My Leap List

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye Meraki, Welcome Ubuntu

For the past two years I have picked a word to focus on throughout the year because of the idea that where my thoughts and focus go will create this in my life.  2016 was the year of Meraki - doing something with total love and pure soul.  It is leaving a little piece of yourself in your creative work.  Meraki helped me through leaving Blackridge and starting over at another new school.  It helped me finish my dissertation and graduate.  It helped me through the mundane days when I wondered if anything was making a difference.  It reminded me to do whatever needed to be done with love and soul, no matter what that task was.

     This year's word is Ubuntu - I am what I am because of who we all are - compassion, kindness, and humanity that connect us together by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us.  There were lots of words I considered for 2017, but picked Ubuntu because of its focus on humanity.  2016 was a year of tearing apart, of finding ways to separate us, judgements, racism, sexism, and all the other kinds of "ism"s.  This year I want to focus my energy, thoughts, and intentions on what makes us human.  To know that everything I accomplish in my life is because of so many other people who have made things fall into place in that moment.  To know that authentically sharing myself, even the imperfections, makes me human and helps other people who think they are the only ones struggling.  To know that I can make a difference in other people's lives in small ways instead of waiting for big gestures and missing daily opportunities.  To know that injustice and suffering in someone's life affects all of us.  To look for ways to connect to others on a deeper level.  To inspire, to lead, to motivate, to help, to heal, to love.

If we joined hands and helped each other reach the end instead of racing ahead to take everything for ourselves, what a world it would be.  I wish we knew how much power we have to change the world.  Ubuntu - I am because we are.      

Changing Good Intentions into Verbs

     I am infamous for doing well on a goal for a while, falling off the wagon, and then taking weeks or months to get back on.  I've been battling giving up Pepsi since 1984.  I give it up for a while, then reward myself with a drink or console myself after a rough day.  It has been so long it doesn't even taste good anymore, but somehow it leads to another and another until I am right back where I started.  I started walking in July and only missed one day, but when August arrived, I took a few days off that stretched into weeks.  I only walked 8 days in August, 7 in September, 4 in October, and not at all in November.  I managed 30 days in July and then 19 days in the 4 months that followed.
     I am also really good at accomplishing other things I've set my mind to doing.  One year John and I made a resolution to wear our seat belts.  Neither of us ever wore seat belts before that day, but we have done it every day since then.  I worked two jobs and had two little ones at home when I went to school to get my master's degree and later my administrative license.  I finished my doctorate degree while I worked full time.  I walked 50 miles in December, all outside of walking at work, home, stores, etc.  They were 50 intentional miles with no other purpose besides getting healthy and challenging myself.
     As New Year's Eve and Day come around again, I've been deeply pondering what the differences are between the two because I need to make some important changes in my life that will be permanent.  I've realized that a few things make a difference for me:

  • My friend Melanie asked me if I ever get a "runner's high" from exercising that makes it feel worthwhile.  I told her that I honestly hate it.  Our conversation made me realize that this is true of most of the things I want to change.  I hate exercising.  I hate giving up foods I love.  I hate giving up Pepsi.  When I give myself a choice, I pick the easy way out.  When I just look at it as that's what I do or that's part of my routine each day, I don't let my mind talk me out of it.  It becomes a habit that doesn't get easier, but gets done.
  • Being accountable to other people helps me stay focused.  I don't share my achievements along the way because I am proud or want people to notice me.  I do it because I know people will ask me about it and I don't want to have to admit that I haven't been doing very well.  People asked about school or how I was doing on the walking and that kept me motivated to keep working on it.  When I was working on my dissertation, we would have days we would have to meet and share our progress with everyone.  I worked harder at those times so I wouldn't be embarrassed in front of the other people, even though they were my friends and wouldn't think any less of me if I didn't have something to share.  
  • I also do better when I am part of a team or a group, even when our progress isn't dependent on each other.  I always got team assignments done first because I didn't want to let down people who were depending one me.  It also ties back to having a support group to cheer me on and people to be accountable for my results.  I did a great job in July because my friends were doing a Diet Bet and cheering me on and challenging me to do even more than I thought I could do.  
  • I also realized that I do better when I break bigger goals into smaller goals or measurable goals, like walking 50 miles instead of just saying I will start walking again in December. 
With all this in mind, I've decided to set an emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual intention for the year.  Each intention will have smaller monthly resolutions to keep me on track and focused.  I will share my progress so I stay accountable.  I will also involve others in my goals so that I will do it for them even when I don't want to do it for myself some days.

Emotional:  I am most grounded when I express my feelings, so I will refocus on my writing.

Mental:  Reading is one of my favorite things to do, but I am not a reader anymore.  It used to be school got in the way but now it is the Internet, games, Facebook, etc.  I want to refocus on reading and learning, not on the other things that don't really matter but are good distractions.

Spiritual:  I want to do something for someone else each month.  I always feel better when I am focused on others instead of myself.  My word for the year will help me focus my energy here.

Physical:  I need to lose weight and do better with my diet so I don't keep moving into diabetes.  I enjoy sedentary activities and being in my head, so this is my weakest area.  I will make this a bigger priority this year.  I will join up with my brother and daughter to work towards 2,017 combined miles for 2017.  I will work towards 673 miles this year towards my part of the team effort.

Monthly Goals for January

  1. Emotional:  Post 4 or more entries in my blog.
  2. Mental:  Read 5 or more books.  
  3. Spiritual:  Begin working on a baby gift for Brittany, and look for other opportunities to serve.
  4. Physical:  Walk 50 miles in January and only have 2 Pepsi's a day.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye to the Strangers I Loved in 2016

     It is complicated when you feel grief for someone you never met.  You know the person you love isn't who they really are, but the love you feel is no less real.  That person touched your life and changed it for the better.  Their songs, the person they played on the screen, the books they wrote, mattered.  They were there for you when the rest of the world turned away, or they made you laugh when real life was anything but funny, or they helped you be strong when you were afraid.  We find solace sharing our grief with other people who felt the same love.  It is magical to think of how much of a difference we make in each others' lives in ways we can't even imagine.
     This has been a year of many of those moments for me.  It started with the loss of David Bowie.  For me, he will always be my Goblin King.  When I was a teenager, I wanted to live in this movie.  I wanted to wear the dresses and dance at the masquerade ball and live with the Goblin King.  When I was struggling with anxiety and depression, I would listen to some of the songs from the movie and get up the bravery to go to school.
     Gary Shandling was another person I miss from that time in my life.  His humor made me laugh when the real world was dark.  I loved his way of looking at the world, of laughing at himself, and never using his humor to hurt others.  He taught me that humor doesn't have to hurt.  Watching the Gary Shandling Show was my reward for getting through each week.  I saw him the other night on an old rerun of The Tonight Show and laughed just as hard as I did then.  I miss him.
     Alan Rickman was loved by so many as Severus Snape, but for me, I fell in love with him in Truly, Madly, Deeply.  His performance made me believe that true love was possible.  He gave me hope.
     Gene Wilder will always be my Willie Wonka.  He was delightful in so many movies, but this was the one I loved.  He was one of the best parts of my childhood.
     Florence Henderson and Alan Thicke made some amazing parents.  Their understanding and love for their kids influence the way I am as a mother to my own kids.  I'm sure they had weaknesses if I watched them now with my older eyes, but as a kid, I thought they were pretty perfect.
     Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker were my summers.  Sitting with my brothers and sister in the movie theater watching Star Wars over and over was one of the highlights of my childhood.  We spent many summers playing different characters from the movies and creating our own epic adventures.  Watching Princess Leia cry when Han gets frozen always makes me cry, even now.  Kenny Baker was an amazing R2D2.  You know you are an amazing actor when you can get us to fall in love with a droid and forget he isn't really alive.  The emotions he shows when fighting with Yoda and talking to Luke always touch my heart.
     Garry Marshall created the shows that I loved most as a kid - Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy.  His characters felt like friends.  Henry Winkler and Robin Williams were loves that I took with me as I grew up.  
     Harper Lee will be missed as the author of one of the most inspirational books I have ever read.  Every time I read it, I find something new to take into my life and become a better person for it.  Her work is still timely and relevant in so many aspects.  Sadly, I wish that I had stuck with To Kill a Mockingbird and not read the sequel because it ruined part of my vision of her.
     George Michael has been the voice of most of my life.  I remember the first time I saw him on MTV singing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and wearing his shirt that said "Choose Life."  It seemed like a message sent directly to me.  From the Wham days to his solo career, I grew up with his songs on my playlist.  They cheered me up, gave me solace, and his voice soothed my troubled mind.  His death this year has been the hardest for me.
     As I say goodbye to these strangers I love so much, I hope they are in a better place of love, laughter, and peace.  Thank you for making me the person I am and making such a difference in my life.     

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Dearth of Love on All Sides

     I believe we were all put here together at this time, in this place, for a reason.  Every person I meet is here to teach me a lesson or to learn something from me.  I am only just beginning to process some of the lessons from the past few days.
      My friends and family are in turmoil.  Some of the people I most love and admire are so wounded right now, they are saying and doing things that they would never have done before.  Some are shaming the people wearing safety pins and arguing what it really means about us as a country that we voted the way we did.  Others are arguing about whether we should come together as a country or if that makes us a (fill in the blank) "ist" for giving in.
      I am worried about what we have taught the people who watch and emulate us most - our children.  Many are frightened because they feel all of our emotions and hear our sound bites, but they don't know what it means for them.  One of my friends is an assistant principal at an elementary school near me.  She overheard some of her little ones telling another child that his grandparents wouldn't be able to come home from their church mission out of the country because we were building a wall to keep them out.  Someone posted hate messages at Mandy's school that scared me.  I had to tell her to keep being who she is in the world, but to be careful.  The 8th graders in my friend's class told him Tuesday was the last day we would be America.  Our choices have impacted them deeply.  We will only know how much as we see the people they choose to grow into.
     I don't have the answers for any of us; I don't even have the answers for myself.  I don't believe there is a right way to grieve, or a right way to fight, or a right way to change the world.  I don't know how much strength it may take for someone to wear that safety pin in public.  There is enough pain in the world without causing more amongst ourselves.  There is a dearth of love and compassion from people on all sides of the political fence.  All I do know is I am going to fight against hatred and isms and injustice, but I will tread carefully.  I will reflect on my own actions and words so I can be part of the solution, not another part of the hatred and pain.  I will focus on making my part of the world a little lighter, a little more peaceful, and a little more full of understanding and love.  These are my gifts.  You may think I am naive, but love is my answer.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Capturing Magic

Ron Clark 
     I've been meaning to write about my experience at the Ron Clark Academy for the last week.  At first it was too big to process all at once.  How do you explain magic to someone who has no frame of reference with you?  But, now, I feel it starting to slip away as I slip back into my normal life, and I don't want to lose the details, so I will struggle to find some semblance of words to capture the experience.
     People keep asking me what my take away is.  The short answer is magic.  The long answer will probably take me years to figure out and share, but here is a small bit of what will stay with me.
Ron's bouncing sho
All of us have those days, months, years that are hard, where we feel like we aren't making a difference, that no one needs us, that we need a new job, when we just want to pull the covers over our head and hide.  It was a relief to hear that even a master magician like Ron Clark has these times.  He shared his struggles last year with losing his focus and going through some difficult financial times with the school.  There were days he didn't want to go to school, even though his name was on the building.  This year he realized that he needed to reengage with the kids because that is where the joy and passion comes from.  As an administrator, it's easy to find myself spending the day with paper work, reports, putting out fires, and running a school.  Those times I often catch myself wondering if this is really what I want to do and if I should go back to teaching.  When I spend time with the teachers that radiate joy and passion, or any time with the students, I feel energized and excited and think I have the best job ever.  This was an important connection for me.   He also shared some advice for those days that has already become a part of my philosophy.  When he has those days and manages to drag himself into school, he bounces on the balls of his feet.  After a few bounces, it changes his energy and mindset and he is ready to start the day with excitement.  I tried it last week when I was still tired from my trip and heading off to work when I wanted to stay and sleep.  It was awesome.  My cute sis tried it when she had a difficult few days and she said, "That Ron Clark bounce thing really works!"
Ron "fussing" at the kids
     I was surprised to see how much Ron "fussed" at the kids while we were there.  They were reprimanded for things that I didn't notice.  One girl was reprimanded for not correcting the boy next to her who had spoken with incorrect grammar.  This was hard for me at first, but Ron and Kim both addressed this at different times during our visit.  Ron said, "You see me 'fuss' at the kids, but you don't see how much I love on them."  Kim talked about the balance that they strive to have for the kids.  If you have structure, discipline, and respect without anything else to balance it, you get well behaved kids who hate school and feel like they are in prison.  If you provide them with creativity, passion, and enthusiasm without anything else, you get chaos.  When you have both, you get rigor.  This is a lesson I will take back to my schools.  I am fortunate to work with teachers who want to have rigor and high standards, so they have created the structural side.  Now I can help them add the creativity and passion so the students want to learn.  
Every room reflects the teacher's passion
     The teachers at RCA are passionate about their content and the kids, but are also passionate about finding the best ways to teach the content so kids learn it.  Every teacher I talked to said that it is more than the physical appearance of the room, although that definitely adds to the experience.  They also told me repeatedly that they have complete freedom to be themselves.  Ron said that this is a struggle for the new teachers he hires because they want to know how they should teach.  He says we want freedom, but don't know what to do with it when we get it.  Every teacher at the school is completely different.  Wade King loves music.  He has three electric guitars around the room and incorporates music, songs, and chants into his lessons.  His wife, Hope, enjoys transforming her room into what they are learning about.  When I was there, the kids were dressed like CSI investigators and were using what they had learned about inferences to figure out who had committed the crime.  It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it is something that you enjoy and are passionate about.  If we aren't excited and passionate about what we are teaching, why would we expect our students to be?  It's not enough to teach the information.  We need to passionate about finding a way to make learning memorable and engaging.  I loved the question they posed - "If you were walking down the hallway, would you choose your classroom today?"  Focus on your own strengths and talents and bring those to your teaching.  If you don't like the content you have to teach, find a way to teach it in a way you love.  
Kim on her "stage"
Movement and Music
     Every classroom has a "stage" uplifted around the front of the room so the teacher can be seen easily, with higher areas on the sides of the front.  Each teacher consciously incorporates movement into their teaching.  They do not pace the stage or just stand in one place.  They move to an area, make a point, and then move to the next area for another point.  They also continually incorporate movement for the kids.  Throughout the lesson, kids would get up on their chairs to respond to questions.  They also got up on their desks to do chants, choral responses, or songs.  Kim teaches English.  Instead of teaching punctuation on a worksheet, she taught the kids to use hand signals and stamping their feet for punctuation marks.  The body movements helped the kids internalize what they were learning.  They were the same sentences you would see on a usual worksheet, but everyone was engaged and excited to keep practicing how to punctuate the sentences.  Learning was a game instead of a chore.  The content didn't change, but the way she taught it did, and that made all the difference.  All of the teachers had chants or rhythms that the kids did to get attention.  They also used songs to help kids learn content.  Instead of just memorizing the songs and then not understanding that they should apply it to what they were learning, the teachers taught a bit of the lesson and then taught that part of the song.  Then they taught the next part of the lesson and then added that section of the song.  This helped the kids understand what the song meant and how to use it.  
Students' faces on great works of art in the dining hall
Students' Interests
     The teachers are careful to utilize what kids are interested in, from the pop songs they use to learn content to the activities they use in their classroom.  Knowing kids love taking selfies, Kim had different groups read different myths.  Then the groups chose a way to stage the main scenes and took selfies of their scenes.  They put them in books and then shared their books with other groups.  The kids loved reading each others' myths because of the selfies.  Rather than just reading myths or sharing out to the class, she found a way to tie it into their interests and made it engaging for the kids.  Knowing how much the kids loved clothes, she had them create the most tacky outfits they could.  Then she told them that their fashions were going to be shared on the runway (the class stage).  They would need to get up and describe the outfit so well that people in the audience would want to buy it, even though it looked tacky.  Some of her quietest students excelled in the challenge and created amazing descriptions for the outfits.  The kids learned descriptive language and adverbs/adjectives but no worksheets were needed.  Even the school walls are focused on students' interests.  Even the dining hall has famous works of art with the kids' faces morphed onto them.  What better way to become interested in famous works of art? 
Kim made me feel like family.
     One of the most important things about RCA is that you are a family.  Lots of schools I have been at say that they are a family, but then allow people to gossip, backbite, and put each other down.  Kim and Ron both talked about how important it is that we model for students what a "healthy" family looks like because they may not see that model in other parts of their lives.  If you work at RCA, you are not allowed to gossip, be negative, or put anyone else down.  Ron said, "You don't have to like each other, but it better not leave your mouth."  They do everything they can to uplift each other.  I saw them continually talk to each other, hug, high five, smile, and pat each other on the back, even when it was lunch or another time when they weren't "on" and everyone was just talking or doing other things.  They go on retreats together, spend time together, and enjoy being together.  The feeling in the school was warm and you could feel the love from the moment you walked into the school.  
Building relationships
Building Relationships
     When someone comes in mad at Ron, he drops his shoulders, holds his hands together and invites them to sit down.  Then he thanks them for coming and letting him know they are mad because they could have just been mad and not told him.  He thanks them for respecting him enough to tell him their concerns.  Then he reassures then that they will figure out a solution and asks them to tell him everything on their mind.  He never interrupts them, even when they are totally wrong in their understanding.  He keeps his voice low and keeps it cerebral because nothing will get fixed by getting mad yourself.  Usually that is enough to fix the situation because the person just wanted to be heard.  When its not enough, they have calmed down enough to have a conversation instead of an argument.  He reminds us to protect our hearts because we often take things personally and get disheartened and jaded.  As you can see in the picture, Ron is masterful at building a relationship with you, even if you just met.  He makes you feel like you are the most important person on the planet.  
Why not slide?
  Take a Risk
     If you feel comfortable, you aren't growing.  At RCA, everyone is expected to grow and take risks, even the teachers.  In Susan Barnes workshop, she taught us the format for Blues songs.  Then she made us write a blues song and get up and perform it in her "Blues Cafe" with working microphones.  When we hesitated, she said, "Yes, YOU!  I'm not falling for it cause you chose a profession where you tell people to do things all day that they don't want to do."  With her encouragement and holding us all accountable, I got up and sang a Blues song that I wrote and performed with a group of educators I didn't know.  I was obviously way out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad I was forced to take the risk.  
This is the look of utter joy!
     This is the philosophy throughout the school, as you can see from the two story slide that takes you to the lobby.  Ron decided, "Why take the stairs when you can slide?" and now you can get out of your comfort zone and slide downstairs.  As you can see from the picture, I needed lots of help getting up, but it was so much fun!  It's nice to rely on other people to help you when you take a risk.  I love the total look of joy that my friend Brittany captured on my face after I slid down the slide.  Then they celebrate your risk with chants, applause, and a sticker that says "I'm slide certified!"  I even bought a shirt to commemorate the event because it is so much more than just sliding down a slide.  We want kids to take risks when they learn, but we need to remind ourselves to take risks and also remember to celebrate the risks we take.
Modern Shakespeare
Remember Your Why
     Hope and Wade King reminded us to remember our why and get back to it.  What made you want to be a teacher or administrator?  Are you still in touch with your why or have you forgotten it?  Is it the content you love?  The kids?  What do you want to be remembered for when you are gone?  Do that!
These ladies bring out the best in me
     It is not what happens to you that defines you, but what happens through you.  Your power doesn't come from your ability to control things, but the greater power is empowering others.  Kim reminded us that there are many dementors who suck the joy out of us, so we need to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and make us better than we are alone.  Adam Dovico added that there are negatively charged educators or "electronators" that suck the life out of a school.  We have a new idea and they tell us why it won't work.  We need team effort, but they only think of themselves.  You say, "Good morning!  How are you?" and they respond, "I'm here."  He reminds us, "You will be remembered somehow by the kids.  How do you want to be remembered?"  Hope reminds us that when we pour our heart and soul into the curriculum or the test scores, we will get discouraged because they don't change and it's hard to pour everything we have into something that doesn't make a difference.  When we pour our heart and soul into the kids, we make a difference and feel energized.  
The 2 story dragon that wraps the stairs
Make it Memorable
     When you have boring content or really hard content, teach it with a game like Giant Jenga and Human Hungry Hippos.  When you play games, there shouldn't be any invisible children.  Everyone plays the entire time - no turns, no outs.  Hope uses giant Twister boards that are a smaller board replicated multiple times so lots of kids can play at once.  Start with the why and then ask how you can make it relevant to the kids.  Then ask what product can help you can use to sell it to the kids.  
     It isn't just fluff.  It is the cake.  If the kids are engaged and want to learn, we get rigor and learning, including better behavior and higher test scores.  It comes first, not last.  
Live your dream 
     This is one of the most important aspects of the magic in the school.  Everything is memorable.  Nothing is left to chance.  The kids arrived in their "Live Your Dream" shirts and had a giant pillow fight and slumber party to celebrate their goals and aspirations.  It was more than just a saying on a shirt or a school slogan that no one paid attention to.  It is up to us to create those memorable moments of learning.  When we ask why kids don't learn, we shift the blame to the kids, the parents, socioeconomics, former teachers, anyone else but ourselves.  But if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is because I didn't teach it well.  Just because I stood in front of the class and talked doesn't mean I educated anyone today.  If we want kids to be passionate about what we teach, we need to find ways to engage them and not expect them to engage themselves in our content.  We are the professionals in the room.  We need to be the ones to create the experiences that transform their hearts and minds so they can learn.  
Friendly competition
You Belong Here
     Everyone at RCA is a family and they go out of their way to make everyone feel they belong.  Before school starts the older kids are given the pictures and names of the incoming 5th graders and are expected to know their names and welcome them when they arrive on the first day.  When the 5th graders enter one at a time, the older kids chant his name while a teacher grabs her hand and whisks him up the stairs to the slide.  Ron spins the house wheel and by the time she slides to the bottom, Ron announces what house he is in.  The kids in that house run over, hug the child, and welcome him into the house.  There were two girls I talked to that were best friends and happily showed me their BFF necklaces, but were wearing different house shirts.  I asked them if it was hard to be best friends in different houses.  They said, "No, it's just friendly competition."  Each house has a different story behind it, from the language the word originates from, to the meaning of the word, to the crest.  We got to choose our own houses.  My house is Amistad.  It means friendship in Spanish.  It is for the people who love others and go out of their way to take care of others.  Brittany's house is Altruismo.  It means givers in Portuguese.  Raegan is in Reveur, or dreamer in French.  
     The kids get house points for going above and beyond in their lessons and accomplishments.  The
House Point Board
electronic score board in the main hall is updated instantly as teachers enter the scores.  The pictures on the cups are the faces of the kids who got the points so everyone knows who to congratulate.
     The houses are even celebrated in the fence outside the school.  All of the house names are carved into the metal so you see them as you enter the school.
     Like Harry Potter, the houses help build unity and support for the kids who feel like they belong.  However, it never gets cliquey because the kids know it is all in fun and that they are all part of the bigger RCA family.
The entrance to the school
     This school is a magical place to be.  It was overwhelming to see and do everything that was going on, but I loved every minute of it.  I hope I can use these lessons in my personal life, in my life as an administrator, and share the magic with my teachers.  If you get the chance to go, jump!  I promise it will change your life in ways you can't even imagine.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Christmas Greed

     Hours after celebrating a day giving thanks for all we have, people trampled one another in their greed for more.  People left stores black and blue, battered, crying, terrified, and in one case, stepped over as he lay dying on the floor.
     This is a sad commentary on one of the richest countries in the world.  In a world where most people live off less than a dollar a day, we each consume a cities worth of goods a day and throw away a feast because we have too much.
     Some justified the day as "fun" or "bargain shopping" or as "necessary in a bad economy."  How do any of these words equate to what happened?  How did stepping over someone as he is dying become the deal of a lifetime?
     We worship the mighty dollar and lose the meaning of Christmas.  If Jesus was there helping the man up and carrying him to heaven, I am sure he wept at what he saw us doing in his name.   

Monday, October 10, 2016

     My friend often reminds me that there are things worse than death.  Many people I know who struggle with chronic illnesses, anxiety, depression, and mental illness would probably agree.  The bravery it takes to suffer through their daily existence goes unnoticed by those of us on the other side.  The hard thing is that we often think our reality and struggles are immeasurably harder than anything anyone else is going through or has gone through.  It becomes one more way to divide us instead of bringing us together.  
     I am sad at the world, lately.  Sad at how many ways there are to keep us from really talking, from reaching out and understanding each other, from finding ways to build; rather than destroy.  Politics, religion, gender, sexuality, race, and so many other things we use to divide ourselves and find reasons to hate.  We lament that there aren't heroes anymore but struggle to take a stand ourselves.  
     Some say that we are here to learn and perfect ourselves to return to God.  Others say Earth is Hell, while others say this life is all there is.  To me, it doesn't matter which is true, because the answer is the same.  If I am perfecting myself and learning lessons to return to God, I need every minute I can get because I have a long way to go.  If this is Hell on Earth, I refuse to let the darkness win.  I will do everything I can to make it bearable for the people who have to suffer here with me.  If this is all we have, I am going to make this worth having.  
     If we all live each day trying to make life better for just one other person, death would be the worse thing we could experience.  It is a dark time for many of us, but love has always been stronger than hate.  I hope that we realize that before it is too late.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

     This cute boy is my Nick in happier days.  If you have never had to deal with anxiety, you can't imagine how destructive it can be to the person in its grasp.  I was one of the lucky ones that thought it was just mildly uncomfortable until I saw it sucking the life out of my son.            Over the years Nick has become a shell of himself.  He rarely leaves the house, even when it is something he wants to desperately attend.  The anxiety is so intense, it has caused him to hallucinate scary things that aren't real.  This started in 5th grade when he started seeing "blue" kids in his class that no one else could see.  Today they are horrific things that get inside our home and tell him horrible things.  He tries everything to keep them away, but even the medication can't touch it; yet.  It got so bad last week, he shut down and a new personality came out to talk to us.  His name is Alex.  He is scared for my Nick.      Nick went to his psychiatrist today who said that the anxiety is much more serious than she thought.  She still thinks the anxiety is the cause of the hallucinations.  It's a strange thing to pray that she is right and that the increased medication will help.  I am praying for the strength to deal with the possibility of schizophrenia or split personality disorder.  I am also praying for the strength to be whatever I can be for him and not let my emotions cause him more harm.  I am grateful for the doctor, for all of you sending prayers and love on his behalf, and that for some reason God chose me to have such a beautiful spirit in my life.  I am truly blessed.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

Even Though We Never Met, My Brother Still Touches My Life

      32 years ago my baby brother Tyler died. 
 Although I never met him in life, he has touched my life and changed me for the better.  When I was 15 years old, my brother was stillborn because the cord wrapped around his neck.  My mom lost so much blood, her body kept shutting down.  The paramedics had to give her several blood transfusions and keep restarting her heart.  When  they  got  her to  the  hospital, they put her in intensive care.  She was in a coma for several weeks, and they weren't sure if she would make it.  
     Being the oldest, I did my best to take care of my brothers and sisters, but I was a poor imitation of my mom.  One day a relative I didn't know called and said, I just heard your mom died.  I am so sorry."  The caller was wrong, but I hadn't been able to see her yet, so I didn't know if she was going to die.  Every time the phone rang after that, I would shake uncontrollably.  
      The funeral for my brother was one of the hardest days of my life.  When my mom told us she was pregnant, I was angry.  I didn't want to take care of another brother or sister.  I even wished the baby would die so my life could get back to normal.  Now all I wanted to do was tell my mom and my brother how sorry I was that I had been so selfish.  My mom was still in the coma, so she couldn't go to the funeral.  Relatives kept telling me how much I looked like my mom and how proud she would be of me.  They didn't know how guilty I felt thinking everything was my fault.         
     Weeks later I finally got to go to the hospital to see my mom.  I still didn't know she was in a coma, so I was hoping to tell her what I had done and ask her forgiveness.  My mom's room was in the back of the ICU, so we had to walk through another room to get to her.  A man in the first room was strapped to his bed.  As I walked by, he said, "Please, little girl, come and untie me.  Please help me!"  I knew that would make things worse for him, but I felt miserable ignoring him and walking away.  My mom wasn't strapped to her bed, but her arms were tied to the railing so she wouldn't pull out the IV or respirator tubes.  She wasn't conscious, so I couldn't tell her what I wanted to say.  Seeing my mom in so much pain made me feel even guiltier.
     When my mom finally got well enough to come home, I was in a deep depression.  I couldn't stop thinking about death and suicide.  I stopped going to school because I was afraid my mom would die while I was gone and couldn't keep her safe.  I was in trouble at home for always sluffing school.  I couldn't sleep and when I did sleep, I had nightmares.  I felt guilty for wanting to do things with my friends when I should be taking care of my mom.  
     That spring, we went to California.  When we went to the beach, I walked down the pier and stared at the waves for a long time trying to decide whether to jump or not.  The water was beautiful and calling to me.  While I was standing there, I heard a voice.  I turned, but no was there.  I turned back to the water, but I heard the voice again.  This time it said, "What would it feel like to kill yourself and then find out your soul mate was still on Earth waiting for you?"  I turned, and no one was there, but a perfect white feather drifted out of the sky.  A sign from my guardian angel.  I walked back to my family hoping things would get better if I kept my faith and tried my best.     
  It turned out my guardian angel was right.  Today I am blessed to be able to help others through their darkness.  It is my way to pay forward my angel's gift of life.  Today I celebrate my brother and the lessons he has taught me about myself, life, forgiveness, and redemption.  I wouldn't be the person I am today without him.  Even though we never met, he still touches my life every day.  I can't wait to see him in Heaven and thank him in person someday.  Happy Birthday, Tyler.  I love you.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

      28 years ago, John asked me if I would spend the rest of my life with him.  Today we celebrated that day by attending the NAMI walk.  The picture doesn't show how thrilled I was John was well enough to go with me.  This is a huge change for us, and I am thankful for the doctor and the experimental medicine that made today possible.
      John has always struggled with severe depression.  I convinced him to go to the doctor for help and that led to endless medications that ranged from useless to making him hallucinate and become psychotic.  He dealt with this for 26 years of our life together.  There were some dark moments when I doubted either of us would make it out alive, but he never gave up on trying.  
     In those years Mandy and Nick joined our small family and faced their own battles.  Mandy spent a year cutting her legs with a razor blade and I never knew anything.  She wore long pants and hid her pain masterfully.  She finally told me because she was taking a ballet class and knew I would see her scars with her costume.  When I saw the scars, I was horrified at how much pain my precious daughter had gone through.  Two of the scars were so large and ragged, I was surprised that she hadn't bled to death.  The guilt of not knowing and not helping her were difficult.
     Nick faced his own battles with anxiety that became so severe he started seeing ghosts in 5th grade.  His doctor told me that was his way of dealing with extreme anxiety.  Panic attacks became regular occurrences in his world.  He stopped sleeping.  His doctor told me that I should prepare myself for having him develop Agoraphobia, the fear of leaving the house.  His struggles have worsened as he got older, and medication and therapy haven't helped him very much.  He is trying to finish his senior year online so he can graduate, but even that is difficult for him to do.  I am thrilled when he goes to the store with me or for a walk, but it's hard to see him white knuckling his way through it.  He hides in his jacket and takes keys or something to endlessly rub to keep his anxiety in check for the few minutes we are away.  At night his anxiety gets the best of him and he hears and sees things that aren't there.  It's scary for both of us.  He handles it with grace.  He still smiles, tells me not to worry, and has the kindest spirit of anyone I know.
     John and Mandy have been able to find medication to help them the past two years.  Mandy was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder.  The medication they gave her turned her life around.  She is now a happy, well-adjusted college student.  She works and goes to school and is dedicated to making a difference for others who have struggled.  Many people who experience bipolar episodes don't take their medicine because they don't like the way it makes them feel.  I am forever grateful that Mandy is not that way.  When she feels an episode coming on, she is quick to make sure she takes her medicine to stave it off.
     After years of trying every medicine available and not seeing anything work, John was ready to give up on even trying.  His psychiatrist asked me to come to John's appointment.  He told me that he had a medicine that was being used off label, but had show promise in some of his patients that didn't respond to anything else.  He needed my permission to give it to John because he didn't think John was able to make that decision for himself.  It has dangerous side effects and can kill you unexpectedly.  I couldn't believe I was being asked to make that kind of decision.  I cried for a while, but then I told him I wanted John to have the treatment because he was going to kill himself if things didn't change.  The medicine has been a life saver for him, even though it is a horrible experience for him every time he takes it.  I could see the change immediately, but he couldn't see it for a few months.  When we returned a few weeks later, John told the doctor that it hadn't had any positive effects and the side effects were horrible.  I had to interrupt and tell the doctor how much it was helping.  Within a few more weeks, other people were noticing the changes in him, including the dentist and the people at the store.  John has been so brave to keep taking it even though he hates it.  The medicine never reacts the same way, so he never knows what to expect.  Sometimes he gets sick, hallucinates, hears sounds, feels like he is dying, gets horrible headaches, etc.  But he does it anyway because he knows it will help him when it is over.  When the side effects wear off, he spends the next day with a bad headache, but then he has 3-4 days like a normal person.  
     I am beyond grateful for the past two years with him.  I was beginning to lose hope.  I finally told God that I couldn't do it anymore and I was putting it in his hands with faith that all would be well.  It has been a powerful lesson for me on faith and love.  Now I am practicing faith again and placing Nick in God's hands.  My prayers may not be answered the way I want them to be, but I know all will be well.  In the meantime, I am surrounding him with love.    
     For some unknown reason, or for the reason that nothing in life is coincidental, an email came from NAMI.  I don't usually open emails from people I don't know, but I felt compelled to open it.  When I read about the walk, I knew I needed to be there.  There is so much stigma for so many people in the world for so many things, and it makes me sad that people judge my family by their struggles without knowing where we have been.  It makes me sad many turn to suicide because they can't talk about their pain or struggles without feeling more isolated or alone when they are judged.  I wanted to be there today to represent the people who don't have anyone to speak for them.  When John said he would go with me, I couldn't stop smiling.  He wouldn't have had the interest or stamina to walk with me, even a few months ago.  It was an amazing anniversary to be able to hold his hand and walk on a beautiful fall day for a cause that we know so well.  With God's grace all things are possible.

Note - My family said I could share their stories in hopes it helps someone else.  

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.