Dave and I were at dinner last night with some friends of ours (former co-workers of Dave's ----you know, in the days before life was more than golf every day and he actually knew what day it was), and we began to have a conversation about the state of our lives and the lives of others. Since Dave and I began working with the Gospel Rescue Mission in Tucson to help find solutions for homeless folks (we have our first official Peanut Butter and Jelly Ministry on March 1st, in which some members from our church will make 100 PB & J sandwiches and take them down to the mission to give to those in need), we have changed in many ways. We see people differently; we view issues differently. Don't get me wrong---Dave and I still have spirited disagreements on political issues, but more and more, we find ourselves in conversations with people who want to find greater solutions than handing out a dollar or two to people on the street corners.
What do we do for the mentally ill who cannot work? What do we do for homeless vets who cannot afford even one good meal a day? What I know to be true is that the answer is not found in saying what is wrong with our "system" or what is wrong with "those people". The answer is going to be found in working together to help create community operations that systemically help larger numbers of people and do more than put a band-aid on the problem (or worse yet, ignore it or gripe about it).
Have I changed? Immensely. Yes, I'm still giving up something silly (sweets) for Lent, but I am also working with a dear friend of mine on giving up something really bad for Lent---gossip, judging others, resentment, lumping all people I think are "alike" into one group, and the hits just keep on coming. I'll pick one of those "bad" things to start giving up, and I pray that it will spread to the others. I kinda see it as a domino-effect. If I can either speak my truth in a way that is palatable for others to hear and not gossip, that may trigger a lessening of resentment on my part as well.
In the way God works in my life, there are no coincidences, and I have just recently been asked to work on a focus group to add Character Education into the teachings of our Educational Leadership courses at Grand Canyon. Talking with the group on Friday solidified my feelings that, while parents are certainly the child's first teachers, our teachers are also spending 7 hours (sometimes more) with students, so we have a duty, I think, to instill integrity and respect and love for humankind into our students. I remember, many, many years ago when Dave and I first moved to Florida, and I became involved with some pretty amazing people who wanted to help our youth have character brought into the lessons that were taught in schools (not changing the curriculum, mind you, but simply acknowledging when courage came up in a lesson on World War II, or when integrity came up in a class chat on being honest about taking something from someone, etc.). I will never forget going to the local college to have a panel to talk about Character formation in schools. One man stood up and pointed his finger at us and said, "Nobody is going to teach my kids any other religion but our own. Don't you dare!!" Wait, what??? When did kindness, trustworthiness, and respect become something that would defy anyone's religion? We were stymied. But, lo and behold, soon I was a guidance counselor, teaching lessons on character to middle school and elementary students for the next 9 years. After that, I was a principal at the best elementary school in the world, where we focused on Stephen Covey's seven habits of highly effective people. We taught the students (kindergarten students talking about "synergizing" and truly understanding the concept will not EVER be forgotten) that these traits help us become leaders.
What are we doing in our own lives to transform not only the students and children with whom we work, but ourselves as well??
All I know, for today, is that on Sunday, March 1st, some children and adults from Church of the Apostles Episcopal Church in Oro Valley, Arizona are making sandwiches to take to people who might be less fortunate than ourselves. I can't wait.
Have a blessed day! I can't wait to hear your thoughts about what you are doing to grow in your faith and character formation! Who knows? You might just inspire someone else.
...how would people ever know we need it? And yet, how hard is it to reach out to ask for help? Not to make light of this issue, I literally will strain to open a jar of pickles for 5 minutes before asking Dave to help me (because it makes me so envious when he turns it one time and...voila! pickles). I have often been know to climb on counters to get to a bowl or dish that was on the top shelf of our cupboards (not joking----those cupboards were not made for 5' 3" people!!).
But I'm really talking about the greater needs we have in our lives. It has almost been five years ago since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Five years! Unbelievable!! But I will never forget getting the call from my doctor when I was 2,367 miles away from Dave telling me that, yes indeed, the biopsy had revealed breast cancer. All I wanted was to be in Dave's arms, but I received SO much emotional support from my colleagues and friends in the Danielson Group (the group with whom I was meeting in Princeton, NJ for a Danielson retreat). It was so hard to take in the "I'm so sorry"s and the "It will turn out just fine"s, as I hadn't had any time to process the information. But after changing my flight to get back to Dave the next day, the first person I called from my hotel room was my best friend from college, Robin Hoxworth, who literally cried and laughed with me in the span of our hour-long conversation. After that, and the falling into Dave's arms while surrounded by our pups who Dave had adorned with pink lockets and pink ribbons, I honestly do not remember how it happened, but we were suddenly locked into help that Dave would need after my first surgery (as he was still a working stiff at the time :) ). Robin stayed for a week, my dear friend Michelle Vaughn (who earned her doctorate alongside me) stayed a few days, and my other best friend in the world, Kelly Raaum, stayed for a week. I don't really remember all that time, but I do remember that there were so many other angels who sent meals, brought meals, brought AA meetings to me, and so much more.
Reaching out for help has never been much of my forte'. But I believe that there comes a time in every one of our lives in which we realize that help can be found if we just ask. I think about the teachers with whom I've been blessed to work who reach out to each other (and to me) for creative ideas on how to engage their learners in the learning. I think about the school leaders who email me (and are not ashamed to do it, which I believe is nothing short of a miracle) to ask for help in how to have better conversations with teachers or how to objectively observe and coach their own teachers in their school. I cannot tell you how much this means to them. I mean, I'll be quite honest. I certainly hope it helps my graduate students to get an answer to a question from me, but selfishly, it also helps me so much as it makes me think about my own thinking. What a blessing!!!
As a member of a 12-step group that relies on sponsorship (someone you find who has what you want in order to grow in a spiritual fashion), I know we joke about the 50 pound telephone. So many of us struggle to reach out to one another to ask for help. We say things like "I just don't want to be a bother". But the truth of the matter is that when we help others, we ourselves gain such gifts that are unimaginable and difficult to explain. Who wants to admit they can't "fix" themselves without the help of God or another human being that might have some wisdom to share? Not many people I know. But it is in the asking for help that helps us become stronger, which is one of those cool ironies of life!!
Just for today, I pray that you are able to ask another teacher, friend, family member, or spiritual advisor for just the help that you need. I'd love to hear your personal experiences with reaching out for help and becoming blessed by the experience.
And for the love of all things Holy, please don't climb on the countertop to reach the high shelf of a cupboard (at least without a spotter).
For months, our Episcopal church, led by our funny, thought-provoking, spiritual priest, Debra has been invited to participate in an after-worship exercise called "For God's Sake, Listen!" Put the emphasis wherever you wish, but the goal has been to simply engage in learning how to listen to each other. Each group (of 4 -6 people) has nominated a facilitator (I've done it for my group several times) and we have engaged in topics such as K-Mart, coffee (seemingly controversial, right----you'd be surprised) and then beginning to dip our toe into content such as "homelessness", "healthcare", and others. The format is pretty straightforward but "strict" in the sense that it has quite a structure:
1. Write your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, wonderings about the topic for seven minutes (as a writer, these minutes fly by for me; for others, the last 5 -6 are agonizing)
2. The person to the facilitator's left begins by sharing their three most important thoughts or feelings they want to share with the group without interruption or cross-talk from any other member of the group (that's where the facilitator earns their keep---they have to remind people that it is not time to jump in with their rebuttal but only to listen)
3. The process continues until everyone has a chance to share.
4. The facilitator (after sharing their own thoughts) then invites discussion. For instance, did someone say something that sparked something within you? That process takes place for about 5 minutes, at which time each group is tasked to come to consensus on the top three points they want to share with the larger group (all other groups).
5. We go around the room, noting similarities and differences, and you can see people shaking their heads in disagreement, nodding in agreement, and folding their arms (I have no judgment on why people do this----are they cold or is their cheese being moved too much?)
6. The session ends with us deciding on a topic on which to discuss for the next time (next month) by voting.
The purpose? Learning how to listen without reproach or rebuttal or hard feelings. After all, we ARE still IN the church. ;)
This weekend, our vestry (governing body), of which I am a member) held a retreat to talk about the past year and create goals for the following year, with the overarching goal of bonding with one another in Christ. We celebrated Eucharist together, told stories of our faith, and shared in meals in between the WORK we needed to complete. Our initial task was to listen to the first 25 minutes of this recording of Richard Rohr, talking about Spirituality in Leadership , which I invite you to do now. What struck me so vividly is his talk about dual and non-dual thinking. It seems that when we engage in topics of politics, specifically (even within family---sometimes especially within family), we end up with this dualistic speaking and thinking. In other words, I'm going to wait until you finish what you have to say simply to jump in and embolden my stance and dig in my heels. When do we actually listen, "for God's sake"? Dave and I, even after 27 years of a truly blessed marriage, differ on various topics. We have come to a decision that, for the sake of our continued cherishing of our relationship, we will share our thoughts on "hot topics" but end the conversation by saying, "You know, you might be right about that?" It has served us well for the last 10 -15 years, truly. Why can't we all do that? We disagree between unions and managers; Republicans versus Democrats; public school and charter school believers; United Airlines and American Airlines; whether or not homeless people should get up and go to work or not; wall or no wall; and the hits just keep coming, right? Why must we dig in our heels even stronger about the way we feel when, with conversation that is respectful and dignified, we might find out we aren't that very far apart?
Just for today, I invite you to think about ways you might use that structured form of conversation with family or friends (or even in the workplace) to begin talking something seemingly non-controversial like "What are true learning outcomes for students in schools?" (be careful-----this has become VERY controversial in groups I have been in; without a protocol, it could get UGLY!).
Let me know your thoughts!
I work with a lot of students who are getting their master's degrees in Educational Leadership and others who are getting their doctorates in Educational Leadership or related subjects. I just had one of students I chair finish his final Oral Presentation, at which point we could welcome him into the fold as Dr. Reggie Wicker. To say this gentleman has overcome some pretty major hurdles these past couple of years would be a massive understatement. Suffice it to say, his dissertation which focuses on getting African American males into positions of teaching and retaining them as well is complete and so incredibly well done! I wish everyone could have heard him defend his dissertation yesterday, but trust me when I say, "Dr. Wicker is going to change lives to ensure our African American young people have some really great role models to look up to in the future." Dr. Wicker is doing the VERY best he can, and his very best makes me want to do my very best.
I have been asked by so many students the past couple of weeks about what the policy is on turning in late papers due to illness, grandmothers who have passed away, sick children, car wrecks, and the list goes on. I tell them all the same thing: You do the best you can when you can, and the rest will follow.
Dave and I rescue Labrador Retrievers for a local organization in Arizona called Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue. We've been doing this ministry (and it is, indeed, a ministry for us) for the last four years, and we have successfully fostered and then adopted out 26 dogs in that time frame. Obviously, as many of you know about my work, I am on the go so very much of the time. This fostering of dogs takes a great deal of time; sometimes there are medical issues, other times there are behavioral issues that must be addressed before the dog can be put out for adoption by qualified and "vetted" adopters. When I am in the midst of busy travel time, we simply can't do it. We owe it to our two babies (Kirby and Rudy) to take care of them first before bringing another Lab into the fold. We just rescued and began fostering Cidney (Cid, for short, as I have a dear college friend with the same name who loves Labs) two days ago. Cid is 11 years old (pretty old for a Lab), and she has some fatty tumors and other minor health issues. We may or may not be able to adopt her out, but we will definitely provide palliative (or hospice) care for her, if not. She is SUCH a joy----her tail doesn't wag, her whole body wags. She just wants to sit or lie down near us and be pet. The cutest thing that warms my heart is that she resembles our last Lab who passed away named L.N. (pronounced Ellen, of course). She and L.N. have a similar mannerism, which is to walk between your legs so you can put on her buttocks. Cid does it to me, I pat her a few times, she comes out and then turns around and wants to take another go at it. It simply warms my heart. We can't do this work 24/7, but we do what we can when we can do it. And it blesses us as much as it blesses the dogs and the families who end up with a Lab we have saved just for their love connection. People often ask us, "You must get so attached to the dogs. How do you do it?" My question back is, "If we've been called to do this, how can we NOT do it?"
So grateful for all the blessings of this life.
Just for today, do the best you can when you can.