When Daddy died fifteen months ago it caused a shift in our family, and it awakened something inside me that wanted to honor the way I saw Daddy live. I made a promise to myself that I would not live life half-way. Having a new direction helped me take the energy and pain behind my grief and put it toward something good that I could see taking shape. I did an inventory of everything in my life that I thought was a gift, skill, or passion, and I began to “practice” and believe they were “in me” for a reason. Thanks to a community of coaches, I was able to see things that I had determined were “weird” and discovered they were good gifts from God. I think Daddy would be pleased and that makes life without him a little more bearable. It hasn’t taken away the vice around my heart but maybe it doesn’t squeeze quite as hard.

***

“For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

 

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We All Fly-Including Me

Posted: October 29, 2015 in Leadership
Tags: ,

Almost a year ago my dad had a heart attack and died. Our family and community lost a wonderful man who thoroughly enjoyed living, working, and loving. His celebrated life sparked something that has inspired me to make a few changes. After primarily staying at home with my family for the last twenty years and working part-time in the Family and Human Development field and secretary of my church (which I plan to continue), I made the decision to move into a marketing/real estate career. I began to stay up late pouring over business leadership books and quizzing my husband (to his dismay) when he would come home from work about sales and marketing strategies.

Late one night, my husband asked me about continuing in the Human Science field and maybe working for a government agency that I had previously wanted to work. I said, “no, I want to own the whole government!” Ha! Well, I know that’s a little absurd, but I realized that my expectations for the future in terms of employment, enjoyment, and fulfillment had shifted significantly. Four months ago, I started working as the marketing director for a real estate agent. Joy! Just recently, I finished the prerequisite sixty-hours of real estate school in order to take the Tennessee state licensing examination. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve always had these dreams of pursuing a career in business, but due to my own “gender restrictions” I never felt like it was a place for a mother with children. (Please, no rotten eggs!) Recently I read a book called, Lean In: Women, Work, and a Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. I began to see the future with fresh eyes and a new mindset. I love taking care of my family. I’ll never stop, but I will do it with the mind-set that we all fly–including me. It doesn’t mean that we won’t gather back in the nest to trade flight stories and bandage each other’s wings. We will. And, we will laugh and play and love. I will teach, encourage, and share as much as my children need. I wouldn’t trade anything for the last twenty years of being home with my kids. They have been my life and focus. But, I’m not doing anyone any favors by sitting on my wings and holding tightly to theirs. As painful as it is, we all need to fly.

I joined Toastmasters in June which has helped me bridge this season of change. Toastmasters is helping me develop and polish leadership and communication skills. It gives me a place to practice new skills and baby step my way forward. It’s loads of fun! I’m thirsty for this part of my life! But–what about all my work with children and families? Is that still a passion? YES! Human Science is a great background for business. I mean–guess who my clientele will be? Humans!! But, seriously, I want to contribute to public policies and economic efforts to improve the lives of children and families (particularly those with disabilities) by working with others in providing opportunities for growth and development. Michael Maher speaks about the “generosity generation” in the book Seven Levels of Communication. It’s a beautiful story written primarily for real estate agents regarding giving and relationships. It pairs perfectly with human development theories of needs and desires. I feel like I have arrived at “my spot”–whatever that means. 🙂

The new season makes my heart race. Everyday I wake up and have to talk myself into “leaning in” to this new place. Maybe it will feel normal one day. And Daddy–he would be happy and proud. He thought everyone needed to work doing something they loved. He taught me to “lean in” a long time ago–I just didn’t know it.

The following is my second speech using the guidelines from the Competent Communicator book. The assignment was to choose any topic and organize it with an introduction, body, and conclusion, use appropriate transition words, and write out a personal outline. If I had to do this one over again, I would chose a different topic. I love giving inspirational speeches, but this one could have been a 20 minute speech. I only had 5-7 minutes. By the time I whittled the speech down to 5-7 min, I felt like it had lost part of the meaning. Since I was rushing through the information to stay in the 5-7 minutes, I communicated more from memorization which I don’t like doing. The other “problem” I had during this speech was with my arms and hands. When I started giving the speech, I became very aware of my arms! I couldn’t figure out what to do with them–hold the lectern, gesture, pick my nose, etc. Nothing felt natural. I’m hoping I become more at ease with my arms as I give more speeches. Overall, it was lots of fun, a little stress, and great feedback. If you are interested in leadership and communication development, check out a Toastmasters Club near you! If you live in Murfreesboro, then check out the Heart of Tennessee (HOT) Toastmasters http://heartoftennessee.toastmastersclubs.org/.

***

Five years ago my daughter and I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Honduras. The main focus of the trip was to build houses for some of the poorest families in the city of Tegucigalpa.  We raised money for building supplies, bought our tool belts and we left over Thanksgiving week with a team of ten people. I really thought God was sending me to the people of Honduras to bring them a small amount of development and a lot of love. But I’ve have time to reflect over the five years since the trip, and I’m not sure God was sending me to help them. I believe God did send me, but it was for them to help me. I wasn’t prepared to see an impoverished country. I definitely wasn’t prepared to see people who were hungry. Today I want to share with you how the people I met and the gift I received taught me how to choose hope in all tough circumstances.

First, We arrived in Teguc and in minutes of setting foot off the plane began seeing the effects of poverty. I knew we were coming to work in a poor country. but I just didn’t have an understanding of what that really meant. My first real encounter with the hungry happened at Church’s chicken where we ate our fill just after we arrived. When we came out of the restaurant, I noticed people waiting for leftover scraps of food. It didn’t take me long to realize that I may have been hungry because I had missed lunch, but I had never experienced hunger like what was staring back at me. Sadly, hunger was everywhere. I thought I had seen the worst of the hunger until day 5 when we visited the Teguc dump. We weren’t there to throw trash away, instead we were going to feed a meal to the people that live there. I didn’t even know anything like that existed. People were everywhere sorting through piles of garbage in order to eat. I felt numb as I sat in the back of a truck giving out food with men and women’s hands reaching out while buzzards sat beside us.  How could we out-give what we were wittnessing? The excitement of the trip turned into a knot of reality in my stomach. Hungry people were real.

But, I don’t want to leave you with only those thoughts. Not only was there poverty, but there was extravagant generosity. Our team received a gift while we were building a house in hillside slum. We had torn down a little shack made of rotten wood and bits of scrap metal and were replacing it with a one-room wooden house. Community folks gathered and the day had a joy to it that stood out beyond the conditions of the city. This day, our team made trips up and down a large hill carrying trash and supplies to and from the site. This older woman watched us all day. On one of the trips down the hill she invited me, my daughter, and a couple other teammates into her home and chatted incessantly in Spanish. I wish I could have understood what she said. 🙂  She had a small table set up with glasses, a 2-liter of coke, and snack cakes. And in a country where people were malnourished and starving, we were given the gift of food. Our leader had already been invited to her home and had told us that she had spent everything she had on snacks for the missionaries to say thank you. Nothing else seemed to matter but that moment. I’ve always heard the saying “it’s better to give than to receive” but that day I learned that it’s good to give and it’s good to receive. And even though I was a middle-class woman from the US standing in a home in the 2nd poorest country in Central America, I wanted to do what she was doing … choosing hope!!

Finally, how do the hungry find hope? There is a proverb from the Christian Bible that says, “a generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.”  My daughter and I gave water but we definitely left with our cups full. How could the poorest woman I’ve ever met take everything she had and give it to strangers working nearby? All I saw was a country full of deplorable conditions that outnumbered the relief efforts. She taught me a lesson that changed the way I think. This sweet lady’s identity was not in poverty or the slum. It was in something much finer and grander. Her identity was wrapped in riches of love, generosity, and goodness. Those things can never be taken away even in the worst of circumstances.

To conclude: I never want to be prepared to see hungry people or a community of people that live in the dump. In addition, I never again want to underestimate the power of receiving a gift wrapped in love. Maybe it’s when we learn to receive extraordinary gifts that we can give more than we could ever imagine. There’s a quote by Mother Teresa that says, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Yes, I learned about hunger and about giving and receiving, but the most important lesson I want to leave with each of you is how the woman on the hillside choose hope.

Remember that the feeling of failure keeps company with shame, regret, and fear. They are not the company you need to keep. Allow yourself an abundance of grace and hope and get a good night’s rest. Believe that the end of today is not your story for tomorrow.

I heard about Toastmasters International several years ago, finally found a club near me and joined! I’m just getting started but already having a blast. If you are interested in improving your communication and leadership skills this is the club for you! It’s fun, affordable, and a quick way to learn. The Ice Breaker is the first speech in the Toastmasters Communication manual which is all about me (or you) or whoever is giving the speech! It’s a perfect way to confront the fear of standing in front of a new group of people. The subject is familiar and everyone is waiting to learn more about you in 4-6 minutes! If I can do it, I know you can!! I’m including the link to Toastmasters if you want to learn more or find a club near you. If you live in the Middle Tennessee area I would love to see you at our local club!!

My Ice Breaker is below. Although it looks short I delivered it in 5 minutes and 5 seconds. I had a difficult time finding the balance between too short and long. I was pretty happy to have stayed within the time frame. 🙂

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The Ice Breaker:

Inspired

My dad died unexpectedly seven months ago. He was only 67. My father was an amazing man who lived out his dream of owning and operating a successful dairy farm his entire life. Suddenly life seemed very short and even a little fragile. Since his death I’ve spent time reflecting on my life’s dreams, and I’ve decided that it’s time for me to quit dreaming and start doing, which is why I’m here! I learned about Toastmasters 10 yrs ago at a leadership school. Ever since that day I’ve wanted to join. I work at Stones River Church and also lead advocacy projects in the community. I have a dream of being able to speak and authentically connect with people with skill and confidence.  So, in early June I signed up for Toastmasters. I immediately started working on my ice-breaker speech but, soon after, I started experiencing fear—fear of starting something new, fear of standing in front of a new group of people, fear of failure.  I almost quit before I ever started! But then I remembered something that challenged and inspired to lean into the fear instead of running away. I want to share this with you.

I have three children. My youngest son, Andrew, was born with low-vision. He is considered to be legally blind. When he was five years old he told me that he wanted to play golf. Now there were several sports that I had researched that might be a good fit for a child with low vision like swimming and track. Golf was not one of them!  So like every good mother, I wanted to protect my child from getting hurt and from experiencing failure, and I did everything I could to discourage Andrew of his dream of playing golf. He didn’t give up! When he was seven years old my husband and I gave in and signed him up for golf lessons hoping that it would be the end of his ambition to play golf. He loved them! Now Andrew is thirteen years old. He plays in golf tournaments all over Tennessee through the Special Olympics. He’s good and getting better every day. Recently, I asked Andrew two questions about his golf game.

“How do you see the ball?” I asked.

He answered, “I don’t. I just know it’s there.”

Then I asked, “What happens when you can’t find the ball after you hit it?”

He said, “It’s simple; I ask for help.”

To conclude there are three things I learned from Andrew regarding golf: 1. Relentlessly pursue your dreams. 2. You don’t always have to see the ball to be a part of the game (don’t fear the unknown)  2. Ask and trust that others will help you along he way.

I’m grateful for how my dad has inspired me through the grief and sadness to look ahead, and I’m grateful for my son and how he overcomes obstacles daily to pursue his dreams. And I’m thankful for being able to take this next step of my life with each of you.

Andrew and his golfing buddy, John.

Andrew and his golfing buddy, John.

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https://www.toastmasters.org/

http://heartoftennessee.toastmastersclubs.org/

Thursday afternoon my Facebook feed blew up with news about the Duggar molestation scandal. Just like a lot of America I spent the next couple of days reading headlines and blogs of varied opinions about this unfolding drama. Child sexual abuse is a terrible misfortune that many of our nation’s children innocently face daily. Unfortunately, we still live in an age where sexual abuse is under-reported and, in many instances, swept under the carpet. I do not know if that’s what happened with the Duggar family. I’m much more concerned about the thousands of children who are presently living through the shame and terror of sexual abuse even as I write these words. Stories of this nature uncover deep emotions which is why we’ve seen a plethora of strong opinions on social media. Putting all differences aside, I’m sure we can all agree that a tragedy has occurred anytime a child is sexually abused.  So how do we take a headline of this nature and use it in a positive way? I want to leave you with five things that you can do starting TODAY that will make a difference in children’s lives and move us closer to a vision of eradicating child sexual abuse.

1. Know the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse.

Prevent Child Abuse America (with state chapters) is a great resource. The following link takes you to a brochure: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: http://www.preventchildabuse.org/images/docs/sexualabusebrochure.final.pdf. There’s a variety of other resources available as well.

Contact the National Exchange Club. Their project of prevention of child abuse began in 1979. They will be able to connect you with local family centers that can teach you the signs and symptoms. Tennessee’s Exchange Club Family Center’s contact is: http://www.familycentertn.org/.

2. Find Stewards of Children training in your area or take it online: http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6035035/k.8258/Prevent_Child_Sexual_Abuse.htm#.VWU9EM9Viko. This is national program through an organization called Darkness to Light. You could also consider hosting a Stewards of Children workshop in your area. Take a minute and review their website. I’ve copied their “About Us” below:

We Believe Overcoming child sexual abuse requires us to change the rules, systems, and structures surrounding children so that the potential of every child can be realized.When prevention is a priority, only then can we eliminate child sexual abuse.

Our Commitment We will equip adults and organizations with the knowledge and skill needed to effectively protect children from sexual abuse TODAY. We will empower people to act in the best interest of children.

What We Do We challenge the notion of child sexual abuse as a societal taboo by encouraging communities to talk about risk, prevention, and child protection.We address the urgent need for education that protects children and provides a catalyst for broader societal change.We enable youth serving professionals, child advocates, parents, and communities to apply knowledge and skill to child protection, allowing them to become a dynamic force.When people have the knowledge and skill to stand up for children…and when they are empowered to overcome the fear, denial, stigma, and obstacles around standing up for children, they WILL choose the child.

3. Familiarize yourself with the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. This research was gathered to assess associations between child maltreatment and health and well-being in later life. Review the information on children and toxic stress:  http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/. You can also check out this fantastic TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris on the ACE study: https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime.

4. Know the child abuse reporting law in your state and report suspected child abuse. The following is the law for the TN area:  Tennessee law requires all persons must report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. To report child abuse in Tennessee, call the Department of Children’s Services’ Central Intake at 1-877-237-0004.

5. Be a good neighbor. I love the verse form the bible, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Recently I heard a preacher ask, “who is your neighbor?” He answered, “Anyone that crosses your path.” Read more in Luke 10:29-37. It’s a beautiful story. Childhood is a special and unique time. Let’s do everything we can to be a good neighbor to the children that cross our path.

When prevention is a priority, only then can we eliminate child sexual abuse.”(Darkness to Light)

OICKH61DFK“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other 

so that you can live together whole and healed.” James 5:17 (Msg)

I am thankful that God’s grace is extended to bigotry and hypocrisy because over the years I’ve been a friend to both. The human experience is not stagnant; it is influenced by our experiences, knowledge, and by a Creator that relentlessly pursues us through all the great times but particularly in our blind spots and valleys. I’m on that journey. My hope is that you will read the following post through the lens of mercy. I tell this story, not to spark additional diversity to a controversial subject, but to find a place of connection beyond my own experience. I don’t see the point of writing if it doesn’t bring engagement to hearts and minds—a shared human experience— one that connects my dot to yours. I am committed to sharing my thoughts without pointing the finger of blame at another person or group. Although I may believe that there are things that should shift in our society, culture, religious settings, etc., at the end of the day the change I want to see must start with me. 

***

This is a story of an almost friendship between me and my hairstylist; I’ll call him Chad. Chad rented his own booth at a professional salon and was an excellent stylist. I was only 24 years old at the time. No matter how my hair looked when he started; I would be completely transformed by the time he finished. “Beautiful!” he gushed. I beamed. Chad had a gift of simply making people feel better through the expertise of using hair gels, scissors, and a curling iron.

Although Chad and I never talked about his personal life, I was fairly certain he was gay by pictures he had in his booth, a gold band on his right hand, and an occasional mention of a roommate. This troubled me. He was a top-notch hair stylist, yet I had strong convictions regarding homosexuality. I was fearful of putting myself in a position of being confronted with someone who was openly gay. However, I decided that as long as he and I never talked about it, and I didn’t know for sure, then I could continue having him style my hair. I know. This reasoning is close to ridiculous and certainly childish and selfish, but it’s where I was at the time.

When my second child was born I needed Chad more than ever. Due to the hormones of back-to-back pregnancies, my hair started to thin. It was terrible. I would lose fists full of hair daily. I could see my scalp and as a consequence felt terrible about myself. I remember sitting in the chair crying and asking him to help me. He listened with empathy and kindness while expertly cutting and styling to minimize the appearance of thinning. It certainly wasn’t just about collecting money at the end of a hair cut. He was a professional, yet he seemed to care deeply for his clients. After nine months to a year the thinning stopped, my hair began to thicken, and all was well–thanks to Chad and the Lord Almighty! 🙂

One year later I arrived for my appointment. I was in tears—again! My husband had filed for divorce. My wrecked hair mirrored my life. I remember sitting in the chair sobbing the story to Chad. He listened with the sweetest concern. My heart was breaking, but he didn’t let me leave that day until he did everything he could to make me feel better. I smiled at his kindness. He was a ray of sunshine in my storm. As I moved through the next few months that mental health professionals refer to as the crazy time of divorce, Chad was part of my life. Every eight weeks I would arrive for my “therapy”. He encouraged me as I grew stronger.

Time went on. Chad took great care of my hair and heart. I would imagine there are many hair stylists that have become friend, therapist, pastor, etc. They are certainly underpaid professionals, or at least that’s true for Chad. The last time I had an appointment with him was 15 years ago. It was my wedding day. I had met someone, fell in love and, of course, wanted Chad to work his magic! He did not disappoint! I left happy, beautiful, and ready to walk down the aisle to a new life of discovery and love. As a wedding gift, Chad did not charge me for the hair cut. It was a sweet and surprising gift! He hugged me and told me to–GO GET MARRIED!!

After I married, money was tight so I didn’t go back to see Chad. It was five years later when I saw him again. I was waiting to be seated at a local restaurant. Sitting at the bar with Chad was a man. Chad’s arm was casually draped around the gentleman’s shoulder. So, it‘s true, I thought, he’s gay! As I mentally noted this, Chad’s eyes met mine, I glanced away as the hostess announced that my table was ready. During a moment of decision, I walked straight past Chad without any recognition of him—not a smile, a wave, or a sound…

The silence of that moment is a constant roar; it won’t be quiet.

***

I have changed my mind and do not view people who are gay through judgment and condemnation but through the lens of love. I pray they will view me the same way along with plenty of grace and mercy. I don’t live with fear any longer and am honored when God gives me new friendships. I’m sorry that I caved to my own insecurity of what a “good girl” looked like and acted passively-aggressively. Never mind that Chad had walked with me through good and bad times for five years of life experiences. If I was to continue in my “good girlness”, I felt I could not, at least openly, be his friend. So, I walked with the halo of Angela into a plastic world where gayness is kept where it should be…closed off to the world…to love…to friendships…and especially to “good girls” like me.

I realize that there will be those who read this with polarized opinions. My intention is not to stir up debate but to create a bridge of peace for anyone living in a closet … whether you are gay and fearful of how people will react or, like me, apprehensive of the consequences of loving others as your love yourself.

My confession is genuine. My heart is open, and while I don’t want my voice to be loud, I do want it be heard. Our earth time is too short to keep secrets. I confess my fear, pride, and selfishness to you in hopes that you will join me in this conversation as I voice my heart for those who are marginalized. I place no blame for my actions on society, culture, family systems, or church. It’s easy to want to shift the burden of responsibility, but in the end it was my decision to walk arrogantly past Chad and his partner. I may have been feeling “godly”, but my actions need not be confused with God. He is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:16-21.

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