomdee there at the same time!

      • Oh that would be a treat of the highest order. She’s coming to visit again soon, but I hope it is one of many, many more to come. Would love to meet you in person, and Carla too.

        • Alys, that’s on my mental “someday, hopefully soon” list, the one I take out and review at times when the going gets tiresome and uninspiring. Now I have one more fun thing to dream about!! 🙂

      • With Bells on Julia…it would be epic! I hope to do that, maybe next year if all goes well with Jeff and Matt and things are more settled. I’m so happy to know and love you ladies, xox

        • Meanwhile, I’ll think of you both as I sip away and daydream of fun times to come!

  10. What a beautiful photo. How blessed I am to know both of the people in it. They have a special bond with the Lord too. I wonder if it is somehow related to their medical challenges. I never meet crisis well and it doesn’t matter if it is something minor like the phones going out or something much bigger, I tend to loose my head and question my faith. “Oh Lord, help me with my unbelief. Help me to love you and trust you with the faith of a child.” Thank you for sharing this. I will try to be more open when crisis comes my way. Take care of you. Love to Matt and Carla.

    • Amy, thanks for your sweet comments, but I think you don’t give yourself enough credit. Like all of us, you may have moments of fear and doubt, but you are THERE nonetheless, steadfast with your compassion and help. I could never have survived September 15-16, 2012, without you and Stephen. It wasn’t just a matter of having someone there with Matt. It was a matter of having YOU there. When I called you that night, the minute you heard the words “cancer” and “surgery” you said “We’re on our way!” I never have to ask you. That’s a true friend, and that’s meeting crisis well. I love you!

      • P. S. and yes, Carla and Matt do share a love of God, and a trust in God, that seems to exceed that of almost anyone I know. It has served them well.

    • Amy and Julia,
      I am far less able to cope with the “smaller” (less important) things that I may consider my responsibility than the much bigger ones that I can more easily put in God’s hands.

      • Carla, SO TRUE! Not only is it harder to turn loose of the little things (where the illusion of being in control is stronger), but we get far less support and practical help with the daily “slings and arrows of [not-so-]outrageous fortune.” It doesn’t help matters that so many people I know (including Jeff) seem, on some unconscious level, to see God as a sort of CEO who has delegated all the small stuff to us and only cares about things on the global level, or individual life-and-death types of crises. I think this is a product of our own human limitation; our inability to fully conceive of a being that is truly omnipotent and omniscient, who is watching the checkout clerk at Walmart with the same degree of interest as afforded to President Obama or Vladimir Putin. But I’ve had enough immediate, seemingly miraculous answers to prayers about relatively trivial matters that I have come to the conclusion that God places no limitations on what we can ask about, as long as we take the answer gracefully.

  11. Mike Bertoglio

    Your sister sounds like a wonderful person. The discussion reminded me of Scott Peck’s book ” The Road less Travelled.”-where he frames life as a series of problems-crises- that need to be faced head on and he says ,’No problem can not be solved.” I am not sure that fits with something like cancer. I prefer the statement in a little book -“Holiness” who says that every situation can be an opportunity for spiritual growth. I believe that.
    In crisis I tend to panic at first. But if I take a deep breath or two- usually I can settle down and adopt the secret of nature. But sometimes I just panic and say, “This too shall pass.”

    • Mike, I too have that panic-then-regroup response to crisis. I suspect even those (such as my husband) who are trained to handle emergencies still feel that shot of panic even while immediately turning to practical action. Once Jeff and I witnessed a truly horrific accident on the interstate right before our eyes. Our car came to a halt literally inches from the bumper of an 18-wheeler that had just slammed into an SUV that had a tire blow out, skidding it into the truck’s path before anything could have stopped it. I freaked out, but Jeff just pulled over, ordered me to “CALL 911!” and ran to help. I could barely do the calling and would never have wanted to see the inside of that SUV, but the edge in Jeff’s voice told me he was more frightened than his actions showed.

      I read The Road Less Travelled years ago, and probably should read it again. Peck’s book People of the Lie is also thought-provoking and much less comforting than his other works. It deals frankly with the subject of evil, not evading the topic as has become popular.

  12. Mike Bertoglio

    Yea thanks. Also read -People of the lie.” Pecks approach in “Road less travelled” is a little to intellectual too -though what he says is probably true.
    Here is a quote from a Nouwen book I am reading called-“Here and Now,” “I kept speaking about the clouds until I realized that it was the sun that enabled me to see the clouds.”
    This is from a chapter on Joy and Sorrow.

    • Thanks Mike. I really like that quote from Nouwen; I might have to use it here sometime.

  13. Thanks be for those who know our struggles and can be there when we are happy, sad, in pain or celebration. I read your messages between your sister and you and smiled. While I haven’t known the joy of a sister relationship, l’m lucky to know some pretty spectacular women for years and then some for not long but feels like always. I always hope I give back as much as they do. When I make a friend, it’s usually for life. It’s great that Carla is so connected to you and your family, some family’s struggle with it. Mine especially. I only have relations with two brothers (just spoke to one). They’re good guys but probably not the same as having a sister to talk too.

    • Yes, my sister has been an island of sanity for me in many difficult times. Nobody else goes as far back with me, or understands all the family situations so well. Our family is fairly close despite some issues here and there; on the whole, I think my siblings have been a wonderful gift. I imagine all families have at least a few struggles. Living with four males all these years (I’m including Pasha 🙂 ), none of whom are really talkative, I came to understand how important it is to have female friends and relatives. When I am with another woman — especially shopping — I never feel as if I am dragging her around or having to solicit conversation. I love men – viva la difference, as they say — but there are some things only another woman understands.

  14. Byrdie Hawley

    It was good to see Matt’s picture coming out well from a procedure. His handshake and greeting of “How are you, Miss Byrdie?” encouraged me in a time when one of our grandsons was going through a difficult time. Mother and I have oncologist appts this afternoon, but so far, our blood numbers are good with no signs of recurrence. Dan’s CLL (leukemia) numbers are very good. We pray you will soon receive the same kind of news

    • Thanks Byrdie, thus far Jeff’s CEA numbers have remained low, but those pesky scans seem to keep turning up new tumors (most recently just before he started the second course of treatment and endured the chemo reaction from hell). The chemo had to be stopped less than halfway through the planned course due to the severe toxicity, but if it slammed the tumors as hard as it did the rest of his body, he should be getting a good report when they do another PET scan in about a month. I’m glad to know you are all doing well! We miss you.

  15. When you have a lot of medical issues (I can say this because I speak from experience), you start noticing how many other people have medical problems–that are much worse than yours. Doesn’t matter how bad off you though you were, there’s always a baker’s dozen of people worse off. As a result, I pretty much ignore my infirmities (to the extent I can). I detest seeing doctors because they aren’t much help with chronic problems, except to renew meds, and they always want to rehash everything.

    That’s my long-winded way of saying I understand your sister Carla.

    • I totally share your frusration with “routine” doctor visits. I get so fed up with filling out reams of paper forms for our son, Matt, that all ask basically the same questions– and then being rushed through or asked to repeat a lot of what I just wrote. And yes, there are many chronic conditions for which the doctors really have no useful answers, beyond a certain point. Ironically, because of advances in medicine, there are a great many more of us living with disabilities and/or chronic conditions. Perhaps the next frontier in medicine will be focused on expanding quality of life by improving outcomes for those of us who deal with ongoing health challenges.

      • It’s nice to know someone else feels the same. Nothing to do about it though, is there?!

        • No, although I derive some satisfaction from exploring holistic approaches such as diet, exercise and supplements. While I view these things as a complement to medical care, not a replacement, I have found that they often provide some relief, if only through a placebo effect. I have always said, “hey, as long as a placebo works, I’m all for it!” 🙂 I was more than pleased to see that science is finally recognizing the very real power of the placebo effect – although I doubt medicine will ever fully validate it, because then what happens to the “proof” in all those double-blind controlled studies? Anyway, I think traditional medical care is only one piece of the solution, albeit an often powerful one.


  1. People together | Defeat Despair

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