Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Annie Glenn - Communication Champion

If you’re a space nut, like my husband and me, you might recognise the man in this photo. It’s John Glenn, one of the original Mercury astronauts and the first American to orbit the Earth. He later served as a United States senator for 25 years, and returned to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery at the tender age of 77. Certainly a man with an illustrious career.

I didn’t know much about Annie, his wife of 73 years, except what I had seen in space movies. I remember hearing that she had a severe stutter, but I didn’t know what she had gone on to accomplish in her own right.

When she passed away on 19 May 2020 at the age of 100, the media were awash with tributes for this remarkable woman. It had been difficult for her to be thrust into the limelight, because she couldn’t get through a sentence without stuttering. Then in her 50s, she undertook an intensive three-week fluency course. For the first time, she was able to do things that most of us take for granted, like making a phone call or asking for assistance when shopping.

Annie didn’t stop there. She became an advocate for those with speech disorders, campaigning for greater awareness and understanding. She was also an adjunct professor in a speech pathology department, served on several advisory boards for child-abuse and speech and hearing organisations, and even had an award named after her. You can read more about her amazing life here.

So Many Champions

So many people have gone on to champion worthy causes after experiencing challenges themselves. Jane McGrath, wife of Australian cricketeer Glenn McGrath, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 31. After going into remission, she and Glenn started the McGrath Foundation to raise funds for breast care nurses to help support families going through the same ordeal. Sadly, Jane’s cancer returned and she died at the age of 42. However, her legacy lives on through the foundation. You can read more of her story here.

Glenn McGrath in 2006

Joni Eareckson Tada was only 17 when she became a quadriplegic following a diving accident. She set up Joni and Friends to minister to other people with disabilities, and she’s still going strong at the age of 70.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe went through an experience no parent should have to face when their 13-year-old son Daniel was abducted from a bus stop and murdered in 2003. They later established the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to help educate people about child safety. 

But I'm Too Ordinary

When I read stories like these, I feel so humbled. These people have all done amazing things, but I could never do what they’ve done!

The good news is that we don’t have to do what they have done. Everyone has a different calling, and a different set of gifts, talents, resources, interests and personality traits. You might be led to start a foundation, write a book or do a speaking tour. Or you might just talk to another person one-on-one and share what you’ve gone through, so you can offer them some support and comfort.

I wasn’t able to have my own children, but I’ve volunteered with the Pyjama Foundation, a group that helps mentor children in foster care. For the last six years, I’ve met with a girl for an hour a week during school term to help with reading and learning activities. It’s been more rewarding than I could have imagined. It’s just a small step, but hopefully it’s making a difference.

I believe everything we go through happens for a reason. It can help build positive qualities, such as resilience or empathy, but it can also be used to help others.

Have you gone through a challenging or difficult circumstance that you’ve been able to turn into an opportunity, or could turn into an opportunity? I’d love to hear your examples.

Additional Sources and Credits

Photo of Annie and John Glenn – Jack de Nijs / Anefo / CC0; available through WikiMedia Commons

Photo of Glenn McGrath by Stephen Turner / CC0; available through Wikimedia Commons.

For more information about Annie Glenn, see the New York Times article and the Time Magazine article.


2 Responses

  1. After Joshua died, I was connected with another mother interstate, who was passionate about helping our youth who were caught up in drugs. She invited a former member of the EU to come to Australia to lecture on the way her nation was dealing with the drug problem.
    I invited Malou Lindholm to Rockhampton to speak at a drug forum I organised. Malou stayed with me for 2 days, investing her passion and knowledge into me. The city responded to my quest, donating venue, an airline donated Malou’s flights, printers donated fliers, television and radio donated air time. At the forum, we provided many hurting parents with resources and connections for rehab for their children caught in the drug lifestyle, and we went on to conduct Focus on the Family courses sponsored by churches for parents’ awareness and contact referrals where needed.
    As many people rising from great tragedy will say, ‘I just don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.’ The emotional energy is a powerful force and helping others is soothing ointment.
    I know of 2 young men whose lives were saved and changed because of this, and who now work towards those same goals, same seeds planted 20 years ago.

    1. Wow, Rosie, thank you for sharing that powerful story. It’s great to see how something good could come out of such a terrible tragedy. Good on you for going to such lengths to help others. Though it can never bring back your son, it must be some comfort to know that other lives are being saved through those efforts. I’m sure everyone has a different journey when faced with such a tragic circumstance and healing comes in different ways for different people. But it’s wonderful that you were able to channel your grief into such positive avenues. May many more lives be saved. Thank you for sharing.

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