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Dancing through the pain

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Dr. Edie Eger and Chad Hennings
Dr. Edie Eger and Chad Hennings

Have you ever felt that life has thrown some stumbling blocks in your path and made it difficult to get through another day? Has anyone ever hurt you deeply, sending you into a downward spiral of depression and hopelessness? If so, how did you deal with your pain?

On Thursday, March 26, at Valley Creek Church, 5800 Long Prairie Road in Flower Mound, from 4pm to 5pm, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to meeting a woman who knows more about pain and heartbreak than most people alive today. Dr. Edie Eger is a Holocaust survivor who has experienced some of the worst evils ever witnessed by the human race. As a Jew living in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz, the monstrous death camp.

In 1944, at the age of 15, Edie was separated from her parents just before the Nazis murdered them. To add more horror to her experience, she was forced to dance for Josef Mengele, a sadistic physician assigned to Auschwitz. Known as the “Angel of Death,” Mengele ate his dinner in front of the starving teenager as she performed a ballet for the monster who had just murdered her parents. As the war was coming to an end, Edie and many other prisoners were being marched toward another concentration camp when she lapsed into unconsciousness, undoubtedly because she was suffering from several broken bones and emaciated from lack of food. At about 60 pounds her body was so frail that the Nazis must have thought she was dead, so they threw her lifeless body onto a pile of corpses on the side of a road.

It was May 4, 1945, when a young American soldier noticed her hand moving under several dead bodies. He provided medical assistance and brought her back from the brink of death. After the war Edie moved to Czechoslovakia where she met the man she would marry. In 1949 they moved to the United States. In 1969 she received her degree in Psychology from the University of Texas, El Paso. She then pursued her doctoral internship at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.

What’s remarkable about Dr. Eger is that she has overcome what most would agree is an extremely tragic beginning, and she has turned her life around to become a prolific author and a member of many professional associations. In addition to having a clinical practice in La Jolla, California, she holds a faculty appointment at the University of California, San Diego. A frequent guest on television programs, including Oprah Winfrey, she also makes speaking appearances across the country and internationally. Rather than dwell on the past, she talks about how to forgive those who’ve hurt us, and by doing so, how we can free ourselves to live more productive lives, unburdened by hatred. If this woman, whose parents were murdered for being Jews, and whose young and very painful life was within a few pulse beats of ending, can be big enough to forgive; who among us is unable to do the same?

The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by Wingmen Ministries (WM), a men’s ministry in the North Texas area that strives to help men form strong friendships and support one another as they grow in their faith and live out their Christian lives. Chad Hennings, former defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys and holder of 3 Super Bowl rings, founded WM, which was established on the core values of acceptance, affirmation and accountability. Chad has been with Dr. Eger at other events and will join her at the March 26th appearance. In case anyone thinks it will be all about sadness and grief, let me disabuse you of the notion. Dr. Eger has inspired thousands with her positive view of life. She excels at helping individuals and groups discard their limiting beliefs so they can unlock the true greatness that exists in every one of us.

It’s actually a perfect pairing of Dr. Eger and Chad Hennings because each of them has a story to tell about overcoming obstacles that stand in the way of major achievements. Chad grew up in a small town in Iowa and rose to become a state wrestling champ and an all-state football player. After being offered full scholarships from different universities he chose to attend the United States Air Force Academy. Upon graduating with honors in 1988, he entered undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, as part of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. He became an A-10 pilot and was assigned to the 92d Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS), a unit of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing based at RAF Bentwaters in the United Kingdom in June 1990.

While with the 92d TFS, Chad Hennings deployed twice to the Persian Gulf. From April to June 1991, and October 1991 to January 1992, based at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, he flew 45 A-10 missions in support of Operation Provide Comfort, an effort that helped provide relief and humanitarian aid to Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq. He was twice awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal, a humanitarian award and an Outstanding Unit Award for his actions in the service. He was promoted to captain on June 1, 1992.

Although drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, he finished his commitment to the Air Force before joining the team in 1992 as a 27-year-old rookie. On the personal side, Chad is married, has two children and lives in Flower Mound. Following his football career he became a Christian motivational speaker and author. His character-building book for men, “Rules of Engagement: Finding Faith and Purpose in a Disconnected World,” was published in 2009.

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