A friend and colleague of mine sent me a video compilation of dogs, cats and other animals feeling the love with each other or their humans. I couldn't quite get the exact link to that one but I found a similar MUST SEE VIDEO. With all the controversy, strife and dissension going on in the world, I thought to myself, "Why can an iguana and a dog (the most unlikely pair, truly) get along and we humans can't seem to figure it out?"
Teachers are striking all over the United States, and living in Tucson, AZ, I'm seeing it firsthand. Whether you believe teachers already make enough money (what??) and shouldn't be striking, or you believe that standing on the side of the road as thousands of motorists drive by honking their support at the teachers (or not), there seems to continue to be such divisiveness in the country and of course around the world.
I pray on a daily basis for God to direct me to do what I can to be of maximum service to Him and to the people I come across, and it hurts my heart to see people not be able to settle their differences in a respectful manner.
I teach master's and doctoral level courses for Grand Canyon University and for Walden University. I just started teaching an online School Finance and Budgeting course for Grand Canyon this past week. One of my first announcements was for them to act like the two hugging dogs in the video. ( Just kidding. I didn't have them watch that video, but I might). I did, however, give them guidelines for how I expect they will talk with one another in the Discussion posts they are required to make each week.
Yes, it is true that most of the problems I see with online courses is the total opposite of the problem posed in my blog. In online classes, I see people post things like, "I agree with David. He made a great point." Okay, great, I want to say, but what part did you agree with? How does what he said relate to your own experience in your school? And for the love of all things Holy, can we please feel okay about disagreeing in an online environment? I just ask that we do it with respect and rapport. How do we do it?
1. Acknowledge the person's point of view to ensure you actually get the gist of what they are saying "I think I understand that you believe...."
2. Use words that are not filled with "attack mode" (just in case a gila monster and a kitten get into the next video, we'll be ready) but instead say exactly what parts don't mesh with what you have read or believe (i.e. "I think I understand that you believe....; I read in our text that ...... and I find in my school that....., so I may have a bit of a different take....")
3. At the end of the day, if we are all in a learning community together (and doesn't that really include everybody in the world?), let's acknowledge that agreeing to disagree may be the best we can do.
I have a dear friend from Florida who used to say that, when he would get into a heated conversation with someone about something about which he felt such vehemence he had to defend his position to the death, he would not back down. He felt it showed weakness (have you seen a lion back down from a mouse? It just typically wouldn't happen, right?). Over a period of working on himself in a group of other people who were also working on themselves (maybe like a 12-step group, perhaps), he learned the most important words that changed his life forever.
When in a heated argument with his wife, co-worker, partner, friend about political, religious, or any other electrically charged topic, he would simply put up his hands and say, " You know, you might be right about that." What??? You might be right about that?? What if you know the other person is dead wrong? The issue becomes: even if you believe you are right, arguing about it is not likely going to change the person's mind.
Instead, what he did with his statement (that I am still working on using) is discharge the electrical current between them. Who can argue with a statement like that?
In the meantime, I think I am going to go hug on some kittens and puppies and not argue with anyone about anything.
Did you ever play that game with your friends in middle school or high school in which you seemingly "tested each other's faith"? Hang on, maybe I just haven't worded the game in the same way you played it.
After watching a movie that is out in the theaters right now and rhymes with "A Wyatt Space", I asked Dave if he would sacrifice his life if mine was in danger. "Of course!" was his response. "Wait", (here comes the caveat---wait for it) "what exactly is the danger and how much is it going to hurt?" (seriously, you can hear my eye roll from where you are? That is impressive).
We ask the question in all seriousness about how much money we are willing to spend on one of our dogs if they are in dire health. Don't every play that silly game----Dave and I had always said, in our early years of marriage, the threshold would depend on the age of the dog, but likely the bar would be somewhere around a few thousand dollars to "save" the dog. Cue the entrance of rare lymphoma in K.C.
K.C was our first Yellow Lab in 1996---you know, the one who broke the mold for all Labs before and since, was beloved at the elementary school where I was principal for being a therapy pet, and could go fetch a particular toy by its exact name---("Go get Fred Flinstone" and off she goes. "Go put Pugsy back" and there it would go, back in the toy basket). The second she was diagnosed and the vet asked if we wanted to try a chemo treatment, we said, "Of course!" No matter that each pill was going to cost $100.
So, back to middle school and high school (because I know you are all dying to return to that phase of your life, complete with perhaps a bit of acne and a modicum of understanding how awkward life in social situations could be). In middle school and high school, I belonged to a group called Campus Life, one in which we supported each others' walk through getting to know Christ. Every so often, a kid would ask, "If God is a loving God, He doesn't want me to suffer, right?" At which time, the Campus Life leader begins wishing and hoping he was instead sitting in the dentist chair preparing for a root canal with no novocaine, while two members of the group are just thinking about how adolescence is torturous enough---what more suffering could there be? The Campus Life director would tenuously, oh so tenuously, answer, "God doesn't want any of His children to suffer", to which the kid who asked the question would say, "Then is it okay for my mom to steal money from a bank if I get a fatal illness and she can't pay for it?" Oh yikes! Campus Life director bells are going off, sirens blazing, but alas, no, there was no "text your fellow Campus Life leader to find out what they were saying". But, wait, there's more. That one question set off a cacophony of questions, "If I accidentally run over a dog with my car, should I shoot it to put it out of its misery?" "If one of our friends from another religion asks us to jump off a roof because we are 'saved', should I do it?" and more just like that and worse.
So, what is our "limit" to what we bring to every spiritual, work, or relationship situation in our lives? Do we have a line we draw in the sand---"This I will not do"? How much risk are we willing to take to fight for what we believe is right and our true truth? Each of the apostles tells their story of Jesus laying down His life for us. I have often wondered, as an educator, what that story is meant to tell me about a vocation I simply didn't choose but rather was chosen for me...by God. I could no more have chosen a different vocation than education than I could make a hole in one on the golf course. Dave just says, "If you just keep hitting the ball in the right direction, that is good" (I so wish I was joking about that, but it's the honest truth---that's just how great a golfer I am becoming). In early years of teaching, I made deals with my students with Severe Emotional Disorders---basically, if they could make it through a week without punching someone else or throwing a desk across the room, I would take them to the bookstore and out to lunch on the weekend. Was I sacrificing? Some might call it that. I would call it "survival". If I could teach these beautifully damaged children how to act in public without stealing, hurting someone or getting me fired, I could maybe, just maybe, teach them how to read. Then, a practice drill (other than a fire drill or storm drill) might be, "What do we do if someone has a meltdown and throws a chair at you?"
Now? Educators know the stakes seem to be higher. Parents, would you lay down your life for your own children? Well, I can guarantee you that most teachers with whom I have worked would give the same answer---"Of course, without a doubt". Cindy (who manned the front office for 30-plus years at the school where I was principal) and I used to joke, saying, "If someone comes in this school with a weapon, we are the first to go (she was on the right side of the entrance and I was on the left side of the entrance). While we didn't often wear our track shoes to school, she and I bolted out of the school together one day as we watched a guy, walking with what looked like a weapon and swaying from side to side as if he wasn't completely lucid, head across our school's front yard toward the kids and coach on the PE field across the road. In my mind, I picture as twin-super-ninjas, but in truth, I believe we simply followed him (after calling 911 to get a resource officer to our school---we didn't have one then) and got Coach Hill to get the kids to one corner of the field where the suspicious looking guy might not see them. The dude finally jumped a fence and the local law enforcement folks found him and took him away from the school area (like relocating a rattlesnake---a little off-topic, but we have a guy in our neighborhood here in Tucson who will, at the second you call him on the phone to tell him you have a rattlesnake in your yard or, God forbid, your house, will come "relocate" said snake. Where? To the 15th tee box of the golf course. Wait, what?? Apparently, that is where the desert for the rattlesnake community begins. I say, "Why don't we just move their little community a tiny bit further in the distant desert area?")
I think what it means for me to bring my whole self to my community and my relationships and to other people doesn't necessarily mean I loan money to people who have been offered a job and simply don't want to take it because it doesn't suit their desires (true story that just happened to me this week---I said "No, if you need the money, it sounds like there are jobs being offered to you. It all seems to depend on whether or not you want to sleep in a shelter, a cheap apartment, or your car". I promise I was not being sarcastic in any way, I only was serving to be the mirror for someone else who couldn't see the choices they were making might not be optimal, but I wasn't going to co-sign their "crazy".
I can't take on all the ills of the world, I simply can't. What I can do is ask myself, "Am I willing to put myself in a vulnerable position, for instance, with my staff if I am a principal, by telling them I am not perfect and want to learn alongside them? " I can ask myself if I am doing everything I know how to do to be the kind of person God intended me to be, just for today. I can ask myself if I am bringing my whole self to every relationship, particularly the ones with my Higher Power, Dave, our pups and the pups we rescue and foster, our friends and family, my colleagues and my clients and students with whom I work.
What am I doing today to stretch myself---to take a risk I might not normally take---in the area of relationship-building? I hope you know that I enjoy sharing my weekly self with you, the reader, and covet your thoughts about my writings and musings.
Now, I'm going to go ask Dave if he loves me enough to go dig in the desert for more of those pink, sparkly, or purple golf balls with which I love to play. :)
Where do you go to get your fix?
First things first, this is a family show, so the blog is not about anything untoward. I found myself thinking, this week, about the notion about from what, where, and whom I get my needs met. I have a belief that we each have different sources for different fixes.
I have only to get on Facebook for two minutes to know that I have many friends who are coffee-junkies. I often wonder if a Starbucks venti latte tall grande mocha frappuccino (okay, clearly I know nothing about coffee) is the answer to all questions about life. That "fix" gets peoples' days started in a way that others of us cannot understand.
The first thing I do every single morning (even when I travel for work and I am in a hotel room in which it is questionable whether or not the carpet has been cleaned to my satisfaction---enter Shelly's OCD) is get down on my knees and pray that my Higher Power (whom I choose to call God) helps me be the person He intends me to be for that day. I get my fix of God right away, but for me, it can't stop there. I have to keep getting my spiritual fix throughout the day.
While it is not a Higher Power, I do believe that God put Dunkin' Donuts munchkins on this earth to make me happy. No, I don't partake of them everyday, but by golly, when I do, I choose to believe that a few munchkins are just the holes of doughnuts, thereby not being as bad for me as eating a doughnut (don't judge---everyone has a "thing", right?)
I can't talk about fixes, however, without mentioning how much I rely on Dave, my husband and best friend of 25 years. He is my voice of reason when the committee in my own head starts arguing or when I allow life to cause me anxiety. He talks me down from the ledge when I get overwhelmed with work stuff, and he even coaches me on golf (which we have always heard spouses shouldn't do). He has been my rock through every major trying event in my adult years and is naturally my biggest "fix". We don't agree on all things political or even religious, but we go to church together every Sunday (except when I am boarding a plane for parts unknown) to get our fix of spirituality together. Holding hands with Dave in church completes me.
Speaking of church, it is certainly one of, but not the only place I go for my fix of spirituality. I also get together with men and women who are in recovery from alcohol being our "fix" (and I've done this for the last twenty years in May), and find myself constantly writing down things people say in church and in these meetings that I can hang onto and remind myself of when I get a little down. One of my dearest friends from high school, Denise, and I talk about needing those people in our lives who are our touchstones (and she is definitely mine)---people who remind me that God must love me quite a bit to give me friendships who have lasted the test of time and through shared heartaches. Even people who may not have the same exact beliefs as mine (Glenn, for example) are "fixes" for challenging me and allowing me to take a fresh look at my own beliefs about religion, politics and family.
Professionally, I have my mentors like Dar, who stretch my thinking in ways I have never been stretched. But Dar and many others also are so generous with their own thinking and materials without ever having to be asked. When I was a principal, my administrative assistant, Cindy, was not only my fix for "taming the wild beasts" who came into the school loaded for bear, but we also knew that work should not only be work but should be fun, no matter what is going on. It has been over five years since we worked together, but we still know that everything people say can be turned into a song (and we will still sing a line or two just to prove that theory). The teachers and staff at that elementary school were and still are my "fix" for examples of what a culture for learning in a schoolhouse can and should look like. I promise I am not going to exaggerate and say that there was 100% love and ambition every single day from every single person, but I will go on record as saying that I got my professional fix from watching teachers, staff, and parents go the extra mile for kids who were constantly working on becoming leaders (we used Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits" and I honestly think it rubbed off on us, the kids, the bus drivers, and the parents, as well). I take that experience of being the principal at Edge Elementary School with me in every single professional learning opportunity I do in my work, now.
But if I am going to talk about "fixes", I can't finish this blog without mentioning my fix for laughter. When it comes to laughing to the point of crying, giggling until there is almost a need for a wardrobe change, and simply "my mouth and sides hurt from laughing so hard", it's my best friends who give me that fix. Robin and Kelly were my two best friends in college (and that might have been upwards of 30-plus years ago), and we still try to see each other at least once or twice a year. When we do, all bets are off if you are around us, as our husbands can and will likely attest. We can burst into laughter at a moment's notice about...well, absolutely nothing if you want the truth. While they were among the first people I called when I was diagnosed with breast cancer almost three years ago, they are also the friends who came and stayed with me after the surgeries I had (draining the nasty drainage tubes, laughing with me and at me when I was still on pain meds, and cooking for Dave and me when I couldn't do it myself----cue Dave saying "She wouldn't have cooked anyway"). Kelly Edelman, Megan Sanders, and Michelle Vaughn can make me laugh with one=liners that keep me in stitches; Rocky and Sloan do the same. I couldn't be more grateful for those people who know laughter is truly the best medicine.
So, what about you? What are your fixes? From where do they come? Do you take them for granted? If so, that might be a bit natural. But I challenge you === just for today, to thank one of your fixes for being there for you.
I, personally, thank each and every person in my life whom I have ever encountered, because good or bad, I learned something from them.
What Kirby Teaches Us
Dave and I have always loved dogs. When we met, he had a Beagle-Dachshund mix named B.J. (for Beagle-Juice)---yep, Dave's sense of humor is one of the things that attracted me so strongly to him---and I had a Sheltie named Jordan. Jordan and B.J. got along fine, but it wasn't long before we realized Jordan was likely a bit jealous of Dave. Lesson learned----two men in my life would not work for either one of them. But soon after Dave and I got married, we decided it was time to get a puppy that would truly be both of ours. We mistakenly invested in two male Bluetick beagles, who, if they weren't fighting for Alpha position in the family, were "hunting" other dogs in the neighborhood. We gave them to a family in Florida who knew exactly what to do with dogs of this sort---teach them to hunt.
So, we talked to people and read as much as we could about dog breeds and decided that a Labrador Retriever would be the perfect match for us. We went through a breeder (what we know now and what we knew then about the value in rescuing dogs instead of buying dogs contstitutes an enormous gap) and wound up with a yellow Lab pup we named K.C., who we still say is the Lab that broke the mold. She was the muse for my first book I ever wrote called "Letting Go of K.C." and we say she taught us about life, love, and loss.
We bought three other yellow Labs from breeders after K.C. (two, we still have---L.N. (Ellen) and Rudy). But something happened when we moved from Florida to Tucson that I can only call a Godwink. Through a friend of a friend, we stumbled upon an organization called Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue . For the past 3 1/2 years, we have been fostering Labs (or, in some cases, Lab mixes) that have been rescued by people who go down to Nogales (Mexico) or simply saved by people who have turned in their Labs (or dumped them) at kennels or in the desert. We applaud those folks who do the rescuing. We have chosen a different role, one of fostering.
We get a call saying a Lab has been rescued and is being spayed or neutered and we get asked to foster the dog until we can get it adopted. The only people who can view the dogs up for adoption on the Dog-a-log (I promise I wouldn't make that up) are folks who live in Arizona and have been vetted (no pun intended) by home visit volunteers. I have joked with friends that you could adopt a child from Kenya more easily than you can adopt one of our Labs. Why? Because we are not looking for the right dog for you. We are looking for the perfect home for that particular Lab after living with the Lab for a week or two (sometimes months if they are medically fragile or have behavior issues, etc.).
Over the course of a year, Dave and I fostered and adopted out eight Labs to beautiful homes (most of whom I keep in touch with via Facebook and/or text),
So, two years ago, along comes a litter of four puppies (who were deemed by the owners as "throw-away dogs" because they didn't think they would be able to sell them). Dave and I talked about the ramifications of taking on a puppy as a foster and decided it would be fine, as long as we fostered a boy pup (beginning with K.C., we have only had girl dogs, so we knew we wouldn't be "tempted" by a boy pup). These little babies were 6 1/2 week old bundles of fur with the sweetest puppy breath ever known to canines. So we took in Kirby (so named for Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins). Does anyone see where this story is going?
Maybe we didn't truly think the whole thing through, but you can't adopt out a pup until they have been spayed or neutered, which you can't do until they are at least 4 months old. You do the math. By the time Kirby was ready to be neutered, L.N. (our oldest) had become Kirby's sister who would play with him, put him in his place when he played too hard, and cuddle with him like she had raised him (well, she kind of did).
Long story short, Kirby is part of our pack, which means we are now called "Foster Failures", since we adopted our own foster. Kirby was a goofy, funny, curious little dude that kept Dave and me from going out some nights because he was so entertaining. After one of my breast cancer surgeries, he also became known as my snuggle bunny, as he would curl up on the couch (or even the chair in which I had to be propped up) to keep me company.
What we didn't know at the time was that he would become the foster-pup whisperer. Whenever we now get a new foster dog in our home, L.N. and Rudy turn the reins over to him. The girls are 12 and 10, so they are past that "crazy Lab who's been trapped in a kennel" phase. But Kirby? Something tells me he knows how good he has it here at the Arneson household, and he has stepped up to the plate. He shows the new recruit around the house, teaches them how to lie down on the top step of the pool to cool their undercarriage after a long walk, and he helps teach them our routine of praying before mealtime (only a video or viewing this in person would do this ritual justice---just trust me, it's adorable). But the best part is when we get a young pup in, Kirby runs and plays with them within minutes of meeting them. There is no discrimination about where they lived before they came to us, whether their fur is less than pristine, what color they are, or what baggage they carry.
He unconditionally plays with every single one of them, as if they are his new brother or sister, even if it only ends up being for a week or two. As a two-year old, now, who loves his mom and dad (and his bed and his food and his daily walks), he gives up his place on the bed when the foster temporarily takes over. It's as if he knows they are coming from a place where there hasn't been much love and he knows they need it more than he does (for a short while).
The last black Lab we had was a tri-pod. She had to have her front right leg amputated due to some food aggression issues in a kennel, where she was torn up pretty badly. Several weeks after her surgery, she and Kirby are running and playing in our backyard. His tactic? Nip at her one good front leg, at which point she face-plants onto the grass, then pops back up, runs over to Kirby and uses her stump to pin him down on the ground. No pity, no judgment, just two dogs who are loving playing together. This picture below is of Kirby and Sarah, our latest foster. It is a bit of a trick of photography, because 99% of the time, they were running after each other and playing tug o' war with a chew toy. But we captured this moment when they were both exhausted. These dogs knew each other for about a week before they began sleeping on each other.
People ask us all the time, "How can you do that? How can you keep a dog and then give it up to another family?" Our answer is "We are blessed to be able to find perfect families for these perfect dogs who have lived imperfect lives."
Truly, though, we are blessed to have Kirby, who loves and lives unconditionally.
May we all be that blessed.
Light after the Darkness
Not surprisingly, this topic is pretty pertinent on Easter Sunday, for those of us who celebrate the risen Lord. Even for those of you who don’t, I have a sneaking suspicion you have a similar belief that embodies the notion that there is typically dark before the dawn. The good news in the darkness is that we have the knowledge that tomorrow (or at some point in the future), there will be a new beginning, a chance to start anew.
Consider the following circumstances, ones that I see people with whom I am surrounded, that rock our worlds: diagnoses of cancer, divorce, deaths of parents and other loved ones, loss of jobs, addictions, and so many other ones that some people choose to hold tightly to their vests. We are faced with unimaginably horrible news; we experience unfathomable situations, and we cry out, “How can this be happening?” “How will I ever get through it?” Even in schools where I work so often, teachers and administrators cry out, “Why do we have to change the way things we always used to do? We don’t want change!” But there is light after the darkness; we just have to be open to it.
But take a moment to think about what happens during and after each of these instances. We push through, we learn, we grow, and then we hopefully come out on the other end having become better people. I admit, personally, that being diagnosed with breast cancer almost three years ago was pretty darn devastating. I was eternally grateful to have Dave and God right by my side, along with some pretty amazing friends and family who circled the wagons and helped us out in ways we can never repay (you know who you are). But the truth is that, after going through what we went through (and just ask Dave, “we” went through it, not just me), we have come out on the other side with new insights, and the ability to help in some small ways the people who come behind and go through it after us. There was truly light after the darkness.
Our priest told us, during the Saturday night Easter Vigil, that we always have a chance to begin again, if we choose to do so. I like to say, “We can always start our day over.” Every single morning, even when I am in a hotel room in some foreign city, I get down on my knees upon awakening, and ask God (my Higher Power----choose your own if you don’t have one) to direct my thinking for the day. But somehow, every once in a while, I forget a little bit of that serenity I asked for. Someone cuts me off in traffic and I say quietly, “That wasn’t very nice” (anyone believe that is what I say?); I find out a conference call I was supposed to attend got cancelled when I could have been doing 500 other things; or a foster dog tinkles on the carpet. If I get frustrated, I have the capacity (my mission, should I choose to accept it) to start my day over. There is light after the darkness.
But here is the crux of the matter. Whatever is the new dawn that breaks for us, we can’t just talk about it. We can’t just complain about the way the world events are unfolding. We can’t just talk about it, we have to do something about it. What I truly believe we need to do about it is to be the light of Christ. We need to remind people that there is light after the darkness, and then have conversations about what that looks like and feels like in our own environment or current situation. Yes, we are going to disagree with each other sometimes. But, in all honesty, consider the times you have sat with people who all thought the same way you thought. Did you really ever learn anything new? Not I. I learn the most when I am willing and able to open my mind to “new”. The other night, my sweet Goddaughter and her family and I were sitting in our hot tub discussing public education and school violence. A couple of us have pretty firm views on those issues. But the cool thing was: we listened to each and every one of the other’s opinions and thoughts.
A friend of mine used to say, “You might be right about that” when he heard something that competed with his own beliefs. Wow, if I could only remember to do that every time I disagree with someone…
If we don’t search for the light after the darkness, who is going to do it for us?
Besides, I wholly subscribe to Nichole Nordeman's (contemporary Christian singer of whom I am her biggest fan) song SUNRISE
Listen and see what you think!