Mother Nature is a great teacher, and she had me in her lesson plan on Sunday afternoon. 

Honestly, I’m not one who loves physical labor, but my husband’s toiling in the woods—clearing out dead trees and wild bushes—obliged me to put on my barn coat and boots and join his efforts. We are blessed to be caretakers of a forest of burr oak trees, some of which are at least 100 years old. They have lost a few branches from lightning strikes and ice storms, but all in all they are a resilient bunch. Amongst the oaks are an abundance of saplings, bushes, vines, and a few cedars that could have served as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Sunday’s rhythm was Dan pulling and sawing at branches and me picking them up and dragging them into a pile. 

Ever the campfire lover, I began to make another pile of potential kindling for our next s’mores-making event. Dan noticed how easily I cracked the dry ash branches against my knee. He also noticed when one branch simply bent and it wouldn’t crack. “That one’s green, it will bend but it won’t break.” Yes, I noticed that, too, Dan. (I may have rolled my eyes at this comment.)

Yet as he continued to saw the trees and I continued to drag the branches, those words resonated in my ears, “That one’s green, it will bend but it won’t break.” You see, I’d been trying to write for a couple of days about the concept of resilience. I had reviewed notes from a recent nursing conference and did a bit of a literature review, but it just wasn’t coming together until I worked in the woods.

I thought of those slender green branches and what was going on inside of them. I recalled words like “xylem” and “phloem” from science classes of my childhood. I pictured the intricate tissues and magical processes that feed the smallest sapling in our forest to the largest oak. The wind, the ice storms, and the lightening strikes—even a passing deer rubbing the velvet off its antlers—are threatening; but the trees in our forest continue to bend and rarely break. They are resilient.

A couple summers ago, I had another great day in Mother’s Nature’s classroom—this time in the coastal redwoods of Northern California. We were zip lining, and our guide shared some amazing facts about these giant trees. Most notable to me was that their roots extend vertically into the ground only six to twelve feet, but they can extend up to 100 feet horizontally—intertwining with the roots of the other redwoods around them. This intertwining brings great stability to the trees—a resilience to wind and storms (and apparently to zip liners).

How resilient have you felt lately—especially in these days of coronavirus?  Even the oldest and strongest of us have been shaken by this pandemic. Are you flexible and bending with all the new information and schedule changes, or are you ready to crack? Maybe some of both—depending on which way the wind is blowing?

The good news is that you can build resilience. Let me share a few pearls I’ve collected that might help you bend more these days and lessen that fear of breaking. 

1. From my long time nurse colleague, Renee Schultz: “We don’t need to be afraid of barriers, we need to be afraid of standing still.” Also from Renee: “Resilience work is looking at what is right. We can’t change why something is happening but we can decide how we are going to get through it.” 

2. Sociologist and author, Brene’ Brown: ”Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving.” Are you curious today?

3. A powerful way to build resilience is to find connection. (Recall the redwood strategy above.) Who can you connect with today?

4. Reframe your mindset. Stop worrying about what can go wrong and get excited about what can go right. 

5. Set boundaries. Maybe you need boundaries to limit the amount of time you watch or read the news. Maybe you need physical boundaries in your home to get some alone time. 

6. Perception is powerful. Are you perceiving these days as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow? Your children will be watching and learning from you. Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker, “Frame adversity as a challenge, and you   become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.”

7. Practice self-care. Self-care is an act of self-love but it is not selfish. Do all the things your parents might have told you to do–get some sleep, go play outside, drink water, turn off the television, don’t eat so much junk. (I’m looking at me when I type this!)

8. It’s okay to grieve. No one is giving out awards for being stoic (that’s different than being resilient). If you’re sad about not getting to see your senior graduate or missing your granddaughter’s wedding, let yourself be sad—and tell others about your sadness. It’s okay.

9. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that doesn’t get near enough credit. Remember that forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves to get well and move on—to bend and not break.

10. My friend and fellow nurse, Ann Loken, who is soon celebrating her 95th birthday, recently gave me this advice, “Be the beloved person that God has made you to be.” Amen!

One final thought, lean in to your beliefs and values. Diane Coutu, writer for the Harvard Business Review shares, “Strong values infuse an environment with meaning because they offer ways to interpret and shape events.” What is it that gives meaning to your life? Spend time reflecting on those words and images that shape the trees in your forest. You might have some “saplings” in the house who would probably love a dinner table discussion around that topic.

What has helped you be more flexible and able to bend in the strong winds of these pandemic times? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences. We are united around outfoxing this virus, and we will—yes, wash your hands, social distance, stay home, and wear masks when needed—and together we can become more resilient in the process. It will serve us well in the future. 

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Bend not Break

  1. Beautifully written Becky. I am reminded of a favorite quote of mine from Helen Keller “A bend in the road is not the end of the road… Unless you fail to make the turn.” Peace and resiliency to you my friend during these trying times!

  2. Thank you, Becky! I needed to read this before going to HyVee yesterday. I am a rule follower and people going the wrong way against the arrows on the floor of each aisle were stressing me out. I was being a dried up old branch ready to crack. And when I was through the whole store with things still on my list, I became the person going the wrong way and needed grace. I was wearing a mask and I could smile at people, but they couldn’t tell. A chore that I accomplish (usual many times a week) took on a new and stressful aspect.

    The mask made me more aware of my breathing (due in part to the intermittent fogging of my glasses and the claustrophobic feeling they always give me- I am not a surgical nurse!!!). But breathing is good. I am thankful for deep, clear, uncongested, effective breathing. It is good to notice health and to be thankful for it.

    When Erik was a little guy he had a fairly significant issue with anxiety. It concerned me enough discuss it with my colleague, Karla, the behavioral health representative on postpartum unit. She told me that telling Erik not to do something was ineffective. I needed to help him replace the behavior with something else. She recommended teaching him to breath deeply. “Breath in Blue and breath out red”. I was skeptical about how my 3 year old was going to do that. Karla said, “get down on his level and breath with him”. I tried it and was amazed at how quickly he was able to come out of his escalating spiral! Later I read somewhere that deep breathing interrupts the negative neurotransmitters and it is not physically possible to be stressed when doing it.

    The pneuma video by Rob Bell, “Breathe”, tells that in the Bible, the word for “breath” is the same as the word for “spirit” — ruwach in Hebrew, and pneuma in the Greek. The same original words are used in the scriptures for God’s Holy Spirit. There is a definite connection between the Biblical concepts of “spirit” & “breath”. He goes on to say that the name of God in Hebrew is YHWH ( י ה ו ה). This word’s letters Yōd, Hē, Vav, Hē (usually taken for consonants and expanded to Yahweh in English) are in fact breath sounds. God is in each breath.

    Processing all this after the fact reminds me that I am ever in need of grace. My nature is to break and not bend. God is good. I am forgiven. I can take a deep cleansing breath of Gods love and notice the steam on my glasses as I exhale grace – and bend to his will. 🙂

    1. Mary,
      This is beautiful!
      Thanks for sharing about Erik. Amazing intervention for a three year old.
      Breathing is so underrated! It’s so powerful and right there
      for each of us, just like Jesus is. I love the Hebrew—you’re getting good at that—it reminds me
      of the days back in our small group with Pastor Heidi. Always loved her Hebrew lessons!

      Take care, my friend. I’m breathing deeper now thanks to your words.

  3. Becky,

    I appreciate how beautifully you linked your outdoor personal experience to the many ideas and research findings on resilience. The visual connection and the picture make the verbal connection so much more impactful. It was uplifting to read this in a time of many struggles. In this disconcerting time, have been questioning my purpose and wondering if there is a fork in the road I should take. Or maybe find a new road. It reminded me that any choice is a bend, not a break.

    Wendy

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