Beliefnet
Inspiration Report

Hanging Light Bulb

Sixteen years ago, the Gujarat earthquake leveled large sections of India’s Kutch district including the district capitol city of Bhuj. The earthquake topped out at a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter scale and lasted for over two minutes, nearly four times the average length of an earthquake. The earthquake hit on the public holiday of January 26, India’s Republic Day. The devastating earthquake left more than 1 million homeless and killed more than 25,000 people.

Among those affected was Viral Dalal. Dalal was visiting family in India when the earthquake hit. The high-rise building he was in collapsed. Dalal’s mother, father, brother, sister-in-law and two year old nephew were all killed. Dalal survived the initial collapse of the building but was buried alive in the rubble.

When Dalal was rescued five days later, he was confronted with the magnitude of his loss. Despite the devastation the earthquake had wreaked on his own family, Dalal felt that he had been reborn. The disaster refocused his life and left him with a new sense of purpose and meaning for the future.

In his powerful new memoir, Choosing Light: When an Earthquake Buried Me and My Family for 5 Days I Learned to Fully Live, Dalal retells his story of death, hope, survival and rebirth. This first-person account discusses Dalal’s choice to live and determination to do whatever was necessary to survive.  The memoir also details Dalal’s personal experiences with the search-and-rescue volunteers who saved his life and how those brave people were the ones who ignited in him the desire to inspire others.

Choosing Light deals with the theme of survival. Dalal’s story talks about unleashing the true powers that reside inside the human mind.  Dalal refused to give up even when he was facing down the most unimaginable and challenging circumstances. He not only lived through a terrible event and the personal and national tragedy that followed, but the earthquake also drove him to reinvent and transform his life.

Dalal’s memoir also deals with the theme of gratitude. He talks about developing a fitting perspective toward life’s miracles and avoiding taking anything for granted. Each day and each breath is a gift. Appreciation for those small blessings feeds into another theme in Choosing Light: finding the light even in complete darkness. Dalal discusses seeking out those glints of happiness regardless of whether the darkness is literal or figurative.

Just as Dalal was reborn after the earthquake, so the Kutch district rebuilt itself anew following the disaster. Those in charge of Kutch’s recovery initially faced criticism over their decision to rebuild rural areas first while the urban centers were improved at a slower pace. Since the earthquake, however, Kutch has not only recovered, it has also grown and experienced an economic boom. Areas that were completely leveled now have new roads, airports and carefully planned layouts. New industries moved into the area and created new opportunities for people whose only option previously was traditional crafts. Out of the destruction of one of India’s most catastrophic disasters, both Dalal and his home region rebuilt with a new and greater focus.

Healthy Healing

In 2009, at the age of 36, Michelle Steinke-Baumgard tragically lost her husband of 9 years in a small plane crash, leaving her widowed with two young children. She turned to exercise as an outlet for grief and a way to handle stress. Not only did she drop more than 60 pounds, but she also found that she was healing. Michelle found it so powerful that she eventually quit her corporate VP job to become a fitness coach. Somehow, in the midst of her darkest moment, Michelle discovered a solution – and it wasn’t by eating the cakes and casseroles her friends left in the fridge.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Michelle about her new book, Healthy Healing: A Guide to working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins.

Beliefnet: Tell us about moment you first realized that channeling the pain you experienced after your husband’s death into something productive could be used as a catalyst for inspired change?

Michelle: I was on a long run, training for a marathon I would be complete in his honor. I felt the pain washing over me, and suddenly a felt a strange sense of peace and strength. It was in that very moment that I knew I had to spend the rest of my life helping other find exercise as a grief coping tool.

Beliefnet: In the book, you mention the gifts that grief has to offer, one being “post-traumatic growth.” I’m sure this is a brand new concept to many people, myself included. What can you tell us more about the phenomenon of post-traumatic growth?

Michelle: When you have experienced life-altering grief or tragedy, you have this unique opportunity to grow into a fantastic individual full of a new and beautiful perspective. I recognized this in myself and many others very quickly after loss. It was as if I was seeing life for the very first time. Yes, life was very difficult and painful after a loss, but I quickly realized it was more beautiful and I appreciated so much more. Just recently I read about new this field of psychology, and I realized it was what I had learned many years before. When we go through loss, we have a chance to grow and change for the better, if we make ourselves open to that growth.

Beliefnet: As adults, we prioritize everything above ourselves, often to the detriment of our relationships, parenting, and our work. What advice can you give to help people overcome any barrier to exercise?

Michelle: Your love for others, our effectiveness at work, your view of the world, will all improve if you take time for yourself. I couldn’t believe how much better I became in all facets of my life when I started taking care of my health and wellbeing. You can love deeper, think more clearly, have more personal strength, and live so much larger when you make the time to be your best. The people in your life who love you would not want anything less for you. Don’t make them your excuse, make them your reason why.

Beliefnet: The response to your One Fit Widow from people all over the world is incredible. Did you ever think you would have such an impact on the lives of others?

Michelle: Not really. I knew I had something essential to say after my late husband died, but I wasn’t sure it would resonate the way it has. I think because I’m honest, vulnerable and real, people relate to much of what I have to say. I’m glad that my words and mission help the people who need a lifeline on the hard days.

Beliefnet: I read that you were working to accomplish everything on your late husband’s bucket list. Have you done it all or are more adventures waiting?

Michelle: The list is long and very adventurous. I haven’t even come close to completing them all, and many will have to wait until my kids get older, but I’ve been blessed to do some very cool things. Running a marathon, hiking the Grand Canyon, traveling to Bali and seeing the sunrise over an active volcano, and hiking the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, just to name a few. The best part of my bucket list adventures is that it has turned into a nonprofit for others and through the work our nonprofit does we can now help fund dreams for widows and widowers who may need financial support. That makes me the happiest of all.

Michelle’s new book empowers people to find hope, move forward and feel better. She teaches others how to channel their pain onto something productive and turn a tragedy into something that inspires lasting change. Pick up a copy of Healthy Healing today to read more about her revolutionary fitness-based approach to dealing with grief.

CongressRobert Barr, an ordained rabbi of Judaism’s Reform tradition, is running for Congress. If Barr is elected, he will be the first rabbi to ever serve in Congress. If elected to the US House of Representatives, Barr hopes to bring people together. “Politics has been used to divide our nation,” said Barr. “But we can use it to unite, heal and restore our country.”

Barr is running against Republican Steve Chabot in Ohio’s First Congressional District. Chabot has served as the district’s representative for 20 years. As Barr comes from outside the system, Barr feels he can bring a commitment to service and community to Congress that seems to have been lost. “I never thought Congress could be so broken,” said Barr.

Rabbi Robert Barr is the founding rabbi of both OurJewishCommunity.org, one of the largest online Jewish congregations, and Congregation Beth Adam. He served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Jewish Family Services and on the Ohio Advisory Board of People for the American Way. Barr feels that his experience as a rabbi will serve him well in Congress. “I’ve served in this community and know it well,” said Barr. “My work is helping people through tough times. Whenever I see problems, I bring people together to find solutions that work. And we need that now.”

Barr is not looking for a career in politics. If elected, he plans to push to end gerrymandering and reform campaign financing, after which he may return to his current roles. Barr frequently presents on ethics to university students, medical residents and the Cincinnati Bar Association. He also lectures on theology, religion and culture as part of the continuing education program at the University of Cincinnati.

While Barr could be the first rabbi to serve in Congress, he is not the first rabbi to make a bid for a congressional seat. The television rabbi Shmuley Boteach ran in his New Jersey district in 2012 and, before that, Dennis Shulman ran for a New Jersey seat in 2008. Both Boteach and Shulman lost their campaigns for Congress, but Barr has a fighting chance. His opponent, Steve Chabot, lost to a Democrat in 2008 before reclaiming his seat in 2010.

Barr claims his Congressional bid is coming from the same “commitment to service, problem solving and community” that drove him to become a rabbi nearly 40 years ago. Barr had considered seeking office before but had not felt pushed to act until recently. “In the last election,” said Barr, “I was more and more disturbed by the divisiveness. I felt I had a responsibility to do something about it…I have a responsibility to run now.” If elected, Barr plans to improve schools and ensure every community has clean air and water in an effort to give every Ohio family a chance at success.

Barr feels his skills as a rabbi will transfer over to politics in ways that will allow him to achieve his goals during his time in office. “Part of the job of both clergy and political leaders is to be able to have a vision and articulate that vision,” said Barr. In addition to his already planned reforms, Barr is looking to bring people together. “My responsibility is to be there, listen…and work to help to create a solution,” said Barr, despite working in “a culture in which people are no longer able to talk and listen to each other.”

Even though Barr appears to have a decent chance at reaching the House of Representatives, he still faces an uphill climb. Sam Ronan and Dr. Laura Ann Weaver are both competing with him for the Democratic nomination and the Republican incumbent, Steve Chabot, has only lost his seat once in 20 years of service.

Barr, however, is not intimidated by the odds. “I love to talk,” Barr said. “I’m willing to talk to every voter in the district, and…those who may not have thought of voting for me will decide I’m the one they can trust.” Whether Barr will achieve his prediction of support remains to be seen, but his congressional bid could keep him in the spotlight until 2020 or beyond.

 

Stephanie Hertzenberg is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she received her degree in Religious Studies and Creative Writing. She currently works as a freelance writer from her home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

 

1505969439When most of us hear the term “law,” our minds immediately conjure up vivid images of police, attorneys, Judge Judy, and hit television shows such as CSI or Law & Order. America is the most litigious society in the history of mankind. Our minds have been culturally conditioned to quickly identify opportunities to significantly profit from the wrongs we suffer. We are bombarded with marketing campaigns that target our pains and victimizations in life, and encourage us to file lawsuits to settle matters like divorce, car accidents, employment disputes, and medical malpractice.

A common theme in our cultural conversations is the violation of our Constitutional rights and privileges within civil law. By placing great emphasis on civil law, we’ve developed a one-dimensional perspective about law, and neglect to think about the vital necessity of other kinds, including spiritual and moral laws. From my study of God’s Word as a Bible teacher, I have discovered that the integration of spiritual law, moral law, and civil law (in that order) are essential to the overall health of any society. Most of America’s social challenges are the result of us focusing primarily on civil law while neglecting spiritual and moral law. A society without spiritual and moral law will always need more police, additional courts, and bigger prisons.

In simple terms, spiritual law is God governing humankind. Civil law is the State governing its citizens. But moral law refers to a person’s capacity to self-govern based upon divine, predetermined principles of righteousness and justice. Therefore, moral law cannot be legislated. Principles of righteousness and justice originate with God and are given to us by him. I believe this is why our nation’s founders desired for America to exist as “one nation under God.” As God’s influence within a nation decreases, immorality proportionately increases.

In the countless debates about gun legislation and gun violence, a discussion about moral law is indispensable. I believe our national failure to acknowledge the importance of moral law and its connection to gun violence is the reason we struggle to discover and implement viable solutions to the problem.

Think about this. If you give a righteous man with a strong sense of morality the launch codes to America’s nuclear arsenal, people will remain safe and have nothing to worry about. But an unrighteous man who lacks morality and has malicious intent is capable of killing people with a butter knife, a spoon, a paperclip, or even his bare hands. In both scenarios, the concern is not so much the weapon but the heart’s intent of the individual who handles the weapon.

I have wonderful childhood memories of our family taking trips to the farm my dad was raised on in Choctaw County, Alabama. Hunting for food and shooting for sport was a way of life. Loaded guns were all around, and so were children. Thankfully, my childhood memories do not include any tragic incidents of people being injured or killed by guns, despite us all having easy access to multiple, loaded firearms.

As children, we were taught moral law. We were taught to fear God. To obey and respect our elders. To love and care for the people around us—which included respecting the weapons that could harm them, because guns don’t kill people, but people do.

Considering the exponential increase in gun violence from my childhood until now, I have concluded that guns have not changed, but people have. People in general have become more immoral. It is not my intent to join or dismiss the political sparring about gun control and gun legislation, but rather, to help us understand that gun violence is ultimately an issue of moral law and a matter of the human heart.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus reveals the capacity of the human heart to function as the source of morality or immorality:

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man. (Mark 7:21-23 NKJV)

This passage of Scripture speaks to the great need for each of us to join others on Survivor Sunday and pray for everyone who has been affected by gun violence. We must pray that God would comfort the hearts of those who have lost loved ones, or who continue to live with physical, emotional, or psychological wounds from past tragedies. We must pray for God to remove malicious intent from the hearts of people, and to once again infuse our hearts with His moral law. It is my desire that our children will be safe and protected, just as we were on my dad’s family farm.

 

James Ward Jr. presently serves as senior pastor and founder of INSIGHT Church in the North Chicago suburb of Skokie. He is also the host of Cultural Conversations, a daily radio show on Salem Media AM 1160 in Chicago. Each day he equips tens of thousands of listeners with godly wisdom to meet everyday challenges with biblical solutions. He and his wife, Sharon, have been married for seventeen years and have two wonderful children, Hannah and Jonathan. To learn more about Ward, visit http://jamesewardjr.com/.

Survivor Sunday is an invitation for individuals and evangelical Christian churches across the nation to join together in prayer for those who have survived gun violence in America. These are the “other victims”—the loved ones of those killed by bullets. They may be spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, companions, neighbors, co-workers or whole communities traumatized by the absence of someone they cared deeply for and valued highly—someone who was taken away in an ugly and agonizing way. This nationwide event will acknowledge the tragic loss of more than 30,000 lives to gun violence each year in the United States, and pray for the provision, comfort and protection of those who remain. Learn more and sign up at SurvivorSunday.org.