by marsala rypka
Thanksgiving is the holiday that represents the true spirit of gratitude. But the actual practice of giving thanks, especially when hardship and tragedy threaten to consume us, isn’t always easy. It requires us to recognize and embrace the sacredness of life in the most mundane and ordinary things.
Here to share their challenges and triumphs are entertainer Marie Osmond; author and pastor Jud Wilhite; and Paralympic Games bronze medalist and “Dancing with the Stars” runner-up Amy Purdy.
These three amazing people have learned the secret of alchemy that turns lead into gold. They’ve gone through the re that has tested their courage and faith, and come back victorious from the deepest, darkest depths of disappointment and despair. Their stories inspire us to be the best we can be.
Following in the footsteps of her parents who espoused hard work and dedication, Marie Osmond has lived much of her life on top of the mountain.
She’s had a successful show biz career starting at age 14 with her hit song “Paper Roses.” She made records, had her own TV show with brother Donny; co-founded the Children’s Miracle Network that has raised $4.7 billion; gave birth to three children and adopted five; sold her doll collection on QVC for 25 years; wrote books; appeared in Broadway musicals; was third runner-up on “Dancing With the Stars;” and has performed with Donny at the Flamingo Hotel since 2008.
But Osmond, the author of Behind the Smile; Might as Well Laugh About It Now; and The Key Is Love, also knows what it’s like to live down in the valley.
She suffered from bulimia and postpartum depression; lost her mom on Mother’s Day 2004, her dad in 2007 and many of her cherished keepsakes when her house burned down in 2005. She unconditionally supported her daughter, Jessica, when she announced she was gay in 2009; and grieved the devastating loss of her 18-year-old son, Michael, who committed suicide in 2010. Osmond also went through two divorces, and then fell in love again with her first husband, Steve Craig, who she remarried in 2011 after 25 years apart.
Osmond has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh, but she is quite serious when she speaks out as a Mormon in favor of marriage equality.
“Civil rights need to be for all,” she said. “My daughter is a magnificent child who deserves everything she desires in life. I don’t think God made one color flower. He made many.”
Osmond said her involvement with the Children’s Miracle Network helped her cope with her son’s passing.
“As one of the co-founders, I’ve had the honor of standing for more than 30 years at the bedside of some critically ill children and their parents, who had to make the horrific decision to take their child off life-support. I empathized with them, but I had no idea of their heartache until I lost my own precious Michael. It was only through my faith in God and the emotional support of others that I got through my worst days of grief. My mother taught me if you served, loved and stayed engaged, you learned to have gratitude for everything, no matter how difficult the trial.”
Osmond also learned it’s important to nurture herself.
“Six weeks after giving birth to my son Matthew, the studio expected me to have dropped all the baby weight. The world thought I had a perfect life, and all I wanted to do was hide in the closet. My mother taught me that in order to become everything we were born to be, we have to be willing to go through hard times. We don’t have to be everything to everybody. We just need to be ourselves. Adversity introduces us to ourselves.”
Osmond recorded a faith-based inspiration album called I Can Do This that she plays when she needs to be uplifted. Having studied opera for years, she says one of her favorite songs to sing is “Ave verum corpus” by Mozart.
“The songs on that album remind me we have a loving God who has tenderness for our past, gives us courage for the present and hope for a brighter future.
“My experiences have taught me there are times when I need to ‘be still,’ and pay attention to my heart or my gut, whatever you call your intuition. I usually call it ‘listening to my heart’ because if I listen to my gut, it tells me to order pizza!”
Jud White is senior pastor at Central Church in Henderson, a place where it’s OK not to be OK.
“We’re all broken to some degree,” said Wilhite. “I smoked my first joint at 13, and that path accelerated when I hung out with friends who were in high school. I came from a faith-based family, and there was no reason for me to go down the wrong road, but kids are impressionable at that age. I started using heavier drugs like cocaine, which led to a four-year addiction.
Wilhite was the fourth child in his family.
“My mom was 40 when she found out she was pregnant with me, and she said she didn’t talk to my dad for two weeks. I think that affected me. They were more laid-back or maybe worn-out by the time I came along, but I didn’t use the freedom they gave me in a positive way. I went through a serious rebellion, unlike my three older siblings, and my parents didn’t know how to handle me.”
“One night I overdosed and was unconscious for a while. When I came to, I loaded up on drugs all over again.
Fortunately, I was surrounded by family and friends who supported me, and with God’s help, I quit cold turkey.”
Wilhite credits the church with saving his life, and his mission is to do the same for others.
“When you’re addicted, there are only four paths,” he said. “Death, jail, go crazy or get help. Everyone hits bottom at a different time. I was 17; for others it’s much later.
“When you’re lost to addiction, you become a master deceiver. You don’t realize the biggest person you’re deceiving is yourself. Sobriety requires you to make hard choices. You can stay with friends who are still using, and you’ll use again; or break away and make new friends.
“I’m not proud of lying, stealing, and betraying myself and my family, but I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and powerless, which is why I have compassion for others, even if it’s a different addiction.”
“It’s easy to waste a perfectly good day complaining,” said Wilhite, author of The God of YES. “To be more aware, my wife, Lori, came up with the idea of wearing a bracelet and moving it to the other wrist every time she complains.
Wilhite says there are three factors mentioned in The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky that determine our level of happiness.
“Fifty percent is genetic disposition; 10 percent are life’s circumstances that we credit or blame for 100 percent of our happiness; and 40 percent are our intentional choices, which means to a large degree we have control over our happiness.”
Amy Purdy, who loved snowboarding and wanted to see the world, was a 19-year-old massage therapist at the Canyon Ranch Spa in The Venetian hotel-casino. Then somehow she contracted bacterial meningitis. Within 24 hours of having u-like symptoms and her feet turning purple, she was in the hospital on life support. Septic shock was causing her organs to hemorrhage and shut down, and she had less than 2 percent chance of living.
During the 2 1/2 months Purdy was hospitalized, her two legs were amputated above the ankle, she lost her spleen, and her kidneys failed.
“During surgery to remove my spleen, I felt my last heartbeat, and I knew I had died,” said Purdy. “I was in the dark and saw a dim green haze with three silhouettes who said I could go with them or stay. I remember screaming, ‘No! I haven’t lived my life or fallen in love yet.’ Then the brightest white light I’ve ever seen let me know I could stay, but my life would be challenging, but it would all make sense in the end. That thought got me through the toughest days of my life, along with watching ‘Oprah.’”
Her first prosthetics were uncomfortable, heavy hunks of hardware that barely moved. Depressed, she wondered how she’d ever live the life she dreamed. As difficult as it was, she says every step of her journey was meant to happen.
“The most heartrending experiences offer us a powerful lesson in moving forward,” said Purdy. “I’m not
suggesting we celebrate sorrow, tragedy or loss. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, weep and raise our voices in agony.
“I have lived through that kind of devastation. Yet once the initial intensity lessened, I had a choice to either think of what happened as a set of random cruelties and let them turn me into a bitter victim, or find a larger purpose beyond the pain, which I did.
“My lessons have been plentiful. I learned how to build and sustain my dreams. The pressures of the world are often overwhelming, and those stresses can eclipse our vision of what’s possible. I endured some serious setbacks that required me to renew my vision, reaffix my gaze on the potential for the miraculous and seek new ways to turn the mundane into the magical. The challenges and obstacles have been stepping-stones toward my goals. My biggest struggles have led to my biggest accomplishments.”
Purdy never imagined when she was a massage therapist wanting to travel the world that she would be the only double amputee to compete in the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, and win a bronze medal for boardercross snowboarding, a sport that involves speed, jumps and drops.
It was only possible for Purdy to compete because she and her boyfriend, Daniel Gale, started a nonprofit called Adaptive Action Sports and worked hard to create adaptive divisions in the ESPN X Games and other competitions, and get snowboarding into the Paralympic Games. Through AAS, the couple works with wounded vets and youth with physical disabilities who want to participate in action sports.
After snowboarding four hours each day in Sochi in preparation for the Paralympics, Purdy spent several more hours a day practicing with Derek Hough, who flew to Russia for a couple of weeks to teach Purdy her first dance for her upcoming competition on “Dancing with the Stars.”
The day after winning bronze in Sochi, Purdy was on a plane to Los Angeles. Two days later, she was on national TV.
“I just didn’t want to be the first person eliminated, but I never imagined I’d be runner-up,” she said.
She also never imagined doing a seductive samba at the Paralympics in Rio this year with an industrial-size self-propelled robotic arm. Her performance brought the audience to their feet.
Or that her hero, Oprah, would consider Purdy one of her biggest inspirations, and that she would join Oprah on her “The Life You Want” tour and be a guest on her show, “Super Soul Sunday.”
“People ask what got me through the darkest times,” said Purdy. “It’s GRATITUDE. Focusing on what I have versus what I don’t. Being thankful for everything, even in moments when it seemed like I had nothing. No matter how bad things got, I moved forward.
We’re all born with a capacity for greatness that far exceeds our wildest imagination.
“I may not have the legs of flesh and bone, but these carbon-fiber legs have served me well. They haven’t disabled me; they’ve enabled me. They’ve planted my feet on the spiritual path I was meant to walk. They’ve forced me to be creative. They’ve taught me that when I fall down, I can either wallow in my misstep or use the experience to fuel my growth.
“The question I asked myself back in 1999, that I’m still asking today is, ‘If my life was a book, and I was the author, how would I want my story to go?’ Each morning I wake up grateful for another chance to add a page to my adventure. If the life I’ve been blessed with is a sign of what’s to come, there will be many more fascinating chapters. One day at a time, one dream at a time, I’m still busy writing.”
Purdy did write a book in 2014 called On My Own Two Feet, but one important chapter that came afterward was her wedding on April 26, 2015. After 13 years together, she and Gale professed their love in front of family and friends, including Wynonna Judd, who sang “Grandpa” while she danced with her granddad, and “Love Is Alive” while she danced with her dad, who gave her one of his kidneys 17 years ago.
By all accounts, Purdy is a winner with a perfect score of 10.