Terry Lieb Coping with Adversity, Living out your Faith 7 Comments

It’s not what happens to us in life but rather how we respond to what happens to us.

If you have read any of my writings over the years, attended my workshops, sat in my office, or spent any significant time in my presence, you may very well have heard me say this at some point or another. I’m not sure when or how I was first introduced to this principle but I do know when it began to take hold and become deeply lodged in my gray matter.

Just three years after I managed to convince Rita to marry me back in the early 70s, she learned she had multiple sclerosis, a serious and unpredictable illness with no cure and few certainties. To get a diagnosis of a progressive disease at such a young age was a terrific blow. Her attitude, though, was remarkable and never ceases to amaze me.

Over the past 45 years, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen her declare in both words and deeds, “it’s not the increasing challenges that I face each day with MS, it’s my response to those challenges that is important and potentially transforming.” I’ve witnessed this so consistently, it is now on permanent speed dial for me!

This approach has been especially relevant in the last few months when we have been faced with more challenges than we have in years. Many people are understandably overwhelmed by the number and magnitude of the difficulties that are rushing toward them like a tsunami, but others seem somehow able to ride the wave without getting swept under. I have recently observed several examples of people meeting some common challenges with very uncommon responses. Here are three that jumped out at me.

Home deliveries have been a godsend for most of us while in-store shopping is still risky. However, they also have their frustrations. One acquaintance was upset because the delivery man had left a package at the wrong door of her house. She prefers the packages to be placed on her covered patio rather than her side door.

When I suggested she place a sign in the window telling the delivery person her preferred location (a solution that worked for us when we had the same problem), her response was, “I shouldn’t have to put up a sign, it just requires a little common sense. I called the company and filed a complaint!”

The very next day I happened to see a post on Facebook from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. She posted a picture of a serving stand she placed on her front porch with a variety of snacks and even warm beverages for delivery persons, the mail person, or for whoever else showed up! I couldn’t help but notice the profound difference in attitude.

Faith does not automatically immunize you to the challenges posed by the pandemic. As a church consultant, I’ve had a bird’s eye view of the struggles many parishes are battling with. Several times a week I’m talking with clergy who are fighting to “keep [their] head above water.” Many gifted and committed folks are becoming increasingly more hopeless as their churches have exhausted both their financial and leadership resources, and their growing hopelessness and depression have stifled their perceived options and crippled their responses.

Kutztown Kitchen volunteers make meals for delivery

Kutztown Kitchen volunteers make meals for delivery

One area that many clergy have raised is how the drying up of volunteer opportunities like soup kitchens has negatively affected their congregations. In the face of the health risks posed by the virus, they saw no option but to suspend their free-food services. My home church, Trinity Lutheran in Kutztown, took a different tack. In place of their usual basement “Kutztown Kitchen”, they decided to instead prepare individual meals following the Covid-19 safety precautions used by restaurants and then package them for pick up. For anyone who couldn’t pick up the meal, they recruited a group of members who would deliver the meals to their homes. Not only didn’t they end their meal service, they even developed a brand-new volunteer opportunity—delivering meals!

The third example that captured my attention was one pastor’s very innovative response to a situation that has deeply troubled myself and many others lately. Pastor Inge, who is serving a small congregation in rural Pennsylvania, had become increasingly aware of and concerned about the growing political tension and toxic division in her community, including within families. Not knowing how to tackle this thorny problem, she prayed on it and opened herself up to whatever leadings her “sneaky” God had in store. Sure enough, the spirit planted a creative seed in her very fertile mind.

Just before the election, Pastor Inge approached the local officials and ask if she and her parishioners could place a chalkboard out front of the polling location that posed the question to all who came to vote: “What do you love most about America?” The officials approved and the rest, as they say, is history!

People of every political persuasion came up to write their answers on the board. The most common response from both sides of the partisan divide was freedom, but they also included diversity, the Constitution, immigration, marriage equality, and even iced coffee! Everyone was respectful and appreciative, and some folks even offered to put the chalkboard in the back of their pickup truck and return it to the church at the end of the day.

It is impossible to know the impact of that simple act at this specific polling site in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania, However, at least for a few moments many folks were challenged to step back and hopefully focus on something more important than defending their position or candidate. If only for that instant, they thought about what brings us together rather than what separates us. This inspired response to the growing division within our country definitely gets my vote!

So what is it that allows some people to rise above adversity and turn it into an opportunity for transformation when most of us don’t? Are they just better people than the rest of us? Is it something they are born with or can it be learned?

It could be that some people have a natural gift for turning lemons into lemonade, but I think it is more of a habit than a predisposition. After watching scores of clients who have tried to implement it in their own lives and from my own personal experience, I can safely say that practice is key.

Just like a physical therapy program following some type of injury, you need to start small in order to build the muscle up gradually. If your first attempt to use this approach is in a catastrophic crisis, your chance of success is much slimmer than if you have used it effectively with smaller difficulties and frustrations. Secondly, repetition helps ingrain the approach so that you are more likely to turn to it both intentionally and unconsciously.

I have experienced the results of repeated practice firsthand. I’m sure that it was only after many years of watching Rita’s habitual response to her health concerns and attempting to make it my own “go-to” attitude in less frightening and overwhelming situations that I was able to face my cancer diagnosis in 2012 with courage, confidence, and a willingness to see what blessings I could find in the midst of the darkness.

Because Rita infected me, now I want to infect others with this powerful transformative approach to adversity. It’s my hope that this post can be a “super-spreader event” for an epidemic that is more contagious than even Covid-19!



  1. What is your usual “patterned” response to adversity? Are you satisfied with it? Why or why not?
  2. Do you consciously try to control your attitude or do you just do what comes “naturally”? If you have tried to manage your attitude, how successful have you been?
  3. Think of a time when you were able to generate a creative response when faced with difficulty (large or small). What was the experience like?
  4. How do most people around you respond to difficulties? Does you find that your own reactions change depending on who you are with? Are attitudes infectious?
  5. Who do you know whose attitude in hard times you most admire? What about their approach do you appreciate? Have you told them this, and if so, what was their response?
  6. Seldom do we end up after a serious trial the same person we were beforehand. How have you been transformed by crisis/trauma/adversity? Did you come out “better” or “worse” than before? How do you think your attitude impacted the outcome?
  7. What can you do to better respond to the difficulties and challenges in your life?


Banner photo by Francesca Hotchin on Unsplash

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Nanci Osborne
Nanci Osborne
January 10, 2021 1:13 pm

Terry- I so appreciate your writings. They are always thought provoking, and this one has sparked some ideas that I will indeed implement. Thanks so much!

Elsa Heintzelman
Elsa Heintzelman
January 10, 2021 1:33 pm

Inspirational Terry, thanks for sharing! Responding in love, especially the “what do you love about America?” is excellent. I shall ask the next person whose rantings trouble me, Hope you and Rita remain healthy and safe.

January 10, 2021 1:42 pm

Thank you for reminding me that I have choices in life. Too often I start my thinking process with a negative attitude. However, if I carefully pause and allow some time to think through my response, I find it easier to turn the negative into a more positive resolution.

Bill Kelly
Bill Kelly
January 10, 2021 3:45 pm

Terry, you never let me down, always giving me something to thing about, and in this one, something I really have to work on. To know and incorporate into my life that I have a choice in how I respond if only I pause, breath, think, then react. Been working on this one my whole life and will continue Baby steps sometimes but always a work in progress

TVLMary Gade
TVLMary Gade
January 14, 2021 4:05 pm

Always great to hear your thoughts and do some of my own thinking. I am going to pass this along to someone I know who is facing some life challenges. I have always learned that hindsight helps us grow in both faith and trust. What was seen as awful at the time can seem amazing in the rear view mirror. Blessings to you and Rita.

January 27, 2021 7:43 am

Thank you Terry!! Very thought provoking! Good positive thoughts

Fred & Nancy Roberton
Fred & Nancy Roberton
January 28, 2021 8:16 am

Right on, Terry! We have been so blessed to experience Rita’s and your positivity first-hand for many years. We always need to be reminded to stay on course for thinking positively. Thanks for your inspirational writings!