Johann Christoph Arnold interview: Finding happiness in aging

HIS WISDOM about family life and peacemaking has circled the globe; more than a million copies of his books have sold in dozens of languages. Now, the aging teacher and peace activist Johann Christoph Arnold turns to lessons about the spiritual treasures of—aging itself. In an inspiring and fun-to-read new book, Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, the spiritual head of the Bruderhof community shares what he has learned from his own life—and the lives of many other people—about finding happiness in old age.

“Old age”—it’s a phrase avoided like the plague in most books about growing older, which are aimed mainly at avoiding or denying the aging process. But, Arnold always has been a radical teacher and, in Rich in Years, he explores the provocative idea that happiness can grow even as our bodies lose our youthful physical abilities. Talk about counter-cultural teaching!

Arnold was raised in a radical, courageous tradition. His grandparents—Eberhard Arnold and Emmy von Hollander Arnold—were deeply inspired by the Salvation Army movement in Germany in the early 20th Century. Later, they gathered with friends and launched a new kind of communal Christian community, based on Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Their Bruderhof (place of brothers) was founded in 1920 along with a famous magazine now called Plough. The Arnolds eventually learned of another communal Christian community with roots in the 1500s, the Hutterites, and Eberhard visited their communities in North America as he shaped the new Bruderhof.

The Bruderhof’s pacifism and defense of religious minorities in Germany, including the Jews, led to Nazi persecution. Eberhard Arnold died in 1935 after a procedure in a Nazi-run hospital and the entire movement fled outside of Germany, eventually resettling years later in the U.S. The official Bruderhof website describes the group’s history and its life, today, in more detail.

Arnold, now 73, has been an almost Zelig-like character—present at many milestones of peacemaking since the mid-20th century. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; he traveled occasionally with Pete Seeger; he has met and talked with world leaders in many settings, including at the Vatican.

Here are highlights of ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Johann Christoph Arnold …


DAVID: Let’s start with a little bit about the Bruderhof today. I don’t see a membership total online. And what is your title with the group?

JOHANN: I am the senior pastor. The community I’m in is about 350 people. We have around 35 communities all over the world. We are about a total of 3,000 people.

DAVID: I also see various short “bios” of you online, but most aren’t up to date. What are the numbers now? Your age? Your number of grandchildren?

JOHANN: I’m 73. We have 43 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

DAVID: And, here’s one more question that’s so common that your website addresses it in a video: What’s the difference between your communities and the Amish?

JOHANN: There are a lot of similarities, but we really believe in going out to all people and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus—just like Jesus asked his disciples to go out into all the world. The Amish are more withdrawn.

DAVID: You’ve got YouTube videos featuring Bruderhof men and women talking, on screen, about the movement. That’s a big difference between you and the Amish.

JOHANN: We believe in using technology, providing it really serves God and his kingdom.

DAVID: You’re one of the most prolific authors in America. So, do you use an e-reader these days?

JOHANN: No, I do not read e-books. I like to have a real book in my hands. A real book is a thrill to hold! We have a huge library of books. We believe in libraries of real books and not in e-book libraries.

DAVID: I know that you are very proud of your history. Your newest book, which we are recommending today to readers, quotes your grandfather in a couple of sections. But I wonder: Today, in 21st-century America, what kind of connection do you feel to the founders of your movement so long ago and far away?

JOHANN: I would say there are many, many similarities. In my grandparents’ time they did speak out against Hitler and for the Jews and that took a tremendous amount of courage. The German people were gripped by fear—and there was a real threat of being sent to concentration camps. So, when people spoke out, as my grandfather did, this took real courage.

My family did have to flee Germany. We eventually had to go to Paraguay and then because of a dictatorship there, we came to America because we believed here in America we could practice our beliefs. And, to a large part, this was possible.

Sadly, American society today also is gripped by quite a bit of fear, since 9/11 in particular. Fear binds people. Fear shuts up people. We need courage today to lift up the true American spirit. … I see too many people who try to stand up for something today finding that they are marginalized. So, yes, what we are experiencing today in America has similarities to what my grandparents experienced.

DAVID: The Bruderhof is known as a “peace church” and you have been personally involved in peace and civil rights movements. You marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the South. You’ve been involved in anti-war movements. Do you see yourself as an isolated voice coming from the Bruderhof? Or do you see yourself as part of a larger community of activists?

JOHANN: We are very much part of a much, much bigger picture. God is great. God constantly creates something new, something moving. We want to be involved wherever we can work with people, together, for a more positive society.

Pete Seeger was a friend of mine and one of the last things he did was to review my newest book, Rich in Years. I was with Pete Seeger at many rallies over the years, against the death penalty and on other peace issues. He was an incredible man! If anyone should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, it should have been Pete Seeger. He was a man of peace and I thank God that I knew him and worked with him.

(After his recent death, ReadTheSpirit published a tribute to Pete Seeger’s life.)

‘Another day to love and to serve’

DAVID: Your way of talking about the peace movement—serving people wherever there is a need—touches on the central theme of your newest book, Rich in Years. That book is about what I would describe as “the gifts of aging.” The subtitle says it’s about: “Finding peace and purpose in a long life.” And the most important lesson you teach in this book is: As we age, our happiness depends on the service we provide to others.

Toward the end of this new book, you write about your relationship with your grandmother, later in her life. There’s even a lovely photo of her in the book, leaning down so a little girl can kiss her cheek. With the photo are Emmy’s words: “Each morning when I wake up I am happy because I have been given another day to love and to serve.” She was quite a model for you, wasn’t she?

JOHANN: My grandmother’s life was incredible. Here was a woman who was only married for 27 years and then lived as a widow for 46 years and she had a great dignity. People just loved and appreciated and flocked to her. She had an incredible long life and her memory was pretty much good until the very end. She died when she was 96.

I am thankful that we spent so many years with my grandmother. My grandfather died in a Nazi hospital. He had a leg fracture and then there was a surgery, and he never recovered from that. He died. It was never quite proven what happened, but I do know that the Nazis definitely had an eye on my grandfather. But my grandmother was able to flee and lived a very long life.

DAVID: Such a person, who survived Nazi threats and was essentially driven as a refugee around the world as a result, might have wound up quite bitter about life, quite fearful. But that was not the case with your grandmother.

JOHANN: She had very happy years right up to the end of her life.

DAVID: And, in your book, you point out why you think her life was so happy.

JOHANN: She was so happy because my grandmother believed in service; she believed in doing good deeds for anyone she encountered: a child, a grown up, a guest. She constantly was thinking of other people. In that way, she was an incredible inspiration to me and to many others. She left a legacy for younger people, today, that if you want your life to count for something, you will serve as a role model to others. Throughout her life, she was a role model to thousands.

DAVID: I have been reporting on religion and spirituality for nearly 40 years and in my library of books about the spiritual side of life, I can find very few that focus on the “gifts of aging.” Most books on aging are about how to avoid it or to deny it. The main example from this other point of view is Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

Why did you decide to write such an unusual book—about the gifts of aging?

JOHANN: My wife and I, whether we like it or not, are also becoming senior citizens so we thought it was time to explore this and to contact other senior citizens to see how they made out. I was richly rewarded in realizing that—these old timers who have been married for 40, 50 or 60 years—they were able to do this because they had a firm belief in God and believed in what I call the old values.

I did find another book about aging that I found very helpful: Billy Graham’s Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well. I found that book incredible. It inspired me. I read it before I started writing this book and it was inspiring to me as I put my own book together.

DAVID: Your book radically challenges our assumptions as Americans about what aging should be like. There’s a popular TV advertisement, these days, in which the actor Tommy Lee Jones is selling a financial-planning service and asks viewers: “Can you keep your lifestyle in retirement?”

For most Americans, that involves a whole lot of consumption. We measure our success largely by how much we own and can afford to keep buying. Instead, your book argues that real success—real happiness in life—depends on how much service we provide to others.

JOHANN: Yes, David. And I include stories about people who have found this to be true. There’s a story in the book about Vincent and Jean DeLuca, an elderly couple I met when Vince was in his 60s. They ran a family business until they both were in their 80s. So here are two people, who left their business in their 80s—but they didn’t sit home. In the book, I write: “Now that they are no longer in business, they spend their days volunteering locally, mentoring younger volunteers and inspiring them to work hard in whatever vocation they might choose. As Vince and Jean get older and physically weaker, it seems they get spiritually stronger.” This is an incredible story.

DAVID: That’s really a central theme: even as they get physically weaker, they get spiritually stronger. You tell about lots of other people, in this book, but let’s bring this back to your own life. You’ve lived a life of service yourself.

JOHANN: When my wife and I married, we decided that our marriage would be one of service to other people, via counseling, teaching, working together with others and enjoying being with other people. We have now been married for 48 years and in many ways, life is getting lovelier each day. Life is not boring! Every day you find new outlets where you can share with someone a little bit of joy. Jesus said that if you simply give a stranger a cup of water, you will be rewarded in heaven and that is our hope. However long God has for us, we can make a slight difference in somebody’s life with each day we have.

‘Forgiveness … frees us.’

DAVID: This is such a refreshing message in a world where people often talk about the rampant fear and anxiety in our lives. This leads me to the central theme of your other recent book, Why Forgive? Before people are able to free themselves up to embrace this life of service you describe, a lot of us have to get past these heavy weights we carry around of hurt and anger, right?

JOHANN: Yes. Fear and anxiety are so widespread today. But you know, Alan Paton, the famous South African writer said that if an injury has been done to you, no matter how heinous, there is only one way to recover and that is to forgive. That is the kind of message that I and others have been trying to get out to Americans, and trying to get into our schools. And, when I have been out speaking about this, I have seen a real hunger for forgiveness and for nonviolent forms of conflict resolution.

DAVID: A common misconception about forgiveness is that it’s the same thing as conflict resolution. But it’s not. In your writing—and in other classic writing on forgiveness—this process is really about us, as hurting individuals first. We forgive by giving up our lingering thirst for vengeance. We give up our hurt, to the extent that we can. And we do this, whether the offending party participates in reconciliation—or not.

When we publish this interview, we’re also going to publish a column by the writer Benjamin Pratt about forgiveness, which he describes as “Clearing Boulders.”

Forgiveness begins inside each of us. Am I saying that correctly?

JOHANN: If we don’t forgive, we die of a cancer of bitterness and the cancer of bitterness kills as thoroughly as any other threat to life. Bitterness can destroy the lives of the most beautiful people simply because they cannot forgive. When I am in front of groups at schools, I say, “When we forgive: Everybody is a winner. When we don’t forgive: Everybody is a loser.” This is simply the message of Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 18, Jesus says we should forgive 70 times 7 times.

DAVID: You’re talking about love replacing bitterness.

JOHANN: Wherever the love of Jesus overwhelms one person, the angels in heaven will rejoice and that is something to be thankful for.

If someone really does a grievous thing against me, then I have a choice of either being very hurt, very offended, wanting justice at all costs—or forgiveness. But first I have to realize that it is wrong for me to carry all of this bitterness around with me. We must realize: If I forgive my enemy, then I am not doing my enemy any favors. The one I do a favor to is myself.

If I don’t forgive, I am a bound person. I am consumed by the person who has hurt me. I am consumed night and day by him. If I forgive, I let go of all that. I do myself a favor by forgiving. That’s difficult to understand for many people.

DAVID: In Why Forgive? you pose the challenge this way: “Forgiveness is power. It frees us from every constraint of the past, and helps us overcome every obstacle. It can heal both the forgiver and the forgiven. In fact, it could change the world if we allowed it to. Each of us holds the keys to forgiveness in our hands. It remains to us whether or not we choose to use them.”

‘Wherever people start working together’

DAVID: Are you an optimist about America and Americans these days? Or are you worried about our future?

JOHANN: That’s a beautiful question. I have always been an optimist all my life, even when things looked very very bad. Wherever there are people there is reason for optimism because God is at work in every human heart and can change it in an instant. Wherever people start working together, there is reason for optimism. One of the most optimistic guys I met was actually Pete Seeger. He was always was optimist and always saw hope and always was excited about something new. In the same way, I want to be excited about new things each day.

DAVID: You often speak to children and youth. What are you trying to teach them?

JOHANN: I have been in schools where there were thousands of students sitting in gymnasiums in bleachers and filling the floor and what thrills me in this sea of faces is seeing each child’s face. What we need to understand is that each one of these children is a unique story. We need to show interest in the stories of other people, of each person. When I talk to these groups, I say: “I am here because your story is important.” Then I point out to them role models they could look to: Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa. I tell the children: “You will become the world’s next leaders. It is important that you grow up to become the next role models.”

This all begins with thinking of other people, first. There is a reason and a purpose to life in this world—and the time we live in this world is so short, David, so short. Even if we live a long life—it is so short. We had better be active each day, doing something of service to others.

DAVID: I think we’ve come full circle, talking about your life and your work and your two most recent books. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

JOHANN: Tell your readers that they are in our prayers. For us, prayer is the strongest weapon that God gave us in our arsenal to use and it is the most underused weapon. With prayer we can change the world.


Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is devoting a series of columns—in The OurValues Project, this week—to the value of helping others. In his first column, he reports on a five-year University of Michigan study that shows significant benefits in the lives of people who choose to help others.


Johann Christoph Arnold edited the volume in the Orbis Modern Spiritual Masters Series that collects his grandfather’s most important writing. The book, Eberhard Arnold: Selected Writings, is available from Amazon.

You also can learn more about Rich in Years at The Plough website.

Johann Christoph Arnold’s colleagues report the following about the historic Plough magazine: “Plough Publishing House, founded in 1920, is an independent publisher of books on faith, society and the spiritual life. We’re based in Walden, New York, with branches in the United Kingdom and Australia. After 12 years online-only, Plough is re-launching in 2014 with a fresh team, enthusiastic backing, and a mission to contribute to the renewal of both church and culture. In addition to serving up views and insights online, we’ll launch the Plough Quarterly, a new magazine with in-depth essays, stories, poetry, and reviews. To be notified of developments, sign up for Plough’s weekly updates.” (See the lower-right corner of this Plough homepage.)

The Plough editors add: “Appearing in print and digital editions, Plough Quarterly aims—in conjunction with Plough’s books and online publishing—to build a network of readers and writers with a common vision. As an ecumenical magazine, it will regularly feature Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Quaker, and Jewish contributors, as well as occasional Muslim, Buddhist, humanist, and other voices who in fresh ways bring out aspects of Jesus’ message.”

(This interview was originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Dare to Downsize Christmas: Recovering its tenderness and hope

A NOTE FROM EDITOR DAVID CRUMM: The moment we read that Pope Francis ordered the Vatican staff to downsize St. Peter’s Nativity Scene, we knew that this prophetic pontiff was onto something!

Then, we read Francis’s recent Christmas message about recovering the “tenderness and hope” in this holiday season—and we knew we needed to publish a column about how to grab hold of the monstrous Ghost of America’s Christmas Present—and wrestle it back toward Francis’s kind of Christmas. In fact, the pope didn’t spend all that much time talking about Christmas in his message, which was published in an Italian newspaper—because he urgently wanted to talk about the plight of the world’s poor families. Now, that’s a pope!

THEN, we discovered Cindy LaFerle’s Downsizing Christmas, which includes a tip that sounds like what Francis must have told the Vatican staff this year about downsizing the Vatican’s huge Nativity Scene. The staff presumably was startled, but Francis must have told them something like: “I can decorate the way I want, and stuff the rest in the attic.” So, here is—with her permission—a Christmas gem of a column by Cindy LaFerle …

Downsizing Christmas


“We feel steamrolled by the sheer force of family tradition. The key is to take some control over the holidays, instead of letting them control you. … Most people have less than perfect holiday gatherings—they have family tension, melancholy, and dry turkey too.” From WEB MD

Christmas is my least favorite holiday, and I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.

In newspapers across the country and in blogs throughout cyberspace, scores of fellow grinches are expressing their Yuletide angst. And you know there’s something to it when health and medical Web sites like WebMD publish serious articles on how to survive this stressful season.

My annual winter holiday dread has little to do with religion. In fact, at this point in time, Christmas itself has little to do with religion. Christmas has become a performance art; a commercially manufactured event designed to benefit our nation’s retailers. Even worse, it’s a form of emotional blackmail—cleverly repackaged with Martha Stewart trimmings.

Originally a pre-Christian Roman celebration known as Saturnalia, December 25th was converted to Jesus’s birthday celebration by the Roman Catholic Church. What started out as a rowdy solstice festival involving the lighting of torches, drinking to excess, and doing all manner of wild things to chase away winter’s darkness has slowly evolved into a rowdy Christian festival involving the lighting of torches, drinking to excess, and doing all manner of wild things to chase away winter’s darkness.

So there you have it. Just don’t accuse people like me of being sacrilegious for wishing the holiday would melt away quietly with the weekend snowfall. Regardless, as Garrison Keillor once said, Christmas is “compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all get through it together.”

Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve come to believe about Christmas—plus how I’ve learned to cope with it and (sort of) enjoy it:

Giving to a favorite charity always restores my drooping holiday spirit. When the bah-humbugs start biting, there are two antidotes: (1) Roll up my sleeves and help someone who needs me. (2) Pull out the checkbook and make a donation to a good cause.

I remind myself that it’s not my job as a woman (or a family member) to make Christmas merry for everyone. Seriously, we all must STOP relying on women—usually the elderly—to keep cranking the Christmas Machine for us. Either we all contribute to the festivities—in any way we can—or settle for the holiday we get. Unless you’re still in college, you’re too old to hold your mom, your grandma, or your aunts totally responsible for your holiday happiness.

I resist the pressure to bake and I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it. I love to cook, but I’m not a baker. This is the secret to holiday weight loss. I even purchase pre-made pie crust for our Christmas morning quiche, and nobody seems to mind. My lack of participation in the annual cookie exchange doesn’t mean I don’t admire everyone’s Yuletide talents. Just not my thing.

When Christmas makes me sad or angry, I remember I’m not alone. I’ve grown more sensitive to the fact that many people are grieving losses (including death, health crises, and divorce) during the holidays. With its glaring focus on family unity, Christmas illuminates all the vacancies at the holiday table as well as any emotional distance that separates us from extended family. Talking with my friends, I’ve learned that almost everyone is facing some sort of holiday change and trying to make the best of it. Nobody’s having loads more fun than anyone else.

I can decorate the way I want, and stuff the rest in the attic. Every year, Doug banks our fireplace mantel with evergreens, pheasant feathers, twigs, and twinkle lights. It’s a set-designer’s fantasy that delights everyone who sees it—especially me. That tradition is a keeper. But over the years I’ve pared down to a few sentimental treasures, including a sterling silver bell (dated 1985) that was given to us by a dear friend when our son Nate was born. In recent years, Doug and I have lost interest in putting up a Christmas tree—which baffles some holiday visitors. We reserve the right to change our minds in the future.

I do something ordinary, with people I know and love. Forced merriment is not my idea of a good time. So I have to question the need to cram our calendars with “special events” between December and January. Why not spread the love throughout the year? Likewise, I enjoy giving gifts—but not under pressure and not all at once. What touches me more are the simple, reliable, consistent efforts made all year ’round. I’m nourished by un-fussy gatherings with dear ones who don’t expect me to turn myself into a pretzel just because it’s Christmas.

I’ve lowered my expectations and welcomed the new. Nobody will ever throw a Christmas party like my Scottish immigrant grandparents did when I was a kid. But I usually encounter a dash of their old-country energy and gregarious spirit at the Christmas Eve open house hosted by my son’s Croatian mother-in-law every year. Following my grandparents’ example, I try to bring some Celtic cheer (and a bottle of Bailey’s) to every party I attend. That said, I also privately acknowledge the times I feel mournful or alone — even in a big roomful of partying people.

I’ve accepted the fact that I’ve finally grown up. I cannot return to the home of my childhood Christmases (the house was sold years ago). My beloved father has been dead for more than 20 years, and my mother’s dementia has progressed to the point where she doesn’t know it’s Christmas. My son Nate is 28 years old now, and married to a woman we all adore. As much as I love to recall the memory of Nate’s first train set chugging around the tree when he was small, our family’s early traditions and special moments cannot be recreated or reenacted. And that’s the way life is supposed to work—every month, every day, of each beautiful year we’re given.

We grow, we change, we evolve, we endure, we move on. Glory be.


Visit Cindy LaFerle’s website: Cindy is a mutiply talented communicator, working both in words and the arts. The photo illustration with this column was assembled by Cindy. You’ll enjoy her regular columns at You’ll also enjoy her book, Writing Home: Collected Essays and Newspaper Columns.

For more on Pope Francis: Read Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton’s fascinating overview story about Christmas, which includes two news items about Pope Francis.

The Bernie S. Siegel interview on ‘The Art of Healing’

Dr. Bernie Siegel stands in a rare circle of pioneers who still are guiding today’s army of spirituality-and-health advocates. So, it’s big news that Bernie’s latest book, The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self-Healing is available in time for holiday shopping. If you already own some of his books, then today’s interview will underline the unique nature of this new book. Among other things: Hey, it’s fun! This new book is packed with lots of material about Bernie’s long-standing work on visualization, symbols, drawings—and good humor.

Ancient inspiration: The faith-and-health connection stretches back thousands of years to the founders of the world’s great faiths and to the physicians of ancient Greece and Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Muslim leaders were pioneers in founding hospitals. The first major Islamic hospital was established in 707 in Syria—with Christian assistance. In Europe by the later Middle Ages, Christian religious orders drew on both ancient Roman and newer Islamic ideas to establish their own hospitals. Flash forward to 18th-century America and Shakers were among the many new religious movements to connect health and religion. By the late 19th century, advocates like Seventh-day Adventist Dr. John Harvey Kellogg were changing the way all Americans thought about food, faith and health.

A new wave of scholars: It should have come as no surprise, in the late 1970s, when famous journalist Norman Cousins dropped the first of his bombshell books about the importance of what amounted to spiritual awareness, coupled with nutrition, in combating serious medical problems. Among Cousins’ famous words of advice? Teach yourself to laugh! And, in Bernie Siegel’s new book, there’s a whole section on that discipline of humor. (Care to read more right now? Our weekly WeAreCaregivers section has an excerpt of Bernie’s chapter on laughter.)

Of course, Cousins was greeted with skepticism—and even scorn from some critics who felt the brilliant Editor of The Saturday Review had lost his mind. What those critics didn’t understand was the ancient connections under-girding Cousins’ insights—and the growing circle of spiritual pioneers among serious scientists. By the 1980s, Harvard’s Dr. Robert Coles was publishing landmark studies of the moral and spiritual lives of children, complete with interpretive drawings—much as Bernie Siegel recommends to readers in a fresh way in this new book. Soon, Dr. Larry Dossey was writing about the relationship between faith and wellness, as well. In 1986, Bernie Siegel risked his own career by publishing his most important volume, Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon’s Experience with Exceptional Patients.

One key distinction in this new wave of scholars—including books by Coles, Dossey and Bernie Siegel—is that these experts are not selling any specific religious creed. They’re not “faith healers.” In fact, all of them, including Bernie Siegel, warn that some religious doctrines may actually be barriers to healing.


DAVID CRUMM: There are a lot of faith healers out there and I want to clearly distinguish your work, for our readers, as standing in a long tradition of serious, scientifically based inquiries into the healing power of spiritual disciplines. So—before we get to the fun stuff—let’s start with your critique of some religious leaders. For example, you’re outspoken in criticizing various popes from the 1800s to today for, all too often, condemning the newest medical advances out of hand. In your view, there is too much of a conservative backlash against scientific developments—coupled with an unfortunate tendency to say that suffering is the will of God.

DR. BERNIE SIEGEL: Let me use an interview with Billy Graham as an example. I remember this because his response was so striking to me. He was asked, “Does God want me to have cancer?” And Billy Graham’s first words were, “Not necessarily.”

DAVID: To be fair to Billy, he tells people that they need to take care of their bodies. He tells people that they should pray and follow a doctor’s advice—and he does both of those things himself. But your basic point is on target: Billy has strongly emphasized the importance of praying to God for healing—and he isn’t as clear as you are about the need to seek out the best in medical care.

BERNIE: Well, when Billy Graham was asked that question and the first words out of his mouth were, “Not necessarily,” I thought: That’s wrong! The answer should have been a clear, “No.” He should have said, “No, God doesn’t want you to have cancer.” In that interview, he went on to tell people that sometimes God uses disease to wake us up. And, that’s encouraging people to have that old guilt response to illness—the blame response. To me, that’s not what good religion should be telling people. We need to start by telling people that God built healing potential into everything. We need to say clearly: Disease is not a punishment.

DAVID: You’re right. There still is an over-emphasis on guilt and blame in many of the common religious responses to illness.

BERNIE: I look back to Maimonides, who gave us a lot of good advice. Here’s an example: Let’s say you go to your house of worship and, when the services are over, you walk into the parking lot—but you can’t find your car keys. Does that mean God wants you to walk home? No, most people don’t believe that. They go back and search everywhere for their keys. Well, Maimonides said the same thing about healing: “If you’ve lost your health—look for it.”


DAVID: You’ve explained that your study of religion and spirituality is not aimed at conversion or preaching—but is a part of your broad scientific inquiry into connections that can help people.

BERNIE: I always say I live by my experience, not by beliefs. I keep learning. I have studied religion to help understand the lives and the experiences of my patients. A sentence that changed my life was when a patient said to me: “I need to know how to live between office visits.” That got me started on this whole process of helping people learn how to live.

This is practical. I call this whole process: looking for common themes. If I discover something that’s helpful to a person, and then I encounter this same thing in someone else’s writings—perhaps in a novel or in the Bible or in some other writings—then I can see a larger connection. I am continually observing the world, continually reading, too. And in novels, plays, books, and images people are putting out into the world all of these things that they have observed about the world. When we can make connections in what we are observing, then we can begin to realize truths that are being spoken to us.

DAVID: When you and writers like Norman Cousins and Larry Dossey began publicizing these ideas, there were lots of detractors. Now, there’s a lot of research about the role of emotions and relationships in healing. In other words—today, you’re on what seems to be more solid ground with readers. Is that fair to say?

BERNIE: Years ago, remember, nobody thought that a support group could possibly help anyone. Now, we know that support groups truly do help people. Relationships benefit our health. Yes, there now is a lot of good research behind this. We’ve studied a lot of things that, when I started, nobody was advocating. For example, we know that, for many people, even having a dog in the house can positively affect your health.

We now have studies that show how loneliness affects genes and the control of our immune functions. So, we now know that loneliness is a factor in disease. When we begin making connections, it may not be science at that point—but we can do research over time and some of the connections we make may become science.

I talk about making the invisible visible. Years ago, Ernest Holmes wrote about this.

Here’s an example: From the Bible, we know that God speaks in dreams and images. Today, many people know that there is value in using images, including drawings and dreams, to learn more about what are bodies are saying to us. You may think that your body can’t speak to you—but it actually can speak to you when you go to bed at night and you dream. Your body can create many images for you. We know that, in this process, colors may have meaning. Images have meaning. One thing I love about this new book is that I was able to reproduce so many full-color drawings in the middle of the book. You can really see what I’m talking about in that section of the book on patients’ drawings.


DAVID: In your career as a pediatric surgeon, you often used techniques that I associate with Dr. Robert Coles and others—giving children a pack of crayons and asking them to draw pictures for you.

BERNIE: Drawings can reveal the truth for that person. I did a lot of children’s surgery and, yes, a child would say a lot to me through these pictures. We’ve got 70 full-color pictures in the book and I explain them. One thing I would ask a child is: Will you draw your home? Will you draw your family? One of the pictures in the book was drawn by a child with cancer. She draws this long sofa and her family is sitting there with arms wrapped around each other. We can see that there’s another space on the sofa—there’s room for the girl, but instead she’s drawn sitting on a chair, separate from her family. This child is saying, “I don’t get enough time with my family.”

I showed this drawing to her family and that made a big difference. They told me later: “Thank you for your help with that drawing, because we devoted a lot more time to her.” Using drawings often let me get in touch with inner wisdom. We have an intuitive, unconscious awareness of what we need, but often we’re not able to express it. This girl’s drawing told her family something very important about their relationship.


DAVID: You’ve got a whole section of your book called Laugh Out Loud. I think it’s one of the best portions of the book—in fact, it’s a good reason to buy this new book even if you’ve got other Bernie Siegel books already on the shelf. I really like the way you explain the importance of laughter and good humor in general. And, you point out that this isn’t just a matter of good intentions—this really can lead to improved health.

BERNIE: This is not beyond science. There is chemistry behind what happens within a person during laughter. When people are battling a disease, laughter helps.

DAVID: Let me read a couple of lines from that chapter in which you salute Norman Cousins: “In Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins wrote a fascinating account of his self-induced healing-by-laughter from a diagnosed condition, ankylosing spondylitis. When his doctor gave him a 1-in-500 chance of recovery, Cousins checked himself into a hotel, watched Candid Camera tapes, and laughed, day after day. Choosing to use humor as his medicine, rather than react to his fear and do nothing, is the sign of an optimist—a survivor.”

BERNIE: I have made laughter a part of my therapy as a doctor for a long time. Imagine doing surgery on children every week, which was my specialty. I found that laughter was very distracting. When you laugh, you can’t be afraid. I did this in lots of ways. I would play nursery rhymes in the operating room and the whole room would relax because everybody in the room would regress as we listened.

DAVID: This kind of pioneering work you have pursued for so many years—it took a lot of courage. You and Norman Cousins and Larry Dossey—everyone in this field—weathered a lot of criticism along the way. But it’s a basic part of your own spiritual orientation that pushes you onward, right?

BERNIE: Here’s a workshop question I’ve used through the years: I ask people, “If you could be God for a day, why would you want to be God?” And some people will say: So I can do this. Or, so I can fix that. But the ultimate response? The best answer to my workshop question? It’s when people say: “So I can understand: Why?” That’s the ultimate question we need to keep asking: “Why?” That comes from the Baal Shem Tov and many other great spiritual teachers. We are here to live and learn—to keep asking: “Why?”

I just keep working with people and learning—and that’s why I like the word “potential.” We mentioned Ernest Holmes before and this comes through in his writing, as well. He asked the question in The Science of Mind: “What if Jesus was the only normal person who ever lived?” Of course, Holmes had to be smiling when he wrote that. He was writing about potential. We need to be helping people to reach their potential. We know that, when we give the human body the message that we really do want to live—that we want to restore injury and live—the results are amazing.

It’s so important to remember: When you’ve lost your health—keep looking for it.

Care to read more?

In our WeAreCaregivers section, this week, we’ve got a short excerpt from Bernie Siegel’s chapter ‘Laugh Out Loud.’ You’re sure to enjoy it!

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

A Blessing for your marriage (and how we made it 50 years)

The late poet Seamus Heaney wrote that his parents’ solid marriage was built upon “a love that’s proved by steady gazing, not at each other, but in the same direction.” (Read more about Heaney’s life and work here.) These days, millions of Americans are wondering what defines a marriage—and what makes good marriages work. Popular author and columnist Benjamin Pratt has spent a long time consulting with his wife Judith Pratt on what they have learned in their half century. And—don’t miss the blessing Benjamin offers at the conclusion of this column!

Love Is What You Go Through With Someone


Judith and I are in our 12th marriage.

To be a little more precise, we can demarcate 12 different movements to our 50-year marital dance. Each dance has been different with some, like the tango, filled with passion, and others gentle and orderly like the waltz. Oh yes, we’ve had turns of rock and roll, herky-jerky and the energetic swing—and even the crawl as our world slowed down.

Each marriage corresponds to major life transitions: being newlyweds, the birth of children, personal times of growth and struggle, new professions, deaths of parents, children moving away from the nest, aging, and, of course, illness and the tasks of caregiving. Each transition involved the basic marital functions of love, sex, children, careers, families, companionship and house-holding. And, each turn in the dance was dynamic, daunting and demanding.

We never claimed to be masters of the dance. We are always learning.


Fifty-four years ago, I met Judith.

As a very shy teenager who had dated very little, I remember our first encounter. An electric jolt went through my body and stunned me to silence. I translated the jolt as a confirmation that I had met the girl of my dreams.

It was nearly four months until we had our first date. I told you I was shy! Our first date was a part of my fraternity initiation process: I had to ask someone I had never dated to a dance. The horror of the evening was that I had not slept for 36 hours, was wearing a scratchy burlap bag under my shirt and tie, had just eaten 4 cloves of garlic and had a heavy dose of lilac tonic rubbed into my hair. Wasn’t I appealing?

My assignment that night: I was to return to the dorm with lipstick on my lips. On the way home, I asked her to paint my lips. She later confessed that she really wanted to kiss me. My interpretation of the jolt was confirmed.


Electricity has flowed in our relationship. Most often it has been positive but sometimes quite negative. The closest our marriage came to failing was during the tenth year. I was the founding pastor of the fastest growing church in Northern Virginia. Folks were fueling my foolish pride by predicting I would become a bishop. I averaged working 70-80 hours a week. I was so absorbed in my work that I was absent to my wife even when I was at home.

I had become full of myself!

Without rain, Virginia red clay becomes like concrete. There had been a six-week drought that summer. In September, our church gathered at a sun-baked park for fun, games and a picnic. I joined in a touch football game. I was running full speed to catch a pass when I tripped over a young boy’s foot.

I plunged toward the clay concrete, reaching out both arms to break the fall. The fall broke the radial heads in both of my elbows. For six weeks I was in two casts.

I instantly became like a dependent infant, except for being able to thrill my daughters by mimicking the Cookie Monster. I could lift the lid off the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator and extract a cookie, placing it on the edge. “Gulp! Coooookie Monster!” Fun. But, not a basic survival skill.

Truth be told, I could do nothing to care for myself. I could not dress, feed, or clean myself in any way. One parishioner drew a cartoon of me exiting a Men’s Room with my head turned back to say, “Thanks.” So, I turned to Judith for care. Considering the emotional-and-relational canyon between us at that point, it was not easy to close our intimacy gap. I had ignored her, so it made sense that she was not eager to care for me in my dependency. On more than one occasion she has confessed that she was tempted to cut more deeply while shaving my neck.

Slowly, but surely, the painful, humbling fall led us to tears, confessions, forgiveness and a new, much deeper love and commitment. I came to believe that it was God’s foot that tripped me and brought me down.

It was God who affirmed that love is what you go through with someone.


Occasionally, someone asks, “What is the key to making a marriage last for 50 years?”

I usually test their sincerity with a few dark quips: “Good Scotch;” “I always surrender;” “Long walks, very long walks;” or “Marriage is the commitment to share the same bedroom in which the temperature is never right.”

But, if I sense that the question is a serious inquiry, I will speak more openly and thoughtfully. I might open by saying that humor, which I just attempted, is basic to success. Not only humor that makes us laugh together, but the deeper understanding of humor helping us prevail against our fears and not letting us take ourselves too seriously.

Love is what you live through with someone. Marriage holds us together during our intimacy gaps. Marriage is the best alternative to aloneness and loneliness. Sustaining a good relationship means really being there for the other, being alert and hospitably present. It means listening to the other, not just with our ears but with our heart. It means responding to what we hear with compassionate action. It is soul engaging, emotionally and mentally energizing. It is the stuff of committed friendship. It is the dance of love, the stuff of life in communion and community. It’s common sense—and especially common decency.

We trust the old adage that marital partners are adversaries. There are some fundamental differences in each of us that will always impact our relationship. They are basic to who we are, why we risked marriage—and how we bless and irritate each other. These differences could have been the source of perennial warfare. But we chose to make them the creative irritants that spur on-going growth in each of us. Judith and I have chosen to understand that our differences are the grains of sand that irritate our oyster to develop and create a more beautiful pearl in the heart of each of us. We are not the same persons we were 50 years ago. We are better, wiser, more caring and creative persons because of each other.

We are in the 50th year of our marital dance because we are deeply respectful, grateful and tender toward each other. We believe in and trust each other. We, like all couples, have been critical, even contemptuous, of the other. But those times were short-lived and minor compared to the warm, affectionate, openness that has prevailed in our mutual dance.

Without hesitation, I can say that I have been a better marital partner because I daily pray the Discipleship Prayer, attributed to St. Francis. In it is the admonition to “seek not so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.” This act alone orients any relationship in a positive direction.


When I conduct weddings, these days, I no longer deliver a homily. Instead, I share a Blessing of the Senses. Each time I speak the blessing it is personally crafted to include feigned touching of the couple’s eyes, ears, lips, hands and heart. I think it summarizes the ingredients necessary for a sustained, thriving marriage.

Here is one version of that blessing:

May God so bless your Eyes that you will see, not who you want to see, but truly see your partner for his/her gifts and graces, warts and wounds. May you celebrate with gratitude the gifts and joys, and understand and console the wounds and warts.

May God bless your Ears that you may not only listen but truly hear the voice, words, yearnings, needs and hopes of your partner.

May God so bless your Lips that your kisses shall be sweet and tender. And may the words crossing your lips be ones of honesty, hope, forgiveness—along with laughter. May your lips be guardians that halt words of hatred, vicious criticism and contempt.

May God bless your Hands to be instruments of comfort, strength and tenderness for the other.

May God bless your Heart that you may be a presence of comfort, joy, hope, forgiveness and vitality to your partner as well as others. May your Hearts be so filled with love that you will be instruments of peace to all.

Love each other as you have been loved.
Care for each other.
Bear one another’s burdens; share each other’s joys.
And, bring each other home.


Please, share it with friends. Click the blue-“f” Facebook icon with this column or use the small envelope-shaped email icon. Help us spread the good news about our ReadTheSpirit writers. You may also want to visit Benjamin Pratt’s author page.


Willis Barnstone: In the 84th Year of Residence on Earth

Willis Barnstone (right) walking with his friend, the poet Jorge Luis Borges, in Buenos Aires in 1975. Photo courtesy of Barnstone and Wikimedia Commons.Willis Barnstone is best known as a translator—as in the case of his new Poems of Jesus Christ, which we are recommending this week. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm was so moved by the fresh and artful rendering of Jesus’ sayings in this new volume that he scheduled our weekly author interview with Barnstone.

When Crumm called Barnstone, the poet and translator cheerily began the conversation by pointing out that, although he had been in the midst of composing a new poem, this was indeed a good time to do an interview. After Crumm expressed surprise and offered to delay the call, Barnstone insisted that this was simply the way he worked—always writing, always in the middle of some project.

After the two hit it off in their interview, Barnstone emailed ReadTheSpirit’s home office a couple of hours later with the finished poem—the completed version of the text he had started while contemplating the looming telephone interview.

Barnstone’s email explained: “I was writing a poem when I picked up the phone—never mind interruptions, helps the mind to keep going down below. I had written the first lines, but I knew the poem was not finished. As soon as we hung up, I added the last lines. I think of this one as our poem. Hope it works. Somehow, it has to do with some of the things we were talking about. Willis.”

Then, an hour later, he emailed again with the following, finished version of the poem, making a number of key changes since the original emailed version. “This shows you how I work. It really was exactly the same process in doing the poems of Jesus Christ.”

So, here is Willis Barnstone’s new poem, a reflection on themes we are exploring this week in our coverage of his latest book.

In the 84th Year of Residence on Earth

By Willis Barnstone

When I consider how my life is spent,
Rocked here and there by vile stupidity,
I wake from tons of shame and don’t repent

The worst or best in me. Felicity
Should be my flag. Milton, my guide, was dead
At sixty-five, blind, scorned, saved by Marvell

When every monarchist wanted his head
Dumped in a pit. My body-mind is well
And tricks the clock. How dare I think remorse?

Is bitching a right? Yes, but not my right.
As long as earth is round, I’m like a horse
Following insane commands to work

And work without regret and go berserk
Locked in a basement deprived of all light,
Or best, sit in the sun, first dawn in Greece,

War dotting hills, the sea Homeric grapes,
Islands, old metaphors for droplets of peace
After decades of slaughter, marble shapes

Entering ink of poets, years I greet
As clearly as an Oakland riot, London
Milk bottles breaking on a foggy street.

When I consider how my life has spun
My threading cape of creativity,
In dark night sun forces the heart to run.


Read our coverage of Willis Barnstone’s The Poems of Jesus Christ.
And: Come back later this week for our interview.


Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Jimmy Carter: How the Bible inspires caregivers

Jimmy Carter’s publication of his own Bible study reflections and prayers is a treasure trove of inspiration and wisdom about the challenges we face in the world today. One theme that runs through Carter’s writing is: caregiving.
In Part 2 of our interview with the former president, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm asks about caregiving—an issue that is vital for millions of Americans.

You’ll also want to read:
Part 1: How the Bible can help us find peace
And, Part 3: How a ‘Violent’ Bible Can Train Peacemakers Today


CRUMM: I’m pleased to find in your new Bible some real encouragement for caregivers. I have on my shelf your wife Rosalynn’s wonderful book on caregiving, which I think still stands up as one of the best books on the subject. From your new Bible, here’s just one example from Leviticus 19. You highlight the passage, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” Then, in one of your reflections for Bible readers, you warn about something that people who’ve served in the trenches of caregiving understand: You say that the people who need our care often are not very friendly and often may seem unattractive to us, at first. Say a word to our readers about this kind of spiritual challenge.

CARTER: You’re right about Rosalynn’s book: It’s one of the best. She is still a national leader on caregiving and has a major program at Georgia Southwestern State University. What she points out is that almost every one of us at some point in our lives is going to be a caregiver—or is going to be the recipient of the blessings of a caregiver. This is a matter of biblical teaching for Christians and Jews. And these principles also are central to the teachings of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. We are to take whatever we have been given—our own health and longevity—as a blessing from God and we are to invest that in some way for the benefit of those who need our help. In our experience with caregiving, this invariably turns out to be not a sacrifice on our part but a new addition to our life. We are stretching our hearts and minds to encompass other people and we find that adds vibrancy and excitement and unpredictability and adventure to life.

Click the Bible cover to visit its Amazon page.CRUMM: At ReadTheSpirit, we’ve done a lot of work with readers and congregations nationwide to to help the 65 million caregivers out there serving people in this way. I can envision your devotional Bible as a daily inspiration to help people working as caregivers. Sometimes, that work can be draining.

CARTER: As you’ve just pointed out, 1 in 5 Americans are caregivers and quite often their devotion is to someone they love, without pay. This can be a personal sacrifice that quite often is unappreciated. Rosalynn makes this point, too. We not only need to be concerned for all of the people receiving care—but also for the millions who are working in this dedicated way as caregivers. We know that this kind of effort is a basic premise that permeates biblical teaching.

If we are blessed with long life or good health or fortune of some kind, we need to share what we have with others. The golden rule is emphasized repeatedly in both Old and New Testaments: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. We can always imagine ourselves being disabled or bedridden or mentally debilitated with a condition like Alzheimer’s and needing care. We can appreciate the benefits from a recipient’s point of view and this realization may help us to be more open to sharing our resources with those who need that kind of care.

And I must say again: Quite often, it may seem to be a sacrifice at first—yet it almost always turns into a gratifying experience.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter volunteer in a Ghana clinic in 2007. Photo by Louise Gubb, used courtesy of The Carter Center.

Care to read more about Caregiving?

ROSALYNN CARTER’s 1995 book, Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers, currently is out of print, but is available from Amazon re-sellers.

DR. BENJAMIN PRATT’s new book, A Guide for Caregivers, is a great starting place for raising your spirits in this challenging work. Dr. Pratt’s subtitle says it all: “Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsiblities Are Dragging You Down.”

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Guide for Caregivers: Recommended Resources

Guide for Caregivers:
Dr. Benjamin Pratt suggests …

CLICK THIS BOOK COVER to read more about Dr. Pratt’s Guide for Caregivers!THE FOLLOWING GROUPS, WEBSITES and RESOURCES are recommendations from Dr. Benjamin Pratt—the pastoral counselor, caregiver and author of Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.
We share these recommendations as part of the ReadTheSpirit Caregivers project—as an aid in your own online research into assistance you need.
We know that the following groups have a track record of helping people.
NOTE: We have taken special care in these entries to provide links to what we regard as especially helpful areas of these groups’ websites.

This list of Recommended Resources is just the beginning …
Our latest additions: February 6. The list will expand through 2012.
Please, help by sharing your suggestions!

Know a group, website or other resource that should be listed here?

Email us at [email protected]

Inspiration from ‘Superman’

Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation

I offer this resource for caregivers in grateful memory of Dana (March 17, 1961, to March 6, 2006) and Christopher (September 25, 1952, to October 10, 2004) Reeve. As caregivers, we face the question from friends: “Are you a Superman?” Or we ask ourselves: “Am I a superwoman?” Many of us feel we need to be emotionally, physically and spiritually a super person to accomplish and survive our daily tasks. It can be a big mistake to lay such expectations upon ourselves. I found this very down-to-earth, thoughtful and helpful interview with Dana Reeve, the wife of the man many of us thought of as Superman. Read this excellent interview with Dana Reeve and take a moment to visit the Foundation established by Christopher and Dana Reeve.
Dr. Benjamin Pratt

People You Should Know:
Jeanne Robertson

NOTE: As you scroll down, you will see that other recommendations on this page lead you to websites and helpful organizations. Now, we also are including recommendations of talented people who share caregiving issues in creative ways. Here is what Dr. Benjamin Pratt says about Jeanne Robertson:

I teach that laughter is vital for caregivers to sustain a healthy spirit.  Here is a marvelous woman who will keep you laughing.  6’ 2” Jeanne Robertson is a Person You Should Know.  Jeanne Robertson is a professional speaker who steps on stage at 6-foot-2-inches and quickly engages audiences with humor about real-life experiences. Speaking to thousands of people annually, she utilizes her positively funny style to illustrate that a sense of humor is much more than a laughing matter. It is a strategy for success.
Enjoy these two episodes from her talks …

Family Caregiver Alliance
Click this image to visit Family Caregiver Alliance.If you are providing care to an older or disabled family member or friend, you know that navigating the long-term care system can be difficult. The Family Caregiver Alliance was founded in 1977 among a group of families and community leaders in San Francisco. It grew into the first nationwide community-based nonprofit to focus on the needs of families and friends providing long-term care at home. Within the larger site, the state-by-state resource provided by the Family Caregiver Alliance is intended to help you locate government, nonprofit, and private programs in your area. It includes services for family caregivers, as well as resources for older or disabled adults living at home or in a residential facility. It also includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and much more.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Click this image to visit the Cystic Fibrosis FoundationWhen the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation was established in 1955, most children who developed the disorder did not live to attend elementary school. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product lead to life-threatening lung infections and problems with properly absorbing food. Today, the predicted median age of survival is in the late 30s, thanks—in large part—to the care provided though the national network of CF Foundation-accredited centers. This Care Center Network provides expert cystic fibrosis care for people living with the disease and supports 260 clinics that specialize in caring for children and adults with CF. Besides taking care of people with CF, care centers also focus on the entire circle of men and women who are primary caregivers. In addition to an excellent monthly online newsletter, CFF provides a Patient Assistance Resource Library that can help families navigate the maze of health care.

Multiple Sclerosis Society

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation

Cllick this image to visit the National Sclerosis Society.Fear. Isolation. Confusion. These feelings are common when someone is diagnosed with MS. Although more than 450,000 people in the United States have multiple sclerosis, people who are newly diagnosed have often never heard of the disease; they don’t know where to turn for support. MS was identified as a disorder in the 1860s but, to this day, there is no cure. Treatments and support groups work with people to help return function after an MS attack, prevent further attacks and prevent disability.
Click this image to visit the National Sclerosis FoundationThere are at least a dozen MS organizations and foundations working across the U.S. on various issues from funding research and advocacy to directly helping families. The Society and the Foundation are two of the most important non-profits with a solid track record across the nation.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society was founded in 1946 and works on promoting research, services for people living with MS, education and advocacy. Look around the website and you will find lots of information on all of these ongoing efforts. If you are a caregiver, especially interested in advocacy and keeping up on new efforts to combat the effects of MS, check out the group’s Advocacy section. Advocacy takes many forms through the Society, but on this landing page you’ll find links to efforts that may interest you.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation was established in 1986 with a mission and a range of programs similar to that of the Society. If you or a loved one have just received this diagnosis, you might start on this landing page within the MSF site, called Coping with Multiple Sclerosis. The links from this page provide answers to all sorts of common questions about topics ranging from “Newly Diagnosed” and “The Search for Causes, Treatments and a Cure” to special topics like “Pediatric MS.”

Alzheimer’s Association
While researching the new book, A Guide For Caregivers, I attended one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s excellent educational programs designed to help caregivers. I can personally vouch for the quality of their programs. This global organization now ranks as one of the most important first stops families should make as they prepare to care for a loved one with this kind of health issue. In 1979, Jerome H. Stone and representatives from several family support groups met with the National Institute on Aging to explore the value of a national, independent, nonprofit organization to complement federal efforts surrounding Alzheimer’s disease. That meeting resulted in the April 10, 1980, formation of the Alzheimer’s Association with Stone as founding president. The Alzheimer’s Association works on a global, national and local level to enhance care and support for all those affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias and is the largest private, nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research. Local chapters provide services within many communities. Use the group’s main website to find a chapter near you. Or call the professionally staffed 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 for information and advice, including translation services in more than 170 languages. The organization runs more than 4,500 support groups throughout the country and connects people around the globe through their online message boards and deliver 20,000 education programs annually. While writing A Guide For Caregivers I attended one of their excellent educational programs for caregivers. You can find numerous resources through this excellent Association site, but a good place to begin is

Home Caregiver Network
CLICK the image to learn more about Home Caregiver Network.Frustrated by a new challenge in your home? Want someone to show you how to do it? The Home Care Library is developing a series of helpful How To videos on specific skills home-based caregivers need to learn. You may not need all of these videos, but when you need to answer a crucial new challenge? These videos can help. In addition to the basic How To lessons, some videos help you realize the importance of taking care of yourself and how to do it. Among the general themes the Network is trying to cover: How to cope with the numerous challenges of caregiving, successful communications skills, what to look for when choosing a nursing or long-term care facility, and extensive tips and information to make the home caregiving experience more enjoyable. Once you become a subscriber to The Home Care Library you’ll be able to watch all of the videos you like— as many times as you like. Videos range from Basic to Advanced Caregiving Skills, Helpful Products, Coping Skills, Emotional Support and techniques as essential as Moving a Person to the Side of the Bed. For this recommendation, we’ve had several people preview videos on the site, including colleagues who work with caregivers, and what we’ve seen is quite helpful. If you decide to subscribe, you may want to try a single month and judge the usefulness of the videos for your own situation. We don’t recommend paying for a full year of the service until you’re sure it’s helpful in an ongoing way.

Funny Times
CLICK the image to learn more about Funny Times.One of the most popular chapters in our new Guide for Caregivers encourages people simply to laugh—and laugh on a regular basis! A sense of sense of humor is vital to keep your spirit healthy. Here is an opportunity to load up some guaranteed laughs! The Funny Times is a monthly forum for humor and satire for people who understand that their world does, indeed, seem totally insane sometimes. The Funny Times team reads thousands of cartoons to find and collect what they regard as the “best of the best” each month. Celebrating their 25th year, they supply us with delightfully funny, intelligent humor. Every issue has more than 100 cartoons and at least a dozen written features. You may find some old favorites as well as up-and-coming artists you’ve never met before. “Come over to the funny side and join our more than 70,000 subscribers who love to laugh at us,” say Ray Lesser and Susan Wolpert, who call themselves Publishers, Editors and Troublemakers at The Funny Times.

United Cerebral Palsy
CLICK to learn more about the mission of UCP.If you are familiar with Cerebral Palsy, that’s because United Cerebral Palsy is noted among charitable nonprofits for its early development of fundraising telethons. The group was founded just after World War II by four friends, including Leonard Goldenson, who later was president of ABC Television. Goldenson and his wife Isabel had a daughter with cerebral palsy; so he began raising funds for supporting disabled people via a telethon from a station in Chicago. From those roots, United Cerebral Palsy became one of the most important nonprofits advocating and providing support for people with a spectrum of disabilities. The backbone of UCP is the services and supports that are provided by its approximately 100 affiliates worldwide, which reach 176,000 children and adults, daily. Affiliates’ services include housing, therapy, assistive technology training, early intervention programs, individual and family support, social and recreation programs, community living, state and local referrals, employment assistance and advocacy. Each affiliate offers a range of services tailored to its community’s needs. Their One Stop Resource Guide helps you find answers to the most commonly asked questions. And, for people without disabilities, UCP provides a very helpful Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities.

ARCH National Respite Network

CLICK to learn more about the mission of ARCH.Respite is a lifeline for millions of hard-working caregivers nationwide. The term, as defined by ARCH (Access to Respite Care and Help) means “planned or emergency care provided to a child or adult with special needs in order to provide temporary relief to family caregivers who are caring for that child or adult.” Millions need this assistance—but quality respite care often is difficult to find. The mission of the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center is to assist and promote the development of quality respite and crisis care programs in the United States and to help families locate these services in their communities. The National Respite Locator Service helps parents, family caregivers, and professionals find respite services matching their needs—and located appropriately close to their homes. Are you interested in making a difference on this issue? The group’s website also provides links to current legislative efforts to expand respite care. You might want to start by reading the “About Us” page that summarize’s the group’s mission and history.

National Alliance on Mental Illness
CLICK THE IMAGE to visit the NAMI website.NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, support and research. These days, the nonprofit organization that was founded in 1979 also works on issues of particular concern to our thousands of recent veterans and their families. For emerging issues and news about NAMI’s latest programs, watch the Newsroom section of the group’s website. NAMI works on national, state and local levels. The national office coordinates work through organizations in all 50 states plus more than 1,000 local affiliates. The group’s website now is enormous. So, depending on your particular interest, click around to find information on everything from support groups to NAMI’s “Legislative Action Center” to ways you can help fight stigma against mental illness. If you’re just grappling with news of mental illness in your circle of family and friends, check out NAMI’s extensive section on basic information about 17 different forms of mental illness.

Lotsa Helping Hands
CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to visit Lotsa Helping Hands.Lotsa Helping Hands is trying to close the “digital divide” that keeps many caregivers and care receivers from using online tools to connect with a larger community. Clearly, there are many powerful connective tools families can use—if they know about them and understand how to use them. Lotsa Hands makes the process simple, flexible and secure. A Washington Times story about the group reported: “Lotsa communities can be created and dissolved easily, and revolve around all kinds of issues: parents who need help caring for their newborn triplets, military families caring for loved ones who came home wounded, families caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. Some communities last only a few months.” Here’s the About Us page that explains the group’s guiding vision. But you’ll find the How It Works page more helpful in welcoming newcomers to the site’s nuts and bolts.

National Family Caregivers Assoc.
CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to visit NFCA’s home page.Believe in Yourself. Protect Your Health. Reach Out for Help. Speak Up for Your Rights. Those are Caring Every Day messages from the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). Founded in 1993, NFCA educates, supports, empowers and speaks up for the more than 65 million Americans who care for loved ones with a chronic illness, disability or frailties of old age. A major NFCA priority is fostering a grater public awareness of caregiving challenges, educating caregivers themselves and helping family caregivers work more effectively with healthcare providers. Look within the NFCA site and you’ll find the Caregiving Resources section. Sign up with the group and you’ll have access to a wide array of helpful information. NFCA’s News Releases section also is worth a look. In the last couple of years, the group has published a series of news items about everything from national polls to new studies of caregiving.

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to visit AARP’s Caregiver Resource Center.AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people age 50 and over find independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them. Since 1958, this vast organization has been leading a revolution in the way people view and live the later years of life. AARP members reflect a wide range of attitudes, cultures, lifestyles and beliefs but this collection of diverse individuals function as one through this organization to influence positive change. You may be familiar with AARP, but the organization offers such a vast array of information that it may be tricky to find the Caregiving area on AARP’s website. The AARP Caregiving Resources Center is worth checking out! As a Caregiver, AARP emphasizes that you’re not in this alone. Nearly 44 million Americans are taking care of an older family member at any given time. Whether you’re just starting out in your new role or caring for someone who’s near the end of his or her life, this AARP resource center will provide you with all the information you’ll need to help make the job as easy—and rewarding—as possible. They offer advice and assistance on topics such as starting out, financial and legal issues, ideas about housing and much more.

The Autism Society
CLLICK ON THIS IMAGE to find Autism Society resources.The Autism Society, the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization, exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. The nonprofit increases public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people across the spectrum of autism, advocating for appropriate services for individuals throughout their lifespan, and providing the latest information regarding treatment, education, research and advocacy. The Autism Society’s strength is in its vibrant grassroots community of chapters and its network of national partners and collaborators. For Caregivers in particular, the Autism Society has developed in-depth information on a variety of topics related to living with autism. This information is by no means exhaustive, but it should help to equip families with some of the basic tools they may need to provide the best outcomes for their loved ones with forms of autism. These publications are available through the group’s Resource Materials page. Note: You will want to register with the Autism Society to use these resources and get the group’s free biweekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe from that e-newsletter anytime).

The Arc
CLICK THIS ARC IMAGE to jump to the Arc Resources Page.The Arc is the nation’s largest grassroots organization advocating for the rights and full inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Founded in 1950, the Arc has 140,000 members in 700 chapters—so there is sure to be an Arc group near you. In addition to its major goal of changing public perceptions about people with conditions ranging from autism to Down syndrome—the Arc also is a support group that provides resources to families. Within the larger Arc website, check out the Resources page that includes an ever-changing array of materials:
You’ll find basic fact sheets on various issues that concern families, other kinds of publications, too—and a blog with postings about recent news.

Mended Hearts
CLICK THIS MENDED HEARTS IMAGE to jump to the group’s website.F
or 60 years, Mended Hearts has served as a national support group for heart-disease patients, their families and caregivers. With chapters in more than 200 communities nationwide, you’re likely to find one nearby. Recognized for its role in facilitating a positive patient-care experience, Mended Hearts partners with 460 hospitals and rehabilitation clinics and offers services to heart patients through visiting programs, support group meetings and educational forums. The national office also publishes a quarterly magazine, Heartbeat, to share news and inspirational stories. Within the larger Mended Hearts website, check out the Resources page: The best choice is “Managing Your Heart Health,” which downloads a 40-page, full-color guides to issues you—or a loved one—will face after any serious episode with the heart.

CaringBridge ON THIS CARINGBRIDGE IMAGE to jump to the website.
eadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm discovered CaringBridge—like so many other men and women—when his far-flung family hit an unexpected crisis. His uncle was undergoing critical medical procedures and the extended family wanted updates. CaringBridge let relatives on the scene pass along vital news. In our Caregivers Resources list, CaringBridge ranks as one of the newest organizations. Founder Sona Mehring developed this concept after a hastily created personal website back in 1997 helped her friends through a crisis. This worked so well that Mehring wanted to make the basic web tools available to everyone. Mehring is based in Minneapolis, and her leadership team is clustered around the Twin Cities. But, their web concept now is used each day by half a million people. Within the larger website, check out the Our Service page, which provides lots of information about using this free resources for your own circle of loved ones.

PLEASE: Consider ordering a copy of Guide for Caregivers.

AND: “Like” our Facebook page, so you won’t miss the latest news on our Caregiving project.

(Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.)