Growth over the years
Twenty-five years ago, I made a significant change that altered my life pretty much forever. Dave and I had been married for six years and he has been totally supportive of the change. I have been sober and serene for 25 years, as of today.
But wowee, I could not have done it alone. I have had the perfect spiritual advisor (I call them sponsors) for each season of these years....as they gave me exactly what I needed just when I needed it. My first sponsor, Margaret, walked me through the steps, and she never (not once) would have co-signed my bull-crap. She moved years later to another state, and I had to find someone else to guide me. Ugghhhh....have I mentioned I do not love change most of the time? Ellie, however, was like Mother Earth to me.....it seemed all the woodland creatures gathered around her, and I was blessed to be one of them. She loved fiercely, and she had an amazing story. She passed away a couple of years ago, but before she passed away, Dave and I had moved to Tucson, where I found a pretty lovely lady who sponsored me for awhile. Lisa has a heart of gold, and is always trying to better herself and grabs onto healthy habits that I tried to emulate many times. Moving back to my homeland of Texas and building the home of our dreams was so much fun, but it was also pretty stressful stepping into new situations and not actually getting to do what I truly believed I was going to do once we moved here. I needed a sponsor and spiritual advisor who would listen to my honest story of where I was in my sometimes lack of serenity and confidence. Denise has been my rock, and I am so very blessed that she happens to go to the same church Dave and I go to. She reminds me that when I worry about "stuff", I am simply "borrowing trouble", and wow! she is exactly what I need right now, as I begin my 26th year of sobriety. She had an amazing career, and she helps me understand how, despite how VERY important my career still is to me, that is what I do....it is not solely who I am. I am so much more than what I do.....but I still have trouble separating ME from MY CAREER.
I am such a people pleaser because I truly care what my university students think about me, and I will bust my ass to help any one of them who shows the desire to grow as well. My theory is "Once my student (at the master's level, doctoral level, or any of my students or workshop participants I've ever taught in my life)....always my student". I love keeping in touch with my students, and all I can think is that I would never be able to do what I do (teaching Educational Leadership students, doctoral students, or teachers/principals all over the world) without the support of all the mentors I have had in my life who have helped me continue to grow. I continue to want to learn right along with any of my "students"----I'll hop on a webinar with students who want to do a book study; I'll talk with teachers' unions about their concerns about observations and evaluations they worry will be done in a "gotcha" format; I'll answer questions my students have at 5:00 in the morning because I know what it is like to be immobilized if you don't know what to do next on an assignment that will be due in two days; and I will discuss and debate with people who have misconceptions about how amazing public school is and how teachers are doing their darndest with so much flack from people who often don't understand what they are doing and what they are really doing to help students of today become adults of tomorrow who Dave and I would be proud to have taking care of us in whatever assisted living facility (or maybe even at our home---please?) we wind up, someday.
Am I proud? Yes, AND I am humbled. For me, it's not an either/or deal. In the past 25 years, I've experienced some of the most amazing parts of my life (other than meeting and marrying Dave, of course, which happened 6 or 7 years before that), but quite honestly, we've weathered some of the most challenging aspects of our lives in these past 25 years as well: I've lost my mom; I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy (and oophorectomy, and....and....and....just because it was estrogen-fed); we've lost Dave's mom and dad; we've lost some of the best Labrador Retrievers to cancer and other issues; and I've recently lost one of the dearest soul-sisters I've ever had in my entire life...BUT, despite all of that (and so much more), I have a fellowship of fellow travelers who are walking this path with me (some have not made it; others have opted to go out and do some more research for those of us who stick around). I am grateful....forever grateful.
Next Sunday, we will become members of the Episcopal church we have been attending in Boerne, Texas (about 30 minutes away from our dream home we built in the hill country of Texas about 18 months ago), and I cannot seem to quit getting teary-eyed when I think of how grateful I am for finding a church home in which we worship, sing, listen to amazing sermons, and then talk about the service for the next week. That, to Dave and me, is pretty much the epitome of what it means to worship. Have I mentioned I am grateful? Our two Labs, L.C. and Kirby, are living their best life as they get to run off-leash most always twice a day----chasing deer, armadillos, turkey, and each other. When I am not traveling for work, I get to sit in the backyard and listen to the birds (and silence; there is always silence), go to noon meetings, read books for pleasure, and see some of the best friends I've ever had (getting together with Denise and Mike and going on double-dates (even if they are to Cabo San Lucas) sure doesn't suck) and having my Texas family (including my almost-5 -year-old niece) close enough that my niece can stay the night with us and curl up and watch Scooby-Doo and eat popcorn with M&Ms is pretty special. Yep, life is pretty damn good. I could complain about the traffic on 1604 but life is way too good!!
Quite honestly, life is only this beautiful because of this 25 year milestone. I'm by no means perfect, but life is pretty perfect.
I pray it is for you, too!
What's in a name?
I always feel like it is truly a Godwink when circumstances collide, and a potential blog topic that has been tickling my brain continues to gain traction with each passing day as something new gets added to the mix. Today was the culmination of one of those times for me. This week, I was in Detroit, working with school leaders at a small district. I made nametags the night before the training with their first names on them (and one for me, as well, although I have one of those fancy-shmancy metal ones with the title, etc.). As I met them, I gave them their nametag and within a few minutes, I didn't need the nametags anymore, as I had committed their names to memory. Make no mistake----I have no lack of things taking up brainspace and memory space, but I have always tried to make room for names, as they are so important to me. When I was a guidance counselor and then principal at an elementary school with around 550 - 575 students, I made sure I knew every student's name. Why? The easiest one-word answer I could give you is "relationships" but another, more practical, reason is because it made a big difference to say, specifically, "Joseph, come over here for a minute, please. Remember when we talked about running in the hallway, last week? What were a couple of reasons we said it was better to walk?" instead of a global, "Hey! Hey! Hey! Quit running in the hallway!" to random students. Names helped the students know they were seen, heard and known. It had the same effect on bus drivers, to be honest (not that I was asking them to stop running in the hallway, I might add). Often, participants with whom I work in school districts all over the world will say, "How do you remember names?" to which I often answer, "I think it's about why more than how, as I can't really explain how I do it but the reason I do it helps make it happen. I know that it builds relationships where there were previously people who simply didn't know each other."
So, this week, the administrators and I talked about the importance of calling people what they want to be called in an effort to build rapport with them (whether we are talking about school leaders to staff or from teachers to students). Many of us have experienced the "oops" that comes when we mispronounce someone's name, and I can say that it is something I swear I won't do twice. Names matter, as they are typically the first thing we know about someone new whom we meet. Even though I teach online courses to Grand Canyon University students (teachers who are getting their master's degree in Educational Leadership), I still ask my students what they want me to call them. I simply want to honor the fact that Matthew might prefer Matt, even though I might never see him in person.
Also, this week, one of my friends posted something on Facebook about how her German Shepherd has a myriad of names he is called....nicknames, even though "Chief" is a perfectly great name in and of itself. I started laughing, as our Labs are Kirby and L.C., but we call Kirby about 10 different nicknames depending on what we are saying to him (and L.C. is the same way). I was thinking about how we do the same with loved ones....call them different names for different occasions----Dave is "Sweetie", especially when I need him for something. Now that I have planted that thought in your head, what are some of the names you call loved ones that have nothing (or very little) to do with their given name? What is the reason behind that, do you think? My hunch is that, over time, the relationship with our loved ones has become so deeply ingrained, we have come up with new ways to think about them. If names are the beginning to the relationship, then how much has the relationship morphed when the names are morphed?
When I first begin teaching a course at Grand Canyon (or I get a new student teacher) or I get a new doctoral student at Walden University, I am Dr. Arneson. But, over time, I become Dr. A, Dr. Mom (yes, I love that one, too), Dr. Shelly, etc. But what has really changed besides the name? The kicker, I believe, is that the relationship has morphed into something more profound and, yes, more vulnerable (in the sense that we can be more open, honest, comfortable, and yes, sometimes even more "loving" with one another as the relationship grows). So yesterday, one of the students in a course that is ending in three more days, wrote a discussion post (that is public not just to me but to her classmates, as well) that said, in part, "After week one, I was close to giving up. First assignment I didn’t get a great score. Thanks to Dr. Arneson meeting with me on Zoom, I was able to get an understanding of her expectations, and we built trust in being able to communicate throughout the course. Setting up that first meeting required me to be self aware that if I continued this way, I was not going to pass the class." Wow! Just wow!! This is a student who I now believe has everything it takes to become an amazing school leader. Why? She was not afraid to be vulnerable----not just in the act of asking to talk to me about her grade, but being WILLING to do what it takes to take a sincere look at her work.....not to mention being brave enough to share all of this with the rest of her class of 21 students.
It should not, then, have come as a surprise to me that the sermon in church today had to do with Jesus knowing us by name and all the names we call God and Jesus. Names are, after all, the beginning of the relationships that continue to grow and transform us. We talked in a small group after church today about what parishioners call Episcopal clergy (Father, Mother, Reverend, first names, etc.) and the reasons for those names.
Just for today, consider what names mean to you, what you call your closest friends and loved ones (including the four-legged ones), and why.
Shelly (just Shelly is perfectly fine, by the way)
Watch for deer
Dave and I are both a little sad as, even though we had found an amazing Episcopal church to attend in our neck of the woods (near us in the hill country of Texas), the head priest was just elected to be the Bishop of West Texas. So, he will no longer be our priest at our church, but his "net" will definitely be more widespread (which is truly a blessing for more people in Texas).
Dave and I feel strongly about the pull towards a church being based on a couple of really important criteria, to include: great music, a good vibe or feel from the congregation, and (most of all) a powerful message from the priest that resonates with us throughout each week following Sunday services. We know it's a good message if we find ourselves bringing it back up on Tuesday or Wednesday as we are walking the dogs to talk about it further, for example. Father David, whose final Sunday was last Sunday, talked quite a bit about saying "goodbye" and telling each other how we care about and love them. He made the joke (not really a joke because it is oh-so-true) about how Texans who live in the hill country often tell one another they love each other by saying, "Watch for deer". In the hill country, it is all too common to have deer dash out in front of your car during dawn and dusk hours. I have joked many times over the last couple of years of being back in Texas that I feel like the deer will literally stand right on the side of the road as we slow down (to allow them to cross), seemingly thinking, "It is so nice that these people are slowing down to say 'hello' to me". But then, when they don't move at all, we will begin to slowly begin driving again, only to have the deer (seemingly) say, "I have chosen right NOW to run into the middle of the street" just as we get going again. Wait...what?? We just gave you ample opportunity to cross (with or without several of your loved ones, babies, or group of best friends, by the way), but you just stood there and stared at us. NOW, you choose to run across the road?? Needless to say, we have had several very close calls with these beautiful creatures, and I would be sick if we hit one (although we have resigned ourselves to this likely being a "when" not just an "if" happening).
Father David reminded us that we have begun using that phrase "Watch for deer" to each other and other friends and family when one of us embarks on a journey that occurs around the dawn or dusk time period. It truly has, at times, replaced the common salutations "Goodbye", "Love you", or "See you later". We all know what we mean when we say "Watch for deer", as we know too many people who have either been injured or worse from hitting a deer in their vehicle or have simply been traumatized by hurting the deer themselves by hitting one. I think it might fall under PTHD (Post-Traumatic-Hitting-Deer), although I haven't experienced it....yet.
So, what does that mean to me today? It means that I am an extremely affectionate person, and I love to love other people in my life. I am personally one who says "I love you" quite a bit----so much so that Dave will often joke with me, saying, "Who don't you love? I think you tell everyone you love them". That is not true, by the way. I do not, in any way, shape, or form, feel I am diluting my message of love by using that three-word phrase as often and with as many people as I do. I t just so happens that I do, truly, love a lot of people, and for that, I am eternally grateful. My dear step-mom (I call her my bonus mom or just "friend" these days, but she was married to my dad for over 10 years many moons ago) said to me, not too long ago, "I love how much you show you care about the ones you love". I suppose that I wear that as a badge of honor (not that I have earned a badge; more that it shows that I am a lover not a fighter) instead of a fault, for sure. I believe that telling people how much they mean to me is a super-power. I do not get the least bit intimidated by doing that (kind of like it doesn't intimidate me or make me nervous to pray with or for people in public), even though I know a good many people who do.
There are so many ways people I know show their love for one another--- bringing flowers or other sweet gifts when they visit (or sending them if they are far away)---I'm pretty good with this, as well, but definitely not top-ranked in this activity as some of my friends and family are; doing acts of service for others (Dave will make his now-famous banana bread on the day I return from a work trip away from home, and I adore smelling the delicious scent of baked goods upon entering the house; he will also go fill up my car with gas or (better yet, even) wash my vehicle and try to get some of the Lab hair out of it (an activity that is truly not for the faint of heart); he has no problem cooking dinner while I am grading a batch of papers written by my graduate students or doctoral students, etc.); or hugging and holding hands (do you have a hand-holder in your life? You definitely know it if you have someone who is a toucher in your inner circle). I have experienced some people who are closer talkers than I am (think: Seinfeld episode that I have attached if you click on the "closer talkers" words). I simply have to maintain my boundaries if it bothers me. I have also experienced the lip-kissers (my theory is that kissing on the cheek or the forehead is lovely from and with people I am close to, but the only one I want to lip kiss with is Dave and our pups----sorry!), and that is a delicate move---trying to turn my head without offending the person. We each have our personal ways in which we say "I love you" or "I care about you", and we each have ways that don't resonate with us as well.
What is your preference or your go-to way of telling someone you deeply care about and love them? I'd love to hear some examples.
Just be sure to watch for deer, and please don't be offended if I wipe off my mouth if you try to (and almost succeed, because you caught me off-guard) lip-kiss me! :)
Dave and I just got back from Palm Sunday church service. Our Episcopal priest was recently chosen to be the new Bishop of West Texas, as the previous Bishop is retiring. We have two weeks left with Father David, and I, for one, have been pouting. Yep, I said it.....pouting.
We moved to Texas, we built our forever home, we found our church home, and our priest gets snatched up by the Diocese of West Texas. Poor me! Uggghhhh! Lent has been a time that has really made me think this year, more than many years in the past. Part of it is due to Dave and I taking on some new habits; part of it is due to sacrificing something (so miniscule on my part, it is definitely not worth mentioning); and part of it has been watching "The Chosen", a mini-series about the life of Jesus. It has really put this Easter season in perspective for us, and it makes me think about sacrifice, in general.
Dave has had to sacrifice many times for me, as my work takes me on trips around the globe. I jokingly say he has sacrificed a couple of times to come with me to the Virgin Islands for work (he never seemed to have a conflict with those particular dates), and he has had to sacrifice when I traveled to North Dakota (yes, his homeland) in the winter by staying home with the dogs (he seemed to have a conflict with those dates). But seriously, he does sacrifice when I am gone for work, because, while he is retired and he might go play golf, all of the daily chores of "life" are left to him. I absolutely love what I do, so it is a small sacrifice to be delayed by air travel or have to settle for a hotel room versus a suite (are you rolling your eyes yet? If not, you should be), but the truth of the matter is: sacrifice need only feel sacrificial if I choose to look at it that way. I have often heard, "Pain is inevitable; misery is optional". I think this is so true for so many of us. We will go through hard times, but we can still know peace if we choose it.
I talk with my graduate students and doctoral students a lot about sacrifice. All of my graduate students are going to become school leaders (either principals or superintendents or district personnel) and my doctoral students are giving up a couple of years to write a dissertation. The best school leaders I have ever known are the ones who are truly servant leaders and put students, teachers & staff, and families first. My first assistant superintendent, when I became principal, always reminded me that if we put the child in the center of the table of any discussion that is being held, we cannot go wrong. I think we can sometimes forget that when other "stuff" happens or seems to take priority. The 5% of the loudest voices take up 95% of our time....if we let them. Likewise, I think it's true that, in our own personal lives, we can let the 5% of crummy stuff that happens in our day take up 95% of the space in our heads. I have a choice, though. I can choose to put the ones who need my support the most in the forefront of my mind, not just the ones who scream the loudest. What voices do you listen to most in your own life and work? Being a servant or a servant leader means, for many, the ability to say, "My will may not be the most important one on the table right now." Even if I want it to be so, looking at the big picture might actually mean looking at the most vulnerable needs in front of me. Sounds a little bit like the Beatitudes from the Bible, if you ask me.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
I am eternally grateful for all of the people in my life who have sacrificed for me, in order that I could get to a place in which I feel physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. I pray that you feel the same way about those people in your life.
Just for today, perhaps consider reaching out to one or more of them and thanking them for their sacrifice.
Happy Communicating and (for those that celebrate it) Happy Holy Week!
Signs of a new season
Moving back to Texas after living in other states for the last 30 years has been such a blessing to me for so many reasons. Moving away from people we love, on the other hand, is always difficult to do. When I grew up with a single mom who worked a really hard job for not a lot of money, we moved around a bunch. From 4th grade through high school, we lived in 8 different places (apartments or rental houses). We would move every time the rent was raised. Because of that, I learned how to make new friends and how to say "goodbye" to old friends pretty well...but that sure didn't mean I loved having to do it. Being back in Texas this time of year (when we are finally getting a pretty great combination of rain and sunshine) is glorious, as the grass is green, the bluebonnets and other wildflowers are all peppering the medians and sides of the roads with color, and the butterflies are absolutely driving L.C. (our 3 year old yellow Lab) nuts. We take her and Kirby down to the Medina River (we have a park that runs right along the river in our development), and L.C. goes bananas for these butterflies. To say I am enjoying this spring time in the hill country is a massive understatement. Even better is having double-dates with dear friends that we've known for years to go hiking, golfing, and eating is great; and we are also making new friends in our development as well (thanks, in part, to our dogs making friends with new dogs and getting to know owners as a by-product). We have the perfect combination of going places I went as a kid growing up in San Antonio (we even made a commitment to get season tickets to Broadway in San Antonio for this year) and trying out new places or places I had never even heard of.
But moving means leaving beloved friends and family behind, as well, which is really tough. When we left Florida 11 years ago, it seemed like I was going to be sad forever. We had lived in the panhandle of Florida for 17 years (longer than I had ever lived anywhere in my entire life, even though we lived in a few different houses, there), and we had some pretty deep roots. As I have mentioned before, one of my dear friends (who worked with me when I was a principal there, and who, along with her three kiddos, would dog-sit for our three Labs) passed away a few months ago. Kelly was very likely a human being who was, to me, about as close to an angel as you can get. Not only was she a single mom raising three kids with the grace and humor that could only come from a deep faith that, no matter what, everything was going to be okay, she was so much to so many. I was truly blessed to know her, as was everyone whose lives she touched. Her "children" are all adults now, and I love being able to stay in contact with them, especially her oldest daughter, Hayden. Hayden and I have said several times that it is certainly no coincidence that when I text her and say, "I'm really missing your mom today", she will text or call back to say, "That is so weird because I was just thinking about calling you". This has happened on more than one or two occasions since December, when Kelly passed away, so it almost doesn't seem too unusual anymore. What I have found is the distinct need to not ignore that small, still voice inside that says, "Reach out", anymore. There is often a reason we are supposed to talk to people, I think, when we get that nudge. My advice to anyone who gets that nudge---don't ignore it!
I have always loved analogies. I love the literal meanings of things but also see huge value in finding figurative connections. That's why grief is so interesting to me, I think. While I miss Kelly so much, sometimes, my heart literally aches, I see the value in examining why I am feeling that emotion in that particular moment. What is it that I need to learn or understand from that feeling? Sometimes, as I have found out, it is maybe a tap on the shoulder to reach out to one of her kids or to another friend who loved Kelly as much as I did. But sometimes, it might be something as basic as I need to simply sit with my feelings of grief, understanding that the stages of grief are not linear but rather they take a few steps forward and two steps back. Why? I don't know. All I can say is that I have found peace with carrying some of Kelly's ashes with me (her precious middle child, Tavey, "gifted" several of us with a little vial full of "Kelly ashes" the evening before Kelly's Celebration of Life in January-----imagine a 20 year old being savvy enough, unselfish enough, and loving enough to not just be focused on her own grief but to get crafty enough to put together 10 of these little vials of ashes that would bring such peace and comfort to several of us blessed enough to received them), even when (maybe especially when) I travel for work or play to Wyoming or to Houston or to Tucson (Kelly always loved traveling and wanted to do so much more of it----what better way for me to honor her memory than to take her with me when I travel?).
During Lent this year, I gave up sweets but Dave also had the genius idea to take ON the experience of watching the series "The Chosen". If you have any interest in learning more about what Christians believe about Jesus and His disciples, I highly recommend it. What a perfect time to watch this series, as well. The other night, I was lamenting (not just figuratively but pretty literally) about wishing I had a milkshake just as we were watching a scene in which Jesus comes back to the apostles' camp after spending hours on end healing sick and needy people who had traveled miles to see Him. I had to laugh at the irony that I had just been whining about wanting ice cream when Jesus had just worn Himself out healing others. While I was a little embarrassed by the trivial nature of my "I want it and I want it now", I simply had to acknowledge that the literal fact is I am a human who is sometimes overcome with earthly desires. The figurative meaning is something I am still observing and learning from, particularly about how vocal I can be about my own petty "wants" and how quiet I can sometimes be in my prayers and devotion to God. Pretty ironic, huh? This blog is part of trying to turn that around.
I know that it is never too late to begin watching for signs, to wake up and smell the freshly mown grass, to hear the sound of the hummingbirds as they finally make their way to the birdfeeder in the backyard, and to see the wildflowers that seem to pop up anew on an almost daily basis. I just need to be ready....and willing. I need to look for the good, and I will be more likely to see the good in others and in this world; I need to pray for the good to occur for family and friends; and I need to show gratitude for all the things (both literal and figurative) that I have been given in this life.
I pray each of you is ready for whatever this season has in store for you. What is your need right now and how is it being fulfilled?
Happy Communicating! Now I'm off to go eat some chocolate Easter eggs----just kidding, we will very likely start watching a "The Chosen" episode now, instead.
Slow me down...
One of the songs we sang today in church was one I hadn't heard before called "Slow Me Down" by the Robert Seay Band. Or perhaps, I had heard it before this morning, but I hadn't slowed down long enough to remember hearing it (I'm here all week, folks, but it really is possible, knowing me). The lyrics say:
Slow me down, O Lord
Slow me down
Help my heart to hear Your sound
Speak into my life
Lord speak now
Slow me down, O Lord
Slow me down
Psalm 46:10 is likely my favorite Bible verse. It starts off with "Be still and know that I am God...". I have often said that I have absolutely no problem with knowing He is God. In fact, I rely on God to start my day by kneeling down beside my bed (when I'm at home and not traveling for work, two Labrador Retriever heads stick their noses up against my nose as I lean up against the bed to pray.....which always starts the day off even better) every single day. My problem is the being still part. I seem to find it difficult to meditate as I know that, in order to do that properly, one needs to be able to be still. I try....I really do....
I get in a quiet spot or I even go out for a walk or sit in the backyard where there is no noise, and I get quiet...until the "sh**ty committee" (sorry, but it's true) begins their meeting in which a voice pops up, "What have you done about XYZ?" then I quiet that voice only to have another member of the committee pipe up with "Have you thought about 123?" Uggghhh!
Last night, I woke up at 1:00 a.m. I'm not sure why, but the moon sure was beautiful, and I had to take a picture of how it lit up the backyard of our beautiful new house in the hill country of Texas. Between the big oak tree, the cedars, and the pool deck, the moon was lighting up everything in glorious splendor. Now that was a quiet moment....so peaceful and serene....until I had taken a picture of said moonscape and tried to go back to sleep. That was the point at which my mind began moving through inane things like: reciting the last names of all the girls in my sorority pledge class of 1985 at Trinity University in San Antonio (Alexander, Alexander, Armstrong, Arrigo, Barr, Brooks, Cerisola, etc.). Then, even better, I began singing (to myself of course) the song Big Bird sings when he first sees the alphabet and interprets it as a complete word. "ABCDEFGHI-JKLMNOPQR-STUVWXYZ", he begins singing, "it's the most remarkable word I've ever seen. ABCDEFGHI-JKLMNOPQR-STUVWXYZ. I wish I knew exactly what I mean." Boy, at that moment, I just wish I knew what I meant by staying awake singing this little 50 year old ditty to myself (I will happily sing it for you some time; it's a catchy and fun little tune---just maybe not at 1:00 in the morning).
Sometimes, I wake up thinking about how I can help that one graduate student of mine understand how important it is to spell the word "principal" correctly if they want to become one. Sometimes, I think about what I am going to teach the next day to school administrators in Houston. But I am prepared, so there is no reason to wake up thinking about those things. Well, to be honest, it just frustrates me to no end that someone who is going to become a principal doesn't see the value in spelling their future job title correctly, but that is for another blog.
So, what is it that calms that still, small voice inside my head? My top three include:
What works for you? What are your go-tos for slowing down and feeling at peace? I'd love for you to share them with me, either by commenting on my blog itself or by commenting on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or from wherever you read my blog. Who knows? I might just slow down long enough to read your ideas and try them out myself.
Take care and happy communicating!
That sounds tempting....but....
This is the Lenten season. For those of you who may not be familiar with Lent, it is the 40 day "season" before Easter when some of us give up something to show our humbleness. I've given up liver and onions, turtle soup, oysters (after I got food poisoning from a bad batch about 25 years ago), and food poisoning. Just kidding....kind of. Scripture tells us about how the serpent talked Eve into believing that eating from that one tree wouldn't really be bad, and she should go ahead and do it anyway, even though she was warned not to. She did, indeed, eat the fruit, and that is why men blame us for having to wear clothes. Okay, just kidding again....kind of (the "kind of", as I did get the side-eye from Dave a little bit when this scripture was read in church this morning). Scripture also tells us that we shouldn't whine and complain about giving up whatever we have chosen to give up (you know, like when offered a piece of chocolate, I shouldn't pitifully say, "I want to SO badly, but I can't because I gave up sweets for Lent"), and I probably shouldn't use my Lenten "fasting" as an excuse to tell the Girl Scouts "no" when they ask if I want to buy cookies. Just kidding....kind of. I mean....whoever dreamed up the idea to sell those morsels of goodness right when Lent is starting just has a tiny bit of evil in them, I think. Okay, really, now I am kidding.
What is truly tempting to me? As Father David talked about at our Episcopal church today, my temptation comes more from the ease it takes to get into INaction rather than the temptation to steal a candy bar (depending on the type of candy bar, I think). In other words, it is easier for me to say, "I am so sick of people throwing out trash on the side of these beautiful country roads" than it is to simply take a few minutes or even an hour to go pick up said trash. Why? I can make excuse after excuse for why I don't want to do the thing I really should be doing, but when I actually do it, it didn't take that much longer than my whining and complaining did. My best analogy to this is my daily prayer and meditation time. I get on my knees every morning (either nose to nose with two adorable Labs that are on the bed, wagging their tail in prayer or in a hotel room when I am traveling---by the way, that IS a bit of a sacrifice, as I am not altogether positive about how clean the carpets always are----but I digress) then I read two meditation books and talk to dear friends about the meditations for that day.....except when I don't. Getting into action sometimes means I have to do that action instead of making excuses for WHY I can't do it. Crazy, isn't it?
I am thinking that sometimes it is tempting to stay in the same spot rather than move forward in my faith walk, but Father David just told us this morning that standing still and being INactive is actually moving backward. Yup, you heard it here. In order to move forward, I need to actually act and do something, like pick up that trash on the side of the road (whining apparently doesn't count as "action", I've found out) instead of sitting and doing nothing about it. I need to pick up my meditation book, read it, and comment it on it, connecting with my sisters-in-Christ who are reading the same book versus saying I am too busy to read today.
Temptation is real, for me, to be sure. I am eternally grateful that I am at least aware of it rather than turning a blind eye to it. Temptation, for me, though, is not about the supposedly "big" things like murder, theft, or adultery (after all, have you all SEEN Dave? He's pretty darn cute)....it's about the little things that can start adding up to bigger things that I need to watch out for.
I am committed to giving time to educators in need of support during this Lenten season (and all the time, really), but that is a little selfish on my part as well, as it is work that doesn't feel like work most of the time but is rather something that soothes my soul.
I pray that each one of you finds the right balance of not being tempted to do the thing you know you shouldn't while also finding the thing that you know you need to do to get out of lethargy or inaction.
Last question....if I gave up sweets for Lent, I don't have to give up eating the banana bread that Dave is currently making, do I? That is a bread, not a "sweet", right? Yep, that's my life! I'm praying for yours, as well.
Thinking about this today: the Nichole Nordeman song "I Am" seems to play whenever I need to hear it. Take a listen by clicking on the song title.
When we were little girls, my sister Kristen and I shared a bedroom. The room was oversized, originally intended to be split into two rooms. We split the room into sections, instead. We used one side for our two twin beds and the other side became our playroom, complete with a dollhouse that put Barbie’s Malibu home to shame, stuffed animals, art area, and bookshelves filled with our treasured picture books. Mother and Daddy encouraged artwork --- painting, drawing, coloring, although Mother snubbed her nose at traditional coloring books, claiming them to stifle any creativity. Artwork, however, was not encouraged to be completed on the walls of our bedroom, as I personally found out as a young girl. Like Harold with his purple crayon, I somehow got the idea that drawing on the wall by my bed with a blue crayon was a good idea. Not so. A strong scolding was all it took to convince me to not do that again.
So, when Mother and Daddy suggested Kristen and I begin measuring ourselves, using a pencil to mark our height on the bedroom wall, I was a bit gun-shy. Was this a trick? Could we really mark on the wall? “Yes, it’s fine in this case. Plus, we are only using pencil and we’ll wipe it off as we make new marks.” Reluctantly, I backed against the wall to allow Kristen to draw a line above my head with a #2 pencil. In case Mother and Daddy changed their minds and got onto us for writing on the wall, maybe I wouldn’t be first in line to be scolded.
How odd to turn around and see where the mark on the wall was. It seemed so low. After all, Astroworld (amusement park in Houston with loads of rollercoasters) had those evil "You can't ride this ride if you aren't this tall" signs next to the best rides. Could I really be that short? But week after week, we returned to the wall to measure. Lo and behold---the lines slowly but surely crawled up the wall. And despite the original thought, we were able to keep the older pencil marks so we could see where we had come from. “Wow! Can you believe I was ever that short?” we would marvel.
Kristen and I grew, we grew up, and for a time, we grew apart. We moved away from that house too early and for tough reasons.
Nichole Nordeman’s song “I Am” begins with the words
“Pencil marks on a wall, I wasn’t always that tall.
You scattered some monsters from beneath my bed.”
This melodic song depicts growing up, calling out by name the need for a savior, secret keeper, elbow healer, and comforter, with a loved one, a parent and, ultimately, God answering, “I am”.
How I measured myself changed as the years went by. Marks on a wall were exchanged for milestones such as shopping for a first bra, “falling in love” with my first boyfriend, and moving into a college dorm. College, for me, brought a host of new experiences including making lifelong friends, two of whom ended up being bridesmaids in my wedding. Kelly, Robin and I saw each other through major boyfriend breakups, late nights studying and, ultimately, weddings.
When we called out for a “secret keeper” or “heartache healer”, the others would be there. We listened to each other declare we would never be able to love again. When we were weak, we would call each other. When Robin called oh-so-long ago to say she was getting a divorce, I asked “Do you want me to come be with you?” She answered, “Come if you can.” I said, “I am.”
In 2013, Robin called. I knew what had happened before she said her father had passed away. I didn’t go to Nebraska. But she asked me if I had any suggestions for music that might be nice for his funeral. I told her I would think about it. I did. Robin’s dad had meant the world to her. What kind of song would be fitting for a dad who had been the hero to her for so long? What kind of song would be a good measure of her love for him? I burst into tears when I pulled up Nichole Nordeman’s album on my computer and saw this song. I sent her the words and told her to listen.
“When I am weak, unable to speak, still, I will call you by name.
Oh Shepherd, Savior, pasture maker, hold on to my hand. And You said, ‘I am’.”
After all these years, from measuring myself by pencil marks on a wall to measuring myself by the love I still feel for my sister and these God friends, I want to take a minute to remind them that when we are weak and unable to speak, if you call out for a secret keeper to hold your hand, I will answer “I am”.
In 2015, I called Robin then Kelly. I had been diagnosed with bi-lateral breast cancer. They, along with Dave (of course, who is, was, and always be my "first person I run to") and the dogs (who wore pink ribbons when I came home from the work trip on which I found out about the diagnosis), I needed that comfort. I told them they didn't need to come stay with me, and they both said "I am".....coming....helping....draining my icky tubes....cooking for Dave and me....and so much more and more and more.
I am so blessed to have so many people who show up, comfort, and love me despite all of my foibles. I love you more than you know.
I pray you have people who say "I am". Many of you are those people for me.
Will I be there for you? I am!
Coincidences or God-winks
I honestly believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. For me, in my own faith, I have come to believe in God-winks. Squire Rushnell has written several books on the topic, which in essence is a tap on the shoulder from God saying, "Helloooo....I'm here. Pay attention." Sometimes it is something as simple as seeing the beauty and majesty of nature that is present, and we simply remain open to observation. Sometimes it is something much more meaningful to us.
One of the first times I remember experiencing one of the life-changing Godwinks in my life was when I was pretty sure, since alcoholism runs in my family (on both sides, by the way), I should quit drinking, but I just hadn't been able to make the leap that said, "Hey, wait a minute----does that mean I won't be able to celebrate at weddings with a glass (or two or three) of champagne?" or "What does one do on a cruise if the alcohol factor is taken away?". Despite those questions seeming way too important to me, I still wasn't quite sure I should join the throngs of people who become sober, despite not having lost a house, car, job, or spouse. I asked God to give me some answers on the subject, and the next day, as I was driving, I heard a song I had never heard before. It was Kenny Chesney's "I've Been There; That's Why I'm Here", which is unequivocally about a man who goes to his first AA meeting. Coincidence? I think not. Soon after, I made what I consider to be one of the most life-changing decisions ever. I've never, since then, even thought seriously about missing alcohol in my life but I sure have often thought about what being in a program that teaches me serenity on a daily basis has done to alter my life over the last almost-25-years....all because of a tap on my shoulder by God talking to me through a country song. But I had to be willing to listen. Therein lies the rub with Godwinks, in my humble opinion. They are experiences that, gone unnoticed or ignored, could be written off as mere coincidence (or worse, yet, pointedly exclaiming, "I'm certain that wasn't the 'sign' I was looking for", which (for me) is likely a bit of a slap in the face to God.
Another major Godwink came to me on the night my sweet and quirky mother passed away in July of 2005. Dave's and my first Lab, K.C., and I had spent the night at Mother's house as she was nearing the end of her time here on earth. K.C. and I would come out into the sunroom where Mother was resting peacefully (and had likely been unconscious that entire day and evening) every 30 minutes to an hour to check on her. Each time we'd come check on her, I would see her chest rise and fall, so K.C. and I would traipse back to the bedroom and get a few more minutes of sleep. Right after midnight, K.C. woke me up, and I thought she needed to go outside to go potty. She walked right into where Mother was lying on the daybed, and I could immediately see that Mother's chest was no longer rising and falling. I called Dave, and he came right over; we had Hospice come and they called the coroner, etc. About three hours later, after Mother's frail little body had been carried away, Dave got in his vehicle to drive home, and I got in my car to drive home. The moment I turned on the car, a song I had never heard before began playing. It was Natalie Grant singing the song "Held", whose lyrics (in part) say:
Who told us we'd be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We're asking why this happens to us who have died to live
This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell, we'd be held
Did I mention I had never heard the song before? And yet, this song was precisely what I needed to hear at that exact moment. Coincidence? I think not. TOTAL Godwink.
Fast forward to my dear friend, Kelly, who passed away in late December and whose life we "celebrated" three weeks ago. Since then, I have found myself talking to her ashes (her middle child very thoughtfully put some ashes in several tiny vials so we could have a piece of Kelly---crazy how we were supposed to be there to be of emotional support to these three "kids" of hers and Tavey blessed us with a piece of Kelly to keep with us) every morning after my morning prayers. So many times in the last three weeks, I have been thinking of these beautiful young people who lost their mom and are learning to navigate what it means to be in your early 20s and losing your mom. Three times, I have texted Hayden (the oldest of the three) to tell her a memory of her mom or that I was just curious how she was doing. Each and every time,, Hayden has immediately called me (in tears, which means I am then in tears, too) to ask how in the world I knew she needed to talk just then. My answer, "...because I needed to talk to you just then". Coincidence? I think not.
I am eternally grateful for the ability to be a bit more cognizant of Godwinks when they show up in my life today and seeing them for what they truly are---NOT coincidences but taps on the shoulder to pay attention, listen, and be aware.
What are some of those times for you when you know you are experiencing a power greater than yourself?
I'd love to hear yours. Who knows? It might just be exactly what I needed to hear right when I needed to hear it.
This picture is some of the loved ones from my school when I was a principal in Florida. But no, it was not "my" school, ever. It was "our" school. I remember when I was hired in 2004, I was told by the Superintendent when he called me to offer me the position that the reason I was unanimously chosen by the committee over so many more qualified applicants (I am NOT joking about that---I was literally the least qualified, to be perfectly honest) was the use of the word "we" instead of "I". This is something that has stuck with me for nearly 20 years. I share it with my Educational Leadership students who are all teachers who want to become school leaders in some capacity. In other words, they want to help teachers grow so the teachers can help their students grow. I try to share with them how much the culture of a school can feel so "shared" if you are passionate about making it so. I have been in education all my years of having a career, and I can honestly say that every job I've ever had has been my favorite. I love building treasured relationships and helping watch the culture of schools all over the world grow in love. The school that plays and prays together stays together.
The reason we are all gathered here together was to reminisce, laugh, cry, and hug over losing one of our treasured soulmates who made work "not work". We haven't really lost her, though, have we, if we continue to share our fondest memories with anyone else who will listen? Okay, honestly, I share her Kelly-isms when I teach, as she was filled with comedy gold. So, my advice is to not ever wait one more precious second of the day, week, month, year, or lifetime without telling someone you love (how about everyone you love?) that you love them and why you love them. What is the risk? Embarrassing yourself over sharing too much emotion? Get over yourself. Dave and I were talking about why some people avoid going to funerals or services for friends or family who have died. His theory was that many folks simply don't know what to say to the family of the loved one who has passed away. I suspect it might be that I facilitate conversations for a living, or maybe I facilitate conversations for a living because I love sharing my thoughts and helping others share theirs, but I consider it a true honor to speak to loved ones of my friends or family who have passed away. So, if someone dies, what do you say to the family and friends who are grieving so intensely and feeling that raw emotion? Many think that if they bring up a memory, it will "hurt" the ones left behind too much. I, for one, relished in people sharing their memories of my mother after she passed away in 2005. Did I cry when they shared a story? Yep, sometimes, and sometimes I laughed outloud. And sometimes, I did both. I sure wouldn't have wanted it any other way, though.
What I experienced yesterday at the Celebration of Life for our dear "famous for her one-liners" Kelly Edelman was pure and unbridled love, joy, faith, and hope. I strongly suspect that she is sitting at the feet of Jesus asking him (in the Joey from "Friends" voice), "How you doin'?" Who knows? She may wind up as His court jester for awhile----she sure was mine for the last 18 years. Instead of avoiding her three beautiful adult "children", I hugged them fiercely and kissed their cheeks as much as they could stand over the last couple of days. Why? They remind me so much of their mom, and their mom would be so very proud of them. But what happens if we stand back and don't say how we feel? The loved ones will miss hearing a nugget of joy that the deceased person brought to you. Please don't hold back. Say something....
I hugged more this weekend than I have in a long time. The administrative assistant at the school where I was blessed to be principal for 8 years has become one of my dearest friends, and Dave and I got to stay with her and her husband this weekend. What did we do the most? Talk and hug. We said how we felt about life events. We shared tears and laughter, and we became even closer (I didn't know it was possible) than we were before (and I might add that we've known each other since 1998). Cindy Dooley was always called my "confidential secretary" but good grief! She was (and still is) so much more. Our mutual affection and trust are aspects I will cherish forever. She has a 6th sense about things that no human should have, and I get to be one of the recipients of that amazing sense. Why? We say something to each other.
I just found out another dear friend dealt with cancer during COVID. I considered letting it slide----we laugh and joke when we're together, and maybe it would be uncomfortable to talk about it now. Nope! We've been texting for the last hour, talking and joking about our working together years and talking about how prayers of serenity are being said while they heal. It would have been so easy to let that go....don't rock the boat or bring up a tough time, right? Nope! I said something, and he said something, and all is well in the world.
I don't know any of the reasons why bad things happen to good people. I don't even pretend to know. I do know that, from a fierce and loyal friendship with a woman who was about as close to being made in Christ's own image, Kelly didn't "deserve" to die. But that isn't what it's about, is it? She did die, and we rejoiced in celebrating all the Kelly-isms we could think of this weekend. Why? Because we wanted to say something! I'm glad we did.
Just for today, perhaps consider someone who you might not have talked to in a while or maybe even had a falling out with, and reach out and say something. I suspect you won't be sorry you did.