Sheryl reflects on life milestones on her birthday trip to experience the grand views of the hallowed Glenn and Antelope Canyons and Zion Valley. “While the milestones seem ordinary yet each day that passed shaped me into the person I am today, just as the rocks, canyons, and valleys were hewn by the daily action of winds and waters… Surely the Lord has blessed me, shone his face upon me and been gracious to me.” Sharing her journey over 7 decades including transitions to opportunities before her, she expresses her gratitude and passion: “I am grateful for the many family, friends, mentors, teachers, and authors who spoke words of encouragement, wisdom, and knowledge into my life, some for a season and others over the decades. Often an answer to prayer, they came alongside me to lighten a burden or give hope for a better tomorrow. In like manner, it is my heart’s desire that through my work and creative expressions others may be enlightened, edified and encouraged.”
To celebrate my 70th birthday my husband Ken and I took a trip to experience something new and re-experience a cherished national park. It was a memorable week from an elevated view of Glenn Canyon/Lake Powell by helicopter, to a walk through the artistically sculptured red rocks of Antelope Canyon on Navaho land, to the always enthralling drive and hike through the Virgin River Valley of Zion National Park. It was the perfect combination of sights and sounds to reflect on 7 decades of life.
Achieving one’s 70th birthday is a milestone in itself and once arrived you wonder how in the world it went by so fast! It sounds like a very long time, yet when measured against the tapestry of time represented by the grand views I experienced in the hallowed canyons and grand Zion valley, 70 is but a brief span in the scope of creation! Never-the-less, the Psalmist David reminds us that we are to “number our days” (Psalm 90:12) realizing that each is ordained by God for a purpose and He has appointed life to the fullest. As I reflect on my seven decades, the milestones seem ordinary yet each day that passed shaped me into the person I am today, just as the rocks, canyons, and valleys were hewn by the daily action of winds and waters.
First Decade – Childhood
Growing up in a loving family devoted to God, I learned to appreciate very early the value of faith, family, education, and service to others. We were blessed to have parents who loved us, provided for us, and encouraged us to be the best we could be at whatever we chose to do. Growing up in a large family with ten siblings created an appreciation for unique personalities, abilities, and perspectives. We learned to be independent while at the same time embracing the importance of relationships and community.
One of our favorite activities as a family was a Sunday drive to our Uncle’s dairy farm. We lived in town, so this was an adventure we all enjoyed. On the way we would buy bushels of fruit for canning, a treat we enjoyed all through the year. My favorite activity on the farm was target shooting with a 22 rifle! Also, in Pioneer Girls summer camp a favorite sport was bow and arrow target shooting. I was always competitive when it came to games. It seemed to me that hitting the target and winning were sufficient rewards! While I was not engaged in team sports at school, I did not shy away from family games and would play tag football with my older brothers. They would appoint me center, and once the ball was hiked, I was gently pushed aside so as not to be trampled!
Another favorite family activity was a day at the beach. We have many home videos of those joyful times on Lake Michigan beach. Mom often prepared a family favorite combo of her amazing potato salad and fried chicken. We all enjoyed swimming except Mom, who from the blanketed sand always watched with care the younger children play.
Two of my favorite childhood stories involve dinner experiences, always family affairs. As a small child, I recall when the family had a special celebration at a local restaurant, an infrequent outing for our large family. For dessert, everyone ordered pie a la mode, so I ordered my favorite cherry but without the a la mode. As the waitress served everyone, I looked chagrined at my plain pie and everyone else’s heaped with a scoop of ice cream and asked, “where is my ice cream?” Everyone smiled to exclaim in unison that I had not ordered the a la mode! Even as a small child I hated not being in the know, so being cool, calm and collected even when in doubt became my MO. As a preteen I went with my father on a business trip; together we toured a flute factory since it was my chosen musical instrument. Afterward, as a special treat for his oldest daughter, he took me to a very fancy restaurant. In keeping with my MO, I took everything in as though it were a daily experience! When we returned home, my father relished sharing with the family how I had behaved as a natural in an elegant setting with waiters watchfully hovering near to fulfill our every need… remaining cool, calm and collected, I thought, was a great strategy in the face of new experiences!
I remember fondly those idyllic years as I learned, grew, developed, cherished relationships, and embraced Biblical truth at a young age. One of my favorite verses as a child was, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119: 105
Second Decade – Adolescence & College
Entering the teen years is always traumatic as we struggle to become adults and venture out on our own. Studious and serious, I chose to focus on education and was eager to excel in school. Upon high school graduation when my parents relocated to the East coast, I followed and completed my liberal arts undergraduate and first masters’ degrees in record time, anxious to move on to “real life”! Little did I know then that my first two decades would later be remembered as some of the most cherished years of my life!
In fact, my teen years passed with relative ease despite the politically and socially turbulent 1960s. While conservative in my views, like any teenager I challenged the values and beliefs of my youth, seeking to fully understand the basis for the beliefs I held. Like the turns and twists of the canyons I toured at 70, these years offered the opportunity to explore and discover reality from every perspective. My conclusions were not all accurate in those formative years but generated a love for truth-exploring I embrace to this day. My truth-exploring passion keeps me in His Word: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
Of particular interest as a youth was Biblical prophecy and I recall eagerly studying and attending conferences on end- time teaching. My passion for prophecy has not diminished over the decades, as confirmed by the amazing prophetic fulfillment over my lifetime — the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 the year before my birth, the reunification of Jerusalem in the war of 1967 when I graduated from high school, and for Israel’s 70th birthday, the US recognition of Jerusalem as her capital. As in my youth, I am a “watchman on the wall” passionately looking for prophetic fulfillment in our chaotic world. I embraced the scripture, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Third Decade – Career Start & Marriage
My first professional position was at a community college in New Jersey where I met my one and only husband, Ken, and together we embarked on the building decades of life. While we chose not to raise a family, we were very career focused and sought to excel in our work. Ken and I relocated to Florida to advance our careers and live in a warm climate near water. His parents soon joined us and we helped to care for them in their later years in Tampa. While we loved Tampa, boating on the gulf and playing tennis, we sought a more dynamic business environment to launch our consulting business.
Houston with its reputation as the oil capital of the world seemed like the place for two ambitious professionals. In Houston, we soon established our outplacement consulting practice. By the end of this active decade, encouraged by Ken, I completed an MBA enhancing my consulting confidence in support of our clients. My desire was to follow the admonition, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Fourth Decade – Growing Our Business
My fourth decade was consumed with growing our consulting business and helping others in their careers. Out of Ken’s creative genius, we developed Job Search: The Total System to differentiate our boutique business and compete with global competitors. Now in its fourth edition, The Total System is unique in a number of ways and has helped thousands transition to better jobs, for better pay and a better life! The powerful Cycle of Success provides core concepts and evergreen values, combined with a multi-media step-by-step fool-proof approach, that facilitates learning for all backgrounds and organizational levels. We are grateful that as our clients succeeded, we prospered and were privileged to meet many great people, some of whom have remained friends over the years. One of my greatest passions is connecting people to achieve mutual benefit.
We navigated the ups and downs of the economy, sought ways to overcome many of life’s challenges together, and accumulated life-changing and treasured experiences in leadership, career, and talent development. Always optimistic, I thought with every challenge there was a solution, with every obstacle a way to overcome, and I pursued them with enthusiasm. I believed Jesus’ declaration, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Fifth Decade – On the Road
By the nineties, we discovered a love for RVing and the west. Those were prosperous years for us with the oil bust increasing outplacement demand combined with a nationally robust economy. We enjoyed several years of planning RV trips to most of the national parks, traveling annually for 2 months at a time. The internet had not yet emerged so communications were limited to cell and fax! We made it work and remember those years of RV travel with great enthusiasm. This period is when I learned to love photography and began to document our travels. Many of our early trips are featured throughout our home in my photographic gallery.
We enjoyed motorcycling on Ken’s Goldwing and have traveled in all terrains even in the winter! We had two cockers during these years, and not wanting to leave them behind, Ken built a kennel on the back of his Goldwing! We attracted many astonished looks as we cycled down the byways with Tigger and Pooh! If you are wondering how they got their playful names, it was my enduring love of the childhood story, Winnie the Pooh, that inspired me to name these two lovable pups whose personalities perfectly reflected their namesakes! They gave us much joy for 13 years.
Mid-point in the decade we decided to buy a home on Lake Conroe and for several years commuted from lake to Houston. We loved the lake yet work demands soon led us to buy a townhome to ease the commuting toll. We discovered that success can sometimes be more grueling than failure, as we continually pursued ways to innovate and grow our business. I learned that much can be accomplished through dedicated exploration: “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4
Sixth Decade – Turmoil & Renewal
Little did we know that our challenges would be compounded when the world was blindsided by 9/11, global recession, the bankruptcy of Enron and collapse of the gold standard auditor Arthur Anderson devastating capital formation, followed by massive Wall Street financial failures and ensuing recession of 2008. The economic and business turmoil of this decade resulted in many business failures and closures of consulting firms. We had traversed valleys, forged high waters, and overcome innumerable obstacles in our journey over the decades, but this was the darkest of valleys yet. One of my favorite Psalms is the 23rd: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is with me.” It was my faith alone that carried me through this long decade of turmoil.
How we kept our doors open while many competitors’ doors were shuttered, is hard to explain. In those stress-filled years, we sold our lake home, downsized our business, connected with a global brand and diversified to survive. I am especially grateful for the coaches and consultants who contributed to our business endeavors over the years, many of whom remain friends to this day. We were not fully cognizant that by persevering and navigating through the turmoil, God was preparing us to embark on the next decade of transitions.
During these years I often turned to the book of Job and the Psalms desperately searching to understand the purposes in losses, hardship, and failure. I clung to Psalm 91: 14 – 16 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” I believe that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining and always looked expectantly for His light to appear and prevail.
To end this decade of challenges, God knew just the trip to give us rest for our souls. In November 2009 we went to Israel with Daystar’s founders Marcus and Joanie Lamb and band. Visiting the land of the Bible, seeing where Jesus was born, being baptized in the Jordan, visiting the Mt. of the Beatitudes, boating on the Sea of Galilee where he walked on water, visiting where he fed the 5000, healed the sick, and founded his church, brought the scriptures to life in a way that transforms one’s faith and hope in the future. It truly was a trip of a lifetime culminating in our visit to Jerusalem; as the bus drove up the mountain, they played the inspiring song Jerusalem:
I want to walk your streets that are golden
And I want to run where the angels have trod
I want to rest on the banks of your river
In that city, the city of God
(The Hoppers in Jerusalem)
Before his crucifixion, Jesus wept over his beloved city from the Mt. of Olives where he prophesied of its destruction and of his own death and resurrection. Upon our return as a labor of love I created a video of this memorable experience (photography, narrative, and music), Walking with Emmanuel, available on www.celebraingchrist.com; 2019 is the tenth anniversary of our Israeli tour yet the sights and sounds seem as fresh as when we were there. Our tour of Israel was just a foretaste of the transformational decade ahead of us; our spirits were renewed as we followed Jesus’ admonishment: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30
Seventh Decade — Transitions
At the beginning of my seventh decade, I forged a local business partnership to continue rebuilding and diversifying our practice and leveraging our global brand. It was not an easy path and the stress brought on a health crisis that was also a wake-up call to focus not only on business success but also health and wellness. Within a few years, we sold our local ownership in the global outplacement brand that was key to growing our business through the toughest economy in our career.
Rebranding my consulting practice, I focused on predictive behavioral analytics for talent management optimization. It is a privilege to support individuals and organizations in assessing their talent and potential, strategizing ways to achieve their goals and implementing effective solutions across the changing landscapes of careers and talent needs. Helping CEOs in private equity assess their leadership teams and leverage their growth potential is a unique value proposition that integrates my many years in consulting with Harrison Assessments’ leading-edge predictive talent analytics solutions.
My years in career transition work and new-found dedication to wellness has led me to help individuals achieve greater happiness and fulfillment. Another unique assessment created by Harrison Assessments, the Whole Life Profile (WLP), offers insight particularly valuable in facing major transitions in life. Over the last few years, I have personally benefited in my business transition and health challenge by the WLP and workshop, and have had the opportunity to support others in applying lessons from this revealing self-assessment. Recognizing imbalances in the five life dimensions — Financial, Psychological, Relational, Integral, and Physical — enables one to identify areas of improvement, motivators to activate change, and strengths to leverage achievement of career and life goals, as well as attain greater satisfaction in every life dimension.
My new practice integrates both personal and professional life experiences to speak into the lives of others; like a pebble dropped into the ocean the ripples of impact are predictable by God alone! As a young girl living on the shores of Lake Michigan, I could not have imagined that my journey would lead me to touch the lives of others in so many intriguing and rewarding ways. I am blessed to be a blessing to others whatever their life direction, wherever their ripples may flow.
After 40 years in Houston, this was indeed a decade of transition not only for our business but in our personal lives as we relocated to Flagstaff. The dream of living in the mountains was envisioned in our RVing days, but we never had a specific plan to make it a reality. We now live in a beautiful custom home on the forest with a peak view of Mt Humphries. Having carefully decorated our home with all our personal, faith, family, career and travel treasures, it truly reflects who we are and the people and experiences we cherish. When sorting our possessions of over 40 years, I made deliberate choices to keep the fond memories and discard the painful! Though we have learned and been shaped by them all, God has been faithful to turn each one for good. (Romans 8:28) We now enjoy sharing our home and the destination city of Flagstaff with friends, family and with our Forest Peak Retreat Air BnB guests.
New Natural Element
As we planned the relocation to Flagstaff over a period of three years, I embraced hiking and photography to enjoy the unlimited opportunities to experience the beauty of this laid-back city and surrounding area with the San Francisco Mountains, Snow Bowl Ski Area, Coconino Forest, Grand Canyon, national monuments, Sedona and red rock country. After walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” during my sixth decade, climbing a mountain in my seventh seemed like a natural progression! As I overcame health and wellness, spiritual and financial challenges to scale new heights, taking on a physical parallel to climb an actual mountain seemed to me an essential goal. The tallest in Flagstaff Mt. Humphreys was calling and after significant planning and preparation, I summitted to 12,633 feet on September 24, 2018. (see The Summit Story)
What a memorable way to end 7 decades of climbing life’s inevitable mountains! It was quite the physical challenge and accomplishment; I will never again look in the same way on Mt. Humphreys’ peak! However, while retirement was never a concept I embraced, I think I will make one exception and relegate my future summits to metaphorical mountains!
The Eighth Decade and Counting
Having arrived at the completion of my seventh decade, I can say that each decade was indeed a milestone worth “numbering”. There were many canyon-like turns and twists that were dark and uncertain, but we always returned into the light of wonderous views. Surely the Lord has blessed me, shone his face upon me and been gracious to me. (Numbers 6:25)
When reflecting on one’s life journey a common question is, “do you have any regrets?” I must admit that yes, of course, there are regrets over wrong choices, failed strategies, and times in every decade when I missed the mark of God’s plan.
Fortunately, He has been faithful and gracious to forgive and redirect my steps when I have strayed from His righteous path. (Psalm 23) Some poor choices have lasting consequences, while others are temporary impediments, but by learning from them and making better choices for the future, one can overcome and pursue His purposes anew. As we teach in The Total System, I choose to “leave the past in the past, and focus on the present and future.” While God alone is able to forget “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), yet Jesus admonishes us to forgive others. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
Transforming Vision, Mission, Values
I look forward to my eighth decade with anticipation, eager to fulfill my purpose and destiny in Christ. In all I do the values to which I aspire are represented by the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23 While the world seeks fulfillment of self like Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection, God has called us to fulfillment in Christ-likeness. Paul acknowledged our life-long transformation: In addition to my consulting practice, I enjoy writing and photograph for my personal website www.celebratingchrist.com It represents the intersection of all my passions to positively impact the lives of others. I am grateful for the many family, friends, mentors, teachers, and authors who spoke words of encouragement, wisdom, and knowledge into my life, some for a season and others over the decades. Often an answer to prayer, they came alongside me to lighten a burden or give hope for a better tomorrow. In like manner, it is my heart’s desire that through my work and creative expressions others may be enlightened, edified and encouraged.
Regardless of how many years or decades I may yet celebrate, my prayer is that each moment fulfills His appointed times. As Paul proclaimed, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” I Corinthians 9: 23-25
The Eternal Milestone
When He calls me home, I will be ready to reunite with family, friends and beloved spiritual leaders and mentors who have preceded me to heaven. As Paul encouraged us, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13: 12 What a joyous day that will be to see Jesus face-to-face and spend eternity in His light, truly an incomparable milestone to which God has made a way for everyone through His only Son, a sure foundation. (Ephesians 2:19 – 22) The Hoppers, Shouting Time in Heaven
By Sheryl Dawson January 2019 www.celebratingchrist.com
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