I’ve long held the belief that we can move through any difficulty life hands us. I teach courses about that; I wrote a book about it; and in some sense, I’ve based my very existence on my faith that there are blessings to be found in adversity.
I came to that conclusion through my own journey: as a teenager I was abducted while traveling overseas. I was beaten and raped by two men who held me in an abandoned construction site, then dumped me in a park days later.
Recently something happened that tested my faith. It started when I was contacted by Herb, a man with whom I went to high school, who had a request.
Herb and I had not been in contact in decades, but he heard I live in Los Angeles, so he asked me to help a girl from our hometown who has inoperable brain cancer to fulfill her life’s wish and meet Justin Bieber.
“I figure if you’re out there in Los Angeles you must know all the celebrities, right?” Herb asked. As a young girl in Rye, Colorado, I have to admit that I thought the same thing about people in Los Angeles. As fate would have it, however, I don’t know Justin Bieber, but I thought I’d give it a try.
The girl with brain cancer is just fifteen, and her name is Shayla Sievers. I asked Herb to send me a brief story about her and some photos so I could jump right into my hunt for “The Biebs.”
Herb sent me Shayla’s story in her own words. She wrote, “Hospice is at my home, and I’m afraid. I don’t want to leave my family, but I know it’s not in my hands but in God’s. I had so many plans for my future. I just wanted to get a job, buy my first car, graduate high school and have children someday. There is so much I wanted to do, but I realize my time on earth may be short.”
I studied Shayla’s sweet face in her photos as I read her words, and I wept.
“How could anyone find a blessing in this?” I wondered. I mean; my own difficult circumstances had been no walk in the park, but at least I’d lived.
I started reaching out to everyone I know to see who can get to Justin Beiber. I’m on a mission, and while I’ve gotten a couple of really good leads, I have not been able to arrange the meeting yet.
In the meantime, I’ve been emailing back-and-forth with Shayla and her mom. Shayla’s been busy speaking for the community and inspiring people everywhere she goes with her message.
She says, “My wish is that everyone around me appreciate every day they have because being alive and well is truly a gift.”
What has been most inspiring about Shayla and her mother is the triumphant nature of their faith. Despite the fact that Shayla is afraid (as her mother must also be) the two of them maintain that the entire situation is in God’s hands.
To anyone who interacts with either Shayla or her mother, it is clear those are more than just words for them.
The way Shayla approaches her illness is such an inspiration; people who have never met her or each other have been coming together as a community to support her.
Shayla is affording people the opportunity to be a part of a cause and belong to something that is bigger than themselves. She is giving people hope. She has given me hope.
Since 1995, I’ve been coaching people and leading personal development seminars. I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege to have coached tens of thousands of people during that time.
I’m fascinated by human behavior, and I love breaking down and analyzing what makes us tick.
If I were to analyze what drives virtually every one of us, I’d say that it’s a longing to matter; it’s a deep need to have our being here make some difference in the quality of other people’s lives.
If I were to analyze further, I’d speculate that the reason we’re so fascinated with celebrities as a society is because we assign those attributes to them.
Founded or not, we collectively believe that because celebrities are widely known their lives matter and they are making a difference in other people’s lives.
In the most fundamental of ways, celebrities are touching people they’ve never met and impacting their lives in ways most of us aspire to.
From that perspective, it’s easy to see why Shayla’s life’s wish is to meet Justin Bieber.
When I take my coach’s hat off, however, I realize this ain’t rocket science, and it becomes immediately clear that Shayla’s a teenage girl, and teenage girls just love pop stars and celebrities.
The irony—and what I pray with all my might that Shayla will recognize—is that in her own way she has already achieved that; she has already brought people together; she has already unified an entire town; she has already touched people she’s never met.
I’m one of them. She’s renewed my faith in my own credo, and to her I’m grateful. Through Shayla, I see that it really is possible to find a blessing in the midst of any adversity.
I’m moved by you, Shayla Sievers. You’re my Justin Bieber.