My Leap List

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Graduation Love and Light

     I was so proud to walk with these people at graduation.  It was the proud culmination of over four years of intense highs and lows that only they understand.  This moment completed a life-long goal to get my doctorate degree.
     As a child I used to love to swing.  I would close my eyes for a few minutes so when I opened them, everything looked so amazingly bright and colorful and new.  One day I did this and saw myself as an adult standing next to my granny and my paternal grandmother that had passed away.  They didn't speak to me, but I heard the voice in my head say I was going to graduate with my doctorate.  I didn't know what that even meant, but it stuck with me as a goal I needed to accomplish.  I started this journey six years ago without a clear understanding of what I wanted to do with it or what I wanted to get a doctorate in.  I didn't want to be an administrator, but thought I might open a school for at-risk kids.  When Jameson committed suicide, I left the doctorate program and went to another school to get my administrative license.  The job I didn't think I wanted seemed to be the best way to help as many kids as I could.  After achieving that goal I returned to school to finish my degree.
     It has been one of the biggest challenges of my life, but has made me a better person.  I've learned that I am my own worst enemy.  My perfectionism makes me procrastinate until the last minute because I know I will need to spend hours to get it right.  My self doubts and feeling it won't be good enough keep me from giving it my all.  There were lots of dark moments when I thought of giving up, feared failure, and wondered why I was doing this.  I still don't know why this was something I needed to do, but I've learned not to question the quiet messages that come in silent moments.  Life always has a way of working exactly the way it is supposed to be when I stop trying to force my will on it.  I have a different idea of myself and what I am capable of doing.  I have a deeper understanding of commitment, perseverance, and, hard work.  I think more deeply about things now, and I am more compassionate for people doing hard things outside of the parts of the days I share with them.  I also feel proud of myself and that is a feeling that has been fleeting before.
Mandy says I look different now.  I think I see it in this picture with my sister.  It's one of the only pictures I truly like of myself.
     Mandy and John went with me to the Lantern Festival that night to thank the angels, send love to Jameson and Marissa, and wishes for the future.  It helped heal the places in my heart that I had kept too busy to grieve.  Joining thousands of people sending their thoughts, wishes, and hopes into the night sky was a powerful moment that changed me.  There is power in community and power in sharing symbolic moments together.  Watching all of those lights illuminate the darkness was a sacred moment that touched my soul.  It was the perfect ending to honor the journey and people that brought me here and celebrate the beginning of the next chapter of my life.

Out of the Darkness Alchemy

    In ancient times people were fascinated with the idea of alchemy - the ability to create gold from baser metals.  We were looking outward for a secret that is only found within us.
     The moments of darkness and light make us human.  No matter how we try to avoid them, they are inevitable parts of being alive.  It is scary in the darkness.  Sometimes it seems so real we forget who we are and that there is anything more than these powerful emotions.  The darkness and base emotions weigh us to the Earth until we forget we are spirit with wings to fly.  I have lost loved ones in this place.  I almost lost myself.
     These times are blessings in disguise because they lead to deep transformation within.  Without the forge, we cannot become more than what we are.  Our challenge is to transform the darkness into something bigger than ourselves.  When we choose to illuminate the darkness and learn its lessons, we become spiritually aware.  A spiritual transformation to gold.  Our light becomes a beacon for others struggling in the darkness.  
     It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking to join thousands of others who have been affected by suicide in a walk to raise money and awareness.  We share the heartbreak of losing someone we love in the darkness.  Rather than joining them, we shine a light and transform our loss into a beacon to lead others out of the darkness.
     This picture represents my transformation.  The shirt represents the efforts of my friends and family to raise $175 to help others know they are not alone.  The feathers were found yesterday during my walk.  They represent the angels in my own story.  You can read my story  here if you don't already know it.  The beads are also symbolic.  All of us selected the colors that represented our path to this place.  Mine are blue, green, and purple.  Teal represents my family members who struggle with depression and suicide.  Purple is the loss of my friend and of my students.  Green shows my own struggle as a teenager.
     Joining  a community brings me healing and a greater understanding of what I need to do in this life.  I am thankful that Mandy and John were feeling well enough to walk with me this year.  Although Nick was not at a place where he could join me, I know he was there in spirit.  I was also blessed to be joined by my friend Robyn who experienced this loss a few months ago.  There is nothing more powerful than hearing people's stories, holding hands for a moment of silence, and feeling the overwhelming power of love.      

Sunday, April 24, 2016


My sister and my grandma's hands.  Love.  
      I have never been old enough to be trusted with the fragile gift of watching someone I love grow old.  My grandma has long since forgotten my name and the memories we have together, but somehow she still knows me.  Yesterday she asked me if we were the same age.  When I told her we were, she said, "I thought so.  I knew we were special, special friends."  I hold her hand and brush my cheek against it so she won't see my eyes fill with tears.  The memories have slipped away from her, but they live on in me.  
     Every time I see her, she asks me where I live.  She asks again every few minutes.  I thought she was just searching for a question she used to ask people when she met them.  I've been trying to think of an answer for her since she doesn't know where anything is anymore.  I came up with a favorite line when she was in the hospital and tried it again yesterday.  "I live by you, so I can come see you all the time."  Usually she says, "Oh, do you like it there?" and our words continue on.  Yesterday she looked at me and said, "But where do I live?  I don't know where I am.  I don't know why I am here.  But I'm trying to be good so I can go home."  My eyes filled again.  How did I not realize what she had been asking me all of these days?  And how do I answer the profoundness of the question in words she can understand?  There are so many times I look at the world and think I don't know where I am or what I am doing here, but I am trying to be good so I can go home again.  
     She used to tell John how much she loved him and how good he was to her because he took her to the George Strait concerts and bought her t-shirts and Cokes during the show.  Yesterday she looked at him and then at me and said, "Are you married?"  When I told her I was, she asked me if I had kids.  I told her I had two.  She asked if I was happy.  When I told her I was, she said, "Good.  That makes me feel so much better.  That makes me feel 110% better.  Now I can get better and go home."  John started to cry and I rubbed her hand and wondered at all the times she has held my hand through my life.
      When I look at her hands without seeing them I see her unconditional love for me, her strength, and endless movement - crocheting, cooking, fishing, playing games, and clapping when she laughs.  Somehow in the years I was focused on my own life, I never saw her hands beyond what I needed them to be, even as an adult.  I remember a Christmas a few years ago where I was mostly focused on my kids and the holiday rush, but I still noticed that she didn't want to let go of my hand.  My brother moved so I could sit by her and she could keep holding my hand.  When I left, she held both my hands while she continued to talk for minutes more.  Ever the impatient one, I kept trying to let go so I could gather my kids up and go home.  Later there was the concert where she slipped her hand in mine so she wouldn't get lost.  I couldn't wait to find our spots so I could hold someone else's hand.  Moments that I didn't notice her need for me and what she was saying any more than noticing my kids always grabbing up my hands.  It barely registered more than a sweet annoyance.
     Now I see her and instantly grab her hand and can barely stand to let go.  I see the spots and the wrinkles and the transparent lines underneath her paper thin skin.  I am such a slow learner at the important lessons in life.  Most people I know don't believe in reincarnation, but I can see that at the rate I learn, I need several more lifetimes to catch up with everyone else.  Luckily God has given me one more day to hold this beautiful hand I love so much.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year of Golden Repair and the New Year of Meraki

     In 2014 my life broke apart, but on New Year's Eve, I declared 2015 to be my year of Kintsukuroi or Golden Repair.  I vowed to focus on the beauty of the golden repair and not demean myself for breaking.  This year the cracks made life challenging especially when not feeling smart enough and my perfectionism threatened to keep me to from finishing my dissertation.  Thankfully gold made the broken places stronger.  The gold shone in the support of my friends and family when I wanted to walk away.  There was gold in the eyes of the children that loved Olaf.  It was in the words, "Congratulations, Dr. Cooke."  It shone in the acts of kindness everyone did for my birthday.  I found it in sharing the summer concerts with my daughter, and in the laughter of the kids I see at work.  It was always in serving others.  

     This year ushers in Meraki.  It is a Greek word that means to do something with soul, creativity, or love.  It is when you leave a piece of yourself in your work.  This is the year of living life to the fullest; of leaving a piece of me in everything I do and everyone I meet.  Here is to the new adventures that await in 2016.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Blessed on a Homeless Christmas

     John struggles with mental illness that changes names with different doctors and medications and diagnoses.  It lies somewhere between an atypical version of bipolar with severe depression to schizophrenia.  The truth is so much more than the labels.  I have learned so much about what it truly means to love someone because of loving him.  In moments of weakness he tells me that he knows he would be homeless if it weren't for me.  It has nothing to do with me, but so much to do with his illness.  But in my weak moments, I know how easy it would be to let go.  I understand all too well why many people with mental illness are left on their own.
     Long story that my friends and family already know to explain why today meant so much to me.  I was lucky to have the chance to help deliver clothes to the homeless shelter today.  There were almost eight inches of snow on the unplowed roads and my car doesn't have snow tires.  John wasn't feeling well.  Holidays are rough for him, sometimes.  There were so many reasons not to go out today, but I wrapped my arms around him and told him, "Remember how you said you would be homeless without me?  I have to help the others who aren't so lucky because we are so lucky to be here."  Without a word, he got up and got ready to go.
     We stood out in the snow and running water for an hour.  It was cold, my boots leaked and my feet got soaking wet, and my hands were numb, but my heart was full.  Everyone was so grateful for us just being there.  One woman told me that we were sent from the Lord to help them today.  I found shoes for a man and helped him bag them.  He told me that this was the best Christmas he has had in a long time.  Another woman wrapped the pink scarf we brought around her little girl and asked her if she liked it.  The little girl smiled shyly.  A man told me how happy he was because he was going to go call his daughter.  When I asked him about her, he told me that he loves her very much, but sometimes the alcohol wins over a phone call.  Then he smiled and said, "But today I don't have alcohol so I am going to call my daughter."  He was looking for clothes in her size to give her for Christmas.    
     Today reminded me what Christmas means.  I am so blessed to have enough to share with others on this holy day.  Here's to many more years of love, peace, and light for all of us on this beautiful world.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grace Under Fire

     I often feel like a tourist on this blue planet of ours.  Perhaps all of us do, especially now.  The world is perched on the edge with baited breath.  Will we choose love and peace or will we destroy each other and the world in the process?  The macrocosm plays out in an endless cycle of war and hate and racism and politics and...And...AND...infinite noise that drains us, while the microcosm world moves quietly behind the scenes.  
     I used to be a cynic and it made me cruel.  I hated the world and I hated everyone in it and most of all I hated me.  I too was perched on the edge with bated breath, hoping it would be my last one.  In a moment of grace, I chose life and I chose love and I chose faith.  I have been through the fires and emerged through the grace of God to help others through the darkness.  
     There are so many who have lent me their lights in my darkest times.  One of the best people I know lost her mother today.  She stayed with her all night, holding her hand like she promised her mom she would.  She held her mother in her arms whispering the names of all the people who loved her as she passed into the next world.  So much love.  So much grace even in the darkest moments.  If only all of us could be so loved.  If only all of us could forget our own needs and give such love to another.  What an amazing world.  Some might call it heaven on Earth.  
      There will always be things that we can choose to separate us from the others.  It doesn't really matter if we choose a color, a belief, a gender, an amount of money, who we love, our philosophy, or any other way we divide us from them.  It has made us cynical- bitter, cold, scared, and lonely.  We are in fiery times, but we can emerge reborn and purified.  We can be the miracle someone needs, the light flickering in the darkness when hope is nearly gone, the one to make a heaven of the hell someone is living in.  We have so much power as infinite beings of stardust.  We can emerge from the fire with a grace that can save us from ourselves.  The world waits with us on the brink of our choice.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Luckiest

      I am the luckiest person in the world.  Most people get to fall in love a few lucky times.  I have fallen in love thousands of times.  I am just about to finish my twenty-fourth year as a teacher and administrator.  You would think I would be a pro at saying goodbye - three middle schools, four elementary schools, hundreds of teachers, and thousands of kids.  The funny thing about love is that goodbyes never get easier.  Funny, it also makes the hellos harder.
    As a teacher, I had a seven-year itch that found me at a new school each time.  I managed to start an eighth year at Sunset Ridge, but became an administrator three months into the year.  Since then, I have been moved to a new school every year.  The hello's match the season - so beautiful but tinged with the knowledge winter is coming.
     I used to think I was in control of the goodbyes, but I was wrong.  My kids have always been the ones with that power.  Some of them have stayed in my life.  Others have come back around.  Most I just see in my dreams.  I wonder about all of them and wish them well wherever life takes them.  A few goodbyes are permanent, at least for this lifetime.  No one ever tells you what that loss will be like when you go to college to be a teacher.
     Today is an anniversary for one special guy that broke my heart with his wounded smile.  When I lost him four years ago, I decided to give up teaching and become an administrator because I could help more people.  Today my life is a tribute to him, my thousands of kids, the hundreds of teachers, and the people who spend every day making the world a better place.  Thank you for the laughter, the joy, the lessons, and the difference you make in my life.  I am a better person because of all of you.  I am truly the luckiest person in the world.