Shine a Light on Others

It’s been a lifechanging summer for me, no exaggeration. You all know this. My daughter had triplets, my first grandchildren. I underestimated the impact this would have on my life and the joy it would bring me. I mean I knew it would be amazing. But until I saw them, held them, I didn’t really KNOW.

I want so much for them. I want them to be healthy, of course, but I want as much for them to be happy. I want them to spend their life in a world that is good and loving and kind.

I want that for you too. And for me.

I have been reflecting this summer on what I want this blog to be. As hard as it is for me to believe, it has been almost 7 years since I started this. When I first launched it, I called it Educator Insights. It was a way for me to share my ideas and my thoughts as an educator.

But I have changed. The world has changed.

I’m not really sure if that’s true or not, but it feels that way at times. The last few years have been heavy. We all know the reasons. It feels all too often that media (traditional, alternative, and social) is feeding a culture of negativity instead of fostering positive discourse and uplifting stories.

I have always believed that Steve Hartman has the greatest job in the world. I still do. He has spent his career telling other people’s stories. Stories of kindness and grace, of love and compassion. I don’t know if it has helped him have a happier life, but I know his stories have helped me have a happier life.

I am starting my 30th year in education. I have had the chance to teach and to learn, to grow and to grow others, to lead and to be led. This summer has been a time of renewal, and I’ve been pondering what I want the next 30 years to be.

And I think I have it figured out.

I want to tell your stories. I want to share the countless examples of selflessness and courage and kindness that I see everyday. I want my voice and this blog to be a place where our faith in humanity is affirmed and uplifted.

The name of the blog has changed. The intent of the blog has changed. I’ve spent the summer watching you all do amazing things, big and small. Next week I start sharing them.

* photo behind the scenes at Joey Winn Photography

 

Be That Kind of Person

Two things happened to me in the last week that boosted my mood almost as much as the sunny weather.

At the end of a long day, after a two hour Zoom meeting, I got an email from a friend. “Your hair looked gorgeous today.”

Day made.

Later that week, I was walking by a woman, a total stranger, eating out on a restaurant patio. As I passed, she said, “That shirt looks beautiful on you.”

Day made.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be known as someone who is smart and compassionate, capable and kind. But there is something so great about a simple, genuine compliment.

When someone gets their hair done, tell them you like it.

When someone wears a new outfit, tell them they look nice.

I’m not suggesting insincerity. I am suggesting that when we take a moment to make someone else feel seen, valued, appreciated, beautiful, it can make their day.

Be that kind of person!

 

What My Brachial Artery Taught Me


Seventeen years ago this week I almost died. I’ve written about it in bits and pieces over the years, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so. It was a defining moment in my life.

Because of a genetic disorder, the vessels in my body are weak and prone to tears. At times the tears are minor and easily fixed, in my legs, in my nasal cavity. At times they are more significant, in my brain, in my heart.

An aortic dissection, a tear in the inner lining of the largest vessel in our body, causes significant internal bleeding and needs immediate and significant intervention to prevent death.

That’s what happened 17 years ago this week. I told that story a few years ago, but today the story on my mind is what happened 3 months later.

I noticed on a Saturday that my arm was cold to the touch. Weird. Sunday was the same. By Monday a friend whose brother-in-law is a doctor told me that I needed to get it checked out. Fine. I’m stubborn, but I’d learned the hard way to check it out when something is off.

It turned out that I had a new dissection. This one was in my brachial artery. I had no blood flow to my arm, no pulse could be found. I ended up in the hospital for more days for this far less serious condition that for the open heart surgery months earlier.

My friend saved my arm.

I know now that the tear in my brachial dissection was a secondary trauma. The vessels in my body were impacted by what happened in my aorta.

It’s all connected. Physical trauma has an impact beyond the original crisis.

So does emotional trauma.

For the last year, we have all been experiencing a trauma. Some people have suffered physically. Some people have suffered financially. Everyone has suffered emotionally.

We can see a light ahead. Vaccinations are rolling out. We are learning how to safely navigate the world.

But there will be secondary trauma. 

As we emerge from the emergency response to the pandemic, we will have to address the long-term impacts. Be it learning loss (or unfinished learning or learning gaps or whatever we choose to label it) or bankruptcies or the very real health issues that are lingering for many, there will be secondary trauma. 

My brachial taught me this.

It also taught me that it can be overcome. It taught me not to spend too much time admiring the trauma. Assess the reality of the situation and get to work addressing it. 

Make a plan.

Get help.

Be honest and realistic about what you need.

Recovery is never really over. We learn how to manage and more importantly how to thrive in spite of (and sometimes even because of) our experiences. They become part of who we are. It’s all connected.

My brachial artery taught me that.

Anticipation

Spring is coming. The signs are everywhere. Ice covered lakes with patches of water beginning to peak through. Piles of snow next to grass turning green. You can feel it in the air.

One bird chirping outside my window in the morning has become several.

Yes, spring is coming.

There is such joy in anticipation, the idea of what could be. For me the weeks before a trip are almost as exciting as the trip itself.

But sometimes anticipation robs us of what we have in the here and now. Tomorrow may be warmer, but today is a gift and whatever it brings should be savored.

This is a fun time in the Midwest. We’ve reached that point where when it snows (because this is Nebraska people- it will snow again), it will melt sooner. One day of crisp, cool air will be replaced by a warm and sunny one.

Enjoy the inconsistency. Soon enough we will be consistently hot and wishing for a day like today.

There is beauty in the transition. If our focus lies solely on the anticipation of Spring, we might miss it.

In my family we are awaiting the birth of triplets. I’m not sure I’ve ever anticipated anything with such joy. Grandchildren! Three of them at once!

The anticipation is fun, but these moments right now, when it still just an idea and not a diaper-filled reality, are fun too. And I don’t want to miss a single moment while I’m still the “mom.”

So layer up my friends. When the sun comes out, take off that coat and put on those sunglasses. Just don’t pack the coat away quite yet. Anticipate what it is coming. But savor what is.

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day? Really Dr. Biden?

Perspective is everything.

I love February because I have had a deep respect for my birthday since a near-fatal health crisis in my thirties. A good friend whose birthday is also in February says it is his least favorite month because of the very weather conditions we experienced in the last week (and apparently again today).

Perspective.

I love Halloween. If you’ve ever read the blog you likely know this. I mean I love it. Not your ordinary carve a pumpkin and buy some candy appreciation. Full on joy for the weather and the sense of community and yes, the candy.

But this week I’ve been enjoying the pictures of the giant hearts that the First Lady had installed at the White House. President Biden said that Valentine’s Day is her favorite holiday.

Valentine’s Day? I have never cared a bit about Valentine’s Day. I mean I do enjoy a sour candy heart, and I have a friend who I used to work with who was always the first to buy the Brach’s original hearts every year. It brought her such joy.

But Valentine’s Day? It’s a Hallmark holiday, right?

But it’s also a reminder to pause and tell the people in your life that you love them. It’s not Halloween, but I can’t really think of a more important thing to do than to pause and tell the people in your life that you love them.

Perspective.

This week I was reminded that every holiday, every day, is a chance to find joy!  Our perspective shapes the way we view the world. Perspective is everything. 

 

 

Worry

There is nothing harder for a parent than when your child is hurt or struggling or worried. It doesn’t matter how old they are, six or sixteen, or almost 26 and about to be a parent herself.

My Beautiful Daughter,

I wish I knew what to say to calm your worries. I wish I could show you one, five, twenty years from now, so you would see how amazing your life will always be. I wish I knew how to fill you with peace about what will be for your growing family.

But life can be pretty overwhelming. Especially right now. I can’t pretend to know how it feels to be carrying three babies at once. I can barely stand the worry that comes with being a mom to two amazing grown women.

Worry has always been part of my life. I am a worrier. Likely I passed some of that (okay maybe more than some of that) on to you and to your sister.

I’m sorry.

Now I wish I had the wisdom to tell you how to let go of that worry.

“Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.”

There is real truth in that. I have spent too much of my life worried. I have wasted too many days worried about would happen next.

Next has always turned out to be pretty great!

Try to remember what you were worried about a year ago. Did it happen? If it did, did you overcome it?

Beautiful girl, I struggle enough with my own worry to think I know the answer. But I want you to reflect on what you have already accomplished and overcome in your life. There is nothing you cannot do.

Preparation is helpful. Planning for what you can is helpful. Study and research (and lists!) are helpful.

Worrying is not.

Worry less. It’s solid advice for us all.

 

Patience


There is this moment in the Lincoln Marathon (or half in my case) when you round the corner and can see Memorial Stadium. This feeling of relief washes over you. You’re almost there!

And then you climb 10th Street for what seems like forever. The size of the stadium is deceiving. You think you’re almost done, but you still have to finish mile 10…and 11…and 12…and 13.

Patience.

I have never been a patient person. When I have a task, I want it done immediately. When I have a phone message, I want it returned right away. When I have an idea, I want it to come to fruition instantly.

Honestly, it has served me well over the course of my lifetime. My house is usually clean. My office is usually tidy. I am efficient and effective in my work.

But the older I get, the more the big things in life seem to take patience.

My daughter is having triplets. My first grandchild will be grandchildren! Three of them. It is almost too hard to imagine.

The gender reveal was this weekend. She had known since Thursday (longer for 2 of them), but I had to wait until last night. It was a challenge.

Patience.

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we cannot always control how long things take. Right now the virus is in control, and we can only mitigate its impact and be patient as the vaccine rolls out. This weekend though, my parents got their first vaccine.  I can’t overstate the sense of relief I felt when my dad sent me the picture.  I have been waiting for that moment for almost a year. 

Now I want to hug them and go to dinner with them and sit next to them on a couch. 

Patience.

Babies. Pandemics. Grief. Recovery. The older I get, the more I understand that the big things take time.

I have never been a patient person, but I’m working on it.  

 

Socials

I remember the first time I heard of Facebook. Katie, a former student, was graduating from high school, and she popped by Central to say hello. I think she was delivering an invitation to her graduation party. She told me about this site where the freshman at UNO could connect and start to meet each other. It was called The Facebook.

MySpace had appeared the year before, so I knew something about social media. The “kids” were all trying to convince their parents to let them have a MySpace…or they were secretly creating them without their parents knowing.

Then YouTube. Then Twitter. Then Instagram. Then Snapchat. Then TikTok.

We joke that once the parents get on board with a new social media platform, the younger people jump to the next one.

It’s true.

I work with children and young adults. I work on curriculum for digital literacy. I work (now more than ever) in a digital environment. Without our devices and our internet and our ability to work and learn and connect virtually, things would have ground to a halt last spring.

But we all wrestle with how much is too much. I have a friend who left Facebook because the environment had become so toxic. I have another friend who left all social media platforms for her own mental health.

But I also have a friend who has a virtual community of people who can share and appreciate each other’s photography. It is a genuine way for him to share his work with people around the world and for others to share their work with him.

I blog. Without Facebook and Twitter, almost no one would read it. I feel support and encouragement and kindness and love when people interact with me through the blog.

How much social media is right?  I can’t answer that for you.  I struggle enough to answer it for myself.

But if you have not seen The Social Dilemma on a Netflix, I highly recommend it. It is thought-provoking and will challenge how you interact with social media.

When my daughter searches for a new vacuum while connected to our WiFi and suddenly I have vacuum ads in my feeds, that’s not a coincidence.

When I step in to Scheels and a Dick’s Sporting Goods ad pops up, that’s not a coincidence.

But without TikTok, thousands and thousands of people would never have encouraged my daughter to share more stories about her pregnancy with triplets after she posted a funny story.

I guess I don’t have the answer except to say that we should all be mindful and reflective of our online time.

Do you need a break?

Is it lifting you up? Or is it making you angry or depressed?

Monitor and adjust!

And whatever you do, do not ever read the comments under articles posted online. Just don’t do it!

Intention


I shared a Maya Angelou quote this week that talked about thriving, and a friend asked me if that was my one word for the year. It would be a good one.

But I have been focusing more on the word intention this year.

In meditation setting an intention is about aligning your thoughts and attitude for the day. It is about deciding how you want to show up in the world. I love that description! It’s not a SMART goal. In fact, it can be hard to measure. But it can impact our lives all the same.

Right about now I know some of you (I bet I could even name you) are saying, “uh oh, Heather is about to get touchy-feely.” I promise I’m not suggesting you have to meditate (although I know from personal experience that if you did you would find a calm and a focus that is hard to get without it).

I am simply suggesting that dedicating some time each week or each day to setting our intention, how we want to show up in the world, is time worth spending.

There are many ways to use the term intention. In the Catholic Church, a mass or prayer may have an intention. Often we say “that wasn’t my intention” when we have offended someone.

I am most fascinated though by the medical definition of intention. The term is used to describe the process by which wounds heal. Primary intention involves an incision which is stitched. The healing is faster and leaves less scar tissue.

Secondary intention is what happens when the wound must heal from the inside out. It takes longer. It leaves more scarring.

But it heals.

Our physical bodies have the ability to recover from injury. So do our minds.

If we have intention.

This week take the time to stop and listen to what your mind is trying to tell you.

How do you want to show up in the world?

Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen Hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Laugh.
Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.
Continue to learn.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.

Mary Anne Radmacher

 

Be a Light


It’s easy during difficult times to believe that the world is a dark place.   It’s easy during difficult times to believe the worst of humanity.  It’s easy during difficult times to believe that people are no longer good, maybe never were.

But that’s just not reality.

It’s been month after month of challenges, and it’s been a year of witnessing the worst in some people. But it has also been a year where we have seen the best in so many people.

Somehow I missed the release of Thomas Rhett’s song Be a Light in early 2020. It’s now at the top of my playlist, and I listen to it every day.

“Be a light” is very good advice. 

In a world full of hate, be a light.
When you do somebody wrong, make it right.
Don’t hide in the dark, you were born to shine.
In a world full of hate, be a light.

A friend described it to me as “be the good.”  He’s right.  What each one of us can do every single day is to choose to be the good, the light.  I especially like when Thomas Rhett says, “you were born to shine.”  We were most definitely born to shine.

But I want to take issue with the fundamental premise in Thomas Rhett’s song.  As much as I love it, as much as it inspires me every morning, he is wrong.

The world is not full of hate.

The world is full of love.

Look around. Be intentional this week to witness the people around you. Watch for the many, many people who are going about their lives with quiet goodness.

7.8 billion people in the world.

331 million people in the United States.

Almost 2 million people in Nebraska, most of whom are going about their lives with quiet goodness.

Can we do better?  Of course we can, and we shall.  But the world is full of love.  In a world full of love, be the light.

Take What the Day Has to Offer


We used to spend a fun weekend every year camping and playing at Adventureland. We’d drive out on a Friday night and be the first ones in line when the park opened Saturday morning.

Some years it would be in the blistering heat of July or August, and we’d spend the late afternoon cooling off in the pool. Some years it would be September, and the afternoon was for watching the Husker game.

It was always fun!

When you only have one day to spend in the park, you wake up hopeful for perfect weather. We were usually lucky in that regard, but one year it rained the entire day. It was incredibly warm, but it was incredibly wet.

That’s the day I first learned the expression, “take what the day has to offer.”

I woke up crabby, sure the day was ruined. I pouted on the first few rides as the drizzle fell and the bigger rides opened and closed. Finally a wise friend reminded me to “take what the day has to offer.”

And we did.

We rode Saw Mill Splash in the rain. We flipped over and over on The Monster just as torrential showers began to fall. We raced back to the campground, splashing through the puddles and laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

It was a great day!

I was reminded of the expression this week as the sun was shining, and the weather was warm.  I left work to find the most glorious sunset.

Two days later the snow fell and the children in the neighborhood were sledding and making snow forts and having snowball fights.

Take what the day has to offer.

It’s 2020. One day feels so much like the next, and some days feel like it will never end.

But it will.

And in the meantime, we have sunsets and snowball frights. We take what the day has to offer.

 

 

 

Micro Moments of Joy

I stole this idea from a professional development session I was part of this week.  Credit where credit is due. In the midst of one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in awhile, I needed the reminder that life is joyful.

If we look for the joy.

After an accident, I was given grace and kindness.

After I sent a gloomy text, my daughter and son-in-law brought me a pumpkin pie blizzard. He knows the way to my heart.

A good friend sent me flowers to cheer me up. My daughters sent me daisies. They are a vase full of joy.

As I sat on the floor in my living room making phone calls and sending texts about a loss, I was reminded over and over and over again how many amazing people care about me.

Those first 2 deliveries meant to cheer me up before we knew what was coming were just the first of many sent to let me know that people are there for me. So many flowers. They meant the world to me. Every single one of them.

I am surrounded by the most loving family anyone could ask for.

My friend who has Covid is making her bed. If she has to be isolated in her room, she said that at least she could do what she can to make it look nice. Joy! She is the one who is sick, and yet she keeps checking on me.

I won a game of chess. If you knew how I play chess, you would see this for the micro moment of joy it is.

I once wrote a blog after going to a visitation for a friend who lost her mother. Today that friend texted me, and I was reminded that grief is something we all share.

Accidents happen. Death happens. COVID happens.

But in the midst of all of that, joy happens as well.

I know the week will continue to hit me. I know that tears will come at the strangest times. But I also see the text I just got from an old friend checking in on me.

Micro moments of joy.

See the Whole Board

Let me start with a helpful Public Service Announcement. If you have not seen The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, do nothing else until you start it.

There are few things that bring me as much joy as incredibly well done television. The writing, the acting, the gut punches and the heart warming is a great way to spend some time.

While we are at it, if you have not found a way to watch A West Wing Reunion on HBO Max, make it happen.

If you were a West Wing fan.

Which most of you were not.

Something I will never understand. It was the single best piece of television ever created, and while it won every award every year and was critically acclaimed, it never had a huge following.

But I digress.

Both the amazingly successful Netflix show and the perfectly chosen remake on HBO Max focus on chess.

See the whole board.

You can’t win a chess game without seeing the whole board. Your moves. Your opponent’s moves. The best players know what’s coming long before a move is made.

I am not an observant person. More times than I should admit, I have tried to get in to the wrong car.

But I know how critical it is to my work and to my happiness that I can see the whole board. Vision is about seeing a picture beyond what things are now to what they could be.

It is safe to say that people are not living the life they wish they could right now. Travel and gatherings are limited. Thanksgiving was different. School is different. Everything is different.

But see the whole board.

We wear a mask and keep our distance so things can be better tomorrow. We sacrifice a pawn today, so we can find checkmate in 6, 7, 11 moves.

I am not good at chess…yet. But I am learning to see the whole board.

 

Complicated Gratitude

There is never really a question about what to write for Thanksgiving Week. Thanks is in the very name of the holiday. We pause to eat ridiculous amounts of food and to say thank you.

Gratitude matters. We know this. We know that we are more positive and more productive and have less anxiety when we focus on being grateful.

We know that gratitude calms us and centers us.

This year is no different. Gratitude is as important, maybe more important, than in any other year.

And I intend to be grateful this week.

I am grateful I get to enjoy a delicious meal. I don’t need to focus on the fact that it won’t be with all of the people who are normally here.

I am grateful for the work I get to do. It’s a blessing to serve students and schools. I don’t need to focus on the strangeness of this school year.

I am grateful for my friends and my family. Six feet does not change a single bit of the love we share. A mask does not hide the smile in our eyes, and a screen cannot hide the joy in our voices. I don’t need to focus on the mask or the screen. I need to focus on the people.

I’m grateful for vitamin D and cool breezes and orange and rust colored leaves.

I’m grateful for Airhead Extreme Bites and SweeTart Ropes.

I’m grateful for pumpkin pie blizzards.

It’s 2020. Everything is complicated. But maybe not as complicated as I keep making it.

This week there will be turkey and stuffing and King’s Hawaiian Rolls.

It won’t look like any other year, but I learned a long time ago that every day is a gift not granted to everyone. And I am grateful for all of them!

Gobble! Gobble!

Hugs Are Important


When I visited Connor’s school this year, things felt different. I mean there were the obvious changes, the hand sanitizer, the masks, the signs about not using the drinking fountains. But more subtle was the distance between people. When I stopped to ask students what they were working on, I stayed back farther than I normally do. When I talked to the teachers, we were always mindful of 6 feet between us. People are being cautious.

As they should be.

But when I stepped into Connor’s classroom, I had the best reminder of the pandemic. Distance is hard. And hug are important. He has the most amazing teacher. I have admired her for many years. She has a warmth and a caring that is palpable when you step into her room. Nothing about that has changed.

After a brief visit, when I shared that Connor was my nephew and my godson, she told Connor that he could give me a hug.

We both paused.

I was standing far away from him…at least 6 feet. We were both in masks. It was unlike any visit to his classrooms I’ve made over the years. Connor Day my sister calls it. At the suggestion that he could, in fact, give me a hug, we both stopped and looked at each other. We were both analyzing the risk.

As I’ve talked to people in recent weeks about what is causing them stress, one of the most common responses has been the fatigue involved in making every little decision.

Is it safe for my child to go to the neighbor’s house?

Is it safe to eat out on a patio when the closest table is far away?

How will we celebrate Thanksgiving? Christmas?

No decision is easy anymore. We want to be safe. We want to keep the people we love safe.

In that moment, Connor and I had to weigh the options. In the end, with neither of us having any symptoms, having been around anyone with any symptoms, both wearing masks, both healthy overall, we decided to give each other a hug. It was quick. But it was every single thing I needed.

When people ask me what I miss the most right now, I tell them movie theatres and hugging my parents.

I have said before that I would never, ever advocate doing anything unsafe. We have to mask up and avoid crowds and wash our hands. And I can’t hug my parents. And it sucks.

But I can use video calls to stay connected. I can wear a mask and keep my distance and catch up with my parents on their front porch.

And in that moment I could hug Connor.

“Hug” the people you love. It might not be an actual hug. It might be a phone call or a Facetime or homemade cookies dropped off on their doorstep. Find ways to show the people you love that we are still connected in all of the ways that matter.

The decisions are hard, but we can do hard things.

Toxic Positivity- a reflection

Much has been written and shared lately about toxic positivity. Psychology Today defines it as keeping positive and keeping positive only…focusing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.

I get the pushback on that. I really do.

We need to fully feel our feelings. We need to cry when we are sad. We need to hurt when we have been injured. We need to be angry when we have been wronged.

It is not healthy to ignore any of those emotions. No one should tell us to smile through our pain or to ignore our hurt.

That would be toxic.

But sitting in those feelings for too long without finding a way through it is toxic as well. Pushing aside the laughter and the joy because it feels disingenuous when we are also suffering is not helping us recover. Avoiding our friends, reading too much social media, and focusing solely on the negative is not the road to healing.

We are all wrestling with months and months of isolation and fear and pressure and anger. There is nothing wrong with feeling negativity.

And there is nothing wrong with focusing on positivity.

I am grateful to the people in my life who have reached out in the last few weeks to talk about this. I knew that re-entering this space would provoke conversation. No one has been hostile or combative. They have simply asked how I reconcile my focus on positivity with all of the posts about toxic positivity.

It is not always easy.

But there is research around the healing effects of focusing on happiness and gratitude. I have experienced it firsthand. And I have experienced anxiety and depression that no amount of positive thought could undo.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people we love to seek help when we need it. It takes enormous strength to reach out for help. “Happiness is a choice” is not always true for everyone at every moment. There is nothing wrong with that.

And there is nothing wrong with spending our energy focused on being positive. We don’t need to apologize for wanting to be happy and for wanting the people in our lives to be happy.

I wish all of this was easier. It is anything but easy. But my plan is to continue to get help when I need it and to continue to focus on being positive and happy.

 

 

You Can’t Cancel Halloween

I have heard so many people speculate on whether or not Halloween will be canceled due to COVID.

I have told each and every one of them the same thing. “You cannot cancel Halloween.”

We can cancel trick-or-treating. We can cancel parties and parades. We likely should.

But Halloween is not only those things.

Yes, when I tell people why it is my favorite holiday, free candy may have a little something to do with it. 

But really it is about the joy and the fun of pretending to be something magical or whimsical or fantastical. It is about spending time outside in the spectacular fall weather and enjoying the sights and sounds of this time of year. It is about carving a pumpkin, making cups full of dirt and worms made of crushed Oreos and gummy candy.

You can’t cancel any of that.

I said last week that I am done focusing on what I can’t do. This is my favorite time of the year, and I intend to enjoy my favorite holiday in style!

I will always make safe choices. I will always encourage you to do the same. We need to maintain distance and wear masks and wash our hands.

But we also need to celebrate and enjoy the things we love the most.

I have seen our students find safe ways to dress up and enjoy an entirely new kind of Homecoming. I have seen our music teachers film the most incredible outdoor concerts, so our students have a chance to perform for others. I have seen example after example of people finding new ways to safely do the things they love.

We are creative, resilient people. And we will not cancel Halloween.

 

Still So Much to Learn

When you blog, and your 50th birthday falls on the day you publish every week, there is some pressure to get it right.  I’ve been turning it over in my mind for awhile, adding to a list of “50 things I’ve learned.”

Be kind.

Be curious.

Say yes.

Say you’re sorry when you are.

It’s okay to not be okay.

It is not okay to not try to get better.

Ask for help.

If you want people to remember your birthday, tell them it’s coming.

Floss.

Confidence is not about knowing you will always get it right.  Confidence is about being comfortable knowing that sometimes you will fall down and being okay with that.

Worry makes no sense.  It can’t change the past, and it doesn’t shape the future.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  Envy of another person will eat you up.

I am enough.

You are enough.

But the more I wrote, the more I realized that I have learned none of this on my own.  I have an amazing family who has been teaching me my whole life.  I have friends and colleagues and mentors who are incredible models for me and who tell me when I’m wrong.  I have gotten many, many things wrong.

But I keep learning.

So instead of working more on the list of things I’ve discovered, I am giving myself grace to acknowledge how much I still have to learn.  I am young.  There is time.

My Complicated Relationship with February


Sometimes people refer to it as the F Month.  We are deep in the gray of winter.  The cold has set in hard, and the sun rarely peeks through the clouds.  In schools we have conferences and staff development and plays and basketball games and wrestling meets and Board meetings and on and on.  It’s a busy time.  And spring seems a long ways away.

Gloomy.

But it is also my birthday month.  Birthdays are a big deal to me.  (Many of you know this.)  I am grateful for getting old.  As they say, it is a gift denied to many.

I got a text from a friend Saturday morning wishing me Happy Birthday Month.  I got the first of what I know will be a daily email from another friend wishing my Happy Birthday Month.  People are so kind and so thoughtful and so caring.  Birthdays are a reminder that our lives are filled with people who love us.

It was also warm this weekend.  The sun was shining, and it was fun to be outside.  There was still plenty of beautiful snow with sun bouncing off it, but you could feel that winter would not last forever.  I know it’s far from over, but we got a taste of it.  It will come.

See why I have a complicated relationship with February?

So much bleak.

So much joy.

I blogged in November about embracing the cold.  I was committed to enjoying my boots and my coat.  I was eager for the snow.  My attitude was good.  I wish I could say that I’ve never wavered from that attitude, but that wouldn’t be true.  Too many days without sun gets to most people.

But February is here.  Spring is near, and it is a leap year.  One extra to celebrate.

Cloudy Skies


My drive to work takes me up a hill heading east.  Depending on the time of year, I often get a firsthand look at the sunrise.  Some mornings the sunrise is beautiful.  And some mornings the sunrise is downright spectacular.

Have you ever noticed that the best sunrises (and sunsets for that matter) happen when we also have the best scattering of clouds.  Of course there is science behind the sunrise.  When the sun is closer to the horizon, the blue light scatters and the red light comes through.  The real magic though happens when the sunlight bounces off the clouds.  Pay attention the next time you see an amazing sunrise.  There will also be a healthy number of clouds.  I am grateful for those clouds.

Like in life.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I have wished for clear skies with no clouds.  Life can get complicated, and it is human nature to wish for clear skies.  But none of us get clear skies all the time.  Life happens.  In those moments it can be helpful to remember that the most beautiful sunrises come when the sky is filled with a healthy scattering of clouds.

As we move into the second semester of the year, a time that usually goes faster than I can comprehend, I wish you clear skies.  Of course I do.  But I also wish you the perspective of the sunrise.  The clouds in our lives are often the reason the sunrises shine so brilliantly.

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Cold


Fall is my favorite season. As the temperatures cool and the leaves start to turn, my heart is happy. Pumpkin pie blizzards and high school football. Shorts and sweatshirts. Light jackets and hoodies. Halloween. It’s the best time of the year.

But this week I watched the last games of the season at Buell Stadium. I started planning for Thanksgiving. I drove through snow.

Winter is coming.

This year I am trying something new. Instead of complaining about the cold, I am working hard to embrace the new season. I bought a new hat. I broke out all of those tiny bottles of hand lotion as the air turns dry.

I read this week that if you choose not to enjoy the snow you will have less joy and the same amount of snow.

It’s a good point.

Winter is for curling up on the couch with a fire roaring binging Netflix. It’s for reading those books that have been piling up on the nightstand. It’s for going to bed early and taking naps.

If the sun is out for fewer hours, maybe we should be too. Maybe nature is telling us this is our time to rest and to recharge.

This year I am trying very hard to embrace the cold.

Time moves fast enough. There is no reason to wish away a single season.

Be a Brad

Kid President is back. After a well-deserved break from the spotlight, Robbie and Brad are back to tell stories of awesomeness. And my heart is happy.

There is a reason we all fell in love with Kid President. We needed him. We needed his joy and his energy and his unwavering belief in the goodness of people. We needed to be reminded that we are all awesome! (And that corn dogs are good.)

Everyone needs to go back and watch the original Pep Talk.

And everyone needs to watch this preview of things to come.

Robbie says that people ask him all the time how they could become a Kid President. His response? “Get yourself a Brad!”

Brad is Robbie’s brother-in-law. Kid President was Brad’s idea. He came up with the idea for many reasons, but mostly, he says, so he could spend more time with Robbie.

I think when I was younger I wanted to be Kid President. I wanted to be the one in the spotlight. Now, I want to be Brad. I want to be the one who shines a light on other people. I want to be the one who finds awesomeness in others and helps them tell their story.

We make the world a better place by focusing on others. We shine brightest when we are helping others shine their light.

Kid President is everything I want for the young people (and the not-so-young people) in my life. He is the embodiment of hope. And Brad, he is the heart and the magic behind it all. Not in the spotlight himself, but shining brighter for the light he is helping others shine.

”Make the world a little more awesome!”

Be a Brad!

How Are You?

I have a conflicted relationship with the phrase, “How are you?”

As a social norm, the phrase is like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s a habit, expected almost, but it doesn’t actually mean what we say.

“How are you?” is a real question with a real answer, one that we rarely take the time to hear.

It’s important to ask people how they are doing. People want to be heard, to be known. We can brighten someone’s day by asking and by giving some of our time to really listen to the answer.

Don’t take a greeting for granted.

This week when you ask someone how they are, wait for an answer. If it’s not the right time to really talk about it, consider “Good Morning” instead.

You Are Loved


A friend asked me this week why it all has to be so hard, and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. But it is. Life is hard. Not all the time, not even most of the time. But some of the time life is very, very hard.

I think we have to be honest about that. I think we have to acknowledge that sometimes we are sad or angry or overwhelmed. Sometimes we are scared. Sometimes we feel alone even when those we love surround us. Life can seem almost unbearable at times.

We can feel that way and still be positive people.  We can acknowledge that and still know that life is good and things work out.

Today I just want you to know that you are loved. You are valued and treasured beyond understanding. You are seen. You are known.

Today may be hard, but it will get better.

Today you may feel despair, but you will feel hope.

It might not be tomorrow, but hopefully soon. Just know that it will get better.

There is help. There are people in your life who will listen, and there are professionals who can support you whenever you need it. Asking is not showing weakness. Asking is showing enormous strength.

There are lots of questions in the world that I cannot answer. There are so many things I do not understand. But I know this. You are loved. You are seen.

TSA Pre✔️

I love to travel.  Well, I love to explore new places, but the actual getting there part is not much fun.

I decided it was time to apply for TSA Pre✔️.  It’s a straightforward process. You apply online, then you get an appointment time to go in for fingerprints and a background check.

Of course right now the Omaha office is technically closed.  It “closed” August 1, but TSA is giving them until the end of September to find a new location.  So there aren’t any appointments being scheduled after September 30th, and the appointments up to that point are almost impossible to get.  So I was a walk-in.  Here’s how that works.  You arrive at the office, sign-in, and they try to work you in between the appointments that are scheduled every 10 minutes.  If a scheduled appoint time arrives, they go ahead of you.  It can be quite the wait.

I learned all of this the first time I stopped in.  The mood in the waiting room was ugly.  The tension was palpable. The woman working at the desk, frazzled and frustrated from a day full of cranky people, walked me through it.  She also told me that the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of the day have no scheduled appointments.  Those are your best options.

The next week I tried again.  I arrived 15 minutes before they opened.  I was first in line.  Looking good.

Then the next person arrived and got in line behind me.  Then a father and daughter.  She was wearing a Bennington sweatshirt.  Then another woman.  By the time the office opened, only one person works the first 30 minutes, there were 6 of us in line.

At first we were quiet.  Then at one point the woman asked the girl in the sweatshirt if she went to Bennington.  It started a conversation.  Soon we were all talking.  When the woman arrived to open the office, we were relaxed and friendly.  We greeted her, and we acknowledged that her job has to be a challenge.  There was a visible change in her demeanor.  She softened.

We signed in, and it took about 10 minutes for the lone employee to get us all signed in and then go back and get her computer ready to start the day.  I was first.  In and out in 10 minutes.  The man behind me got in and out.  By then the appointments had started.  I have no idea how long the other 4 people waited.

But I do know that the mood in the waiting room was different.  I know that each person who came in felt something different than the people walking in the week before.

Attitude is contagious.

The 6 of us in line made a choice.  We chose to be kind to each other.  We chose to be kind to the woman who has what I can only imagine is a challenging job.  We chose not to let the line, the inconvenience, the wait, define our attitude.  We chose to be pleasant.  We chose to be happy.  And that attitude spread.

There will be times in our lives when we are not able to happy.  There are for me. In those times, I hope we seek help.

But there are times every single day when we do have a choice.  Choose to be happy.  It’s contagious.

Positivity

There is a feeling of hope that comes with the anticipation of a new year. There is a sense that whatever happened in the old year is done and gone and this next year can be something entirely new.  (This, by the way, is also my favorite thing about school years. They start and stop, and we get the chance to rebuild and re-imagine.)

One word

Resolution

Goal

There are many ways to define that thing we do as the calendar turns over, but essentially they are all about choosing a focus for the new year.

This year my one word, my resolution, my focus is positivity.

I cannot control most of the events in our world, but I can work to influence where possible.

I cannot control many of the things that happen to my family and friends and colleagues and students, but I can support them in the good and bad times.

I cannot control the people around me, but I can control myself.

This is not the first year that I have chosen positivity as my word.  In fact, I have set this as a goal many times.  But I am older, and hopefully wiser, and I understand better now what a challenge this can sometimes be.  There was a time when people called me Pollyanna.  There was time when I believed that all I had to do was want to be positive, and I would see the glass as always half full.

I know better now.  Positivity is a choice, but it is a choice to behave in ways that make it more likely to be successful.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

There are many things in life that I cannot control.  But there are many things I can.

I can control what I eat.  I have such a better outlook on things when I’ve made healthier choices in food.

I can control whether or not I work out.  It’s not about looking better (although I do have my eye on a new swimsuit), but I feel better all day when I have moved in the morning.

I can control how long I sleep at night.  It is almost always harder to deal with daily stress when I am tired.

I can control whether or not I take the time to meditate.  I’ve come to believe in the power of mindfulness to influence my reactions to things.  (Check out the Headspace app sometime.)

And I can ask for help when I need it.

My work, my relationships, my life are all more enjoyable when I engage in them with positivity.  A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I have a plan.  What’s yours?

Lulls

As November nears, I am reflecting on a conversation a friend and I had when we were assistant principals together in a middle school.  The beginning of a school year is busy, but there was this magical time after conferences and before winter break where there seemed to be a lull.  We talked about how we should probably be using this time to get ahead.  Once January hits there is almost a feeling of a race to the end.  Things move fast, so it would make perfect sense to use this time to get ahead.

But we needed rest.  We needed time to just be in our school and in our lives.   We needed time with students and teachers.  We needed time with family and friends.  We needed to recharge.  We made a conscious choice not to use the lull to work ahead.  (We made the same decision on snow days by the way.)  We made the conscious decision to just enjoy the moment.

We did not regret it.

Every job is different, even within one school.  People find their lulls at different times of the year based on the work they do or the things happening in their lives.  But it is essential to our overall health and well-being that we find them.

If this is a busy time for you, I hope you are able to find a small lull in an otherwise busy week.

If this is not a busy time for you, I hope you able to enjoy the lull.

Busy is an epidemic.  Once in a while, we need to be calm and be still to be well.

 

The Wood Behind the Arrow

Our city came together this week to acknowledge that we could all use a little more kindness in our lives. #BeKind was a citywide effort to shine a light on the ability of a kind word, a kind action, a kind moment to change things for a person who is struggling…or anyone for that matter.

Our schools were emblazoned with #BeKind shirts and murals and posters and rocks. There were clever videos and social media posts. Parents and businesses joined in the movement. It was everywhere.

But what overwhelmed me was not the cuteness, although there was plenty of cuteness to go around.

What overwhelmed me was the wood behind the arrow. I learned that phrase a few years ago on a visit to Apple. It’s all about the effort, the resources, the wood behind the arrow of an idea or a product. An arrow with no wood behind it goes nowhere. An idea with no depth, no substance, goes nowhere. Last night as we were talking about the day a friend reminded me about the wood behind the arrow.

Yesterday was about more than a slogan. Schools talked about HOW to be kind. There were resource fairs where our students learned about volunteer opportunities. They wrote cards and opened doors and shared things they like about their classmates. There was action, tangible action, to BE kind. There was wood behind the arrow.

I am grateful to the city and school leaders who started the conversations and paved the way for the initiative. I am grateful for the teachers and counselors and principals and student leaders who put real thought and creative energy behind designing meaningful activities for the day. And I am grateful for the simple idea that kindness matters.

Sometimes we think making the world a better place is complicated. And I am well aware that we have complex issues that require complex solutions. But in fact, the world is made better with each individual act of kindness. Act where you are. Smile when you can. Hold the door open. Make eye contact and thank people who show you kindness. Say please and thank you. Assume the best of the people you meet. And never ever forget that “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Thank you for being kind to me. I hope I am kind to you. I know that this week was a good reminder that no act of kindness is ever wasted.

Mothers’ Day

My children graduated from college this month.  Both of them.  My older daughter with her Master’s in Speech, Language Pathology and my younger daughter with her Bachelor’s in Business.  Both have jobs in their chosen field.  Both are now, by every possible definition, adults.  Man, I feel old.

Obviously such times bring with them a natural tendency to reminisce.


I’ve been thinking about all of the nights I sat beside their crib and then on the edge of their bed as we said prayers and listened to music.  She’s a Dancer with Kelsey.  Return to Pooh Corner with Hunter.  I’ve been thinking about the times we would jump on my bed and blow bubbles in the tiny pool that lived on our deck.  Did anyone else have a Bubble Duck?  I’ve been thinking about sidewalk chalk and pictures at JC Penney and the zoo.

There was that phase when Kelsey would sneak food in the middle of the night and Hunter would climb out of her crib.

And also the time we let Kelsey fall down the stairs and the time we let Hunter wander off at her own birthday party.  We were far from perfect parents.  No one is.

I miss those perfect, messy, crying, yelling, laughing, sticky little girls.  But I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

Three years ago I was still relatively new to this blogging thing as Hunter started her college journey.  I wrote A Letter to My Daughter during her first week of classes, and I talked about all the things I wished for her.

I hope you are creative and collaborative.

I hope you are willing to take risks.

I hope you persevere when things get hard because there will be times when things get hard.

Mostly though, I hope you enjoy your life.

They are both all of these things and more.

Their road to this moment was not easy.  No one’s is.  There were times when they were scared and sad and disappointed.   There were times when they were broke and exhausted and overwhelmed.

But through it all they seemed to be enjoying the journey.  They laughed and sang and made a lot of noise in the car.  One baked.  One read.  Both danced in a way that you could only appreciate if you saw it.  They were beautiful.

They are beautiful.

I have no wise words of wisdom this week other than perhaps to say enjoy the minutes and the days.  They pass quickly.  But I am comforted by the fact that with each passing year, they are even more fun.  And I am getting a lot more sleep.

Yes, I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

Lessons from the Caribbean

Spring Break was amazing.  I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing the world.  This year we visited St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and we met people who embody gratitude and optimism.

Both islands were hit by the hurricanes that ravaged the Caribbean last fall.  Both islands are still very much in the early stages of recovery. St. Maarten was hit particularly hard. What was once an island of shops and bars and restaurants is now an island of rubble.  But the beaches are beautiful and the water is full of colors you can’t imagine and the people we met there were kind and optimistic and grateful.  It was humbling and overwhelming to be in their presence.  They have so much to teach us all.

“You’ve got to have a plan.”  These people had foresight and survival instincts.  They took their mattresses with them into the bathroom as they hid from Irma and Maria.  Those mattresses saved their lives when the storm blew out the windows.  They found temporary shelter for months during and after the storm, using coolers and getting creative when there was no power and no electricity.  They kept their wits about them, and they had a plan for survival.  You’ve got to have a plan.

“It is not the physical damage that causes the most pain.  It is what can happen in your head.”  We heard stories about children after the storm who kept reliving the experience, mothers who worked tirelessly to help them feel better and who are still focusing on the emotional needs of the people around them.  Trauma changes people.  Physical wound heal.  Emotional wounds linger.

“When the storm is over, you pick yourself up, find your family and friends, and start cleaning up.”  No one we met was wallowing or focusing on the negative.  They were all just taking the next step, doing the next thing.

Every person we met on St. Maarten thanked us for being there.  They are grateful to be alive, and they are grateful that people are visiting “even though the island is broken.”  It is an amazing place.  It is beautiful beyond description, and the people who live there are wise and strong.  It has always been a paradise for visitors, but right now it is also teeming with life lessons. I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing he world.

Days Go Slow, but Years Go Fast

Facebook has changed birthdays. Now in addition to the cards that come in the mail, the gifts that are left on your desk, and the many warm wishes throughout the day, we get to come home to all of those birthday posts on Facebook. Thank you! Thank you to each one of you who took the time to post a greeting or a meme or a picture (Kelsey Oleva- payback is coming). Reading through them was a wonderful way to end the week. They were all appreciated.

It feels like just yesterday I was turning 47, and now I am 48.

Luke Bryan’s new song Most People are Good hits the nail on the head for me. (It’s spot on in many ways if you haven’t given it a listen.) He is not the first to say this, but I appreciate his reminder that “days go slow but years go fast.” Anyone with children can confirm this. One day they are babies, then toddlers, then married. Just that fast! The same is true for us all.

This week I find comfort in that. Days are long and sometimes hard. But years go fast.

Our goals are achievable if we can stay focused on one day at a time. Walk your miles, drink your water, write your pages. Each day those things may seem like work, but before you know it, a year will have passed. You will see results. One day at a time.

Ask for What You Want

It’s my birthday on Friday!  This will come as no surprise to many of you. I am obnoxious when it comes to my birthday.  I claim a Birthday Month.  I start a countdown as soon as the calendar turns over to February.  I make sure everyone knows that it is coming and that I love birthdays.

I really do.

“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”  Birthdays are a reminder of the gift of days, weeks, years.  I do not take those for granted.

But what I have learned over the years is that I should tell people that my birthday is coming up and that my birthday is a big deal to me.

I remember when my daughter went to school on her birthday in 6th grade…excited to see how her friends had decorated her locker.  And I remember the sadness in her voice when she called to tell me that no one had decorated it.  She had great friends who cared about her.  They did not neglect her to be mean or spiteful.  It just didn’t occur to them for whatever reason, and it hurt.

It reminded me of the many years that I went to school or work excited to see how people would celebrate with me.  Or the times I passed a milestone or hit an anniversary of some kind, anxious for others to make a big deal out of it.  And many times, I was disappointed.

I have the greatest family and friends and colleagues in the world.  They are kind and caring and thoughtful. They have never intentionally missed an event or failed to acknowledge something.

But our happiness is often inversely proportional to our level of expectation.  (A wise friend taught me that.)  If we expect something grand, even something good can be disappointing.  Many times we build up what we hope will happen and then we are disappointed when it does not play out exactly as we planned.

That’s on us.  That’s on me.

I have learned that if I want something to be a big deal, I should tell people what I want and set about to make it happen.  I am in control of my own happiness.  I can ask for what I want.  I do not believe that this adage is about maintaining low levels of expectation.  I have never been accused of low levels of expectation.  I expect big!  But I have learned  that secretly hoping others can read my mind in order to “surprise me” with exactly what I wanted is foolish.  Ask for what you want.

My birthday is Friday.  Birthdays are a big deal to me.  What’s a big deal to you?  Tell me.  I want to celebrate it with you.

We’re All in This Together

I washed my car this weekend.  (I know from the beautiful weather and from the length of the line that I am not the only one.)  First I filled my tank, and then I pulled in behind several other cars.  After a few minutes, the woman in the car behind me jumped out and came up to my window.  I rolled it down, and she explained that my gas cap and gas door were open.  Whew!  Good catch before I drove into a car wash.

I thanked her, and she said, “We’re all in this together.”

Wow!  She is someone I would like to know.  The people in her life must be better for knowing her.  How is that for something that just rolled off her tongue.  She is right.  In fact it was the title of the very first blog I ever wrote,  We’re All in this Together.

Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things.  (Pause for laughter from the people who know me well.  I am the master of overcomplicating and overthinking.). Life is really not as complex as we make it.

Be kind.

Think before you act.

Treat other people well.

Stand up for your beliefs and for people who can’t stand up for themselves, but do it respectfully.

Grace is always better than anger.

Perform simple, random acts of kindness.  If you notice someone in front of you in line is about to drive into the car wash with her gas cap open, let her know.

Thank you to the woman who did that for me.  And thank you for the simple reminder that we are, in fact, all in this together.

I Refuse to Manage My Expectations

The Huskers have a new football coach.  As the news was officially leaked, likely a day earlier than the University and the coach himself had wanted,  the state went crazy.  Weeks, months, years of frustration seemed to melt away in an instant.  The Nebraska kid who made good was coming home.  I was giddy.  And almost immediately I was reminded that I should “manage my expectations.”

It will likely take time to return Nebraska to its historical glory.  Recruiting may still be a challenge.  After all, despite evidence to the contrary this week, it gets really cold here in the winter.  After all, this season was less than a success in the wins and losses category.  After all, next year will be about rebuilding, and there is hard work to be done.

But still, I refuse to manage my expectations!

I choose to believe that amazing things are about to happen.  I choose to believe that a new coaching staff will find the magic, and in no time at all the Huskers will be a powerhouse.  I choose to see the best possible future for Scott Frost and his staff, for the student-athletes who are working so hard to find success on the field, and for the fans who admittedly care maybe too much about our football team.

I refuse to manage my expectations!

We choose each day how we view the world.  We can be pragmatic.  We can evaluate the pros and cons, weigh the many options, and then choose the safest course.  We can manage our expectations of others and try to manage their expectations of us.  And if I’m being honest, there are times when each of those is necessary and smart.

But for the most part, I choose to believe that in any given situation the best possible outcome is the one that will come to be.  I choose to believe that rather than managing my expectations, I should actually raise my expectations.  I should expect the most for myself and for those around me.  And I should expect the most from myself and from those around me.

Will I be disappointed sometimes?  Of course.  That’s life.  But the disappointment will be hard whether I anticipated it or not.  Why not choose to believe that things will work out?

I am not suggesting we ignore reality, bury our head in the sand, or forget that in most cases it is our actions that create our best possible future.  When we set high expectations, we also have to agree to do the hard work.  But why not choose to believe that we are about to find the magic?

When Your Best Isn’t Enough

We’ve all been there.  All of us.  At one time or another, we have all attempted something and come up short.  It might have been something as small as a grade on a paper or a test when we were in school.  It might have been something bigger like training for months to set a personal record in a half marathon.  Or it might have been something truly life-changing like taking a high-profile new job in an unfamiliar place halfway across the country.  Big or small, there is something especially painful about investing your time and energy into something, working hard, truly doing your best, and having it not be enough.   We’ve all been there.

I am not talking about that time I signed up to do a 5K and then never really got around to training.  That’s on me.  I’ve jumped head-first into plenty of endeavors only to find myself too busy to really invest the needed time to do it well.  I have a collection of hobbies in the garage that never really made their way into my daily routine.  Of course I am not an expert with my bow and arrow.  I’ve hardly ever used it.

No, I’m not talking about those things.  I am talking about the things that mattered.

I am talking about the things that were worth the time and money and patience and heart to get right.  I am talking about the things that got you up at 3:45 in the morning, the things that sent you back to school, the things you obsessed over and read about and journaled about, the things that convinced you to walk away from a safe job in a familiar place with people you knew only to start an adventure with an uncertain ending.

I’m talking about the pain that comes when one of those things doesn’t work out, when your best isn’t enough.  And we have all been there.

In those moments you have a choice.  You can choose to be defeated.  You can choose to wallow and retreat and shut yourself away.  You can choose to stop taking the big risks.

Or you can stand up, face the reporters (literal or figurative as they may be), and explain that you did your best.  You can continue to wake up at 3:45 and to take the big risks.  You can choose to hold your head up, maintain the highest levels of class and grace and dignity, and honestly mean it when you say that you would not have traded the experience simply because it did not end the way you had hoped.

“That wasn’t the measure of the experience.  It’s just the way it ended.” (Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing)

Embracing October 

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  October has returned, and in its usual fashion it is equal parts glorious and hard.  No, that is far from accurate.  It is mostly beautiful weather and trips to the pumpkin patch and football and concerts and plays.  It is mostly vanilla-flavored candles and fun decorations on the mantle.  I love October!

But it can also be hard.  My children have been busy with school and clinical and jobs.  My work family has been busy as well.  It’s been amazing and important work, but it’s been a lot.  A few of us got pretty sick, and I have to admit that I have not been as patient or gracious or kind as I would like to be.  This can be a challenging time.

Something I have learned through the years though is that spending too much time focused on the negative serves no value.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

This has always been my favorite time of the year.

Halloween is big in my family.  What’s not to love?  Costumes and candy and pumpkin-spiced everything.  This year my daughter is going all-out in a “cubicle decorating contest” at work.  It is becoming epic.  I’ve got pumpkins in the entryway and gourds at work.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween.

The weather changed this week.  A more sudden shift from warm to cold than last year.  The leaves are turning, and the fall rain has settled in.  It is finally jacket and sweatshirt weather.  There is comfort in thick socks and a soft sweater.  There is comfort in wrapping up on the couch in a blanket reading a book.  I spent hours doing that this weekend.

In the sweltering heat of July and in the frigid cold of January, I sometimes wonder why we live here.  October reminds me!   Autumn in the Midwest is spectacular.  Nebraska is at her best when the rustic colors fill the trees and the gentle rain coats the streets.  This is my favorite time of the year, and I know I am not alone.

This will be a busy week in our district.  Conferences are in full swing, grades are finalized and being shared with families, and there are professional development and teacher work days next week.  There will be some long days.

I encourage you to pause in the midst of the crazy this week and savor the season.  It goes much too fast.

Focus less on the negative and more on the positive.

When someone says, “How are you?”  Answer, “Fantastic!”

Positivity is contagious.  Spread it around.

October has returned, and I am thrilled.

#Goals

I hit a major milestone this week in a goal I’ve been pursuing all year.  I walk.  This year I’ve been walking a lot. I’m working toward a mileage goal, and it took me until the last day in August to be on track to hit the goal.  I’ve been behind for 8 months.  Eight months!  And I honestly have no idea if I can stay on track for the rest of the year.  But I’m there right now.

I’m part of an online community all working toward this goal.  I’ve been watching person after person hit the year-end goal all summer.  Most of the people in this community are runners.  The other people I know personally working on the goal are runners.  Good runners.  They finish miles so much faster than I do. It can be frustrating at times.

It’s hard to set a goal, work toward that goal, and watch so many other people beat you to the goal.  But such is life.  No matter how fast you are, someone is always faster. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Okay Theodore Roosevelt said it, but I’ve agreed with him many times.

Our goals are our goals.

I spend too much time wishing I was a runner.  The runners I know are amazing!  They are dedicated, passionate, motivated.  They have cool running gear, and they talk a lot about shoes and watches.  They are fit.  Man are they fit. It is impressive.

I walk.  I walk a lot.  That’s what I can do.  And I can certainly get cool walking gear and talk about shoes and watches.  And I can be dedicated and passionate and motivated.

Our goals are our goals.

The only person we are meant to compare ourselves to is the person we were the day before.  We do not have to be faster or thinner or wealthier than anyone.  We do not have to have a better job or a bigger house or a fancier car to be worthy.

Our goals are our goals.

I have some good friends who are competitive. Several even have competition in their top five Gallup strengths.  Competition is different from personal comparison.

Competition can be healthy.  It can show us what’s possible.  It can push us and challenge us to be better than we ever thought we could be.  I’m not discouraging competition, but we should not be judging ourselves based on a comparison with others.

I am enough.  You are enough.  Right now.  Just as we are.

So set some goals that will be hard to reach.  Challenge yourself to go farther or faster than you thought you could.  But appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the world.  Just the way you are.

Quiet Your Mind

I ruminate.  That’s an understatement. I’ve written about it before.  I’ve set goals and made plans to do it less.  And yet it persists.  Ideas.  Worries.  Worst case scenarios play out in my head.  It is the least productive, most destructive thing I do.  It serves no purpose, and I know better.

This was a week of ups and downs.  I watched a school community that means the world to me come together to experience a once in a lifetime moment during the eclipse, and I watched as that same community came together to grieve the loss of a staff member and a friend.  Highs and lows.  Sunshine and rain.  Nature teaches us that life needs both to grow.

Life can change in an instant.  Life does change in an instant.  My heart is breaking for my Kiewit family.  They are hurting.  It was a hard week.  After a week like that, it can be a challenge to quiet your mind.  

“Worry does not take away tomorrow’s troubles.  It takes away today’s peace.”  No amount of ruminating stops the hard days.  It only adds unneeded struggle to the good days.

A friend shared with me the Zac Brown Band song Quiet Your Mind (https://youtu.be/syTVW8n5Cy0 ). It’s spot on!  Worth a listen!

“Soak it all in. It’s a game you can’t win. Enjoy the ride!”

This is not easy for me.  It’s not easy for many.  But I am redoubling my efforts to worry less, to quiet my mind, to enjoy the moment.  Will you join me?

“It’s from my School!”

It’s back-to-school week, and we had an amazing motivational speaker during our fall workshop. He was funny; he was emotional; he was inspiring.  He challenged us to be innovative. He challenged us to see the joy in the eyes of every child when they come into school, and he challenged us to be sure that we do not squelch that joy. Children are, by nature, learners. It is our job to fuel that fire, not to put that fire out. It was a solid message. It struck a chord. It was good stuff.

But in the midst of his message, a family movie from Hunter’s childhood came to mind. We’ve watched it over and over and over again in our family. It’s a classic. We have always looked to it as evidence of her sass and her spunk. But suddenly, sitting in that auditorium, the video came to mind and everything about it changed. I saw a different lesson.

First, let me apologize for the quality of this video. Clearly I should not be the videographer in the family.  But I’m glad we have it.

Take a listen…

Now, like I said, we used to focus on that moment when she says, “I did not want this book.”  We used to laugh as I tried to convince her that she should say thank you to the person who had given her the gift. But here’s what I saw this week. My child who has been read to every day of her life is less than excited by the prospect of a book.  My child who has an English teacher for a mother “did not want that book.”  Until…she saw the connection to school.  There is a moment, it’s my favorite moment, when her face lights up.  “Mom, it’s, it’s from my school.”  And everything changes!

School has that power.  Teachers have that power.  You have that power.  Engaging lessons, exciting content, and powerful relationships matter.  We can light a fire!

My nephew starts kindergarten in our district tomorrow.  My wish for him is an experience that make his face light up when he realizes, “it’s from my school.”  I am grateful for all of the teachers and teacher leaders, the librarians, the administrators, and the many other school staff who lit that fire for my children.  Thank you!

Our challenge this week is to do it all over again.  Have an amazing first week of school!

The Happiest Place on Earth…on Purpose

Have you ever noticed that when you start thinking (or writing) about something that you begin to see examples of it everywhere.  It’s like buying a new car and suddenly seeing it at every intersection.

It’s been that way for me all summer.  I have been working on myself, and I have been reflecting and thinking (and writing) about my purpose.  Last week my family took a purposeful break from the world and spent six days in the Happiest Place on Earth.  And it was just that!  Disney World does not disappoint.

We were surrounded by people and organizations clear in their purpose.  Our flights out were enjoyable.  I have always been impressed by the intentionality with which Southwest Airlines makes flights fun.  They know their purpose, and they seem genuinely happy to be making us happy during our travel.

And everyone knows that Disney tends to even the smallest detail in order to make it the Happiest Place on Earth.  They know their purpose, and each and every person in the organization is focused on making it a reality.  From the shuttle driver, to the women handing out buttons and badges at the bus stops, to the characters who never stop entertaining, it is magic, purposeful magic.

There is power in knowing your purpose.  It guides your steps and motivates your work.  We need purpose in our profession, and we need purpose in our personal lives.  This has been my journey this summer, to reflect on the many purposes I see for myself.

The purpose of our vacation was to disconnect from the world and to reconnect with each other.  And let’s face it, our purpose was to have fun.  Man did we have fun!

Our Best Selves

You are going to be great at something; you just don’t know what it is yet. We should be saying that every day to the young people in our lives. We should be saying that every day to the adults in our lives. We should be saying that to ourselves every day until we do know what it is. We are all meant to be great.

Have you found your purpose, your reason for being? Are you doing all you can every single day to bring that purpose to life?

Finding purpose is the key to a fulfilling life. I have been blessed to find mine. I have been blessed by powerful mentors and coaches who have helped me find my purpose and more importantly to create a plan to make that purpose, that passion, a reality.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Expery

I have a friend who challenged me to take my writing to the next level. He helped me define specific, tangible, measurable, and realistic action steps in order to achieve my goal. He reaffirmed my purpose, and he guided my thinking around the steps to make my purpose come to life. And I, in turn, helped him do the same. He is almost done with a fantastic 300 page book. I like to think I had a small piece in pushing him to make that a reality.

I have another friend who encouraged me to pursue educational administration and to take the first step and the next step and the next step in becoming the leader I am today. He still walks side-by-side with me to push me, to challenge me, to support me, and to see to it that I get a little better each day. We all need those coaches.

Working in education is a gift. Every day I get to help create safe, caring, supportive environments where children can learn. Every day I get to take actionable steps to make the world a little better for the students in our care. Every day. It is a blessing I do not take for granted.

I have another friend who has helped me redefine my purpose outside of my profession. And now through the blog I hope that I have been able to extend my reach. I have enjoyed the comments, the messages, the conversations with people about the ideas I have put out into the world. It has given me a larger purpose, and I am enjoying the journey.

I want each of you to pause this week and to reflect on your purpose and the steps you are or are not taking to live that purpose. Life is short my friends. We owe it to the world to live the best version of ourselves.

Slow Down

Last week was spring break, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to relax.  I hope you did as well.  But if you are anything like me, it was a long way down!  The pace of “the real world” is intense.  Slowing down is a challenge.  But every so often, we all need to slow down!  It helps our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The first few days were the hardest.  My natural inclination is to go, go, go.  Letting go of work is hard for me.  I love what I do, and I feel an awesome responsibility to do it well.  Emails and phone calls and texts kept coming during the week.  It took a few days for me to put the phone down.  (It helps though when you are at sea and the wifi is crazy expensive.)

It was probably Wednesday before I truly felt disconnected, before I had actually changed my pace.  I set no alarm.  I used my phone only as a camera.  I took a nap.  It was wonderful.

The pace of our lives can take a toll on our bodies and our minds.  Intentional down time is critical.  I was lucky to carve out an entire week away.  Those are rare.  I encourage you to take a week if you can, but it does not take a week (or a cruise) to slow down.

I’ve written about this before.  We are at times too connected…to work, to email, to Facebook or Twitter.  Unplug.

We need long walks outside.

We need long breakfasts with our friends.

We need Blake Shelton concerts and free Saturday mornings at the art museum and musicals at the Orpheum.

We need time with our family and time with our friends and time alone.  Spend some time alone.  A game of solitaire or a movie or a night watching The West Wing on Netflix is not to be underestimated.  It can bring “balance” back to our lives.

I believe though that true balance is an illusion.  I’ve written about that before as well.  The best definition I’ve ever heard of balance is to have enough energy to enjoy all areas of your life.  Do what you need to in order to find that energy.  For me, work is energizing.  But so is down time.

Slow down!  For a week, for a day, for an hour.  It can make all the difference!

Reply All

It happened this week.  Someone sent a short, informative email to the staff in their school.  Instead of using the email group for their staff though, they used an email group that included a much larger number of people.  And so it began.

“Please remove me from this email group.”

“I think I got this email by mistake.”

“If you go to More and click Mute, you can end this string.”

And the memes.  So many memes.

It happens.  Not often at all, but at least once a year it seems to happen.  Some unsuspecting person clicks the wrong email group and we get 24 hours of interesting.  If no one hit “reply all”, it would end with that first email.  But that is the one thing that never happens.  It really is a social experiment of sorts.  People react so differently. Most are silent. Some get angry and impatient.  And a few get funnier than I could ever hope to be.  Clever.  Witty.  Creative.

This week I decided to just soak it in and look for the life lessons…happens when you commit to blogging every week. So what did I take away from the experience?

1- Know Your Technology – Do your best to avoid using the wrong email group.  Do your best to check that you are replying just to the person who sent the email and not to the whole group.  Learn the tricks to mute a conversation when something like this happens.

2- Show Grace- No one intentionally emails a message to the wrong group.  Accidents happen.  (At least they seem to happen to me with some frequency.)  Simply hitting delete is likely the most gracious response.  Likely the person who sent it already feels terrible.

3- Laugh- I think what I most appreciated this week was the humor.  Many (one in particular who will remain nameless) took the opportunity to connect with other people they had never met and share a funny moment.  No one was mean-spirited.  Many were incredibly creative. All made me laugh.  And laughing is something I don’t think many of us do often enough.  I am thankful for the people who find ways to make others smile.

Last year this same thing happened on an epic scale.  An email was sent to the entire District in error.  It was quite the morning.  After the same varied responses that happened this week happened with almost 3,000 staff members, our Superintendent jumped in.  He was gracious, he was funny and creative, and he put an end to it.  Exactly what needed to happen.  When leaders find ways like this to connect, it is powerful.  Life is serious.  Once in awhile, we should lighten up.

Be the Light

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In the midst of a difficult day this week, I was reminded that simple acts of grace can be the difference between darkness and light.  Our family buried a loved one this week, a remarkable mother and grandmother and great grandmother who baked cakes (our wedding cake for example) and told stories (the newborn triplets staying warm on the oven door for example) and wrote letters in a Minnesota/German accent that made us all smile.  She lived a long, full life, but it was a sad day.  In the midst of it all, I had some urgent things come up at work, things that could not wait.  I was emotional. I was out of town.  I wanted to be with my family.  And I needed help.

And the help came.  The help came in the form of colleagues who moved heaven and earth in my absence to get some things done.  The help came in the form of texts from friends who offered comfort and reassurance.  The help came in the form of time (short as it was) with an amazing family full of love and laughter.  People were kind and compassionate and helpful.

Grace, freely given.  Care, offered openly.  Help, willingly extended.  In the midst of a dark day, light.

I struggled a bit with what to write this week.  What do I have to offer to the current discourse?  I offer this.  When I needed it, many people were there for me.  Be there for others.  

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be helpful.

Act.

It is both that simple and that complex.

In trying times, it is easy to paint things and people with a broad brush, to make black and white that which is clearly gray.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, to join the pack, to jump on the bandwagon, and to lose the bigger picture.

Who we are and what we do matters!  How we treat each other matters!  Our actions matter!

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, remember these things.  Speak out for what you believe.  Act in the best interest of all people.  And for goodness sake, treat each other with kindness and grace.

Be the light.

Disconnect

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I was an English teacher.  I enjoy few things more than a spirited debate over language.  So I know we could go round and round about the difference between disorganized and unorganized, disinterested and uninterested.  I had just such a discussion this week with a friend who disconnected.  It was winter break, a time designed for celebration, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  He had decided to carve out some time away from other people and away from technology.  It was a smart decision.  Disconnect!  But do not be unconnected!

While seemingly having the same definition, there is a difference between disconnecting, intentionally or unintentionally separating, and being unconnected.

Choosing to disconnect is an action taken to temporarily step away from the craziness of life.  It allows you to think.  It allows you to get out of the minutia and focus on the big picture.  It is when people dream and imagine and invent.  Likely some of your greatest thoughts happen when you are disconnected.  If you do not take time away, you are likely not doing your best work or being the best version of yourself.  Disconnect!

See a movie on a random afternoon.  Have breakfast with a friend and leave your phone in the car.  Take a walk.  Allow yourself time and space.

But do not be unconnected.  It is our connection to other people, to nature, to the world that makes us human.  It is connection that makes us wiser, and stronger, and better.  Even while we are disconnecting, we can be connected.

My father may take issue with this blog.  He is the first person who taught me the importance of being precise with language.  He taught me the difference between affect and effect, obtuse and abstruse.  He will most definitely reach out if he disagrees with my definitions.  And that connection has made me better.

2016 Was a Great Year

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2016 was a great year!

There, I said it.  Likely one of the least popular statements I’ve made in a blog, but there it is.  I refuse to give 2016 over to the Dark Side.

Don’t get me wrong,  I understand the desire for a fresh start.  It has not been an easy 12 months.  Loss, grief, change, and what can only be described as a tumultuous year for our country has left many people sad, angry, adrift.  I have found myself there at times as well this year.   It has been a challenging year.

I felt the loss of Carrie Fisher and then Debbie Reynolds in the last week.  I’m a child of the 80s, the Star Wars Generation.  Last week was rough.  It was like a final blow to our culture when we were already down.  And yes, I laughed as hard as anyone when I saw the Facebook post about the GoFund Me account to keep Betty White safe from 2016.  Believe me, I understand the inclination to wish the year away.

But despite personal loss, despite disappointments, despite disillusionment, 2016 was a great year!

I started a new job.  It was the fulfillment of a lifetime of work.  I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing people doing important work for young people.

My daughter got married.  So many family and friends, those there and those there in spirit, made the entire experience a joy!  It was a day filled with overwhelming love.

But even if none of that had happened, 2016 would have been a great year!

Life is short.  Each and every day is a gift.  In 2016 the sun rose.  In 2016 the moon shone.  In 2016 babies were born and friendships were forged and memories were made.

Our children laughed and loved and learned new things.  Our flowers bloomed, and our gardens grew.  Talented people made music and art and dance and theatre.  Academics debated the real issues in our society and reached for greater understanding.  And strangers held doors open and offered helping hands and said “Good Morning” and “Have a nice day.”

It is in the small things that we make a life.  It is in the routine of a morning kiss before leaving for work or a text from your daughter when she’s thinking of you during the day that we find real joy.  2016 was full of these moments.

I am in no way trying to say that we do not have real, significant, difficult things to address in our world.  We do.  I am in no way saying that we should not strive for greater connections to each other, greater tolerance for each other, and greater acceptance of each other.  We should.

But I am saying that this life and this world is a gift!  This day, this week, this year is a gift!  Regardless of what 2017 brings, I will strive to remember that.

Inspiration 

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It’s Aaron Sorkin for me.  He does it every time.  West Wing is the best.  Hands down.  No comparison.  Every episode, almost every scene of every episode, moves me and makes me want to do more, be more.  Newsroom does not disappoint.  A Few Good Men.  Steve Jobs.  The list goes on and on.  His stories, his words inspire me and make me want to be a better person.

I want to believe that I can be one of the people he writes about.  I want to believe that I can do things that matter and that make the world a better place.

What inspires you?

Books, music, film, television.  These are powerful tools for changing the stories we tell.  Authors and actors, photographers and artists are the storytellers of our time.

I am a movie fanatic.  I see almost everything.  I love to sit in a dark theatre and lose myself in a story.  I love to reflect on what is and imagine what could be.  Movies about the underdog rising up and winning against all odds help us believe that we too can win.  Stories about adventure, creativity, and love can warm our hearts and ignite a spark in us.

Television shows about teachers, politicians, reporters, doctors inspire us to dream and to do.  There is nothing as powerful as the real stories of athletes, scholars, leaders who challenged the status quo and pushed for making things better.

It’s cold outside. It’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book, to light a fire and turn on a movie, to spend an afternoon in a museum.

Read!

Listen to old music and new music!

Tour museums!

Watch movies no one else has heard of!

See plays, watch documentaries, attend the ballet.  Find the things that educate you, challenge you, inspire you.

 

Count Your Blessings

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“When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”  Irving Berlin-  White Christmas

In a week when we focus on gratitude, are you feeling grateful for what you do?

I work in education.   It is hard, important work.  This week I’ve been reflecting on why I do what I do.  I’ve been remembering the teachers who did for me what I hope I have done and now help others do for students.  Influence is such a powerful thing, and education is a profession with enormous influence.

So many teachers had an influence on me and taught me lessons that helped shape who I am.

In elementary school, Mrs. Landon gave me independence and individual opportunities to learn.  She “differentiated instruction” for me and for Amy and for Charlie and for Randy before anyone knew the term.  The four of us read and wrote and acted and researched many times on our own.  She allowed us the freedom to work ahead and to learn at our own pace. She empowered us with projects and leadership roles.  She taught us something important…

You are special.

In junior high (middle school wasn’t a thing yet), Mr. Reynolds did the same for all of his students.  He was an amazing teacher.  He acted out Civil War battles and made learning fun. And he was about the “whole child” before anyone knew the term.  He could relate to every student.  He allowed us all to tell our stories, and he supported us all in whatever we needed.  Over Spring Break, he took us to Washington D.C.  We watched as he stayed on the bus when we got to the Vietnam Memorial.  His experiences in the war were still too fresh.  He helped us understand that everyone has a story, and he taught us something important…

Everyone is special.

In high school, Mr. DiMauro challenged us.  He set the bar so high academically that many times I thought I’d never reach it.  But he found ways in class to “scaffold the learning” before anyone knew the expression.  He taught us Beowulf in Old English and somehow we were able to understand it.  Day after day he set impossible learning goals, and day after day he helped us meet them.  He taught us something important…

You can do hard things.

In college Mr. Blanke gave me a job as the Box Office Manager, but he did so much more than that.  He empowered me to run things and make decisions.  He gave me paperwork and office work, but he also gave me real work.  He let me design processes and change the way things were done.  He confided in me.  He processed with me.  He relied on me.  And he taught me something important…

You are needed.

Life is not always easy.  I have had real challenges and obstacles in my job, in my health, and in my life.  And every time I was able to meet the challenge and overcome.  I am grateful for the people who helped teach me the lessons that made me who I am today.

Working in education (or in business or in marketing or in food service or in anything) is not always easy. There can be hard days and weeks when you question why you do what you do.

When you have those days or weeks, remember, you chose this job.  You chose it for a reason…a positive, important, life-changing reason.  Reflect on the people who had influence on you, and reflect on the students, staff, and parents you can influence.  Be grateful for the opportunity.

You are special. You are needed.

Now go do what’s hard!

 

Rusty

img_2558I spent a few days in Huntington, West Virginia this month.  It sits on the southern bank of the Ohio River, minutes from both Kentucky and Ohio.  Although we flew in on the edge of a hurricane, it was the perfect time of year to visit this beautiful part of our country.  The city is nestled inside lush hills, and the leaves had all turned gold and burgundy and burnt orange.  Picturesque is the only accurate description.

The highlight of the trip was a complete surprise.  It was one of those magical moments that seem almost too good to be true.  We met a man who left an impression.  His name is Rusty.

We had a little time to walk over to Marshall University.  You can’t visit Huntington and not visit the Marshall University stadium.  The Thundering Herd suffered a tragedy in 1970 memorialized in the movie We Are Marshall.  The school has done a remarkable job of honoring the past and celebrating the future.  The stadium was closed, but Rusty was cleaning the parking lot.  We asked him if he would take our picture.  Almost immediately he started sharing stories about Marshall.  Rusty has worked there for 50 years.  He grew up in a house that sat where the Marshall practice field sits now.  Rusty has some stories.

img_2569He took us up to the private boxes for a tour.  He showed us the press box.  He shared stories of Huntington community members and the history of the school.  It was riveting.

img_2589But Rusty shared more than the story of Marshall.  He shared his thoughts on life.  He shared his wisdom.  He told us that if he were rich (and after spending time with him- trust me that he is rich in all the ways that matter), he would give $25,000 to a young couple.  “Can you imagine how much it would have helped to have someone get you started when you were young?”   He also shared that he would sit down with the couple and their parents to make sure they had a good life plan.  When Rusty imagines being rich, his thoughts do not go to what he could do for himself, but what he could do for others.  And he recognizes that what we all really need is just a little help.  “Imagine if everyone could just help one other person.”

Imagine.

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.”

I watched one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing this weekend.  Two West Wing staffers met a man in a bar who was taking his daughter on a college visit.  He was talking about how hard it can be to provide for your family.  “It should be hard.  I like that it’s hard.  Putting your daughter through college, that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment.  But it should be a little easier, just a little easier.  And that difference…is everything.”

As I watched it, I thought about Rusty. And I realized that we already have the capacity to make it a little easier. Imagine if everyone would help make one person’s life better, one situation a little easier.  One person at a time we would make the difference for everyone.

Change the Behavior

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I suppose it makes sense that if I’m going to write every week that I will circle back from time to time to some familiar themes in my own journey.  Unfortunately overthinking things is one of those themes.  I reread several of my old blogs this week as I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about things that were small in the light of day.

https://heathercphipps.com/2015/10/25/a-better-nights-sleep-guaranteed/

https://heathercphipps.com/2016/01/16/are-you-overthinking-this

There has been something in my DNA from almost the beginning that makes for sleepless nights sometimes.  I wake up, turn over, and my mind starts to wander.  Sometimes those are the moments of my greatest ideas.  For some people, ah-ha moments come in the shower.  For me, those moments are more likely to come at 3:00 AM.

It’s also true though that 3:00 AM may find me ruminating over something that happened the day before, an unanswered email sitting in my in-box, or a difficult conversation I have to have the next day.  I’ve been doing this for long enough to know that when I get up in the morning, the issue will seem small. But in the middle of the night, it can seem almost insurmountable.

I was complaining about my lack of sleep this week when a friend gave me some simple advice.  He said, “change the behavior.”  Wise words.

Eckhart Tolle says, “When you complain, you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it.  All else is madness.”  Truth right there.

So I set about to design something tangible I could do to change this habit I have of overthinking things in the middle of the night.  In my experience, not once has this worrying helped me find a viable solution. So I need to change the behavior.  Complaining about it is clearly not working.

Later in the week, instead of laying there fixated on some current issue, I got up and started to think about all of the things I’d worried about over the summer.  None of them, not one, is still something lingering out there as a concern.  With time, almost all issues seem better.

Many of us have truly difficult moments in our lives, those with real consequences, significant loss, or extreme pain.  There is suffering that cannot be easily healed.  But most of the things that consume our worry are not those things.  So I am trying something new.

Every day I try to reflect on three things for which I am grateful.  I’ve done that for many years.  Jon Gordon’s idea of a gratitude walk is life-changing.  You cannot be stressed and thankful at the same time.  But this year, once a week, I am going to write down what I am most worried about.  For me, as a writer, sometimes just putting pen to paper eases the concern.

When I do that, I will look back on the things I wrote about the week before.  If any are still an issue, I make those a priority for my life or my work.  Likely, most will no longer be a concern, and I can let them go.

And the next time I am awake in the middle of the night, I can look at that list and be reminded that whatever is turning over in my mind will likely not be a concern in a matter of days.  And it certainly does not deserve to steal my serenity.